Well, Damn

8 Red Flags Your Mother Was A Narcissist & You Married One, Too

It happens more than you think.

Originally Published: 

Psychology says we often marry people like our parents. This, of course, is usually done subconsciously, and it's usually because we have unfinished business — or unhealed wounds — that we are still carrying from our childhood. It's one thing if you marry someone who has your mother's joie de vivre; it's a totally different thing if your mother was a narcissist and you married one, too.

The funny (and confusing) thing about narcissists is that they are typically charming, fun, and seemingly have confidence in spades, which can be attractive and alluring. At first.

"Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition and personality disorder where an individual has an unrealistically firm belief in their importance," Dr. Carolyn Rubenstein, Ph.D, a Florida-based licensed psychologist, tells Scary Mommy. "They crave attention and need people to admire them. They are usually hypersensitive to criticism, controlling, and have little regard for the feeling or life circumstances of others. The world revolves around them."

Although they present an arrogant mask of supreme confidence, Rubenstein says it actually hides underlying doubts of self-worth. Because of their behavior, they may have issues with co-workers, romantic partners, friends, and "anyone who does not treat them with the grandeur they feel entitled to," she adds.

Anyone raised by a narcissist has a high chance of dealing with repercussions later in life, including the potential of marrying one. Below, Rubenstein outlines the red flags your mother was a narcissist and signs you married one too.

What are some red flags your mother was a narcissist?

According to Rubenstein, these are the top signs that your mother was a narcissist. "Although many character traits make up the psychological composition of a narcissist, when taken together, the four examples presented here are all components that are hallmarks of a narcissistic personality," she says.

  • Your mother was controlling. "Perhaps your mother resented you for having your hobbies, interests, or friends. Did she become unreasonably angry when you disagreed with her?"
  • She didn't give unconditional love. "A narcissistic mother sees a daughter's achievements or looks as a reflection of her. Your success is her success, but not in a selfless way. Daughters of narcissistic mothers can become perfectionists in a futile attempt to gain their mother's unconditional love."
  • She does not validate your feelings. "There is little space for awareness of your feelings or concerns. If a narcissistic mother upsets a daughter and is in the wrong, they are unlikely to apologize and are too engrossed in being criticized. Although the mother will sometimes be supportive, she often will make the situation revert to her."
  • The rules don't apply to her. "Because of their grandiosity, narcissists think rules don't apply to them. Your mother might embarrass you by attempting to cut lines at the supermarket, park in handicapped zones, become angry at servers if she doesn't get her way, etc., or become abusive to teachers in your school."

Why might you marry a narcissist if you were raised by one?

Obviously, most of us wouldn't purposefully seek to marry a narcissist if we were raised by one. However, as Rubenstein notes, if you have grown up with a narcissist as a parent, it isn't easy to have another perspective. "Children learn what they live," she says. "As a child, one loses connection with their authentic self. They become used to being dominated, manipulated, and sometimes exploited. It is hard to formulate how a healthy relationship functions in adult life."

So, why is it common for children of narcissists to marry one?

"Sometimes people marry someone similar to their family of origin not because it is 'good' but because the behaviors are familiar," Rubenstein says. "Others can recognize the dysfunction and seek out polar opposite partners, some become narcissists, and others avoid intimate relationships."

What are the signs that you married a narcissist?

The traits of your narcissistic partner might skew a little differently than your narcissistic mother, so Rubenstein outlines the signs that you married a narcissist.

  • You feel disconnected. "Your partner talks to you, but typically, the conversation centers around their world and concerns. If something is strictly about you, it is of little interest to them."
  • They brag about themselves but never you. "They boast about their job promotions, golf scores, and youthful appearance but rarely acknowledge your achievements or the benchmarks in your life. Most of their happiness centers on external sources of validation that are often shallow."
  • You don't feel good enough. "You constantly feel inadequate despite what you have accomplished. You are subjected to put-downs by your partner and belittling of what you do. You question your worth."
  • You are being gaslit. "This is a typical narcissistic tactic. Being told you don't remember correctly, you must be confused; that never happened; your behavior was embarrassing at dinner; everyone was talking about it. The person being gaslit can believe they are living in a warped universe where they don't know which way is up or down and feel they can no longer trust themselves, their recall, or their interpretation of events."

What should you do if you find yourself in this position?

If any of this rings true, Rubenstein outlines what to do if you find yourself married to a narcissist (and still dealing with your narcissistic mother).

Maintain boundaries.

"A narcissist wants to cross and invade boundaries. In a relationship with one, you must maintain strict ones. This sends the message that you are not susceptible to their charade. It will likely be necessary to keep reinforcing these boundaries because narcissists are crafty and manipulative."

State what you expect.

"When things are calm, state what you need from the relationship and the consequences that will occur if those needs are continually not met. Be prepared for the narcissist to test you and follow through on your actions; otherwise, the narcissist will think you are easy prey."

Give yourself space when needed.

"People need space, even in a healthy relationship, when dealing with someone with NPD. Make sure you have connections and interests outside of your romantic one. Narcissists often try to remove you from friends, family, and hobbies to maintain greater control."

Realize that their actions are not because of you.

"You are not the cause of the narcissist's behavior. How they act is a reflection of their disorder. You can control how you react to them by learning everything you can about NPD. Do not let this be an excuse for verbal or physical abuse toward you."

Know when to leave a narcissistic relationship.

"There comes a time when someone has to protect their mental health when dealing with a narcissistic. This might mean ending the relationship. Some signs that it is time to leave might include constant gaslighting; being blamed for your partner's problems without them taking accountability; losing your self-esteem; feeling underappreciated; being emotionally, financially, sexually, or physically abused; or being alienated from friends, families, hobbies, or work."

This article was originally published on