Randi G. Fine, Author
From the book Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing and Recovery © 2017
The experience I have with sons of narcissistic mothers was gained through my counseling work with them. I can assure you that the extent to which they can be broken and confused are equal to that of women—sometimes even worse.
Overcoming pain is not an easy thing for men to do. They have more difficulty than women do when it comes to expressing their feelings, and they are much harder on themselves, more self-censoring. Men tend to be less tolerant of their weaknesses and less patient of the healing process as well.
Maternal narcissist abuse runs very deeply in men. Without help, they suffer a lifetime of devastating emotional pain.
Sons of narcissistic mothers have a void inside that their mother’s love, encouragement, recognition, and validation should have filled. They lack the triumphant feeling and confidence in the success that Freud spoke of when he said, “If a man has been his mother’s undisputed darling he retains throughout life the triumphant feeling, the confidence in success, which not seldom brings actual success along with it.”
As adults, these men strive for success and stability, but without the foundation of their mother’s love, nothing they achieve ever feels satisfying.
Narcissistic mothers assign childhood roles to their sons just as they do their daughters. All three roles are equally abusive but in different ways.
There is always a golden child, scapegoat child, and sometimes an invisible child. If there is only one child he may play a variety of roles. Roles can be switched, but there can be only one golden child at a time.
The Golden Son
A son chosen for the golden child role is revered like a god. He is the mother’s ideal in every way. As a reflection of her perfect self, she values his superficial qualities such as appearance, academic or athletic performance, and talent. The person he is inside is never nurtured.
To retain the favor of the golden child status the son must submit to total enmeshment with his mother. Constant praise and adulation is his reward. It is constantly reinforced to him how perfect, handsome and charming he is. No one will ever make the golden child feel as entitled and superior as his mother does. Still, he is not immune to her head games.
Always worried about her supply getting cut off, the narcissistic mother must prevent him from getting too full of himself. By alternating between ego boosting and figurative emasculation she keeps him off balance and therefore dependent on her.
Narcissistic mothers employ the usual dependency tactics with their sons; gaslighting, infantilization, and triangulation. But there is an additional abuse tactic sometimes used with golden sons known as “Emotional Incest.”
Emotional incest is not incest of a sexual nature. It is a pathological form of emotional seduction initiated by parents with their children. Mothers turn their golden sons into psychological surrogate partners and expect them to meet all their adult emotional needs.
Using emotional incest, the golden son becomes her little man. If she has a male partner he will take a back seat to this child. Nearly every boundary that should exist between mother and son is crossed in her seduction. She flirts with him, hugs him, kisses him and touches him far more often than what is normal.
That is particularly violating during adolescence—a stage when boys typically reject mostly all physical contact with their mothers. But having not been permitted to go through the natural stages of maturity, golden sons may not see anything wrong with their mother’s over-affectionate behavior. Catering to their mother’s every need becomes their way of life. The message subliminally reinforced in them is that they’ll only be liked or loved if subordinate.
Instead of developing a rich inner self, golden sons are likely to develop the “doormat syndrome.” People will use and abuse them. As adults, their worth will hinge entirely on others’ opinions of them. They will forever struggle with self-respect.
Men who are psychologically possessed by narcissistic mothers have great difficulty with emotional intimacies. Their relationships are likely to be shallow and perfunctory. On a subconscious level, they always belong to their mothers.
Narcissistic mothers resent and reject every woman their golden sons date. Believing their property is being stolen from them, all out wars will be waged. Women who stick around are subject to a cruel and endless battle.
Golden sons experience tremendous emotional conflict. Repressed anger lies just below the surface of these men. While they are completely devoted to their mothers, they harbor terrible resentments against them for destroying their lives and relationships.
Since they cannot lash out at their mothers, other women become targets of their aggression. Many golden sons grow up to be womanizers.
The scenario is very different for golden sons who seek autonomy. Their mothers are greatly offended by their efforts toward independence. They take it as the ultimate betrayal.
These sons face a difficult battle with mothers who are dead set on punishing them. Their mother’s campaign of revenge will be spiteful, relentless and cruel. For boys who cannot yet leave home, this can be particularly trying.
There are no limits to the antics revengeful narcissistic mothers will pull. They will repeatedly woo their sons back in, only to retaliate again and again. Sons continue to take the bait because they want to believe their mother has changed.
Narcissistic mothers on the warpath are known to “accidentally” destroy things their sons love. When their sons make plans, they make every effort to sabotage them. Any opportunity to minimize or ridicule their sons’ achievements and successes is capitalized. To humiliate their sons they deliberately embarrass them in front of their friends.
It is impossible for a son to redeem himself. If he offers to help his mother out she agrees and then gives him slavish or arduous chores. Any act of kindness the son shows her is blatantly disregarded. Former golden sons do not understand why their mother’s treatment so drastically changed. They used to be adored. Now it seems their mother despises them. It does not make sense. They are just acting the way other males their age act, but everything they do or say is met with hostility.
Trying to get back in their mother’s good graces (while also trying to forge their own identities) they continue doing nice things for her, but everything they do is criticized.
If narcissistic mothers cannot have full compliance from their golden sons, they want no part of them at all. There is no middle ground. So resentful of their sons taking away their supply, there will be no end to their cruel crusade of vengeance.
The former golden son must continue pandering to his mother if he wants any relationship with her at all. This becomes his modus operandi in every other adult relationship.
