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Motherly Narcissism

When mothers reject their children to keep a secret.

Narcissism gets a lot of attention these days, between politics and corporate leadership. Now that commercial DNA tests are revealing long-held family secrets, a new category of narcissism is emerging: motherly narcissism.

Among most Non-Paternal Events (NPE) who discover secret paternity, mothers display a surprising amount of narcissism. Adoptees seem to experience this to a lesser degree due to the nature of the adoption knowledge, to begin with. However, biological mothers of NPE show a tendency to hold onto the narrative they have created at all costs.

Narcissism as a noun describes an excessive amount of interest or admiration of oneself, based on the Greek myth of Narcissus. Going further, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is defined by grandiosity, lack of empathy, and the need for admiration. Generally, the causes for personality disorders are unknown but thought to include a mix of nature and nurture, never sure if the genes or early childhood experiences contribute more.

The narcissism presented by the NPE’s mother can have a seriously adverse effect on the psychological well being of the NPE. The grief and identity confusion inherent to the NPE experience is compromised when the NPE’s mother manipulates the discovery, communication, and support by changing the focus to themselves.

NPE moms often change the focus to themselves to keep culturally unacceptable behavior secret; to preserve their reputation and their identity. I believe in their minds this equates to their survival. It is well known that women throughout history have experienced a double standard concerning sexuality and gender roles and it wasn’t until the sexual revolution of the 1970’s that attitudes shifted enough to afford women the same sexual latitudes as men. Unfortunately, a mother attempting to retain control of this type of secret is experienced as rejecting from their NPE child.

A significant part of the adversity in the NPE journey is the struggle to gain acceptance from newly discovered biological family and retain inclusion or acceptance from known family. So in effect, the mother is rejecting their own child as a means to comply with old social norms that mandated they cover up their affair/sexual coercion from a superior/sexual assault/sex before marriage, etc. To preserve their carefully constructed identity and life story, and find social and/or familial approval, they will reject their offspring. They will reject the very outcome of that “original sin” that no one in contemporary society cares about anymore.

There are many stories in my practice of adult children having to limit contact with or cut off relationships with mothers who engage this narcissistic means of self-preservation. That extreme outcome significantly complicates the NPE journey because both parental figures are now compromised; the birth certificate father and biological mother may change their participation in the NPE’s life, leaving them emotionally orphaned. Without family affiliation, a necessary component of identity, the sense of self is jeopardized.

Healthy boundaries are the most effective way for people to deal with being in a relationship with a personality disorder. I do not recommend that an NPE continue to capitulate to narcissistic demands because that means the NPE is making their life choices for someone else, for the approval of a parent distracted by their own approval from society.

Raphael Mittendorfer/Unsplash
Boundaries for healthy relationships
Source: Raphael Mittendorfer/Unsplash

Motherly narcissism is an attempt from a mom who herself has been hurt to preserve her position, identity, and reputation. Boundaries will allow the NPE to preserve their own needs and manage the attempts to control and any abuse that comes with it. I encourage NPE's to look at their mothers through the lens history has judged them as well as prioritize their own needs.

Ultimately, narcissism is unresolved insecurity, which the rejection rampant in the NPE experience only flares up. If everyone has a common fear (rejection), then everyone can work together to solve the problem.