Our mother is our first love. She’s our introduction to life and to ourselves. She’s our lifeline to security. We initially learn about ourselves and our world through interactions with her. We naturally long for her physical and emotional sustenance, her touch, her smile, and her protection. Her empathetic reflection of our feelings, wants, and needs informs us who we are and that we have value. A narcissistic mother who cannot empathize damages her children’s healthy psychological development. Like Narcissus in the Greek myth, she sees only a reflection of herself. There is no boundary of separateness between her and her children, whom she cannot see as unique individuals worthy of love. Symptoms of narcissism that make up narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) vary in severity, but they inevitably compromise a narcissist’s ability to parent.
The following are some of the characteristics and consequences of having a narcissistic mother. Notice that they unwittingly get repeated in adult abusive relationships, including relationships with narcissists, because they’re familiar – it feels like family.
Lack of Boundaries
Some of the effects on daughters are different than on sons, because girls usually spend more time with their mother and look to her as a role model. Due to lack of boundaries, narcissistic mothers tend to see their daughters both as threats and as annexed to their own egos. Through direction and criticism, they try to shape their daughter into a version of themselves or their idealized self. At the same time, they project onto their daughter not only unwanted and denied aspects of themselves, such as self-centeredness, obstinance, selfishness, and coldness, but also disliked traits of their own mothers. They may prefer their son, although they can harm him in other ways, such as through emotional incest.
Emotional comfort and closeness that normal maternal tenderness and caring provide is absent. Narcissistic mothers may tend to their daughter’s physical needs, but leave her emotionally bereft. The daughter may not realize what’s lacking, but longs for warmth and understanding from her mother that she may experience with friends or relatives or witness in other mother-daughter relationships. She yearns for an elusive connection, felt fleetingly or never. She doesn’t learn to identify and value her emotional needs, nor know how to meet them. What remains is emptiness and/or anxiety, a sense that something is missing, and an inability to nurture and comfort herself. She may look to fill it in other relationships, but often the pattern of emotional unavailability is repeated.
Narcissistic abuse, including repeated shaming and control, undermine the developing identity of a young girl, creating insecurity and low self-esteem. She cannot trust her own feelings and impulses and concludes that it’s her fault that her mother is displeased with her. She’s unaware that her mother will never be satisfied. In severe cases of emotional or physical abuse or neglect, a daughter may feel she has no right to exist, is a burden to her mother, and should never have been born. If not also abusive, often husbands of narcissistic women are passive and don’t protect their daughters from maternal abuse. Some mothers lie and hide their abuse. A daughter doesn’t learn to protect and stand up for herself. She may feel defenseless or not even recognize mistreatment later in adult abusive relationships.