For most of us, the first interaction we experience in our lives is with our mothers. It is through her nurturing, support, love, and attention that we first begin to develop a sense of self-worth, self-esteem, confidence, and emotional intelligence. But having narcissistic parents can interrupt that personal development in a bad way.
A strong relationship with our mothers provides an example of how to interact with the world around us in a productive way- how to form relationships, empathize with others, and value the people in our lives. But a relationship that is abusive in any way or carries an undercurrent of emotional toxicity puts us at risk for anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and low self-worth. If you have frequent memories of hearing things like “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” or “Oh, poor you. Did I hurt your little feelings?”, or if you’ve often thought throughout your life “Why can’t I ever be good enough?” it’s possible you may have a narcissistic mother .
What is a Narcissist?
Narcissism is a broadly-used term to describe someone who appears to be too full of themselves. As with most other personality traits, narcissism is viewed as a spectrum, and most people fall somewhere in the middle .
At the extreme end of the spectrum, you have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others, NPD is actually quite rare. It can only be diagnosed by a mental health professional [2,3].
On the surface, people with NPD may appear to have very high confidence and self-esteem, but in reality, the exact opposite is true. A very fragile self-esteem leaves these people vulnerable to even the slightest criticism, and so they do everything they can to elevate their sense of self. To do this, people with NPD often do their best to associate with individuals who they view as gifted or special in some way, and they are constantly in search of excessive admiration and attention from others [2,3].
People with NPD may exhibit the following characteristics:
- A grandiose sense of self-importance
- Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- The belief that one is special and can only be understood by or associate with special people or institutions
- A need for excessive admiration
- A sense of entitlement (to special treatment)
- Exploitation of others
- A lack of empathy
- Envy of others or the belief that one is the object of envy
- Arrogant, haughty behavior or attitudes 
NPD can have a negative impact on one’s work, relationships, and even finances. If they are not receiving the attention they believe they deserve, they will tend to be very unhappy and disappointed. These people often find relationships unfulfilling and many people do not like being around them. They can be high-achievers, but their inability to handle criticism has a negative impact on their performance. In the face of defeat or criticism, they may withdraw or feign humility [2,3].
People with NPD experience a higher rate of substance abuse, mood, and anxiety disorders, possibly because of their propensity to impulsive behavior and shame. Psychologists are still not certain what causes someone to develop NPD, but it can be treated with psychotherapy to help them relate to people in a more empathetic way. Treatment can be difficult, however, because often people with high levels of narcissism can be very defensive and have a difficult time acknowledging the problems with their behavior .
What Does a Narcissistic Mother Look Like?
Narcissism in motherhood can present itself in a variety of ways, all of which can make being the child of a narcissist incredibly difficult, and even dangerous to their mental health.
A common behavior of a narcissistic mother is to invalidate the feelings, emotions, and achievements of her children. When her child tries to approach her when they are sad or have had their feelings hurt, the narcissistic mother will dismiss their feelings instead of offering comfort and advice. Sometimes, the child’s feelings will have been hurt by the mother herself, in which case she is likely to tell her child that they are being overly sensitive or dramatic .
Narcissistic mothers will dismiss their children’s feelings in order to manipulate the situation and dictate which emotions are acceptable for them to feel, eventually leaving them to be unable to identify their own emotions .
Children of narcissistic mothers constantly find themselves asking the question “will I ever be good enough?”. This is because she always manages to find a fault in her child, despite their best efforts to impress her. In her constant need for validation and approval, she inflicts shame on her children so that they will continue to fight for her affection .
What are Some Things a Narcissistic Mother may say?
While there could be many things a narcissistic parent may say. According to Psychotherapist Lena Derhally, some things they could say are as follows:
- “That never happened. You must have imagined it.”
- “I do so much for you, and you never show appreciation!”
- “You should try being more like your [another person]. They’re so wonderful.”
- “Why can’t you just get over it already?”
- “Don’t waste your time. It’s probably too hard for you.”
- “You’re always so busy with your own life that you don’t even think about me.”
- “I’m so tired of doing everything for you.”
- “You’re gaining weight and won’t be able to fit your new clothes soon.”
- “I’m going to have to punish you if you don’t do exactly what I say.”
- “Be quiet. Nobody cares what you have to say.”
- “It’s your fault I have to punish you.”
- “Can’t you see that I’m busy? I don’t have time for you right now.”
- “Don’t even ask me! The answer is no.”
- “I’m the only person who could ever really love you.”
- “I gave up my whole life for you, and you only care about yourself!”
- “You would be so pretty if you just lost a few pounds.”
- “I’ll never understand how I gave birth to a child like you.”
- “What’s wrong with you?”
