“You can’t do that to me, I’m your mother.”
“I won’t go if he’s going to be there.”
“You’ll never be as smart as your brother.”
If these comments sound familiar, you may have grown up with a narcissistic mother. This kind of relationship can damage a child’s self-esteem and feelings of self-worth well into adulthood. Unfortunately, your mother’s narcissistic patterns and behaviors will likely continue for the rest of her life. She isn’t likely to change much, but you can make valuable changes so the relationship is less harmful to you.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Does Narcissism Look Like?
- Use Positive Coping Skills that Help You Feel Calm
- Avoid the Hooks of Manipulation
- Set Boundaries with Your Mother
Now that your mother is older, she may seem more vulnerable. Narcissistic traits can soften overtime for some people, but there’s no guarantee. These traits can intensify for some people as they age.
You may still feel obligated to help her as she ages, even with an emotionally painful relationship. This guide will teach you how to deal with a demanding aging parent without sacrificing yourself.
What Does Narcissism Look Like?
Before getting into specific tips, it helps to clarify what narcissism looks like. If you have a narcissistic mother, you’ll notice many of the following behaviors and personality traits:
- The need for constant praise and attention
- A sense of entitlement in special treatment
- Manipulation and bullying for personal gain
- An inflated sense of self-importance
- Preoccupation with the belief that she is powerful, brilliant, or wildly successful in some way
- Exploitation of others with no shame or guilt
- Lack of empathy or compassion for others
- Lack of self-awareness
- Unstable and drama-filled relationships
- An arrogant attitude
Many people who deal with narcissists in their lives may feel like they are constantly wiped out after engaging with people who display these behaviors. You may have found yourself feeling relieved after a particularly stressful encounter with your mother vying for your attention.
It can also leave you drained of energy especially if you have had to cater to her whims or manage the fallout of her negative actions. These tips can give you some ideas to consider and protect yourself from her behavior.
1. Accept Your Mother for Who She Is
Acceptance and belonging are core human needs. Children thrive when they feel loved and protected by adults, particularly their parents. So when a narcissistic mother constantly puts herself ahead of her child’s needs, a person can grow up feeling lost and undeserving of attention. The dream of having a loving mother-child relationship is always out of reach. If this sounds like your story, it may be time to face a difficult reality.
You have to let go to make progress. While your hopes of having a positive relationship with your mother are valid and completely normal, your mother can’t do it.
You may not have a two-way connection, but that doesn’t have to stop you from being a caring person. You can still do loving things for her out of respect and concern as long as you understand her limits.
2. Develop Healthy Daily Habits
One of the most effective ways to cope with a narcissistic mother is to build yourself up every day. The relationship with your mother isn’t emotionally safe, but you can build that foundation for yourself a little bit each day.
Create emotional security by doing things that will strengthen your sense of purpose and self-worth. Positive affirmations can help, but those may feel superficial without some action.
Get involved in your community and do helpful things for others. Grow your empathy by giving your time and energy to charitable causes, or do simple acts of kindness for neighbors and friends. Learn a new hobby or challenge yourself at work.
When you discover and develop your self-worth, you’ll learn how to bounce back when things get tough. And you won’t be as vulnerable to your mother’s harmful words and behaviors.
3. Use Positive Coping Skills That Help You Feel Calm
As you add more positive activities to your life, you’ll notice that your mindset gets better too. But how do you cope with an upsetting moment? What do you do after your mother says or does something hurtful and your feelings are swallowing you up?
Emotional pain may not leave a physical mark, but it can wound your mind and heart for a long time. You may feel distracted, unsure of yourself, and preoccupied with your feelings. Emotions can feel intense, but they come and go more easily if you understand how to manage them.
Your reactions to your mother’s words and behaviors are predictable. That’s good news because you can reduce how much stress they cause you. When your mother does something hurtful, pay attention to your emotions and name them.
She counts on your reactions to make her feel stronger and more in control. By being proactive, you can learn which coping skills make these moments less stressful for you.
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These examples may give you some ideas:
- If speaking with your mother often makes you feel isolated, spend time with people who care about you before or after your conversation.
