Open each link below to see a further explanation for each of the quiz questions. In some cases there’s a link to other pages on this site for even more information; each of these links opens in a new window so you don’t lose access to this list in the meantime and you can read the further information in your own time.
Do you feel drained and exhausted after being with your mother?
Healthy people (mostly*) make us feel good when we’re in their company, whereas toxic people drain us and exhaust us.
This is for a lot of reasons, but a main one is because we’re not safe in their company, and so cannot relax and just enjoy. We need to be to always be alert to keep ourselves safe: to make sure we won’t say anything that will trigger their aggression, for example, or to laugh off their insults and digs in the interests of peace. No wonder we’re exhausted afterwards.
* If a healthy person is going through a tough time and we are supporting them during it, we can feel tired after being with them, but this is a) temporary and b) understandable.
Do you feel confused and bewildered after being with your mother?
Narcissists are the masters of something called gaslighting. There is full information on that here, but for now we can just say that gaslighting is a way narcissists and other toxic people rewrite history in their favour, e.g. flatly denying they just said something nasty when they totally did.
This contradiction between our our own experiences on the one hand, and her certainty (maybe even her angry certainty) on the other, is very confusing, and no wonder we feel bewildered after being in her company.
Does she ever remember events differently than you do, and her memory is in her favour?
This question is related to the previous one, in that if your mother is narcissistic I bet you’ll find that you and she often have completely different recollections of past events.
Now, human memory is notoriously unreliable, and even in healthy relationships people will remember things differently.
However, the difference is that in healthy relationships the memory differences are likely to be low stakes: “No, it was in Mary’s house, not Laura’s.”
And in healthy relationships the other person is willing to concede that you might be right: “Okay, maybe it was Laura’s house, I thought it was Mary’s, but I might be wrong.”
Another difference is that in healthy relationships you can agree to disagree: “It doesn’t matter whose house it was.”
In toxic and narcissistic relationships, she will insist she is right even about low stakes situations such as whose house the event happened in, but especially about things that show her in a good light and you in a bad one. So she won’t remember criticising your best friend, and will insist that she did not. And she’ll insist she did congratulate you on your graduation, even though you are certain she did not.
Has she ever told you that you have a very vivid imagination as a way of invalidating what you're saying?
As part of the gaslighting, your mother wants to convince you — and convince herself too, I think — that her reality is the correct one, and so she has to come up with reasons to convince you both.
And a favourite way to do that is to accuse you of having a very vivid imagination. So, her story goes, you are imagining whatever you are saying.
I do think this is a very solid clue to narcissists, as to say you have a very vivid imagination is completely patronising and condescending.
Does she genuinely and joyfully celebrate your successes?
A narcissist hates other people’s successes, because of course those successes are about the other person, and therefore not about the narcissist herself, and that’s the worst thing ever to a narcissist.
So, if you have a success she will react in a number of ways. Best case, she’ll ignore it and be indifferent to it. She just won’t talk about it, nor show any excitement.
When I won a national ‘Write A Bestseller’ competition to get my first novel published, my mother’s reaction was a mild, “Oh very good,” and a change of subject.
Or, a narcissistic mother might resent your success, get huffy and cross, either about your success or about some other random issue that she can divert the attention to.
And/or a narcissistic mother might hijack your success and take credit for it, say because she gave you lifts to the dance classes or whatever. In this way she makes it about her rather than about you.
When I won the above mentioned Write a Bestseller competition, my mother put that down to us being related (on her side of course) to the genius Irish writer James Joyce. So my success was down to her genes rather than my own endeavours.
But even more narcissistic, we’re not even related to James Joyce! Seriously!!! When I asked about the exact connection she got very vague and subject-changy. The most she would commit to was that he looked the image of her father. Which he did. But in Ireland in the early 1900s, the population was tiny so we were all inbred and looked alike. And all the men had the same clothes and hairstyle, so any similarity was just coincidence.
Is she genuinely supportive when you are having a tough time?
Just as with our successes, narcissistic mothers react badly/oddly to our challenges. Because, again, our challenges are about us rather than them, and they hate that.
Best case, they are just indifferent and ignore the topic and leave us to our own devices.
Or, they get cross and angry with us for having the problem. They probably will not say this directly because they have enough awareness to know this isn’t a good look. But they’ll huff and puff, and just have this aura of fury. I bet you know the one I mean.
