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Is My Mother a Narcissist?
Fromm Quote on Human Evil
If you are reading this, you may have stumbled upon the term "narcissist," and want to learn more because the behavior seems familiar. You may have thought for years there is something not quite right or even very wrong with your relationship with your mother. You may be just beginning your healing journey, or you may have some recovery under your belt. You may be wondering if your mother is a narcissist, or may already know she is. Wherever you are on your journey, I am glad you are here. This is a book being published as a series of articles, which answers many of the common, basic questions sons and daughters of narcissistic parents have asked on my Facebook and Google+ pages over the years.
Note: I am a survivor and advocate, not a licensed therapist.
The Sacred Role of Mother
The sacred belief that the mother is nurturer, defender, and greatest ally to her children is deeply instilled in most of us. It is so unnatural for a mother to behave in any other way toward her children that many simply assume these qualities in a mother. Thus, the average person with an imperfect but loving mother can generally not even begin to truly grasp the idea that a mother is, for example, intentionally destroying her own child. A narcissistic mother will generally have this sacred role of mother working on her behalf, and use it to her full advantage.
What is Narcissism?
"The word narcissism in its most fundamental sense means a tendency to self-worship." Eleanor D. Payson, MSW, The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists. Narcissism is often discussed as being on a spectrum with narcissistic personality disorder personality disorder at the higher end of the spectrum. So, you can have a mother, father, brother, sister, husband, wife, child, grandparent, supervisor, or neighbor who is just that - narcissistic. The person may be self-centered and annoying. You may not appreciate some of the things the person does. You might call him or her narcissistic. You may be right. In general everyday terms the person ma be narcissistic. However, narcissistic personality disorder is a term used by the mental health profession to diagnose mental illness that meets the criteria that follows.
Cluster B Personality Disorders
Narcissistic personality disorder is an Axis II disorder within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5, which therapists use for diagnostic criteria. Axis I issues are generally considered treatable, but Axis II disorders are sometimes referred to as "the untreatables."
Personality disorders are grouped by cluster in the DSM-V. Cluster B is called the dramatic, emotional, and erratic cluster. Cluster B personality disorders include:
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Histronic Personality Disorder
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder
- Antisocial Personality Disorder
NPD DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V Criteria for NPD
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) released the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) in May of 2013. Criteria for diagnosing narcissistic personality disorder includes:
A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy and behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early childhood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
- Believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
- Requires excessive admiration.
- Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations).
- Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends).
- Lacks empathy; is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
- Show arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.
The traits are persistent and enduring, not just an individual going through a difficult period in their life. Additionally, the diagnosis is generally not made prior to 18 years of age because some of the traits are a normal part of development at certain ages. It is also important to note that none of the above are due to drugs, alcoholism, or brain injury. It is also not uncommon for an individual to e diagnosed with more than one personality disorder.
A licensed professional should make the diagnosis, but as a practical matter the initial priority is to protect yourself and your loved ones if there is someone in your life abusing and manipulating you. Then, at a safer distance and with the help of a qualified professional, you can concern yourself with a precise diagnosis.
What Causes Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
While some may present their beliefs as fact rather than hypothesis, no one really knows what causes narcissistic personality disorder. Some believe the enduring, persistent traits of narcissistic personality disorder are purely psychological, with roots possibly tracing back to extreme parenting in childhood.
Others believe narcissism is wholly a spiritual malady, one in which humankind has been dealing with since the dawn of man. Then, there are those who believe it is a combination of a mental health condition and a spiritual condition. Mayo Clinic recently came out on their website with the possibility of there being a biological or physical basis.
Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Forward
Narcissistic Personality Disorder Risk Factors
While no one is certain what causes narcissistic personality disorder, the following risk factors are presented, as adapted by Mayo Clinic, previously on their website:
- Parental disdain for fears and needs expressed during childhood.
- Lack of affection and praise during childhood.
- Excessive praise and overindulgence.
- Unpredictable and unreliable caregiving from parents.
- Learning manipulative behaviors from parents.
How old were you when you discovered your mother is a narcissist?
Will My Narcissistic Mother Ever Change?
According to experts such as Linda Martinez-Lewi, Ph.D, clinical expert on the narcissistic personality, narcissistic personality disorder is a fixed disorder that does not change. Lower on the spectrum, successful treatment depends on how narcissistic your mother is. The higher the level of narcissism present in an individual, the less likelihood there is for recovery.
Some believe this is because narcissists are unwilling, while others maintain they are unable to change. Narcissistic personality disorder itself is an Axis II disorder. While Axis I conditions are considered treatable, Axis II disorders are sometimes called "the untreatables."
It is also interesting to note one specific aspect of the diagnostic criteria itself states, "Lacks empathy; is unwilling to recognize or identify with feelings and needs of others. As first pointed out by the Jezebel website, that is an important distinction!
© 2017 Gail Meyers