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13 'Habits' of People Who Grew Up With 'Narcissistic' Mothers


Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Let’s face it, healing from our childhood traumas can be one of the hardest things we’ll ever face as adults.

Sometimes we don’t even realize the lasting effects maternal figures can have on us — especially when your childhood was more about your “narcissistic” mother than it was about you.

Maybe your mother encouraged codependent attachment, not allowing you to form your own identity separate from her because she “needed” you. Maybe she guilted you into feeling like you owed her your unwavering obedience because she’s “sacrificed so much for you.”  Or maybe you were never quite able to trust the things your mother said, so much so that you couldn’t decipher the “real” from the fiction. Whatever experience you encountered, we want you to know you aren’t alone and it wasn’t your fault.

The things we have experienced as children often play a role in the coping mechanisms we use to protect ourselves when faced with reminders of narcissistic tendencies. You might feel compelled to people-please or be agreeable to avoid confrontation. You might battle feelings of unworthiness or low self-esteem. You also might struggle with the need to constantly apologize out of fear of being “wrong.” If you have any of these “habits,” you’re not alone. Many adults who grew up with “narcissistic” mothers can relate.

To shed light on some of these “habits,” we asked The Mighty community to share their experiences with us.

Here’s what they told us:

1. Struggling to Take Compliments

“[I] can’t take compliments. I have 0 self-esteem. And I feel guilty for things I shouldn’t feel guilty for.” — Danielle H.

2. Being a People-Pleaser

“I don’t like to say ‘no’ to people because I’m afraid they will be mad at me. I’m constantly afraid of being in trouble… I constantly feel that if I don’t do what people want, then they will abandon me… I’m constantly looking for acceptance and approval from those around me.” — Megan S.

“I seek the approval of others and have become a total people-pleaser. It’s imperative that people like me and that I feel loved so I will not even bat an eye with a decision that relates to meeting someone else’s needs. Never considering (or even knowing) what I would like. This has lead to having a lack of self image, harbored anger, depression, and emptiness.” — Will J.

3. Being a Perfectionist

“[I] developed perfectionism in my life. Constantly anxious about failing or making the wrong decisions because it was always drilled in my head. I desperately wanted her acceptance and approval.” — Heather W.

“Not being able to do things perfectly the first time or not understanding what I’m supposed to do causes me to break down and cry.” — Megan S.

“[I] developed perfectionism in my life. [I’m] constantly anxious about failing or making the wrong decisions because it was always drilled in my head. I desperately wanted her acceptance and approval.” — Heather W.

4. Apologizing Unnecessarily

“Unnecessarily apologizing because I keep thinking I am a burden and should be grateful that people are willing to be with me.” — Maha D.

“I apologize for everything even if I’ve done nothing wrong because I was raised to believe everything is my fault.” — Megan S.

5. Obsessively Cleaning

“I am also obsessively clean. I cannot stand clutter, because our house was always cluttered. I strive to do everything the opposite way she did growing up.” — Jessica A.

6. Taking Care of Others

“There are a lot of things that I do now as an adult that stem from the abuse. I care-give because I believe that if I don’t do the things that are asked of me then no one will love me. I don’t understand when people do love me and I believe there must be some reason for that love because I never experienced unconditional love.” — Lea L.

7. Pushing People Away

“Keep everyone at arm’s length. I have struggled to bond with my own babies out of fear of repeating the cycle.” — Jennifer B.

“I cut people off if I even think they are attempting to manipulate or control me. I became untrusting of people and their intentions and push people away. Anyone who yells or screams at me is ejected from my life. I have extremely rigid boundaries. I afford no one a chance to pass them… It makes for a lonely life sometimes.” — Jennifer R.

8. Isolating Yourself

“Isolate myself and question everyone’s intentions with me. I can’t even trust my own family even when I know I should.” — Leah J.

9. Hiding Your Feelings

“I hide my pain/fear as well as my joy/excitement. Both were used as weapons in our house.” — Stephanie A.

10. Avoiding Confrontation

“I avoid confrontation… Any and all confrontation… At all costs.” — Jaclyn N.

“Wording everything a certain way as a way to not anger those closest to me. And by everything, I mean everything. I am constantly watching the words that are about to come out of my mouth, in anticipation of the other person’s reaction.” — Faith W.

11. Engaging in Negative Self-Talk

“I cannot take compliments. Her voice is always in my head degrading me, causing me to have a constant toxic view of myself.” — Jessica A.

“[I] constantly replay her negative talk in my head and confuse it for my own.” — Liz S.

“I constantly hear her voice in my head making me second-guess myself on everything. ‘Do you really need those socks? Are you even going to wear that shirt? I don’t think you need dessert tonight. You’ve had enough to eat, you’re fine. Is that what you’re wearing? Your husband is controlling…’” — Emily H.

12. Falling Apart When You Fall Short

“When confronted with any of my failings, I collapse into myself because I can hear her voice telling me I am a horrible person.” — Lea L.

“Nothing will ever be good enough so I have a hard time starting anything for fear of failing.” — Nikki F.

13. Having Poor Interpersonal Boundaries

“I allow others to control me…agreeing to do things their way. I feel guilty if I express my own thoughts and they are in contradiction to others’ thoughts. I feel more comfortable with controlling personalities.” — Linda S.

“I date controlling and manipulative people until I figure out they are just like my mom and then I break up with them.” — Krista P.

It should be noted that not all mothers with “narcissistic” tendencies have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or another personality disorder. Those diagnoses must be given formally from a mental health professional. Either way, experiencing “narcissistic” behaviors growing up can be detrimental to the mental health of a child and affect the way we move through the world as adults.

If you find that you are having trouble coping with some of the wounds that your childhood trauma has left behind, know what you feel is valid, you are worthy, you are loved and you are worth healing. These things matter most. Emotional abuse is no joke, and if you need further resources to assist you with this trying time, check out the resources below:

Photo by Ana Francisconi on Unsplash