Before launching straight into this Pandora’s Box, I just want to make the distinction between a Parent-Centred Mother and a Narcissistic Mother.
From the outside, they can look similar and I don’t want there to be any confusion.
The Narcissistic Mother doesn’t separate at any point from their child emotionally. There is no independence allowed at all and she will see you merely as an extension of her. When you misbehave she will believe that you’re doing it only to make her look bad.
The parent-centred mother might still be very firm if you’re misbehaving and making her look bad. Many parents want to show off their children, have high expectations, may have strict rules at times (such as when a child is acting up), and want their kids to make them proud.
None of these traits by themselves mean that your parent has pathological narcissism.
What is different in the Narcissistic Parent is an overwhelming tendency to deny their kids, even when they are adults, any sense of independence and separateness. The children are there just to serve the parent’s selfish needs and impulses. There lies the wrongness — BOOM.
Today’s blog is all about what a Narcissistic Mother can look like — and next week, we will talk about how you can handle these slippery critters. They tend to be all over your life — like an Octopus — and very difficult to pin down. They are manipulative and different from Narcissistic Fathers.
So — I thought it was best if we chatted about these two beasts separately.
Hold on tight — here we go.
The term Narcissism comes from Greek Mythology and the story of Narcissus. He was so arrogant that the dude could not tear himself away from his own reflection.
The interesting thing here — is that your mother will actually see you as part of her reflection if she is a Narcissist.
She just bundles everyone up and makes them an extension of her. You are as much a part of her as her own hand. And she believes she should have the same level of control over you that she has over that hand.
She will love to gaze on you when you’re behaving and making her look good — but lord help you if you aren’t.
There will be all sorts of unfortunate behaviour and manipulation to make you toe the line and come back to her very conditionally “loving” arms.
Her love will be distorted — possibly has been for a few generations in your mother’s family — and chances are that you will either be really over-parented or really under-parented or a mix of both. Tick. Tick. Tick.
Let’s look at the over-parenting mother.
This woman just takes over.
In their eyes, you have no separate needs, wants, likes, dislikes, talents or anything. These were gone in one fell swoop when they smacked your bottom in the hospital after you were born. Slap. Branded as a mini-me.
She wants to be your everything.
It’s funny — every time I see the character “Mom” on Futurama, I think of my clients with Narcissistic Mothers. Look her up. Plus — she wears a disguise over her actual self — which she can peel off.
Similarly, the Narcissistic Mother will be one thing in public and another in private. Formally, this is called Cognitive Dissonance. Informally, I call this ‘doing your head in.’
Unfortunately, it also becomes their child’s normal. Mixed messages are all you know — and you’re often asked to lie or stretch the truth to protect your mother’s image. You get used to hearing one thing and feeling another. You learn to constantly question yourself and what you are feeling or thinking.
This all-encompassing mother is suffocating and will take over every single area of your life. Everything. She will make all your decisions — causing you to question your own ability to make decisions. This keeps you dependant — just the way she likes you. *smacks lips*
These mothers will be all over your social media friends and followers, send cards to your friends for their birthdays, talk about people in your life as if they know them, go to your work, call your doctors, befriend your teachers or even get a job at your school.
They’ll tell you how to act, think and feel, and who you can be around. True dat.
They do not allow their child to grow and find their own voice. This is far too threatening for them.
The tricky bit here is that they’ll appear great to other people.
Overwhelming mothers will choose your clothes — usually to match theirs. Buy you matching things — household appliances, even ridiculous things like home decor. Telling you “That’s what you like”. No questions to be asked.
Remember — they know you better than you know yourself.
Let’s move on — to the mother who ignores you.
This gem of a mother doesn’t provide guidance, any emotional support, and they constantly deny any emotions or feelings. Yours and theirs.
Abused and neglected children come under this umbrella. When physical needs are ignored, it is obvious — but it’s not so obvious when a person’s emotional needs have been ignored.
