Last Updated on April 12, 2021 by Alexander Burgemeester
When it comes to a boy’s personality, most of us think “like father, like son”. But as the primary caregiver in the household, a growing boy picks up quite a few traits from his mother too. In their formative years, boys learn some of their earliest lessons about life, love, and trust from their mothers, and having a narcissistic mother can be particularly devastating.
Sons of narcissistic mothers are more likely to have lower self-esteem, trouble forming meaningful relationships, and difficulty regulating their emotions. However, these sons are not necessarily doomed to a life of narcissism for themselves.
There are treatments available and effective coping strategies for dealing with a narcissistic parent that can help these sons to lead a more well-adjusted life.
Why Would a Narcissist Even Have Children?
Every narcissist is different, but one trait that almost all have in common is that they treat people as a means to an end. Usually, that end is filling some sort of hole in the narcissist’s self-image. Narcissists have a difficult time regulating their feelings and self-confidence and rely on an unending supply of adulation and attention from external sources.
Given their selfish nature, it’s somewhat surprising that a narcissistic mother may choose to have children at all. Childrearing is a huge commitment and requires thousands of hours of selfless effort. However, some narcissistic parents have children for the sole purpose of gaining access to an unending well of supply. Children are a built-in source of supply.
Sons naturally look up to their mothers and imbue them with positive characteristics. They feel unconditional love for the woman that birthed them and took care of them. Unfortunately, this unconditional love doesn’t go both ways for a narcissist. For a narcissistic mother, love is transactional and only given when it is to her benefit.
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How Do Narcissistic Mothers Affect Their Sons?
The parenting style of narcissistic mothers can be acutely damaging; sons experiencing years of emotional abuse are less likely to find a loving partner, maintain a healthy relationship with that partner, or be able to empathize with their own children. Damage is inflicted through many forms, but all are directed towards the same goal, providing the narcissistic mother with more supply. Below are some of the most common ways for narcissistic mothers to manipulate their sons.
Setting Up Unrealistic Expectations
Narcissistic mothers see themselves as the best at everything: the most beautiful, the most talented, the most intelligent, and most importantly, the best mom. She has a very high opinion of herself, which bleeds over into expectations for her son.
Sons of narcissistic mothers are expected to receive excellent grades, be the captain of their sports team, and be a part of the highest social circles. Anything less reflects poorly on the mother and challenges her inflated self image. Whenever the son fails, she’ll blame him for his lackluster performance, but when he succeeds, she’ll take all the credit.
Playing Sibling Off Each Other
Narcissists like to make comparisons, usually favorable ones between themselves and those they see as less than them. Narcissists also like to compare their children and play them off of each other to maintain a position of power. Narcissistic mothers are adept at pushing all the right buttons in their children to sow discontent. When a son is doing well in school, the mother will point out how popular their siblings are and vice versa. Anything that will foment jealousy between the children is fair game.
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Getting Love Through Guilt
Narcissistic mothers are fantastic actors when it comes to playing the victim. Sons will be reminded of what they owe the mother and the responsibilities he has to the family. Sometimes this will be financial, if the mother has fallen on hard times, or emotional, in which the mother guilts the son into showering her with praise. In any case, the narcissistic mother takes advantage of the son’s natural desire to make his mother happy, no matter how unreasonable she is being.
Cutting the Son Down
Even when everything is going swell for the son, a narcissistic mother will find a way to break his self-confidence. If he just got a new promotion at work, she’ll note how the extra responsibilities will cause him to neglect his family. If he’s spending more time with his kids, she’ll comment on how he’ll never move up in his career. Every conversation will be a battle over how he’s not doing enough or is making the wrong choices.
Completely Ignoring the Son
Not all narcissists are manipulative, some are downright neglectful. For a narcissist, other people and their desires are a hindrance to getting the things they want, and so they ignore everyone else, including their children, until they go away. Sons of neglectful narcissists will always be striving for the attention they were denied as children, which can be a path to narcissism.
Will the Son become a Narcissist?
The short answer: maybe. Sons of narcissistic mothers are always trying to please them, which is an impossible task. This constant striving has the potential to make the son a narcissist. When the mother inevitably is disappointed, the son will try harder and harder to receive the same level of praise and affection.
Eventually, the son starts looking for alternative sources of validation: friends, teachers, or other family members. Each is a stand-in for the mother but they help to build the son’s ego, which is inflated to compensate for the mother’s resentment and disappointment. It’s easy to see how this cycle creates a narcissist in the son, who is likely to continue the pattern of behavior with his own sons and daughters.
The narcissistic cycle isn’t inevitable though, the insecure son could just as easily become depressed and be unconcerned with how anyone else feels about him. Narcissism involves both genetics and environmental factors and it’s difficult to say what effect a narcissistic parent will have on their child. What is certain though, is that the son will grow up insecure and less able to form healthy relationships in their adult life.
