SONS OF NARCISSISTIC MOTHERS .ORG
“Cruelty endured from one's mother is unlike any other”
Lawson, Christine Ann (2000-09-01). Understanding the Borderline Mother (p. 289). Jason Aronson, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
Technically, a Narcissistic Mother (NM) would be a mother with a high level of narcissism and, possibly, a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), which would require a diagnosis by a mental health professional. This may be in many cases too extreme and too narrow a definition.
We would define a Narcissistic Mother more broadly as one who, rather than build up her children and equip them for an independently happy life, shapes them to satisfy her own needs. The narcissistic mother will smother, ignore, punish, envy, control, stifle, and even break the confidence of her own children if necessary. Most of the time, this behaviour is unconscious and self-justified. In other words, while the 'good enough' mother teaches her children to fly on their own, the narcissistic mother either clips their wings or attaches a string to their legs so that they will never fly away, and may see nothing wrong with that. She may even trully believe that she is a loving mother.
But no definition seems to resonate more with Adult Children of Narcissistic Mothers than the following list which features on many websites. This long list of characteristics seems to hit the nail on the head for many ACoNM. It isn't clear whom the author is but it may have been written by someone called Chris, and may originate from this page. We highly recommend reading the full list but here's a summary (the headlines):
The Destructive Narcissistic Parent creates a child that only exists to be an extension of her self. It's about secret things. It's about body language. It's about disapproving glances. It's about vocal tone. It's very intimate. And it's very powerful. It's part of who the child is.
1. Everything she does is deniable.
Although some of this is covered in the full version, we'd add:
27. She divides to rule (especially by creating envy between the children through favouritism, as explained in characteristic 3, and by creating misunderstandings between the children, and also sometimes with the other parent)
28. She competes with her own children and can see them as a threat
29. She seduces and can be charming at will
30. She is unpredictable (until you figure her out)
Other descriptions and list of characteristics can be found here:
Overall, a narcissistic mother is a mother who, instead of nurturing her children, is mainly or only focused on herself. Imagine a person in survival mode who cannot therefore look after anyone else for fear of death. The NM either uses her children or tries to destroy anything in them that she perceives as a threat. You are seen as either with her or against her. Attention and "love" are the rewards for compliance and good service. Negligence and abuse are the punishment for trying to separate, and not being of use. Although abuse is also seen as useful when the NM projects her negative feelings onto her children. Overall, the NM is too caught in herself to be aware and interested in her children's feelings. This is character and soul destroying for us, the children. The most difficult is to accept that our mother, who can pretend or occasionally appear to love, isn't capable of true, selfless, and unconditional love. She never will be. We must find love elsewhere. Maternal love is not a reality in our lives. But true love from other sources, including ourselves, can be part of our lives. Maybe the biggest lie ever told, and believed, is that all mothers love their children. In spite of all the cases of abuse, of neglect, and sometimes murder, society is in denial. Denial is the first, and possibly biggest, hurdle we have to jump on our way to freedom.
Narcissistic mothers come in 'all shapes and sizes'. In fact, like anyone else, each one of them is most certainly a unique specimen, the result of their unique background, experience, and conditioning. However, 'labels' or categories can help us understand them better, and communicate about them between ourselves. Dr Karyl McBride, a licensed marriage and family therapist, is the author of a book for our sisters, the daughters of narcissistic mothers (DoNM). In her book, Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, Dr McBride identifies what she calls the "six faces of maternal narcissism". These are:
- The Flamboyant-Extrovert
Dr McBride is careful to explain that a NM can be “primarily one type or a combination of several of these”. More broadly, she sees two opposing types of parenting by NM: over-parenting by the “engulfing mother”, or under-parenting by the “ignoring mother” (McBride, p37).
All of this shows how different each one of our narcissistic mothers can be. Added to this is the fact that the NM, like all narcissists, does not want to be unmasked, and will therefore deny and hide her narcissism. Let's not forget that the narcissist spends a lot of energy maintaining the illusion of their false self. It is a question of life or death for them. On top of this, there is the entourage's denial. Most of us had to deal with our friends saying: “But your mother is great!” This makes it really difficult for children of narcissist to acknowledge the truth, and overcome their own denial and doubts. Validation is key to us. Sadly, like for most things, we have to rely mainly on ourselves for validation. We need to trust ourselves in the labyrinth of deceit created by the narcissist. Thankfully, there seems to be a growing awareness about NMs. Books, websites, blogs, etc., and finding a therapist who understands these issues (and may have themselves personal experience of living with a NPD), can help us greatly in the process of validation and recovery.
Narcissistic Mothers are emotionally immature. This becomes particularly obvious during some episodes of narcissistic rage or other circumstances where the mask is lifted for a while (for example when they are physically hurt or scared). You may suddenly feel that you are dealing with a little girl or an adolescent at best. In some circumstances, even the voice of the NM changes and sounds like that of a child, or the vocabulary is that of a child. For example, after a fall, a NM may call for her mommy in a childish voice, just like a little girl would.
For some SoNMs, having a NM is like living under the dictatorship of a six-year-old girl with the body, intellect and power of an adult. The following article describes in more detail the similarities between a six-year-old and a narcissist: http://www.halcyon.com/jmashmun/npd/six.html
One tip for dealing with a NM as an adult is to see through the curtain of deceit: Imagine that your mother is a six-year-old hiding in the body of a grown-up. Suddenly, her abusive words and her crazy behaviours can be seen for what they are. If you've ever seen The Wizard of OZ, you will remember that OZ was in fact a weak and frightened little man hiding behind the mask of a frightening wizard. Once the mask has fallen, there is no reason to be sacred or intimidated anymore.
Labels and categories, or types, are quite useful, but may sometimes be reductive, misleading, and confusing. This seems to be true about the distinction between narcissistic mothers and borderline mothers. Many people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) also seem to have a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). In fact, depending on the source and the study, the "co-morbidity", or co-occurrence, seems to vary between 15% and 39%. The higher results come from research including NPDs that are not aware of their condition. Whereas people with BPD are more willing to confront their condition, NPDs rarely do, and therefore it is quite difficult to measure. Whichever way you look at it, there are good chances to have a mother with both disorders. For some adult children in particular, the distinction between BPD and NPD is unclear. For all these reasons, we feel it important to also look at borderline mothers in our examination of narcissistic mothers.
Dr Dan S. Lobel writes about the differences between Narcissitic and Borderline Mothers in an online article entitled: 'The Borderline/Narcissitic Mother' (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-intelligent-divorce/201406/the-borderlinenarcissistic-mother)
Dr Christine Ann Lawson is the author of Understanding the Borderline Mother: Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship. In her book she describes four types of borderline mothers which, she stresses, "are not mutually exclusive" (p36):
Dr Lawson also compares the "Maternal Functioning" of the ideal mother with the borderline mother. Many if not all of the behaviours attributed to borderline mothers may also apply to narcissistic mothers:
Lawson, Christine Ann (2000). Understanding the Borderline Mother (Table 2-1. p. 34). Jason Aronson, Inc.. Kindle Edition
Are you the son of a narcissistic mother? Do you recognize her in the lines above? Let us know.
First Published: 19 May 2014 - Latest update: 11 May 2016
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