Ask a Therapist: “How to Cope With a Mother with Narcissistic Personality Disorder”

Published on: 01 Feb 2022
Clinically Reviewed by Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C
mother sitting at table fighting with daughter

A mother with narcissistic personality disorder traits can inflict a long-lasting, negative impact on her children. If you think you were raised by a mother with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), learning to understand more about your relationship — and narcissism in general — can lead you toward healing and living a more contented life.

We’re reviewing the signs of a mother with narcissistic personality disorder, the possible effects her narcissistic behavior may have had on you growing up (that you may still be experiencing well into adulthood), and how you can begin on a personal journey to understanding, forgiving, and healing.

Characteristics of a Mother with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

It’s very important to not just assume that someone has narcissistic personality disorder. Many people exhibit a narcissistic trait on occasion, but that’s not enough for a diagnosis. Clinical assessment is needed to accurately diagnose and identify narcissistic personality disorder.

It’s also important to note that narcissistic personality disorder is relatively rare. It’s estimated that roughly 0.5% of the population in the United States might have NPD. Although NPD isn’t as common as some other mental health conditions, the possibility of growing up in a home with a narcissistic parent isn’t unheard of. 

Generally, personality disorders cause someone to behave, feel, and think in ways that are harmful to themselves and others. Distinguishing if NPD is present in a parent can be tricky, even for adult children. 

A mother with narcissistic personality disorder traits may:

  • Show you no empathy
  • Be verbally aggressive
  • Feel the need to control your family
  • Be centered on herself
  • Create toxic environments 
  • Be jealous of you and your achievements 
  • Influence the relationship you have with your father or family member
  • Act as though you are an extension of her
  • Disrespect your personal space and boundaries
  • Infantilize you and try to control anyone they perceive as a threat to your mother-child relationship (in particular, a future life partner) 
  • Compare you to your brothers, sisters, and peers
  • Minimize the legitimacy of your feelings, or invalidate them completely with narcissistic gaslighting

If you know or suspect that your mother has NPD, the most important part of your healing is understanding that you don’t deserve the toxic relationship you’re dealing with. It’s not your fault, and happiness and healing are both very possible once you’re ready.

How to Cope with a Mother with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

We all deal with and heal from traumatic events differently. There isn’t only one way to overcome being raised by a mother with narcissistic personality disorder. That said, there are several techniques you can utilize to begin the healing process.

Online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and online dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) are both excellent therapy methods that help many people deal with the effects of having been raised by a toxic parent with NPD. These therapies are gentle, yet strong and effective. They can help you process your way through any childhood wounds by:

  • Helping you identify past trauma
  • Guiding you in isolating negative thought processes 
  • Showing you how to replace unhealthy thought patterns with healthier, more positive ones
  • Teaching you new coping skills
  • Exploring the power of forgiveness
  • Giving you new communication skills
  • Stressing the importance of mindfulness

A skilled therapist can work with your inner child to heal lingering wounds that you might not have ever been able to effectively deal with.

Some of the ways you can take action and begin healing include: 

  • Acknowledging that your mother’s actions harmed you
  • Letting your feelings out
  • Connecting with supportive people
  • Working with good mentors
  • Practicing self-care and learning to love yourself
  • Establishing new healthy relationship boundaries with your mother
  • Learning to genuinely forgive

“Learning to navigate and cope with a parent with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or characteristics of NPD is difficult, as it manifests in different ways. However, the impact to the children seems to be similar, as many struggle with creating healthy boundaries and self-esteem/confidence issues. Oftentimes, it forces children to parent themselves.”

Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

The Impacts of a Mother Who Has Narcissistic Personality Disorder

There are several possible impacts being raised by a mother with NPD can have on children. Some of the most commonly noted are children feeling unseen and unheard. When a parent has NPD, children are often treated as objects instead of human beings. It’s normal for children to only feel valued for what they do for the parent, rather than who they are.