Sons of Narcissistic Mothers and Marriage
Having a narcissistic mother can be toxic to a boy’s emotional development, and this is particularly acute in how he deals with women as an adult. These sons will never have experienced genuine love that is not transactional. They’ll also find it much harder to open up and establish emotional intimacy. Their relationships will be shallow and based on fulfilling an emotional hole that was left by the mother.
Narcissistic mothers are also more likely to sabotage their son’s relationships out of jealousy and fear of losing their supply. In the dating phase of a relationship, narcissistic mothers will point out the flaws in their son’s potential partner. The son doesn’t want to be caught in the between a disapproving mother and his new partner, so he’ll end the relationship and suffer through a string of short-term and insubstantial flings.
This is to say nothing of the problems of dealing with a narcissistic mother-in-law. Narcissistic in-laws will attempt to isolate their children to gain power over their son or daughter-in-law.
Sometimes the child will recognize the harm being inflicted, but often remain oblivious or feel too powerless to confront the parent. The situation gets even more complex if grandchildren are involved and the narcissistic mother can use them to shame her son and his partner.
Are You a Son of a Narcissistic Mother?
For anyone that’s never had a narcissistic family member, this question might seem ridiculous. Of course you would know if you had a narcissistic mother! That isn’t always true though; children of narcissistic parents grow up under a warped reality, and since we only get one set of parents, it’s not that simple to know what’s normal and what’s not. These are some of the biggest red flags that your mother is a narcissist.
She’s an Emotional Rollercoaster
One minute you’re the greatest son in the world and the next you can’t do anything right. A narcissistic mother’s feelings towards you are dependent on whether she’s receiving the admiration, praise, and reverence from you that she desperately needs. You’re in her good graces so long as you’re providing supply, but you don’t serve a purpose once you stop supplying or actively challenge her.
She’s Always Manipulating You
Do you feel like every word she says is designed to coerce you into acting or feeling a certain way? Parents are supposed to unconditionally love their children, which is why it is so emotionally jarring to be treated as a means to an end by your own mother. These manipulations often take the form of gaslighting, where the mother presents a version of reality that strays far from the truth.
She’s Destroys Your Self Esteem
Your mother is supposed to be your biggest fan and cheerleader, but for sons of narcissistic mothers, she’s actually your biggest critic. Narcissistic mothers often shame their victims to raise their own self esteem. Everything is a competition for her, and she can only bring herself up by cutting the son down.
She Loves to Show Off
Narcissistic mothers have an innate need to show everyone how special and successful there are. Sometimes this takes the form of grandiose displays of wealth, other times it’s an obsession with physical appearance. This is especially apparent on social media where the technology encourages users to advertise their prosperity to get more likes, which can be particularly embarrassing for her children.
You Feel a Complete Lack of Empathy From Her
Narcissists are incapable of understanding that other people have hopes, desires, and feelings that are separate from their own. Obviously, this is problematic for children-rearing as kids need to feel like they’re loved and understood. Sons of narcissistic mothers develop defense mechanisms to protect their emotions, which often takes the form of lashing out. Others become withdrawn, bottling their emotions and walling themselves off from human connection.
Narcissistic Mothers and Their Sons: How to Cope?
Narcissists are usually unwilling to change their ways unless they see it as advantageous for themselves. If you’re the son of a narcissistic mother, the most important thing you can do for yourself is to recognize that you are not the problem. From there, you can work to identify some of your narcissistic mother’s behaviors and how they have affected you.
Learning about narcissism and how it manifests itself in your mother will help you gain some insight into your childhood and adult relationship with her. Understanding how her need for supply caused her to manipulate or lash out at you can boost your feelings of self worth while also facilitating smoother interactions with her in the present.
Feel Your Feelings and Then Let Go
Thinking back to instances of abuse is sure to lead to some angry feelings, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, there’s an ancient Buddhist proverb that says “holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Long-term anger doesn’t hurt your narcissistic mother, but it’ll certainly eat away at you.
Don’t Look Back
You can’t change the past, narcissistic mothers inflict some serious wounds, but the best you can do is heal from them and move on. You can try to forgive her for some things, realizing that she is damaged herself, but don’t feel obligated to. Healing happens at your own pace and shouldn’t be rushed.
Final Thoughts on How Do Narcissistic Mothers Affect Their Sons?
Growing up with a narcissistic mother is never easy and chances are the son is going to have some scars, but it doesn’t need to relegate him to a life of misery. Children are not responsible for their narcissistic parents, even when they’re fully grown.
Narcissistic mothers abuse their sons because they lack a strong identity and are dependent on the praise of outsiders. Recognizing what is and is not narcissistic abuse will go a long way in healing the wounds of childhood and helping to structure a workable adult relationship with a narcissistic mother.
Setting boundaries is key, as is taking a step back to get some emotional detachment from the situation.