Narcissistic Mother Syndrome

Written by Angela Atkinson

While most therapists, coaches, and creators in the narcissistic abuse recovery community mean well, they don’t always do their research before creating content. That’s why there are so many “pseudo-diagnoses” running through the community. One such pseudo-diagnosis is the recently dubbed “narcissistic mother syndrome.” Unfortunately, it has copycat bloggers and creators spreading false, though still potentially useful, information.

One of the members of our SPANily support groups asked me to look into this, so I did some digging. After a lot of research, I couldn’t find a legitimate diagnosis called “narcissistic mother syndrome,” so I checked in with my content partner and clinical advisor, Dr. Robin Bryman, a psychologist who specializes in narcissistic abuse recovery, to double-check the facts.

What is Narcissistic Mother Syndrome?

According to Dr. Bryman, the term refers to a mother who has narcissistic personality disorder, briefly defined as a pattern of empathy-deficient, self-centered, egocentric behavior that causes problems in many areas of a person’s life.

Is narcissistic mother syndrome a recognized diagnosis in the psychological community?

Is narcissistic mother syndrome a “real” diagnosis? While psychologists realize that a mother or any person can be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, and while certain qualities are shared by people who happen to be mothers who have this personality disorder, according to Dr. Bryman, isn’t listed in the DSM-V. She adds that narcissistic mother syndrome is a “fall-out of other diagnoses.” In other words, it is not an officially recognized diagnosis.

What is narcissistic personality disorder? 

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), in general, is a personality disorder that manifests in an inflated sense of importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. Learn more about NPD.

How are narcissistic mothers different from other pathological narcissists?

Narcissistic mothers, like most other pathological narcissists, share a single narcissist playbook. While you can’t necessarily pick them out in a crowd, there are certain shared qualities among narcissistic females, and some of these qualities are even specific to narcissistic mothers. For example:

  • Narcissistic mothers seem to have an inability to treat their child as a “whole person,” and instead see them as an extension of themselves.
  • Their inflated sense of entitlement and their exaggerated sense of self-importance can lead to irrational and abusive behavior when these so-called extensions don’t become whatever the narcissistic mother has decided they should be.
  • Narcissistic mothers tend to have a naturally controlling parenting style that is, to put it mildly, stifling to both children and adult children.
  • Narcissistic moms are also known to sometimes lack the ability to separate in a healthy way from their children as they become adults.
  • They have an exaggerated need for attention and praise.
  • A narcissistic mother may feel entitled or self-important, including her role in her children’s lives. For example, they may make their child’s wedding day all about them – or make their child miserable for expecting anything else.
  • She will seek admiration from others and feel dejected and offended if she doesn’t get it.
  • She is likely to believe she is above others and that her opinion is a fact. And if her children disagree with her, she will demonstrate narcissistic rage and narcissistic injury, or she will act as though they are just stupid or have inaccurate opinions.
  • She might appear to be a caregiver-type, allowing her to fly under the radar – but she would use her caregiving as a way to control and manipulate her children. This toxic mother embraces teaching her children to be helpless by not teaching them the basic life skills they need to function. She might also use her “concern” as a way to control her childrens’ every move (feigning worry and upset when she cannot reach them by phone, for example, or stopping by their homes unannounced because they didn’t pick up.)
  • Whether or not she is a caregiver type, a narcissistic mother will lack empathy, even and especially with her children.
  • She has no problem exploiting her children to her advantage (this exploitation will vary in nature and severity depending on how toxic the mother is or where she falls on the “spectrum” of narcissism.
  • Narcissistic mothers often put others down, including and sometimes especially their children.
  • She will be hypersensitive to any form of criticism, even when delivered kindly and constructively.
  • She will believe she deserves special treatment from everyone in her life, often including service people and law enforcement officials.
  • She also might have no idea that she’s causing any damage and might genuinely believe she’s only doing all of this “because she loves you.” For example, one narcissistic mother I knew severely beat her child and claimed it was due to her love for that child. She claimed that if she didn’t care, she wouldn’t want the child to “be better.”

Do you think your mother might be a narcissist? 

If you’re concerned that your mother might be a narcissist, I have a resource for you that can offer some clarity: try this Toxic Mother self-assessment.

Is it dangerous to spread incorrect information to narcissistic abuse survivors? 

I don’t believe that most coaches and creators are trying to hurt anyone by repeating whatever they hear or read around the internet. Still, as a former journalist, I like to share the facts as accurately as possible.

Some of the inaccuracies are simply due to creators making assumptions about terms they hear without researching. For instance, I recently saw someone define narcissistic injury as something a narcissist does to injure another person physically. But in reality, the term refers to a type of behavior a narcissist uses to manipulate their victims. You might know it as the “poor me” act.

Many survivors who start blogs and YouTube channels or Tiktok accounts are still in abusive relationships with narcissists – or just recently out of one. They are still very raw and still learning. As they do, they share their journey. This is great and it can help a survivor feel less alone. The problem is that it is during this time that they’re still trying to figure things out. They have just learned that they might have been dealing with a narcissist, and they’re reading and watching a lot of related content. But since they sound passionate and knowledgeable, new subscribers may not understand that they’re not an authority on the topic – so they may assume that their theories and feelings are facts.

However, while it can be harmless in many cases, false information can be hazardous for vulnerable survivors of narcissistic abuse.

For example:

  • A TikTok creator swears that you can have a successful, healthy relationship with a narcissist if you keep trying.
  • A YouTuber claimed that  narcissistic abuse isn’t “real.”
  • There’s one doctor who “treats” narcissists, but his results are questionable at best – and to maintain them, his patients must stick with him for life.

These statements could be dangerous because they might push a narcissistic abuse victim to stay with their abuser.  But, in general, most narcissistic abuse recovery coaches and creators do mean well.

For example, another pseudo-diagnosis spread like wildfire recently when someone coined the term “narcissistic abuse syndrome,” which refers to C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder). In other words, in most cases, the information that these creators are repeating might be helpful for survivors, and they might just be making it easier to find it by changing the names of these diagnoses.

Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support & Resources

If you feel you need additional help and support in your narcissistic abuse recovery, look for a trauma-informed professional trained in helping people who are dealing with overcoming narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships. Depending on your particular situation, you might benefit from Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coaching, or you might do better with a therapist.

You have to decide what to do from here – if you’re not sure, start with my free Narcissistic Abuse Recovery quiz. With your results will come recommended resources for your situation. It’s free. Are you looking for more personal support? You might like to join one of our private small-group coaching sessions, or you might prefer to check out our one-on-one narcissistic abuse recovery counseling and coaching sessions. 

Resources & Support for Adult Children of Narcissists

More on Narcissistic Mothers

More Free, Helpful Information & Resources to Help 

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