- “You’re tired? How do you think I feel?! I do everything around here.”
- “Thanks for cooking — even if it isn’t very good.”
- “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” 
A narcissistic mother can cause sibling rivalry amongst her children, which could eventually lead to the breakdown of their relationship. This is because these mothers stir up competition between her children, often making one or more of them feel like their sister or brother is the more favored child. A child who believes they are not special or equally loved will feel unworthy, and eventually envious of their sibling .
Competition With Her Children
You could call this the “fairest of them all” complex, and this holds especially true for daughters of narcissistic mothers. A mother with NPD will often view her daughter as a threat, and feel the need to compete with her for the admiration of the other men in both their lives, including the husband/dad and son/brother .
Her desire to be number one in her daughter’s life may also lead her to undermine her relationships with friends and other family members, both male and female alike .
NPD mothers often see their children, particularly their daughters, as extensions of themselves. This means that their child must look and be their best at all times, according to her. An NPD mother will want her daughter to dress like her, act like her, and choose friends, boyfriends, hobbies, and work that she would choose.
This “my way or the highway” approach to mothering is an attempt to undermine her daughter’s ability to understand her own likes and dislikes and make decisions independently of her mother, causing her to depend on her mother even more. If she attempts to make a decision outside of what her mother wants, this could lead to severe criticism and a difficult power struggle .
A Public and Private Persona
To the outside world, the narcissistic mother has an entirely different persona. She often appears to have it all- the perfect marriage, the perfect children, and the perfect career. Her peers look up to her and envy her, and they would never believe that she could be anything other than understanding, supportive, and an all-around wonderful wife, mother, and friend .
Because image and status are of utmost importance to the narcissistic mother, she has created this public persona of being selfless, loving, supportive, hardworking, and charitable, despite the fact that at home she is emotionally unavailable, dismissive, manipulative and malicious .
How Does Maternal Narcissism Impact Children?
A mother who exhibits a complete lack of empathy and is seemingly incapable of showing love can have a profound and lasting negative effect on her children. Without their mother’s love and emotional support, children can often feel bereft but may not even know why .
This can lead to several negative mental health outcomes, and children of narcissistic parents exhibit higher rates of depression and anxiety .
Children who grow up with a narcissistic mother may have difficulty with relationships as adults. Thoughts like “if my mother can’t love me, who will?” often cloud their psyche and prevent them from developing close relationships with others because they don’t view themselves as valuable .
A child who is a victim of maternal narcissism will often be a very high achiever but will never feel good enough or deserving of the praise they are given for their efforts. Having been taught that appearances are of the highest value, they will place great importance on how they look and tend to be extremely self-critical of their body and looks .
Finally, when a child has a narcissistic mother, they may lack a true sense of self and will not learn how to identify or trust their own feelings since they were always forced to do whatever their mother wanted. For this reason, as they get older, they can become crippled by self-doubt, which could stunt their achievements in all areas of their lives, including careers and relationships .
Your Mother is Not Your Fault
It is extremely common for the child of a narcissistic parent to be there for their parent, as opposed to the other way around . If you are the child of a narcissistic mother, it is important to remember that she is not your responsibility, that you are valuable, and that you need to prioritize taking care of yourself .
Furthermore, remember that your mother’s behavior and the way she treated or treats you is not because of you. NPD is a real psychological problem, and her actions are a result of the inner turmoil she is experiencing, not because you are not good enough.
Maternal NPD can cause significant emotional and mental trauma, and recovering from it can take time and effort. If you are suffering from feelings of shame and rejection, speaking with a mental health professional can help you to identify and understand that the messages you received from your mother are untrue. Then you will be able to work at replacing the negative maternal voice you have internalized with self-nurturing thoughts to help you establish a sense of self-worth and improve your self-esteem .
- “6 Signs of a Covert Narcissistic Mother.” Psych Central. Hope Gillette. December 10, 2021
- “Narcissism.” Psychology Today. Psychology Staff.
- “Narcissistic personality disorder.” Mayo Clinic
- “Is Your Mom A Narcissist? Are You? 50 Things Narcissistic Mothers Say.” Scary Mommy. Candace Nagy. May 6, 2022.
- “Young Adult Sibling Relations: The Effects of Perceived Parental Favoritism and Narcissism.” T and F Online. Ricky Finzi-Dottan and Orna Cohen. March 23, 2010.
- “Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.” Psychology Today. Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT. February 19, 2018.
- “Relationship between Parental Narcissism and Children’s Mental Vulnerability: Mediation Role of Rearing Style.” Redalyc. Francesco Dentale, et al. 2015.
- “How Narcissistic Parenting Can Affect Children.” Psychology Today. Karyl McBride Ph.D. February 19, 2018.