I’ve talked a lot about narcissistic mothers in my videos and blog posts, and it’s because my mother was narcissistic. I’m very familiar with the way a narcissistic mother abuses her children. I remember thinking for so long that I must simply be a bad child, but as I got older, I realized the problem was not with me. The problem with a narcissistic mother’s abuse is that a child doesn’t know they’re being abused until they have someone else’s mother to compare their mother to, and by that time, there’s been a lot of damage done.
To help you identify the various abuse tactics a narcissistic mother will use, I have created this list of 15 abusive behaviors and their effects on you:
- Subtle, Insidious Denial
- Drama and More Drama
- Invalidating Your Feelings
- Blame Shifting
- The Infamous Guilt Trip
- No Boundaries
- Payback’s a Mother
- Choosing Favorites
- Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse
- Emotional Blackmail
- Smear Campaign
When you’re raised in a particular way, you have no way of knowing if it’s abusive until you start getting older and being exposed to the way other people are raised. I experienced a real “Aha” moment when a school friend of mine was shocked by some toxic comment my mother made. It was at that moment that I realized not everyone’s mother was like mine. I created this list of 15 ways your narcissistic mother might abuse you and how they affect you so that you can begin to realize the depth of the damage that toxic abuse might be doing.
1. Subtle, Insidious Denial
Not all abuse is explosive and obvious. In fact, some of the most damaging abuse is the kind that is not at all obvious. It eats away at you insidiously. You may not even realize it is happening.
Narcissistic mothers often disguise their abuse so that anyone who might hear what they’re saying or doing to you won’t realize it’s abusive. The narcissist is an expert at creating a public persona that charms everyone around them, but when you’re in the privacy of your own home, your narcissistic mother is quite different.
To the outsider, when your mother says, “We can talk about that later,” it seems like a reasonable and calm response, but you know the truth of what’s coming. That outsider never sees what happens when she gets you home and that ‘talking’ begins.
This insidious form of abuse also serves to make it seem as though you’re exaggerating or outright lying when you tell people she’s abusive. They don’t believe you because all they ever see is that calm, reasonable demeanor. That makes it that much harder for the abused child of a narcissistic mother to get real relief.
It can even make you question your own feelings. You might begin to believe that you are just overly sensitive or selfish because you don’t consider her feelings. That can make it even harder for you to open up to people and tell them what’s really going on.
2. Drama and More Drama
Narcissists thrive on excitement and drama, and they love creating drama and watching how everyone around them responds. It makes them feel powerful because they can cause such explosive responses, and they can interfere in the lives of their loved ones.
For the narcissistic mother, her children are like her toys she can manipulate whenever she wants. Though she would never admit it, she gets pleasure out of blowing up your life and watching what happens. It’s a form of entertainment.
That’s why she will create conflict where none existed. She will start an argument over some irrelevant topic or fly into a rage over the slightest comment that wasn’t even intended as an insult. She loves that drama, and when you push back against what she’s saying, that’s like throwing gasoline on a fire.
She does this all the time too, and it drains you emotionally. You can easily feel overwhelmed, stressed, and of course, frustrated because every time you turn around, there’s another issue that has come up out of nowhere.
Of course, that level of stress has numerous physical and mental side effects, particularly since it creates a mindset in you in which you can never feel at ease. You can’t relax, because you never know when the next conflict will come up. There’s no peace to be found, and that makes for weary existence.
3. Invalidating Your Feelings
Your narcissistic mother has no appreciation or regard for your feelings or for anything you might do for her. She simply judges, ignores, rejects, and criticizes. Moreover, she diminishes what you need, want, and feel as well as your opinions and experiences. It quickly becomes clear that you cannot go to her for help.
You’ll likely experience the generalizations she uses to dismiss your feelings and perspective. She quickly discards the nuances of what you say or experience and reduces those feelings and opinions to nothing more than a cliche.
What’s even worse is that she can only see your experience from the perspective of how they affect her. She has no concern for how you’ve been affected. To her, you are of little importance, and that’s why it’s so easy for her to dismiss you.
