Narcissism involves having excessive admiration and grandiose opinions of oneself. Clinically speaking, narcissists are selfish, entitled, and obsessed with being well-regarded. They can be extremely difficult to work with or have a relationship with due to their inability to empathize with others and admit when they make mistakes. Their over-inflated sense of self makes it difficult to maintain a healthy, long-term relationship. Narcissists who become parents view their children as a reflection of themselves. They push their children towards success in the areas of life they deem valuable. Narcissists enjoy having control and even have the need to feel in control. Having children allows them to have control over another person. They want their children to embody what they think is important, taking on the successes of their children as their own.
Children of narcissists can be at a higher risk for becoming a narcissist themselves. However, studies have found that sons raised by narcissistic mothers are at a higher risk than daughters. The relationship between these types of mothers and their sons typically starts with the mother building the ego of their son. While at a glance it might seem like she is validating him, the mother almost overemphasizes and even idolizes the son. She starts to inflate his ego to an unhealthy level by putting him on a pedestal. As a child, the son might feel more confident in himself, but putting him on a pedestal at such a young age can set him up to fall hard.
The son will continue to work for reinforcement because the reinforcement feeds his ego. However, at some point, he will disappoint his mother, causing him a great deal of distress. He will work harder and harder to please his mother and will continue to fail to do so because it is not possible to continuously please a narcissist. The mother will start to resent the son and will make her resentment known to him. He then begins to resent her as he is no longer getting admired or his ego getting reinforced. To manage his painful emotions, he begins to seek inflating his sense of self on his own. He focuses on building up his own ego. The son grows into a person who idealizes himself, puts his needs first, and feels entitlement towards everything in his life. He loses the ability to empathize, focusing only on his own needs and feelings and in turn dismisses the needs and feelings of others. In reality, the son is a deeply insecure person attempting to hide his true feelings about himself.
The narcissistic dynamic in any parent-child relationship can lead to dire consequences. The child may become a narcissist themselves or at the very least will be deeply wounded by the way their parent has treated them. The mother-son relationship is not the only type of relationship that can be affected. However, sons with narcissistic mothers are often at a higher risk for developing narcissism as well. Especially earlier in childhood, it is important to recognize the significance of the parent-child relationship in terms of attachment and how the type of attachment to their parent can impact the child moving forward.
Michelle Overman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. She works with athletes, bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. She is becoming a Certified Mental Performance Consultant in sports psychology. Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families. Michelle earned a Master’s in Marriage & Family Therapy and has been working in the field for 6 years.