This only shows up later in life when you realise you have missed huge chunks of your emotional development. You might feel different — especially watching other people live their lives — and not know why.
There’s not as much to say here — because this mother is just not there.
You might think your home is normal until you go to a friend’s or relative’s house – but even then, you might believe your mother is the normal one. That’s what she will tell you for sure. She’ll make sure you don’t question anything at all.
Some people are lucky to have another adult who steps up. This is a huge gift and can lessen the damage. But your Narcissistic Mother will do anything to prevent this from happening.
If no one steps in or validates what the child is seeing or feeling, the child will grow up thinking they are unimportant, that their needs don’t matter, and that they should constantly look after other people in their lives in order to have any sense of purpose.
They’ll constantly be trying to make everything okay for the people around them.
And if this was you — I am so very sorry. It is time to stop this tiring treadmill. It’s all about you now — you aren’t selfish or self-absorbed — both of which I am sure you have heard.
Okay — so let’s dive even deeper into these two categories — the all-encompassing mother and the mother who ignores you. They can be better explained by dividing them into smaller categories.
She is OUT THERE. She needs to be loved by everyone, and often her kids and partner are a little bit scared of her. She is putting on this show called Life for anyone and everyone – and she needs her kids to play parts in her circus so everyone can see how much they love her.
She’ll often be one thing in public and another in private. You either participate in her charade or heaven help you. You will be made to feel guilty or very, very obligated. You’re there as a prop to make her look good.
2. The Addict (Ignoring):
This one is exactly what it says. These mothers are so wrapped up in their addiction that they cannot be there for anyone, let alone their children. The kids are often very aware that they cannot compete with the addiction and are sometimes asked to enable it.
This mother might not get up in the mornings before school — the meal preparation, washing, and looking after other siblings might be left to a young child.
In severe cases, children had to go and “rescue” their parent after a day of drinking or drug-taking, bring them home, and then look after the other people in the house.
3. The Emotional Parasite: (Ignoring and overwhelming):
Upfront, I will state that any Narcissistic Mother will be a very needy b$$$h — but there are some who are more open about it and are more open about using this to manipulate their children — and others.
These mothers have an empty well that needs filling — in extreme cases I have seen them befriend their children’s friends and even sleep with their children’s partners. Absolutely not caring about their child’s feelings when they do this.
They are addicted to being liked or needed, and this will win over any motherly instincts that they may have.
Boundaries — what boundaries.
They might be inappropriate in their behaviour or even in what they share with you. You might be parentified to listen to their tales of woe. They might confide in you about their relationships with their partners.
They’ll downplay anything you might feel — by one-upping your emotions. “Oh darling, you say you’ve had a hard time — but you have no idea what a hard time I have had.”. “You have no idea what tired is”. That sort of thing.
4. The mean mother (usually only at home): (Overwhelming and Ignoring):
I think that the word that comes to mind with this type of Narcissistic Mother is “cruel”. These people are cruel behind doors — physically, emotionally and it is often quite soul-destroying.
The tough bit here is that they’ll never let it show in public AND — they’ll often ask you to cover up for them. To show your loyalty.
If you ever found yourself with marks after some kind of punishment — you might be told to make up an acceptable story to divert any attention. If I had a dollar for every time I have heard a client tell me that they were put in this situation — well — I’d be very rich.
These parents also often say “I should never have had children” or “Don’t’ have children, they are ungrateful” — which is an extremely cruel and cutting statement to make to their own kids. Do they care how it makes the child feel — hell no. Do they get off on being cruel — quite possibly. They will often not stop until they see you crumble.
Often in these cases, they’ve carefully selected a partner who has no balls, and who is easily manipulated to either be quiet or, worse, do their dirty work, for them.
Later in life, this partner will often claim to have forgotten anything that happened in your childhood and you will be constantly questioning how they just stood by and watched.
They were selected carefully from a pile of emotional eunuchs who possibly suffered from abuse in their own childhoods. At the very least I would bet that there was a very dominant woman in their past.
