Narcissistic Mother’s Lack of Emotional Attachment

The first stage of growth in the attachment of the newborn to the mother. D.W. Winncott the great psychoanalyst calls this phase the mother’s “preoccupation” with her baby. This is an essential process in the baby’s secure attachment to mother. The “good enough mother” as he describes it , for this period of time is constantly thinking, feeling and acting through the days and night about her baby. The earliest weeks and months are critical to the babies’ physical, mental, and psychological development. There is a special relationship that develops between the two. The father is a vital part of this process. Cuddling, calming, speaking softly, caressing a crying baby, soothing a frightened child is all part of this period. The baby has left the dark safety of the womb and is now exposed to an unknown world filled with sounds, colors, forms, scents, touch—all of this is new to his world. Mother is the one through her attachment to the baby, creates a safe psychological bridge for living in the world.

Children raised by a narcissistic mother don’t have this experience. Mother is incapable of attaching to her baby. She may pretend convincingly to others but she has no real feeling. Narcissistic mothers believe they are great mothers and that they can do it all. They count the days when they can return from maternity leave and work during times when their baby needs them desperately.

Some women must work to keep their families together. There is no father. They are the ones who are raising the children, paying the bills and putting food on the table. This is another situation and these women deserve our praise.

The narcissistic mother ignores and neglects her child. Her main focus is on herself. She spends inordinate amount of time on how she looks which has to be “perfect.” Many of these mothers are highly materialistic. What they wear, their external image, their home surroundings–all add up to a perfect image. Narcissistic others are bored with their children. They make no psychological connection with them and discard them.

They pawn them off on baby sitters. Some of them have 24/7 help for their children because they are too busy to take care of them. Children raised in this way do not attach to the mother and have a difficult time attaching to another person. Fortunately, there are instances in which a grand parent or other family member who steps into the mothering role. This can make all the difference.

Some children raise themselves. Some brothers and sisters form their own families and take care of one another. Some children go their own way and survive despite all of the emotional pain and maternal deprivation. Adult children of narcissistic mothers benefit from excellent psychotherapy and other healing modalities—gentle yoga, meditation, cardiovascular exercise. Remember, having a narcissistic mother is not your fault. You are a separate individual and deserve to lead your life in freedom and creativity. Visit my website:

Linda Martinez-Lewi, Ph.D.

Telephone Consultation: United States and International
Book: Freeing Yourself from the Narcissist in Your Life

3 thoughts on “Narcissistic Mother’s Lack of Emotional Attachment”

  1. Comment:
    Dr. Martinez-Lewi,

    Thank you for sharing your insight and providing the comfort and support to those of us who have been affected by a narcissistic family member. I stumbled upon your website after very recently discovering that I’m not alone in my experiences with my mother, whom I now understand is narcissistic. Many of your posts describing the overwhelmingly painful psychological and physical effects of being the “scapegoat” daughter of a narcissistic mother brought me to tears. I only wished I had stumbled upon your website sooner.

    Your description of narcissistic mothers’ lack of emotional attachment so closely describes my mother and my childhood. Since I was a child, my mother constantly mentioned that she had never wanted to have children, as she saw the role of a mother as burdensome and painful. Since birth, I lived 24/7 with my nanny’s family, apart from my own mother. Every Sunday afternoon, my mother would pick me up and bring me back home for short visits, then send me back to live with my nanny. When I was 4, I would constantly sneak out of my nanny’s home unsupervised and walk several blocks to my parents’ home. When I would arrive at my parents’ door, I wouldn’t be able to reach the doorbell, and after a few minutes of waiting, I’d walk back to my nanny’s home. (Needless to say, my 24/7 nanny wasn’t always very good at making sure a 4 year-old wasn’t walking alone for blocks in major metropolitan city streets.) Later, during my weekly Sunday visits with my family, I would ask my mother to allow me to live with her, but she would tell me that it wasn’t possible — she was too busy. In reality, my mother never worked. In my father’s words, my mother’s only “job” at the time involved shopping for luxury goods (fur coats, jewelry, $300 eye creams). And although my mother didn’t like having children, she managed to find enjoyment in being able to brag to friends about being able to afford the luxury of a full-time nanny. She still constantly reminds me of my “privileged” childhood, that I was raised by an expensive full-time nanny.

