5 Signs Your Kids Have a Narcissistic Grandmother
In fairy tales, a grandmother is a warm and fuzzy creature that acts as a mentor to the young protagonist. She is a silver-haired benefactress full of wisdom and kindness (think: fairy godmother). But, what if your kids' grandmother is more like the witch from "Hansel and Gretel?"
You might be dealing with a "difficult" grandmother who has become a toxic presence in your life, as well as your children's lives. The following are five telltale signs of a difficult or narcissistic granny.
Signs of a Narcissistic Grandmother
- She has no respect.
- She undermines your authority as parents.
- She plays favorites with the grandchildren.
- She tells your kids inappropriate or hurtful things.
- She is a "come-and-go" kind of grandma.
1. She Has No Respect.
Respect for other people doesn't come easy to her. She wants to get respect, but she doesn't want to give it. And, since she doesn't respect you, she can't stop meddling and inserting her opinion into everything—because her opinion is the only one that matters.
But, it's not merely an opinion. It's a systematic campaign to criticize, belittle and denigrate you as parents. And no matter how hard you try, she is never satisfied. She always finds a reason why you're bad.
Now, this sucks for you, but how does that affect grandchildren, you ask? The older they are, the more they understand. Seeing their mother or father disrespected will surely have a negative impact on them. It might even give them an idea that it's OK to treat other people badly.
Conversely, if no one acknowledges the offensive behavior, it might teach them to silently accept mistreatment.
2. She Undermines Your Authority as Parents.
She believes she knows best when it comes to your children because she raised children of her own. She believes she is a perfect mother. Or maybe deep down she knows she messed up, and now she wants a "second chance" with a grandchild.
Whatever the case may be, she will not follow your instructions when babysitting. She will belittle or mock your parental choices and passive-aggressively imply that the child behaves better (sleeps better, eats better) when with her.
If you tell her: "No cookies before a meal," she will try to sneak your kid an Oreo when you're not looking. Call her out on it, and she will act surprised, offended, or claim that she just "forgot."
The result? A child who now thinks that it's OK to disobey parental rules as long as you're at grandma's.
3. She Plays Favorites With the Grandchildren.
In this scenario, one grandchild (or several) are deemed "worthy," while the others are not.
It can be expressed in myriad ways, but most notably, it shows in verbally comparing the children, making unfair judgements and choosing the "winner" of the family based on some superficial characteristic.
This is a form of emotional abuse. It can seriously damage a child's self esteem, especially if it's tolerated by other family members. If you have a grandma who does that to your kid(s), for the love of god put a stop to it.
4. She Tells Your Kids Inappropriate or Hurtful Things.
She habitually manipulates her grandchildren to do what she wants them to do ("Grandma will be sad if you won't come visit me tomorrow").
Worse yet, she may be telling them things that undermine their self-esteem, their happiness and their identity. Just like her own children, her grandkids are the extensions of her, so she will do whatever she can to mold them into something she can find "worthy" of her.
She doesn't mean harm—in her mind she's "helping" the child to become better. But it's the same relentless nitpicking you and your husband are so familiar with.
Except adults have defenses to deal with toxic people; kids don't. It can lead to confusion, anxiety, depression, psychosomatic illnesses and other serious issues.
5. She Is a "Come-and-Go" Kind of Grandma.
In extreme cases of ill-being, such as alcoholism, drug abuse, criminal behavior, mental illness etc., a grandparent might be absent for obvious reasons, or come and go depending on the circumstances.
But when dealing with a difficult (grand)mother, her controlling and narcissistic tendencies (that put her at odds with people in general) can be the reason why she intermittently disappears from her grandkids' lives.
Even the slightest offense will be perceived as a huge slap in the face, and from that point on you and your entire family is dead to her. That includes your children - her grandchildren. She will cut them out of her life as surely as she will blame you for it.
This sudden separation from the grandmother can be confusing and painful for the child. They didn't do anything wrong, yet grandma seems to have abandoned them. Obviously, this is unhealthy and harmful.
Should You Cut Contact With a Narcissistic Grandmother?
Some of her toxic behavior will affect your children directly (favoritism), some - indirectly (disrespecting the parents). But inevitably she will cause them harm. It's the way she is. She hurts those close to her.
Now, a transgression or two is not grounds for cutting all contact. In fact, it's normal for grandparents to exhibit meddling tendencies or to want to spoil the grandkids. It comes from love - usually.
