The Damage a Narcissistic Mother Does to a Child: What Stepmoms Need to Know

Updated on February 19, 2019
Alice Marlowe profile image

Alice Marlowe PhD, PMHNP, RN, holds a BA in Psychology and is a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.

The Narcissistic Mother

Narcissistic mothers control their children. They constantly blame others. These women are highly self-absorbed and have an over-inflated view of themselves. These mothers do not tolerate views that differ from their own and will not tolerate their children having views that do not align with their views. They are completely oblivious to the needs of their children. Moreover, they are unaware of how their behaviors affect the psychological and emotional well-being of their children. Children of narcissistic mothers are required to view the mother as she views herself, which is full of grandiosity and self-importance. Narcissistic mothers view their children as an extension of themselves rather than as separate, autonomous being. Their children are expected to represent the mother as she views herself and wishes to be seen by the public at large. Narcissistic mothers use their children to fill their own emotional needs.

Mothers who are narcissists are intrusive and frequently ignore appropriate boundaries with their children. These mothers will cross emotional and physical boundaries with little regard to the child's wants or needs. At the same time, these mothers frequently neglect the basic emotional, and sometimes physical, needs of their children. Narcissistic mothers may use rage, physical abuse, blame, guilt and shame, criticism, and emotional withdraw to control their children.

Mothers who are narcissistic share many traits with mothers who may have Borderline Personality Disorder. The traits of these two disorders overlap quite a bit and are both found in the Cluster B Personality Disorders.

What Does Science Say?

Published scientific studies that examine narcissistic mothers and the effect these mothers have on the psychological and emotional well-being of their children are sparse. The few studies that are available paint a bleak picture of a childhood rife with emotional and psychological abuse. It can be difficult for those who did not experience an emotionally traumatic childhood to understand what these children experience. Furthermore, because many narcissistic mothers are not abusive in public, it is easy for adults to overlook children who are currently abused by a narcissistic mother. Because a narcissistic mother often plays the role of a loving, proud, and concerned parent to others, the child’s experience is frequently discounted when abuse is disclosed.

One study presented in 2015 noted several characteristics of narcissistic parents. Narcissistic parents are oblivious to the needs of a child. The children of these parents often experience “role-reversal,” which is when the child is placed in a role of catering to the desires and needs of the parents rather than the parent attending to the needs of a child. Narcissistic parents expect their children to admire them. These parents also attribute their child's successes to themselves rather than to the hard work of the child. Because these parents have a strong desire to “show-off” their child they expect the child to function and perform at a superior level. Narcissistic parents also engage in psychological control of their children.

The following video describes six effects of narcissistic parenting. (It's about 4 minutes long.)


Characteristics of Children with Narcissistic Parents: The Co-Narcissist

Children of narcissistic mothers can take two paths. No matter the path, the child is still at risk to continue dysfunctional familial patterns of behavior into the next generation. Some of these children reach adulthood and display the same characteristics of their abuser. Other children develop into what has been defined by researchers as a co-narcissist.

A co-narcissist will feel excessively responsible for the behavior of others and will go to great lengths to meet the perceived needs of others, needs which the co-narcissist assumes are like the needs of their parent. Oftentimes these children, and later adults, are oblivious to their own needs, experiences, and feelings. As a child, a co-narcissist was only valued for the ability to meet the needs of their parents. These individuals have an inaccurate view of themselves and have often internalized the self-image the narcissistic parent imposed upon them. As a result, these individuals frequently grow into highly insecure adults. Co-narcissist can be anxious and depressed, have low-self esteem and self-worth, and have a difficult time identifying their own thoughts or feelings about a topic. Because narcissistic behavior was modeled throughout an individual’s childhood, co-narcissists can frequently display narcissistic characteristics as well.

Video: Effects of Narcissistic Parenting

How much does a narcissistic mother effect your stepchildren?

