Is My Mom Schizophrenic or Narcissistic?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I’ve been aware that something is not quite right with my mom for some time now and i’m having a hard time telling what’s wrong with her. For a while, at the thought of my therapist, I thought she was narcissistic. However, I was looking into sensory integration disorder for myself on the internet and stumbled upon the term thought disorders in a forum where a woman thought her son had SI and mentioned he didn’t speak right. When I looked it up on wikipedia it mentioned symptoms like blocking, circumferential speech, derailment, distractible speech, loss of goal, and semantic paraphasia. All of which I’ve known her to do. She’s mostly coherent but often does at least one every time I see her. Usually several. For example, if it’s just the two of us she’ll go on and on rambling about nothing in particular while often switching topics. Then she’ll experience blocking and ask what she was just talking about. Or she’ll substitute words in sentences with random words. She does this last one a lot. For example, she’ll say, “I slipped on the water outside on the patio.” And I’ll correct her, “No, it was inside in the kitchen.” She’ll respond, “That’s what I said”. And I’ll say, “no it wasn’t.” She just say “oh” and shrug her shoulders. I don’t think she’s ever called me by my own name. She often calls me by one of my brother’s names and vice versa.

Since thought disorders are as sign of schizophrenia I looked that up but I’ve never known her to hallucinate or be delusional or out of touch with reality but the opposite. Her behavior is also not disorganized as she showers every day, can take care of herself, and keeps a clean house.

On the other hand she also can’t differentiate between me and her. She can logically if I ask but in actual practice she doesn’t show that she does. For example, she thinks I feel the same way about everything as she does. She still tells everyone that I chose to go to an all girls high school, which I did but we fought over it since all my friends went to a co-ed high school that one of my older brothers also attended. And she always suggests a steak house for my birthday dinner (I’m a vegetarian).

She was also never there for me emotionally and never did “mom” things like tell me about boys, show me how to do things, tell me about my period, or help me deal with issues. She fed my brothers and I all our 3 meals a day, made sure we got to school, and did our homework, but I dealt with everything else on my own.
She seems to either over react or under react to emotional situations. She’ll cry like crazy during an episode of Extreme Home Makeover but not blink and eye if my oldest brother was dragging me down the stairs by my feet. She doesn’t seem like she’s faking her emotions. But I’m not the best at reading people either.
I know you can’t really make a formal diagnosis over the internet but any help is appreciated as I feel she doesn’t think anything is wrong with her and is not likely to go seek help.

A. Based on your description, I do not believe that your mother has schizophrenia. As you noted, she does not experience delusions or hallucinations or most of the other symptoms associated with the disorder.

One possibility is that your mother has an autism spectrum disorder. These disorders include autism, Aspergers syndrome or pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) not otherwise specified (NOS).

Your mother seems to be exhibiting symptoms that are similar to those on the autism spectrum. I am specifically referring to:

  • Speech Derailment: Individuals with autism have difficulty staying focused on one topic. This is referred to clinically as speech derailment.

  • Her language problems: This is one of the hallmarks of autism. Individuals who demonstrate language problems are more likely to have a diagnosis of autism than Aspergers syndrome (a milder form of autism).
  • The behavior that you characterized as narcissism: It may not be necessarily narcissism but a difficulty with empathy. Empathy is the ability to put oneself in someone else’s shoes. Difficulty with empathy is another possible sign of an autism spectrum disorder.
  • Her inappropriate emotional responses: This is another possible indicator of an autism spectrum disorder. This would include difficulty showing the proper emotions, which is a situation you described witnessing (i.e. crying during Extreme Home Makeover).

Interestingly, research shows that males are more likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders than females. There is a limited understanding as to why this might be true but there are ongoing investigations to better understand the phenomenon.

It is also interesting to note that schizophrenia and autism may be on the same “spectrum” with schizophrenia being at one end of the spectrum and autism on the other. To some degree individuals with schizophrenia and autism share conceptually similar types of symptoms but they are two distinctly different disorders.

Of course, it would be best for your mother to be evaluated by a mental health professional to determine if she has an autism spectrum disorder. Should it be decided that she needs an evaluation, I would recommend you finding someone who specializes in the treatment of autism spectrum disorders among adults. I would also encourage you to read more about autism spectrum disorders. Even if evaluation and intervention are not necessary at this time, learning more about these disorders may help you to better understand your mother’s behaviors.

I hope this helps. Please take care. I wish you well.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Sep 2010

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2010). Is My Mom Schizophrenic or Narcissistic?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/09/12/is-my-mom-schizophrenic-or-narcissistic/