As the giver, pleaser, and fixer in all his relationships, he will find being on the receiving end of others’ favor uncomfortable. He is not familiar with playing that role. Codependency issues born from childhood emotional abuse leave him vulnerable to people who only want to use him. All his relationships will be unbalanced and frustrating until he recognizes the part he plays in all the dysfunction.
Unlike the golden son who was held in high esteem for at least a decade or more, the scapegoat son will never be valued.
The Scapegoat Son
The scapegoat son sees how well his golden child sibling is treated and cannot understand why he is deprived of the same. It seems the golden child can do no wrong and he can do no right.
The scapegoat son cannot seem to please his mother. He tries everything he can think of to get her attention. It does not matter if the attention is positive or negative; he is willing to accept either.
His mother criticizes everything he does. She pummels him with insults, tells him he is stupid and worthless and calls him derogatory names. She insults his masculinity and makes snide remarks about his appearance.
Nothing she does dissuades him from trying to get her recognition. The worse she treats him, the harder he tries. Knowing how desperately he wants her favor, she will throw him an occasional bone. She does this to string him along, to give him glimmers of hope that she will treat him better, but things never change.
The scapegoat son does not like his mother but he does want her love. Those driblets keep him coming back for more. Whether or not he recognizes the manipulation does not matter. He will take anything she is willing to give.
He only wants to make his mother proud, but she never applauds him. Instead, she tells him that he is incapable of success; that he will never amount to anything and has only himself to blame.
Some boys respond to their mother’s degradation by acting out at school or in the community. Some run away from home. They are likely to get involved with other troubled kids. Many become substance abusers. The message that they are failures becomes a truth they live down to.
As an adult, the scapegoat son may chase success to prove his mother wrong, but he is unlikely to ever achieve it. Every defeat further reinforces what his mother told him about himself—that he is a loser, always was and will always be.
When scapegoat sons begin dating, their mother takes great pleasure in sabotaging their success. Narcissistic mothers have been known to make derogatory remarks about their sons to their prospective girlfriends such as, “Be very careful, he has anger issues,” or “If I were you I’d stay far away from him. He can be very violent.” Some mothers point out their sons’ defects, weaknesses or mistakes to make them appear less attractive.
Narcissistic mothers may pull out photos of their son with his previous girlfriends and show them to new prospects, or make a point of asking their son, in front of the girl he likes, how his previous girlfriends are doing or if they still keep in touch.
If these romantic relationships are ever to stand a chance, they must be conducted outside the narcissistic mother’s range of scrutiny. The odds that these relationships will succeed are slim anyway. Scapegoat sons are not equipped with the tools required for healthy relationships.
The scapegoat son is likely to choose a partner who manipulates and abuses him since that is the only kind of attention he knows. If he is lucky he will be taken under the wings of a nurturing partner who shows him the love, attention, validation, and recognition his mother deprived him of. In either case, these men will always feel unworthy of their partners or their love.
The impact maternal narcissism has on each son may vary based on the role they are assigned, but abuse is abuse. Scapegoat sons think that golden sons have it better than they do, but that is an illusion. They suffer just as much.
The Invisible Son
The invisible son is not given good attention by his mother nor is he given bad attention. He is given no attention at all. The narcissistic mother puts on no false pretenses, tosses no crumbs his way.
From her selfish viewpoint, his very existence interferes with her daily agenda. She has no tolerance for his childhood neediness. If she has to tend to his needs for any reason, he will somehow be made to suffer for the inconvenience.
From very young ages, mothers hold these boys responsible for feeding and dressing themselves. They are forced to grow up far too early.
Neglect is the hallmark of the invisible son, but there are extreme cases of total abandonment where these boys are deserted, given to someone else to take care of, or put in foster care.
Invisible sons who are lucky will end up in better homes with families who care about them, but there is no guarantee of that. They can just as easily end up in more abusive situations.
Whether neglected, rejected or discarded, the invisible son feels abandoned. Logic tells him that he must be an unlovable person or that he must have done some reprehensible, unforgivable act to make his mother despise him. The responsibility and guilt he feels for causing his mother’s rejection never goes away.
No form of surrogate nurturing will ever make up for the loss of his mother—the one person in the world who is supposed to love him. The pain of maternal neglect leaves an indelible mark on him. The emotional wounds fester for a lifetime. Many invisible sons self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to block the painful memories that haunt them.
Maternal narcissistic abuse is severely damaging no matter which role sons are assigned. The repercussions of it last a lifetime.
Narcissistic mothers never allow their sons to earn anything in their own right. They don’t like to be shown up by their children. If they can somehow take credit for their sons’ achievements, they will. If they cannot, they will devalue or ignore what they do. Should their sons fail at something, they will relish in it.
The only efforts narcissistic mothers support are the ones they initiate or those that make them look good.
Image is everything to the narcissistic mother. She uses her sons to replicate her perfect image—the self she wants the world to see.
Narcissistic mothers are very controlling, especially over their sons’ career choices. They do not care what their sons want to do with their lives. There is always a self-centered agenda.
If you are a son of a narcissistic mother it is important to know that what happened to you was not your fault. You have the right to feel hurt and the right to be angry about what your mother did to you. You may not have been physically abused but you were severely abused emotionally. That can be harder to overcome.
Please stop beating yourself up for things you had no control over. Do not give your mother one more second of your power. She has already taken enough from you. Allow yourself to heal.
Healing from maternal abuse requires that years of emotional pain be chipped away. That is something that takes time and patience. I urge you to seek counseling. You will not be able to do this alone.