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A Narcissistic Mother in Blended Families

There are no known studies that investigate the influence of a narcissistic mother on the people who create a blended family. Children that are raised primarily by the narcissistic mother will experience significantly more trauma and abuse than those children who rarely, or never, see their narcissistic mother. In some instances the children may have spent their early, formative years with the narcissistic mother and perhaps later custody was changed so the abuse is not as prevalent.

In all scenarios there will be some impact of the mother's behavior on the blended family. Children who primarily live with the mother will mimic the narcissistic traits modeled for them by their mother. They will also display many of the co-narcissistic characteristics described in this article. Children who primarily live in the home of the narcissist are the most at risk because the abuse is ongoing throughout their childhood.

In blended families, the stepmom, father, and other children who live in the home may experience depressive symptoms or feel anxious when the stepchildren are present due to their behaviors. Some step-families may never be able to "blend" due to the effects of a narcissistic mother and will be fragmented and broken for the duration of the second marriage or relationship. The stepchildren may begin to mimic the abusive behavior of their mother and target the adults or other children in the home that the narcissistic mother does not like. This will lead to a lack of bond between these children and their stepmom and other children in the home. If at any point other children in the home become the target of abuse led by the narcissistic mother it is imperative that the priority be the emotional safety of these children.

The effects of a narcissistic mother will impact the immediate step-family as well as the extended step-family. Relatives of the stepmom may become targets of abuse simply for being related to the stepmom.

The harsh reality is a narcissistic mother, through herself or her children, has the ability to ruin a second marriage and cause severe emotional trauma and distress for stepmothers and their own children. Although there is a continuum of narcissistic mothers, those on the moderate to severe end of the spectrum will especially cause extreme chaos and dysfunction.

(I wrote an article about the outcomes of parental alienation because it is so common among narcissistic parents!)

What Stepmoms Need to Know

If you are a stepmom and your stepchildren have a narcissistic mother, life can be very difficult for you, your spouse, and most of all, the children you are helping to raise. Most likely, no matter what you do, the ex-wife will hate you simply for existing. If you find yourself in this situation, here are some key points to remember:

  • Accept you cannot fix this for your stepchild.
  • Model appropriate personal boundaries in your home, including appropriate physical and emotional boundaries.
  • Model appropriate and respectful parenting practices in your home.
  • Support your spouse when the stepchildren display narcissistic or co-narcissistic characteristics.
  • Understand that you may have to let go.

Some stepmoms may be close enough to their stepchildren to offer them emotional support as they navigate childhood with a narcissistic mother. There is a reason this point did not make the list. All too often, narcissistic mothers will label the stepmom as an "abusive" individual and make the stepmom a target of the narcissistic mother's verbal, emotional, and sometimes even physical abuse. The stepmom becomes a threat to the image the narcissistic mother has created of herself as the best and most amazing mother. Due to this, the narcissistic mother will actively sabotage any effort the stepmom makes to build a relationship with the stepkids and will actively shame, criticize, and manipulate the stepkids into joining the mother in the abuse of the stepmom. Remember, a narcissistic mother cannot tolerate view points that differ from her own, this includes the views of her children. A narcissistic mother will not be able to tolerate her children liking or loving a woman she hates.

With therapy, many adult children of narcissistic mothers can break the generational cycle of abuse and become emotionally healthy adults. Unfortunately, this is not reality for many of these adult children. While the stepkids are still minors and coming to your home, it is imperative that you model appropriate personal boundaries and respectful parenting practices. It's also acceptable to have honest discussions with your stepchildren about appropriate and inappropriate boundaries and behaviors.

As a stepmom, it is also important for you to be aware that children of narcissistic mothers may grow into adults that are also narcissistic and their target of abuse may be you or your spouse because that is what was learned in the childhood. These adult children are responsible for their own behavior and treatment of others. To maintain your emotional and mental health and to preserve your marriage, there may come a time when you need to "let go" of adult children who have grown into narcissists themselves. We often struggle to let go of "toxic" people in our lives if they are parents or children but this is perfectly acceptable. No one, stepmoms included, has to accept being the target of abuse.

There are two books that I highly recommend if you are dealing with a narcissistic ex. I also recommend you chase your husband or partner around with these books to help bring peace and stability to your home.

