The mother child relationship is the very first relationship we all experience. And when someone thinks of the term mother, generally the first characteristics that come to mind are nurturing, love, and warmth. But when the mother is narcissistic, the nurturing relationship turns on its head. Lifelong damage often comes out of it.
So, how do you deal with the specific trauma that happens when your mother is narcissistic? First, you must be able to recognize what the abuse looks like and how she uses it against you to make others think she is a wonderful mother. Then, you need to heal from the lifelong issues and learn to live in a healthy space. Finally, you must make sure that you set and keep boundaries that will keep you from getting dragged back down into the narcissism that has the potential to ruin your life.
I combined my experience with a narcissistic mother with the healing I finally recieved beginning in my late 40’s. What I learned was life-changing. So with that, let’s take a closer look at what those points will look like in your life.
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Why is a Religious Narcissistic Mother So Different Than Other Narcissists?
The biggest reason that a religious narcissistic mother is so different than other narcissists is because she has the earliest and arguably biggest influence on her children. Even from the womb, she is caring for her child, either for the good or harm of the child. Even babies can pick up on anger, stress, or other negative emotions. For more on this, check out this article by Parenting Science. It even goes on to say that not only do babies pick up on these emotions, but it affects them negatively.
If they are so sensitive as to be able to pick up on those clues, how much more will they understand how wrong outright abuse is?
How Society Views Mothers
Mothers are generally understood as the cornerstone of society. They raise the people that will change the world. Here are some famous sayings regarding the strength of mothers:
- A mother is a woman who shows you the light when you just see the darkness.
- There is no way to be a perfect mother, but a million ways to be a great one. –Jill Churchill
- Successful mothers are not the ones that never struggled. They are the ones that never give up, despite the struggles. –Sharon Jaynes
- I believe the choice to become a mother is the choice to become one of the greatest spiritual teachers there is. –Oprah Winfrey
- Motherhood is the exquisite inconvenience of being another person’s everything.
- “Because I feel that, in the Heavens above / The angels, whispering to one another, / Can find, among their burning terms of love / None so devotional as that of ‘Mother’” – Edgar Allen Poe
- Life doesn’t come with a manual, it comes with a mother.
- A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts. – Washington Irving
There are so many more wonderful quotes about the strength and love of a mother. But this gives you a good idea of what society thinks of motherhood.
What Happens When Your Mother Doesn’t Look Like The World’s Version?
So what happens when your mother isn’t that person? What happens when she doesn’t build you up, protect you, or give you the security and foundation you need to realize your potential as an adult?
The answer is that you will have to find those things on your own and be your own advocate. But also realize that there will be people God puts along your path in life that will give you those things you need. There were many teachers, friends, and neighbors that knew the encouragement and love I needed because I wasn’t getting it at home. I will always be grateful for that and hope that in return I can do the same for others that are not getting the love and support from their mothers.
I do want to note here that my mother, while a narcissist that used religion to abuse my sisters and me, was never a devout Christian. Because of this, her religious abuse was not quite the same as other religious narcissists. For instance, while she used religion to control us, she did not brag incessantly about how devout she was, quote Scripture endlessly, or claim to be persecuted for her faith. She did, however, try to claim what Scripture said in order to make us conform.
She did try to convince everyone at church what a great mother and person she was. And everything behind closed doors did tend to go back to what a “great Christian home” she was raising us in, which was why we had to follow all of her rules perfectly or there would be hell to pay.
Recognize What the Abuse of a Religious Narcissistic Mother Looks Like
The abuse of a religious narcissistic mother will be the classic case of Jekyll and Hyde. She will seem like such a nice person on the surface in public. So loving and caring. But behind closed doors, the pretense goes away. Here are some of the more common behaviors of the religious narcissistic mother:
- Always bragging about what a great mother she is and how much she takes care of her kids.
- Using God as a weapon. You NEED to obey her because God says so. To disobey her is to disobey God.
- Twisting Scripture to make it say what she wants it to. Then she claims they are the direct words of God.
- Making everyone else see what a good Christian/person she is. Often this is couched in bragging about all of the great things she has done with/for her children.
- Not allowing her children to do their own thing. Everything they do is for the sake of helping the family.
- Using religion to exercise extreme control over her children. She will often forbid her children to go to even normal places. It doesn’t make sense, but nobody dares to argue because the punishment will be worse than the crime.
- Saying that the abuse is misunderstood–she was actually trying to help or do good. She will further behave as though she is the victim because we would even think she could say or do cruel things.
- Sudden bursts of anger when the kids don’t fall in line immediately or question her words or actions.
How my Sisters and I Worked Through the Abuse
Whether you are an adult or still a minor child of a religious narcissistic mother, the abuse is not likely to stop. The gaslighting will never end. Neither will the denial, lying, “misremembering,” and blameshifting.
But that doesn’t mean you need to put up with it for the rest of your life. You have to find your strength and liberty and live it out. I know my sisters and I practically counted the days to get out of the house we grew up in. And when we did, we couldn’t get far enough away.
For the time we were stuck in the house because kids can’t just walk away, my sisters and I handled things quite differently. My older sister was indifferent. She did what she wanted and didn’t care about the consequences. My younger sister was angry and outright rebellious. She refused to be controlled. It resulted in her emancipation at the age of 16. And I handled it by staying under the radar and making myself invisible.
While all of these are common coping mechanisms, none of them were the healthiest way to deal with the abuse. But we had no idea what the right way was. We also paid for our lack of knowledge of healthy relationships throughout our adult lives.
I wish that I knew how to be emotionally healthier years before I did. It took being married to a religious narcissistic man for nearly 31 years and him forcing me into counseling to see the light. I was lucky. The counselors immediately saw what was going on and my healing started quickly.
