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Is my mum narcissistic?

(34 Posts)
mildredm Tue 13-Nov-12 13:19:34

In the last few weeks, as a result of some things I’ve read on Mumsnet I’ve come to the conclusion that my mother could well be narcissistic. I’ve struggled with my “relationship” with her my whole life and as an adult have struggled to understand what is going on with her. The thing is, the links I have read about narcissism all talk about someone being seriously emotionally abusive, but that is not what my mother is like. So I’m wondering if anyone here has any insight into what might be going on..

Sorry this is long, just trying to get it all clear in my head....
General attributes:
Can’t hold a two-way conversation - eg does not ask questions (has never asked me how I am, or how work is going, how the children are); talks “at” not with people, constantly talks in anecdotes ; focuses on minutiae of life eg curtains etc, never talks about emotions; will talk to complete strangers about people they have never met without explaining who they are so the person will be looking at her in a baffled way wondering what she’s going on about.

Displays a lack of empathy – eg my db and sil fostered a child who had been abandoned and moved from foster home to foster home, mum was incensed that the council gave her a new bed – making her think she was special. I had a miscarriage - only reaction was to comment that in her day I wouldn’t have known I was pg as they didn’t have pg tests (I was 3months so not actually true that I wouldn’t have known anyway). Earlier this year I injured my leg badly – showed no sympathy towards me, when she came round and I was crawling about and asked her to make her own cup of tea she said she was too tired and waited for someone else to make it (no phone calls to check up on me.) Similar attitude when children are ill.

Everything is about her. As a child I knew I couldn’t complain about anything or make a fuss because she would get upset and cry. Eg buying school shoes, I always hated it because I never liked the shoes so this was probably the only time I ever actually made a fuss about anything – i was terrible because I made it difficult for her, never any understanding about why I was making a fuss. When my brother was born he would not breastfeed – she describes him as having been “bone idle” because he would not feed (no sense from her that a newborn baby cannot be idle – he was lazy and making life difficult for her because he would not feed.)

When I was pg with ds2 she said she would come and look after ds1 when I went to hospital. Ds2 was a week late, she kept going on about how stressful it was for her that she didn’t know when he would be born and she couldn’t sleep properly, moaned that they could not book their holiday as they didn’t know when they could go. Would ring me up in the evening and ask if I was having him that night so my dad could know if he could have a drink or not.

Never praised me or said anything positive to me as either child or adult – i was high-achiever got all As and one B in GCSEs, only comment was why did I get a B. Only time she says anything positive is when other people are there so I am wondering if this is because she feels good that other people think she is good for having raised me?

But, as I said above, she was not obviously abusive, she actively avoids direct confrontation, anything horrible towards me has always been passive-aggressive – eg trying to give my 5mo chocolate because she knew I wouldn’t like it. Talking to other people in a critical way about my parenting but without directly saying she is talking about me.

As a child she used to cuddle me and smile at me etc, she wasn’t openly horrible to me. I would describe it as emotional neglect – I wasn’t allowed to express any emotion and wasn’t supported in anything. I only ever once remember confiding in her about one thing that was bothering me – when I was 12 I got facial hair which was embarrassing and I was teased at school. Eventually I asked her if she could get me some removing cream – she didn’t do anything about it but told my best friends mum who told my best friend and her older brother.... So I was mortified about that and she didn’t do anything about what I told her.

Anyway, I will probably add some more as I think of it, I’ve got a breast-feeding 2yrold attached to me at the moment!!!

I would really appreciate anyone’s thoughts on this as I have spent my whole adult life trying to work her and my relationship with her out. The things I have read about narcissism do seem to fit, except as I say she is not openly horrible to me.

mildredm Tue 13-Nov-12 13:25:21

She will never apologise for anything.

If you ever challenge her on anything she has done she will deny it. Eg, when I was pg with my first dc she made a point of saying to me and my dh that we should not expect her to look after him at all. When I finally challenged her on this when ds1 was a baby (as she looked after my niece, but I didn't feel I could ask her even to watch my ds for an hour or so) she denied ever having said it.

mildredm Tue 13-Nov-12 13:29:38

Her attitude to my children is very strange.

