If you’ve ever met a narcissist, you don’t normally think they’re insecure, at least not at first glance. They either boast openly about how great they are or they are obsessive about doing good so others will see their superiority. But what’s underneath that seemingly secure, even arrogant, facade? Is it possible they’re really insecure about themselves?
All narcissists, including mothers, have a damaged sense of identity. As a child, they decided their true self was worthless, and so, they constructed a false self-image they infused with ideas of superiority. The problem is that false self-image is just covering up the narcissist’s insecurities.
If you have a narcissistic mother, you probably would never use the word insecure to describe her, but in reality, all that arrogance is covering up a dark secret. Narcissism forms in childhood and involves a damaged identity. Though your narcissistic mother seems sure of herself, inside of her lives a hurt child who feels worthless. If you’ve got a narcissistic mother, it’s vital to understand just how that happens and the damage it causes.
The Reasons Narcissistic Mothers Really are Insecure
Narcissism forms in childhood as the result of certain types of trauma. When a child’s psychological development is disrupted, they fail to develop a strong sense of identity. For the budding narcissist, they are filled with shame and self-loathing.
They bury what they believe to be their flawed true identity, and in its place, they construct a false identity to interact with the world around them. They fill that new identity with childlike ideas of perfection and superiority.
But they don’t have the internal mechanisms to support their own self-esteem. They can’t soothe themselves or even tell themselves they are a good person. They need other people to do that for them, which is why they learn to manipulate other people. They usually become very adept at it.
Because they live in constant fear of being exposed for what they believe themselves to be, grandiose or overt narcissists are always bragging about their superiority. Covert or vulnerable narcissists want the same things as a grandiose narcissist, but they achieve those goals in a different way.
They will often dedicate themselves to doing good with the agenda that other people will see their good deeds and praise them for it. A vulnerable narcissistic mother may dedicate herself, for example, to charity work or helping other people even at the expense of her own children.
Both grandiose and vulnerable narcissistic mothers will demand perfection from their children, and they will become harshly critical when their children can’t meet their unrealistically high expectations.
Still, despite all outward appearances, on the inside, that narcissistic mother is very fearful and insecure. She is ever vigilant for any possibility of being exposed for what she truly thinks she is.
Why Narcissistic Mothers Don’t Seem Insecure
While a narcissistic mother is hiding her true self, she has learned through the years to become a master of disguise. She knows she has to distract the people around her from finding out the truth about her.
That’s why she learns to manipulate her loved ones so that they will never see through her disguise. As part of her manipulation, she will lie and gaslight her loved ones in an attempt to distort their reality and keep them from finding out about her true self.
If someone does get close to discovering her real vulnerability, she often erupts in narcissistic rage. Her rage is designed to keep them from probing any further into her inner secret. She can’t reveal any vulnerability for fear that they will see through her facade.
To the outside observer, the narcissistic mother seems capable and sure of herself. She may even seem to be one of those mothers who can do it all. To her children and partner, however, it’s a different story.
Though she may not reveal her vulnerabilities, they see a manipulative, deceptive, critical, and rageful woman. They come to fear her reactions. Still, they probably wouldn’t describe her as insecure.
What’s Attachment Got to Do with It?
Attachment refers to the way you form relationships with other people and how you behave in those relationships. Your attachment style is formed early in life, and it affects the way you see the world around you.
In very basic terms, you either learn the world is a relatively safe place where your needs are likely to be met, or you learn the world is a fearful place where sometimes your needs may not be met.
As psychologists at the University of Wollongong in Australia revealed in a 2021 study, narcissists often have what are referred to as insecure or avoidant attachment styles. That is, they are more negative and fearful when forming attachments, and as a result, they are more emotionally reactive in their interpersonal relationships.
The narcissist learns early in life that the world is not a safe place, and thus, their insecure attachment styles reflect that negative training. Not everyone with an insecure attachment style becomes a narcissist, but this is the style that narcissists have regarding their interpersonal relationships.
It is born out of the fear that their needs will not be met, and of course, they don’t want anyone to get too close lest they discover the truth. This is why the narcissist fears intimacy. Though they want to know everything about you, they don’t want you to know almost anything about them.
How Insecure Narcissistic Mothers Treat Their Sons
You’ve probably heard it said before that mothers have a special relationship with their sons, and it is often true of even the healthiest mothers. This is also true of narcissistic mothers; however, it is not a healthy attachment.
Narcissistic mothers often commit a kind of emotional incest with their sons. They see them as potential replacements for their spouses, though not necessarily in a sexual manner. For the narcissistic mother, it’s all about narcissistic supply.
Her spouse is a good source of that constant flow of adoration for a while, but narcissists learn early in life that people will tire of their abuse. They learn to cycle through friends and family members so as to avoid exhausting one source of adoration.
With a spouse, however, there is a lot of demand for attention and praise. On some level, perhaps the narcissistic mother realizes she may eventually exhaust her spouse, or perhaps she fears her spouse will die before her.
She sees her son as a potential replacement and as someone who she expects to continue loving and praising her for the rest of her life. Because narcissists have no empathy, she doesn’t know how her behavior affects her son, so she doesn’t expect that he will leave her.
For this reason, narcissistic mothers are incredibly intrusive into their sons’ lives. They cross every boundary and expect that he will drop everything should he be needed by his demanding mother. It frequently interferes with his adult relationships and can even create problems in his professional life.
How Insecure Narcissistic Mothers Treat Their Daughters
The daughter of a narcissistic mother is usually treated quite differently from a son. While her son is a potential replacement for the demands she places on her spouse, her daughter is competition.
In fact, she sees her daughter as a younger, better version of herself. She is someone who can replace her, and that’s not what the narcissist is looking for, so she often works to destroy her daughter.
She wants to undermine her confidence at every turn and crush her into submissiveness. Most daughters, as they get older, rebel against this harsh criticism and their scapegoat role in the family. They frequently leave home early to escape the abusive environment.
If they don’t, however, they may become codependent. They may neglect their own needs in favor of attempting to please their mother. It’s a futile endeavor because she can’t be pleased.
How a Narcissistic Mother Harms Her Children
The narcissistic mother harms her children in a number of ways regardless of if they are sons or daughters. She works hard to make them dependent upon her so that she becomes the center of her world.
She sees them as extensions of her own identity, and as such, they don’t have needs of their own, nor should they become independent adults. That’s not what the narcissistic mother wants.
To keep them under her thumb, she makes excessive demands on their behavior, and no matter how well they perform, she criticizes them. Though she usually chooses a golden child (often a son), she actually harms that child more.
She keeps a tight rein on her children and rarely lets them explore the world on their own. She doesn’t let them attempt things because she can’t afford for them to fail. As a result, they don’t learn how to cope with the challenges life has for everyone.
Her abuse often has lifelong consequences. It affects the way her children behave in their adult relationships, and often, they are unable to form healthy bonds with other people. It’s a devastating result for her children.
What Happens When a Narcissistic Mother Grows Old?
Growing old can be difficult for anyone, but for the narcissistic mother, it’s a catastrophe. She is losing her looks, her physical abilities, and sometimes her mental capacity. That’s difficult even for healthy women in a culture that prizes beauty and poise in a woman.
The narcissistic mother, however, has built up a false image based on being superior and perfect. When it becomes apparent that’s no longer true, she can be devastated. Aging narcissistic women often experience depression and anxiety.
They may even have suicidal thoughts. They feel like they are losing everything, and in a way, they are because they are losing those over-the-top grandiose ideas they claimed for themselves so long ago.
Paradoxically, if a narcissistic mother begins to suffer from dementia, it can sometimes strip away the narcissism. Gone is the false self, and that can give her children the opportunity to see their real mother, often for the first time.
What are the Signs of Narcissistic Abuse?
There are a number of indicators that you might have suffered from narcissistic abuse. When you’re a child living with a harshly critical mother, it will take a toll on your mental and physical health, but it also causes you to develop some interesting abilities. Let’s take a look.