Assessing the Damage Done by a Religious Narcissistic Mother
If you spend your childhood fending off the constant attacks of your religious narcissistic mother, you are not going to come out unscathed. Everyone is going to react differently, according to their personality, depth of the abuse, how high or low on the scale their mother’s narcissism lies, cultural considerations, and more. But there are a few major results that come about as a result of childhood narcissistic damage. Let’s look at some of the ones based on a religious narcissistic mother in particular.
Their Spiritual Life is Deeply Affected
The spiritual life of a child raised by a religious narcissistic mother is deeply affected in several ways. First, they may leave the faith altogether. Often, they can equate God with the abuse of their mother. This is so incredibly unfortunate. And honestly, sometimes it is really hard to see why God would allow mothers like that to exist. Why wouldn’t He just make all mothers good? The answer lies not in God behaving like a puppet master as much as we are in control of our own actions and if we rebel against the goodness of God, everyone around us will feel the weight of that rebellion in their life.
Second, they may remain in the faith, but believe wrong things about God. Many believe that God is judgmental and angry, just like the people that leave the faith. But instead of leaving, they choose to stay and try to meet the approval of the God that they understand. Unfortunately, they may never come to see God as He is, extending grace to everyone because He knows we will never be “good enough.” That is the whole point of salvation–that God sent His Son to pay the price of our sin because we can’t do it ourselves!
Third, those that get the support and help they need can actually come to have a healthy spiritual life. That doesn’t mean we haven’t struggled along the way. It also doesn’t mean we won’t struggle when triggered by something in our past, no matter how far along we’ve come. But it does mean that we can shake the dust off our feet and keep on going.
Learn how to React and Grow Through the Abuse
So, how do we heal from such a huge amount of abuse and trauma bonding? Because it is a relationship that likely affects the way you relate to everyone, you likely need professional counseling. But I realize many people have had bad experiences with counseling.
I was incredibly fortunate to have an excellent counselor who understood the dynamics of my relationships right away. It was beyond incredible to me. It felt like she had been standing beside me my whole life, watching everything that happened. She understood so well.
So with that experience, I would ask you to consider finding a counselor who can understand you on that level. It will transform your life. You will be a different, healthy person when you emerge from your counseling days.
Having two or three friends that can help you through this difficult time was also a tremendous help to me, more for my divorce from my religious narcissistic husband than my mother. But it all made sense for healing in the big picture.
Honestly, most of the methods of healing from a religious narcissistic mother are the same as any narcissist. The one exception being learning how to respond when she tries to tell you that you have to do everything she says because she is God’s special spokeswoman. In that case, you certainly don’t want to argue the point with her.
For more on what the Bible says regarding how to handle narcissists, check out my article here.
Also, you may want to check out these articles as well:
Find and Use all the Resources You can for Healing From a Religious Narcissistic Mother
I remember reading everything I could get my hands on. My counselor got me started on some of the best materials she knew about. They were life-changing for me. For the first time in my life, I realized that many others had experienced the same things I had.
But this wasn’t only life-changing for me. At the time I was first starting my counseling journey and reading everything I could, my 15-year old (at the time) son was stealing the books off my nightstand faster than I could read them.
He graduated from high school and went on to get his bachelor’s and master’s in psychology and is now working in the same counseling office I stepped into all those years ago. This was one of the ways I saw God make something wonderful out of what I thought was the end of the world. As I alluded to above, we may think God is nowhere to be found and couldn’t possibly let us be victims to our mothers (or whoever else is abusing us with their narcissism).
But in God’s infinite wisdom, maybe He has something even bigger in store for us. Maybe we can all help to heal others once we can get to the other side of what we have been through. How much our stories will resonate with others who are in the middle of it!
See my resources page here for printables that can help remind you of where you are on your path to healing. And here are some books that helped me greatly and I am sure they will help you too! Just click on them to learn more.
There are lots of really good books out there. A quick search on Amazon will help you find them. But these two were my biggest go-to’s at the time I was struggling with the issues that came from a narcissistic mother. I know they will be extremely helpful to you as well. If you had to pick one, I would make it Picking up the Shards. But they will both turn your world around!
Set and Keep Boundaries to Stay Safe From a Religious Narcissistic Mother
Finally, the last really good thing you can do for yourself (and probably one of the biggest things for your healing) is to set and keep good boundaries from your religious narcissistic mother. You may be able to live nearby and visit with her often. You may be able to help navigate a relationship between her and your children. You may not be able to have any contact with her again. Or likely, it will be somewhere in between.
Learning how to set the best boundaries for your health and wellbeing as well as your family’s is a difficult task. But it will be so rewarding. The reason I placed it last in your healing journey is because you won’t be able to know how to set them well until you have experienced significant healing. But when you do, you will feel the difference almost like no other healing you have experienced thus far.
There is only one book I have to recommend regarding setting and keeping boundaries. That is because it is hands down the best authority on the subject. I am pretty sure it is the go-to resource of every counseling agency. It is the number 1 bestseller in the Christian Dating and Relationships category of Amazon and has over 20,000 mostly very positive reviews. And of course, the name of it is Boundaries.
It was written by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. You definitely need to check it out, whether you buy a copy and keep it for a resource for every relationship going forward or just need to borrow it from the library until you can get your own copy. Here is what it looks like. Click on it to get more details.
So this is what navigating a relationship with a religious narcissistic mother looks like. How did you handle it growing up? Did yhou recognize the issues from an early age or did it take a while? How did you recover as an adult? I would love to hear about your experiences. Feel free to comment below or if you need to communicate privately, contact me here.
Hugs and love,
If you found this article valuable, I think you will find the following ones valuable as well!
- How Narcissists Use Religion to Control and Manipulate You - December 26, 2023
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- Flying Monkeys Spying: Understanding and Dealing With It - September 21, 2023