Narcissistic mothers: ‘It’s not that you want your mother to die, it’s that you want to be free’

Psychotherapists Helen Villiers and Katie McKenna explain how maternal narcissism can tear families apart

Listen | 52:14

When American writer and filmmaker Jennette McCurdy published her memoir last year detailing the abuse she suffered at the hands of her narcissistic mother, the title grabbed the attention of audiences all around the world.

‘I’m Glad My Mom Died’, is the name the former Nickelodeon star chose for her book, which laid bare the details of her dysfunctional childhood under a controlling and abusive mother Debra.

Speaking on the Irish Times Women’s Podcast about McCurdy’s story and the impact that narcissistic mothers can have on their children, psychotherapist Helen Villiers says, “It’s just a sad, tragic truth, it’s not that you want your mother to die, it’s that you want to be free”.

“I think what Jennette McCurdy is talking about throughout that book is all her trauma, but also the liberation that her mother’s death brought her, that she was allowed to breathe and grow and swell into herself, without the fear of mother’s criticism,” she adds.


Villiers was speaking to podcast presenter Róisín Ingle alongside fellow psychotherapist Katie McKenna. Together the pair present the ‘In Sight: Exposing Narcissism’ podcast and have recently published their first book, You’re Not the Problem: The Impact of Narcissism and Emotional Abuse and How to Heal.

The book aims to show readers what a narcissist looks like and how their emotional abuse can impact the lives and relationships of their families. It also outlines the steps necessary to break free from toxic relationships and heal emotional scars.

In their private practice, Villiers and McKenna, say they come across a higher percentage of women seeking help in handling their narcissistic parents. “Because therapy is usually attended more by women anyway, we tend to see daughters of narcissistic mothers,” says Villiers.

However, she adds that narcissism in women can often take on a more insidious form, “The typical experience is that a narcissistic mother will be more covertly expressing, so they will be hidden, they will sit in the victim role, that kind of martyrdom type behaviour”.

Giving one example of how a mother’s narcissism may manifest, McKenna says, “the child will be the mother’s best friend… they will be used as a go-between in the relationship, for example the mother will confide about her relationship with the father, and this is triangulating the child against the father. They will use the child as that mini-therapist in a really unhealthy way”.

Listen back to this conversation in full in the player above or wherever you get your podcasts.

Suzanne Brennan

Suzanne Brennan

Suzanne Brennan is an audio producer at The Irish Times