1. You are Attuned to Other’s Emotions and Possibly Empathic
The children of a narcissistic mother learn to read the room very early in life. They are incredibly attuned to their mother’s emotions. They have to be to avoid her rage and her unpredictable behaviors.
In some instances, they may even become empaths. Even though this can be a very good thing, it’s often exhausting for the child of the narcissistic mother. Even if they have empathic abilities, they don’t understand nor can they control their gift.
That leaves them wide open to more abuse. Their mother will definitely take advantage of their abilities and can suck them dry. It’s why they often feel so overwhelmed.
2. You Don’t Have Any Boundaries
A narcissistic mother sees her own children as mere extensions of her identity. As such, they have no boundaries. She is in every part of their life and will intrude anytime she pleases. She has taught them this from a young age, so they don’t even know what a boundary is, let alone how to set one.
She will continue her intrusive pattern well into adulthood too. If her children move away and get married, she will insert herself into their lives. Naturally, this causes problems with their spouse. The intrusions won’t end until they are able to set a firm boundary with their mother, something that can seem impossible.
3.You Neglect Your Own Feelings
It’s common for the children of narcissists to neglect their own feelings as they prioritize their mother’s emotions. In fact, this is a mental condition in and of itself that is known as codependence.
Some people will also neglect their physical needs as they attempt to focus on other people and ensure that they are happy. Codependents will also enable the abusive behavior of people like narcissists.
That’s one big reason why your father might not have prevented your mother’s abuse. A codependent person has gotten used to making excuses for their abusive loved ones.
4. Guilt, Shame, and Blame
Part of what happens when a child doesn’t live up to their narcissistic mother’s high expectations is that she becomes very critical of them. She will often use guilt, blame, and shame to reprimand them when they don’t do what she wants to her satisfaction.
This teaches the child that love is conditional and that they aren’t worthy of love. Children of narcissists often express feelings as though they are not enough. For their narcissistic mother, they are not enough, but it’s because of her problem, not theirs.
Unfortunately, they carry this weight well into adulthood, and it can have devastating long-term effects on their life. They might not seek a job they really want because they believe they are not good enough, and they will likely have problems with a romantic partner because of so low self-worth.
5. You Have Mommy Issues
Children of narcissistic mothers also end up with mommy issues. They will continuously try to relive their relationship with a mother figure. They are really trying to make it come out better this time than it did before.
Unfortunately, that never works because it’s not your mother, and even if you did address your mother directly, you can’t go back in time and make the relationship healthy. That doesn’t stop the child of a narcissistic mother from trying though, and they often suffer for many years until they deal with those issues in a healthier way.
6. You Have an Insecure Attachment Style
Narcissistic parents, in general, also cause insecure attachment styles in their own children. They don’t always meet their children’s needs, and they definitely teach them that the world can be a dangerous place.
As a result of developing an insecure attachment style, it’s a possibility a narcissist’s children could become narcissistic themselves. They will definitely have problems forming long-term relationships.
Having an insecure attachment style is something you learn to cope with since it is extremely difficult to resolve. Your attachment style usually forms within the first two years of life, and while you can develop healthy coping mechanisms for a problematic style that can create lifelong problems.
Can a Narcissistic Mother Change?
Narcissists are very unlikely to change. Part of the problem is that for a narcissist to change, they have to admit there is something wrong with them to begin with. That’s a tall order for a narcissistic mother.
Narcissists have billed themselves as perfect and superior in every way. If they admit they did anything wrong or that there is something fundamentally wrong with them, their entire house of cards collapses.
They are, therefore, unwilling to seek help. They will typically only do so when they are backed into a corner. If they do genuinely desire to change, there are therapies that can help.
To really reduce their narcissistic tendencies, most narcissists will need long-term, intense therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy and other methods can be used to help them develop empathy for other people, control their rage, and heal their fractured identity mechanisms.
It is possible for a narcissist to change, but it just doesn’t happen very often. Still, working together, you and your mother can develop a different kind of relationship. Both of you will have to work on it, but it is possible.
