Mothers are typically our primary caregivers. They are our first contact with the outside world. They provide the security and warmth that gives us confidence growing up. Interactions with our mother, a tender touch, a reassuring smile, and some encouraging words validate our emotions and increase our self-worth.
But not all mothers are like this. If you grew up with a narcissistic mother, you would spend your childhood pleasing her, dealing with her changing moods, and attending to her needs. And it doesn’t end there. Daughters of elderly narcissistic mothers carry lifelong scars that start in childhood and continue throughout their life.
Self-worth grows, primarily, through interactions with our mothers. Acceptance and recognition of our emotions make us feel seen and heard. Being supported in our tentative ventures to the outside world, we gain confidence and reassurance. We feel validated through reciprocal love and understanding.
However, a narcissistic mother is only interested in herself and her needs. Your use as a child is to accommodate those needs. Narcissistic mothers lack the empathy and love required to nurture their children.
Attempts at intimacy are ignored, met instead with a cold, manipulative response, leaving you feeling confused and unloved. This damages your self-worth because your mother’s priority was herself, not her children’s.
Having to care for elderly parents is tough at the best of times, but caring for someone who didn’t care for you growing up throws up all sorts of dilemmas. You may well feel resentful at this responsibility. Now it’s your turn to care for her and spend time with her, yet she did none of this during your childhood.
Perhaps your mother denies any wrongdoing, or she belittles your experience growing up. You don’t know whether her memory is declining or if she is choosing to forget your childhood.
Perhaps now she is older you realise she will never understand the damage she caused and you simply have to live with it, whilst caring for her.
Narcissists use manipulative techniques such as gaslighting and guilt-tripping to get what they want, usually attention or recognition. The problem is that our needs change as we grow older and enter our twilight years. Our physical health starts declining, along with our mental capacity.
This is normal, but narcissists weaponise their ailing health to thrust themselves back into the limelight. It is difficult to know whether your elderly narcissistic mother is really ‘sun-downing’ or if she is deliberately manipulating you.
Just because your mother is elderly, it doesn’t mean she’ll stop interfering in your life. Narcissistic mothers throw their children under the bus to get what they want. She’s certainly not going to stop now because of age.
Narcissists thrive in the bloom of youth. They rely on their looks and ability to charm and manipulate their social circle. As they age, their looks fade and their social circle decreases. Now they have a smaller audience and little with which to impress people.
As a result, your narcissist mother will not only demand more of your time, but, as she’s bitter and resentful, she’ll be unapologetic and overt in her abuse of you.
Daughters of elderly narcissistic mothers quickly learned attention and love only came when you pleased your mother. You only got your mother’s attention when you put her needs first. She only ever noticed you when you did something right in her eyes.
Now you are older, you view all relationships through this twisted lens. You always wonder what people want from you, because you know they cannot possibly love you for who you are. They must need something from you.
Likewise, you look for what you can get from a relationship. After all, this is what they have taught you to do. People are there to be manipulated.
I had a boyfriend who once told me I was a coldhearted b***h with a heart of ice. And he was right.
We learn empathy and love from our mothers, so it is not surprising I found relationships difficult as my mother was narcissistic. The most important attachment we make is with our mothers. It informs all other relationships in our lives.
If yours was not secure, you can develop an avoidant attachment, which means you keep people at arm’s length. You put up barriers and hide your vulnerable side. You have trouble opening up and, as a result, focus on shallow or purely sexual relationships.
Another effect of an insecure attachment is an anxious attachment. This is the opposite of avoidant and manifests itself in needy or clingy behaviour. Growing up with inconsistent parenting leads to a fear of rejection or abandonment. This fear can make you possessive and jealous of a partner.
You feel better as a couple and sometimes settle for a partner that is not suitable. It can come across as codependency and low self-esteem if you constantly need to be loved. Chasing relationships and doing anything to make them work does not lead to a happy partnership.
Growing up, you quickly learned to suppress your own needs and wants. Your mother was the most important person in the family; so, to keep the peace, you made sacrifices. You quickly learned it was easier to placate and go along with her wishes than to rock the boat.
Now that your mother is getting older, she may need more care and attention from you. You find this hard to ignore, but it can bring up past trauma you thought you’d dealt with.
As a child, you would have been on alert, waiting for the next dramatic incident to occur. You didn’t have time to relax or let your guard down. When you did, things would escalate. As an adult, you forever check the atmosphere, waiting for the next explosion.
Elderly people can appear rude as their health declines, and for several reasons: they may feel ill, perhaps they are not eating properly, or sometimes it is a form of control where they feel they have none. As a daughter of an elderly narcissistic mother, you’ll pick up on the tension.
It is hardly surprising that your mother’s constant lying and manipulations have left you distrusting people. You always assume they have an agenda, or they are hiding or exaggerating the truth.
How can you not? This was your childhood. You’ve seen it all: dramatic scenes, screaming matches, and unreasonable demands. Nothing anyone does surprises you anymore. After all, you watched a master at work.
Everything about my childhood made sense after realising I had an avoidant attachment style. Having only basic interactions with my mother left me cold and emotionless. I couldn’t understand why people got so upset when a relationship ended. Now I know that to have deep connections, you have to open up.
It is frustrating when your mother dismisses your feelings as irrelevant. I find it handy to have a few phrases up my sleeve, such as:
Sons and daughters may feel obligated to look after elderly relatives, and in many cases, they do. However, there is a limit to how involved you can be. There should also be a limit to how much your parents are involved in your life.
If needs be, take back the spare key to your house. Set proper times for visits. Be clear about how much involvement you want. Let your elderly mother know your decisions are final.
Acceptance is so healing. Knowing there is nothing you can do to change your childhood or your narcissistic mother is freeing. That is how she is, and there’s nothing you can do to make her see things your way.
You will waste time trying to get an apology or acknowledgment that she was a poor parent. Accepting your childhood was not perfect and creating distance is liberating.
There is no rule that says you have to bear the responsibility of an elderly parent. If you absolutely cannot deal with your narcissistic mother, get help from other family members or social services.
It’s good to remember that parents are human and not perfect. Your mother might have suffered abuse in her childhood, making her the way she is.
Recognising that we are all frail beings is just one way daughters of elderly narcissistic mothers can stop the cycle of abuse and move forward.