Once you make your way into adulthood and eventually have kids of your own, it’s only natural to want your children to have fantastic grandparents who just love and adore them.
Unfortunately, when it comes to a narcissistic grandmother, your children won’t have a beautiful, loving grandma in that person. And if it’s your mum who we’re talking about, you likely never had the mother that you truly needed either.
There are many ways to pick a narcissistic grandparent, once you know what to look for.
Regrettably for my kids, both of their grandmothers are narcissists… not that they have that awareness. Between my own grandiose narcissistic mother and my ex’s covert narcissist mother, I guess you could say that all bases have been covered.
Just like with their own children, narcissists don’t have the range or capacity to truly and unconditionally love their grandchildren, although they can oftentimes put up a good front. As with their own kids, their grandkids are mere extensions of themselves to be pawned about as they see fit, so that they can extract supply for themselves.
That’s not to say that you and your own children can’t have fun times with their narcissistic grandmother. As we well know, there are always good times mixed in with the bad when dealing with a narcissist.
What we’ll be looking at here are the many insidious ways that narcissistic grandmothers behave badly throughout the lives of their unsuspecting children and grandchildren.
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Narcissistic personality disorder (or NPD) is a mental condition, which largely goes unchecked and undiagnosed. Once you see the list of narcissism symptoms below, you can begin to understand why.
Common Traits of Narcissism
- Inflated sense of self importance
- Sense of entitlement and superiority (without having done anything to earn it)
- Need constant admiration and attention
- Absorbed with fantasies of success, power, talent, attractiveness and/ or having a perfect partner
- Dominate conversations
- Look down upon those who they think are beneath them
- Lack empathy towards the needs of others (it’s all about them)
- Arrogant and boastful
- Expect special treatment and unwavering compliance from others
- Will never accept responsibility for any wrongdoings towards others
As you can see, narcissists are extremely entitled creatures. They genuinely think that they’re more special than everyone else and do not have the ability to self-reflect or take accountability for their cruel and hurtful behaviours.
Do some (or all) of these traits sound like a grandmother you know?
Are Narcissistic Grandmothers Capable of Love?
I’m just going to rip the bandaid and say it – no, narcissistic grandmothers are not capable of authentically loving their grandchildren (or even their own children for that matter).
Back when the narcissist was young, they subconsciously killed off their own True Self due to trauma. Because of this, they were only left with their ego to live out the rest of their lives with. The ego fabricated a False Self as a means of survival, however, without their True Self, they were left without a direct connection to their own life force energy.
In other words, for the narcissist to actually feel anything besides what they’ve been left with (self-loathing, deep shame, total unworthiness and misery), they turned into energetic vampires. The only way for them to avoid looking within is to steal the life force energy from others, which only gives them a momentary reprieve from being with themselves. They are constantly on the prowl for their next hit of supply, much like a drug addict.
It’s important to understand that when the narcissist killed off their True Self, they also cut off the very qualities that make us human. Things such as love, compassion, empathy, kindness and authenticity cannot exist for the narcissist any more.
|Narcissists DO NOT have the ability to experience LOVE, either as the giver or the receiver.
That alone is a big piece of their karma for living a lifetime of arrogance, self-centredness and callousness.
As heartbreaking as it is, narcissistic grandmothers view their grandchildren as grade A supply, because those young, innocent souls can so easily give grandma all the attention and admiration that she craves.
Once the grandchildren grow older, wiser and more independent, the dynamics can shift a lot – and not always in grandmas favour!
Let’s continue and take a look at some of the signs that show you may be dealing with a narcissistic grandmother.
Signs of Narcissistic Grandmothers
She will ‘buy’ the grandchildren’s love
We all know that grandparents in general love to spoil their grandchildren, it’s almost a right of passage. However, in the case of narcissistic grandmothers, the imparting of gifts and money can have a much more sinister reasoning.
Narcissists are essentially just empty vessels, needing the outside world to constantly validate their existence so that they can feel some semblance of being ‘alive.’
If you do get the chance to look underneath their hood, you’ll find that they actually don’t have anything to offer.
Deep inside, the narcissistic grandmother knows that she has nothing to offer, which is why she will often give gifts or money as a way of ‘buying’ her grandchildren’s love. In doing so, she is able manipulate the kids with that underlying feeling of, “I did this for you/ gave you all these things, now you owe me.”
Grandma is essentially ‘grooming’ her grandchildren.
Remember, a narcissist does nothing for free. Everything is transactional, meaning that if they do something for you, there will undoubtably be expectations from you in return… even if you don’t know what those expectations are.
The problem is, although grandma may offer trinkets, gifts, money and false compliments, she’ll end up resenting the fact that she had to give those things in order to get her own grandchildren to like her.
Her resentment may ooze out through her invalidating comments, unrealistic expectations, self-righteousness and manipulations.
The narcissistic grandmother expects unwavering attention and admiration (supply) from her grandchildren. If they do not comply, she may punish them by withholding her love, affection and ‘things’ from them.
As the grandchildren are completely unaware of these unspoken terms, it can make the undertone of grandma’s behaviour pretty unsettling and confusing at times.
She will be overly controlling & manipulative
Narcissists need to feel in control of everything – it makes them feel powerful.
On top of that, a narcissistic grandmother often wants to own the role of being the family matriarch. This throne allows her to call the shots and boss everyone around purely to suit her own agenda.
You’ll notice that when it comes to family events, things always manage to be the way that she wants them, regardless of what everyone else wants.
If anyone should step outside of her control, she’ll manipulate, gaslight and play the victim card until the world is once again revolving around her.
Actions speak louder than words.
Her coercive tactics can be quite passive and hard to pinpoint because she doesn’t want to be seen as being manipulative, although she definitely intends to be.
She will play the victim to garner sympathy
Narcissists are masterful at playing the victim, so that other people will feel sorry for them and either bend to their will or send sympathy their way. Both things offer fantastic narcissistic supply for the narc.
A common tactic a narcissistic grandmother will pull is the sympathy card. She may exaggerate (or create) illnesses to gain attention and she can certainly use her older age to get the family running around after her like slaves.
Heaven forbid anyone questions her motives or doesn’t jump when she says jump. She’ll swing straight into emotional blackmail to make sure the power remains within her paws.
|READ: Why a Narcissist REALLY Cries →
She will disrespect decisions & boundaries
Narcissist grandmothers are notorious for overstepping the boundaries and your position as the parent. The narcissist truly believes that they know better and that the way they raised children is far superior to the job you’re doing.
The irony of that is not lost on me. Narcissists make terrible parents and create a tremendous amount of damage and trauma in their children. Yet, they view the world through such a skewed lens that they actually believe they did a fantastic job. In fact, any problems that their adult children have is on them, not the narcissist.
Beyond disrespecting their grandchildren’s parents, they’ll overstep boundaries with the grandkids as well. That could be through prying into their personal lives, even when they’re not welcome. Or totally disrespecting the grandkids’ decisions, telling them what they should do and how they ought to be doing it.
More examples of disrespecting boundaries include barging into the house without an invitation and gossiping about the personal information of family members with other people.
Narcissists are truly disrespectful creatures on many levels.
She will feel entitled to special treatment
Narcissistic people have such an inflated sense of superiority, they always feel like they’re above others and deserve special treatment. The hardest part about this behaviour, for those on the receiving end, is that the narc has done nothing to actually warrant such special treatment.
In fact, if anything, the narcissistic grandmother has done and said a multitude of things, which should exclude them from having any grandiose treatment!
My mother is the first to use, “I’m the grandmother and I deserve [insert whatever she feels entitled to].” Even if we haven’t seen her for months on end and she only pops in when it suits her, she still feels that she can waltz in and get the best seat at the table.
Which leads me to the next sign of narcissistic grandmothers behaving badly…
She will be passive aggressive
Any narcissist can nail passive aggressiveness, but covert narcissists are particular good at this form of invalidation. Passive aggressive comments are otherwise known as non-complements or ‘insults in disguise.’
|Passive aggression is basically the act of sandwiching a negative comment beside something seemingly positive, which essentially nullifies anything genuine.
Examples of Passive Aggression from Grandma:
- “Your dress looks nice, but it would have been too big for me at your age.”
- “That was a good test grade, it was almost as good as your brother’s.”
- “I wish I could come and see you more often, but I’m too busy at the club.”
- “Oh I didn’t realise you use your dishwasher” (as she continuously leaves her dishes in the sink, while someone else stacks the dishwasher).
- “You know I’m cranky if I haven’t had coffee. Don’t talk to me too early.”
- “I’m surprised you managed to behave all day.”
Passive aggressiveness is quite cutting and confusing for the grandchildren of a narcissistic grandparent. Even if the kids can’t understand what’s wrong with the statements, they will still feel bad deep within themselves.
That feeling of grandma not approving is the undertone that they will learn.
She’ll want to be the favourite grandparent
As narcissism is highly based around the need to feel ‘special,’ a narcissistic grandmother will want and expect to be the favourite. Through her manipulation tactics and buying the grandchildren’s affection, she may succeed with that on a superficial level.
She may even devalue the other grandparents in order to prop herself up.
“I bet your other grandma doesn’t cook as well as I do.”
“They try their best, but your other grandparents aren’t able to be around as much as me.”
She’ll only ‘Grandmother’ when it suits her
Remembering that narcissistic grandmothers are incapable of truly loving their grandkids, it makes sense that they’ll only step into that grandparent role when it suits them.
Usually if they haven’t seen the grandkids in ages, they’ll want to come and top up their supply. They will probably also want to get some fresh photos for Facebook or the ladies at the bowling club. You know… so they appear to be the doting grandparent.
Another hurtful and frustrating piece of their puzzle is expecting the grandkids to be available whenever they want them to be. If not, they will guilt-trip, play the victim or even punish with some silent treatment.
One weekend when my son was only a few months old, I was utterly exhausted, so my husband and I decided to have a full day to ourselves to try and relax. My covert narcissist mother-in-law rang out of the blue and wanted to come and visit. We politely declined and explained that we really needed a quiet rest day. Needless to say, she did not like that! Her snipped reply was, “Well if you’re going to withhold my grandson from me!” then hung up on us.
Her manipulation tactic worked like a charm. I could not relax at all that day from guilt of saying ‘No’ and also the confusion of not being considered or respected by someone who was supposed to care for me.
She will dish out the silent treatment
Silent treatment is a regularly used form of punishment by narcissists. Given that narcs are incredibly sensitive creatures (despite what they would have the world believe), they can be slighted in the simplest of ways.
Whether it was you or one of your children who aggrieved, dishonoured, affronted or outraged the narcissist, the silent treatment can be dished out to one and all. The grandmother may target that one person that they want to punish, or they may cut out the entire family.
Ultimately, they expect the person/ family to come crawling back to them with offers of apology, even if you have no idea what you’ve done ‘wrong.’
Silent treatment is a manipulation tactic that plays heavily on the emotional state of others.
She will be overbearing or totally absent
Tying in with the narcissistic grandma trait of expecting the grandkids to be available whenever she feels like it, you will probably find that she’s either completely overbearing or totally absent.
My own experience looks a little like this…
- OVERBEARING – My kids’ covert narcissist grandmother is overbearing. She is extremely insecure with no true identity of her own. As a result, she lives vicariously through her ‘Golden Child’ son (my ex) and his kids. This overbearing neediness can show up as being super involved and loving, however if you look hard enough, you can see right through the cracks. As soon as she’s slighted in any way, she pulls that ‘love’ away like a sulky toddler as a punishment.
- ABSENT – My own mother is pretty well absent for months at a time. Besides the obligatory birthdays, Christmas and of course Mother’s Day (which is all about her, not any of the other mothers), her interactions are few and far between. When she shows up, she wants ‘grandma cuddles,’ then once her supply tank is full, it’s right back to talking about herself.
She’ll ruin Christmas
Yep, my narcissistic mother ruined Christmas for years! In fact, her level of self-centredness at the expense of others became super apparent once my siblings and I became adults.
You see, simply because she’s the ‘Mum’ or the ‘Grandmother,’ it was expected that we all drop our plans and traipse to her house for Christmas lunch. That was all well and good until we started adding in our own partners with additional families to cater for. Then of course, children of our own began to come along.
Her inflexibility and sense of entitlement was second to none.
Narcissistic grandmothers always want to have full control over what Christmas day looks like for everyone, regardless of anyone else’s needs or wants. This is because she views her family members as an extension of herself, rather than the independent human beings that they are.
A narc grandmother can often ruin Christmas and other events by causing arguments, criticising others, monopolising the day and by being generally hurtful.
It may be hard to wrap your head around this one, but narcissists are pathological liars, which makes it hard to actually catch them in the act. This also explains how they can lie with zero regard for anyone else’s feelings.
See below to find out the difference between a Pathological Liar and a Compulsive Liar.
|Lies constantly to get their own way.
– No regard for the feelings of others
– Manipulative & cunning
– Often believe their own lies over time
– Hard to catch them out because lying is constant
– Confident liars (will hold eye contact)
– Have a weak grasp of reality
|Lies out of habit, which is hard to break.