You might hear your narcissistic mother make such invalidating statements as, “Stop being a baby. You’re so sensitive. You’re not really upset,” or even, “How can you be feeling sad at a time like this?” These kinds of statements reduce your experience of the world to nothing more than unimportant and selfish nonsense.
They have a devastating effect on any kind of emotional closeness you might like to feel with your mother. You will probably wonder if she loves you because you don’t feel loved. Her lack of response to your needs also causes you to have problems communicating your needs.
That can have significant effects on your adult relationships. You might never be satisfied with a romantic partner because you feel resentful. You may also come to see your needs and desires as burdens to be minimized. You say you’re fine even though you feel like you’re dying inside. That’s not healthy for any relationship, including the one you have with yourself.
Gaslighting is one of the most insidious tactics that a narcissist uses to abuse you. It involves telling you that your perception of reality is wrong. Your narcissistic mother might tell you that what you say happened didn’t happen or that it didn’t happen the way you said it did.
If you disagree with her, she will simply rewrite reality and insist that whatever you thought happened was all in your imagination. If this happens enough times, you will start to second-guess yourself and begin to distrust your memory, perceptions, judgment, and sense of reality in general.
Your toxic mother might also tell you that you’re unstable or even psychotic. She will lie to support what she is saying, and no matter what you say, she will just brush it off as something that didn’t really happen, or if something did happen, it was all your fault.
This can have devastating effects on your self-esteem and even your mental stability. It creates something called cognitive dissonance where you have trouble distinguishing what really happened even though you just witnessed it.
Once you get to that point, you begin to distrust your feelings, your experiences, and your perceptions. That can have a crippling effect on your life. You can’t trust your own senses and that affects everything else you do.
The term gaslighting comes from a movie entitled Gaslight in which a husband tries to convince his wife she’s losing her mind by doing a number of things, including turning the gaslights up and down, to make her question her sanity. This is the same thing your narcissistic mother is doing to you.
Lying is another tactic your narcissistic mother will use as part of her emotional abuse. She will lie to anyone in your life as a matter of course. She has no compunction about lying to you, your siblings, and her own spouse.
Lying is something that narcissists learn to do early, and they rely on it to manipulate and control the people in their life. They see it as necessary to get what they want or need. They think of themselves as superior, and so, anything they need to do to get their needs met is justifiable.
A narcissistic mother will lie to you about what has happened or what is going to happen. She will lie to create drama and get a reaction out of you. When you reward her with that reaction, she revels in watching what happens.
This creates a sense of instability and distrust in you that has a profound effect on your adult relationships. You don’t feel as though you can ever trust anyone else, and you’re always waiting for some unseen truth to emerge. It makes it very difficult to engage in long-term relationships.
This is another favorite tool of the narcissist. Your narcissistic mother will never take responsibility for her actions. Instead, she will blame you. A narcissist can find some way that an event is your fault even if you weren’t there.
Perhaps you said something to your mother that caused her to be distracted and that’s why she made a mistake at work. Narcissists are experts at finding even the smallest link between a mistake that occurred and some action you took that makes it your fault.
Narcissists aren’t able to take responsibility for their mistakes because that will destroy their own false self-image they created long ago. They infused that image with grandiose ideas of superiority, and to take responsibility for a mistake would undermine those ideas.
That’s why they need a scapegoat and a child is a perfect target. Unfortunately for you, being blamed constantly for every little thing decimates your self-esteem. It has far-reaching effects even into adulthood when you might have problems finding or keeping a job. It also causes problems with your relationships, and in fact, your low self-esteem might even cause you to seek out a narcissistic romantic partner. They are, in effect, the devil you know.
Triangulation is one of the most damaging narcissistic tactics because it pits family members against one another. Narcissistic parents often use it to put siblings against one another or a child against their other parent.
It is incredibly damaging to the family dynamic because no one can trust anyone else. Siblings are pitted against one another and no one knows what is the truth and what’s a lie. It’s a tool a narcissistic mother can use to undermine the relationship between her children and their father as well.
