If you had a narcissistic mother, did your father protect you?

The family with a narcissistic mother operates according to an unspoken set of rules. Children learn to live with those rules, but they never stop being confused and pained by them, for these rules block children’s emotional access to their parents. They are basically invisible—not heard, seen, and nurtured. Tragically conversely, this set of rules allows the parents to have no boundaries with the children and to use and abuse them as they see fit. Sounds awful, doesn’t it?One of my clients, puts it aptly: “Daddy, why didn’t you protect me? Where were you when I needed you? Why did you always have to stick up for Mom? What about me?”

From my research and clinical experience, the answer is clear. Father is revolving around Mother like a planet around the sun. The narcissist needs to be married to a spouse who will allow her to be at the center of all the action. That is how it has to be if the marriage is to survive. In the family drama, the narcissist is the star and her spouse takes the bit role.

A man gets himself into this situation for many reasons, but for our discussion the most pertinent point is that he is the kind of person who accepts this behavior from his spouse and, most of the time, enables her. Perhaps he doesn’t always want to, but he does, because he has learned over time, that this is what works with her. Because father focuses on his wife, his pact with the mother can make him look narcissistic too. He is unable to attend to the needs of the children. She is blocking him from doing this. The children then feel betrayed by both parents.

This unspoken agreement between the parents who share a narcissistic nest is strong and impenetrable to anyone, especially the children. Tragically, parental denial is what keeps the family together for better or worse, and many families choose not to confront their problems even though they hurt their children.

Modeling a healthy love relationship is one of the most important things that parents do. Children who grow up with an unhealthy model are more likely to have some difficulty with love relationships as adults. Children learn far more from what they see parents do than from anything parents preach to them.

This same dynamic, of course, can happen when the narcissist is the father and the mother has to revolve around him to keep the relationship alive. So this is not gender specific. Having treated many adult children from narcissistic parents, this issue is raised often. Why did one parent NOT step up to the plate? Sometimes they do if a divorce takes place eventually. I am seeing more and more parents get in touch with this as the education continues on the devastating effects of parental narcissism on children. Thank goodness, the taboo topic is coming out of the closet! As Pressman and Pressman state, “The narcissistic family often resembles the proverbial shiny red apple with a worm inside. It looks great, until you bite into it and discover the worm. The rest of the apple may be just fine but you’ve lost your appetite.” (The Narcissistic Family)

Additional Resources for Recovery:

Workshop: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers Virtual Workshop. Online workshop in the privacy of your own home, complete with video presentations and homework assignments:  http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/workshop-overview-healing-the-daughters-of-narcissistic-mothers

Facebook:  (Come join us Online Mondays at 8 AM MST.)

Daughter Intensives: One on one sessions with Dr. McBride. http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/resources/daughter-intensives

“Is this your Mom?” Survey: http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/is-this-your-mom

Authors’ Books and Kindle – Click for Amazon Reviews

© Copyright 2013 Karyl McBride, Ph.D., All rights Reserved.
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  • narcissistic mothers
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Dr. Karyl, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Denver, Colorado with almost 30 years in public and private practice. She specializes in treating clients with dysfunctional family issues. For the past seventeen years, Dr. Karyl has been involved in private research concerning children of narcissistic parents, with a primary focus on women raised by narcissistic mothers. She has treated many adult children of narcissistic parents in her private practice. The author holds a B.A. from the University of Wyoming in elementary and special education, an M.A. from the University of Northern Colorado in counseling psychology, an Educational Specialist graduate degree from the University of Northern Colorado in school psychology, and a Ph.D. from The Union Institute in clinical psychology. Dr. Karyl also has extensive clinical experience in the fields of trauma, sexual abuse, domestic violence, divorce and step family therapy, marital and family therapy, specialized trauma treatment in Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), and individual adjustment issues related to anxiety, depression, and life transitions. In addition, she does forensic consulting and has served as an expert witness in numerous civil and criminal cases involving children and sexual abuse. She has nine years experience conducting sexual abuse investigations with law enforcement and has conducted training for law enforcement in the area of sexual abuse investigations. In 1996, she was invited to present her doctoral research at the International Police Research Conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Additional information on services provided and background experience can be found on Dr. Karyl’s private practice website at www.karylmcbridephd.com. Dr. Karyl is available for workshops, talks and media appearances on the topic of maternal narcissism. Contact Dr. Karyl for more information.


  1. Thanks again for addressing this tragic drama that happens too often. Another aspect is that children will see the father as weak and the narcissist as strong, which isn’t true at all – or only half true, of course. Then either emulate or be attracted to another narcissist or other type of abuser, and repeat the same pattern – not knowing how to protect their children, because they weren’t.
    Darlene Lancer, LMFT
    Author of Codependency for Dummies