A third party has commented on how odd her behaviour is. She will sit in a room with my baby crawling about on the floor next to her, and not look at the baby, not talk to her, not try to pick her up.

She has "forgotten" their birthdays, will make comments about how she's just got a little something (eg my dd's first bday present was a cheap towel from QD that fell apart straight away). (She is not short of money.)

She is not interested in them, eg ds2 had breathing problems his first Christmas as a baby and we spent Xmas morning in A and E - it took 3 days for her to phone to check how he was doing.

Anniegetyourgun Tue 13-Nov-12 14:26:58

You'll probably never know whether she has NPD, as she would be unlikely to see herself as having a problem and would therefore never seek a diagnosis; but as a personality type she certainly sounds narcissistic. She is the centre of her own narrow little universe, in which other people only matter (or indeed, exist) insofar as they have an effect on her, eg talking to people without even considering they might not know the background. She knows it, so obviously they must too! She did the right thing by you as a baby because that fitted with her self-image as a mother, but the idea that you would have separate thoughts and emotions just did not compute. If she doesn't want a thing to be true then it isn't, eg denying she had said she wouldn't take care of DS. I wouldn't call it gaslighting because she isn't trying to mess with your head, it's just rearranging history to suit her view of it. Clearly she's quite good-natured with it, but just not interested, or even capable of being interested, in anyone else. As long as you don't expect anything of her you won't be disappointed.

So much for amateur diagnosis. How you live with it is another question...

AttilaTheMeerkat Tue 13-Nov-12 14:44:08

I would also say that your mother has a narcissistic personality type. Lack of empathy and overall interest are big indicators as actually is the crap gift (again stemming from lack of empathy).

I would look at the website entitled Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers and see if that helps you. Another useful website is this one:-

I would also read a book called "Children of the Self Absorbed".

In my view it is not possible to have any form of relationship with a narcissist.

mildredm Tue 13-Nov-12 15:56:19

Thanks for your posts, helpful comments, sorry got 3 dc at home so can't write anymore now, grateful for any more insights.

Another quick thought - she latches on to people she vaguely knows and then talks about them incessantly as if she does actually know them - eg the people who are renting their house, their plumber etc

mildredm Tue 13-Nov-12 16:18:11

Anniegetyourgun = you have completely hit the nail on the head, thank you so much, that is really helpful.
I think I have really struggled to live with it because I have, up to now, judged her as a "normal" human being. I have belatedly (I am 38!!) realised that actually she is far from normal and so I feel I am starting to come to terms with it. Ie, what I have seen as her choosing to not be interested in me is actually not a choice at all, but she is simply not capable of it.

I am struggling a bit to come to terms with the idea that actually she really doesn't care about me. I had up to now assumed that, deep down, she did, she just couldn't show it. But i think I now realise that she doesn't actually care about me at all in any real sense. That is quite hard to get my head around...

It is comlicated by the fact that my father, while not narcissistic, is quite far on the selfishness spectrum so doesn't show much interest either!!!! He is capable of loving me, he just can't really be bothered to put the effort in. I have in the past felt much warmer towards him, but I realise now that is just because he is a normal human being so it is possible to feel something for him, whereas it is hard to feel anything for my mum as nothing comes back... Now I just feel let down by him because he could hav loved me if he could have been bothered.....

Attilla - thank you for affirming my thoughts and thank you for saying that you don't think you can have a relationship with a narcissist - I thin that is what I have streuggled with my whole life -I don't have a relationship withy her but I feel like I should have - at least now I realise it just isn't possible.

TheBigKidsDidIt Tue 13-Nov-12 23:07:12

As the children grow older they get more difficult to control and subvert, so a narcissistic mother will be far less 'loving' to a sixteen year old than a baby. The never apologising thing is a give away. She sure sounds narcissistic to me. Does she say thank you and seem grateful? That's another give away - they cam never say thanks.

