Living With Narcissistic Mothers

My name is Jennifer Bishop. I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Boca Raton. I offer services both in the office and virtually through phone or Skype. As a Mental Health Counselor, I specialize in working with children ages 3 to 16 and with Adults on wellness and healing in live their life’s purpose.


She is a winner, at least in public. Establishing the ‘ideal,’ successful world – career, owning your own home, family – isn’t a simple walk in the park. And no one said it was going to be easy. But there’s someone in your life that makes it look that way; your mother. She’s the woman everyone admires – she’s a professional, everyone’s friend. She’s on every committee and in every club. She smoothly balances being socially nimble, while contributing to the community in a way that leaves others in awe. In their eyes, she’s superwoman.


Most people don’t know that this superwoman has a secret. Like everyone in this world, she has a flaw. No one is the epitome of perfection and in mom’s case, the issue is narcissism. The outside world may embrace her, but you know mom as self-centered, brittle, easily angered and “always right,” She may be loved by her friends and colleagues, but they don’t know the mom you know. You get maternal love now and then, but it is unpredictable, conditional and punctuated by control, anger and a need to walk on eggshells. The narcissistic mother’s love is typically volatile and conditional.


Parenthood is never about anyone else but them. For most people, having a child means having someone to take care of and love, not the other way around. A narcissist cares about no one but themselves and not even having a child can change their mindset.


Here are 19 Behavior Symptoms of a Narcissistic Mother


  1. Everything She Does Is Deniable

Everything she does is deniable. There is always a facile excuse or an explanation. Cruelties are couched in loving terms. Aggressive and hostile acts are paraded as thoughtfulness. Selfish manipulations are presented as gifts. Criticism and slander is slyly disguised as concern. She only wants what is best for you. She only wants to help you.


She rarely says right out that she thinks you’re inadequate. Instead, any time that you tell her you’ve done something good, she simply ignores you or she hears you out without saying anything, then in a short time does something cruel to you so you understand not to get above yourself. She will carefully separate cause (your joy in your accomplishment) from effect by enough time that someone who didn’t live through her abuse would never believe the connection.


Many of her putdowns are simply by comparison. She’ll talk about how wonderful someone else is or what a wonderful job they did on something you’ve also done or how highly she thinks of them. The contrast is left up to you. She has let you know that you’re no good without saying a word.


She’ll spoil your pleasure in something by simply congratulating you for it in an angry, envious voice that conveys how unhappy she is, again, completely deniably. It is impossible to confront someone over their tone of voice, their demeanor or they way they look at you, but once your narcissistic mother has you trained, she can promise terrible punishment without a word. As a result, you’re always afraid, always in the wrong, and can never exactly put your finger on why.


Because her abusiveness is part of a lifelong campaign of control and because she is careful to rationalize her abuse, it is extremely difficult to explain to other people what is so bad about her.


She’s also careful about when and how she engages in her abuses. She’s very secretive, a characteristic of almost all abusers (“Don’t wash our dirty laundry in public!”) and will punish you for telling anyone else what she’s done. The times and locations of her worst abuses are carefully chosen so that no one who might intervene will hear or see her bad behavior, and she will seem like a completely different person in public.


She’ll slam you to other people, but will always embed her devaluing nuggets of snide gossip in protestations of concern, love and understanding (“I feel so sorry for poor Cynthia. She always seems to have such a hard time, but I just don’t know what I can do for her!”) As a consequence the children of narcissists universally report that no one believes them (“I have to tell you that she always talks about YOU in the most caring way!).



  1. She Violates Your Boundaries

She violates your boundaries. You feel like an extension of her. Your property is given away without your consent, sometimes in front of you. Your food is eaten off your plate or given to others off your plate. Your property may be repossessed and no reason given other than that it was never yours. Your time is committed without consulting you, and opinions purported to be yours are expressed for you. (She LOVES going to the fair! He would never want anything like that. She wouldn’t like kumquats.)


You are discussed in your presence as though you are not there. She keeps tabs on your bodily functions and humiliates you by divulging the information she gleans, especially when it can be used to demonstrate her devotion and highlight her martyrdom to your needs (“Mike had that problem with frequent urination too, only his was much worse. I was so worried about him!”)


