At 18 years old, Anju Chandy left her home in Bakersfield, California to attend a distant college. The farther she could get from her narcissistic mother, the better, after years of frustration.
„I knew I didn’t want to be near my mother. I needed to find my own path, away from her influence and control,“ says Chandy, who is now a musician living in Indianapolis.
„I spent nearly all of high school fighting against her. She wanted to control me. She wanted me to just stay at home, sit quietly, look pretty, and do nothing. She had an irrational fear that I wanted to go out and be promiscuous all over town, even though I am not that way and that’s not what I want to do.“
Living with a narcissistic mother is challenging. Narcissists are very self-centered and often see their children as extensions of themselves. „Children of narcissistic parents often feel unheard, unknown, and exploited,“ says Kimberly Perlin, a licensed clinical social worker in Towson, MD.
A mother who is a narcissist may seem sacrificial – always doing things for her children and never thinking about herself.
A narcissistic mother may be a class parent, PTO president, or soccer coach. But this engagement is self-serving. She does it because she wants attention and needs to be involved in every decision.
When you are an adult, she may be overly involved in your life. She may be doing what you do more for her than for yourself,“ says Perlin. She might work hard to become your co-parent, even if it means pushing the other parent aside.
If your mother is a narcissist, she can be emotionally manipulative and compulsive, says Mark Ettensohn, PsyD, author of „Unmasking Narcissism: A Guide to Understanding the Narcissist in Your Life.“ „Narcissistic parents may provide unrealistically positive feedback that can suddenly turn into excessive, harsh, or punitive criticism,“ he says.
She may have difficulty seeing you as you are, apart from being an extension of her. She might struggle to understand and accept your feelings, becoming anxious or angry when she feels rejected or criticized.
„Narcissistic traits fall along a continuum,“ says Perlin. Your mother may have a few, like self-centeredness and entitlement. Or she may suffer from full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
Signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder include:
- A strong sense of grandiosity (high self-esteem, self-entitlement, self-confidence, and feeling superior to others)
- Arrogant attitude or behavior
- Exploiting others to get what they want
- Believing they are unique or special
- Exaggerating achievements and talents
- Excessive need for admiration
- Feeling envious of others or thinking others envy them
- Lack of empathy
- Fantasies of brilliance, power, or success
- Entitlement (feeling they deserve special treatment just because of who they are)
Perlin recommends asking yourself these questions to determine if your mother is a narcissist:
- Can she handle negative feedback?
- Does she seem overly concerned about how she comes across to others?
- Does she need you to support her with compliments and positive feedback?
- Does she need others to know she’s the most overworked, underappreciated, or generous mother?
- Does she make it clear that you owe her something?
- Do you feel like you need to be a certain way or achieve something in order to be loved and accepted by her?
- Does she seek attention in a way that feels excessive or uncomfortable to you?
If you answer many of these questions with „yes“ and her behavior remains consistent over time, you may think about narcissism,“ says Perlin.
If your mother is a narcissist, take these steps to manage your relationship:
Set Boundaries. Establish and maintain healthy boundaries. Make it clear what is okay and what is not.
Stay Calm. Try not to react emotionally to what she says, even if it’s hurtful. „The narcissist wants a reaction from you, because it means they have control and can change the mood at will,“ says Chandy. „Your calmness is your power.“
Plan Your Responses. „Have a respectful exit strategy when conversations go off the rails,“ says Perlin. Prepare statements like „I need to go, Mom“ or „We just have to agree to disagree“ and practice them.
Let Go. You may feel pressure to make your mother happy and be the perfect daughter or son. Let go of those thoughts. Remember that it’s not your job to make your mother feel special, needy, or relevant.
Get Help. Talk to a counselor. They can help you understand how her narcissism affects you and learn how to break the cycle.
Step Away. It may be best to have limited or no contact with your mother, especially if she is abusive or violent. Focus instead on things you can control. „I currently have no contact with my family,“ says Chandy. She believes this is the only way to deal with a narcissistic mother if your growth and happiness are a priority.
If your mother is a narcissist, avoid the following:
Expecting an Apology. It’s unlikely that narcissists will accept critical feedback. They often have excuses and justifications for their behavior. Your mother may not see herself as wrong or her behavior as bad. She probably thinks she’s the victim, not you.
Trying to Fix or Heal Her. You can’t change her personality. Narcissists often grew up with narcissistic parents who exploited and hurt them. It’s something she has no control over and likely won’t heal from. It can be helpful to develop compassion for her issues and realize that what she does is unconscious.
Comparing Her to Others. „Try to have the best relationship with your mother that you can,“ says Perlin. „Remember when you both shine. Do you share a talent or interest? Try to engage in that.“