Attila is absolutely right - you can't have a relationship with them. As I understand it, it is almost impossible to treat too.

(speaking from bitter experience here).

Oh and they LIE. All the time. And have no conscience about it.

GossipWitch Tue 13-Nov-12 23:28:24

Sounds a lot like my mother except mine is outwardly horrid to me, and then pretends to be mother/grandmother of the year to her friends. I cannot remember a time in my childhood where she hugged me, not even when she found out I was being sexually abused.

I have cut contact with mine now and feel so much better for not wanting/needing her approval (which I will never get).

Its a crap situation to be in, and its practically impossible to build a relationship with them, no matter how much you try, because they then say or do something horrid to you again and you feel crap for it, but blame yourself anyway, making you feel even crapper. I think the main thing for me is trying my hardest not to treat my kids the way she treated me.

Do you have other female family member's you could "replace" her with, IYSWIM, a dsis, mil, grandmother? Wow that sounds really heartless it doesn't mean to be, I have my nan and stepmum who I have great relationships with and if I have any problems, they are the first people I turn to, and of course if they need any support I'm there for them, I do feel for you, its hard as you should have this unbreakable mother-daughter bond, but you just cannot have a relationship with someone who just doesn't want/need it with you.

Eurostar Wed 14-Nov-12 00:18:34

Sounds like you have had an incredibly difficult time with your mother and I am honestly a bit confused when you say that she is not abusive, she sounds very abusive, although, as you say, done passively rather than directly having a go at you. It sounds like the empathy part of her brain does not work at all, which can happen. Some things that one sees often with NPD seem to be missing here, things around the grandiose fantasies, sense of self, etc. NPD people are not particularly openly abusive though, so not sure why you expect them to be? They tend to do more of a dripping tap type of torture with undermining you with blame, the major anger abuse only comes out very rarely with the narcissistic rage, that is exhausting for them. However, all the advice you read about protecting yourself when a parent has any kind of a PD could be really helpful.

It might help to think of her as having a kind of brain damage, the empathy part of her brain did not develop, so it is not that she does not care about you and chose that, it is simply that she is incapable of it.

Meanwhile, your Dad may not simply be lazy, he may have no idea really how to love and show love, which maybe is why he could partner with your mother.

It sounds tremendously sad for you and you are doing the right thing by protecting yourself.

mildredm Wed 14-Nov-12 11:34:42

Sorry I couldn't get back online last night.

Bigkids - hmm, not sure about the thank yo thing, I will observe that one. Thank you for your thoughts, everyone's comments are really helpful.

Gossipwitch - so sorry that you have a similar mother and so sad for you re the sexual abuse and lack of support from your mother sad. I am lucky in that I never suffered anything like that but I have often thought that if something really bad had happened to me as a child I would never have been able to tell my mum and she would not have wanted to know anyway... so sad for you. I agree that the only thing to do really is to focus on your own children and building relationships wth them that you didn't have with your own parents.

Unfortunately I have no other "maternal" figures in my life. I had my mum's mum (she died couple of years ago) who did fill something of a gap in that she was interested in me and she did keep in contact with me regularly by phone. But she, although not like my mum, could only really live at a superficial level so I never had a real emotional connection with her. She only wanted to hear about happy things, I could never confide anything real with her. It was better than nothing, but not good enough to replace a mother.

Eurostar, thanks for your input. I think I have thought of it as not abusive because it has always seemed to be something lacking, rather than something actually done and I guess I have viewed abuse as something done to you. Really it has been emotional neglect and I guess I have not seen that as abusive. Now I am a parent I can see that I have been really badly let down by my parents my whole life and can't contemplate leaving a child to it in the way they have done with me....

Re the grandiose fantasies etc that is something I have stumbled over but I think it is there, but just not as obvious as it may be in some people.... Eg
She is always right, even in matters of preference - eg she only likes to eat over-ripe bananas so anyone who likes underripe bananas is ridiculous and wrong (eg my aunt's partner).

Yes, I think you're right re my father - how can he have been with her for 30years and not realised what's going on. He has no emotional life either.