But — these men are adults, and they were silent while they watched this happen to you. Mic Drop.
5. The “Sick” mother (ignoring):
What joy — this one will have all sorts of aches, pains, sickness and will “take to her bed” at the slightest hint of anything she doesn’t agree with.
Anything and everything you do might cause her to relapse so you’re left walking on eggshells — heaven help you if you kill your mother. Truly. It can get that extreme.
Fear. Obligation. Guilt. FOG. These are the three emotions in play with this little beauty right here. One step out of line and BOOM — she is sick, and you feel guilty, ‘behave’, be allowed back in her “loving” arms — and then all is well. She is well.
No one can usually tell exactly what is wrong with her- and this is especially scary for young children. You are constantly guessing what will set her off and she could have any range of symptoms at any time.
Do you remember being scared that your mother or father would leave you? It’s quite a common fear and bad dream experienced by children. Your whole existence relies on them at a young age.
Imagine having that existence and security threatened constantly by your mother’s “dominate by illness” method of parenting.
It is scary. It brings fear — and then a sense of obligation to conform to what they want. This is just to lessen your overpowering feelings of guilt.
Do not underestimate the “unwell” mother.
6. The mother who needs you to succeed: (Overwhelming and Ignoring):
You are what you do. That is the family motto.
She will talk about you only in relation to what you do or have achieved.
Maybe who you have married.
Maybe your kids’ achievements.
All of it is about how good she looks as a mother.
There is a weird twist here — she will do anything to stop you from succeeding because she must be the centre of attention and the best. BUT — she will want you to achieve great things so that she will look good. What a mindf$$k.
This woman can be super jealous. Obviously or not so obvious. She might compare weight, looks, achievement, attention — anything really.
But — in public — she wants a catalogue of your achievements at her fingertips so that she can win the Mother of the Year award.
You’ll be dragged out to perform at dinner parties — and your school marks will be told far and wide. Well — if they are good enough.
The price you paid for these achievements will be irrelevant. It’s likely you got sick trying to achieve perfection. And if you have a minor hiccough and don’t succeed at something — trust me — you will hear about it.
Apply yourself. Perfect. Perfect. Perfect. At any cost.
And so, we land right here — probably with your head reeling and anger rising in your chest. Both of which are normal.
Chances are your mother had a set of circumstances that led to her behaviour — or maybe not.
But I am not talking to your mother — I am talking to you. She has not sought out help — and that shows that behaving the way she has, has gotten her the things that she wants. Attention and loyalty.
As long as her behaviour continues to reward her, it is really unlikely that she will change.
You might also be feeling really alone. Even when you have siblings.
Narcissists like to triangulate their children. What does that mean — set them up as competing against each other. They will talk about the other kids to you — and vice versa. They will let you know that you’re all in competition for her love.
So — when you begin to realise that perhaps things at your house were not as they seemed — you might not have anyone to talk to about it. Everyone needs to come to this realisation at their own pace.
And that is why I am here. And a lot of other people in this community. You’re in the right place and we are so happy that you’re here.
One of the most freeing things is telling your story and being believed.
One of the biggest parts of therapy is for you to find out who you are, away from your mother.
To be heard.
To realise that the fault was never with you or that it wasn’t that you didn’t love your mother enough. There is no such thing as “enough” with a Narcissistic Mother.
Recovery is possible. And I can’t wait to get into that with you soon. But for now — baby steps.
If reading this article has triggered you in any way or if you’d just like to quickly tell your story — please contact me here.
Those first weeks when you start reading about Narcissistic Mothers can be extremely overwhelming.
I am sure you have been told that you’re too sensitive, but there truly is no such thing.
So — go gently.
And remember — it only gets better from here.
PS. If you’ve tried many things that simply haven’t worked… But most importantly, if you’ve been feeling the pull to have me by your side as your mentor and you’re ready for deep support as you find your way back to your truest self…click here to book your first session. I can’t wait to be your wingman.