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Is Your Mother a Narcissist?

She's not blind, but she doesn't see you. She's not deaf, but she doesn't hear you. She's not unfeeling, but she's oblivious to your pain. Who is she? Your narcissistic mother.

For daughters of narcissistic mothers, life's a riddle. Why doesn't she love me for who I am? Why can't I ever please her? Who does she want me to be? Who is she?

Your narcissistic mother is certainly not the selfless, nurturing 1950s TV sitcom mom. All of your mom's senses and feelings are turned inward, on herself. It's not that she's deliberately ignoring you. She's just utterly incapable of seeing beyond her own wants and needs.

What is Narcissism?

Narcissism describes people who believe the world and its inhabitants exist solely to revolve around them. You may remember the story of the mythical Greek hunter Narcissus, who became enamored with the beauty of his own reflection as he gazed upon it in the water. So smitten was he with himself that he could not tear himself away. Depending on which version of the tale you read, the circumstances of his imminent death differ (drowning, pining away, etc.). But all versions are clear that the reason behind his death was obsessive self-love.

Some people are classified as having a full-blown narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), diagnosable as such when five or more of the following traits are exhibited, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV:


  • Grandiose sense of self-importance.

  • Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love.

  • Belief that she's "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, others who are special or high-status.

  • Requires excessive admiration.

  • A sense of entitlement.

  • Is interpersonally exploitative.

  • Lacks empathy.

  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.

  • Shows arrogance, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

An estimated 1.5 million women in the U.S. have full-blown NPD, according to the American Psychiatric Association. In addition to these women are many more who exhibit a high number of narcissistic tendencies.

Narcissistic mothers ( according to Karyl McBride, Ph.D., who has spent more than 20 years studying and treating women who grew up with narcissistic moms), care more for themselves than their daughters; make mother-daughter love conditional; cannot show empathy toward their daughters; and approve of them only when their actions reflect well on the mother or her family.

How It Feels to be the Daughter

If you're the daughter of a narcissistic mother, points out Dr. McBride on her Web site, you've missed out on genuine maternal nurturing and your sense of love is distorted. You feel like you're never good enough no matter what you do because you were never able to please your mother. You feel inadequate and empty. You know something's wrong but you can't put your finger on what it is. Your life is filled with self-doubt.

The coping mechanisms you've likely developed are counterproductive to enjoying a rewarding life. As revealed by Dr. McBride's research, you flounder in life; you hide or deny your pain; you gravitate toward unhealthy or unsatisfying intimate relationships; you overachieve; and/or self-sabotage.

What's a Daughter to Do?

You can recover from the psychological legacy of a narcissistic mother and solve the riddle of who you were meant to be. Dr. McBride's book, "Will I Ever Be Good Enough?", helps you understand the types of mother-daughter dynamics you experienced, and offers specific steps that will help you get past the bewilderment and hurt you experienced.

"I am a hope-a-holic," said Dr. McBride in our e-mail correspondence, "and believe in our important recovery process. Follow the five-step recovery model detailed in the book and remember you are worth every ounce of energy you expend to become your authentic self!"

You'll find additional support and resources on Dr. McBride's Web site, including her Good Enough Rocks Radio broadcasts, live and archived.

You can also let your male counterparts know that Dr. McBride's Web site has a link for men who were raised by a narcissistic parent. She's now reaching out to them with her message of releasing yourself from your parent's narcissistic influences.

"The best reason for recovery," said Dr. McBride, "is learning how not to pass on the legacy of distorted love to our children and grandchildren."

For more information, insight and help visit nevergoodenough.com, psych-disorders.com and helpguide.org.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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