My heart always nosedives when I meet the victim of a narcissistic mother. They are usually some of the nicest people you will ever meet, though it may be difficult to get to know them. When they come for prayer ministry, it isn’t the presence of bad memories making it difficult for them to heal. While bad memories are plentiful, the lack of good memories is actually more of a barrier. And while abusive fathers are bad enough, a narcissistic mother in some ways is far worse.
Mothers are crucial to the development of the internal self of a baby. A child whose mother is incapable of meeting basic emotional needs is thwarted from the very beginning. A narcissistic mother strips the agency from a child, leaving them without a defined sense of self in many cases. Put another way, a mother’s care and affection are deposits into the developing identity of a child. If denied this tenderness, a young child lacks a sense of what is ‘me’ and what is ‘not me’. This leads to an adulthood that lacks joy and makes decision-making a nightmare.
So how can you tell if your mother is narcissistic? Look for these signs:
Her children are extensions of herself.
A narcissistic mother believes that her worth as a parent will be judged by the achievements of her children. In order to create a supporting cast worthy of her sense of grandiosity, she becomes a tyrant at home. A narcissistic mother micro-manages everything from clothing to achievements at school. A child is not a person, merely a puppet to be manipulated into making mommy look like a star mommy.
Because their personal boundaries are so often invaded, their children often grow up to be doormats. They literally have no practice making decisions and often rely on others to make them. Sometimes I think the Tiger mom method of raising children strays into this arena. The goal of child-rearing is not nurturing accomplishment. The aim is to nurture a person.
She chooses favorites.
The reason for choosing favorites is not due to feeling closer to one child than another. The actual motivation is pretty diabolical. If she can cause division among the ranks of her kids, then they can’t gang up on her. A divided army can’t throw off the chains of tyranny.
One common way to nurture this rancor between siblings is to show outrageous favor to one while over-punishing the others. This guarantees that one child will have her back against the others. Because the worldview of a narcissist is always us against them, she reenacts this scenario at home over and over.
She competes with her children.
If you compliment the child of a narcissistic mother, she will turn it around as praise to herself. I remember commenting on how bright one student was. Her mother immediately said I know she is bright because I am even brighter! I looked at her in astonishment and tried again by noting her daughter’s accomplishments. She responded She would never have accomplished any of it without me pushing her. Those accomplishments are really mine.
I felt slimed and very sorry for that young woman. A narcissistic mother must always be in the limelight. A real mother wants her children to shine all on their own.
A narcissistic mother is incapable of empathy.
Typically, a child raised by a narcissistic parent of either sex feels no closeness with that parent. This is a giant void in the life of a child. What makes the lack of empathy by a mother so virulently harmful is that it is a mother’s love that a child must first encounter. The love of a mother is crucial to the emotional development of a person.
The results of this lack of nurture leave a person unable to bond deeply and yet with a need that no person can fill. As adults, we give out of the well of love that we have received. If our well is dry, giving and receiving love, even just experiencing being loved, can be very difficult. That lack of good things harms our love receptors. People may love the adult child of a narcissist, but they will have difficulty recognizing and internalizing it.
The child is to blame for everything.
The ingrained belief of a narcissistic mother is that everything that goes wrong can be laid at the door of her child. Every bad mood or conflict is the fault of the child. She nurses grudges against her children and view any failure in their lives as an attack on her. Even her memories of family events are a litany of what everyone did wrong.
This is not just being critical. A narcissistic mother convinces herself that something is wrong with the very being of her children and goes out of her way to communicate that. Children of such mothers have little self-esteem and are often plagued by self-destructive tendencies. They participate in the rejection of their very selves and often wish they had never been born.
The child of a narcissistic mother often acts as her mediator in her transient relationships.
A narcissistic mother tends to be likable and charismatic. That is until you get to know her. Then suddenly conflicts and misunderstandings begin to arise. The child is often put in the place of her advocate against an unfair world. Such a child must try to smooth over the relationships or attempt to make amends for the wrongs of their parent.
This often results in a highly parentified child, one who must be the caretaker of the parent. One easy way to spot a narcissist is if they constantly recount the number of times that others have done them wrong. They don’t seem to realize that the only constant in their equation is themselves.
She gaslights her own kids.
A narcissistic mother has a selective memory. Common phrases are I never said that! That never happened. You made that up! It’s just your imagination. At every turn, she revises history and turns the words of her children against them. The goal here is not necessarily self-defense. The goal is to make her children so doubt themselves that they will trust her word over theirs. She is attempting to separate her children from their very selves to turn them into extensions of herself, with her version of life.
The tragic result of this is that the children of a narcissistic mother doubt their feelings and thoughts. They are forced to live a life of cognitive dissonance where their minds had to block out their feelings. Divided against themselves, children of narcissists often turn to self-destructive measures to numb the pain or they become dissociative. Survival depended on disconnecting from themselves.
I remember reading C.S. Lewis say that writing The Screwtape Letters was a terrible experience. Delving into the depths of demonic strategy led him on a pretty dark journey. I sympathize with him. My body tensed while writing this, and I felt so sad. I was blessed with a mother who loved me, but the pain of the victims of narcissistic mothers is very real to me. I have seen Jesus heal these wounds but they always take a lot of time and reconstruction of the self. I am so grateful that Jesus never abandons anyone, but takes the time and care needed to build up a hurting soul.
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