Thank you for your empathy. I feel relieved that I have finally, finally realised the true picture and I can put it all into some kind of perspective. But, I just can't help feeling deeply sad that I have never known and never will know what it is like to have a mother, or any parent at all actually....

Lottapianos Wed 14-Nov-12 11:46:10

'Does she say thank you and seem grateful? That's another give away - they cam never say thanks'

TheBigKids, that's an interesting one. I've read loads about NPD (both parents show many signs) but had never read that before. My mum will mutter thanks but never seems sincere and actually seems quite mortified to 'have to' say it.

mildredm, I think your mother does sound narcissistic. It's very painful and very sad and I agree with other posters who say that you can't have any kind of meaningful relationship with a narc. Excellent suggestions re books and websites. I find it helps to know that other people are going through the same thing.

'eg she only likes to eat over-ripe bananas so anyone who likes underripe bananas is ridiculous and wrong (eg my aunt's partner)'

Another MNer described this as The Cult of Normal - everything I do is normal and if you do something different, then you are weird hmm There's no middle ground.

The thing that has helped me most is seeing a psychotherapist. She has helped me to recognise what was going on within my family, to realise that it's not me who is the problem and is helping me to put myself first and set healthy boundaries. It's very painful and has left me feeling depressed and anxious but that's a part of coming to terms with not having any parents in an emotional sense.

GossipWitch Wed 14-Nov-12 11:57:41

Oh don't get me wrong my mother acted on the abuse she rang my nan who rang my auntie and within a day they were down to pick us up (6 hour drive) and took us straight back to our home town, and my mother took me to court etc, she just didn't support me emotionally, my nan did.

mildredm Wed 14-Nov-12 13:57:57

Thanks Lotta, yes it does help to know I'm not the only one. And it is helping me to finally realise what is so wrong with my mum and my relationship with her. People like her should have a big red neon sign over their head!!!!! I can't believe it's taken me so long for the penny to drop but I guess it's just because I've lived with it my whole life...

So many things are just clicking into place now. Eg when I was at school my mum would often make my sandwiches with mouldy bread.... I used to have to check and sniff everything before I ate it.... She didn't believe in best before by dates so eating at home was a risky business. I guess on the up side I have an iron constitution and never suffer from stomach bugs!!

Ok, yes, the cult of normal, I like it!!!! That is my mum down to a T.... God so many things make sense now....

Gossipwitch - it's the lack of emotional support that is so hard to come to terms with isn't it... It's just so inhuman not to care and support someone who needs it. I've been through some really tough times in my life and it's just so much harder knowing you're basically alone in it...

Lottapianos Wed 14-Nov-12 14:21:01

'When my brother was born he would not breastfeed – she describes him as having been “bone idle” because he would not feed'

It's just jaw-dropping isn't it that someone could describe a tiny baby as being 'bone idle'. I have heard my mum describe little babies as naughty and spoiled and she thinks that you have to show them who is boss or they will start to run rings around you. I have seen her bottle feeding a baby and when the baby cried or fussed and came off the bottle, she would shove the bottle back in baby's mouth and bark 'stop it!'. No empathy at all. It's sad but also really quite disturbing.

I don't have children and neither do my siblings but if/when my sis has a baby, I can imagine my mum taking great pleasure in doing something she is not supposed to, like giving the baby a dummy if my sis decided not to use one for example. She is a control freak. It's actually quite twisted to take pleasure in going against someone's wishes in that way.

I have found it really liberating to read about narcissism, although it certainly doesn't answer every question I have about my parents. I have a colleague who has always reminded me of my mum and has always bugged me in a way I couldn't put my finger on. Since reading about narcs, I'm pretty sure that she is also a narcissist and her behaviour makes so much more sense. I avoid her like the plague now smile

Lottapianos Wed 14-Nov-12 14:23:35

'when I was at school my mum would often make my sandwiches with mouldy bread'

Absolutely horrified at this by the way shock

I just cannot imagine how some people can treat their children like this. As I said, we don't have children (long story) but I would be broken hearted at the thought of treating my DP in this way! And he is an adult and can stand up for himself and make his own choices - a child is so totally at your mercy sad

mildredm Wed 14-Nov-12 14:52:20

Lottapianos, yeah, I totally get you re the lack to empathy towards babies/young children - it is really chillling because it is just so abnormal..
My mum does take pleasure in going against my wishes re the kids - leaves a really nasty taste in the mouth...

