What happens to the children of narcissists? Even if you are not directly involved with a narcissist, you can expect that anyone you interact with who was raised by a narcissistic parent will have been adversely affected by this.
Sons who are raised by narcissistic mothers most notably lack autonomy because narcissistic parents see their children merely as extensions of themselves, not as individual human beings with thoughts and needs of their own. They lack the kind of empathy necessary for being a nurturing parent, unable to recognize the emotional requirements of their children, who often grow up feeling abandoned.
Narcissists use manipulation and guilt in order to control their children, shaming them when the narcissist’s demands are not met. Underlying their behavior is a deep-seated insecurity and lack of self-regard, combined with an inability to define appropriate boundaries, that manifests itself in unreasonable ultimatums and an often abusive parenting style.
Read further for a greater understanding of how narcissistic mothers impact their sons, and if you’re married to the son of a narcissist, you might want to read about how to best deal with a narcissistic mother-in-law.
Traits of the Narcissistic Mother
Some narcissistic mothers ignore or outright neglect their offspring while others are over-involved in their lives, bullying them into becoming mirrors of themselves. The dynamic between narcissistic mothers and their sons take different forms, but are all damaging to the emotional and psychological development of the child.
If a narcissistic mother is not particularly interested in parenting—maybe she feels obligated to have children for some reason, or became “trapped” by an unwanted pregnancy—then she is likely to neglect her son, unless it is to humiliate or criticize him.
If a narcissistic mother is too invested in her parenting, then she becomes enmeshed with her son, emotionally dependent on him to provide her with attention and assistance. Grown sons of narcissistic mothers will often continue to be manipulated into helping them with finances, property upkeep, and other important life decisions.
While an enmeshed relationship with a narcissistic mother might make a son feel that he is loved and needed, it often results in a toxic relationship for the son, as the narcissist is always in control, giving or withholding affection on her whims.
Another hallmark of this toxic relationship is how the dynamic changes over time: many narcissistic mothers idealize (even idolize) their young sons, initially bestowing them with self-confidence and self-worth.
However, as the son gets older and begins to challenge that control, the idealization turns to harsh criticism and even contempt, traumatizing his sense of self.
Because many narcissists have a difficult time with intimate relationships, the son can often be employed as a buffer against or substitute for the husband. In the first instance, the son is used as a replacement for the father, pitting them against each other.
In the second instance, the son is inappropriately sexualized—even when no physical abuse is perpetrated—which impairs his ability to form intimate connections with women later in life.
In addition, when the son does attempt to make intimate connections with girlfriends and/or wives, the narcissistic mother will often become jealous.
This manifests itself in several ways, such as thinking that no other woman is “good enough” for her son, criticizing her son’s partner any chance she gets, or even overtly sabotaging his relationship.
The son, in this case, must make an impossible decision: choose his mother or his partner.
Traits of the Son of a Narcissistic Mother
Obviously, the above characteristics that define this difficult mother-son bond are damaging for anyone. While the son himself may not be a narcissist, his ideas of how to form connections with women have been irreparably impaired—though these patterns of behavior can be overcome with therapeutic help and your patience.
If you are involved with the son of a narcissistic mother, then there are particular patterns of behavior that you can expect to experience.
It is almost certainly the case that the son will not feel worthy of love, especially not if he is simply himself. He has been taught that he can only be loved if he measures up to the impossible standards set up by his narcissistic mother. He will often put on a mask or withdraw.
Most sons of narcissistic mothers become codependent in adulthood, having never been given the chance to form their own independent identity. This makes it very difficult for them to express their feelings, even to identify them.
Often, sons of narcissistic mothers—especially if they had uninvolved or absent fathers—will feel resentful of women in general, sometimes even hostile. Problems with intimacy are the result of the emotional tug-of-war that the son experienced growing up. He fears being overwhelmed by the demands of his partner after being controlled by his mother, so he avoids closeness.
Repeating the Pattern
Sometimes sons of narcissistic mothers will employ passive-aggressive techniques in order to manipulate their partners—much like their own mother did to them. They have a tendency to lie, and even cheat, so that they feel in control of the relationship.
Some men may even develop narcissistic tendencies themselves, repeating the pattern of behavior that was laid out for them during their childhood.
Or, they attach themselves to women who are versions of their mother, women who exhibit demanding, controlling, and/or manipulative behavior. This blog post explores the nature versus nurture argument to help you better understand if that’s a possibility.
It is difficult to overcome the damage wrought by a childhood dominated by a narcissistic mother. But it can be done. If you are dating the son of a narcissistic mother, encourage him to embark upon a journey of healing.
Ultimately, he must accept his mother—both of his parents—for who they are, rather than continuing to place the burden of his childhood solely on himself. This requires compassion and empathy, qualities that he might be learning for the first time; in turn, this requires patience, compassion, and empathy from you.
He must learn to establish firm boundaries with his mother, which also entails learning how to express his feelings and needs clearly and explicitly. He must begin to recognize his own self-worth and to let go of his guilt—which is not his to carry. Learning to love himself might take time and therapeutic assistance but it is, in the end, a certain pathway to happiness.
Now that you know a little more about how narcissism might have affected the man you’re dating, it might also be helpful to read the article about how a narcissistic grandmother can affect her grandchildren.
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