Co-Parenting with a Toxic Ex is beneficial because it addresses the toxic parenting situation both during and after a divorce. Additionally, it provides advice on how to protect the children from the ex, including how to avoid alienation by the ex. Alienation by mothers with NPD is extremely common and should be addressed early and often.

Joint Custody with a Jerk (besides having an excellent title) is the practical version of how to co-parent with a toxic ex. Honestly co-parenting with a toxic ex is mostly impossible but this book will take you through many common scenarios and then outlines techniques to help you deal with the impossible. What I like best about this book is it discusses communication techniques to use with the ex.

Although the book Understanding the Borderline Mother is not written to describe mothers with NPD the book is still applicable because many features of NPD and BPD overlap. A review of the book can be found here.

What about your situation?

Have you "let go" of an adult stepchild due to narcissistic abuse?

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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


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      • profile image

        Missy O 

        2 weeks ago

        As a step-mom, I’ve made it my life’s work to show my step-son just who is mom really is. Some people shouldn't be allowed to be parents. I’m more worthy of a parent than she could ever be.

      • profile image

        Sara Blohm 

        4 weeks ago

        Thank you for sharing this! There are statements in here the NP has, verbatim, written in emails about herself; specifically the ‘best and most amazing mother.’ She hates me simply for existing and now my stepsons hate me and they haven’t even been allowed to be around me. Going on ten years. So sad. I wish she would just let us in so we could help her. Everyone needs help sometimes. Again, thank you for sharing. It’s like reading a page out of our life story w/ this situation.

      • profile image


        5 weeks ago

        This article put so much into perpective.

      • profile image


        4 months ago

        Thank you for this. We have both prepared ourselves to both let go. Even my husband is beginning to hate his own son for what he has become.

      • profile image

        B. G. 

        6 months ago

        Thank you for this article, I have found from it and these comments that I am not alone. I would be willing to donate to any studies that are being conducted on the topic. I’m afraid narcissistic mothers affect many children’s lives, and think it’s something well worth studying.

      • profile image


        6 months ago

        Thank you for this article! I thought I was alone...

      • profile image

        V Seabury 

        6 months ago

        This article describes Lori Loughlin to a Tee !

      • profile image


        9 months ago

        Sadly my bonus girls have a mom that fits this to a T. Nothing breaks my heart more then seeing my bonus girls suffer her manipulitive ways. She will literally find any reason to tear me down to them. So petty as complain about clothes i buy and how i did their hair. We could say their dad picked clothes and did hair and she thinks it is the best. Little does she know i still do it. If the girls ever make a mistake and do something wrong their mom uses it to throw in their face every time she is mad at them. My youngest often cries and tells me her mom doesnt love her and never hugs or kisses her. She begs to live with us. She calls me mom and calls her mom by her given name. She always says she wishes i was her real mom because i make her feel loved and safe. She tells me i am her safe place. How sad a mother can make her child feel so sad inside that she begs to not go home to her. The oldest foghts with her mom weekly because her mom always throws her past bad behavior in her face. If she ever makes friends, her mom finds so ething wrong and will run them off or constantly talk down about them to her daughter. My oldest bonus girl is a tween and likes a boy. She sees this boy in her martial arts classes only. So we are always present. Well since her dad and i monitor her online activity and her phone use, we found her sexting with him. Of course they are same age and going through changes. Young kids will mess up. We talked to his dad and decided having a long talk with the kids and giving time away from electronics until straightened out and until they prove to make a better choice, would be appropriate. However biomom decided to make her life miserable on a weekly basis and i sist the boy is a bad person amd she can not speak to him. Biomom is in martial arts as well and had to spar the boy in practice. She literally told my husband that she intentionally intimidated him and was saying things to him when they were in close ear shot. She got a kick out of trying to scare a 12yr old boy. This is just a little of the craziness she has pulled. How do you even help kids in this situation? Is it possible to even take to court and ask for primary with supervised visits as the kids fear their mom. They are terrified to tell her stuff because they are afraid of out come. She once took a belt and spanked the youngest for throwing up at dinner table when she allowed her older son to force green beans in my youngeat bonus babies mouth and she gagged and got sick. She said how dare you get sick at my table and took belt and spanked her.

