Growing up with a narcissistic mother can be a complete disaster for a growing boy's of self, self-confidence, and future adult relationships. Narcissists are essentially children walking around in an adult body, which makes them incredibly challenging to have as a parent. Even if your narcissistic mother does eventually grow up, her emotional unavailability and controlling nature when you were developing your sense of self can leave deep wounds in an adult man's psyche.
If you're wondering whether you had a narcissistic mother, check out my previous article Ten Signs That You Had A Narcissistic Mother.
Here's how to recover:
Learn To Validate Your Own Feelings
The biggest wound created in the child of a narcissistic mother is caused by emotional abandonment. Any time we were upset as a child our mother couldn't tolerate our free expression of emotion and responded by shutting us down with punishment or by abandoning us. Had she given us the empathy that we needed we would have felt validated, our feeling would have passed and we would have grown up feeling loved. But narcissists aren't able to offer empathy because to do so would trigger their unhealed pain and cause a shame attack.
As a result we got abandoned emotionally when in most need of support.
To heal emotional abandonment we need to learn to validate our own feelings as an adult. Whatever we feel is normal, natural and OK. Whether it be rage, anger, sadness, fear, guilt, lust, happiness, joy, disgust; it's all normal, and it's useful information from our subconscious once we learn to trust our feelings. We need more than just an intellectual understanding of this idea: we need to really feel deep down that all our feelings are worthwhile, even the unpleasant ones. This is a hard road to travel alone, and I found it essential to have several therapists that I felt truly safe around to help me learn to identify and validate my feelings.
Find An Outlet For Your Anger and Rage
Narcissistic mothers generally shut down their children's anger because they can't tolerate anything that they aren't in control of. As a result, we tend to internalise a lot of rage and can end up suffering from depression and anxiety later in life. It didn't feel safe to express my anger as a child because of the punitive way my mother responded, so I learned to suck it up instead; which also made me an easy target for bullies. Then I continued to carry this bad habit into adulthood.
Find an outlet for your rage, such as sport, therapy or a creative pursuit like music, writing or art. Learn to harness the energy of your anger and turn it into assertiveness that will get your adult needs met.
The challenge is to express our anger in a way that doesn't hurt anyone else so that we don't end up trapped in our own cycle of narcissistic guilt. I find Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication a great model for expressing anger and other challenging emotions. We can't practise communication skills in isolation, and it's important to be well prepared so we can use them in high-stakes environments when we're emotionally triggered. I found the support of therapists and NVC practise groups essential for learning to express anger effectively in high-stakes situations like the day I finally stood up to my narcissistic mother.
Learn To Let Go Of Control
Narcissistic mothers tend to be extremely controlling, since they can't tolerate anything that isn't to their liking. This is a breeding ground for anxiety in their children, who also internalise the message that anything that isn't within our control is dangerous and must be forced into submission. This is why narcissistic mothers tend to have children who grow into controlling and/or narcissistic adults; until someone breaks the intergenerational cycle of emotional neglect.
We internalise our own narcissistic traits from a narcissistic mother in order to quell our anxiety. This damages our relationships with other people, especially women. Learn to assuage your anxiety with techniques like meditation, yoga or tai chi so that you can relax more and learn to let go of having to control everything in your life. Check out my article on How To Recover From A Controlling Mother for more on this.
Learn To Tolerate Your Mother's Distress
One of the key features of the narcissistic mother wound is that we are likely to experience a great deal of anxiety whenever our mother is in distress. Because narcissistic mothers are emotionally unavailable, it was impossible for us to establish the healthy emotional connection with her that generates a sense of safety in an infant's brain. Instead, we end up at the mercy of her mood swings. Narcissistic mothers are also particularly bad at navigating and facilitating the healthy emotional separation of the adult/child bond that occurs during adolescence so we can establish an adult/adult relationship.
The result of this is that we end up emotionally enmeshed with a mother around whom we don't actually feel safe. This double-whammy causes generalised anxiety which becomes even more intense when our mother is distressed or upset; especially about something to do with us. Life is distressing sometimes, and there will be times when our mother is upset. Acting in our best interests will sometimes mead doing things that our mother doesn't like. Other times her upset may be nothing to do with us.
We need to find a balance between being there when our mother is in need, and allowing her to learn to deal with her emotions. The problem as adult children of a narcissistic parent is that we are prone to take too much responsibility for our mother's feelings and to want to rescue her from distress in order to assuage our anxiety. Other people in our family system may even pressure us to behave accordingly in order to assuage their anxiety; but this is not healthy for anyone.
Remember that your mother is an adult and she is responsible for managing her feelings, while you are responsible for yours. Learn to tolerate the anxiety that you feel when she is in distress without rushing to her emotional rescue all the time.
Set Healthy Boundaries With Your Mother
Setting healthy boundaries with our mother helps us tolerate her emotional distress and leaves us feeling less anxious about life generally. Paradoxically, standing up to her also gives her a greater sense of safety even though she may not initially appreciate no longer getting her way all the time. Learn to say “no” to your mother when she asks, demands or expects something from you that you don't want to do. Take some time out from your relationship with her if necessary, and explain to her that it's so you can transition from an adult/child relationship to an adult/adult relationship with her. As a narcissist she probably won't understand why you would want to do this, but don't back down if you really need time out.
Healthy boundaries give us a greater sense of personal power in all our relationships. Women respect men who stand up to them, even if the woman doesn't like not getting their way. However narcissistic your mother may be, she is still a woman and there is a part of her that won't respect you as a man until you learn to say “no” to her. Don't expect her to acknowledge this though; women routinely “test” men to see if we are trustworthy and these tests are unconscious. Narcissistic mothers tend to use rather brutal unconscious tests, and will continue to do so until you start to pass the test by standing up for yourself even in the face of her manipulations.
Don't Expect Her To Change
It is possible that your mother will change in response to you establishing healthy adult/adult boundaries with her because of her increased sense of safety in relationship to you. But it's also quite likely that she will not. The important thing is the growth that we experience in the process of learning to tolerate our anxiety about standing up to her. This enables us to get what we want in life when we stop unconsciously projecting our fear of mother's disapproval onto everyone else and start acting more assertively with everyone.
Let go of expecting your narcissistic mother to change, and of wanting the warm, emotionally available mother you never had. That ship has sailed. It's time to grieve this loss and learn to self-parent your wounded inner child. Let go of wanting her to apologise or acknowledge the damage that her behaviour has done to you in the past. Any attempt you make to punish her for the way she behaves is likely to just entrench her victim mentality, leading to even more narcissism. Take the higher road of showing her love even when she acts unlovable. Don't take her so seriously.
Instead of trying to force your mother to change, invest your efforts in building your own self-confidence and learning to be an assertive creator of the adult reality that you desire; while maintaining healthy boundaries on your side of your relationship with her. If it's too triggering for you to do this while still in contact with her, take some time out from the relationship while you get some therapy to heal your pain and work to build the life you want without her dragging you down all the time.
Build Your Self-Confidence
Narcissistic mothers inflict a core wound on a growing boy's self-confidence and a paranoid world-view that can last long into adulthood. The good news though is that the core beliefs behind narcissism are false. Expressing your feelings cleanly will generally lead to greater acceptance, not more rejection. People aren't out to get you. The world we experience is a reflection of the unhealed wounds in our unconscious mind; heal those wounds and our whole world changes.
Let go of the fear, anxiety, cynicism and paranoia that drove your mother's narcissism and learn to build your own sense of self-confidence where you can live the life of your dreams without her, or anyone else's, approval. Check out Melanie Evans' Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program for an even more complete program for recovering from a narcissistic mother.