How do mothers with narcissistic traits treat their daughters? We list these behaviors and explain their long-lasting effects.
Did your mother consistently see you as a threat, gaslight you, or treat you as an extension of herself growing up? If so, she may have narcissistic tendencies.
For daughters with mothers who behaved like this, the consequences can be long term.
Understanding the relationship between mothers with narcissistic qualities and their daughters — and your relationship with your own mother — can offer deeper healing in adulthood.
Although narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a rare mental health condition, growing up with a parent who behaves in narcissistic ways is more common than you might think.
Mothers with narcissistic tendencies tend to express certain qualities. According to double board certified adult and child psychiatrist Dr. Lea Lis in New York, the most common traits include:
- a lack of empathy
- verbal aggression
- a lack of insight on how their behaviors affect others
They tend to treat their daughters in similar ways, too. Australia-based counselor Shagoon Maurya notes that mothers with narcissistic tendencies might consistently:
- shame you
- be jealous of you
- compare you with your siblings and peers
- treat you as an extension of herself
- become infuriated at any perceived threat to her superiority
- gaslight, invalidate, or guilt-trip you
- violate or push your boundaries
- play favorites among you and your siblings
- expect credit and praise for raising you
- regularly change the topic of discussion toward herself
- put you down to help herself feel better
However your mother behaved toward you, know that you didn’t deserve this unkind treatment (even if she told you that you did).
Mothers with narcissistic tendencies can leave long-term effects on their daughters. But learning how your mother’s behaviors affected you as a child and now as an adult can lead you toward finding relief.
Here are some characteristic effects:
Believing love is conditional
According to Maurya, this belief stems from having a mother who only provides you with love and approval if you do what she wants.
“This leads to emotional ups and downs or ‘splitting,’” adds Lis. “Splitting causes a person to view everything and everyone in black and white. [It] can cause someone to not accept a person for the good and bad and only give love conditionally.”
She notes that this can lead to future relationship failures or low self-esteem.
Believing you must abide by rules to belong
Similar to the effects of conditional love, “when your parent only loves you under a certain set of paradigms and loves big, it’s easy to think that you have to obey certain rules, even if it sacrifices your own needs,” explains Lis.
Try to remember that you don’t have to conform to potentially uncomfortable rules or situations. You can find a healthier sense of belonging by connecting with people who respect your boundaries instead.
Feeling valued for how you’re perceived (not who you are)
A mother with narcissistic tendencies is typically overly concerned with her daughter’s appearance and achievements and how they reflect back on her, says Lis.
As a result, the daughter doesn’t learn to be her authentic self. She might develop the idea that she’s only valued for what she can offer others and act this way in future relationships.
Accepting verbal abuse and manipulation in relationships
“If your [mother] is emotionally abusive and the only way you can achieve love and acceptance is to live up to [her] standards, then you might sublimate your own needs to make her happy,” says Lis.
Because abuse and manipulation may have felt like the norm growing up, you may accept these behaviors in your adult relationships, too. But try to remember that abusive tendencies are never a part of healthy partnerships.
Regularly blaming yourself
If your mother blamed you for problems as a child, you might naturally feel like everything is your fault as an adult, too. (Friendly reminder: It’s not.)
“Constantly being blamed for everything eventually develops a pattern in you where you also start blaming yourself for everything wrong,” says Maurya.
She adds that this can lead to an unstable sense of identity or self-esteem where you start to believe that you’re not good enough for anything or anyone.
Becoming a people-pleaser
“This eventually translates into you becoming someone who always wants to cater other people’s needs, even if you don’t owe them anything,” says Maurya.
You might also neglect your own needs in relationships or consider yourself a burden to others. Even though you may feel like a bother, know that you deserve to be supported and cared for — by yourself and others.
Avoiding or chasing the love you lacked growing up
Maurya says that the neglect, abuse, or emotional absence that may come with having a mother with narcissistic tendencies can make you question whether or not you’re safe with other people. This ultimately impacts how you navigate love and connect with others throughout life.
“Insecure attachments tend to take up the form of either avoidant attachment (e.g. you manage your fears by shutting people out of your life) or anxious attachment (e.g. you chase after love and pursue the connection you long for),” Maurya says.
Desiring constant validation
According to Maurya, growing up feeling unworthy to your mother can result in a need for regular validation in your relationships.
“When you find someone who wants to be with you, you [may] find yourself constantly asking them for validation and reassurance about whether they really want you or whether you’re enough for them,” she says.
Displaying narcissistic tendencies
You may even pick up your mother’s narcissistic tendencies — consciously or not.
“It’s likely that you’ll try to beat your mother by joining her — ensuring that you’re the smartest person in the room so that she’ll never be able to make you feel worthless ever again,” says Maurya.
Experiencing negative health effects
Our childhood impacts our overall health, especially if we had adverse experiences that went unhealed.
Potential conditions you might develop as a result of childhood trauma, like growing up with a mother who behaved in narcissistic ways, include:
No matter how you feel today as a result of your relationship with your mother, know that your experience is valid. And it’s possible to heal and recover from the long-term impacts of having a mother with narcissistic tendencies.
Learn about narcissism
First, it can be helpful to educate yourself on NPD and narcissistic behaviors. This can be empowering, free you of blame, and lead you closer to healing.
Maurya recommends studying:
- what narcissism is
- how narcissism shows up in parenting
- the potential consequences of a parent’s narcissistic tendencies
Then, “take a step back from your life and start by identifying how an abusive childhood tainted your perspective toward the world and counteract those distorted images, vows, or promises with a newly gained perspective,” she suggests.
Lis also suggests reading books about healing from parenting trauma or engaging with therapeutic workbooks.
Everyone handles trauma — and healing from it — differently. If you need support while processing these childhood wounds at any point in your journey, consider asking for help.
“Talk to a friend or seek therapy if it’s something that you believe you won’t be able to handle alone,” suggests Maurya.
“Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can be a great thing for a daughter whose parents were invalidating them,” adds Lis. She says that DBT can help to teach:
- coping skills
- communication skills
- the importance of mindfulness
Inner child work with a trained mental health professional might help you heal your childhood wounds, too.
Connecting with supportive people is another fantastic way to heal. “It’s not the family you’re born into, but the family you choose,” explains Lis. “Find good mentors or other women [from whom] you can get the validation your mother can’t provide for you.”
Other ways to recover from these impacts include:
- acknowledging that your mother’s behaviors were harmful
- processing and honoring your feelings (instead of bottling them up)
- practicing forgiveness (when it comes to you authentically, not just for the sake of it)
- practicing self-care and learning to love yourself
- setting boundaries with your mother
Mothers with narcissistic tendencies often leave long-lasting impacts on their daughters, like:
- thinking love is conditional
- accepting abuse as the norm in relationships
- avoiding or chasing love in adulthood
- developing mental health conditions
Although these effects may be deeply rooted, you can heal from them and live a happier, healthier life at any time. Consider starting the recovery process by:
- seeking therapy
- educating yourself on narcissism and NPD
- practicing forgiveness
- engaging in self-care practices
Healing your childhood wounds won’t take place overnight, but it’s a worthwhile process.
“If you’re someone who’s on the journey of healing, remember that your past doesn’t define you,” says Maurya. “Regardless of how things may be right now, it will change for the better — slowly but surely.”