Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers – A Painful Psychological Legacy
By Linda Martinez-Lewi Ph.D.
There are daughters of narcissistic mothers who have barely survived psychologically. In the extreme, there are daughters who starved themselves to death by anorexia as the only way they could find to salvage some small crumb of their existence. We know these daughters, even though their secrets of maternal deprivation and abuse are well camouflaged behind shining faces, glowing grades and strong professional portfolios. Trapped from early childhood, they are victims of a mother who was incapable of loving them.
The narcissistic mother is psychologically fused with her daughter. Her coldness and lack of empathy affect her child from the beginning. These mothers experience their daughters, not as unique individuals, but as extensions of themselves.
Narcissistic mothers sabotage their daughters’ efforts to become separate productive individuals. The narcissistic mother is envious of her daughter on every level. This becomes particularly pointed as her child moves into adolescence. Young men are beginning to take notice and indicate that they are sexually attracted to this young woman. This puts the narcissistic mother’s back up. She feels a gnawing envy in her gut to compete with her daughter. The mother undermines her child, telling her a series of lies that shake her daughter’s confidence in her feminine identity.
The hypnotic hold a narcissistic mother has on her daughter can be so strong and pathological that the child doesn’t know what she is thinking or feeling. The narcissistic mother takes full credit for her daughter’s achievements at the same time that she constantly criticizes and demeans her child for using initiative or having creative ideas. The daughter who dares to think for herself or who moves toward psychological individuation is heavily criticized, labeled as a rebel and stripped of any meaningful role in the family.
The narcissistic mother frequently causes powerful and damaging psychological rifts between her children. Narcissistic mothers pit one sibling against the other and use conspiratorial secrets (often lies) to further poison and destroy the relationships between her children.
She will choose one child as the special one. Often this is a child who is particularly attractive physically, highly intelligent, or displays artistic or musical talent. This child is worshiped by the mother. The chosen child can do no wrong, even if he or she is cruel, mean and deceitful to others. The chosen child is the perfect incarnation of the mother. The narcissistic mother chooses another child as the loser. This daughter becomes the target and reservoir for the narcissistic mother’s expression of her unconscious feelings of self hatred and worthlessness. This child is a living disposal for the narcissistic mother’s toxic venom.
Narcissistic mothers are never satisfied. If the daughter receives B’s in her classes, they could have been A’s. “Just apply yourself, dear. What’s the matter with you?” Narcissistic mothers are obsessed with image. If the target daughter is slightly overweight, the mother makes snide remarks about her child’s body. You’re looking a little thick around the middle; your upper arms are on the chubby side. Your friend Sandra is nice and thin. If you watched what you ate, you could be attractive like she is.” Narcissistic mothers are relentlessly cruel and critical. They would discover flaws in the perfect daughter. This will always be true since the narcissistic mother suffers from a severe personality disorder. These individuals are completely self absorbed, cold, manipulative, deceitful, exploitative, and lacking in the slightest portion of human empathy.
Most daughters of narcissistic mothers survive this malignant abuse. They learn to block their strong emotions and dance to their mothers’ tune to save themselves. Some daughters become highly rebellious, act out with drugs, alcohol or sex and leave the family prematurely.
Daughters of narcissistic mothers can heal through the work of psychotherapy. One of the first issues is acknowledging and grieving over the fact that they never had a real mother, someone who loved them and cared about them as a separate, valuable human being. Daughters learn that they are not their mothers. As horribly as they were treated, some daughters spend their lives forming dysfunctional relationships with men who resemble their narcissistic mothers. They repeat the psychological patterns of childhood rather than work through the pain to transform it.
On the other side of the cauldron of transformation, daughters of narcissistic mothers are born for a second time. They are in touch with the loveliness of their bodies, the exquisite beauty of their minds and psyches and the vast depth of their souls. Now, they feel authentic—fully alive.
Dr. Linda Martinez-Lewi holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is a licensed marriage family therapist. She has extensive clinical training in narcissistic and borderline disorders and is the author of the book Freeing Yourself From the Narcissist in Your Life.
Visit her website at: www.thenarcissistinyourlife.com