A narcissistic mother is a toxic individual who manipulates her children throughout their lives. She will employ numerous tactics to confuse and control her offspring, and like other people in her life, she will emotionally abuse them when they fail to please her. These manipulative tactics don’t end when they become adults either. They simply become more difficult to see.
While the manipulation doesn’t end when a narcissist’s children grow up, there are some more common tactics a narcissistic mother will use on adult children. She has to be a little less obvious when she’s trying to manipulate them, and so, these techniques tend to be more insidious. Here are 15 of the more common techniques your narcissistic mother will use to control an adult child.
1. Narcissistic Mothers Use Triangulation to Confuse Your Relationships
Triangulation is basically playing both ends against the middle. It’s the favorite tactic of a narcissistic mother when her children are young, and she continues to use it after they become adults.
She may tell you one thing and your spouse something entirely different, for example. As it did when you were a child, this can create confusion and distrust in your relationships. That’s exactly what your narcissistic mother wants. She doesn’t want you to feel as though you can trust anyone other than her.
Her triangulation may not stop with your personal relationships either. She might even try this kind of tactic with your work colleagues as well. It can hamper your efforts to further your own career, and in some cases, it could even cost you your job.
2. Your Narcissistic Mother Will Try to Shame You into Submission
Another commonly used tactic of narcissists in general, and the narcissistic mother specifically, is that of shaming you. A mother doesn’t have to be a narcissist to use this tactic, but it’s something the narcissistic mother will perfect.
She will try to convince you that you are a bad child. She might also try to make you feel inadequate in your abilities as a parent or a spouse. She might also belittle your work or any aspirations you might have.
Shame is a particularly toxic emotion that has no useful purpose. As noted professor, author, and lecturer Brene Brown says, “Shame is the gremlin that says ‘never good enough.’” This is exactly how your narcissistic mother wants you to feel – like you are not good enough.
That will keep you trying to impress her; it will ensure you continue to seek her approval. But her approval will never happen. She is so full of her own shame and self-loathing that she will never be satisfied with anything anyone else does for her.
3. Narcissistic Mothers Send You on a Guilt Trip to the Moon and Back
Mothers, in general, are great at sending their children on guilt trips, but the narcissistic mother is an expert on this. She has spent your entire life learning about your vulnerabilities, and she will not hesitate to use them against you.
Narcissists are only concerned about their own needs, and they will do anything they feel they need to do to ensure they are met. They don’t care if it damages you or not, and guilt is a great manipulative tool they can use to get you to do what they want.
Guilt differs from shame in that shame is when you feel you, as a person, are wrong or flawed generally, but guilt is the sense that you did something wrong. Make no mistake about it, your narcissistic mother will make you feel as though you are almost constantly doing something wrong.
She will even blame you for things she has done so that she won’t have to face her own mistakes. You might not think that would work, but you’ll soon feel guilty for things you had nothing to do with.
4. Narcissistic Mothers are the Ultimate Nags
Narcissistic mothers will sometimes use a tactic like constant nagging to get you to do what they want just so they will stop talking about it. They won’t just nag you about what you’re doing or not doing either.
They will nag you about what you wear, where you go, who you go out with, and much, much more. They want to insert themselves in every part of your life because they want you to be dependent upon their opinion.
Your narcissistic mother’s dream is to have you asking them every time you’re going to do something. They want to have input into every decision you make. Even if they have to nag you into submission, they are willing to do that if it gets the result they want.
5. Narcissistic Mothers are the Worst Critics
As a child, your narcissistic mother criticized you all the time, and that won’t stop now that you’re an adult. The criticism will continue until the day you put a stop to it. It’s that simple.
Your narcissistic mother will criticize your lifestyle, your work, and your intimate relationships. She will have something negative to say about virtually every aspect of your life. She is trying to get you to stop making decisions until you consult her.
The thing is that even if you did what she wants, it still wouldn’t be enough. She would still find something to criticize. You have to realize that there is no way you will ever be able to please her.
6. Narcissistic Mothers are the Ultimate Gaslighters
Another favorite tactic of the narcissistic mother is gaslighting. It’s a common technique used by all narcissists, but the narcissistic mother is particularly adept at this toxic tactic. Her goal is to make you question your own reality.
If she can make you feel like you can’t trust your own perceptions, she is certain you will come to her for clarity. If you do that, you can also be certain the clarity she gives you will be her twisted interpretation. It’s another way she is looking to make you dependent on her.
