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Sons of Narcissistic Mothers

Impact / Childhood and adolescence / Abuse / Codependency / Feelings / Shame / Hope / Ian's Take


Like any child of narcissist, the sons of narcissistic mothers (SoNMs) will be treated as either the golden child, the scapegoat, or the forgotten child (see Roles in our page on The Narcissistic Family). It is often said or written that the golden child will become a narcissist themselves. While this is possible, there is no data that we know of to support this. Of all three roles, the forgotten child may be the most likely to have the freedom to be themselves, and therefore the least ‘damaged'. Overall, it would appear that children of narcissistic parents have greater chances of becoming either narcissists, codependent, or have any other personality disorders.

Eleanor Payson, author of The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists , writes: ‘Whatever unique wounding exists for you as the adult child of an NPD parent, there will be some manifestation of difficulty in the form of compulsive behaviors, grandiose strivings, low self-esteem, excessive guilt and worry, anxiety, depression, loss of vitality, codependency issues-and the list goes on. These symptoms will be the clues that force your attention inward to recognize your need for healing.' (Eleanor Payson. The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love, and Family, Julian Day Publications, 2002 (p74)).

Dr Dan S. Lobel writes in an online article on narcissistic and borderline mothers: ' The children of Borderlines and Narcissists all suffer assaults to their self-esteem and self-concept' [...] 'The Baron womb of the Narcissist offers an environment of neglect with their children feeling invisible, ‘less than', or at least ‘less important than', and unworthy with associated low self-esteem.' [...] 'The child of the Narcissist mother must analyze their sense of self and rebuild it without relying on their parent or parent substitute for approval.' ( D. Lobel 'The Borderline/Narcissitic Mother' -

Child abuse seems to repeat itself from generation to generation. It is highly likely that your narcissistic mother was severely abused or came from a highly dysfunctional family. Possibly, she had a narcissistic mother herself. Victims of abuse can reproduce the same type of abuse with their own children. It is therefore essential to break the cycle of abuse. The experience of being the child of a narcissist is highly traumatic and will no doubt seriously impact all the children. Some sons don't seem to be entirely aware that they have been the victims of abuse. Many sons report a rather normal childhood. Some report abuse starting in adolescence.



A SoNM who is the golden child may recollect a golden childhood and adolescence. He may have been treated like a prince, and then a king. He will have been fed with the message that he is special, exceptional, etc., and given everything he wanted to serve the grandiose projections of his mother. He will become a doctor, or lawyer, or anything that makes mommy proud. He will have a trophy wife, picture perfect children, a house and a dog, or two, and maybe a boat on a lake. He may sleep around and divorce, be a workaholic, gamble, drink a bit, steal a little. But he makes mommy, and daddy, proud. He may never realise that he was never allowed to be truly himself, and will continue going through life according to mommy's wishes until he dies. He is unlikely to be reading this webpage. Other sons of narcissistic mothers, including some ‘golden' ones, will have a more chaotic experience of life. But usually childhood is remembered as the better part.


In early childhood, the narcissistic mother can more easily control her children and maintain them in a state of dependence. Many ACoNs report being isolated, often missing school, never having any friends at home, etc. It is usual for a mother to accompany her children everywhere in childhood, and to make decisions for them. But as the child becomes an adolescent, they will need more independence, and want to make their own decisions according to their needs and wants. It is then that the more obvious forms of abuse start. Beatings, insults, beratement, humiliations, unfair treatment, neglect, abandonment, etc. All this aims at ensuring that you behave as you narcissistic mother wishes. Some of this abuse is similar to what a totalitarian regime would do to break an adult's spirit. As Payson explains, the narcissist ‘expects you to conform to his will, just as his own arm or leg would do. When your behavior deviates from his expectations, he often becomes as upset with you as he would be if his arm or leg were no longer under his control.' (Payson 2002, p22).

While it may feel like the abuse started with adolescence, the reality is that abuse by the NM will have started from very early childhood. But you may have forgotten it. Pia Mellody, author of Facing Codependence, writes: ‘Part of the way children defend themselves from overwhelming experiences is to candy-coat the memories, so they are more pleasant, or put the memories out of conscious awareness using a myriad of protective devices called defense mechanisms.' (Mellody 2003, p128)



When people mention child abuse, most people think of sexual or physical abuse. But there are many other ways a child can be abused and scarred for life. In Facing Codependence , Pia Mellody distinguishes five different types of abuse: physical, sexual, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. She also makes a distinction between overt and covert abuse. Overt abuse is visible, while covert abuse is less obvious, sneaky, and deniable. The NM is a specialist covert abuse. Most ACoNs report how difficult it was to deal with covert abuse because nobody other than them could see what was really going on, and they strive for validation as a result. Covert abuse can be crazy-making.

•  Physical abuse: any form of beating or touching that sends the message that the child's body is not valuable, worthy of respect, or their own property. Some physical abuse is also sexual abuse. Covert physical abuse can happen through inflicting the child unnecessary physical pain, like an itchy woolly sweater.

•  Sexual abuse: this covers but extends beyond overt sex. A mother being seductive with her son, or walking naked in front of him, are forms of sexual abuse. Teasing the child about sex, exposing them to inappropriate sexual content or information, etc., are also forms of sexual abuse.

•  Emotional abuse: in a way, all abuse is emotional abuse, since the main damage of any form of abuse is emotional. Mellody writes: ‘Emotional abuse is probably the most frequent kind of abuse. It happens through verbal abuse, social abuse, and the neglect or abandonment of dependency needs' (Mellody 2003 p177). Public humiliation is a form of covert emotional abuse favoured by NMs. Withdrawing love, however, is her favourite weapon.

•  Intellectual abuse undermines the value of the child's own thoughts and opinions. Not listening to a child voicing an opinion is a subtle but efficient form of intellectual abuse.

•  Spiritual abuse denies the child's right to his own spiritual development, beliefs, and experience of a higher power. Being active in church and acting as a devoted servant of God is a typical example of covert spiritual abuse by the NM,

(Mellody, 2003, p142-202)

In the Recovery section of this site, we look at ways to recover from abuse.

The narcissistic mother sees her children as an extension of herself and doesn't recognise their right to be a separate human being. As a result the NM abuses her children by failing to respect their boundaries, and treating them like objects (or possessions) rather than human beings.

The main damage done by abuse is that the emotions triggered by the abuse cannot be expressed, recognized and processed, unless the child is given the opportunity to do so. Many victims of abuse report that the abuser didn't allow them to show their emotions especially as they were abused. One common example is the child denied the right to cry during or after the abuse. Covert abuse is particularly harmful as there is little chance to deal with something that is so hidden.

Many victims of abuse in their childhood, in particular children of narcissists, show in adulthood the symptoms of what is known as codependency.



Originally, codependency referred to someone close to an alcoholic, for example the enabling partner, who was seen as dependent on the alcoholic's addiction without being the abuser themselves, hence the term co-dependency, since both the alcoholic and the codependent were seen as dependent on the same addiction, one actively and the other passively. But today it is understood, in fact, that the codependent is addicted to the substance abuser in the same way the abuser is addicted to the substance. The concept now extends not only to any substance or compulsive behaviour addiction, but also to narcissism. Although some prefer the term co-narcissism, codependency now also refers to someone dependent on satisfying a narcissist. The difference between a narcissist and other addicts (some are both) is that the narcissist is dependent on narcissistic supply rather than a substance or an activity. With a narcissist, the codependent is more than a facilitator, and even more than a supplier, they ARE the supply. This gives a new relevance to the term codependency since the narcissist and the codependent are dependent on one another.

Codependent: dependent on giving e.g. taking care of addict or narcissist

Addict or narcissist: dependent on receiving external supply, either substance, activity or induced emotions such as envy


While all SoNMs may not be codependent, they were groomed to provide for the NM and will therefore show some of the symptoms of codependency.

