July 01, 2012

From Korea: When the World Revolves Around Mom

Human development is the common thread weaving people together---no matter the narcissism of our minor differences. 

Did you think Narcissistic Mothers were exclusive to the USA? The thought crossed my mind. I wondered if psycho-analyzing mothers was an American preoccupationMaybe Americans were overly-critical and overly sensitive, expecting more from a mother than she could humanly deliver. Maybe Americans needed to buck up and grow up and get over themselves? That's the message I got when when one of my Aussie friends teased me. She said Americans have a reputation for running to their therapist if their toast falls on the floor, butter-side-down.  ha! Cute joke. Not. 

Europeans (with whom I correspond most frequently) describe  narcissistic mothers in similar ways  and you won't discern a lot of difference between a narcissist from  London and one from Boise, Idaho. Except that British mothers eat fish and chips, and Idaho mothers eat better potatoes than anyone else in the world. Idaho Spuds Rule!

While browsing archived articles on the WoN forumthis 2007 Korean article came up (linked  below). Now that narcissism blogs are linked the world over, we learn how detrimental the narcissistic mother is. One of the points in this essay is the transition of women's roles. Opportunities were open to me in the 1960's that weren't options for my mother in the 1940's and this can be problematic for the mother-daughter relationship. It isn't easy living out your mother's unfulfilled dreams. It may be even more difficult for her IF you choose to be a housewife like she was. I think however that mothers and daughters will progress towards mutual respect and appreciation---giving meaning to one another's lives because they love each other. 

If pathological narcissism undermines the relationship though, envy will block the natural development of a mutually healing relationship. It make take years of futile efforts before a daughter realizes her mother cannot give her what she needs and wants: love. Acceptance. The chance to be herself. To do better than Mom. 

originally published on The Chosun Ilbo

A toned body that easily fits into a size XS. The face of a woman in her early 40's. A professional job. Perfect. So what if the dishwashing, cooking, cleaning and other household chores are left to the family? So what if the daughter has to endure snide comments about her cellulite thighs? The husband, now in early retirement, isn't about to make a fuss. 

Narcissistic mothers of this kind are mostly in their mid-to-late 40's and early 50's, and most invest significantly more in themselves than in raising their children or doing household chores. They may appear strong and independent, but experts say many sacrifice their own children to their interests. This is especially apparent when such mothers go shopping with their ugly ducklings. 

They're forever fishing for compliments from the salespeople. "Are you really her mother? I thought you must be her older sister!" That what they need to hear. 

The psychiatrist Kim Byeong-hu says there are more of these mothers now that parents no longer sacrifice everything for their children. "Now they put more value on their own lives." Kim says. 

Prof. Kwak Geum-ju, a psychologist at Seoul National University says, "Although there may be individual differences, there are more narcissistic people when a generation that has been under pressure to make sacrifices, comes to an end and a generation who grew up with excessive attention grows up. When these people in turn become grandparents, they are more likely to run away from their grandchildren saying they don't want anything to do with them," she adds. 

The generation of narcissistic mothers has had their share of hurt. They had the capabilities, but they were not given enough opportunities to fully realize their potential. Although they have been busy in their children's lives by sending them from one tutorial school to the next, there is a vacuum in their own that cannot be filled by basking in someone else's success. 

So they try to fill that emptiness with a stress on their own femininity and that means makeup and clothes. Prof. Ahn Myeong-hee of Dongduk Women's University Sociology Department explains the pressure to look young has had an enormous impact on mothers in their late 40's. "Mothers choose changing their appearance and dieting as an easy way to enhance their self-esteem." At home, fathers are on the wane while mothers are only getting started, taking classes and going to social gatherings. "This causes problems because mothers have not just the emotional control but the real power," Ahn adds. 

But why is it often daughters who are made to suffer? "Daughters are close to their mothers physically and emotionally." Ahn says. "A love-hate relationship is created since daughters are the subject of identification for mothers." Kim Byeong-hoo stresses that daughters must free themselves from such a relationship if their mothers continue to be demanding or consider them only as accessories. If they give in to every demand from their mothers, they are likely to be pressured to sacrifice themselves as their mothers feel they did in the past, and that could perpetuate the cycle. 

"Since it's impossible to reduce a mother's demands gradually, it's better to squash them all at once," Kim says. "At first, it might appear that the mother's fury will shatter the peace of the house, but eventually conflicts will subside and mothers will face the reality." Kim says some mothers today have huge egos because they have grown up without much interference from their parents. But, "their children are likely to have fragile egos and feel oppressed by the power of their own mothers, since their lives are filled with constant meddling by their mothers." 

When the World Revolves Around Mom  was originally published on The Chosun Ilbo

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Other articles of interest on The Chosun Ilbo:
Why Liars tell Lies "Those with a personality like this tend to believe that they are special people at the center of the world who enjoy limitless creativity and successes, like Narcissus in the Greek myth. They tend to use real famous and powerful figures as tools to satisfy their own narcissism."

Narcissistic Men drawing Male Beauty Products to Korea "An insider with skin care product brand LJH Cosmetics said, "As middle-aged men, as well as men in their 20s and 30s, have developed a greater interest in enhancing their looks, sales of products directed at this market have jumped 40-50 percent from a year ago.""

Working Mothers Often Unhappy with their Marriages "Statistics Korea explained that working mothers shoulder the same burden of childcare and housework as full-time housewives are even though they have jobs. Indeed, 87 percent of women in dual-income households said they take care of most housework, more or less the same proportion as the 90 percent among housewives."


  1. This is good stuff, although my mother made excuses why she didn't take advantage of the opportunities women in the 60s and 70s had. Or even the 80s - my mother was only 22 in 1970. She blamed everyone and anything for her lot in life, although now she's most likely to take credit for how well her children have done and counts herself as the major contributor to my father's success. I think my mother was going to be a narcissist period.

    I'm not sure that what the articles described was narcissistic personality disorder or just a prevalence of narcissistic tendencies. I have no answer -- just musing.

  2. Hi vicariousrising,

    I'm in total agreement with you. This is a lightweight article addressing unhealthy narcissism, not malignant narcissism. That's my read. When the author suggested daughters confront their narcissistic mothers and her fury would subside, well...that MIGHT work with a 'normal' mother but let's get real! With malignant narcissists, confrontation will get ya hurt. Disinherited. Abandoned. Your reputation smeared and if you don't back down soon enough, everyone in town will be told you're crazy---from your own mother's lips to their ears.

    NPD is much more complex than excessive self-focus. But for the most part, people are dealing with unhealthy narcissism (not pathological). A painful reality check might break through narcissistic defenses liberating both mother and daughter.

    By the way, I graduated high school in 1970 so your Mom is just a little bit older than myself!


  3. Definitely, malignant narcissism is not addressed. My mother borders sociopathy she hides using the guise of 'Christian values'.

    1. Unfortunately, many children-of-acons have said a similar thing about their parents. One of the problems of the NPD is the inability to align values with actions (they always fall way short of their principles and I"m not talking about the "normal" range of falling short!). The contradiction between whom they profess themselves to be and who they actually are, makes other people feel disoriented. It also makes other people distrust their own perceptions, wondering if they're being too critical.

      For years, people have told me they examined the "mote in their own eye" until they'd listed every defect and fault since they were born. Finally, especially because of the information on the web, they understood that people ARE what people DO. And if a parent is rejecting their child, disinheriting their child, abusing and psychologically crippling their child---well, they aren't the stuff Jesus spoke of.

      I'm sorry you were subjected to the horrors of a mind-twisting malignant narcissist.



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