Favored Sons of Maternal Narcissists: Their hardships and their options

Treating two brothers raised by a maternal narcissist has heightened my awareness of how insidiously dangerous this sort of disordered narcissist is and how deeply damaging they are to their children. It has called to my attention how the life trajectories of these men were largely determined by their familial roles as golden sons and narcissistic extensions. Recurrent themes of emasculation, incestuous dynamics, and the blight of intimacy disorders permeate our sessions. Moreover, they are plagued by complex trauma, saddiction and mood disorders.

Although both brothers tried to seek respite, much like the ‘lost child,’ by staying under the radar, feigning blind obedience and disappearing into art and music, invasive exploitive demands interspersed with coercive control and threats kept them locked into the functional personas required by their malignant mother. Essentially, the onslaught of manipulation tactics coupled with the risk of violent assault, character assassination, prolonged stonewalling, and punitive withholding exacted compliance.

Unlike their homeless, drug-addicted brother who was the designated scapegoat, they have been able to cobble together lives and careers that suggest ‘normalcy.’ Tragically, the designated ‘whipping boy’ did not yield that attainment. As the object of merciless ridicule and contempt he endured being the dumping ground in which his sexual identity was a constant source of condemnation and humiliation. As the inferior bad seed, there was no reprieve from his mother’s wrath. He existed solely to fulfill the mother’s need to sadistically victimize with impunity.

So, although reflecting an image which accommodated the parasitic predilections of their mother has cost the ‘favored’ sons terribly, it at least spared them the brutal exile of the brother who was the object of unrelenting overt hate.

Survival for these chosen ‘favored’ sons necessitated embodying whatever the malignant mother desired to vicariously live through. This meant reluctantly taking on the disordered mother’s idealized, imaginary projections. It also meant emulating the narcissistic parent and wreaking havoc on the lives of those who questioned the narcissist’s motives. This included the non-narcissist parent.

Hijacked by a convoluted trauma bond in which conditional love and unequivocal obedience was intertwined, it derailed desperate attempts at individuation. As a result, knowing what it means to exist for oneself has been extraordinarily difficult for these sons. Accordingly, throughout their lives they have grappled with feeling undeserving and fraudulent, a psychological condition referred to as imposter syndrome.

The very essence of being a mother connotes selfless nurturance, whereas a malignant narcissist is the embodiment of a voracious sink hole of grandiose entitlement and parasitic need. Given the juxtaposition, it’s no wonder that the term narcissistic mother seems like an oxymoron — a contradiction in terms.

Indeed, transcending one-dimensional depictions of the mother to consider her darker dimensions as a perpetrator of terror, horror, and agony is a difficult feat. We resist confronting this paradoxical truth as the maternal bond is such a critical template for developmental outcomes and other relationships. After all, as the maternal deprivation hypothesis asserts, infants, regardless of whether they are puppies, monkeys or humans, will not develop normally unless they receive the warm loving attention of a mother figure to who they can become attached.

Yet irrespective of whether the narcissistic mother’s presentation is grandiose or vulnerable, narcissistically disordered mothers possess an insatiable need for attention and admiration and are not capable of the empathetic attunement required to foster secure attachment. Consequently, sons of maternal narcissists typically present with insecure or anxious attachment styles.

Bereft of mirroring, they are never seen. Rather, from an early age they are groomed to function as pawns, to satisfy the egoistic needs of their disordered mother. Consequently the son’s sense of self and identity is submerged in the mother’s demands and desires.

Extrapolating from the exploitive dynamics with their narcissistic mother, these sons subsequently view relationships as transactional. He is conditioned to anticipate others not having his back and in fact, expects others will be indifferent to his needs for support. He assumes others will be supposed allies as long as there is a trade off in which they benefit in some self-serving way.

Since vacillating between engulfment and abandonment means these sons never experienced the stability and predictability of secure boundaries and object constancy, future relationships may be characterized by volatile approach-avoidance dynamics and patterns of idealization and devaluation. Hence, the relational dynamics with a maternal narcissist can engender similar behaviors and traits in their sons.

