Living with a mother with narcissistic tendencies and the damage it can cause
Mothers and daughters frequently feel embarrassed when it comes to talking about challenges and difficulties that exist between them. They feel a heavy expectation that they 'should' be able to get along because ‘everyone’ else seems to and society dictates that mothers and daughters are supposed to be close.
Yet, challenging mother-daughter relationships are in fact quite common. Most can often be explained by a clash of personalities, a difference in opinions, or because both individuals might be more alike than either would admit. But sometimes that dynamic is not so easily justified and what can lie bubbling under the surface might be something a lot more damaging and that guarantees a lifetime of pain for the daughter.
Think about your own mother or caregiver and ask yourself these questions:
Is she unusually concerned about how she appears to other people?
Does she constantly remind you how much you owe her?
Have you always felt that in order for her to love and approve of you that you needed to act and behave in a certain way?
How does she cope when she receives negative feedback?
Is she prone to telling others just how underappreciated and overworked she is?
Have you observed her being jealous of others or believing that they were jealous of her?
Does she possess an unmatched sense of entitlement?
If you have answered yes to some or all of these questions and you can identify that these are things you have witnessed repeatedly, then it is quite likely that your mother was guilty of having narcissistic tendencies. Let’s explore the implications of living with a mother who may possess narcissistic tendencies and look at the damage it can cause to the daughter in the relationship.
Growing up with someone who exhibits these tendencies can leave an adult child feeling that they are simply not good enough and have very little to offer the world in general. As children, their gifts, skills and talents most likely were downplayed, dismissed or even ignored altogether. They were scolded for being too much and encouraged to dim their light. No matter what they did, it wasn’t right and yet despite the constant knockbacks, they continued searching for approval.
Even to the extent that when the now-adult achieves personal success, their initial belief is that they simply don’t deserve the praise or recognition and that it’s only a matter of time until the truth will be uncovered, which will back that up.
This is where I see imposter syndrome at its most active amongst my clients; the belief that every achievement they experience is purely down to luck and it is only a matter of time until they get discovered for being the fraud that they believe themselves to be. They feel this, because they were told this. It actually doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that!
If your mother did not respond to your earliest needs, then it might just explain why you don’t expect the world to either. It probably comes as no surprise to discover then, that children of parents with narcissistic tendencies can slip so easily into their people-pleasing ways.
After years of practice, they will have unconsciously created their entire life and persona based on the sole pleasure of their parent, prioritising their needs, thinking about how their actions will impact on them and putting them first, every single time; a habit and pattern that they sadly are most likely to replicate in all future relationships.
FIGHTING BACK WITH BOUNDARIES
Following a lifetime of being conditioned to put their mother’s needs ahead of they are own, they become afraid that they will hurt or offend someone if they choose to prioritise themselves first. Yet, if they do, they end up being tormented by feelings of intense guilt and indecision that come with being made feel selfish. It’s for this reason that setting strong and clear boundaries is such an excellent and extremely necessary starting point in attempting to reassert yourself and your needs.
Children who grow up in such unhealthy or dysfunctional environments, rarely learn how to set good boundaries; they learn to always put other people first, and that the needs of their mother is far greater than theirs. Often this is dressed up as being the right thing, the decent thing to do, but the truth is no matter how you look at it, there is very little decent about having a child believe they are not worthy of love and approval.
What happens to children who experience such hardship is that they start to push their real emotions down and suppress them. On the rare occasion when they allow themselves to express just what it is that they’re feeling, it can come out in words of frustration and anger, purely because they have not learned how to communicate their desires or ask for what it is they want, without fear of being rebuked.
Boundaries help you to feel safe in your personal relationships and they come from that part of you that knows immediately what you want or don’t want, and what you like or indeed what it is you don’t like. Giving yourself permission to not just observe how something feels, but allowing you to go after it is a sure sign of a healthy boundary and also indicates that you are slowly detaching from the learned behaviours you grew up with.
YOU ARE NOT AT FAULT
The mother-daughter dynamic is one of the last remaining taboos. You are not meant to criticise your mother or the relationship you had with her. Instead, you are told you should be grateful for all that she did for you and that this gratitude should override any disappointment you have with how you were treated.
But the fact is that not all humans make great parents. Some have experienced their own challenges in life, some were not in receipt of love or approval from their own parents and some were just doing their best, which in certain cases might just not be good enough.
Please don’t feel bad for recognising this. Instead, feel proud that you have awareness and understanding now as to what may have been behind it. In the absence of healing and awareness, children of parents with these narcissistic tendencies can very often end up repeating these awful behaviours.
Armed with this new information, it can allow you to have a better appreciation of just why your mother behaved as she did and see her as a flawed human who was just doing her best, rather than an imperfect mother. This is not about blaming or finger-pointing. This is merely to help you understand that if you did not have the picture-perfect relationship you always craved for with your own mother, then there could well be an explanation that will help you to begin your own healing process. Perhaps it’s your time to let go now and start the process of mothering yourself.
Niamh Ennis is Ireland’s leading Transformation Coach and Author. She’s known for her practical solutions to life’s challenges and her ability to tell you not what you want to hear but always what you need. Niamh has just launched THE CHANGE ACCELERATOR her Self-Study Online Programme for those looking to make changes. Find her on Instagram @1niamhennis or niamhennis.com.
Photography by HBO.