What Is Narcissistic Mother-Son Enmeshment?

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Narcissistic parents are among the worst parents a child can have. They often become overly attached in an unhealthy manner to their children. Psychologists use the term enmeshment to describe this type of attachment.

While this can happen in any type of relationship, it is very common in those families that have a narcissistic parent. It’s also more common between opposite-sex parental-child relationships. 

Mother-son enmeshment is when a narcissistic mother becomes overly attached to her son. She often grooms her son to be a kind of replacement spouse. She comes to depend on him for narcissistic supply, and this unhealthy attachment can result in the son never developing an identity of his own.

My narcissistic mother saw me more as a scapegoat than someone to depend on for narcissistic supply. Enmeshment is more common between narcissistic mothers and their sons, and it damages the son’s normal psychosocial development in such a way that he is never able to become an independent person.

His identity is inextricably connected with that of his mother. It’s a type of emotional incest, and it can be as damaging as sexual incest for the son. 

What is Enmeshment?

You have probably noticed that a mother’s relationship with her son is different than that of her relationship with her daughter. When the mother is a narcissist, this difference becomes more extreme. 

While she may be jealous of her daughter and resent the fact that she is a younger, more beautiful, and better version of herself, she often becomes enmeshed with her son. 


“Integral to being emotionally healthy is to have a mother 
who has the ability to respect her child’s differences and not perceive them as betrayals.”

Victoria Secunda, Author

The term enmeshment was first used in family therapy to describe a relationship between two or more people who are so connected to one another that they can lose their individuality. There is typically an imbalance of power in the enmeshed relationship. 

One person becomes overly dependent on the other, and in the case of a narcissistic mother, she often suffocates her son with her neediness. She expects that he will be a reflection of her, but she also often grooms him to be a replacement spouse. 

She believes it is her son’s job to meet her unrealistic needs, and as a result, she is like an emotional vampire, sucking the life out of him. She drains him both physically and emotionally. 

How Does Enmeshment Occur Between a Narcissistic Mother and Her Son?

How Does Enmeshment Occur Between a Narcissistic Mother and Her Son

The problem with a narcissistic parent is that they don’t see their children as independent people. They see them as extensions of their own identity, and as such, they often become vital sources of narcissistic supply. 

When a narcissistic mother views her son in this way, she wants to control every aspect of his life. She may begin to manipulate him to encourage him to become overly dependent upon her. She wants him to come to her for help in making decisions. 

She may also begin to groom him as a kind of replacement spouse. While this may never become a sexual relationship, it can do just as much damage. 

The narcissistic mother fears abandonment, and when she becomes enmeshed with her son, she begins to try to control him so that he will never leave her. She has little concern for his healthy development; she is only thinking about her own needs. 

Although this sounds like she is the one who is dependent upon her son, she is actually the one in control. She uses manipulation to get him to attend to her emotional and physical needs. She may even eventually expect him to manage her affairs and finances. 

What are the Signs of Enmeshment with a Narcissist?

What are the Signs of Enmeshment with a Narcissist

There are several indications a son might be enmeshed with his narcissistic mother. They all indicate that her emotional abuse has worked to bind her son to her in a way that is difficult to undo. 

Signs of Enmeshment Between a Narcissistic Mother and Her Son
  • Her son feels like he can’t do anything without his mother’s approval
  • He is obsessed with his mother’s wellbeing
  • He feels obligated to take care of her
  • He puts her needs before his
  • He feels he can’t express his own opinions
  • He asks her opinion on everything
  • He refuses to make a decision without first consulting her
  • He allows her to interfere in every aspect of his life

You might think about the enmeshed son as a “mama’s boy,” and that’s a fairly accurate description. The following video shows you some of the other characteristics of a narcissistic mother’s son. He has difficulty asserting his independence, and he doesn’t just want her advice; he needs it. That’s the strength of enmeshment. 

What are the Dynamics Between Narcissistic Mothers and Their Sons?

Because a narcissistic mother lacks empathy, she doesn’t understand the damage her behavior is doing to her son’s sense of identity. While all children suffer this way because of a narcissistic parent, a narcissistic mother’s son experiences often irreparable damage to his sense of autonomy, his feelings of self-worth, and the ability to form stable relationships as an adult. 

What are the Dynamics Between Narcissistic Mothers and Their Sons

The dynamics that create this type of unhealthy relationship involve the following behaviors on the part of a narcissistic mother. 

Idealization

Narcissistic relationships go through a series of stages, the first of which is idealization. This happens early in the relationship. 

A narcissistic mother may praise her son effusively during this stage of their relationship. She believes herself to be superior to other people, and therefore, her son is as well. She often praises his rapid development. 

She boasts to friends about how he is progressing more rapidly than other children his age. She adores him, and this early bonding is what she will use to her advantage as time goes on.

