Even though mothers don’t generally have the same amount of influence over their sons that a father may have, mothers with NPD can still have a negative impact on their son’s development if the mother isn’t working on treatment for NPD. If you suspect your ex has NPD, and you share custody with your ex, it’s important to make sure that your child knows that they are loved and accepted for who they really are. Surrounding your child with good female role-models, and providing a stable and nurturing environment where your child can explore their interests is a crucial part of ensuring that they are not harmed by their mother’s symptoms of NPD.
Sons of mothers who met the diagnostic criteria for narcissistic personality disorder often feel as though they had their childhoods stolen from them. Instead of having the opportunity to explore their likes and dislikes, or spend time with their peers, they were busy catering to the needs of their mothers. Perhaps the needs of the mother included having her sons do a lot of chores around the house. Or, maybe the sons were too busy practicing a skill, sport, or activity of which their mother approved. This results in a child who feels isolated from others because they’re too busy catering to the needs of their mother. When these sons grow into adults, they may still be very preoccupied with catering to their mother which can lead to the man abandoning his ambitions in order to please his mother.
Most people understand neglect as physical neglect, meaning that a child’s physical needs are not adequately provided for. But emotional neglect is also very real and very damaging. Emotional neglect occurs when a parent withholds affection, emotional support, and validation. Emotionally neglectful parents will often dismiss, mock, or flat-out ignore their child when the child is experiencing negative emotions such as sadness, anger, or frustration. Some of these parents even mentally push the children past their breaking point, often to “toughen them up.” The result is a child who grows into an adult that’s fundamentally insecure and struggles to control his emotions or express them in a healthy way. These men often have low emotional intelligence and are unable to maintain a long-term relationship. While many of these men are independent and self-sufficient, they’re also terrified of being abandoned, and are more likely to have a personality disorder.
Criticism vs Ridicule
Mothers who have narcissistic personality disorder are often very critical of their children. However, they’re not generally known for delivering such criticism in a kind and compassionate manner—in fact, quite the opposite tends to be true. And children generally put a lot of effort into avoiding their mother’s critical nature. The problem is that the son as never received constructive criticism, only ridicule for his failures. Since these boys never received constructive criticism, they never learned how to process and accept it. Instead, they often interpret constructive criticism as ridicule. This creates men who are prone to lashing out, getting defensive, and being insecure.
Blurring of Identities
Mothers with narcissistic personality disorder often have a trouble internalizing the idea that their son is a separate being from them. It’s common for mothers to try to take credit for their sons’ successes and become personally offended when their sons do not succeed. Imagine a boy who did not come in first place in a competition that was very important to his mother, the mother may feel as if the boy has somehow wronged her. She may take her anger and resentment out on her son, and she may even accuse him of failing on purpose.
What You Can Do
If your spouse has narcissistic traits, or is suffering from narcissistic personality disorder, you can make a difference in your child’s life even if you share custody with your ex. Showing your child that they are loved and accepted for who they are is a great start. Teaching them that it’s okay to feel a full range of emotions and encouraging healthy expression of those emotions is also an important part of helping your child grow up into a well-rounded adult. Since NPD by itself is not generally enough to terminate a parent’s custody, it’s important that you work with your spouse to co-parent effectively and reduce the drama in your child’s life. While you may not always be able to protect your child from the symptoms of NPD, you can still help them grow into a happy and emotionally well-rounded adult.