Fort Refuge - Abuse Survivors Support Group

How To Deal
With A Narcissistic Mother


There are two things a person should never be angry at: what they can help, and what they cannot.

Mother is supposed to love and support you unconditionally, approve of you as a person, root for you even if you messed up and everyone turned away from you - mom is the one person in the world who will always be there for you. She is also the one who was supposed to teach you right and wrong, and whose judgment you relied on completely. It was her opinion of your character that you based your self-worth on. Nobody likes to be called selfish, ungrateful, disrespectful, rude, cruel, etc, especially by their own mother, so we would go to great lengths to earn our mother's approval, love, and support. That's what causes strained relationships between mothers who suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder and their adult children: this approval, love, and support will never happen. Bashing people with mental health issues is a pointless exercise, but there are things you can do to not let their impairments affect your quality of life.

Understand the problem.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not a blanket term for mean people. It's a psychiatric condition that needs to be diagnosed by a mental health professional. The nature of this condition is such that your mom is incapable of empathy, compassion, even basic kindness that you can expect from any stranger, so love and support are out of the question. She judges your worth based on what you give her, and uses your need for her approval to her advantage. You don't have to empathize with her issues, but it helps to be aware that she isn't out to hurt you.

Drop unrealistic expectations.

NPD is an impairment, so it cannot be reversed at will. Your mom cannot suddenly "understand" that she's hurting you and change her attitude, because she isn't doing it deliberately in the first place. Just like a colorblind person cannot differentiate between red and green, even if you explain how important it is and promise to give them a driver's license as soon as they change. They can't see the difference, it's not a matter of convincing them to. Your mom will never be compassionate, kind, and supportive to you because it's not up to her, she suffers from a condition that makes these things impossible. Accept this reality.

Focus on specific behaviors, not feelings.

She cannot be compassionate, but she can stop raising her voice, sending you dead rats in the mail, or doing anything else that you can clearly define. She might not like rules, but she's fully capable of understanding and following them. Her impairment is emotional, not intellectual. Think of what specific behaviors are you unhappy about, and communicate your boundaries to her clearly: what precisely do you not want her to do when you are around. For example, rephrase "why do you always humiliate me in front of my friends" to "please don't bring up my weight in conversations again".

Consistently enforce consequences.

This is a crucial part: with impaired empathy, the only way to get your mom to behave appropriately is to hold her accountable for her actions, consistently, predictably, and invariably. If you don't want her raising her voice over the phone - hang up each and every time she does it. Don't argue with her about why raising her voice is a bad idea or how it makes you feel; simply say "Mom, you are raising your voice again so I'm going to hang up now. Take care." If you do it every time she raises her voice - she'll do it less often or stop altogether. If you hang up some of the time but not always - she'll keep doing it. Be consistent.

Ignore implications and manipulations.

If she's moaning, groaning, and sobbing, yet when you ask what's wrong she says "Nothing" - just take it at face value and move on. Don't look for double-meaning in her words or actions, even when her message is obvious. She wants you to read her mind, to communicate in hints and riddles, precisely because spelling things out would make her look bad. Just refuse to communicate on this level. If she wants to talk to you, she needs to do it clearly and openly.

Detach from drama.

If your mom threatens suicide unless you let her move in with you - just give her some hotline numbers and call a wellness check on her if she's persistent, same like you would do with a coworker or a neighbor. You don't have to give her what she wants just because she wants it, and her opinion of you as a cruel disrespectful ungrateful child is just that, her opinion, which you don't have to agree with. After all, she has a mental health problem, her opinions are likely to be off base.

Find other interests in life.

She might want to talk to you for hours every day - but you don't have to do it. It's up to you how much time to invest into communication with her, and you can adjust this time based on how much joy you get out of this relationship. If you don't have two hours to argue with her because your kids are waiting for their dinner (or because you were planning to soak in a bubble bath tonight) - argue with her for a half an hour only. Or 15 minutes only. Or as much as you wish. If you feel drained from talking to her every day - only talk to her once a week. Or once a month. Or limit your contact to postcards on holidays only. She will be unhappy of course, but if you don't talk to her daily - how would you know if she's unhappy, and why would it bother you? Count how much time you spend on this relationship (including the time you're spending reading this page) and how much money (including the cost of therapy, Kleenex, and chocolate ice cream to calm you down after talking to her) and see if there's a better way to spend this time and money. Find yourself a more rewarding hobby.

It's unfortunate that your mom doesn't love you, respect you, support you, or feel proud of your achievements. But there is plenty of other people in the world who do (or would, if given a chance). Your mom will always be your mom, but she doesn't have to be your only source of human connection and emotional support.

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.
~ Mahatma Gandhi
This page was last updated on April 9th, 2016
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