The Role of a Narcissistic Mother
Much has been written about narcissistic men, not so much about narcissistic women, especially in the role of being a mother. Narcissism is often expected of men in leadership positions. In fact, up to 75% of individuals diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are male. Narcissism in women in leadership positions is surmised to a lesser extent and never in mothers.
The research on NPD is scant, to say the least. However, abnormalities in specifically the insular cortex, related to the lack of empathy, are recorded consistently. These individuals have less gray matter in their left anterior insula, which is involved in cognitive functioning and emotional regulation. The genetic evidence points towards the fact that NPD runs in families.
Characteristics of NPD
Biological, psychological, and social factors characterize the etiology of the disorder. The biological factors include brain structure abnormalities as mentioned above. Psychological factors include low self-esteem, feelings of inferiority, volatility, impulsivity, manipulation, and complete deniability (they do not take responsibility for their actions). Social factors include persistent patterns of grandiosity, the need to be admired, to receive special treatment, unstable interpersonal relationships, and psychosocial distress. The narcissistic mother is a Manipulative Mary and a Narcissistic Nancy all rolled into one, with a splash of Debbie Downer, Disrespectful Denise, Judgmental Jane, Insincere Irene, and Never Enough Nellie to round out the mix.
The Narcissist and Love
Narcissists have little interest in understanding and getting to know what makes others tick. The needs and feelings of others don’t interest them as they lack empathy. To the narcissist, relationships are seen as transactions where they are willing to show expressions of love, seduce with generosity, flatter, and flirt for the sole purpose of gaining power, dominance, and superiority. They boast and brag to gain respect and love. To them, it is a game to get their needs met. Intimacy and vulnerability are seen as weaknesses. They have enough emotional and social intelligence to control their own emotions and to manipulate those around them to get their needs met. However, their impaired emotional empathy blinds them to the destruction they cause. Narcissistic mothers will generously give material things to their children (especially in front of outsiders), but then take it away at the slightest perceived provocation. The narcissist offers conditional love, the kind of love that has to be earned and can be taken away in the blink of an eye.
Traits of Maternal Narcissism
Everything revolves around the narcissistic mother. Her husband (if he’s still around) and the children all have to walk on eggshells and be ready to weather the storm of contradictions, lies, and manipulations which will break them if they’re not able to bend and bow to the wind. Nothing is ever Mommy Dearest’s fault and she is always the victim! She has to be the center of attention at all times. She is selfish, self-absorbed, willful, infantile, petty, always right, explosive, critical, entitled, a bully, controlling, and oh, so easily offended! To the outside world she is very charismatic and obsessed with appearances. How her child is perceived by others is far more important than the feelings and well-being of the actual child. Mommy Dearest will take all the credit for achievements attained by her child and none of the blame for her child’s failures. Triangulation is Mommy Dearest’s specialty: She will play siblings off against each other; she will pit friends or rivals against each other, and turn it all on its head by coming off as the victim in the aftermath of the skirmish.
The Real Victims
The narcissistic mother is achievement driven. This results in the children losing their own sense of self because they believe that they can only be enough if they achieve something externally. The children develop psychological whiplash because the narcissistic mother controls them with the threat of rejection or outright rage.
Narcissistic Mothers and Their Sons
If the son identifies with his mother, he can become narcissistically inclined himself. He will be driven to be successful (which reflects well on Mommy Dearest), but he will expect the admiration of other women as well. His relationships will be troubled because he does not know how to be empathetic.
Another outcome would be a boy desperately seeking validation and praise from Mommy Dearest. This boy will do everything he can to please Mommy Dearest in the hope that his needs will be met. This boy will grow up to be a man who is eager to please and lacks the ability to appreciate his own needs. Guess who he will choose as a partner? Yes, a narcissistic, demanding, self-absorbed mate.
Narcissistic Mothers and Their Daughters
Narcissistic mothers are often in competition with their daughters. Mommy Dearest sees her daughter as an extension of herself who needs to be shown off. Is the daughter pretty enough, slim enough, smart enough, is her hair too curly or too straight, or cut in the right style? She will remind her daughter what a wonderful mother she is and how she has to suffer because of her daughter’s shortcomings. The daughter’s self-esteem does not have a chance to develop, so she has to adapt to survive. She could identify with her mother’s narcissism and become narcissistic herself, because she hopes to fill her need for validation by striving for success, beauty, or whatever else her mother imprinted on her. None of this fulfils her, because she learned that love is conditional and self-love non-existent.
The flipside of the coin is the daughter who adapts by becoming the perpetual people pleaser. To complete the vicious circle of pattern repetition, this daughter attracts partners who don’t appreciate her, the quintessential Miss Doormat. These daughters often have to be treated for anxiety and depression as adults.
Conquering a Narcissistic Mother
First of all, see Mommy Dearest in a clinical manner for who she really is without feeling the rage, depression, or anxiety that she provokes in you. Once you are able to separate the emotions from the person, you can try to understand why she did what she did and start to heal yourself by “forgiving” her within yourself. You don’t have to have contact with her to do this. Work with a trained and reputable therapist to lead you through this process. Forgiving is a way for you to cut the bondages of rage, depression and anxiety so that you can move forward into a brighter future.
The Cognitive Neuroscience of Narcissism by Frank R. George and D. Short
8 Toxic personalities to avoid by Brett Blumenthal
How to Tell If a Narcissist Loves You: Even when they say “I love you,” can you believe it? by Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT
The Narcissistic Mother: Are You Dealing with a Narcissistic Mother? By Mark Banschick M.D.
The effects of parental narcissism can be far-reaching, with sons of narcissistic mothers struggling later in life by Francesca F.
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Mommie Dearest: Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers By Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC
Growing Up With A Narcissistic Mother by Wendy Bristow
Narcissistic Personality Disorder in Clinical Health Psychology Practice: Case Studies of Comorbid Psychological Distress and Life-Limiting Illness by Elizabeth L. Kacel, Nicole Ennis, and Deidre B. Pereira