Narcissists have been in the news lately because every amateur and professional psychologist describes Donald J Trump, the new President of the USA, as one. But what is a Narcissist? According to the Mayo Clinic,
“Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism”
Not all narcissists have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is the most extreme end of the spectrum, but if your mother had some of the characteristics of NPD then you will have suffered some measure of psychological and/or emotional damage growing up, and you will have carried these challenges into adult life. Here is what she might have been like:
The Narcissistic Mother
- She uses or lives her life through, her sons
- She needs a constant supply of attention from others, especially her sons. (daughters and daughters in law are seen as competition) Professionals refer to this as “Narcissistic Supply”
- This attention is all about her; your emotional needs will have been neglected, both now and as a child.
- She criticises or puts you down, especially when you don’t do things the way she says. There is only one way to do things: her way
- She has a sense of being better than others, such as neighbours or work colleagues. She will praise your achievements to others because they make her look good. She will not praise you.
- She is subject to bouts of anger and rage. As a child, this will have been terrifying for you.
- She will manipulate, guilt-trip and shame you into doing what she wants. She may have a real or imagined illness or disability which it is your duty to help her through. This illness will always be more important and more serious than anyone else’s. Even as an adult you will struggle to challenge her; it’s easier to give in.
- She is touchy and inflexible, ready to snap at any perceived slight or sign that things are not going her way.
- She is co-dependent, believing that you are responsible for her feeling OK.
- She lacks empathy, and really has no sense of how other people might feel, nor does she appear to care. Occasionally she will back off or even apologise (but not from the heart) if she sees a source of attention about to be cut off.
- She is jealous of any attention you might pay to others; especially partners or girlfriends, and she will find ways to put them down or even break up the relationship.
The Son of a Narcissistic Mother
If you were a boy with a narcissistic mother, these are some of the likely results:
You may be a “people pleaser”, putting the needs of others before your own. You may be co-dependent in relationships, which means, among other things, that the needs of others will be met before your own. You will probably have poor interpersonal boundaries and be unable to say “no” to others.
You might have a weak sense of identity, who you really are, feeling empty and that your life has no meaning underneath your day-to-day mask. You may feel like a complete imposter in your job, and struggle to make decisions. You may struggle to trust anyone and in particular you are scared of angry people.
You struggle to express or handle emotions, and suffer from on-going anxiety and/or bouts of depression. You may suffer from chronic guilt or shame, which you are unable to express or admit to. Sometimes you may even feel a strong sense of self-loathing
If this is you, then it is quite likely that your mother is a narcissist, and behaved, and still behaves, in at least some of the ways described above.
What is the answer?
The bad news is that early conditioning, especially the first 5 years or so, runs deep and has a powerful effect on our later lives. You will have developed a number of habits based around appeasing your narcissistic mother. The good news is that, with the right support and actions, it can be changed. Some of the steps you might take to facilitate a successful change in your life are:
- Find a good counsellor or psychotherapist who understands the narcissism. Don’t be afraid to ask.
- Educate yourself about narcissistic parents. You will start to see “It’s not me!” You will be able to learn how narcissists operate, and what the effects are. Time spent exploring the meaning of your upbringing will broaden your understanding and help you to put your feelings in context.
- Explore options of how to protect yourself from the worst of her excesses. This may mean low contact or no contact with her.
- Set good personal boundaries, limiting your level of involvement with unreasonable requests and manipulation.
- Recognise and stop unhelpful habits that reinforce the difficulties you have had in the past.
- Build a healthy regime of good self-care
- Along with your therapist, work to reduce your anxiety and rebuild your self-esteem.
- Envisage yourself as a more confident person, with different habits and ways to communicating.
- Develop new habits that build up your confidence and self-esteem, so that you can embed the changes you make.
Please get in touch if I can help in any way.
Alan Chatting is a psychotherapist and coach, with extensive experience in education, training and family mediation. He focuses on working with men in transition in some area of their life. To contact Alan, phone 01752 664429, 07753 693704 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.