If you’ve ever found yourself saying “my mom only cares about her feelings”, rest assured that you are not the only one. This topic has been dissected in a variety of ways that even Hollywood has had a say in the matter. The film Mommie Dearest is based on a memoir by Christina Crawford about her life growing up with her megastar mother, Joan Crawford. Starring Faye Dunaway, the film portrays what it’s like to live with a mother who prioritizes her own feelings to the detriment of her children.
Unfortunately, this is the reality for many people around the world that have to deal with living in the same home as a narcissistic mother as well as face the psychological repercussions later in adulthood.
1. Identify the signs and traits
The first step to dealing with a narcissistic mother is understanding the signs and traits of narcissism within the individual. Narcissism can manifest itself in a variety of ways and narcissism in your mother is no different. Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD is a mental health condition that results in a sense of entitlement for the individual and a need for them to feel admired. Other characteristics of a narcissistic mother or one who only cares about her own feelings include:
- Constantly diverting conversations to be about her
- Frequently brags about her own achievements but overlooks you and others that are very close to her
- Blames all of her own issues as problems that stem from something that you did rather than taking responsibility for herself or her own actions
- Carries grudges for a very long time without resolving the initial issue that caused the grudge to begin with
- Manipulates you into doing what she wants while making you feel guilty for not conforming to what she wants
- Constantly plays the victim and guilt trips you into taking care of her because of how much she took care of you
- Tries to top your own stories with her own in a race to the top or race to the bottom in order to have the more compelling story
- Has feelings of jealousy and acts on them by guilting or emotionally manipulating you
- A feeling of a lack of emotional closeness between the two of you with unconditional love replaced by a more transactional relationship
The situation with your own mother may or may not include any of these characteristics. Additionally, it could be something completely different overall, as this is just the tip of the iceberg of how narcissistic individuals behave. That being said, the most telltale sign that you are dealing with a narcissistic mother is if you can clearly see how she prioritizes her own experience and sense of self while putting you down. Prioritizing your own sense of self should be important but shouldn’t involve putting others down or manipulating them.
Once you are able to identify the traits of a narcissistic personality, you can better gauge your response to them so as not to expend yourself physically as well as emotionally.
2. Figure out the underlying reasons
There has been lots of research into both the environmental as well as genetic factors of what makes someone narcissistic. Research has stated that negative experiences like abusive and traumatic relationships with parents can be major environmental factors that can trigger narcissistic traits to manifest. On the flip side, excessive praise from parents at a young age can also trigger the individual into feelings of self-grandiosity that can persist unhealthily over the years.
Not as much research has showcased a genetic link to narcissism in individuals. However, some studies have shown that it can be more heritable than other personality disorders like histrionic, antisocial, and borderline personality disorders.
Whether or not the narcissism has been the result of an environmental cause or a genetic one, it is important to understand that your mother is not targeting just you with her behavior. She likely behaves like this with everyone that she comes into contact with.
3. Understand the consequences on children
Children that grow up with a mother who only cares about her own feelings end up developing certain traits and characteristics themselves as a survival mechanism in order to deal with the constant onslaught from their mothers. Over time, these new characteristics solidify as the individual reaches adulthood and beyond and affects how they interact with the world.
Attuned to the feelings of others
It is only instinctual for children of narcissists to become extremely attuned to how others are feeling. This is because of the constant “walking on glass shells” they had to do in order to avoid the ire of their parents while growing up. This trauma response can be extremely exhausting and can lead to depression in the individual.
Because you have grown accustomed to dismissing your own feelings and blaming yourself, it has become a natural part of who you are. This is not a healthy behavior to practice in life where not advocating for yourself can have long-term, life-altering consequences like losing a job or a potential spouse.
Unhealthy attachment systems
Insecure attachment systems often develop in children that grow up in a home with a narcissistic mother. You might find yourself negatively interpreting unspoken behaviors in a spouse that could result in you lashing out at them or pushing them away from you. Both issues stem from having a narcissistic caregiver.
4. Know the do’s of communicating with her
At the end of the day, your mother is your mother and you are going to have to communicate with her from time to time. By keeping in mind some do’s and don’t’s when interacting with her, you can save yourself a lot of emotional energy:
- Set boundaries about what is and is not OK
- Remain calm and don’t act irrationally
- Don’t try to go toe to toe with her
- Let go of petty disputes
- Be mindful of how you communicate
- Avoid attempting to change her
While it might feel strange to communicate with her this way at first, over time you will become more used to this style and begin to have a more healthy relationship with yourself.
5. Determine how to move forward
The number one priority when attempting to deal with a mother with NPD should be to take care of yourself first and foremost. Navigating communication and behavior with a mother who only thinks of her feelings can be absolutely exhausting. Learning to be confident in yourself and giving yourself permission to set boundaries, no matter how awkward it feels initially, is just the first step in moving forward. Involve other loved ones or spouses and make it a team effort for even better results.
6. Get professional help
If, at the end of the day, nothing else is working, then make sure to enlist the help of a professional therapist that can guide you in dealing with a narcissistic mother. These individuals are trained in how to deal with a wide range of personality types and some have taken deep dives into how a narcissistic person operates. By enlisting a professional, you won’t only have someone to talk to, but also someone that can guide you through your journey toward a more fulfilling life.
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