The son can become a narcissistic extension that replicates and colludes in egregious ways of behaving. Weaponizing, victimization, exploitation, lying, egotism, gaslighting, and outbursts of rage creep in and occupy the son’s psyche. With coercion and grooming, the son of a maternal narcissist can indeed morph into a caricature of their narcissistic abuser.

Most egregious is the impact of spousification, a form of role confusion in which the son becomes a surrogate husband. Simultaneously idealized and groomed to abdicate their inherent needs for love and care, the son is primed to assume a romantic and parental role. Known as covert or emotional incest, this violation of trust and abuse of power is a prevailing trend between the son and a maternal narcissist. This perverse reversal of roles and enmeshed dynamic is presented to the child as a badge of honor.

The seductive narcissistic mother makes the son her confidant and energetically imbues the relational dynamics with charged sexual energy. Well into adolescence, the mother micro manages the son’s presentation by appropriating attire selection and appearance. Girlfriends are envied and regarded as competition.

The son’s interests and inherent gifts are eclipsed by the mother’s demands that he pursue a career that will vicariously afford her status and financial benefits. Adoration and encouragement is a means to control, to eventually manipulate the son into managing her money, expenses and overall affairs.

Moreover if the marital relationship is troubled and rife with parental conflict, the maternal narcissist will demonstrate to her vulnerable son how adept she is with emasculating and destroying men who interfere with her agendas. If divorce proceedings are part of the mix, the disordered mother will amplify her aggressive tactics in an effort to solidify the pathological bond with her son and pit him against his father.

As to be expected, studies indicate that the triangulation of children in these frequent and prolonged hostile conflicts can result in Post Traumatic Stress Symptoms (PTSS), such as difficulties at school, somatic complaints such as frequent headaches or stomachaches, impaired concentration, trouble sleeping, or regressive behaviors such as wetting the bed. The prevalence of PTSS puts these children at increased risk for developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

What’s more, the calculated strategies employed by the maternal narcissist result in Oedipal issues, a psychoanalytic term pertaining to a developing son’s unconscious erotic desire for the mother, concomitant to harboring jealous rivalry towards the father. In the case of a malignant mother, her possessive fixation on the son impedes healthy alignment with the father, and accordingly the ability to individuate and internalize an admirable sense of masculinity.

As a result, a fetishized bond with the mother persists causing difficulties with cultivating stable adult romantic relationships. Underlying the son’s pathological devotion to his mother is a hurricane of rage and hate that often operates on an unconscious level and is displaced onto women. The son, feeling simultaneously impotent and enraged, is drawn to others who recapitulate power-submissive dynamics. The sexualized aggression emanating from covert incest often results in various manifestations of sexual compulsivity.

Although the prognosis for sons of maternal narcissists is bleak, they are not doomed to a life of ongoing victimization or narcissistic emulation. First and foremost, sons are challenged to demythologize the mother and dismantle a fictitious narrative in which abuse has become normalized and instinctual awareness has been repressed. They are challenged to accept how the guise of maternalism obfuscated the evil behind the mask.

As an adult, son’s must erect strong boundaries, detached contact, or have no contact at all with their malignant mothers.

Dismantling a maladaptive relational imprint of servitude or identifying with the aggressor, while piecing together an emotionally anchored cohesive narrative of one’s history is the son’s burden. It is this process which crystallizes for the son the abject fear ignited by his mother’s abuse of power and allows the recovering son to come to terms with a childhood mired in distress and danger.

Through this courageous and laborious process, complicated bereavement will lead to the naming and reclaiming of boundaries, conditions and standards. It is only through this often brutal and prolonged undertaking that a full, satisfying life free of narcissistic tyranny can transpire and toxic generational patterns can be broken.


Thank you, Sheri! Yet another amazing article!


Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW

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