Childhood Narratives—Being Raised by a Narcissistic Parent

Childhood Narratives—Being Raised by a Narcissistic Parent

“My life felt like a cage without an exit”

Määttä, Suvi Marju Annikki; Uusiautti, Satu

Excerpt of article published in: Early child development and care DOI: 10.1080/03004430.2018.1513924
Narcissistic Abuse Guidance and Support with Randi Fine

Three childhood narratives were conducted after analyzing the narrative data: incompetent childhood, isolated childhood, and denied childhood. Incompetent childhood describes childhood where the child experienced that she is not sufficient and cannot do anything correctly. Isolated childhood refers to home circumstances where important elements of child development (e.g., playing, hobbies, and friendships) were denied and the child had to stay at home under the control of mother. Denied childhood means a situation in which the child was seen as a bothering burden and being on the mother’s way, and therefore, the child was neglected and scorned. These childhood narratives were partly overlapping, because they included similar features or common experiences but as a whole, they present a multidimensional picture of narcissistic women as mothers.

Incompetent childhood

The experience of incompetent childhood emerged from the mother’s exercise of power, cruelty, humiliation, and nullification.


The daughters experienced that they were never supported, appreciated, or thanked by their mothers. Everything they did was worthless, and if their activities did not meet mothers’ needs, hopes, or opinions, they had to give up on those doings. Nothing was enough. I was never good enough.
Mothers made it clear to their daughters that nothing was enough or sufficient. The daughters had the experience that they could not do anything correctly even if they tried to please their mother and act as she told. I have tried to deserve my existence by being useful. Mothers were nullifying their daughters’ school success, hobbies, and appearance. The daughters started to accept a self-image according to which they were “difficult and unthankful”. They were receiving this feedback for decades from their mothers. Mothers did not care about their children’s needs and were not tolerating any of their wishes and hopes if they did not comply with the ones of their own. Children were merely as the extensions of the mothers themselves.

I liked singing a lot. Like a child, I told my mom and dad that I will be a singer when adult. Mother said that I do not need to even consider that kind of a lousy job. It is not a profession. Better to quit singing once and for all. I remember how I was crying for many days and decided that I will not sing ever again. My music teachers tried very hard to get me in the choir. (4) Somehow my mother sensed my weaknesses and insecurity. Once I did the mistake and told her joyfully about my first salary as an entrepreneur. Her response was that ‘you must have hoaxed people’. With these words, she nullified all my work.

The daughters did not get any support or encouragement and therefore, they could give up on important goals in their lives, including education. They started to believe that “they are useless”.

She despised, scolded, and never complimented me about anything. I would have done well at school but when nothing was enough, I gave up. (5)
The narcissistic mother was always right: Expressing my own opinion was arguing. All in all, she would always creating arguments that she would win. Someone could doubt that how come it is not possible to cope with that kind of an argument. But the narcissist twists and turns the situation/things so that no one eventually knows what it was about, and the narcissist has to always win.

Exercise of power, cruelty, and humiliation

Narcissistic mothers determined what children were allowed to do. However, even if the daughters obeyed their mothers, they remembered that whatever they did was wrong or inappropriate. Mothers showed their power not only by dictating what daughters could do but also being uninterested, showing no empathy or willingness to comfort and care for their children, and expressing constant dissatisfaction with them.

All the things that I would have liked had to put aside (e.g., reading). only fulfilling the set duties was allowed, and even that i heard always having done badly.

Narcissistic mothers were selfish rulers who interfered their children’s lives and were not interested in their needs or opinions.

When I put on clothes, I had to take them off because my mother said they are of ugly color and I should wear something she had chosen, usually blue clothes. I hated blue for a long time. She showed in every way how disappointed she was in me and how I had ruined her life.

Mothers’ behavior was fluctuating and inconsistent. Often, the daughters were also humiliated in front of others. The exercise of power could get very cruel at times.

I remember how much I shamed and ran away when we had guests because my mother always used to scold me and say that I am lazy. I could never feel relaxed at home because I could never know what would make my mother angry. I remember crying in a shower with my sister and discussing if it would be better just to commit suicide. My mother overheard us and laughed at us: ‘Well just do it!’


