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Do You Have a Narcissistic Mother?
I came to the realization not to long ago that I have a narcissistic mother. Please be aware that I would never have come to this conclusion on my own. A friend was describing her mother and struck by the similarities between her mother and my own, I felt compelled to say so. My friend turned to me and said: "Welcome to my world; you, too, have a narcissistic mother."
What exactly is a narcissistic mother? At the risk of sounding simple minded, one suffering from narcissistic disorder. The disorder is perfectly named, bringing to mind Narcissus, the figure from Greek mythology who fell in love with his own reflection. Anyone stricken with narcissistic disorder reflects everything (or so it seems) on to other people. This is most applicable when it comes to narcissistic parents. A narcissistic mother may only care about herself, but if their child achieves (despite great odds) any measure of success in any area, she will automatically claim credit. For example, I was recently published under a pen name and made the colossal blunder of mentioning this to my mother. Rather than congratulate me, the first words out of her mouth were: "Of course you were published. You get that from me." Get what? As far as I know, the last time my mother wrote anything was an essay at school. But to listen to her, if I had another mother, I would never have been published.
Sound extreme? Probably not if you have a narcissistic mother. And narcissistic mothers have other, equally endearing qualities. One overriding characteristic is that they are highly critical, never of themselves, just everyone around them. They, of course, are blameless. My late father expressed irritation in an unusually candid moment that my mother would never accept responsibility for anything. Nothing ever was, or ever will be, her fault.
This criticism extends to everything, including celebrities. According to my mother, not one is talented and very few good-looking. She hates Angelina Jolie. As you might have guessed, she attempted to become a professional actress, but did not make it. Instead of accepting that she may have lacked the talent and will to succeed in this highly competitive field, it is preferable to criticize others. My own attempts to act met with little maternal support. When nothing came of it (I was probably no more talented nor driven than she), all I heard was "I told you so."
Does any of this sound remotely familiar? Did you grow up with a permanently ill-tempered mother who attempted to negate nearly everything you did? For example, getting straight A's was never good enough. Did you attempt to become as perfect as possible to please her, only to be criticized, as always, in return? Did she start to make negative comments about your body as you entered adolescence? Your weight? The way you dressed or wore your hair? Does she continue to do so today? Then I'm afraid that you, too, have a narcissistic mother.
Please realize that I am by no means a mental health expert. But I have spent a lot of time lately researching the topic and wanted to share what I learned with an audience in the hopes of helping others. As I understand it, there are two basic types of narcissistic mothers: the ones who ignore their children, wrapped up in themselves, or the ones who attempt to take over completely. Since I have no experience of the former, I'll restrict myself to the latter. These mothers spend most of their time, as I've indicated, criticizing you. And it's seldom, if ever, constructive criticism. A reason these mothers are so critical is, because in their view, you not only reflect upon them (ever hear that growing up?), but are actually an extension of them, which they seldom if ever admit. But they believe it all the same, which is why such an emphasis is placed on your appearance. There is an ever-present demand that you to look your best always; after all, what would the neighbors think? God help you if you ever leave the house looking anything other than perfect. I was once told that an acquaintance of the family (a friend would have known better) thought my parents had two daughters very close in age. According to my mother - visibly irritated while relating the incident - the reason was because I had dared to leave the house with no makeup. "Naturally, she didn't recognize you without it."
But enough about me. Having a narcissistic mother is a common problem, so I've provided a checklist for you to refer to below:
- Lack of empathy (this is a key characteristic of all narcissists)
- Charming to others (you usually don't matter at all)
- Self-obsessed (again, a key characteristic)
- Any emotional episode you mention will almost always produce a comparison to themselves
- Further to the above, constantly brings herself into the conversation
- Refuses to discuss anything that does not relate directly to her or at the very least interests her
- Automatically expects you to share her interests and tastes
- Thinks nothing of ridiculing your body (there's usually a part she really dislikes, and makes that perfectly clear), weight (you're usually too fat), height (always too tall or too short), complexion, makeup, hair, clothes, friends, and perhaps above all, your significant other
- Is embarrassingly flirtatious, so much so, you dread introducing her to a new boyfriend
- May think she is far more intelligent, talented, or beautiful than she is, to the point of being delusional
- It's her way or the highway
- Everyone walks on eggshells around her, afraid of an outburst or worse, a tantrum
- When you lived at home would open your mail, try to read emails and text messages, would pick up the telephone extension, read your journal
- Married to or living with a man who is an enabler or equally as narcissistic
- Expects you to drop everything to see her or speak to her on the telephone
- May call several times as week or even several times a day, without having very much to say
While your mother may not exhibit all of these characteristics (and this is by no means a comprehensive list), she is bound to exhibit several. Getting down to brass tacks, if you suspect that your mother is narcissistic, what should you do?
