How to Handle a Narcissistic Mother, What Works
Anju Chandy was 18 when she left her home in Bakersfield, California, for a distant university. After years of frustration, the more miles she could walk between herself and her narcissistic mother, the better.
“I knew I didn’t want to be near my mom. I needed to navigate my way away from his influence and control, ”says Chandy, who is now a musician living in Indianapolis.
“I had spent most of high school fighting her. She wanted to control me. She wanted me to stay home, be quiet, be pretty and do nothing. She had an irrational fear that I would want to go out and be promiscuous all over town, even if that’s not who I am or what I wanted to do.
Living with a narcissistic mother is a challenge. Narcissists are very egotistical and often see their children as extensions of themselves. “Often times, children feel like strangers, strangers, and used by their narcissistic parent,” says Kimberly Perlin, a licensed clinical social worker in Towson, MD.
What narcissistic mothers do
If your mom is a narcissist, she can appear to be sacrificing herself – like someone who always does things for her kids and never thinks about herself.
A narcissistic mother can be a class parent, a PTO chair, or a soccer coach. But this involvement is self-interested. She does it because she wants attention and needs to be involved in every decision.
If you’re an adult, she might be too involved in your life. She might do what you do more with her than you, Perlin said. You might be planning a wedding but she refuses to come if you invite your dad. Or when you speak, she always turns her attention back to herself. If you have kids, she can work hard to become your parenting partner, even if that means pushing the other parent out.
If your mom is a narcissist, she can be emotionally manipulative and coercive, says Mark Ettensohn, PsyD, author of Unmasking Narcissism: A Guide to Understanding the Narcissist in Your Life. “Narcissistic parents can give unrealistic and positive comments that can suddenly turn into overly harsh or punitive criticism,” he says.
Your mother may not see you for who you are on the inside, besides being an extension of her. She might have trouble understanding and accepting your feelings, and become anxious or angry when she feels rejected or criticized.
How to identify a narcissist
“Narcissistic traits follow a continuum,” says Perlin. Your mom may have a few of them, like self-absorption and entitlement. Or she may have full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
Signs of narcissistic personality disorder include:
- A strong sense of greatness (high level of self-esteem, self-esteem, self-confidence and feeling of being superior to others)
- Arrogant attitude or behavior
- Take advantage of others to get what they want
- Believing that they are unique or special
- Exaggerate accomplishments and talents
- Excessive need for admiration
- Feeling envy towards others or thinking that others envy them
- Lack of empathy
- Fantasies of brilliance, power or success
- Sense of entitlement (they deserve special treatment just because they are who they are)
Perlin says to ask yourself these questions to see if your mother is narcissistic:
- Can she handle negative comments?
- Does she seem overly concerned with the way she looks at others?
- Does she need you to support her with compliments and positive comments?
- Does she need others to know that she is the most overworked, underrated, or generous mother?
- Does she make it clear that you owe her?
- Do you think you have to be a certain way or achieve something for his love and approval?
- Does it feed on attention in an uncomfortable or exaggerated way?
“If you answer many questions with a yes and her behavior is consistent over time, you may consider narcissism,” Perlin says.
What to do if your mother is narcissistic
If your mother is narcissistic, follow these steps to manage your relationship:
Set limits. Create and maintain healthy boundaries. Be clear on what is OK and what is not.
Stay calm. Try not to react emotionally to what she says, even if it’s an insult. “The narcissist wants a reaction from you because it means he is in control and can change the mood as he pleases,” Chandy says. “Your calm is your power.”
Plan your responses. “Have a respectful exit strategy when conversations go off the rails,” Perlin says. Prepare and practice statements such as “I have to go, mom” or “We will just have to agree to disagree.”
Let’s go. You may feel the pressure to keep your mom happy and be the perfect daughter or son. Let go of those thoughts. Remember, it’s not your job to make your mom feel special, needed, or relevant.
Acquire help. Talk to an advisor. They can help you understand how her narcissism affects you and learn to break the cycle.
Go away. It may be best to have little or no contact with your mother, especially if she is abusive or violent. Instead, focus on the things you can control. “I currently have no contact with my family,” says Chandy. She thinks that’s the only way to deal with a narcissistic mother if your growth and happiness is a priority.
What not to do if your mother is narcissistic
If your mother is narcissistic, avoid these things:
Don’t expect an apology. Narcissists are unlikely to accept critical comments. They often have excuses and justifications for their behavior. Your mother may not see herself as bad or her behavior as bad. She probably thinks she’s the victim, not you.
Don’t try to fix it or cure it. You cannot change his personality. Narcissists often grew up with narcissistic parents and were used and hurt by them. This is something she has no control over and is unlikely to heal from. It can help to develop compassion for her struggles and to recognize what she is not aware of.
Don’t compare her to others. “Try to have the best possible relationship with your mother,” Perlin says. “Think about when the two of you shine. Do you share a talent or an interest? Try to link to it. “
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