      • profile image


        11 months ago

        This is so SPOT ON!

        I am the stepmom of a now 18 yo young lady that I’ve raised since she was 5.

        Since my stepdaughter has turned 18, she has completely cut her mother off on every way.

        Her mother continues to blame, delflect, and act as if she doesn’t know why her daughter doesn’t have anything to do with her.

        Not only is she a narcissist, she is a functioning drug addict who also happens to be a registered nurse.

        She tries to hide this but those closest to her and those who have been around know her dirty little secret.

        She blames me, my husband, her own husband, my stepdaughter...whoever is convenient at the time.

        When my stepdaughter was growing up it was extremely hard to deal with her but we hung in there because u knew eventually, one day, this child would be an adult and see the manipulative games her mother plays. It’s truly sad to watch. She has literally begged her mother to get help, but her mother refuses stating that she doesn’t have a problem at all.

        I know it is painful for my stepdaughter to go through this, as it is her mother, but I commend her for her strength and doing what was best for herself. I hope one day her mother will get the help she needs and maybe build that trust back.

        So sad

      • Misty Taylor profile image

        M Taylor 

        12 months ago from USA

        This article is the best thing I've found to describe the situation I've endured all these miserable years.

        I have another layer to the story that I need help with - the "ours" child scenario in which our young son is at best severely disliked and at worst - abused by my older step son.

        Would love to see this addressed either by personal email correspondence or in an article.

      • profile image

        A Oxford 

        12 months ago

        This article fits my ex wife to a "T". My wife(step mom) and I try to block all that negativity out of the children's mines and feed nothing but positive and nurturing outlook on life. It's hard to let the children have a normal life, due to their mother telling the children not to do activities that we let them do. She makes herself known that they need to listen to her. (controlling) We went for more custody and during the trial, she lied on the stand. Oh, yeah !!! Everything was my fault.. Thanks for the Article. I have read several articles online and they seemed to focus on the dad being a narcissistic.

      • profile image

        Breathing again 

        13 months ago


        Thank you for writing this.

        I have been a stepmother since 2005. FT since 2009, 5 children.

        Their mother has BPD with Narcissistic and psychotic traits. I still have no idea the complexity of the whole 'can of worms' although have lived through court cases and the extremes. My thing lately is that it is difficult for me to understand that over the last 10 years of FT stepmothering I really have no bond with the children. Three still live at home. They don't speak to me unless I speak first and most often have to repeat myself before an interaction takes place. Conversations are infrequent and strained.Every night they eat with us and not many words come from them. I have never raised my voice to them, they have no rules in our home, they are provided for-- but they also make good grades and are good students. Not many friends though and at ages 24 and 22 you would think they would leave the house more than twice a week for a few hours. I feel like an irritative toleration in my home. I have done what I can, but reading this article this is what has happened to this group of family nomads. Disengaging has helped a lot, but I am longing to be free and live my life out from under the drama of life with their mother. I am not sure where to start.

      • profile image


        13 months ago

        It is so relieving for me to read an article written from this perspective. I am a step-mom of a child whose mother has NPD and judging by her criminal and financial history, APD as well. Luckily, I came into my step-daughter's life when she was just a baby and so I am lucky enough to have had the opportunity to build a wonderful bond with her. Not that her mother doesn't try to belittle or destroy it every day of her life. My step-daughter is a strong and confident individual so I have every faith that she will overcome this obstacle in her life. My husband and I work every day that we have her to ensure that she is growing to be an independent and emotionally aware individual. It is so tough when you have a person working to do the exact opposite dominating half of your step-child's life and harassing/attacking you and your family at every turn. If there are any other step-moms out there struggling with the same problem, I would love to start a group online to share stories and advice.