How Can You Heal Narcissistic Abuse?
Though narcissistic abuse from your mother can leave you with deep wounds, it is possible to heal. You have to dedicate yourself to working on some difficult emotions. It may seem impossible initially, but I guarantee you that if you keep going, it will be worth it.
You might think that recalling those difficult emotions will make the pain more intense, but what you’ll find is that if you face them, you are far better able to let them go. You will cry, you will feel pain, and you will struggle at times, but if you stick with it, you will be so much happier in the end.
Part of the key is learning to be a window. The pain you feel in life is nothing more than a breeze passing through that window. The truth is your good feelings are also temporary, but when you work on being present with your emotions, you’ll find that while you experience them more intensely, you are also able to let them go more easily.
This is the key to healing your emotional wounds, but let’s take a look at how you go about getting to that point.
- Recognize the Abuse
The first step is something you are likely already doing if you’re reading this; recognize the abuse. I am the child of a narcissistic mother, and I didn’t know she was abusive for so long. It wasn’t until a friend of mine said something about how mean my mother was that I realized that not everyone’s mother was like mine.
Even after that realization, it still took me a long time to see that she was the problem. I had lived in the toxic stew she had cooked for so long that I didn’t know any better. How can a child know if that is all they have ever experienced?
That’s why it often takes so long to understand that you’ve been abused. Now that you have, you can begin your healing journey. You’ve got to know what you’re dealing with in order to really fix the problem.
- Seek Support and Help
Once you know you’ve been abused, it’s time to seek out support and help. As you go through any healing process, you’re going to need a strong support network. You’re going to need friends and family who will stand by your side through the difficult times ahead.
Build up that network so that you can reach out to people who love you and have your best interests at heart when you’re having problems. But that’s not all you’re going to need. You’re going to need to do some personal growth work as well.
I would definitely recommend you do this kind of difficult work with a professional therapist. They can help you navigate the emotions that will arise and how they will affect you physically and mentally. Aside from therapy, there are also many other personal growth workshops and books that can offer you more help.
- Be Kind to Yourself
It’s vital that you take good care of yourself as you go through this process. Take long walks out in nature if you find that is something that helps you calm down, or spend lots of time doing something you love – maybe painting or reading or spending time with friends.
Whatever makes you feel whole, calm, and happy is something that you should take plenty of time to do. You might take a yoga class or get a massage. What you’re going to go through will be very difficult at times. It will make you feel tired, and it can cause physical distress as well.
Taking care of yourself by doing things you love to do is a must. It’s a matter of you giving yourself the love you should have gotten from your mother. Your needs are important, and you must provide for yourself. It’s a vital part of the healing process.
- Inner Child Work
Inside of you is a traumatized little child whose mother was mentally unwell. That little child is still hurting from those wounds, and it’s up to you to give them what they need. This is your inner child, and they need you.
No hero is coming to rescue you, you have to be your own hero. You have to rescue yourself, and you have to reassure that little child that you will always be there to give them exactly what they need. You need to validate their feelings, and you need to give yourself unconditional love.
There are different ways to heal your inner child. There are workshops offered in several places, and there are other resources that can walk you through various techniques you can use to help that little, frightened child who needs you.
Narcissistic mothers are, at their core, very insecure about themselves. They became filled with shame and self-loathing as a child, and now, they are working hard to ensure no one will ever know how flawed they really are. Unfortunately, they do a lot of harm as they try to protect themselves. They shame, blame, and guilt their loved ones. Maybe even worse is that they use their victim’s own emotions to manipulate and control them.
I have something that can help, however. It’s my 5 Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers. This handy guide can help you recognize your emotional triggers. These triggers were created by traumatic events in your childhood, but they were never properly resolved. This guide can help you defuse your triggers and even heal those old wounds. What’s more, it’s free, and I’ll send it directly to your inbox if you click on this link.
If you want more tips for dealing with narcissists, setting boundaries, and managing emotional triggers, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel