The psychological effects of growing up with a narcissist for a mother

Growing up with a mother who has narcissistic traits can be draining. Your mother might try to improve her self-image by putting you down, for example, which can be a lot to take on mentally. You may become codependent, self-critical, and a bit insecure. But why do your mother’s actions affect you so, and are the symptoms of being the daughter of a narcissistic mother reversible? We interviewed psychotherapist Kelli Miller to answer all of your questions about being the daughter of a person with narcissistic tendencies, and to explain ways you can heal.

Things You Should Know

  • If your mother has narcissistic tendencies, you may have low self-esteem, could be a people pleaser, or might struggle to trust others.
  • Your mother could have narcissistic tendencies if she makes you second-guess your reality or constantly criticizes you.
  • Healing from a mother with narcissistic traits is possible. Focus on setting boundaries and developing healthy relationships with the people in your life.
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Symptoms of Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers

  1. You may be highly critical or doubtful of yourself. You likely strive to be perfect and may often feel inadequate. This may be because you were constantly criticized growing up—the need to be “perfect” may be ingrained in you.[1]
  2. A mother with narcissistic tendencies puts her needs above her daughter’s. You might struggle to express empathy or show emotion in romantic and platonic relationships. This likely comes from being suppressed or put down for your feelings early on in life.[2]
  3. If you’re constantly put down by your mother, you may have a very low image of yourself. You likely struggle to be confident in your own skin and abilities. This isn’t to say you lack charisma, but you might second-guess yourself more often than you’d like.[3]
  4. You likely experienced an unstable environment growing up. People with narcissistic traits tend to be unpredictable, and the inconsistency in routine growing up may leave you walking on eggshells as an adult. You may have a tendency to be anxious, fearful, or avoidant in relationships.[4]
    • Not sure what your attachment style is? Take our “What’s My Attachment Style?” quiz to find out.
  5. You may struggle to set and maintain healthy boundaries. Your mother might not have respected your boundaries growing up. Maybe you were never allowed to close your door or had to help her do things that made you feel uncomfortable. Now, you may have a hard time recognizing and keeping boundaries with others in adulthood.[5]
  6. You might have learned to put aside your own needs to satisfy your mother’s. People may call you a “people pleaser,” and you might rely on others to make decisions for you. You likely want to avoid confrontation altogether, and you may struggle to be independent because of it.[6]
  7. Your mother may have threatened to leave you. People with narcissistic tendencies often manipulate those close to them physically and emotionally. Your mother may have packed her bag more than once or expressed a desire to leave you behind if you didn’t follow her rules. Now, you may have a hard time trusting others or struggle being alone.[7]
  8. People with narcissistic traits often belittle and criticize others. If your mother was constantly putting you down growing up, you may struggle to show emotion as an adult. You’re likely scared of being invalidated or yelled at because that’s the response your mother gave you.[8]
  9. In some cases, people with narcissistic traits can be verbally abusive. If your mother yelled, shouted, or cursed at you, this may also be your default when communicating. Because you likely didn’t receive affection growing up, you might believe that getting loud is the only way to express yourself.[9]
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What is a narcissistic mother?

  1. They have narcissistic tendencies or have been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). They tend to be self-centered, arrogant, and often lack empathy. Their magnified image of themselves typically stems from deeply rooted insecurities, and this can cause them to manipulate others to make themselves look better.[10] As psychotherapist Kelli Miller describes, in mothers, this can look like a “grandiose sense of importance, an obsession with success, or control of beauty.”
    • If you believe your mother is a narcissist or has narcissistic traits, it doesn’t necessarily mean she’s a bad person. Her behavior might be problematic, but she may be someone you still love dearly—and that’s okay.[11]
    • Keep in mind that not all narcissists act the same way and that NPD can only be officially diagnosed by a licensed psychiatrist.
Section 3 of 6:

Signs of a Narcissistic Mother

  1. The most common manipulation tactic a narcissist uses is gaslighting.[12] Gaslighting is when someone twists the truth or lies to make you doubt yourself or feel “crazy.”[13] From a mother, this can dismiss your emotions and experiences. A narcissistic mother might say:
    • “You’re overreacting. You’re just too sensitive.”
    • “That didn’t happen. It’s all in your head.”
    • “Why would you think I’d do that? I would never do something like that.”
  2. People with narcissistic traits may use guilt-inducing comments to make others feel bad in order to get what they want.[14] Statements like these from a mother can ultimately lead you to believe that you’re responsible for your mother’s happiness:
    • “If you loved me, you’d do this.”
    • “You’re such a disappointment. I don’t know why I even try.”
    • “After everything I’ve done for you, this is how you repay me?”
  3. Comparison is another common tactic narcissists use to control others.[15] If your mother has this narcissistic trait, she may compare your looks, talents, and accomplishments with others to make you feel inadequate.[16] A narcissistic mother might say:
    • “Why can’t you be more like Jesse's daughter ?”
    • “I heard the neighbor is going to Harvard. Must be nice getting into an Ivy League school.”
    • “You’re not so special. Anyone can do what you do.”
  4. People with narcissistic tendencies can hide insensitive or demeaning digs in compliments. On the surface, a comment may seem wholehearted, but there’s an underlying patronizing message.[17] For instance:
    • “You did a good job, but you could’ve been better.”
    • “I’m so proud of you, sweetie. Don’t forget who helped you get where you are today.”
    • “You have beautiful hair, and you have me to thank for that.”
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Section 4 of 6:

How do you heal from a narcissistic mother?

  1. The first step toward healing is to understand that you’re not the cause of your mother’s narcissistic tendencies. Focus on forgiving and protecting yourself. While a parent is an important figure in your life, their actions don’t make you who you are. Miller affirms that “you didn’t do anything wrong” by having a narcissistic mother, “so do not internalize bad behavior.”
  2. One of the best ways to heal is to form new healthy relationships. Focus on setting boundaries for yourself and saying “no” to things that no longer serve you.[18]
  3. There’s no shame in asking for a little extra support, especially if you’re dealing with a narcissist. Reach out to a counselor or therapist, as they’ll be able to provide specific advice to help you heal from childhood trauma.
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How Your Relationship with a Narcissist Affects You

  1. Having a narcissistic parent doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be abused; however, the manipulation and unpredictability of a narcissist can be damaging emotionally (especially when compared to a non-narcissistic parent). You may second-guess yourself constantly and struggle with your self-esteem because of the emotional trauma you experienced from your mother.[19]
    • This isn’t to say you will have relationships with other people with narcissistic traits. Narcissism can affect everyone differently.
  2. Some daughters of narcissistic mothers exhibit narcissistic behaviors or tendencies because it’s all they’ve ever known.[20] Children of narcissists may be more self-centered or attention-seeking as adults.
    • Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you are a narcissist. Most people have narcissistic tendencies. If you’re aware of your undesirable traits, you can work on correcting them, and that’s what sets you apart from a full-blown narcissist.
    • If you think you have narcissistic tendencies, reach out to a counselor or psychiatrist, as they’ll be able to help guide you with personalized advice.
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Section 6 of 6:

Can you have a relationship with a narcissistic mother?

  1. Every relationship with a person with narcissistic traits is different and unique to the individuals involved. As Miller expresses, “Narcissism is a spectrum.” For some, distancing themselves is the healthiest thing to do, while for others, setting clear boundaries can help them thrive. Focus on what you want and need from your mother—what will bring you peace?
    • If you want to have a relationship with your mother, practice setting and establishing boundaries with her. Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself.
    • If you don’t want a relationship with your mother, that’s okay. Limit your contact with her or go no contact all together.[21]
    • If you’re not sure what you want and need, consider talking to a therapist to unpack childhood traumas and learn more about yourself.

Expert Interview

Thanks for reading our article! If you’d like to learn more about narcissism , check out our in-depth interview with Kelli Miller, LCSW, MSW.

About This Article

Kelli Miller, LCSW, MSW
Co-authored by:
This article was co-authored by Kelli Miller, LCSW, MSW and by wikiHow staff writer, Aly Rusciano. Kelli Miller is a Psychotherapist based in Los Angeles, California. Kelli specializes in individual and couples therapy focusing on relationships, depression, anxiety, sexuality, communication, parenting, and more. She is the author of “Love Hacks: Simple Solutions to Your Most Common Relationship Issues” which details the top 15 relationship issues and 3 quick solutions to each. She is also the award-winning and best-selling author of “Thriving with ADHD”. Kelli co-hosted an advice show on LA Talk Radio and was a relationship expert for The Examiner. She received her MSW (Masters of Social Work) from the University of Pennsylvania and a BA in Sociology/Health from the University of Florida.
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Co-authors: 3
Updated: February 2, 2024
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Medical Disclaimer

The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, examination, diagnosis, or treatment. You should always contact your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional before starting, changing, or stopping any kind of health treatment.