      • profile image

        Stephanie Nassar 

        15 months ago

        This article has immense value to me. I was raised by a narcassistic mother. I have experienced nearly all the negative affects mentioned in the video. I have difficulties in forming lasting relationships, PTSD, deciphering my feelings, intense emotional reactions, and self blame. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type I in 2014. There is no history of mental illness anywhere in my family tree therefore no genetic component. My mother's emotional and psychological abuse was severe. It became intense when, in first grade, I wrote about some abusive experiences in my journal. The teacher showed my enteries to my mother. My mother insisted I made it up, that is was pure fiction. I was 7. Eventually I no longer trusted my perception; I questioned every memory and deduction. I have gone no contact with this parent. The "golden child" effect carried over to my children; she wanted nothing to do with them. Negative effects remain to this day including low self-esteem, the inability to trust myself or others, feelings of incompetence and fear of sharing my thoughts/feelings. I stood up to this parent and told her how I felt just to be told the seperation between us was , once again, my fault. Narcissitic parents are dangerous. They put on the mask of charisma in public, are abusive in private then label the abused as liars. Eventually the helpless child believes the abuse is deserved. All I ever wanted was to be loved for who I was. Now if I can just figure out who I really am other than my mother's curse. If you suspect a child is being abused, speak up and be a light at the end of a very terrifying tunnel.

      • profile image

        Lydia cone 

        15 months ago

        I never understood the word narcissist until I met my husband. He’s a great man, but an enabler to his daughter and ex. He has two sons he feels no obligation to enable, but spent most of his free time catering to his teen daughter. I tried to explain that shopping at Victory’s Secret to allow his 13 year old to buy sexy bra and panties was not a good boundary. It wasn’t a sexual thing. It was about her entitled behavior and why a young teen buying those things was not a healthy message. She demanded he pay for her designer clothes regularly, take her to, and stay and watch, every single soccer practice and game to show he loved her (which was many times a week most of the year) allow her to date a man being charged with rape (he did put his out down there, but mom allowed it), and she sat in the front seat while I was in back. These were minor compared to her other behaviors. Rules didn’t apply to her. She said terrible things claiming to be the only “real” person because she was the only one willing to speak the “truth”. She couldn’t keep friends. She spread terrible lies to my husbamd’s family AND THEY BELIEVED HER WITHOUT EVEN A QUESTION. My FIL, whom I liked very much, called my husband telling him to kick me out over us taking away her car privileges for a week because she drove 8 hours to party at a college during a winter storm when roads were closed, after we specifically told her not to do so. She is a master at triangulation - another word I’d never heard of until now, telling lies to the right people, sprinkled with enough “facts”, knowing they wouldn’t talk to us directly. She did this was dozens of family members. Always playing the victim and never mentioning her role. I knew her mom was not healthy. She abandoned the family for an affair with a much younger man, but didn’t realize my stepdaughter got this behavior from her mom until later. Mom thought she was a perfect woman and mom, all the while not providing even basic necessities to her children. Drinking every night. Plastic surgeries and new clothes and hair done regularly. Yet no money for kids lunches. She couldn’t be bothered to make dinner. Right before the divorce was final, she sued for custody, even though she hadn’t seen the kids for months. In our small conservative town, she was going to win so my hubby agreed to double child support in order to have the “luxury” of having the kids 1/2 time. Mom didn’t work because she refused to do anything but a marketing job, even though she had no degree. She lived off child support and told her children dad needed to pay for lunches, school activities, clothes, cars, medical, taking to appts and every single other obligation. And he did. My stepdaughter became the “mom” when she was with mom, and struggled to be a kid when she was with dad. I tried hard to be a good role model and not feed into their drama, but my SD despised me, and told me openly. She didn’t want me around. It is sad that such a dysfunctional mom raised a narcissist daughter and two co-narcissist boys who are depressed and have no thoughts or ideas of their own. After much counseling, my husband was told point blank he needed boundaries. We worked hard and creating fair and reasonable rules and consequences. All were ignored by his daughter, who announced at 18 she didn’t like our rules and went to stay with her mom. That lasted two months. She moved into a dorm while living locally. Today, SD has realized things backfired. Alienating the only parent who tried. They are working on rebuilding a relationship, but my husband is still an enabler. Her mom and her aren’t talking. Again. Mom and daughter fight constantly because one doesn’t do what the other wants, and they both feel victimized and “break” up, complaining to everyone that the other is to blame. They have a symbiotic relationship and can’t seem to ever have a relationship. It’s sad overall and there are no winners. I do live a nice life because I’ve found good boundaries and stick to them. Can’t fix the family. Can only know I don’t control them.