Devaluation

The idealization stage can’t possibly last forever because a narcissist always has unrealistic expectations of any relationship in which they are involved. This includes the relationship a narcissistic mother has with her own son. 

When he begins to mature and challenge her authority, as is natural for children to do, she doubles down on control tactics with devaluation. She says things designed to tear down his self-esteem and make him more dependent on her. 

She can say some very unmotherly things, to say the least. She does this to bring her child back under her strict control. 

Things a Narcissistic Mother Might Say to Her Son
  • I gave up my whole life for you, and this is how you treat me?
  • I can’t believe I gave birth to a son like you! 
  • It’s all your fault that I have to punish you.
  • I am the only person who will ever really love you.
  • You think you’re so smart. 
  • You don’t deserve happiness. 
  • You owe me for what I’ve done for you. 
  • Your relationship with her will never last. She’s not right for you.
  • Aren’t you glad I helped you with that? It would never have worked otherwise. 
  • I’m so exhausted from having to do everything for you. 
  • You just don’t appreciate how much I love you. 
  • Nobody cares what you think. 
  • I am a much better parent than you will ever be. 
  • No one will love you. 

Emotional Discard/Neglect

Emotional Discard

The last stage of a narcissistic relationship is the discard. Between romantic partners, this results in a breakup, but between a narcissistic mother and her son, this can happen on an emotional level. 

She can go from being a doting, loving mother to a neglectful mother in the time span of a few seconds. She withdraws her love in response to any perceived slight from her son. 

She uses this neglect as a manipulation tool to get her son to beg her to stop ignoring him. She feels extremely powerful when she can achieve this kind of control, and she will use it again and again. 


“Children of narcissists learn that love is abuse. 
The narcissist teaches them that if someone displeases you, it is okay to harm them and call it love.”

M. Wakefield, Recovery coach, author, and educator

Triangulation

Another manipulation tactic the narcissistic mother uses is something called triangulation. In layman’s terms, this is playing both ends against the middle. 

The narcissistic parent will tell her son one thing and his other siblings or other parent something entirely different. It is designed to undermine the relationships her son has with other family members and friends. 

It’s an extremely destructive technique because it can even destroy an entire family. It serves the narcissist because her goal is to get her son to believe only what she says. She does this by making him feel as though he can’t trust his closest family and friends. 

It also feeds the narcissist’s ego by making her feel powerful. She sees how easy it is to play the puppetmaster and get everyone to do what she wants. Additionally, she feels superior in intelligence in that she can cause all of this to happen without anyone realizing what she is doing. 

Of course, the narcissist has no compunction about lying, so she doesn’t mind lying to achieve her goals. She wants more than anything to bind her son to her for the rest of his life. She cares little for his needs, and as a result, she will do virtually anything to get what she wants. 

The Oedipus Complex and a Son’s Seduction

Freud first identified the Oedipus Complex in young boys. The idea is that your opposite-sex parent is your first exposure to sexual excitement. 

It typically occurs in young children who feel a sense of arousal from their opposite-sex parent. Freud applied this initially to boys and identified a similar complex – the Electra Complex – in girls. 


According to Oxford Languages, the Oedipus Complex is defined
as the complex of emotions aroused in a young child, typically around the age of four, by an unconscious sexual desire for the parent of the opposite sex and a wish to exclude the parent of the same sex (The term was originally applied to boys, the equivalent in girls being called the Electra complex).

The narcissistic mother can use this psychological phenomenon to seduce her own son, even if it is only on an emotional level. She may purposefully sexualize her relationship with her son and act inappropriately in her behavior, appearance, and language. 

She is effectively grooming her son to become a replacement spouse. Narcissists learn early in life that people will often leave them behind, and she fears this will happen with her actual spouse. Her son, however, offers her an opportunity to bind herself to someone who she believes cannot leave her behind. 

She grooms him to at least emotionally take the place of his own father. She preys on the phenomenon of the Oedipus Complex to initiate this type of relationship. 

The relationship might never become physical, but it ultimately does just as much damage to her son’s ability to mature and form adult romantic relationships. This is exactly what his toxic mother is hoping will happen. 

Jealousy and Control

Jealousy and Control

A narcissistic mother is often obviously jealous of her daughter. She sees her as a threat to her superiority because she is a younger, prettier, smarter, and often more accomplished version of herself. 

She is also jealous of her son, however. Typically, this takes the form of jealousy toward any relationships he may form with other women. She will seek to destroy any such relationships. 

She doesn’t want her son to be influenced by any other woman in his life. That would undermine his absolute commitment to her. It would also threaten her false self-image. She feels as though the whole world will see that her son has chosen another woman. 

That makes her feel inferior, and she will respond by doubling down on the manipulation tactics she uses to undermine her son’s other relationships. These include gaslighting, triangulation, and projection. 

Of course, she will also take advantage of any argument her son may have with a woman. She will assure him that she is not good enough for him, and she will make obvious attempts to get him to see that. 

