How Does A Narcissistic Mother Control Her Adult Children?

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You might think that once you have reached adulthood you can finally be free of your narcissistic mother. You shouldn’t think, however, that she will give up trying to control you. She has been controlling you your whole life, and there was little you could do about it as a child. She won’t stop just because you’ve become an adult, and the ways she tries to control you often become more insidious. 

Because the children of narcissists learn early on that love is conditional, they often become people-pleasers to gain approval from their emotionally distant parents. This persists into adulthood which makes them vulnerable to the manipulative tactics their narcissistic mother continues using. 

Understanding the reasons why you can’t seem to free yourself of your narcissistic mother’s manipulative tactics is vital to stop the emotional abuse. Read on to learn the tactics she will use when you’re an adult and what you can do to finally stop it. 

How Do Narcissistic Mothers Control Their Adult Children?

Children of narcissistic parents don’t realize they’re being abused because that kind of treatment is all they’ve ever known. It often isn’t until much later in life that they realize they had a parent with a personality disorder. It’s particularly difficult when it’s your mother who is abusing you. 

How Do Narcissistic Mothers Control Their Adult Children

Narcissistic mothers teach their children early in life that love is conditional and they have to perform to receive loving treatment. Of course, there is very little children can do to ever please their mother. As all narcissists do, she has unrealistically high expectations of her children, and they will eventually fail her. When that happens, she will devalue them as she does with every other person in her life. 

Part of the devaluation involves harsh criticism, guilt trips, and shame. As a child grows older, they tend to displease their narcissistic mother more and more. This often drives the children away from her, but they often find they can’t escape. 

Narcissistic mothers continue to use shame, guilt, and triangulation to manipulate their adult children. This has devastating effects on their self-esteem as this master’s thesis by Brittany Bach shows. They may constantly criticize their life decisions and compare them to the children of other people, never favorably. They use these tactics to influence their children’s decisions. 

Because a narcissistic mother stunts the emotional development of her own children, it’s common for them to do anything they can to get her approval. They become people-pleasers and can easily become codependent. Codependency is when they will ignore their own needs in an attempt to meet the unrealistic expectations of an abusive parent, or as adults, an abusive partner. 

That makes them more malleable as adults to the abuse tactics of their narcissistic mother, and it often bleeds over into their intimate relationships. 

How Will a Narcissistic Mother Manipulate Her Adult Children?

Narcissistic mothers use many of the same tactics to manipulate their adult children that they used when they were young. Some of the more common tactics they will use on their adult children include triangulation, shame, and guilt.

How Will a Narcissistic Mother Manipulate Her Adult Children

Triangulation involves telling one person one thing and another something different. This tactic is particularly destructive to the family dynamic, and it can be equally destructive in the life of their adult children. 

A narcissistic mother is not above using this tactic to interfere in her children’s intimate relationships. She might, for example, tell you one thing and your spouse something different. If you don’t realize what she’s doing, she can cause as much trouble in your adult relationships as she did within the family when you were a child. 

Shame is another favorite tactic, and she will use this often with her adult children to bring them back into line with her wishes. She can’t ground you like she could when you were a child, so instead, she has to use something like shame to control your behavior.

She might say something like, “Your decision shows just how much you don’t respect your family. You don’t care how much it will hurt us.” 

This is a tactic to get you to moderate your own behavior. When you couple this with the guilt trips she will use to make you feel even worse, it can be a very effective technique. 

Guilt is another favorite tactic of the narcissistic mother when she’s trying to control adult children. She will try hard to make you feel bad about anything you did or didn’t do. These are, by no means, the only tactics she will use to manipulate you, but they are some of the most effective. 

Does a Narcissistic Mother Treat Her Sons Differently than Her Daughters?

There is a big difference in the way a narcissistic mother will treat her sons versus her daughters. Narcissists view their loved ones as mere extensions of their own identity, and this is no different for a narcissistic mother and her children.

Does a Narcissistic Mother Treat Her Sons Differently than Her Daughters

Because of that, the narcissistic mother views her daughters as younger, better versions of herself. They become competition for her, and she can be very aggressive in her abusive behavior toward them. 

Her sons, however, are different. She sees them as allies who can be groomed into doing just what she wants them to do. She sees them as being capable of taking care of her in lieu of her own spouse when she gets older. Even better, she doesn’t believe they can abandon her like her spouse possibly could. 

For that reason, she grooms them to continue needing her after they become adults. She doesn’t want them to be independent. She wants them to come to her for approval of every life decision. She wants them to feel like they need her so they will never abandon her. 

A narcissistic mother often drives her daughter away while showering her son with affection. Eventually, her son will disappoint her too, but by then, she may have so caught up in her web of lies that he has difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy. 

She will continue to be involved in every facet of her son’s life, and while she might want to do the same with her daughter, the nature of their relationship often prevents that from happening. That means she can focus more intensely on manipulating her son. She may even insert herself into even minor decisions, thereby interfering with him ever feeling as though he can succeed without her. 

What Should the Child of a Narcissistic Mother Do to Protect Themselves?

It’s difficult for the child of a narcissistic mother to understand just how much her abuse has affected them. Once they do realize they’ve been abused, there is often so much damage that it takes years of therapy to unravel. 

What Should the Child of a Narcissistic Mother Do to Protect Themselves

Still, it’s worth doing because you deserve a life free from emotional abuse. When you realize you’re being abused, the first step is to get the ongoing abuse stopped. This means setting firm boundaries with clear, consistent consequences for any violations. 

That will be difficult to do with her narcissistic mother, but it can help to work with a therapist to determine and set those boundaries. Given the intensity of the abuse in this situation, you really need to have an outsider who can see what she is doing and help you face reality. 

It might even be a good idea to at least go low-contact until you can get substantive progress on healing the wounds she has created under your belt. No contact would be better, but this is often too difficult for the children of a narcissistic mother. 

If even low contact is too hard, at least take control over when and for how long you will be in contact with her. You can also determine what are acceptable topics of conversation. If she violates the boundaries you set, simply politely excuse yourself and leave. 

Another thing you need to do is get her out of your adult relationships. This is a boundary that will help you develop more intimacy with your partner and it will strengthen their advocacy on your behalf. 

With those boundaries in place, you can begin the healing process. It will take time and effort, but it will be well worth it in the end. 

Final Thoughts

Having a narcissistic mother is one of the most abusive situations a child can face. The very person who is supposed to nurture them is unable to give them the unconditional love they need to grow into healthy, independent adults. What’s more, she doesn’t want them to be independent. It’s a toxic environment that creates patterns that persist into adulthood. As a child of a narcissistic mother, I know just how this can harm your own sense of self. 

There is hope, however, and you can begin the healing process by reading this article on 7 strategies you can use to detach from a toxic parent. Distancing yourself from that abuse is a vital first step in the healing process. 


If you want more tips for dealing with narcissists, setting boundaries, and managing emotional triggers, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel


Narcissistic abuse takes a terrible toll on your life. I’m Patricia, and my mother is a narcissist, so I know what you’re going through. These blog posts will help you understand narcissism better and give you tips for dealing with the narcissists in your life. Healing starts here!

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