Most of my clients arrive at the conclusion that their mother is a narcissist through the back door. They come to therapy to uncover something about themselves: why they have such low self-esteem, how they can stop people-pleasing all of the time, or what they can do to alleviate their anxiety or depression. Often these women are having a difficult time relaxing into their mothering roles, wanting to do everything perfectly, fearing that they are inadequate to the task, and having trouble feeling good about how they are handling their children. Invariably, when our discussion veers toward their own mothers, I hear common themes: There’s something wrong with me, I’m not good enough, Maybe I’m crazy, and the list goes on. They feel disconnected from their mothers — perhaps have even moved a thousand miles away to escape their mothers’ big personalities — and yet the issues reach across state lines and over decades to continue causing wounds.
Wondering if you have a narcissistic mother? The site DaughtersofNarcissisticMothers.com does a very effective job at going beyond the clinical definition of narcissistic personality disorder and showing how this manifests specifically in mothers. If you read the list and begin gasping and wondering how in the world they pegged your mother so well, then you can draw your own conclusions. To get you started, though, here are a few of the most notable characteristics of narcissistic mothers:
1) She needs to be the center of attention. If something you do attracts positive attention, she will either co-opt the success as her own or find a way to poke holes in it.
2) Other people — outside of your inner family circle — think she is wonderful. She is good at making friends and seeming like the life of the party to the extent that others will defend her to you, “Your mother is so wonderful! She talks about you all of the time!”
3) She has a string of people — like groupies — who she uses. When her attention is fully focused on them, they feel flattered and wonderful and are easily manipulated. But she uses them up and they get disenchanted. They, unlike you, aren’t related to her so they can move on.
4) She lies. She re-tells stories in ways that are flattering to her and casts you in weird roles in situations that never happened. When you challenge her version of events, she gets angry and withdraws affection.
5) She creates tensions between everyone in the family, sharing secrets and gossip and pitting everyone against each other.
6) Her love comes at a high price and is not loving. It is critical and mean and petty, making you feel unloved, unworthy, and unwanted.
The legacy of having a narcissistic mother is a feeling of profound shame and self-doubt. But the good news is that you can combat the negative effects of having a narcissistic mother and take back control of your own life. Start by exploring whether or not your own mom could be a narcissist. When the diagnosis fits, it sure does explain a lot.