Daughters of narcissistic mothers often find themselves struggling with low self-esteem, people-pleasing, anxiety, depression, and relationship difficulty. Although the symptoms can persist into adulthood, you can recover from the emotional trauma through educating yourself about narcissism, setting boundaries, building a support system, and seeking help.
What is a narcissistic mother?
A narcissistic mother is a highly self-centered person with a characteristic pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy. She often puts her own needs and desires ahead of her children, leading to a family environment where emotional support and nurturing are scarce, and criticism and control are prevalent. In extreme cases, narcissistic mothers may have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
Common symptoms of NPD include the following.1
- Grandiose sense of self-importance
- Grandiose fantasies
- Belief in being special and unique
- Need for admiring attention
- Sense of entitlement and expectations of special treatment
- Arrogance and haughtiness
- Lack of empathy
- Envy of others or belief that others envy them
10 Symptoms of Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers
Symptoms of daughters of narcissistic mothers, as identified in an in-depth study of 13 women recounting their childhood experiences, often manifest as low self-esteem and insecurity concerning their identity, judgment, values, and self-worth.2
These children assume that others’ needs are similar to those of their parents.
Here are ten symptoms of daughters of narcissistic moms.
Daughters with narcissistic mothers are rarely valued for who they are and have their emotional needs met. Children form their self-concepts based on how their parents treat them, so daughters of narcissistic mothers develop inaccurate self-identities filled with inferiority and low self-esteem.
Children often experience feelings of chronic shame and denial as they are manipulated and scapegoated in their mothers’ efforts to control their behavior and uphold the appearance of a perfect family.
Daughters raised by narcissists work hard to please others. They often defer to others’ opinions, focus on others’ worldviews, and are unaware of their own needs.
Nothing the daughters do is enough for narcissistic mothers. So, a voice in their head always tells them what they’ve done wrong but not what they’ve done well. Daughters can become self-critical, hyper-vigilant, and perfectionistic to avoid making mistakes.
Children have a hard time trusting their own judgment. They often struggle to understand their own thoughts and feelings on various topics, frequently questioning the validity of their perspectives, particularly when their views differ from others.
Sensitivity to criticism
Children raised by narcissists have an acute sensitivity to criticism, deeply rooted in their upbringing, where being criticized was synonymous with their mother’s displeasure or unhappiness. They always worry about being perceived as selfish, defective, fearful, unloving, overly demanding, hard to satisfy, inhibited, or worthless.
Fear of abandonment
Being rejected, especially for children of narcissistic parents, can carry significant emotional weight. It often reinforces deep-seated fears of unworthiness and the belief that they are inherently flawed or unlovable. A daughter develops an intense fear of rejection and yearns for external validation to maintain her sense of self-worth.
Lack of boundaries
Daughters often have difficulty setting healthy boundaries, making them more susceptible to entering and staying in abusive relationships. This vulnerability arises from their learned behavior of prioritizing others’ needs over their own and a diminished sense of self-worth, which can lead them to tolerate mistreatment or abuse in an effort to seek approval or love.
Psychologist Rappoport found that children of narcissistic parents may become co-narcissists.3 Co-narcissistic daughters adopt accommodating strategies to preserve their relationships with their mothers. These children please their parents, defer their own opinions, and avoid assertiveness for fear of being regarded as selfish. Co-narcissistic children may show similar behavior in their intimate relationships in their adult lives.
Anxiety & depression
Children living in narcissistic homes experience chronic anxiety due to the emotionally stressful environment and emotional neglect. They often develop feelings of hopelessness and depression.
How to heal daughters of narcissistic mothers?
If you are a survivor of a narcissistic mother, here are 7 tips for healing from a narcissistic parent-child relationship.
- Recognize narcissism
- Learn more about narcissism
- Remind yourself that you’re not to blame
- Establish clear boundaries from your controlling mother to maintain your mental well-being
- Build a network of support for yourself
- Practice self-care, e.g. exercising or joining a hobby group
- Seek professional help
- 1.Ronningstam E. Narcissistic Personality Disorder: A Current Review. Curr Psychiatry Rep. Published online January 8, 2010:68-75. doi:10.1007/s11920-009-0084-z
- 2.Määttä M, Uusiautti S. ‘My life felt like a cage without an exit’ – narratives of childhood under the abuse of a narcissistic mother. Early Child Development and Care. Published online August 30, 2018:1065-1079. doi:10.1080/03004430.2018.1513924
- 3.Rappoport A. Co-narcissism: How we accommodate to narcissistic parents. The Therapist. 2005;1:1-8.