Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers

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Our mother is our first love

She is our introduction to life and to ourselves. Like Narcissus in the Greek myth, a narcissistic mother sees only a reflection of herself. A narcissistic mother damages her children’s healthy psychological development. 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.

Lack of Boundaries
Due to lack of boundaries, narcissistic mothers tend to see their daughters both as threats and as extensions of 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.

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Emotional unavailability
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 motherdaughter relationships. She yearns for an elusive connection. 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
Narcissistic abuse, including repeated shaming and control, undermine the developing identify 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. 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.

Toxic shame
She rarely, if ever, feels accepted for just being herself. She must choose between sacrificing herself and losing her mother’s love – a pattern of self-denial and accommodation is replayed as codependency in adult relationships. Her real self is rejected, first by her mother, and then by herself. The consequence is internalized, toxic shame, based on the belief that she’s unlovable. It’s compounded by anger or hatred toward her mother that she doesn’t understand. She believes it’s further evidence of her badness. Never feeling good enough, love must be earned, and her adult relationships may repeat a cycle of abandonment.

Parents with NPD tend to control and manipulate their children’s needs, feelings, and choices when they can, and take it as a personal affront deserving of punishment when they can’t. Parenting is often, “My way or the highway.” Narcissistic mothers may focus only on themselves and neglect or deprive their daughter. Or, they want their daughter to look and be her best “according to them,” but cripple their daughter through criticism and control. They want her to dress and behave just as they do, and to choose boyfriends, hobbies, and work that they would choose.

“For her own good,” they might forbid or criticize whatever their daughter likes or wants, undermine her ability to think for herself, to know what she wants, to choose for herself, and to pursue it. Their attention on their daughters is accompanied by their envy and expectations of gratitude, and compliance.

Believing she is “the fairest one of all” or fearing that she isn’t motivates a narcissistic mother to not only criticize her daughter, but also to compete with her. To be in control and number one in their daughter’s life, they may invade their daughter’s privacy and undermine her relationships with friends and other relatives.

Recovery from the trauma of growing up with feelings of rejection and shame takes time. (See Conquering Shame and Codependency.) It means recovery from codependency and identifying shaming messages, beliefs and self-talk, and replacing them with nurturing ones. (See 10 Steps to Self-Esteem: The Ultimate Guide to Stop Self-Criticism and webinar How to Raise Your SelfEsteem.) It requires both healing the past and learning new skills to overcome codependency. (See Codependency for Dummies.)

©Darlene Lancer 2017


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