It’s another way to undermine your trust in other people. As a child, you don’t expect that your mother or father will behave that way, and you often don’t know that they have lied either. This can do irreparable harm to your relationships with siblings and your father, however, and if you do find out the lies your mother told, the damage will be even worse.
This is one of the more insidious tactics a narcissistic mother will use. You would think that if the family dynamic is undermined, it would hurt her too, but instead, she revels in watching the drama unfold.
Often the narcissistic mother and her responsible child switch places and the child takes on the responsibilities of their own parent. They might cover for the narcissist, clean up after the messes they make, and they always need to soothe them and prop up their ego.
It’s a responsibility that no child should ever have to bear, but for the child of a narcissistic mother, it happens all too often. What’s more, it’s not like the narcissistic mother is grateful for what the child does; instead, she continues with criticism and devaluation.
That does significant damage to her child, and her inability to live up to her responsibility as a parent robs her child of their childhood. They are forced to grow up too soon, and they are also subjected to emotional abuse all along the way.
As an adult, they are overly responsible and lack self-esteem. It makes them the perfect target for a narcissistic romantic partner. These children often end up repeating the cycle of narcissistic abuse they have been exposed to all of their life. If they don’t see what’s happening, it will be very hard for them to break out of this repetitive behavior.
9. The Infamous Guilt Trip
Narcissistic mothers are famous for their ability to inflict a guilt trip on everyone in their life. Because narcissists have unrealistic expectations for the people around them, it’s inevitable that those people will disappoint them.
When that happens, the narcissistic mother will lay on the guilt to make them feel as bad as possible about their failure. It’s difficult for adults to be immune to a guilt trip, but it’s almost impossible for a child.
The narcissistic mother’s guilt trip is particularly effective because the child doesn’t know that other mothers are different. They also just want to please their mother, but it soon becomes clear that will never happen.
Without help, these children turn into people pleasers and codependents. They ignore their own needs as they try futilely to please the toxic people in their life. It sets them up for a lifetime of emotional abuse.
It makes them a target for a narcissistic romantic partner since narcissists love to find someone who will focus solely on their needs. A codependent individual accustomed to narcissistic abuse fits the bill perfectly.
10. No Boundaries
Narcissistic mothers see the people around them as mere extensions of their own identity. This is particularly true of their children who have never known what a boundary is, and if the narcissistic mother has her way, they never will.
For the narcissistic mother, she doesn’t see that her children are independent beings, and moreover, she doesn’t want to see them that way. She doesn’t want them to grow into independent, fully-functioning adults.
In fact, she wants them to need her for the rest of their lives. She wants them to check with her before making any decisions. She wants them to need her input before making a move.
This turns her own children into needy, incapable adults. They must rely on their mother because they’ve never learned to make decisions for themselves. They’ve never learned to deal effectively with failure, and because of their mother’s constant criticism and devaluation, they come to fear so much that they must ask her before doing anything in their life.
As you can imagine, this destroys their ability to succeed and establish an independent life. If they form relationships, they usually fail because of their neediness. It’s a lonely and tragic outcome.
11. Payback’s a Mother
When you contradict a narcissist, they don’t just want to prove they’re correct, they want to absolutely crush you. If they view you as an enemy, they must completely demolish you so that everyone around them will see how superior they are.
It’s inevitable that, at some point, a narcissistic mother’s children will contradict her and push back against her emotional abuse. As they grow into their teen years, it’s natural for children to rebel against even the healthiest of parents.
The same thing happens with the children of a narcissistic mother, but in their case, she is out for revenge any time they go against what she wants or has said. It’s a really outsized reaction to even the slightest contradiction.
In the narcissist’s mind, they must snuff out any rebellion in their children, and that makes their reaction ever more severe. These overreactions make their children either very timid or very rebellious. In either case, it can have serious consequences for the child.
If the child is rebellious, they will often run away or engage in substance abuse. Timid children often spiral into codependency. In both cases, the child’s self-esteem takes a serious hit, one from which they may never recover.
12. Choosing Favorites
Narcissistic mothers are also known for choosing favorites among their children. One child is the golden child and the other is the black sheep of the family. They shower the golden child with attention and praise while either ignoring the black sheep or devaluing them.
