Waking up to the reality your parent has extreme narcissistic tendencies can be challenging, depressing … and empowering. You’ve always wondered what’s wrong. Is it me or her? A ‘narcissistic’ mother can cause you to doubt yourself. Her manipulation is often skilled and subtle. She might not brook disappointment, or dissent.
Top 10 signs you might have a ‘narcissistic’ mother:
1. She wants to control you.
Trying to assert yourself results in anger, rejection and hostility. She doesn’t appreciate your attempts to individuate as it means you are going to be less available to serve her needs. Does she get angry when you disagree or don’t want to do what she wants you to do? Does she try to make you feel guilty for having separate interests, hobbies, desires and opinions?
2. She can’t or won’t validate your feelings.
There is very little room in her emotional conscience for your feelings. If they do something that upsets you, people with narcissistic tendencies generally won’t be prepared to acknowledge their mistake or soothe your upset. They are too focused on trying to manage the shame elicited by your implied criticism. She may sometimes be there if you need support, but most often she will turn it around so it becomes about her. For example:
“That reminds me of the time…”
“You think you have problems, I remember when …”
“I can’t listen to you when you’re like this, it upsets me …”
“I do/have done everything for you, why can’t you appreciate it, you ungrateful …”
3. Her love is conditional.
A ‘narcissistic’ mother is interested in how you (and your achievements) reflect on her. She wants you to succeed, but only so she looks good. She may even become jealous if she feels you are doing too well. Daughters of ‘narcissistic’ mothers will often be perfectionistic in a misguided attempt to win their mother’s love.
4. She belittles you.
A ‘narcissistic’ mother is often full of praise in one moment, and then hypercritical and judgmental the next. They can make your head spin! A ‘narcissistic’ mother knows where it hurts. She will often use sarcasm or belittling language to humiliate you, perhaps in front of others. She may fob off your concern with excuses such as, “Can’t you take a joke?”
5. She tries to manipulate you.
The manipulation can be quite subtle, causing you to question your doubts and fears. She may call you “selfish” because you don’t want to be her “maid” or “chauffeur” 24/7. Being afraid to say “no” to her because you fear her disapproval or anger is definitely not a good sign.
6. She thinks she is above the rules.
Narcissists prefer not to have to follow the rules they apply to us “lesser mortals.” The sense of entitlement that accompanies narcissism can manifest in expectations of special treatment. She might try to get out of a parking ticket through manipulation or flirtatious behavior. She can embarrass you in the takeout line at your favorite coffee shop. If she is not allowed to jump the coffee queue or secure her favorite table at a popular restaurant, she may become disproportionately angry.
7. She is unpredictable.
People with narcissistic tendencies often wax and wane in terms of their attention and availability. She may shower you with affection and attention (“love-bombing”) when she wants something from you and ignore you when she is doing OK. Her ability to care about you is dependent on her own needs rather than any genuine commitment to you as a separate and autonomous being.
8. It’s all about how things look.
Because they are largely dependent on social cues to manage their self-image, narcissists will be focussed on how things appear, and most importantly, how they appear to those whose opinion matters to them. ‘Narcissistic’ mothers will generally like to appear socially successful, keeping a nice-looking home, wearing expensive clothes and hobnobbing with the rich and famous. Your mother might spend a lot of time trying to impress the neighbors, her employers and others whom she considers worth her time.
9. She cannot see your point of view.
In general, ‘narcissistic’ mothers are often unwilling to understand or even acknowledge your point of view. She may ignore, belittle or undermine you, often using manipulation or guilt-tripping to get her way.
10. She is emotionally volatile.
Narcissists are often emotionally unstable, swinging between cold rage and collapsed fragility depending on environmental cues. Mothers with these characteristics often have very low self-esteem underneath their bluster and will become teary or desperate if they meet ongoing resistance.
When you have grown up in a narcissistic environment, it can be hard to have any perspective.
Often, children of narcissists will adapt to the parenting they receive, losing contact with their authentic self. They are so used to being exploited and dominated, they don’t know how healthy relationships work. If you have come to the conclusion your mother is a narcissist, the best option is to talk it through with someone you trust. She probably won’t change unless she sees it as being in her interest. Confronting her may be cathartic, but it generally won’t change anything and it may make things worse. The fundamental problems which cause narcissism are often not things that can be fixed through self-reflection, although that would be a good start. People with narcissistic tendencies tend not to seek therapy, unless they fear they will lose something important to them or reach a crisis point. Staying in contact with a ‘narcissistic’ parent is a choice. If you decide that you want to stay in contact with your mother, you will need to accept you may never receive the acknowledgement you long for in your relationship with her. You will need to validate your own feelings and accept the grieving process that accompanies a realization of her profound limitations.
For daughters of ‘narcissistic mothers’, it can be a long road to recovery. Because they have grown up under the strict rule of a woman with severe character flaws, they will often have a depleted sense of self. It can take a lot of work in therapy to gain the self-awareness and compassion that will help heal your neglected inner child. But there is hope.
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