It's a different story, however, when these behaviors are systematic and come from someone who has a track record of being a bad parent.
Eventually you and your partner will have to ask the question: how much should we put up with for the sake of our kids having a grandma?
The answer is tricky. Most people believe that extended family connections are important, even the ones that aren't benefiting the child. Besides, it's not that easy to cut ties with your mother-in-law (or your mother) without dismantling the whole family unit. So you need to exhaust all other options before going no contact.
Have you made every attempt to communicate?
Have you made her aware of how her actions affect your children?
Have you tried limited or supervised contact? As cynical as it sounds, supervised contact can work fine for families who only see their unruly grandmother a few times a year.
But if all else fails, let her go. And don't let anyone make you feel guilty about this. Your children will be better off without her.
You might be thinking, but what about raising resilient kids? Shouldn't they be exposed to every kind of person so they can grow into emotionally intelligent adults? And shouldn't we let our kids forge their own relationships with their grandparents?
Absolutely, but narcissistic people can be dangerous. They have severe emotional deficits that produce an entirely egocentric worldview. To them people are tools, and that includes children. They're a means to an end. She might try to turn your own kids against you. She might use them as "narcissistic supply." Or she might be slowly destroying their self-esteem with her "helpful" criticism.
Children are hypersensitive. A slightest comment or even a joke can become their inner voice, making them feel ashamed or inferior in some way. Oftentimes children can't verbalize why they feel bad about themselves. As parents, we have to hear them even when they're not saying a word.
We have an obligation to protect our kids from any harm that comes their way, even from someone who's supposed to love and care for them.
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What Is the Personality of a Narcissist?
Narcissistic personality disorder involves a pattern of self-centered, arrogant thinking and behavior. They lack empathy and consideration for other people. They have an excessive need for admiration. Others often describe people with NPD as cocky, manipulative, selfish, patronizing, and demanding.
What Causes Narcissism?
But, behind their masks of extreme confidence, the narcissist is a fragile and vulnerable to the slightest criticism. Narcissistic personality disorder causes problems in many areas of life. These include their relationships, their work, their schooling, or their financial affairs.
Do Narcissists Love Their Children?
Narcissists can't develop the ability to empathize with others. Unfortunately, they can never learn to love. This doesn't change when narcissists have children. They may support one child more than another, but they don't truly love them. The narcissist parent sees their child as a possession who can be used to further their own self-interests.
What Types of Narcissists Are There?
Also known as High-Functioning, Exhibitionist, or Grandiose Narcissists, these are the typical narcissists that most people think of when they hear the term “narcissist.” These are the attention-seeking narcissists who brag about their accomplishments, expect others to flatter them, and feel entitled to special treatment.
Also known as Fragile, Compensatory or Closet Narcissists, they still feel as if they are superior to most people they meet, however, they actually despise the spotlight. They often seek to attach themselves to special people instead of seeking special treatment themselves.
They often have a sadistic streak that makes them different from the other two major types. Their primary goal is to dominate and control, and they will use deceit and aggression to accomplish it and lack remorse for their actions.
Both overt and covert narcissists may put people down, boast, and look for opportunities to take advantage of people, but Overt narcissists are more outwardly aggressive.
Both overt and covert narcissists may put people down, boast, and look for opportunities to take advantage of people, but Covert narcissists work behind the scenes or are more passive-aggressive.
This sub-type does not want to be outshined by their partner, but they do want someone around who enhances their status because, to them, their partners are objects they can show off.
Cerebral narcissists are the know-it-alls and think of themselves as the most intelligent ones in the room, trying to impress people with their accomplishments and positions of power.
A special type of covert, vulnerable narcissist, They seek to attach themselves to other narcissists to feel special, and are only satisfied or happy when they are in relationships with other narcissists.
Are Narcissists Happy?
Unfortunately, narcissists will never be happy. In fact, contrary to the common misperception, narcissists are never happy. While they might seem satisfied in themselves, they are never truly satisfied.
Can Narcissists Be Cured?
If someone can be cured of multiple personality disorder, then there's an argument that it may be possible for people to be cured of narcissistic personality disorder. That said, the common perception is that these personality disorders can only be managed and not necessarily "cured."
Ways to Talk to a Narcissist About Their Behavior
- Ask clarifying questions.
- Use humor. It helps to entertain them a little.
- Separate the behavior from the person.