That's the thing isn't it - kids can't make their own sandwiches.... if you see what I mean... It was the powerlessness of being a child that I found so difficult - being an adult is so amazing by contrast - I'm not at their mercy any more....

I have thought of another classic example:

Mymum likes to knit... She doesn't care if the recipient likes the item or even if it fits. I suffered as a child with hideous mis-shapen homeknitted jumpers....

She made my dd a cardigan (actually was the first item she had knitted any of my kids and dd is dc3, even thought she knits every day and has knitted things for many other children who are not related to her at all....)

So she comes round and presents me with this cardigan - I am not exaggerating when I say that it was about 4 times wider than my dd. It had obviously come out wrong - it was long enough but ridiculously, comicly wide. She handed it over without batting an eyelid and when I commented that it was a bit wide for her, she acknowledged that but didn't offer to take it back or reknit it etc!!!

Lotta - you saying about your colleague - bizarrely, or if I really think about it, probably not bizarrely, my oldest friend from when I was a child I am 99.999% sure is also a narcissist... She has recently had two babies in quick succession and I am finding it very difficult being around her - her lack of empathy towards them is breathtaking. She is parenting by numbers... It so reminds me of my own mother.. I guess it/s no mistake I chose to be freinds with her really.

I am also finding it liberating reading about narcissism, I don't feel like I should be doing more about my relationship with her any more, it is all about damage limitation for me and my own dc..

mildredm Wed 14-Nov-12 14:57:20

I'm on a roll now. When dd was born we got no congratulations card from my parents. When they came round after she was born they had stopped off at the supermarket at the end of the road and bought a bunch of flowers and some sweets/choc for my sons, no present for my new dd....

Lottapianos Wed 14-Nov-12 15:27:13

Narcs are often rubbish gift-givers. So sad for how much she has neglected you and your DCs. Why do you think she does it? If my mum did the same things when my sister had a baby(which I could very well imagine), I would put it down to her being jealous of the attention my sister was getting and trying to communicate a 'don't think you're so special just because you've had a baby' message. Mum has also had massive issues with my and my sister growing up, becoming more independent and moving away from home etc, so I think she would be extremely rattled by such a visible sign that her child was now an independent adult.

'When they came round after she was born they had stopped off at the supermarket at the end of the road and bought a bunch of flowers and some sweets/choc for my sons, no present for my new dd.... '

It's just so very dysfunctional isn't it? There's such a strong message of rejection there sad

Confronting all this stuff can get extremely painful mildredm, so please do keep posting whenever you need to smile

GossipWitch Wed 14-Nov-12 17:13:01

Oh the ridiculous things our mothers do, my mother send me a birthday card in the post this year, it arrived on time and was the first card any of my immediate family had recieved in 9 years, inc dc's. She also rang me on my birthday said a few pleasantries then I handed the phone to my brother who berated her on not even ringing on his 21st birthday, we said our good byes and put the phone down, a couple of weeks later it was her birthday so I rang her at lunch time, there was no answer so I thought I'd leave it until later, however I was on holiday in the highlands and reception wasn't great so could ring her later, I then hadn't rang her at all afterwards because I dont ring her very often, and she never rings me, so about a month or so ago I tried to ring her for a natter and asked her how she was doing, to which she replied, "well I'm a bit gutted actually, I didn't get a phone call on my birthday, I dont expect a card but a phone call would have been nice" to which I replied "well actually mum I rang you at lunchtime, but there was no answer and I couldn't get reception later on because I was in scotland"
she said "no you fucking didn't gossip because I was sat by the phone all fucking day, I was up at 7.30 and no one rang, I make the fucking effort for you lot, and you don't even ring for me, well thanks a fucking bunch" and put the phone down. I cut all ties with her from that moment on, because obviously one card for one of her children in 9 years, is soooooo much effort!!!

