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. Narcissistic parents are often unable to distinguish their own emotions from the emotions of others, leading to emotional enmeshment that can persist long into adulthood. 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 abandonment. Had she given us the empathy that we needed to soothe our childhood emotional distress we would have felt validated, our feeling would have passed and we would have grown up feeling loved. 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 we really needed of emotional 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 the challenge when first learning to express and validate our feelings is dealing with the backlog of unexpressed emotional pain from childhood that creates emotional reactions out of proportion to our adult circumstances. I found it essential to have several therapists that I felt truly safe around to help me learn to identify, validate and express 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; often without understanding why. 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 and replaces abandonment with true love.
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 will be upset. Acting in our best interests will sometimes mean doing things that our mother doesn't like. Other times her upset will be nothing to do with us and outside our control.
We need to find a balance between being there when our mother is in need, and allowing her to learn to deal with her own 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 own. Other family members may even pressure us to submit to our mother's unreasonable (and often unspoken) demands in order to assuage their anxiety; even though this is not really 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. This is challenging at first, but will ultimately free you up to act towards her out of genuine love and compassion, instead of a sense of obligation born of enmeshment which invariably leads to resentment.
Set Healthy Boundaries With Your Mother
Setting healthy boundaries with our mother not only helps us tolerate her emotional distress in a healthy way, but also leaves us feeling less anxious about life generally because our unconscious mind projects our experience of our parents onto the world at large. 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 actually 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 and may give you some grief about it, but it can be a powerful way of breaking the enmeshment typical of a narcissistic mother. Just make sure you use the time wisely to work through your issues with a therapist, psychologist, life coach or counsellor.
Healthy boundaries give us a greater sense of personal power in all our relationships. Women respect men who stand up for themselves, including standing up to them; even if that means the woman not getting her 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. Women routinely “test” men to see if we are trustworthy and these tests are unconscious so don't expect her to acknowledge or be aware of this. 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, that she can also project onto the world in general. But it's also quite likely that she will not change. Certainly any real change in her is unlikely until she feels accepted the way she is, so you need to learn to deal with her as-is. The important thing for us is the growth that we experience in the process of learning to tolerate our anxiety about standing up to her. This enables us to stop unconsciously projecting our fear of mother's disapproval onto everyone else and start acting more assertively with everyone; which is ultimately the key to getting what we want in life.
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. If you can't do that, take time out. 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; they actually want to help and give you what you want if you are open to asking for your needs to be met with an adult energy. The adult world we experience is a reflection of the unhealed childhood wounds still stuck in our unconscious mind; heal those wounds and our whole experience of the 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 a complete program for recovering from a narcissistic mother.
Get Professional Help and Support
Recovering from the damage done by a narcissistic mother is one of the most challenging tasks we can face because the emotional scars from having an emotionally unavailable primary care-giver in infancy can go deep into our nervous systems. Often other members of the family have also been affected but may be too afraid to face the truth; which is why your siblings and father are unlikely to be much help in your recovery, despite the negative consequences she had on them too.
In some cases it may be necessary to cut contact with your mother for a period of time, which is likely to incur the wrath of siblings who are in denial of the impact their mother has had on them, and too afraid to take such action themselves. As a result, the first person in a family to stand up to a narcissistic mother tends to feel very isolated.
I highly recommend getting professional help and support on this journey. Since I've personally been there myself, I now specialize in helping my clients recover from the devastating emotional impact of growing up with a narcissistic mother. I can offer emotional healing sessions via Skype wherever you are in the world so if you're still suffering the effects of growing up with a narcissistic mother and want to set yourself free, contact me about coaching.