      • profile image


        15 months ago

        My mother has been this way my whole life. I have a daughter as well. She treats my daughter with such a lack of respect and she makes the both of us feel like we owe her to live in her house, when the fact is I do most of the housework, all of the laundry, and I run all her errands. She thinks my daughter is being disrespectful when she asks my mom not to feed my daughters dog blueberry muffins when she is at school. My mom claims that she knows more about dogs than my child does, even though our vet told us that he cannot have those sort of things everyday, but she ignores it. She has also done it with things my doctor has told me. She does not believe what my doctor says either. She never compliments anything you do; especially my daughter. I go out to do something with my daughter and we may be gone a couple hours and then she calls, asking when are we coming home, and can we stop and get her some dinner. I go out and buy food, and I rarely can get her to cook for anybody else. But she wants me to come home and fix a huge meal? I do not think so. I am in my 50’s and I still live with my mom, along with my daughter. I am far from perfect, but she wants me to ask her if I can go out to do something with my friends, and she wants to know where and who I am going. It makes me feel like I should lie. But you see, she is limited and she does not want me gone in case. I get tired of being her husband. I want a husband of my own, but I have spent my life doing what was expected of me rather than what was what I wanted. I am so lonely, that if I did not have my child, I would of called it a day a long time ago.

      • profile image


        16 months ago

        I just turned 32 and this fits my mother to a T...I am stuck living with her...she had everyone hoodwinked and the situation im in isnt good.. shes robbing me of my life and makes me physically sick idk what to do

      • profile image


        16 months ago

        Great article. Thank you again

      • profile image


        16 months ago

        Excellent article. I " let gone" of my stepdaughter and she eventually had to go live elsewhere. Inwas demonized by everyone in her family especially by the mother. Meanwhile the mother was so neglectful but no one ever talked about that. I still "help" her dad from time to time but parenting her is over.

      • profile image


        16 months ago


        I think we are dealing with a nasassist. ..She has two girls and she treats their father like the baby sitter not the father..she constantly tells us what we can and can not do with the girls and when we ignore her and parent the girls as we normally do she gets very angry makes up storys and says ...things will get worse between us until we listen to her and the girls (7 & 9) .When she finds out we have been hiking...we are told by her the girls dont like walking and we must stop, when she finds out we are planning to camp at the beach...suddenly we are forbidden. She is constantly chasing men with money and constant moving, has never worked but pretends she is self employed. She has told us that the girls are princesses and they are to be treated as so? Its all abit crazy?

      • profile image


        18 months ago

        It’s important to remember that it’s not only mothers who alienate. It needs to be stopped by all parents - mothers and fathers - as the impact is equally destructive to the child.

      • profile image


        18 months ago

        I had a narcissist mother. She never asked me a single question about myself, she didn't lift a finger or me, not even toilet training. I was frequently yelled at and mistreated and she was physically abusive. It's hard because people always talk about male violence, but not mother violence. I'm still dealing with issues of shame as an adult. Working through it.

      • profile image


        18 months ago

        I am a step mom to twin boys who have a full blown narcissist mother. It is a struggle

      • profile image


        21 months ago

        This article was quite insightful- thanks for sharing!

      • profile image

        Tony tetlow 

        21 months ago

        Are there any studies into the npd of italian mothers, especially over there sons development.

      • Farawaytree profile image

        Michelle Zunter 

        22 months ago from California

        This was very informative - thank you for writing it!


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