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How to Deal With Narcissistic Mothers During the Holidays

Pamela holds a Bachelor's of Arts in Sociology and Psychology and Master's in Public Health. She was raised by a mother with BPD.

The holiday season is supposed to be a time filled with joy and laughter, but having a narcissistic mother can make it difficult.

The holiday season is supposed to be a time filled with joy and laughter, but having a narcissistic mother can make it difficult.

When the Holidays Are a Nightmare

The holiday season is supposed to be a time filled with joy and laughter. It is a time when families gather to share a meal, possibly gifts, good conversation, and generally enjoy being with one another. For healthy families, this can very much be a reality during the holiday season. Unfortunately, the holidays can be a land mine of extreme emotional outburst, yelling, and outright chaos for those who have a narcissistic or borderline mother. Nothing the child can do (whether they are an adult or not) will ever be good enough for their mother during the holidays.

As the daughter of a borderline mother, the holiday dread started, for me, somewhere in mid October and did not end until well into the New Year. Gifts always came with a string attached. During large holiday family meals, my behavior, no matter how perfect, was never good enough. And the world pretty much ended if I even hinted I wanted to see my father as was indicated in the parenting plan my divorced parents had agreed to follow.

Children of narcissistic and borderline mothers experience very difficult holidays, and that difficulty extends into adulthood. This article discusses the difficulties adult children face of narcissistic and borderline mothers face during the holidays.

Old childhood patterns emerge when returning home for the holidays.

Old childhood patterns emerge when returning home for the holidays.

Going Home to the Chaos

For some adult children, the right choice is to continue to be involved with the family for the holidays. This may be due to younger siblings who still live at home, wanting to see extended family members, such as grandparents, or still living in the FOG (Fear, Obligation, and Guilt).

When adult children return home for the holidays, they often find old family patterns re-emerge. The golden child is once more the golden child. The scapegoat returns to the role of scapegoat. The puppet master behind all the chaos is one again the mother with a personality disorder.

Sarah, daughter of a mother with narcissistic personality disorder, explains why she still chooses to go home for the holidays and what that means for her holiday celebration.

"I still go home every year for Thanksgiving. It's the only time I get to see my grandmother. I'm also afraid if I completely cut my mother off I won't ever get to speak to my siblings again. We are all grown and out of the house but she still plays us off each other. If I were to cut her off she would go on a smear campaign, telling my siblings so many awful things about me."

When an Adult Child Chooses No Contact

One way to deal with toxic mothers during the holidays is to cease any and all contact. Although typically seen as an extreme measure, it can be the best choice for some people. Many times this is a difficult decision for the child and often brings feelings of guilt, shame, and anger.

One group of researchers decided to examine reasons why adult children choose not to have a relationship with their parents. Although the study examined why parent/child relationships ended from both the perspective of parents and adult children, the results from the study suggest adult children typically end their relationships with parents for two reasons. The first was due to parental toxic behavior and the second was because the adult children felt unsupported or unaccepted by their parents. Interestingly, in this study, parents more often reported they were not aware of why their children were estranged.

As every child of a narcissistic or borderline mothers knows, of course the parent would be unaware of why their children chose estrangement. Those of us who have survived such mothers know they truly believe they are amazing and wonderful mothers who raised their children in homes full of love. Mothers with narcissistic or borderline personality disorder are more likely to rewrite history to exclude the abuse they inflicted on their children.

Leslie's mother has borderline personality disorder. Unlike Sarah, she decided to stop speaking to her mother after she had children of her own. When asked why she stopped speaking to her mother and what that meant for her holidays, she said:

"A holiday (and really a life) free of stress and tension, wondering what bullshit my 'mother' will do and ensuing sob and guilting story of her need for money, attention, pity, yet is priceless. Nothing was ever enough and I got tired of being the emotional and financial ATM. The cycle had to break not just for my kids, but for me as well. She already destroyed my relationship with most of my siblings."

Resources for Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents

There are many books available for daughters of narcissistic or borderline mothers but relatively fewer options for both men and women.

Out of the Fog: This is one of the best books on the market for men or women who are struggling in their relationship with a toxic parent (or any toxic person really). It helps people understand the fear, obligation, and guilt induced by a narcissistic person and how to heal from that abuse.

Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: This is another book that I personally have read, and re-read. It might not say narcissistic or borderline in the title or description, but "emotionally immature" are exactly what those types of mothers are. Their emotional development stops somewhere between toddler-hood and the early teen years.



Kristen Carr, Amanda Holman, Jenna Abetz, Jody Koenig Kellas & Elizabeth Vagnoni (2015) Giving Voice to the Silence of Family Estrangement: Comparing Reasons of Estranged Parents and Adult Children in a Nonmatched Sample, Journal of Family Communication, 15:2, 130-140, DOI: 10.1080/15267431.2015.1013106