Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition marked by deep-seated insecurity hidden behind…
Narcissistic Mothers Set Children Up for Addiction
If you haven’t seen TLC’s controversial reality show Toddlers & Tiaras, you’ve probably heard some mention of it. Some folks are understandably scandalized – and the media has had a fine time playing to them – about the show’s endless parade of little girls in froufrou frocks, full-face make up, bikini costumes, and song-and-dance routines, all while judges scrutinize and stage moms elbow competitively in their own bizarre side show of vicarious preening. A similar reality show, Lifetime’s Dance Moms, portrays an astonishingly abrasive dance coach, her elite group of frequently tearful competitive dancers (all under the age of 12) and their back-biting, gossiping, drama-riling moms. No matter where you stand on children’s pageants or questionably appropriate dance routines for young girls, what this genre of reality TV trots out is the glaring narcissism of adult women whose vanity is tied to the performance or behavior of children.
For the narcissistic mother (and the narcissistic dance coach, it would seem) children are viewed less as their own creatures and more as an extension of the self. This is why narcissistic mothers tend to be more concerned with what their children do, and far less concerned with who their children are. When the child of a narcissistic mother does something she finds satisfying or positive, she is happy. She has something to brag about to anyone who’ll listen. But when the child of a narcissistic mother does something she finds to be unsatisfying or bad, she becomes unhappy, and may take out her unhappiness by punishing or shaming her child in order to make her disapproval clear.
The children of narcissistic mothers may suffer a great deal of confusion early on. When they behave in ways that please their mothers – thereby bolstering their mother’s sense of confidence in themselves – they are praised as being “special,” “unique,” and “the best” at whatever endeavor their mother has urged them into. But when they fail to perform to their mother’s frequently impossible standards, the warm glow of praise quickly turns to the icy shadow of the cold shoulder, or worse – possibly emotional berating or other abuse. These children learn they can never be good enough to please their mothers; it is only a matter of time before they fail. As a result, children of mothers with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) tend to suffer low self-esteem, and many have difficulty later in life.
Behaviors of Pathological Narcissism
Mothers (and fathers) who express pathological narcissism share some common features and behaviors. Some of these behaviors may include:
- Consistent self-focus and self-absorption
- Strong needs for attention and admiration
- A lack of empathy and lack of concern for others; indifference
- Unresponsive to the needs of their children and other loved ones
- Lack of a grounded, clear self-concept
- Inability to connect to others beyond superficial issues
- Shallow emotions
- Grandiosity – consideration of oneself as special, unique, brilliant, beautiful, etc.
- Frequently arrogant and contemptuous of others
- Frequently envious
Consequences of Narcissistic Parenting
Narcissistic mothers are likely to attach their children’s behaviors and achievements to their own sense of worth. When their children succeed, they feel valuable, but when their children fail – as all humans sometimes do – they feel unnecessarily distraught, and are likely to react negatively toward their children. They may make their children responsible for their emotional needs, upending the parent-role relationship, using guilt and coercion to control their children’s behavior and to satisfy their own never-ending emotional needs. No matter the form pathological narcissism takes in parenting, it has consequences on the children.
Children of narcissistic mothers are likely to have problems with psychological development. They tend to create what is called “the false self.” Their early lives are spent pleasing the mother and pacifying her needs. The child must look a certain way, behave a certain way, and achieve a certain standard at all times in order to achieve her mother’s love; to do otherwise is to face consequences too painful to bear. In this way, the child of a narcissistic mother loses touch with her own feelings and desires. She becomes very skilled at pretending to be happy when she isn’t, and may even begin to believe it herself. She becomes skilled at acting for others, but never on behalf of herself. This creates a deep level of passivity that can become problematic later in life.
Children of narcissistic mothers usually go one of two directions: there are the children who become attached to perfection, and those who essentially give up, believing they can never meet the impossible standards their mother set for them, so why try? Each of these directions can be harmful. Perfectionism is associated with workaholism, deep self-scrutiny, unease, and even heart disease or heart attack. No one and nothing is perfect, but those attached to perfection fail to realize this truth, and may even die trying to achieve their impossible goals. For those who give up, whole lives and potentials are wasted, and deep depression and other mental health challenges can result. This is perhaps the saddest consequence of pathological narcissism. Yet another consequence of narcissistic parenting is that these mothers model narcissistic behavior for their children, and many of their children become narcissists themselves.
Still more children of narcissistic parents experience problems with addiction – alcohol, drugs, spending, sex, etc. The years of having to meet mother’s impossible demands and being torn down emotionally leave one with a sense of shame, unworthiness, and the inescapable sense of being unloved or unlovable. Love and healthy attachment with the mother is vital for health and well-being, and when this is interrupted, psychological and other consequences are inevitable. Healing the past is possible. Many people have done it and are living healthy lives today. Finding a good therapist, reading beneficial self-help material, and working every day to consciously release the negative mental programs wired by a narcissistic mother are all good ways to move forward into a life of independence and possibility.