And so now you have two issues: the original problem, and her anger. And this can lead to the confusion we spoke of earlier, because you don’t know what you even did wrong.
The reality is that you didn’t do anything wrong, but once you know about Narcissistic Personality Disorder you’ll understand why this is happening.
Another possible reaction to your tough time is that your mother will actually enjoy it! She’ll love the drama and excitement of it. She’ll love being able to talk to others about it all when the attention will be on her then. She might even relish the role of wonderful mother helping her daughter, without actually providing any real help. When I miscarried my first pregnancy, my mother was thrilled! She was almost quivering with excitement about it. She kept saying how the miscarriage happened on the anniversary of her own beloved father’s death, and that was important because ??
So a narcissistic mother might have a range of reactions to your problems, but none of them will be genuine support and empathy.
Does she ever accept responsibility for any of her actions?
Narcissists never ever do. Either they insist they didn’t do the thing (i.e. gaslighting) or that it was the right thing to do. They never ever ever say anything along the lines of: What I did was the wrong thing to do.
Does she build you up or tear you down?
A narcissist will never build up someone else, at least except in how it reflects well on her, and if this is the case you’ll know in your heart that it’s not about you per se, but about her daughter as an entity that will reflect well on her.
This confused me for years, until I figured it out. She showed zero interest when I won a national Write A Bestseller competition to get my novel published, but yet had my books displayed prominently in her sitting room. Once I understood about Narcissistic Personality Disorder it made perfect sense: all I had to do was to figure out in which direction the attention was flowing.
Your narcissistic mother may not actively tear you down either; my own never did for example. So just because she doesn’t bring you down, doesn’t mean she’s not narcissistic.
However, if she’s on the more extreme end of the Narcissistic Spectrum, and gets fun out of diminishing you, she might well do it for that reason.
A loving mother will encourage you and build you up without agenda. That is the difference.
Does your mother have favourites in the family?
This question isn’t as straight-forward an indication of narcissism as some of the others, but it’s still worth considering. Narcissistic mothers might operate what’s called the Golden Child/Scapegoat dynamic, where, as the name suggests, one child is allocated the role of Golden Child who can do no wrong, and another (or others) who can do no right.
However, some narcissistic mothers don’t operate this dynamic, and maybe some parents can have favourites witihout being narcissistic, so while it’s a clue for sure, it’s not definitive.
Is she good at giving gifts to you or others?
Giving good, appropriate thoughtful gifts requires empathy, so you won’t be surprised that narcissists are useless at that.
Does she treat you differently in public than in private?
Narcissists are all about their image, and they may well want to project the image of the perfect loving mother. And so, they might be nicer to you when people are around, and take the gloves off when there are no witnesses, and be as nasty to you as they want then.
This can lead to doubt as you think in confusion, But she’s nice sometimes. But this image thing can be one reason why she treats you so inconsistently.
Does she respect your personal space?
Narcissists hate others’ boundaries because why should anyone tell them what to do!!!! And also they think that rules don’t apply to special people like them. And so they don’t feel obliged to respect your space, either literal or metaphorical. She might barge into your room, open your post, and so on. Or she might be forever trying to get into your head and insisting you tell her what you’re thinking about. This is especially true for Engulfing Narcissistic Mothers.
Now, this does not necessarily mean that if she respects your boundaries she is guaranteed not to be narcissistic. My own mother was very good about respecting my space. I think this is because she was an Ignoring Mother rather than an Engulfing one and didn’t really care what I was up to.
A loving mother will respect your space out of, well, respect.
Does she compare you unfavourably to others, such as your siblings?
This is related to the previous questions: about her having favourites in the family, and about her tearing you down, but it’s more than that too. Constantly comparing you — always to your detriment — to others, can be a way of keeping you small and self-doubting and vulnerable. And all those things make you easier to manipulate and control, which a narcissist will love.
Will she take 'no' for an answer?
Narcissists hate being told No, because how dare anyone tell them what to do! They therefore react very badly to being told no, and will either ignore that ‘no’ or argue about it or sulk over it. The one thing they will not do is to respect it.
Does she get upset or distressed if she's not the centre of attention?
This one is very self-explanatory. Narcissists need to be the centre of attention, and can get very distressed if they are not, and they just can’t handle it. And so they’ll get upset and distressed and do whatever it takes to get the attention back onto themselves.
Does she ever tell you that you're over-sensitive or can't take a joke?
In the backward world of narcissists, if you get upset at anything she says or does, the problem cannot be that she was out of order. Nope, it must be that you are wrong to get upset, that you are over-sensitive, that you are incapable of taking a joke.
And so this accusation is definitely in the top ten of narcissists favourite sayings, and is a complete giveaway.
Is she calm and steady, or volatile?
Anybody can get upset sometimes, but narcissists are quick to get upset because it takes so little to trigger them. This is so typical of narcissists that it has its own term: Narcissistic Rage. This is terrifying to experience, especially for us DONMs who have experienced this all our lives.
Mind you, getting upset easily isn’t exclusive to narcissists; it can apply to lots of dysfunctions.
But it’s safe to say that if someone is normally steady and calm, they’re not a narcissist.
Does she overreact if you call her on anything?
For example, might say say something like, “I know I’m the worst mother in the world!!!!! I never do anything right according to you!”
This is definitely toxic and an unhealthy way to run a relationship, and is another clue to them being narcissistic.
Doing this is a rather clever way to divert from what you’re actually saying so they don’t have to deal with it, and it becomes a dynamic where you have to comfort them rather than the issue you brought up every getting resolved.
Check out the DARVO dynamic for more on this.
Does she ever give a genuine apology?
A narcissist will never ever do that. They might well give a fauxpology such as, “I’m sorry you were upset.” Or, “I’m sorry you think I was wrong.” But they’ll never genuinely apologise for anything.
Did/does she make you independent too young?
Parenting is hard work, and narcissists don’t like hard work, so they are prone to making their children far too responsible for themselves far too young. Whether this is in practical ways (being in charge of your own laundry at age ten for example), or in emotional ways (not getting any comfort when you’re upset), this is a huge clue to narcissists.
Check out the section on Parentification for more on this.
Does she blame you, or others, if things go wrong in her life?
This is a huge clue to narcissists: they will never take responsibility for their own lives or the consequences of their own decisions. And if the result is not their fault well then it must be someone else’s!! That’s just science. So they will blame, you, or anyone, for their own stuff.
And expect you to fix it of course.
Does she have to win every argument?
This is another big clue to narcissists. They don’t look for the mutual win or consensus. They look for victory, regardless of the rights-and-wrongs of the situation.
Do you feel safe with her?
Your body knows the truth about her, and if she’s a narcissist you know, at some level, that you’re never safe. You might well be physically safe — or not, depending on the exact circumstances — but you’ll never be emotionally or psychologically or mentally safe with a narcissist.
Again, there are lots of other toxicities that lead people to be unsafe, so this question is not a definitive clue to narcissists, but it’s part of the jigsaw.
Does she act superior to other people?
Not every narcissist does this — my own mother did not — but many do, and it’s definitely a clue to a narcissist. Indeed a feeling of superiority was one of the official traits to Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the DSM IV.
But, we never know how people feel inside, do we? We only know how they act, and some narcissists do act as if they feel superior.
Does she suck up all the conversational air?
As part of needing to be the centre of attention, narcissists like to have monologues rather than conversations, and they can talk forever without considering whether their audience is even interested. Still less would they ask the other person anything about themselves, or if they do it’s only to provide a launch pad for more of their own talk, or as a last resource, to provide conversational fodder for their future conversations with others. It’s never genuine interest.
Can she take, or tell, a joke against herself?
Now, we’re not talking about sneering or cruelty or anything. Nobody is able for that, nor should be expected to be.
But loving teasing, and funny stories about yourself: those are normal and fun, and most of us enjoy them and are happy to be the butt of those.
But not narcissists, not ever.
Is she vain?
Not all narcissists are vain, or certainly not necessarily vain about their appearance. They might be vain about their intelligence, real or imagined, or their talents, real or imagined, or their successes, real or imagined. Or they might be vain about their appearance.
So, this is not a definite indicator of narcissism, but it’s definitely a clue.
Will she ever be deliberately cruel?
Not all narcissists are. My own mother was sweetness and light itself once she always got her way. She would never go out of her way to be cruel.
But some narcissists, especially those who have malignant narcissism which I suspect blends with sociopathy, will be cruel just for the ‘fun’ of it.
Now that you have more information about why your mother is the way she is, the next step is — if you choose — to subscribe to our Guidebook To Healing And Thriving.