    I have two older sisters. My oldest sister was raised by our grandmother, who I now realize is also narcissistic. My middle sister was cared for by my mother since birth, and at 8 months, my sister became very severely mentally and physically disabled due to a high fever that my mother ignored. To this day, no one but my mother knows the exact details as to what had occurred that led to such severe disabilities. Although the details my mother’s stories seemed to change on this topic, she told me that she ignored my ill and crying sister, left her in her crib until the crying had stopped, and returned to realize that something was wrong.

    Growing up, I was not allowed to tell anyone that I had a middle sister. For this same reason, I was also never allowed to have guests over at my parents’ house. When I eventually moved back to live with my parents, my mother told me that I was only there because the law required her to care for me and that after I turned 18, it would be up to her whether she still wanted me around.

    As with most children of narcissistic mothers, we have stories after stories of what we’ve endured, and our posts can get lengthy. I believe it is because we have been kept silent for so long, either because we were told to never speak of certain topics, our attempts to discuss our hurt were met with narcissistic rage, and/or used against us as further proof that we were in fact the crazy/ungrateful/overly-sensitive/bad tempered/overly-emotional/weak/etc. ones, or because our mothers would just pretend they didn’t remember any of the events, then follow that up with a verbal hit below the belt.

    Reading your posts on narcissistic mothers gives me hope that I can begin to heal from the overwhelming pain that I have kept silent for so long. I’m now 30 years old, and for the first time, I’m recognizing that I can heal from all of this and become the person I want to be.

    ** I would like to work on learning how to love myself, love others, and accept love from others. I don’t think I understand what love really is, and I am constantly involved in romantic relationships with men who seem to show narcissistic tenancies. Are there are materials that may be helpful for me in this area?

    Again, thank you for everything. And thank you for allowing me to share.


  2. Hi Ashley,
    I’m sorry about the experiences you had to go though! Your mother sounds awful!..
    It’s good that you received care from an emotionally available caregiver like your nanny, even if she wasn’t good at keeping an eye on when you snuck out, I’m sure she did better than your mom could’ve and those first 4 years of emotional development are crucial, compared to when you moved back in with your mom.
    I can relate to a lot of your experiences (although I don’t think my mother was as nasty). When I was born my older sister (first born) was 1 and my mother was very depressed to have another child, let alone another girl. So my dad hired a live in nanny to take care of me and do the housekeeping. I’ve heard my mom varely held me when I was born, didn’t want to look at me when u came out and never once breastfed me. I was lucky to receive the care from our live-in nanny and I became very attached to her. I must’ve bonded to her as though she was my mother. Anyway, years went by and my mother started to get jealous of the attachment I had with the nanny. She disliked the nanny for other personally reasons too and fired her. I was 4 at the time but I have flash back of missing her all the time. I never got to say goodbye to her and i remember when my mother told me she wasn’t ever coming back I cried and the rest of the family laughed at me. I wasn’t allowed to cry about it after that day. And as I’m in my late 20s now I’ve found out the nanny tried to come and visit many times, even begged to see me but my mom would not allow it.
    From my experience the best thing you can do for yourself is move out Ashley. I recently moved out and my mums constant yelling and insults can’t get to me on a regular basis. It’s nice to come home and feel calm with no fear or someone yelling irrationally at you or your family members on a daily basis. You may feel lonely at first but I think it will get better with time.

  3. Hi I have two children, I had pnd after having both children, with the first who is now 8 I was struggling had no real support and really didn’t know what to do, with 2nd who is nearly 3 I took the tablets from my gp and feel good. The problem I have is with my 1st, I have no attachment to him, but I’ve always cared for him never left him out, he’s fed, clothed, clean has a routine, sees all his family, but for me I dont feel anything towards him, does this make me one of them narcissistic mothers? Ive asked for help all these years and still looking now, this is all I can find and hope that I’m not!

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