mildredm Wed 14-Nov-12 20:06:53

Lotta - the lack of a card and rubbish present was more noticeable when my dd was born - I'm guessing some sort of weird thing that I'd had 3 dc when she'd only had 2. Or it could centre on me having a daughter and that reminding her of me?
I have long felt she does have a particular problem with me, in that I make her feel bad about herself because I am things she isn't/never was??? Also on that I make her feel bad because she does on some level realise she can't relate to me in the normal way a mother should and blames me for this?

Yes there is a strong message of rejection and it hurts more because it is directed at my children, so it feels like an even deeper, more primal, rejection for me. Thank you for your warmth and empathy smile

Gossipwitch - wow at that story sad, your mum sounds out and out awful, do you feel better for cutting all ties with her?

I think where I have struggled to get my head round what is up with my mum is that she is not like your mum. She is not openly horrible at all (at least not to me, she can be very horrible about people and as she gets older is getting more rude with eg waitresses etc) She is, at worst, passive aggressive. It is what she fails to do, rather than what she does. So, the situation with my dd being born - there would be no row, or nasty words, or anything overtly said. It would just be the fact that they would turn up with no card or proper present...

It has been a massive head fuck really - there is nothing to rail against, no abusive words or violent behaviour to point to... Just a catalogue of ommissions I guess....

Lottapianos Wed 14-Nov-12 20:19:43

'Also on that I make her feel bad because she does on some level realise she can't relate to me in the normal way a mother should and blames me for this?'

Yes yes yes to this! My mum absolutely feels that it's my fault that our relationship is not any good but I do wonder if deep down she knows/fears that it's her own inadequacy that is to blame.

ilovetermtime Wed 14-Nov-12 21:57:55

I don't want to hijack your thread mildredm but it has struck soooo many chords with me! I have been wondering for a while now if my mum is narcissistic, but because she's so passive aggressive about everything I didn't want to say anything to anyone in case it made me sound like an ungrateful cow (iyswim?).

She does the crap present thing, and to a certain extent it's been a standing joke between me and my brother (as in, ooo, do you remember the year mum got us a salt grinder for Christmas?), but to be honest, I didn't find it that funny after a while, because although she may have bought my brother a few crappy presents, it wasn't all the time like with me.

Sorry, but there are so many instances of 'weirdness' that I don't know where to begin, but the thing that gets me most is that everyone else, ie all her friends, think she is marvellous. When we're with other people she acts like she couldn't be prouder of me, but in private I doubt if she's ever said anything positive to me in my life - quick eg from school.... I made tomato soup in a Home Economics class, and when I brought it home she tipped it down the sink without even tasting it.

Again, sorry for the hijack...

SminkoPinko Wed 14-Nov-12 22:26:03

I'm not sure. I think with npd as in other personality disorders there is usually quite a strong manipulative component, which doesn't really come across in what you've said so far. It sounds more like she's kind of absent and in her own little world to quite a pathological and damaging extent. Do you think she could have aspergers syndrome?

mildredm Thu 15-Nov-12 20:35:03

Hi, sorry, I wrote a post this morning but IE crashed and I lost it, then didn't get a chance to redo it.

Hi Ilovetermtime - no worries about hijacking, it would be great if this thread helps other people with similar mothers. Plus, it's really helpful for me to hear other peoples' experiences.
With showing pride in you to other people, but not directly to you, my assessment of that is she feels good about herself because she thinks other people think she's impressive for having produced you - ie reflected glory. If she was genuinely proud of you she would make that clear to your face.
Anything positive my mum has ever said about me has been to other people, never to me.
Stuff I have read about narcissism does seem to say that other people can often not see there is anything amiss because the person seems quite caring on the outside...

Thanks sminkopinko, I have wondered about the lack of manipulation. I haven't got time to write any more now but I will try to get online again tomorrow.

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