How to heal from a narcissistic mother

Updated July 18, 2017

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is "a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy," according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Narcissists are focused on their own needs and lack the ability to recognise and tend to the needs of others, including their children. Healing from a narcissistic mother requires an understanding of the disorder and its effects on you, both in childhood and in the present.

Educate yourself. Narcissistic parents, according to Alan Rappoport, Ph.D., are highly controlling in some ways and very neglectful in others. "The children are punished if they do not respond adequately to the parent's needs," Rappoport says. As a result, you may have grown up feeling an inappropriate degree of responsibility for others to the exclusion of your own feelings and needs. You may feel insecure, have low self-esteem, feel your worth only in terms of what you can do for others, and take blame for problems in relationships.

Seek a competent therapist. Psychotherapy is essential for a number of reasons. Primarily, the characteristics of the therapeutic relationship are precisely the opposite of those experienced in the relationship with a narcissistic mother. During the healing process, the psychotherapist will acknowledge and honour your opinions, values and needs. You will experience true empathy from the therapist; your feelings will be noticed, validated and accepted.

Both during therapy and between sessions, begin to explore your identity and goals. In the relationship with your narcissistic mother, you were rewarded with love and acceptance only when you complied with your mother's wishes. Expressing your true self met with disapproval. Accommodating the narcissistic parent's needs became an unconscious behaviour. As an adult, this defence mechanism no longer serves the purpose of self-preservation. Therapy provides a nonjudgmental, accepting environment in which to redeem and nurture your own beliefs and needs.

Change your self-image. Children of narcissists often grow up believing they are selfish, unloving, flawed and worthless, Rappoport said, because these are the messages the parents send to control the child's behaviour. Over time, the child accepts these messages as truth and complies with them by masking any talents or virtues that contradict the parent's controlling messages. Therapy will help you begin to recognise your positive attributes, including your skills, talents and characteristics, and take steps to express those traits.

Improve your interpersonal connections. Growing up with a narcissistic mother, you experienced a one-sided relationship in which your mother's needs mattered, and you existed only to meet those needs. "In a narcissistic encounter," Rappoport said, "there is, psychologically, only one person present." Healthy relationships consider the needs of both parties. Explore the ways in which your present relationships are meeting your needs or not. Learn how to state your needs and act on them. Examine your actions on behalf of your partner. Which are intentional kindnesses, and which are attempts to win approval or avoid rejection? Be mindful of what you do, and ensure that your actions serve your own best interests as well as your partner's.


• Know that your present difficulties have definitive, real roots in the past. You are not flawed, but rather, you are reacting to the world from a perspective that no longer serves you. That perspective will change in time. • Sometimes new behaviours must occur first, before you will experience a change in your perspective or feelings. Focus on adopting healthier behaviours, even if it feels uncomfortable at first.

Things You'll Need

  • Books on narcissism
  • Internet resources
  • Psychotherapy
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About the Author

Writing since 1981, Dawn Williams is managing editor and columnist for "Chicagoland Senior News." Her work has appeared in the "Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine," "Country Sampler," "Your Next Step Magazine," "Life Newspapers," the "Kane County Chronicle," and websites focusing on health and fitness, parenting and senior issues.