Pia Mellody (Mellody 2003 pp.7-44) sees five core symptoms of codependency (which she prefers calling codependence):

•  Difficulty experiencing appropriate levels of self-esteem: Codependents feel either better than (grandiosity) or less than (low self-esteem) others, but not equal to others. Mellody explains that codependents rely on external factors to determine their self-esteem (which makes it ‘other-esteem') and therefore depend on what others reflect back to them.

•  Difficulty setting functional boundaries: boundaries are either inexistent, damaged, or like a wall keeping anyone away, and preventing any intimacy with others.

•  Difficulty owning our own reality: Codependents don't always know who they really are, what they really feel, aren't always aware of their behaviour, or objective about their body.

•  Difficulty acknowledging and meeting our own needs and wants and being interdependent with others: codependents are either too dependent or anti-dependent, they can get confused between what they need and what they want, or be unaware of their own needs and desires.

•  Difficulty experiencing and expressing our reality moderately: things easily get out of proportions. Codependents tend to think in black or white, have either extreme feelings or no feelings at all, take extreme measures in reaction to a problem, etc.


Mellody writes (p37): ‘The heart and soul of codependence lies in the difficulty codependents have knowing what their feelings are and how to share them. Codependents seem to have the most difficulty experiencing feelings moderately; they feel little or no emotions, or have explosive or agonizing ones.'


Boys don't cry. SoNMs were given many reasons to cry but never the right to. Defending yourself from experiencing your emotions is like shutting down your heart. SoNMs are at high risk of having a dead heart.



Of all the feelings repressed by SoNMs, shame could be the deepest one. In his book, Healing the shame that binds you , John Bradshaw (Bradshaw 2005) writes: ‘If our primary caregivers are shame-based, they will act shameless and pass their toxic shame onto us. There is no way to teach self-value if one does not value oneself.'(Bradshaw, Locations 831-833). […] ‘One of the devastating aspects of toxic shame is that it is multigenerational. The secret and hidden aspects of toxic shame form the wellsprings of its multigenerational life. Since it is kept hidden, it cannot be worked out. Families are as sick as their toxic shame secrets. ‘ (Bradshaw Locations 984-986). […]' Children need mirroring and echoing. These come from their primary caregiver's eyes. Mirroring means that someone is there for them and reflects who they really are at any given moment of time. In the first three years of our life each of us needed to be admired and taken seriously. We needed to be accepted for the very one we are. Having these mirroring needs met results in what Alice Miller calls our basic narcissistic supplies. […]When parents are shame-based and needy, they are unable to take over the mirroring narcissistic function for the child. Furthermore, the fact that the parents are shame-based is a clear signal that they never got their own narcissistic supplies. Such parents are adult children who are still in search of a parent or an object who will be totally available to them. For such parents, the most appropriate objects of narcissistic gratification are their own children.' (Bradshaw, Locations 1163-1166).



There is hope. If you are reading this, it means that you have lifted the veil of denial that keeps most SoNMs away from any chance of recovery. Please share with us any personal experience that may give hope to other SoNMs.


I you are reading this, chances are that you are either the son of a narcissistic or otherwise uncaring /abusive mother, or closely involved with a SONM. You may also be worried about the fact that you or your partner might be narcissistic. The short answer is that a narcissist either knows that they are (conscious) or is in such denial (unconscious defense mechanism) that they would never even consider the possibility of being one. So your self doubt is evidence that you were lucky not to inherit your mother's illness. That said, you will probably have some things to work on, including some traits you may find difficult to accept in yourself, especially if they remind you of your mother. But acceptance is essential in order to recover, accept and like/love ourselves. Recovery is a process that takes some of us from black and white thinking to seeing things in shades of grey, and then, hopefully, in colour.


First Published: 7 June 2014 - Latest update: 30 March 2021




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