7. Narcissistic Mothers Spy on their Adult Children
Your narcissistic mother will not hesitate to spy on you and your life. She will use your social media feeds and any other form of communication she can hack into to see what you’re up to. Once she knows, she will use that information to manipulate and control your behavior.
If she’s left alone with your phone, she’ll get into it if she can. She’ll look at any kind of communication that you might otherwise consider to be private. For a narcissistic mother, there is no such thing as privacy, particularly when it comes to her children.
Narcissists consider the other people in their life to be extensions of their own identity, and as such, they don’t have any privacy from her. She doesn’t consider spying on you to be something she shouldn’t be doing, and you probably already know this because she never has.
8. Narcissistic Mothers Talk About their Children Behind Their Backs
Your narcissistic mother will also talk about you behind your back. She will do this to your spouse, your work colleagues, and your friends. She will find out what she can from them so she can use that information to control you.
She will also not hesitate to use that triangulation to control your relationships. She may tell friends of yours who she doesn’t like that you’ve said something about them. Imagine her saying something like this to a love interest: “Oh, you’re not nearly as heavyset as my son said you were!”
She may also tell friends or colleagues something you consider to be intensely private. She will reveal your secrets, sometimes just to get a dramatic reaction. She can do some serious damage with this kind of technique, and if she believes it will benefit her, she won’t hesitate to do it.
9. Narcissistic Mothers Always Compare Their Children
This is another incredibly damaging technique your narcissistic mother will use to damage your self-esteem and have you come crawling to her for approval. She will compare you with your siblings, your friends, and the children of her friends.
You can be certain that you will never measure up against anyone she compares you to, and it can have a devastating effect on your close relationships. She will engage in these comparisons right in front of you and in a manner that you can’t refute.
She will make it clear to everyone that you are ‘less than’ and ‘not good enough’ with her constant comparisons. It can be incredibly damaging to your self-esteem.
10. Narcissistic Mothers Make Everything About Themselves
Your narcissistic mother will never let you have the limelight. Like any other narcissist, they need that steady flow of adoration and attention, and they will do anything they can to get it.
That includes stealing the limelight from their own children. The only time they may let you be acknowledged for something you’ve done is when they are then able to take credit for it. They usually groom their children to avoid the spotlight given the grandiose behaviors of their own mother.
If you do find yourself at the center of attention, however, you can expect your narcissistic mother to step in and pull the attention away from you and onto her.
11. Narcissistic Mothers Expect Immediate Results
When you need something, she takes her time, but when your narcissistic mother needs or wants something, she expects an immediate response. If you are unwilling or unable to get her what she asks for right away, she will begin criticizing you.
Then, when you do get her what she wanted, she will begin complaining about how it’s not enough or how it doesn’t matter now. After all, she needed it earlier. It doesn’t matter how demanding the request, she expects that you will attend to it right away.
If you delay at all, she sees that as a problem with your priorities. You don’t prioritize her needs. Most narcissistic mothers teach their children from an early age to prioritize their needs. This often creates codependent children who are willing to ignore their own needs in favor of those of their mother. That suits the narcissist just fine!
12. Narcissistic Mothers Always Point Out What They Have Done for You
You can also expect your narcissistic mother to be pointing out to everyone you know exactly what she has done for you. She wants to take credit for any successes you have had, and if you are not doing well, she will still point out what she did for you to show that you have no excuse for your failure.
If you’re expecting her to be proud of your accomplishments or sympathetic to your failures, you’re barking up the wrong tree with a narcissistic mother. She has no empathy and can’t focus on anyone other than herself. She’s happy to take credit for your successes, but she’ll be your harshest critic when you fail.
It’s all part of that need for external validation. In the narcissist’s mind, when someone else is being praised, it somehow takes away from their image. They can’t allow it to go on even for their own children. So they point out everything they have done for you and how that has made you who you are unless, of course, you’re a failure.
13. Narcissistic Mothers Don’t Show Up to Your Important Events
On that note, narcissistic mothers won’t show up to those events you consider important, or they’ll be terribly late. It’s another way to show you that you’re not the important one in the relationship.
It’s a more subtle way of demonstrating power and control over the situation. They can’t bring themselves to show you that they care about something you’ve done. While they see you as an extension of their own identity, they can’t allow you to be in the spotlight.
They feel that somehow harms them, and so, they show how much power and control they have over you by failing to be on time or even show up at all for something you consider important.
14. Narcissistic Mothers Let You Know How Things Can Go Wrong
Your narcissistic mother will always be happy to rain on your parade. She doesn’t want you to think that your life will be a success without her direct input. She’ll be happy to point out all the ways that any endeavor you might attempt will fail.
What she really wants is for you to seek her advice on how to make it a success, then she can take responsibility if it goes well. If it fails, she will still find a way to turn it into your fault. Again, she is attempting to control your behavior and get you to ask her advice before making any decisions.
If you don’t ask her and still succeed, she will still claim it’s due to her excellent parenting. There’s really nothing you can that will undermine her efforts to take credit for your successes and place the blame – squarely on you – for any failures.
15. Narcissistic Mothers are Never There for You
Finally, you can never expect your narcissistic mother to be a source of nurturing comfort. Narcissists really can’t do that for the people in their lives since it requires empathy. Narcissists don’t have the capacity to feel empathy in a truly meaningful way.
They really don’t understand and can’t imagine what it might be like to walk a mile in your shoes. All they can focus on is getting their own needs met. This is their number one goal in life. It requires an almost constant flow of adoration known as narcissistic supply. They really can’t live without it since they need it to prop up their self-esteem.
Without empathy, it’s difficult for them to show compassion. They also don’t have the healthy identity mechanisms necessary to self-soothe, and thus, they don’t really know how to soothe others. That’s why your narcissistic mother was never able to provide a true sense of comfort in the difficult times and events in your life.
Why are Narcissistic Mothers Such Bad Mothers?
Narcissism begins in childhood when some kind of trauma causes the child to fail to develop a healthy sense of self. They are typically filled with a profound sense of shame and self-loathing as a result, and they bury their true self as a result.
In place of a healthy ego, the narcissist constructs a false self-image and infuses it with grandiose, child-like ideas of who and what they are. They imagine themselves to be superior, even omniscient and omnipotent. Think of a child pretending to be Superman.
That’s the narcissist, only they buy into that identity in an unhealthy way. Moreover, the false self-image they construct is unable to prop up those grandiose ideas. The budding narcissist needs other people to do the job of a healthy self-esteem.
That’s why narcissists come to see other people as mere extensions of their own identity. Because they need this external validation, those other people are, in fact, part of their identity. Their unhealthy self-image forces the narcissist to constantly manipulate other people for that external validation.
This behavior is not limited to people they don’t know well. In fact, it works better if they do know them well. When a narcissist has children, those children represent a lifelong source of external validation if only they can be groomed into doing what the narcissist needs them to do.
This is a bad foundation for good parenting, whether we’re talking about a father or a mother. It’s particularly devastating for the children, however, when the person they expect to be the most nurturing – their mother – is the source of such emotional abuse. It’s not that the narcissistic mother doesn’t love her children, it’s that she can’t express any emotions that would make her vulnerable.
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?
Often the answer to that question is to go no contact, but that’s not an option for everyone. If you need or want to continue being in contact with your narcissistic mother, there are several things you must do to protect yourself.
These include things like setting strong boundaries that you consistently enforce, taking control over when and where you will meet with her, placing limits on what you can talk about, and monitoring any contact she has with your own children.
You also need to focus on healing yourself. Make no mistake about it, you’ve been abused. You need to discover the many ways in which that has affected you. You want to prevent more abuse, protect other family members, and heal your own inner child who has been damaged by years of abuse.
Healing from narcissistic abuse requires decisive actions, and you’ll likely need a strong support network to help you take control. This might be in the form of family members, friends, or a professional therapist who can help you see the reality of narcissistic abuse.
Only when you can see the abuse for what it is and acknowledge it can you truly begin the long journey toward healing. As you do this, you’ll begin to cultivate compassion for yourself and your mother. You’ll see the roots of her damaged sense of self and understand the reasons behind her behavior. That doesn’t excuse it, but understanding breeds forgiveness.
A narcissistic mother is about the furthest thing from the widely accepted cultural image of what a mother is supposed to be. She is not nurturing or compassionate. Instead, she is self-absorbed and abusive. She will not hesitate to use any of these 15 abusive techniques to manipulate and control even her adult children. To free yourself, you’ll need to see her behavior for what it is and exert control over your own life.
The first step in the healing process is understanding the roots of your narcissistic mother’s behaviors. That’s why this post about what makes her so abusive has valuable insight that will help you understand her better. The more you know and understand, the easier it will be to understand your own behavior.
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