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Help! My Loved One Is a Narcissist!

Dr. Audrey Davidheiser

Updated Jan 10, 2024
Help! My Loved One Is a Narcissist!

Aside from forgiving your mom, you can also pray for her—that God would give her the wisdom to corral her parts. Pray also for yourself and your parts so you won’t end up despising your mother (Proverbs 23:22).

Disclaimer: This isn't therapy, and Dr. Audrey's advice is for the general audience, meaning it may not always work for everyone. 

“Is it possible to help my Mom with mid-term dementia to be set free from narcissism? Or would it just be better [if] I seek out healing from the abuse myself? Thank you.” – H

Dear H,

Thank you for sending in your question. Although I have never met nor diagnosed your mother, when you mentioned narcissism, my graduate training kicked in. The psychologist in me wondered if your mother might qualify for what the DSM-5-TR labels as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). 

In case you’re not a mental health geek like me, DSM is the go-to book we in the profession utilize to diagnose mental illness.

On the one hand, just because someone exhibits narcissistic traits doesn’t mean she fits an NPD diagnosis. On the other, you don’t need a doctor to formally assess her when you live with the pain of having your needs disregarded—again and again—because your mother continues to act in a self-absorbed way and dismiss your reality.

As though a possible NPD diagnosis wasn't bad enough, it sounds like your mother is also suffering from dementia. The combination of these two makes it very difficult—if not impossible—to “set her free” from narcissism. 

Short of a miracle, that is.

Let me explain why.

The first roadblock we face is willingness. Narcissists don’t think there’s anything wrong with them. Because they believe it’s everyone else who needs to get their act together, getting your mom to agree to receive help for this personality issue already feels like fighting an uphill battle.

And then there’s the second—and even more entrenched—barrier. Narcissism happens by necessity, not choice. I’m not privy to your mother’s backstory, but I’m 90% convinced something must have significantly hurt her earlier on. Perhaps, instead of a loving or caring authority figure, your mother grew up with a caregiver who repeatedly belittled, shamed, or neglected her. 

Which then caused a part of her to overcompensate and exaggerate her importance.

It takes intentionality and hard work to help narcissistic personality parts abandon their tried-and-true ways of behaving. And that’s presuming the person still has a decent level of cognitive functions. When we throw memory loss and impaired thinking into the mix, the chance of having this individual recover from narcissism is pretty dismal.   

But if God can miraculously heal physical illnesses—which He has definitely done—there’s no reason He can’t do the same for mental illnesses.

Good news! There’s something you can do despite this seemingly depressing discussion. Seeking your own healing from whatever abuse you have received from your mother is a viable option.

Here are 5 things you can do to that end:

1. It’s a Part

The theory I practice, Internal Family Systems (IFS), normalizes humans as having different parts. But let me back up. God created humans as tripartite—a fancy word that means we’re born with a spirit, soul, and body. The real you is your spirit. Your soul is the one with multiplicity inside. Don’t be alarmed—having many parts within your soul doesn’t make you a weirdo or having Dissociative Identity Disorder (which used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder). 

Having parts just makes you human. 

While not all of our parts are burdened, some are. The ones that are burdened tend to act out in problematic ways even when they don’t intend to inflict harm.

Like your mom’s narcissistic part. 

When this particular part shows up again, tell yourself the behavior you abhor is most likely due to your mom’s part. However, that’s not all there is to her. There are other parts of her that may feel badly about how she has behaved toward you, even if they may never have the chance to voice their opinion.

The problem is, your mother most likely doesn’t know how to reel in her parts. (The majority of people don’t. The prevalence of emotional and behavioral problems in our world testifies to this fact.) 

May I encourage you to view your loved one’s troubling behavior through parts language? Remembering that the problem represents a part and not the entire person can promote patience and compassion for that individual.

2. Validating Yourself

Difficult individuals demand a lot from us. Narcissists insist on having others cater to them and their needs, which is exhausting.

But that’s not all. Being around your mother’s narcissistic part may provoke doubts. Maybe I’m not worthy of her attention. Was I imagining things? Am I just fishing for someone else’s approval? Great. Am I really that needy?

Listen to these inner monologues. These—and similar thoughts—likely originate from your parts. Please listen to their musings and, as sincerely as you can, offer them a comforting word. Assure your parts they’re valuable and that their version of the story matters. Offer them the validation they need.

You have the power to serve as the empathetic voice that can soothe your hurt parts. While your mom may never have the capacity to empathize with you, much less apologize, you always have the choice to offer the listening and validating service for your own internal system.

Don’t underestimate the healing that emerges from this step.

3. Double Boundaries

The need to set boundaries has inspired many to publish their thoughts. (You can skim through mine here and here). Without learning to establish and then enforce our boundaries, we are bound to keep experiencing interpersonal hurt—which is the occasional offshoot of being in a relationship.

It’s okay to set firm boundaries with your mom. It’s also okay to explain to her the consequences for violating said boundaries. You’re allowed to enforce those consequences without feeling guilty.

But here’s the kicker: you can also apply boundaries to your own internal system. 

This is what I mean. Parts of you that get riled up by Mom don’t have to be present whenever you’re visiting her. I don’t understand the physics behind it—which is why I can’t really explain it to you—but whenever we ask our parts to give us space, they typically will, especially if they believe we’ll still be safe.

So, ask your parts to trust that even when they give you a wide berth (when you’re with Mom), you’ll be fine. 

One way to tell whether or not they have acquiesced is by checking your heart. Does it feel a little more spacious inside? If so, these parts have indeed agreed to your request.

If your parts are willing to give you space, even if Mom’s narcissistic part shows off again, you won’t feel as affected.

4. Individual Psychotherapy

And then there’s the gold standard—psychotherapy.

Confession: “gold standard” is my word. It’s not as though there has been a study proving the superiority of psychotherapy above medications or vacations or anything else we do to heal our souls. At the same time, psychotherapy or "talk therapy" has been known to alleviate many issues. One statistic shows that 3 in 4 people who seek therapy find it beneficial.

Having provided therapy for 15+ years, I can attest that not all therapy modalities are helpful. One of the more effective ones is IFS. Now that I’ve practiced and taught this modality myself, I wholeheartedly recommend therapists who are certified in it. Find the ones near you on the IFS Institute website

IFS therapy will help you coexist with your mom, as well as complete the next step below.

5. Spiritual Strategies

Have you forgiven your narcissistic mother yet? If there’s a superior way to stimulate emotional healing, God would’ve disclosed it in the Bible. 

But if your parts are like mine, forgiving someone who doesn’t seem sorry at all is a tough sell. Which was why I wrote a small book to facilitate forgiveness when you’re locked in a lifelong relationship with someone difficult. 

Hint: you’ll encounter IFS in that book.

Aside from forgiving your mom, you can also pray for her—that God would give her the wisdom to corral her parts. Pray also for yourself and your parts so you won’t end up despising your mother (Proverbs 23:22).

Our prayers are powerful and effective (James 5:16).

And because I believe in the power of prayer, I’ll say a prayer for you too.

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/fizkes

dr. audrey davidheiser bio photoAudrey Davidheiser, PhD is a California licensed psychologist, certified Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapist, and IFSI-approved clinical consultant. After founding and directing a counseling center for the Los Angeles Dream Center, she now devotes her practice to survivors of trauma—including spiritual abuse. If you need her advice, visit her on www.aimforbreakthrough.com and Instagram @DrAudreyD.