- If your mother’s behavior often makes you feel angry or frustrated, do physical chores or exercise to burn off that extra energy and get the “feel-good” endorphin hormones flowing.
- If you often feel distracted and uneasy after speaking with your mother, change your mood by singing along with your favorite music or distracting yourself with something humorous.
4. Take Good Care of Your Physical Health
Your physical health is like a solid foundation under a house. When your body is in good shape, you can handle emotional ups and downs more easily. You know what it’s like to feel run down or sick--you become irritable, can’t concentrate, and get upset more easily.
Mental and physical health are tied together, so taking care of your body goes a long way toward better mental wellbeing. And if there’s anything you need when dealing with a narcissistic mother, it's good emotional resilience.
She’s a pro at using negativity and emotional manipulation to get her way. To keep your emotional balance, you need to be physically healthy. If you have ongoing problems with any of the following, speak to your doctor for help.
- Sleep: Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep and some breaks or periods of rest through the day.
- Diet: Eat a balanced, nutritious diet that keeps your energy up through the day.
- Physical activity: Stay physically active through stretching, exercise, and good functional movement every day.
5. Avoid the Hooks of Manipulation
Your mother uses emotional manipulation to make things happen. As a child, you may have felt trapped or confused by this. You were dependent on her for the necessities, and your childhood mind may have been unable to see the bigger picture. Now, as an adult, you can step back and understand the whole process. You can identify the bait and avoid getting hooked by her manipulation.
When your mother baits you with the usual insults about your clothes or your partner, you can reply calmly with, “Mhmm…” or “I guess that’s something to think about.” Give a boring answer, change the subject, or find a way to end the conversation politely. Just back off from the comment with little to no drama.
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Some examples of emotional bait can include the following:
- Your children (whether you have them or not)
- Your appearance
- Your home
- Your social standing
- Coming over unannounced
- Buying things for you that you don’t need or want
- Embarrassing or shaming you in public
- Coming by your workplace
- Doing things with your children without your permission
- Excluding you from social gatherings
- Pitting you against others, including other family members
6. Set Boundaries With Your Mother
Your narcissistic mother sees you as an extension of herself instead of an independent person. She’s spent years grooming you to allow her into whatever part of your life she wants. So when you resist, she’ll naturally become upset. Remember that she doesn’t respect your autonomy and that giving in won’t make her a more loving person.
Setting boundaries is an essential part of a healthy coping strategy, but going against a narcissistic mother can seem like a daunting task. What does setting boundaries look like? Here are a few examples:
- “No, I can’t stop over in the middle of the day. I can come after work.”
- “I know, sometimes we don’t agree. So, I just had a few minutes and I need to go. See you later.”
- “Mhmm...that’s not something we can do right now, but thanks for the idea.”
- “We’re having family time with just our kids tonight, but please stop over tomorrow for lunch if you want.”
- “I know you don’t agree with this choice, but you’re welcome to join me and (whoever) tomorrow.”
Setting boundaries can be as simple as one or two statements saying what you can’t or won’t do. If you can, offer another choice like coming over at another time or doing a different activity.
Be aware that when you set a boundary with a narcissistic person, their emotional reaction can be intense. It may be loud and dramatic, or it could be cold silence. Her response probably means you’re doing the right thing because you’re standing up to her manipulation.
7. Consider Counseling for Guidance and Support
With so many years repeating the same destructive patterns, you may need extra help breaking free. There’s nothing shameful about thinking to start therapy or counseling for this kind of situation.
It can take time and professional guidance to unpack the effects of long-term emotional manipulation. Learning to set and hold boundaries requires emotional strength and good support, so get professional help if you’re struggling.
Empowered to Cope With Narcissism
You can’t choose your mother, but you can choose how you interact with her. With this guide, you can create a psychological shield to help you deal with your narcissistic mother. Empower yourself to make this relationship better for both of you.
- Bach, Britney. “The Impact of Parental Narcissistic Traits.” Smith ScholarWorks, Smith College, 2014, https://www.scholarworks.smith.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1922&context=theses
- “Surviving a Narcissist.” WILMU, Wilmington University, https://www.blog.wilmu.edu/magazine/current/surviving-a-narcissist/