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How to respond to a Narcissistic mother

The struggle is real for many of my clients that try to keep a positive relationship with an emotionally unstable parent.

When adult children struggle with narcissistic mothers there are general themes that show up repeatedly – expectations, conflicts, and communication.

Narcissistic traits run along a continuum – one can have a few traits or the full blown disorder. There can be times when traits are obvious – for example “Mom is making my wedding all about her divorce with my father 10 years ago. She won’t come if I invite him or his wife.”

And there can be the not so obvious “I feel like when I talk my mom doesn’t listen and is always just waiting for an opportunity to bring the conversation back to her life/thoughts/feelings.”

Often children feel unheard, unknown, and used by mom if they are a narcissist.

Some questions to ask yourself are:

Can mom handle negative feedback?

Does mom seem overly concerned about how she appears to others?

Does she need to be propped up by you with compliments and positive affirmations?

Does mom need others to know she is the most overworked, underappreciated or giving mother?

Does she make it clear you owe her?

Do you feel you need to be a certain kind of way or achieve something expected to receive love and approval?

Does your mom feed off attention in ways that make you uncomfortable or even over the top?

If you answer many of the questions with a yes and her behavior is consistent over time you can consider narcissism.

Let’s talk communication with mothers that struggle with Narcissism….

Narcissistic mothers often expect the unreasonable, for example that you answer every time they call, even if it is 15 times an hour during a work meeting, or that you agree with their perspective 100% of the time or that you make their priorities your priority.

The underlying unspoken expectation is if mom has a need it is your obligation to meet it.

It is helpful to secure professional help so you can figure out where your mother’s needs stop and yours begin. You will learn how not to be the solution to every problem. Disrupting the “I have a need you fix it,” dynamic takes time, and requires rehearsing small steps to change the result.

Conflicts with narcissistic mothers become more complicated as they struggle to accept negative feedback. Often they react strongly by attacking the messenger or defending themselves in ways that discourage resolution and connection.

Narcissistic mothers have been trained since birth to defend and attack so it is an automatic response and negative feedback feels life threatening.

Learning to identify the most important message you want to send, how to frame it as a request as opposed to a complaint and how to respond to mom without escalation requires specialized training.

The 101 communication skills that are taught including stating “I am hurt…” by your words or behavior will be poorly received. Rather one needs to focus on requests of “how do we do this better.”

Communication with narcissistic mothers can get derailed by battles of who caused whatever problem is being addressed.

Think about how you would address the problem if it was no one’s fault, like the problem was the same as the weather, or a lamp – it just is.

Ignore name calling and address the emotions and wishes beneath the hurtful words. For example when mom states, “You always ruin the holidays,” respond back with a reflection “I really hear that you want our holidays to go better” and if it is sincere you can follow up with “and so do I.”

When sharing information with her, recognize you cannot control her response, only yours.

Learn to have a respectful exit strategy when conversations go off the rails whether it be online or in person. Practice exit statements such as “I have to get going mom, or we will have to just agree to disagree.”

Roleplay in your head or with a friend how to respond when mom asks you something unreasonable, for example, “Well mom I know you want me to do that but I told you that doesn’t work for me. I am open to looking at other solutions/ideas or we can table this discussion for now.”

Do not expect your mother to change – you will need to change to allow the opportunity for a different outcome.
Your mom will probably not be able to be the most supportive when she disagrees with you – develop other relationships that can fill in the gap.
Do not overreact when she does – wait it out; oftentimes if the overreaction does not get the intended response they will change tactics.
Be willing to have a short memory for unimportant slights/conflicts. Know who your parent is and make plans accordingly as opposed to wishing she was someone else.

Reframe from placating mom or agreeing to something you do not want or believe in.

Rather stay sincere and identify with the parts of mom’s statements you can agree to.

Reinforce positive emotions, wishes and healthy relationship needs with your responses.

Do not expect agreement – shoot for clarity and give time for your statements to sink in.

Your mother may invalidate what you say at the time then later on alter her behavior that was your original request.

What should you do & what shouldn’t you do to handle a narcissistic mother?

If your mother is a narcissist or has narcissist traits she was harmed quite young where her needs were not met in a significant way. Be clear that you cannot fix or heal mom solo so give up that attempt.
You can develop compassion for mom’s struggles and recognize that some of what she does is not conscious.
Recognize her limitations and try to have the best relationship you can have with the mother you have – do not compare her to non-disordered moms as it will be upsetting.
Think about when the two of you shine – do you share a talent or an interest? Try to bond on that.
So you finished this blog? The whole thing? Let’s not kid ourselves – hit the link and make an appt for a consultation with me, so you don’t have to be alone in this struggle.


For further info on this topic feel free to read the articles below that I contributed to.

  1. Enitan


    May 1, 2022 at 7:59 pm -

    Hello and thank you this has been very insightful. I know that in some cases the positive outlook for moms may not work at all. In my case, she can say some truly horrible things and her anger only subsides when she wants me to do something for her she’s dependent on me but regards me as every awful thing she can conjure up. If someone can torment you for years why should I or any victim be the one to be the beacon of light? I suppose there is a spectrum.

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