Impacts on a daughter

Having a mother with narcissistic personality disorder typically affects daughters differently than it does sons. It’s not uncommon for the daughter of a mother with NPD to eventually end up:

  • Constantly trying to please others
  • Believing that love is conditional by nature
  • Either avoiding or chasing romance in adulthood
  • Thinking abuse is normal in relationships
  • Developing another possible mental health disorder

Daughters raised by mothers with NPD can end up feeling trapped and suffocated. In many cases, if the daughter tries to move away or seek attention elsewhere, the mother will act out as if she were severely and intentionally rejected. It’s also normal for daughters to be subjected to inappropriate emotional and sexual details of their mother’s adult relationships. Finally, mothers with NPD tend to exhibit feelings of jealousy toward their daughters.  

Impacts on a son

Mothers with NPD can use their sons to make them shine brighter in public and at home. Boys who are raised by mothers with NPD can develop doubts about their self-worth and capacity to make intelligent decisions. They may also experience difficulties maintaining adult romantic relationships with women. Sons of mothers with NPD might feel: 

  • Inadequate or put down 
  • As if they’re a pawn in the dynamics of the mother-father relationship
  • Like they can never measure up to their father (after being compared to him by their mother)
  • Compared to their father, often in an attempt by the mother to make the father feel inferior

How to Recover from the Effects of Having a Mother with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Whether you are dealing with a narcissistic father or mother, healing from narcissistic abuse takes time and patience. Regardless of how you may feel today about your past or current relationship with your mother, whether she has NPD or not, your experience is legitimate. You need to know that it’s fully possible to recover from the effects of having been raised by a mother with narcissistic personality disorder.

Learn More to Understand Her

When you understand why your mother behaves the way she does, you might find that you begin to hurt less and function better. Take some time to educate yourself about what narcissism actually is. Learn about the common misconceptions about NPD. 

Step back in your mind and consciously identify the narcissistic abuse that you suffered as a result of your mother’s NPD. Understand how she affected your thoughts, views, and beliefs.

Learn about the various ways narcissism presents itself in parenting, and ask yourself what your mother must have been experiencing.

Seek Help

Recovering from being raised by a mother with NPD takes time, but it can be rewarding and restoring. Therapy will teach you that your past does not define you today. Healing will happen, allowing your self-esteem to flourish, your feelings of safety and well-being to blossom, and your confidence to rise like never before. Getting the help you need is the easy part. You just need to take that first step and reach out to an online therapist or other mental health professional who can guide you in healing. 

“Working with a mental health professional who has experience in this area is incredibly important. Learning to build healthier boundaries and recognizing the hurt that was caused will help you move forward from the influences of a parent with NPD.”

Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

Learning how to cope with a childhood affected by maternal narcissistic personality disorder has a lot to do with forgiveness. Understanding the signs of a mother with narcissistic personality disorder is the first step you can take towards your healing. Whatever the situation was in the past, trust that today is your day to move forward to a brighter, happier future.

Sources:

1. Stinson F, Dawson D, Goldstein R et al. Prevalence, Correlates, Disability, and Comorbidity of DSM-IV Narcissistic Personality Disorder. J Clin Psychiatry. 2008;69(7):1033-1045. doi:10.4088/jcp.v69n0701. https://www.psychiatrist.com/jcp/medical/comorbidity/prevalence-correlates-disability-comorbidity-dsm-iv-narcissistic-personality-disorder-wave-2-nesarc/. Accessed January 5, 2022.

2. Ambardar, MD S. Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Practice Essentials, Background, Pathophysiology and Etiology. Emedicine.medscape.com. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1519417-overview#a5. Published 2018. Accessed January 5, 2022.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

You May Also Like
phrenology head in profile
Read More
Published on: 27 Sep 2017

Divorcing A Sociopath

Published on: 27 Sep 2017
It’s been nearly four years since I left my ex-husband. When I think back to that time, I…