- Ask directly whether the individual is a narcissist.
How Many People in the U.S. Are Mentally Ill?
Mental illnesses are very common in the U.S. In fact, nearly one in five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness. As of 2016, the number was 44.7 million. Mental illnesses include many conditions that can vary in degree of severity. Two broad categories can be used to describe these conditions. Additional information on mental illnesses can be found on the NIMH Health Topics Pages.
Common Mental Illnesses
A mental disorder marked by alternating periods of elation and depression.
60 million people worldwide
Feelings of severe despondency and dejection.
300 million people worldwide
A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
1 in 13 people worldwide
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration.
Between 2 and 6%
Severe mental disorders that cause abnormal thinking and perceptions.
Varies greatly by location and social structure.
Is Narcissism a Societal Trend?
Narcissism becomes a major problem when the person becomes preoccupied with the self, needing excessive admiration and approval from others, and showing complete disregard for other people’s sensitivities. Whole governments can behavior in narcissistic ways, writing self-serving policy. Narcissism can also become a cultural trend. Narcissistic behavior can also be learned. In fact, social scientists now claim that it has become a modern “epidemic.”
What Is a Valuation Measurement?
When talking about a country's opinion of itself, social scientists measure whether a country cares more about domestic affairs or foreign. Recently, a report revealed which countries have a much better internal reputation than external reputation. In other words, these countries have much higher opinions of themselves than other nations’ do. Below is a list of nations that are the most narcissistic in the world.
Most Narcissistic Countries
There’s a gigantic 40.8-point difference between Russia’s internal and external valuations.
2. United States of America
The U.S. is the second-most narcissistic country in the world, with a huge 23.4-point gap between its internal and external valuations.
The gap between its internal and external valuations is an entire 18.8 points.
The difference between Peru’s internal and external valuations reached 17.3 points.
The South American country had a 12.4-point difference between its internal and external valuations.
This North African country had a gap of 11.5 points between its internal and external valuations.
Mexico has a 9.5-point gap between its internal and external valuations.
The country has a 9.2-point difference between its internal and external valuation.
9. United Kingdom
The United Kingdom showed an 8.1-point difference between its internal and external valuations.
Germany has an 8.1-point difference between its internal and external valuations.
- WebMD, "What Is Narcissism?"
- Psychology Today, "Are You a Narcissist? 6 Sure Signs of Narcissism"
- Mayo Clinic, "Narcissistic personality disorder"
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
What do I do if my narcissistic mother manipulates my adult children and they can’t see her behavior as disrespectful to their parents?
That's every parent's nightmare. Kids, even adult kids, are unfortunately an easy prey for the manipulator. You can talk to them, you can try to make them see your point of view, but if they've been "groomed" by your mother, they won't listen. In fact, they might become even more loyal to grandma.
All you can do is let it be, and hope that with time they will see the truth. Because no matter how good a manipulator she is, the truth always comes out eventually.Helpful 56
My kids really can't stand their grandmother; she possibly has spent too many years teaching religion. The other day she came over for my son's bday. He did not want to hug her(he told me he does not feel comfortable). She then threatened to take his gift away, is that right?
No, it's not right. Kids should never be forced to hug or kiss anyone, or be touched when they don't want to. They need to know that their body and their personal space should never be violated to please the adults. This way, if a stranger does it, a child knows that it's wrong.
People from older generations don't understand that when they demand affection from their grandkids. You should have a talk with your mom/MIL about this. And threatening to take the gift away - that's just mean.Helpful 19
I have an extremely toxic mother but New Zealand law doesn't recognize emotional abuse as harmful. I want to cut her from our lives. What can I do?
I'm not sure how to answer that question. If there's nothing you can do legally and you believe your mother is emotionally abusive, try talking to your children about what emotional abuse is, how to recognize it and how to deal with it. It might be a good life lesson they'll be glad they learned.Helpful 12
Is there a way to cut my mother off while still communicating with others in her household? She currently controls the narrative and is using social media to gain attention.
That's a tough situation. I've been there. You can still communicate with other family members (unless they've been totally manipulated by her) but it's tough because everyone's affected by this riff in the family. Still, it's not on you; it's on her. If you decide to go no contact, it's because her behavior is so destructive and unacceptable that you don't see any other way. It sucks that she controls the narrative (as is usually the case) but people who love you will see your side.Helpful 1
© 2018 Lana Adler