Her son often feels guilt-ridden when he is caught between the two women in his life. He is still tightly bound to his mother, and he feels bad when she believes he is abandoning her or taking someone else’s side against her. 

Her actions are so toxic that they are often very effective at destroying any relationship her son has with another woman. 

Enmeshment

Enmeshment is the ultimate goal of the way a narcissistic mother treats her son. The enmeshed son is never able to form an independent identity. His identity is always tied to that of his toxic mother. 

As a result, he can’t form healthy relationships with other people. He is seen as a mama’s boy hopelessly under his mother’s thumb. This has real detrimental effects on him that last a lifetime. 

Enmeshed sons often never leave home. They live with their mother, caring for her every need for the rest of their lives. He has no boundaries that she will respect, and he has no power in the relationship. 

He is completely at the mercy of her unceasing judgment. It is a worst-case scenario for the son of a narcissistic mother. If he can’t break away, he will always be at her mercy, and when she dies, he will be completely at a loss about what to do without her.

How Does Enmeshment Affect the Son?

There are several ways that enmeshment can affect the son of a narcissistic mother. Without an independent sense of identity, the son often develops a dysfunctional personality. This can take several forms. 

Codependency

Codependency

Codependency is one result of the enmeshed mother-son relationship. According to Shirley Davis of the CPTSD Foundation, “…when narcissistic abuse involves children, it proves to be devastating and leaves lasting scars that color how the child sees the world both as a child and later as an adult.”

Codependents will often set aside their own needs to meet the needs of their abuser. The video below helps you understand the difference between narcissism and codependency. This is one of the hallmark features of a narcissist’s son. His mother has groomed him to do just that. 

He believes it is his duty to attend to all of her needs, even if it means neglecting his own. If he doesn’t attend to her needs in the way she expects or in as timely a manner as she demands, she responds with narcissistic rage. 

He learns that to ‘keep the peace,’ he must take care of everything she needs as quickly as possible. This becomes a pattern of behavior that he carries into adulthood. If he is able to form a relationship with another woman, he will often be codependent in that relationship as well. 

Fear of Intimacy

Because of his narcissistic mother’s abuse, most sons of this kind of toxic mother develop a fear of intimacy. Intimacy effectively brings pain, manipulation, and control. It also brings his mother’s wrath. 

Therefore, sons of narcissistic mothers have difficulty developing intimate relationships. They have learned early on that it doesn’t pay. As a result, they can never fully give themselves to a romantic partner. 

Their mother has effectively destroyed that for them. It makes them even more vulnerable to her abuse. It also makes them more vulnerable to abuse from other toxic people. 


“Closeness was the promise of suffering and pain”

Alice Jamieson, Author and sufferer of Dissociative Identity Disorder

A Legacy of Narcissism

A Legacy of Narcissism

Another possible outcome for the son of a narcissistic mother is to become a narcissistic himself. When his mother destroys the development of his independent identity, he is at risk of developing narcissism. 

The narcissist never developed a healthy sense of identity. They came to view their true self as hopelessly flawed as a result, and they buried it deep in their psyche to hide it from the rest of the world. 

In its place, they construct a false sense of identity that cannot support the egoic delusions of grandeur. For that, they need other people. 

As the narcissistic mother destroys her son’s identity to bind him to her, it’s entirely possible that he will then develop an internal sense of toxic shame that leads to the construction of a false self-image and narcissistic personality disorder. This can be the legacy of a narcissistic parent. 

Since the narcissistic mother eventually begins to devalue her son, the shock of the betrayal he feels can lead to self-loathing. He can easily come to see his true nature as hopelessly flawed. 

If that happens, he can easily fall prey to any of the Cluster B personality disorders, including narcissism, borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, or histrionic personality disorder. These disorders all share characteristics related to dramatic, overly emotional, or unpredictable thinking patterns. 

Sufferers of these conditions experience low self-esteem, internalized shame, and fear of abandonment. Their behaviors are aimed at keeping people in their lives, but paradoxically, they do things to drive them away. It’s a life sentence for something that was never their fault, to begin with.

Final Thoughts

Narcissistic mother-son enmeshment is a toxic attachment between mother and son that can damage the son for the rest of his life. It creates deep emotional wounds that last a lifetime and create a pattern of dependent, abusive behavior.

These sons have difficulty breaking away from the toxic web in which their narcissistic mother has trapped them. They are easily manipulated by emotional triggers associated with profound guilt and shame. But there is help. 

To begin the healing journey, the son of a narcissistic mother must first break free of her manipulation. That means identifying and healing emotional wounds. I’ve created a 5-Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers that can help you do just that.

This handy guide will take you through the process of identifying, defusing, and even healing those emotional wounds that create debilitating triggers. If you would like a free copy of this guide, just click here, and I will send it directly to your inbox. You can begin your healing journey today!

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Patricia

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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