The 1981 movie, Mommie Dearest, which is based on the autobiography of Joan Crawford, was written by her daughter, Christina Crawford. While there is much speculation as to the truth of her story, other daughters of narcissistic mothers would say the story rings true for them.
The infamous wire hanger scene where Joan rages over a single wire hanger in her daughter’s closet caused a stir with Joan’s physically abusive behavior. Yet, daughters of narcissistic mothers report similar rages over small incidents. The constant shifting standards of perfectionism designed to elevate the narcissistic mother at the expense of the child defies the customary nurturing maternal instincts.
Here are some other similarities to the movie that are discordant with thoughtful mothering:
- Obsession with appearance over feelings. A narcissistic mother is more obsessed with how their child is perceived by others than how the child actually feels. There is a disregard and often denial for any sadness, discomfort, or suffering. While a nurturing mother provides comfort, support and understanding without any care for how things appear to others.
- Inappropriate discipline. Any sign of rebellion is met with threats of abandonment and unreasonable punishment from the narcissistic mother. This is reinforced every time the mother cuts other people out of their lives for small and sometimes misperceived offenses. A nurturing mother lets the punishment fit the crime and spends time delicately explaining any offense without threatening abandonment.
- Tries to look like and compete with her daughter. Unfortunately, narcissistic mothers often use weight, beauty, intelligence, or talents as grounds for competition. They expect their daughter to look as good as them without looking or acting better than them. Any sign of a daughter exceeding their narcissistic mother is met with verbal assaults and humiliation. Nurturing mothers, by contrast, are elated and proud of their daughter’s characteristics with no thought of competing.
- Treats the child as a servant. A narcissistic mother will demand the daughter’s constant attention by expecting the daughter to meet the mother’s needs. This might include serving the mother breakfast in bed, unreasonable amounts of cleaning, doing excessive chores, and bringing the mother items when called. The child is expected to act as a servant adult. Whereas a nurturing mother is unconsumed with self-gratification at the expense of a child and takes pleasure in their child doing age-appropriate activities.
- Doesn’t accept apologies. When a child does something wrong, a nurturing mother will explain the unsuitable behavior, provide more acceptable alternatives, and receive any apology given. By contrast, a narcissistic mother expects the child to know without explaining what they have done wrong, gives unreasonable alternatives, and won’t accept an apology. No show of remorse is satisfactory to a narcissistic mother.
- Views child as a physical extension. Narcissistic mothers see their child as a physical extension of themselves and therefore openly take credit for any successes the child achieves. While they fully blame the child for all failures, the child’s accomplishments are never fully their own. A nurturing mother does the opposite. Too often, this mother blames herself for their child’s failures and refuses to take any credit for the child’s successes.
- Gives so it can be taken away. Gift giving is not unconditionally provided by a narcissistic mother. If a child misbehaves (even slightly), the mother will permanently take the gift back, throw the gift away, give it to someone else, or destroy it. Since the rules of losing an item are often unspoken, this act is done in a random and damaging manner. A nurturing mother treats their child’s things like their child’s possession and does not feel entitled to an item haphazardly.
- Uses a child to boost the ego. In front of others, a narcissist mother highlights the mistakes of their child in an effort to demonstrate their superiority. In this way, the narcissistic mother uses the child to advance their ego with no regard for any embarrassment this might cause the child. Nurturing mothers don’t do this. Instead, they tend to do the opposite speaking highly favorably about their child without taking any of the credit.
- Rages uncontrollably. When the narcissistic mother does not get the proper daily feeding of attention, affirmation, appreciation, and affection, the mother turns on the child in a fit of rage. This unnecessarily cruel behavior can manifest in emotional, mental, verbal, spiritual, financial, sexual, and/or physical abuse. By sharp contrast, a nurturing mother does not expect their child to meet their needs but rather seeks ways to meet the needs of their child. Abusive behavior is never tolerated.
The contrast between the narcissistic mother and the nurturing mother is drastic. For daughters of narcissistic mothers, understanding the difference can make the difference between passing down these traits to the next generation. It is never too late to do something different.