Blaming and exercise of power caused shame in these daughters. They were specifically ashamed of themselves thinking that they are not worth anything and cannot do anything correctly. Their identity was featured by imperfection, weakness, and inferiority. Even when trying to be nice and act according to mothers’ wishes, the daughters were scolded. Their worth was constantly questioned by mothers and themselves.

I felt ashamed of just existing. I tried to be nonexistent and obedient. – – She reproached me about everything. My appearance had always been bothering her and she would let me know that all the time. I feel ugly and am ashamed of myself in every way.

Isolated childhood

Another theme evident in the data was that mothers tended to tie their daughters with them, were dependent on them, and defamed others who were in contact with their children. As the self-centered mothers used scapegoating, weaseling, and envying as upbringing methods, they were putting themselves in front and polishing façade.

Tying, dependability, and scapegoating

It was common to the narratives that the daughters were not accepted as they were but were seen merely as mothers’ continuums. They were lonely and could not have friends or peer support. Mothers had to be enough for them because mothers did not want to have any rivalries.

My mother needed someone to accompany her at home. She made me to be her accomplice with whatever reason. I hated those moments but my mother happily thinks back at them. I was not allowed to have opinions or friends; in other words, I was missing support from my peers. I was never allowed to invite my best friends to my birthday party or even to visit me. On the other hand, I could never go visit them, not even attend their birthday parties.

Daughters were to satisfy mothers’ needs. Mothers seemed to use all energy of the family, demanded all attention, and poisoned relationships with other people, including daughters’ fathers. She never had anything positive to say about other people. She would always find something to blame in everything. Therefore, you did not want to tell her about even your good experiences. She could ruin those too. Mothers used to scapegoat others so that they themselves look good. Even fathers could become rivalries when mothers wanted to tie their daughters in a sick way. Narcissistic mothers manipulated their children against their fathers.

My parents were almost always arguing. The arguments were physical and often verbally very offending and nullifying. My mother would hurt my dad with words and he would reply with fists. My mother manipulated us to hate our dad by telling daily how repulsive he is. – – I remember once when my dad had gotten a big stick in his toe when building our terrace and he could not get it off. He asked everyone in turn to help, first my mom, my siblings, and me. My mother sharply said that ‘ you are not going to help him, are you’. She had to scapegoat me and my dad so that no one would spend time with us but just with my mother. – – If I talked to my dad, he would suffer.

Mothers were controlling and blocking daughters’ romantic relationships. Daughters were expected to sacrifice themselves for their mothers. Isolation was boosted with a prohibition to tell outsiders about home matters.

My mother broke all my friendships, called to my friends and boyfriends and their parents, isolated me from my friends and made me stay at our cabin as her company when I was about 20. We were not allowed to tell outsiders how things were at our home. We would not have even dared to that.

Blaming and taking the blame

Narcissistic mothers could see themselves as innocent and perfect but could find flaws in their children and other people. Blaming was one way of controlling and tying the children: when the basic trust in others is crashed the child could cling to their mother even more. Blaming was ruthless and mothers did not have conscience. Mothers were experts of turning things up-side-down.

My mother was a master of finding someone to blame afterwards. Even showers of rain were my dad’s fault sometimes. She herself had no flaws. My mother was blaming me for everything although I would have needed someone to defend me many times, for example, when at school. She would develop an argument about anything, twisted it to her benefit by blaming others what she had done or said, even if it was about her own child. I still do not know when she is telling the truth.

From weaseling, envy, and self-centeredness to shiny façade

The children were not allowed to be happy about things that were not related to their mothers or her wishes. Spending time with mother was typically tensed and agonizing, and filled with worry about how each situation could end.

I could not tell my mom about any good events in my life: she would call you the next time crying how she has been awake all night long because she does not have anything nice and fun. You always have to be on your toes with mother. You can never reply to her honestly.

Everyone else seemed to be worthless in mothers’ opinions. Others were despised, which was a way to underpin their own worth.

In her images, she hoped to be equally rich and successful as our neighbors but to us she would scold and despise them emphasizing that they had not deserved their wealth.

