Narcissistic Mothers May Form Enmeshed Relationship With Their Child.

Spread the love

I have already published on this site several articles about narcissism and narcissistic parents, but, in this article, I wish to focus, more specifically on a particular phenomenon which can occur in households in which the mother is narcissistic ; the phenomenon is known as an ENMESHED RELATIONSHIP and, whilst it can develop between the narcissistic mother and her son, more commonly develops between the narcissistic mother and her daughter.

However, I should point out that enmeshed relationships are not restricted the narcissistic mother and her offspring, but can develop between various combinations of members (whether female, male, narcissist or non-narcissist) of any dysfunctional familyor, indeed, between partners.

First, then, I will briefly explain what is meant by an ‘enmeshed relationship.’ Essentially, an enmeshed relationship is said to exist when personal boundaries between two people are indistinct and porous, allowing the emotions of one person to ‘leak through’ (as if by osmosis) and powerfully affect the other person’s emotional experience.

For example, as a child, my own relationship with my mother was enmeshed – this meant that my own emotional state was powerfully dictated by hers ; her emotional pain was my emotional pain, and, as I got older, I reciprocated her destructive emotions, too, of anger and aggression (a feature of relationships that have weak boundaries is that as one person’s emotions intensify, so, too, do the other’s).

Another hallmark of an ‘enmeshed relationship’ within a dysfunctional family is that family roles can become confused, especially in relation to age ; specifically, family members adopt (mainly unconsciously) roles that are inconsistent with their chronological age. For example, the emotionally immature parent may ‘parentify‘ their child (i.e. expect the child to take on a role, such as the parent’s emotional caretaker, with which s/he is not psychologically developed enough to cope – in essence, s/he is expected to become the parent’s parent. And, of course, the other side of this coin is that the parent may regress to a psychologically childlike state by demonstrating excessive dependence and neediness.

Perhaps the most famous depiction of an enmeshed relationship in fiction is that between Norman Bates and his mother in the film Psycho.Most people are familiar with Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, but fewer may be aware that it was originally a novel (published in 1959) by Robert Bloch.

Of course, their enmeshed (and, possibly, incestuous, the novel implies) relationship is epitomized by the fact that Norman’s highly, psychologically abusive mother is almost identical to his own : Norma (viewing children, not as individuals in their own right but as possessions and as an extension of themselves is a hallmark feature of both narcissistic and borderline mothers).

In short, Norman eventually murders his malevolent and tormenting mother (by poisoning her with stychnine) because, ironically, he fears she is abandoning him to marry her fiance (whom, for good measure, he also murders by employing the same modus operandi). Following this double murder, Norman frequently dresses in his (now deceased) mother’s clothes and takes on her personality.

Narcissistic Mothers And The Enmeshed Relationship :

Narcissistic mothers may form such an emotionally interwoven relationship with their son or daughter (sometimes referred to as ‘emotional incest‘) that the boundary between her identity and her offspring’s becomes nebulous and indistinct – whatever the mother feels, the son or daughter is expected to reflect back (e.g. if the mother is happy, her offspring must be happy and, if the mother is sad, her offspring must be sad.

Furthermore, the mother who has an enmeshed relationship with her offspring may instil guilt in him / her if s/he tries to behave independently in a way that excludes her.

She may, too, be highly controlling, dictating her offspring’s life-style and vetting their relationships with others and demanding compliance.

In divorced households, these types of mothers may also manipulate the child into breaking off relations with his / her (now absent) father so as to have the child ‘all to herself’, making him / her all the easier to dominate, control, and, essentially, to ‘possess’. This phenomenon is known as ‘parental alienation’ (and also occurs when one parent, motivated by a need for revenge, tries to hurt the other (absent) patent by denying him / her any contact with the child (irrespective, often, of the psychological harm that such a course of action may do to the child, sadly).

If the child grows up into an adult who does not assert his / her right to introduce healthy boundaries into the relationship, s/he is likely to suffer a very weak sense of his / her own identity as an individual as how s/he experiences his / her emotional life will continue to be dominated by his / her mother. Such individuals, without therapy, can go through life feeling deeply uncertain about who they actually are

Furthermore, they may have serious problems asserting themselves as well as a low tolerance of emotional pain (‘distress intolerance’)

Other problems they may experience include : lacking a sense of autonomy when it comes to how they feel (i.e. believing that how they feel is out of their control and is dictated by the emotional state of others) ; feeling ’empty’ as they are unable to take responsibility for their own emotions ; neglecting their own needs while feeling overly responsible in relation to how others are feeling.

Once individuals are aware that they are in an unhealthy, enmeshed relationship that is spoiling their quality of life and they become willing to take steps to rectify the problem, they may find both family therapy and individual therapy to be useful for helping them set the healthy boundaries within the relationship which it had, up until then, lacked.

Related Post : The Effects Of Unloving Mothers


Setting Boundaries | Self Hypnosis Downloads

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

Psychologist, researcher and educationalist.

Leave a Comment

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: