It is assumed that all mothers want to do the best for their children, but that is not always the case, definitely not the case when it comes to narcissistic mothers (as seen in the life of Joan Crawford and her daughter Christina). This raises the question, “What makes a good mother?”
It would seem to me that the ingredients required for being a good mother are the same ingredients that are required to be a good person generally (i.e. having empathy, being patient, kind and considerate, being able to admit when you are wrong, etc.). Also, it is important to be able to give and forgive, and to be able to go beyond the self to that of the other.
Children are people too; they are just smaller and sometimes less able; therefore, they need a little more help and understanding. It is not a hard task to be a good mother, not when you focus on the essential requirements of a child. Being a good mother has nothing to do with being a superwoman, although many parents push themselves in that direction.
What Are The Healthy Attributes Of A Loving Mother?
Before you look at the self-absorbed narcissistic mother, it is important to know what makes a “good mother”. I consider that I had a wonderful, magical mother, a woman who loved being in the company of her children above all else, and was willing to give quality time to each of her children, and make happy memories that would last us a lifetime. But she was not silly, she knew each of us well, each with our different foibles, and she responded to our differences as well as our sameness accordingly. My mother was always supportive, encouraging each one of us to follow our dreams, and helping us to feel good about ourselves. She never made us feel a burden; she enjoyed being with us as much as we enjoyed being with her, and we knew that. She was sensitive to our needs, and never resorted to shaming us when we got things wrong. Making a mistake was always allowed. In fact, our mistakes were seen as great teachers that we could learn from, and we learned this from very young. Not being afraid to make a mistake allowed us also be able to apologise when we got things wrong.
Mum taught us to be optimistic; she always mirrored to us that her glass was half full, not half empty. Even though she had five living children of different ages, she was in perfect attunement with each of us. She always allowed us to be age appropriate in the tasks she set us, therefore, never fostering premature independence upon us. This built confidence and emotional intelligence and helped us not to be afraid of making our decisions when we felt ready. She delighted in our self-expression, whether it was through music, art, dance, writing, cooking, anything that gave us pleasure; and expanded our interest and growth.
In my case, I was making my clothes from age 13 (Mum was a wonderful seamstress that I learned from), and she never criticised my attempts at fashion, no matter how independent or bizarre my thinking was. She would offer her help, but if I refused it, she would respect that, and leave me to figure things out for myself. Of course, there were times when I made a mess of things, but she would wait for me to ask for her help, and then give it lovingly. She encouraged each of us to be independent thinkers; she even told us not always to follow like sheep, but to sometimes take the lead, and whenever I did take the lead she was very patient with my decisions. She did not make too many rules, but she would take the time to explain the logic behind each rule, and then she would expect us to adhere to that rule. She was clever, the few rules she did make seemed to cover a multitude of behaviours that we understood would not be acceptable. We were all made very clear of the boundaries, but she was open to negotiating when the boundary needed shifting. For example, I knew what time I had to be home each night, but on special occasions (like a dance) I could negotiate getting an extension that was fair to me, and would keep me safe.
Mum inspired us to self-govern and take responsibility when we were out of her range, and she trusted us, to tell the truth, always. It was an unspoken law that if you did something wrong but told the truth, you may or may not be in trouble. However, if you lied, you would be in trouble, no two ways about that. This instilled a sense of truth in us all, and when asked if we had done some misdemeanour or not, we would be truthful regardless of the consequences. This worked well for keeping us safe, especially outside of the home. Mum was always consistent in her rules; therefore, we knew the guidelines well and lived by them. We grew up in a home where our parents were both respectful to each other, and that was extended down to us children. She was always there to listen to our problems, but she would give us the space to work those problems through without her interference. She neither judged us, nor indulged us, but we always knew we could depend on her support in doing the right thing. She was not one of those mothers who told us “wait until your father gets home”. If there were a problem with our behaviour she would deal with it on the spot, and then it would be forgotten. We were never sent to bed with the fear of punishment hanging over us or the fear of being pulled out of the bed from sleep to an angry parent. We trusted both our parents, and it was Mum who regularly encouraged us to stretch ourselves, and would celebrate each of our accomplishments with us. She did not spoil any of us with material possessions, but she shared all her love by giving us individual attention and stretching us to be the best we could be.
What Are The Attributes Of A Self-Absorbed Mother?
All of the above qualities are those of a mature mother with normal, healthy maternal nurturing instincts, a woman who is selfless, validates and loves her children unconditionally. She parents her kids with empathy and attunes into their inner emotional life as she prepares them for independent living when the time comes for them to leave the nest. A narcissistic mother, on the other hand, is the antithesis of the mother I described above. She presents with the following criteria: –
(1) She has a grandiose sense of self-importance.
(2) She is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, beauty, or ideal love.
(3) She believes that she is special and can only be understood by high status people.
(4) She require excessive admiration.
(5) She has a sense of entitlement.
(6) She is interpersonally exploitative and takes advantage of others to achieve her goals.
(7) She lacks empathy.
(8) She is envious of others, and believes that others are envious of her.
(9) She shows arrogant behaviour.
The narcissistic mother is a mother who, instead of nurturing her children, is self-centred and mainly focused on herself. Rather than taking care of herself, the narcissistic mother expects to be taken care of and therefore expects her children to respond to her needs, and make her feel like a real mother that is lovable, the best Mum ever. It is their job to hold the spotlight on her and keep her centre stage. Unfortunately, she does not trust her children or believe in their essential goodness. She is brittle, controlling, does not observe boundaries, never apologises or remembers her inappropriate behaviour, needs to be always right, will fly into rages at the speed of lightening, and project that anger onto her children. She frightens and upsets her children, and discourages their independence. She needs to be the centre of attention and is jealous or resentful if the children get attention from others. Her children are mere objects who represent her and show her in good light, but at the same time, she is envious of their accomplishments, gifts and talents. Her punishment is inconsistent and punitive, and she often uses the threat of abandonment to control them. All of this craziness serves to confuse her children and undermine their self-esteem. Of course, to the outside world everything is perfect, but behind closed doors, the child is exposed to the horror of a mother with a personality disorder. Where a narcissistic father is concerned with performance, the narcissistic mother’s emphasis is on appearance.
Therefore, if you are the child of a narcissistic mother, or if you are a therapist working with the adult child of a narcissistic mother, then you need to understand that you are dealing with the behaviour of a mother who acts from a different set of criteria than the healthy mother. As you can imagine, this disordered kind of parenting creates significant emotional damage to the child. Generally speaking, children of narcissistic mothers grow up insecure because they have not had their value mirrored back to them in a healthy way. Because they have always had to look after the mother’s needs, they become over responsible for everything; they go on to act out this behaviour in all their future relationships. Usually, they tend to be unaware of their needs and feelings, always putting others before themselves. When they do put themselves first, they are filled with guilt, worrying that they are inherently insensitive or selfish, and this makes them feel anxious, or even worthless. They become consummate “pleasers” and work hard to cater to other’s demands. They always take the blame for any interpersonal problems in their relationships. All of their adaptions are unconscious; therefore, they are unaware of their behaviour. However, they are the ones likely to be found in the therapy room, because they consider they are responsible for fixing themselves. So it is vital for therapists to understand how the narcissistic mother operates in the home, and may have contributed to the dysfunctional patterns displayed by the adult before you that is seeking your help.