You have never known what it is like to have privacy in the bathroom or in your bedroom, and she goes through your things regularly. She asks nosy questions, snoops into your email/letters/diary/ conversations. She will want to dig into your feelings, particularly painful ones and is always looking for negative information on you which can be used against you. She does things against your expressed wishes frequently. All of this is done without seeming embarrassment or thought.



  1. She Undermines

Your accomplishments are acknowledged only to the extent that she can take credit for them. Any success or accomplishment for which she cannot take credit is ignored or diminished.


Any time you are to be center stage and there is no opportunity for her to be the center of attention, she will try to prevent the occasion altogether, or she doesn’t come, or she leaves early, or she acts like it’s no big deal, or she steals the spotlight or she slips in little wounding comments about how much better someone else did or how what you did wasn’t as much as you could have done or as you think it is.


She undermines you by picking fights with you or being especially unpleasant just before you have to make a major effort. She acts put out if she has to do anything to support your opportunities or will outright refuse to do even small things in support of you. She will be nasty to you about things that are peripherally connected with your successes so that you find your joy in what you’ve done is tarnished, without her ever saying anything directly about it. No matter what your success, she has to take you down a peg about it.



  1. She demeans, criticizes and denigrates

She lets you know in all sorts of little ways that she thinks less of you than she does

other people in general. If you complain about mistreatment by someone else, she

will take that person’s side even if she doesn’t know them at all. She doesn’t care

about those people or the justice of your complaints. She just wants to let you know

that you’re never right.


She will deliver generalized barbs that are almost impossible to rebut (always in a loving, caring tone): “You were always difficult” “You can be very difficult to love” “You never seemed to be able to finish anything” “You were very hard to live with” “You’re always causing trouble” “No one could put up with the things you do.”


She will deliver slams in a sidelong way – for example she’ll complain about how “no one” loves her, does anything for her, or cares about her, or she’ll complain that “everyone” is so selfish, when you’re the only person in the room. As always, this combines criticism with deniability.


She minimizes, discounts or ignores your opinions and experiences. Your insights are met with condescension, denials and accusations and she will brush off your information even on subjects on which you are an acknowledged expert. Whatever you say is met with smirks and amused sounding or exaggerated exclamations (“Uh hunh!” “You don’t say!” “Really!”). She’ll then make it clear that she didn’t listen to a word you said.



  1. She Makes You Look Crazy

If you try to confront her about something she’s done, she’ll tell you that you have “a very vivid imagination” or “that didn’t happen” that you don’t know what you’re talking about, or that she has no idea what you’re talking about. She will claim not to remember even very memorable events, flatly denying they ever happened, nor will she ever acknowledge any possibility that she might have forgotten. This is an extremely aggressive and exceptionally infuriating tactic called “gaslighting,” common to abusers of all kinds.


Your perceptions of reality are continually undermined so that you end up without any confidence in your intuition, your memory or your powers of reasoning. This makes you a much better victim for the abuser.


Narcissists gaslight routinely. The narcissist will either insinuate or will tell you outright that you’re unstable, otherwise you wouldn’t believe such ridiculous things or be so uncooperative. You’re oversensitive. You’re imagining things. You’re hysterical. You’re completely unreasonable. You’re over-reacting, like you always. She’ll talk to you when you’ve calmed down and aren’t so irrational. She may even characterize you as being neurotic or psychotic.


Once she’s constructed these fantasies of your emotional pathologies, she’ll tell others about them, as always, presenting her smears as expressions of concern and declaring her own helpless victimhood. She didn’t do anything. She has no idea why you’re so irrationally angry with her. You’ve hurt her terribly. She thinks you may need

psychotherapy. She loves you very much and would do anything to make you happy, but she just doesn’t know what to do. You keep pushing her away when all she wants to do is help you.


She has simultaneously absolved herself of any responsibility for your obvious antipathy towards her, implied that it’s something fundamentally wrong with you that makes you angry with her, and undermined your credibility with her listeners. She plays the role of the doting mother so perfectly that no one will believe you.