As a result of this favoritism, the golden child frequently becomes a narcissist themselves while the black sheep suffers severe damage to their self-esteem. They constantly try to please their mother and gain her approval, only to fail every time.
As adults, they are either feckless people pleasers or they refuse to take any chances. They can become complete failures because of the way their mother treated them. Once again, it’s a tragedy for either child.
Without help, they don’t even know this isn’t normal, and they continue to play the roles their mother gave them throughout their lives. What’s more, any relationship they might have had as siblings is completely destroyed.
13. Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse
The narcissistic cycle of abuse is the style of emotional abuse a narcissistic mother heaps on her hapless children. It begins with idealization. During this stage, the narcissistic mother sees her children as perfect. They can do no wrong.
But, because they cannot hope to live up to her unrealistic expectations, sooner or later her children disappoint her. They might stand up to her or simply be unable to please her. It doesn’t really matter because the outcome is the same.
The devaluation phase begins. This is where the narcissistic mother will be constantly critical of her children. She’s cruel in her criticism too, often referring to them as idiots, stupid, or inept.
When it becomes too much for the child and they withdraw, their dysfunctional mother hoovers them back in. She uses love-bombing to win back their affection. It’s always this way with a narcissist because they fear abandonment and consider themselves to be all-powerful at the same time.
Thus, it’s a game to them to drive you away and then win you back. The devaluation makes them feel superior and the hoovering proves they can easily manipulate and control you. Of course, this works with their own children because they don’t know any better.
It’s extremely confusing for the children and very damaging to their personalities. They often strive even harder to win their mother’s approval only to ultimately fail again, or they rebel completely against her control. If that happens, they may leave home or sink into addictive behaviors. It also damages their ability to have any kind of normal romantic relationship.
14. Emotional Blackmail
By using emotional blackmail, a narcissistic mother is able to keep her children on edge all the time. She uses emotional blackmail to make her own children feel guilty and fearful so that they will comply with her wishes.
She uses threats and intimidation to terrorize her own children. It makes them fearful of the consequences of defying, so much so that they’re always walking on eggshells. Their narcissistic mother’s threats might be subtle or blatant, but they are designed to provoke submission.
For the narcissistic mother, her so-called love is a tool she uses to manipulate her own children. Do what she wants and she loves you, don’t do what she wants and she withdraws her love.
This teaches her children that love is conditional. They must behave in exactly the way she wants or they will lose her love. She might stop talking to them, refuse to say, “I love you,” or use money to manipulate and control them.
The effects can be disastrous and complicate any relationship the child will ever have in life. They see any kind of defiance as something that might provoke the withdrawal of love.
15. Smear Campaign
If a child is able to break away from their narcissistic mother after realizing how sick she really is, the mother will often respond with a smear campaign against their child. They will tell other family members and friends how ungrateful the child is, and even that the child has been abusive to them.
The narcissistic mother may even go so far as to go to an adult child’s place of work and spread rumors about them there. Of course, they are not above lying, and so they will make up stories to make themselves appear as the victim.
Narcissists can be quite charming when they want to be, and they can often make people believe what they are saying. For them, it gives them pleasure to feel as though they can control how other people see them.
This can irreparably damage your reputation, and in fact, they can be so adept at how they do this that you can’t do anything about it. This can make you feel isolated and alone, and it can also have you questioning whether you are the crazy one. There have even been some cases where a narcissist’s lies have gotten someone arrested, and of course, you can lose your job.
A narcissistic mother is nothing like the traditional stereotype of the nurturing mother. She uses various tactics to manipulate and control her children. She doesn’t see them as independent beings but as extensions of her own identity. She sees nothing she does as being wrong; rather, she is the victim of a selfish failure of a child.
One of the reasons a narcissistic mother is so effective is that she learns to use her children’s emotions against them. When you’re a child, you can do little about this, but as an adult, my 5 Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers can help you identify and heal your emotional triggers. That can help you stop your narcissistic mother’s emotional abuse. Just click on the link and I’ll send it directly to your inbox for free!
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