First of all, please be aware that she will almost certainly always be this way. Generally speaking narcissistic mothers do not change. These women truly believe they are perfect and equally, believe that everyone is in complete agreement. Even if she were to admit she had a problem (which is unlikely), medication will probably be of no use. Again, what should you do?
I've found that the key to dealing with a narcissistic mother is limiting the amount of time you spend with her. If you still live at home, do everything you can to leave. You must. Leaving may involve moving to another city, or even another country (I moved from London to New York). Secondly, limit telephone calls. If she is calling non-stop, substitute 'Do Not Pickup' for 'Mom' into your caller ID, both cellphone and home phone. Do not feel guilty about this. The narcissistic mother relies on guilt (as well as her favorite tactic, criticism) to manipulate you. And never allow her to call you at work! This could easily affect your credibility with your colleagues. If necessary, say it is against company policy. Whether it is or not does not matter in this case.
Some adult children of narcissistic mother opt for no contact at all. Most, however, do stay in touch. Keep both telephone calls and visits to a minimum. Do you really want to hear, yet again, how popular she was before she married? Odd, she didn't keep any of her friends. Or listen to her talk behind your sister's back for the umpteenth time? Narcissistic mothers view child rearing as an opportunity to experiment with the military concept of 'divide and conquer'. Usually, there is a favored child, one who can do no wrong, as well as a victim, the proverbial scapegoat for all of her frustrations. This child may be abused physically as well as emotionally. Any money spent on them is spent with obvious reluctance. This child will be told to grateful for everything. And Heaven help you if you complain. The narcissistic mother will usually become livid, but perhaps just seethe while telling you how ungrateful you are.
The child of a narcissistic mother may find it unbearably painful to dredge up such memories and it is an excellent idea to seek professional help. That may present a challenge financially, but really, there is no better investment. Ask your doctor for a referral. And make certain that the therapist specializes in this problem.
Once you confront the problem, whether in therapy or not, you may go through a period of mourning, that your mother was not the sort of mother who had cookies and milk waiting when you got home from school, then helped you with your homework before staying up late to sew your costume for the upcoming ice skating competition. My grandmother was exactly this sort of mother (and grandmother) which may have been the problem. My mother was so spoiled as the youngest child, that she has never learned that the world does not, in fact, revolve around her. But more narcissistic parents were the child of at least one narcissistic parent.
One very effective thing to do is silently forgive your mother for not being the mother you needed. You will have to do this more than once, but as you forgive, you release tension. And in dealing with her, I would avoid mentioning that you believe she may be narcissistic. Not only will she almost certainly deny it, but will most probably fly into a rage. You don't need that. Besides, it accomplishes absolutely nothing. Just keep contact as brief and infrequent as possible as well as establish boundaries. One technique I use on is to say, almost as if speaking to a sulky child: "Let's have a conversation in which neither of us criticizes anyone or anything." Since having a conversation under those circumstances is impossible for her, she'll get off the phone rather quickly. By the way, if your mother insists that she is not critical, don't waste time arguing. Remember, she knows everything. Just change the subject. And if she wants an argument, calmly tell her you'll hang up. Your heart may be pounding as you do this, but you'll feel so much better afterward!
Recovering from a lifetime with a narcissistic mother may be challenge, but ultimately, will be rewarding. It's essential that you learn why your childhood was so unhappy, and more to the point, you're not to blame. And by doing this, you not only improve your life, but lessen the chances of becoming a narcissistic parent yourself.