  1. She’s a Liar In Too Many Ways To Count

Any time she talks about something that has emotional significance for her, it’s a fair bet that she’s lying. Lying is one way that she creates conflict in the relationships and lives of those around her – she’ll lie to them about what other people have said, what they’ve done, or how they feel.


She’ll lie about her relationship with them, about your behavior or about your situation in order to inflate herself and to undermine your credibility.


The narcissist is very careful about how she lies. To outsiders she’ll lie thoughtfully and deliberately, always in a way that can be covered up if she’s confronted with her lie. She spins what you said rather than makes something up wholesale. She puts dishonest interpretations on things you actually did. If she’s recently done something particularly egregious she may engage in preventative lying: she lies in advance to discount what you might say before you even say it. Then when you talk about what she did you’ll be cut off with “I already know all about it…your mother told me… (self-justifications and lies).” Because she is so careful about her deniability, it may be very hard to catch her in her lies and the more gullible of her friends may never realize how dishonest she is.


To you, she’ll lie blatantly. She will claim to be unable to remember bad things she has done, even if she did one of them recently and even if it was something very memorable. Of course, if you try to jog her memory by recounting the circumstances “You have a very vivid imagination” or “That was so long ago. Why do you have to dredge up your old grudges?” Your conversations with her are full of casual brush-offs and diversionary lies.


On the rare occasions she is forced to acknowledge some bad behavior, she will couch the admission deniably. She “guesses” that “maybe” she “might have” done something wrong. The wrongdoing is always heavily spun and trimmed to make it sound better. The words “I guess,” “maybe,” and “might have” are in and of themselves lies because she knows exactly what she did – no guessing, no might haves, no maybes.



  1. She Has To Be The Center Of Attention At All Times

This need is a defining trait of narcissists and particularly of narcissistic mothers for whom their children exist to be sources of attention and adoration.


Narcissistic mothers love to be waited on and often pepper their children with little requests. “While you’re up…” or its equivalent is one of their favorite phrases. You couldn’t just be assigned a chore at the beginning of the week or of the day, instead, you had to do it on demand, preferably at a time that was inconvenient for you, or you had to “help” her do it.


A narcissistic mother may create odd occasions at which she can be the center of attention, such as major celebrations of small personal milestones.


She may love to entertain so she can be the life of her own party. She will try to steal the spotlight or will try to spoil any occasion where someone else is the center of attention, particularly the child she has cast as the scapegoat.


If she visits you or you visit her, you are required to spend all your time with her. Entertaining herself is unthinkable. She has always pouted, manipulated or raged if you tried to do anything without her, didn’t want to entertain her, refused to wait on her, stymied her plans for a drama or otherwise deprived her of attention.



  1. She Is Selfish and Willfull

She always makes sure she has the best of everything. She insists on having her own way all the time and she will ruthlessly, manipulatively pursue it, even if what she wants isn’t worth all the effort she’s putting into it and even if that effort goes far beyond normal behavior. She has to show you that you can’t tell her “no.”



  1. She is Self-Absorbed

Her feelings, needs and wants are very important; yours are insignificant to the point that her least whim takes precedence over your most basic needs. Her problems deserve your immediate and full attention; yours are brushed aside. Her wishes always take precedence; if she does something for you, she reminds you constantly of her munificence in doing so and will often try to extract some sort of payment. She will complain constantly, even though your situation may be much worse than hers. If you point that out, she will effortlessly, thoughtlessly brush it aside as of no importance



  1. She Terrorizes

For all abusers, fear is a powerful means of control of the victim, and your narcissistic mother used it ruthlessly to train you. Narcissists teach you to beware their wrath even when they aren’t present. The only alternative is constant placation. If you give her everything she wants all the time, you might be spared. If you don’t, the punishments will come. Even adult children of narcissists still feel that carefully inculcated fear. Your narcissistic mother can turn it on with a silence or a look that tells the child in you she’s thinking about how she’s going to get even.


Not all narcissists abuse physically, but most do, often in subtle, deniable ways. It allows them to vent their rage at your failure to be the solution to their internal havoc and simultaneously to teach you to fear them. You may not have been beaten, but you were almost certainly left to endure physical pain when a normal mother would have made an effort to relieve your misery. For example -She resents having to take care of you. You have a lot of nerve getting sick and adding to her burdens. She has to pay for a filling and she’s furious at having to spend money on you.