Mothers took all attention and energy in the family. Still, holding up the faced and looking good and happy to outsiders were important. Mothers positive and skillful acting seemed to work, too.

Plenty of relatives visited us on all possible holidays. It was like theater. Mother was radiant and hustling. And after the guests had left, mother and father started arguing. Christmases were the worst. My parents were respected and trusted in their work. Therefore, no one could imagine what kind of nightmare my life was as their only daughter. – – My mother can skillfully describe herself as scarifying, wonderful person who gives her all.

Outsiders were not really able to understand how life in these narcissistic homes was. Children had to behave nicely and give impression of a good home. When children were complemented about their nice behavior, mothers took the credit and played their roles as caring and sensitive parents. The reality was far from this ideal family life.

Once when I was a teenager, about 13-14 years old, I was courageous enough to go to talk to school nurse about my mother. I had one-month-long detention at home after that. The nurse had called my mom, my mom was yelling that I had ruined her reputation. She does not dare to go to work because her daughter is telling lies.

To outsiders, my mother has always talked about our childhood and us little kids with pride. – – We did not make any mess or leave our toys all around the house. She was proud of that and especially proud she was of the fact that SHE had raised us like this.

Denied childhood

Thirdly, upbringing by narcissist mothers appeared in keeping their daughters not only invisible but also nonexistent. Their physical existence was constantly threatened, and the children lived in fear and inconsistency. They were repeatedly let know what a continuous nuisance they were to their mothers. The daughters were physically abused, neglected, and spurned.

Physical abuse and violence

Mothers were violent and harsh. They often used violence as a way to punish their daughters. More often than not, the punishments were given due to insignificant issues, and showed that mothers were unable to control their own behavior.

My mother really hit us with a stick and hand without any reason. When I was already in high school, she put me on the floor and started kicking. (5)
Physical punishment was allowed when she was raising us children. – – The bigger we grew, the harder the punishing methods were. – – She got easily angry about the smallest things, even if it had been an accident such as dropping glass on the floor or having a stain in your shirt.

Denial could lead to downright neglecting. Mothers could deny their children or consider them being bad only because their children were daughters.

In her opinion, I was a whore already before I even know what that meant.

Scaring and threatening

Denial of existence happened through denying help and support. Daughters could not ask help or guidance from their mothers but were constantly afraid of making mother angry. Frightening mothers separated children from their peers because they had to cope by themselves and avoid punishments and violence. The daughters had to learn to be careful about their words and acts.

I learned the feature that would extensively limit and make my later life difficult, not to ask for guidance or help. My mother would often reply that ‘are you not able to do even that even though you went to school’. (1)

Everyone was afraid of my mother. My classmates or other friends never visited us. My mother would yell and swear and was almost always angry. I was alert all the time. I could never know what would happen next. I always had to prove her how irreplaceable mother and spouse she was. By constantly assuring her how perfect she is I tried to keep her in a good mood.


Mothers were spurning their daughters by ignoring their needs. The daughters had experiences of being left alone, forgotten, and ignored by their mothers. Their basic safety was threatened constantly.

left me home alone… left me at the play field alone… I was scared of dark because I was frightened staying at home alone in the evenings.

Mothers did not care for their daughters’ hygiene or clothes, nor were they allowed to act as normal children.

At school, I had to sit next to a boy who asked why I do not wash my teeth. I was not guided to keep myself clean or care for myself, I guess I was dirty quite often.

All my toys were taken away because I was told that I was too old to play with toys at the age of 9.

The daughters were forgotten and neglected or abused physically and mentally, even sexually.

In the summer, I was traveling across Finland with my mother. I experienced things that a child should not see or hear. My mother did not care for me and I had to sleep wherever. In a chair, or on the floor at strange men’s houses. I was afraid all the time.

University of Lapland: This is an excerpt of a self-archived version of an original article. This version usually differs somewhat from the publisher’s final version, if the self-archived
version is the accepted author manuscript. Citation for published version (APA): Määttä, S. M. A., & Uusiautti, S. (2018). “My life felt like a cage without an exit”: narratives of childhood under the abuse of a narcissistic mother. Early child development and care. View metadata, citation, and similar pages at

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