Narcissistic mothers also abuse by loosing others on you or by failing to protect you when a normal mother would have. Narcissists also abuse by exposing you to violence



  1. She Is Infantile and Petty

If you hurt her feelings she will aggressively whine to you that you’ll be sorry when she’s dead that you didn’t treat her better. These babyish complaints and responses may sound laughable, but the narcissist is dead serious about them. When you were a child, if you ask her to stop some bad behavior, she would justify it by pointing out something that you did that she feels is comparable, as though the childish behavior of a child is justification for the childish behavior of an adult. “Getting even” is a large part of her dealings with you. Anytime you fail to give her the deference, attention or service she feels she deserves, or you thwart her wishes, she has to show you.



  1. She’s Aggressive and Shameless

She doesn’t ask. She demands. She makes outrageous requests and she’ll take anything she wants if she thinks she can get away with it. Her demands of her children are posed in a very aggressive way, as are her criticisms. She won’t take no for an answer, pushing and arm-twisting and manipulating to get you to give in.



  1. She Parentifies

She shed her responsibilities to you as soon as she was able, leaving you to take care of yourself as best you could. She denied basic comforts that she would never have considered giving up for herself.


You studied up on colleges on your own and choose a cheap one without visiting it. You signed yourself up for the SATs, earned the money to pay for them and talked someone into driving you to the test site.


You were never allowed to be needy or have bad feelings or problems. Those experiences were only for her, and you were responsible for making it right for her. From the time you were very young she would randomly lash out at you any time she was stressed or angry with your father or felt that life was unfair to her, because it made her feel better to hurt you. You were often punished out of the blue, for manufactured offenses.



  1. She Is Exploitive

Sometimes the narcissist will exploit a child to absorb punishment that would have been hers from an abusive partner. The husband comes home in a drunken rage, and the mother immediately complains about the child’s bad behavior so the rage is vented on to the child. Sometimes the narcissistic mother simply uses the child to keep a sick marriage intact because the alternative is being divorced or having to go to work. The child is sexually molested but the mother never notices, or worse, calls the child a liar when she tells the mother about the molestation.



  1. She Projects

Projection means that she will put her own bad behavior, character and traits on you so she can deny them in herself and punish you. This happens when she feels shamed and needs to put it on her scapegoat child and the projection therefore comes across as being an attack out of the blue. For example: She makes an outrageous request, and you casually refuse to let her have her way. She’s enraged by your refusal and snarls at you that you’ll talk about it when you’ve calmed down and are no longer hysterical.

You aren’t hysterical at all; she is, but your refusal has made her feel the shame that should have stopped her from making shameless demands in the first place. That’s intolerable. She can transfer that shame to you and rationalize away your response: you only refused her because you’re so unreasonable. Having done that she can

reassert her shamelessness and indulge her childish willfulness by turning an unequivocal refusal into a subject for further discussion. You’ll talk about it again “later” – probably when she’s worn you down with histrionics, pouting and the silent treatment so you’re more inclined to do what she want



  1. She Is Never Wrong About Anything

No matter what she’s done, she won’t ever genuinely apologize for anything. Instead, any time she feels she is being made to apologize she will sulk and pout, issue an insulting apology or negate the apology she has just made with justifications, qualifications or self pity: “I’m sorry you felt that I humiliated you” “I’m sorry if I made you feel bad” “If I did that it was wrong” “I’m sorry, but I there’s nothing I can do about it” “I’m sorry I made you feel clumsy, stupid and disgusting” “I’m sorry but it was just a joke. You’re so over-sensitive” “I’m sorry that my own child feels she has to upset me and make me feel bad.” The last insulting apology is also an example of projection. One of the primary points of conflict is the recalling of events from each party’s perspective. The mother, suffering from the delusions of narcissism, will often remember something in quite a different way to the child.



  1. She Blames

She’ll blame you for everything that isn’t right in her life or for what other people do or for whatever has happened. Always, she’ll blame you. If only you weren’t so difficult. You upset her so much that she can’t think straight. This blaming is often so subtle that all you know is that you thought you were wronged and now you feel guilty. Your brother beats you and her response is to bemoan how uncivilized children are. Your boyfriend dumped you, but she can understand – after all, she herself has seen how difficult you are to love. She’ll do something egregiously exploitative to you, and when confronted will screech at you that she can’t believe you were so selfish as to upset her over such a trivial thing. She’ll also blame you for your reaction to her selfish, cruel and exploitative behavior. She can’t believe you are so petty, so small, and so childish as to object to her giving your favorite dress to her friend. She thought you would be happy to let her do something nice for someone else.


  • Narcissists are masters of multitasking as this example shows. Simultaneously your narcissistic mother is:
  • She knows what she did was wrong and she knows your reaction is reasonable.
  • She’s making you look like the bad guy for objecting to her cruelties.
  • Being selfish. She doesn’t mind making you feel horrible as long as she gets her own way.
  • She did something wrong, but it’s all your fault.
  • Her petty, small and childish behavior has become yours.
  • Putting on a self-pitying drama. She’s a martyr who believed the best of you, and you’ve let her down.
  • Parentifying. You’re responsible for her feelings, she has no responsibility for yours.



  1. She Lacks Empathy

They struggle to see things from anyone’s perspective other than their own and they believe that other people feel, think and act as they do. In other words, they have very poor theory of mind. For mothers like this, it means not being able to understand why their child behaves the way it does.


The response is often one of anger, even if the child is clearly upset, sad or frightened because she is unable to see through their eyes and understand where these feelings are coming from. All she sees is a petulant, ungrateful, trouble-making child. She won’t comfort them in her arms, cheer them up when they are blue, or give a reassuring word in their ear to ease their pain. In fact, she’ll probably do the complete opposite because it’s all she knows. For example, threaten, get angry or leave.



  1. She Controls

Narcissistic mothers try to control their children in one of four different ways:

  1. Guilt-driven: They make their children feel guilty and making them feel like a burden on the narcissistic parent. They say things like, “I sacrificed my life, my body, for you…”
  2. Dependence-driven: Makes their child feel that they could not go on living without their child in their life. They tell their kids that they need them and that they cannot take care of themselves, their lives, and their well-being by themselves.
  3. Goal-driven: I like to call this the Tiger Mom Effect. This means that the narcissistic parent, not necessarily the mother (although it usually is), is always striving or making their child strive to be the best no matter what and no matter if the child is truly interested in the goal or not. They live vicariously through their child and ride on the coattails of their achievements. They may say things like, “We have a goal we need to achieve…”
  4. Explicit: This type of control is based on negative repercussions if their child does not do what they want or say. They withhold rewards and give excessive punishment if they do not get their way. This can be very draining on the child because they feel that they can never do anything right.



A Narcissistic Mother and Children equals Instability. Children experience continued psychological whiplash being raised by a narcissistic mother. You realize she controls with the threat of withdrawal of rage with you. Your father goes along to get along, or leaves.


The Value of Validation:

When trying to understand the narcissistic mother, the important word to think about is – VALIDATION. Everyone needs validation in order to feel emotionally secure. Plus it does not stop with childhood, we need to be validated in our relationships and at work as adults.


An emotionally healthy parent can validate out of love. It is that easy. And, it you are emotionally health, you can give out validation as well. Validation is not false praise, it is catching you for being good at something. Or seeing you for the person you are, or simply feeling like you are important to your mom or dad. Validation is not poisoning a child with saccharine support; when a person is validated, they feel truly appreciated. Healthy validation sinks in, and transforms to healthy self-esteem.


Narcissistic people have trouble validating others. They are too caught up with needing to be validated themselves. Whether it is their looks, or money, or position, or career, or their “successful” children, the narcissist mother has a huge hole to fill. And, their children suffer.


How Children Are Affected:

If you have a mother who is a narcissist or with narcissistic tendencies, you may be struggling to enjoy the fruits of your adults life. Your career – no matter how great – may not be good enough. Relationships may not do it as well. You have the very hold that mom had, and passed down to you. She taught you that whatever you have is not enough. Or, your need for validation may taught you to seek approval from someone who can’t give it to you, so you find yourself in relationships that re-enact your early life experience.


Surviving a Narcissistic Mother:

So how do you deal with the consequences of a narcissistic mother? There are no simple rules here. But with general awareness of what you are dealing with, much can e done!


Here are a few insights that may help:

  • Get a consultation with a good therapist. Maternal support is so essential for healthy adult life that it will be of service to go into effective psychotherapy. You will want to objectify the deprivation that you experienced, and see how it plays out in the present moment. This is the first step to change. Once free, it will be easier to deal with your upbringing.
  • Her egotistical tendencies strains your relationship. Your mom needs to be the center of attention or all isn’t right in the world. The best you can do is accept that while keeping her in check – don’t allow her to hurt your or your ego as she satisfies and feeds hers.
  • Set good limits and keep hurt to a minimum. Your mother may make you feel like a failure when things are not going her way. But remember – that is her problem, not yours. She may express her rage and dissatisfaction with something and take if out on you by proxy. Simply let her know that what she is doing is not constructive. You can develop ways to walk away or defuse the situation. It is better to take charge than becoming the passive recipient of hurt.
  • Remember your self-worth because a narcissistic mother will down play it. You didn’t receive the empathy and validation that you deserved as a child and this has followed you into adulthood. Keep in mind that people with narcissistic tendencies have a deficit with empathy because they’re simply too preoccupied with their own needs. So don’t expect your mom to pass this department with flying colors or you’ll be sorely disappointed.
  • Be realistic when dealing with your mom. It will be more difficult for your mother to hurt you if you know what to expect during our encounters. It should be fairly predictable. You’re more than aware of hoe selfish she can be, so keep this in mind when you continue your relationship with her as an adult. And keep the necessary distance you need in order to keep conflicts at bay.
  • Assure your mother that if she is doing something for you, she will benefit. This is not an entirely honest approach to dealing with your mom, but in some extreme narcissistic cases, you need to serve her with her own dose of manipulation. If you need her to help in something, the only way you may see any results is if you successfully spin it to make her appears as the one who benefits. (this may help some people, this is not a sanction to be a manipulator yourself)
  • If distancing isn’t your approach, then accepting your narcissistic mother the way she is and letting go of wanting more may work. It isn’t easy cutting your mom out of your life or reducing time together. After all, it isn’t like dealing with a narcissistic partner. And you may feel a sense of loyalty to her. So, if you can step back, it may be possible to comply with many of your mom’s wishes and not fight with her. This can work if you have truly forgiven her and accept what you’re dealing with.
  • If your relationship with your mom becomes threatening or toxic, the only way out may be to distance yourself from the relationship. It isn’t healthy continuing an abusive or violent relationship regardless of who it is with. It will hurt to cut ties with your mom, but taking distance and precaution may be the only answer.
  • Did your mom taint your dating habits or expectations? Perhaps you haven’t realized it, but you have become a tad vain and egotistical yourself, especially in your love life? Or perhaps you lack trust in those who seek interest in you? Or even worse, you’re in a relationship with a narcissistic partner? Any of these scenarios will decrease your ability to truly be intimate with another person. Awareness and therapy can open doors
  • Put your foot down and assert your authority while challenging hers. It is pretty apparent narcissists loathe criticism – because everything they do in their world is always right. Well, you are now an adult who can politely inform your mother that her know-it-all, threatening attitude is no longer- and has never been – tolerable. Under certain circumstances it can be constructive to fight back fire with fire. Just know that this can backfire (she may need to win at all costs) so choose your battles carefully.
  • Having compassion and pity for your narcissistic mother. Your mother probably needs compassion, pity and empathy from you, although it may not seem that way. She had her own injuries, maybe a hard life or her own narcissistic parents. People don’t become so self-centered without an injury somewhere along the way. Just know that although she has a hard way of showing it, she may still really care about you.
  • Acceptance Is Key. It was tough growing up with a narcissistically inclined mother but it wasn’t impossible. With luck, there wee other supportive figures who may have validated you along the way. Your father and siblings knew exactly what kind of wrath you were dealing with at home and school friends may have been a sanctuary that accepted and validated you. Plus, you may have found other outlets through reading, hobbies, art or sports that encourages you somehow to know that you’re truly capable.


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