– Bend the truth about everything
– Use lying to avoid confrontations
– It’s an automatic response, rather than a manipulation tactic
– Easy to catch them because the lies don’t add up
– May admit to lies when confronted
– Know the difference between lies and reality
I know it can be hard to believe that ‘innocent old grandma’ is a complete and utter liar, but over time you may pick up on some discrepancies in her stories.
And when you do… it then becomes hard to believe anything that comes out of her mouth!
She’ll use a constant stream of bending the truth (lying) to manipulate the reality and situation in a way that suits her own agenda.
A narcissistic grandma can easily lie to turn parents and children against each other, making her the all-powerful one in between.
She will refuse to be accountable for any wrongdoings
Just like any other narcissist, a narc grandmother will refuse to take any accountability for their wrongdoings. Whether it be something that they’ve said or something they’ve done, the result will always be the same.
For the grandmother to accept responsibility would be for their whole delusional world to crumble around them and they cannot allow that to happen.
Statements of avoiding accountability:
- “I never did that.”
- “I never said that.”
- “What are you talking about?”
- “You obviously misheard me.”
- “Clearly your memory isn’t as good as mine.”
She can be argumentative
Narcissistic grandmothers can be incredibly argumentative given that they only ever see the world from their own limited viewpoint.
When others disagree with her stance, she will keep going with the issue until the other person either agrees with her or withdraws out of sheer exhaustion. Narc’s are infamous for exhausting their ‘prey’ until they ‘win.’
If you do engage with the narc grandma in an argument, you’ll no doubt find yourself twisting and turning down the rabbit hole as she tricks you up with her ‘word salad.’
Narcissistic word salad is a type of speech purposely designed to confuse and manipulate the other person. They’ll use tactics such as bringing in irrelevant issues and things from the past (whether true or fictitious) to divert the conversation off themselves and back onto the other person. Another common word salad tactic is to accuse the listener of doing whatever the narcissist themselves were doing. The idea is get the other person doubting their own reality and feeling like they need to defend themselves.
Word salad is a deliberate manipulation tactic – the narcissist is fully aware of what they’re doing.
The grandchildren often feel like they have to walk on eggshells around grandma, because they never know when she might explode or overreact to the tiniest little thing.
She may choose a ‘Golden Child’
A very common tactic that narcissistic parents and grandparents like to use is favouritism. They will often pick one child from the bunch to be the ‘Golden Child,’ who is put up on a pedestal and can do no wrong.
This type of behaviour leaves the other children feeling ‘less than’ and ‘not enough’ because they’re forever compared to the favourite, knowing that they can never stack up to be as ‘perfect’ as they are.
Interestingly, while it seems that the golden grandchild gets all the perks and privileges from the narcissistic grandmother, there is another side to this tale. Oftentimes, the favourite child can be outcast by the other cousins and siblings, because they recognise and dislike the ‘golden child’ dynamic.
Why Does the Narcissistic Grandmother Choose a ‘Golden Child?’
- To pit the other family members off against each other
- To create a sense of elitism around her
- To groom that child in a way that ensures Grade A narcissistic supply for herself
- So that she can parade her ‘perfect item’ around
- Because she genuinely sees that child as being the ‘best’ reflection her expectations
Another aspect to consider is that while yes, the favourite child receives extra attention and gifts from grandma, nothing comes for free from a narc. She will expect undying loyalty, affection and attention from that golden child in exchange for her feigned generosity.
She may also hold the golden child to higher expectations in the form of performance (whether that be in sport, school, work etc.). Those expectations put an incredible amount of pressure on the child for no other reason but to please the grandmother, so that she can receive her much-needed supply.
|READ: Narc Supply Explained →
How to Deal with a Narcissistic Grandmother
Okay, so now that you’re fully aware of the pitfalls of having a narcissistic grandma in your life, how can you move forward with it all?
If you decide that the narcissist is just too abusive and disrespectful, you may want to consider going No Contact.
No Contact = no visits, no phone calls, no messages. You are effectively removing them from your life forever.
This is a HUGE step to take and one that only you can decide on. Whether it’s your own grandmother or your children’s grandmother, cutting them out of your lives for good is going to have big, rippling ramifications.
If you do not wish to go No Contact, read on for some strategies to manage the narcissist.
It’s important to know that the narc will not change. All you’ll be doing is managing your relationship with them so that you can live a full and healthy life. It’s not about trying to change the narc as you will only end up damaging your own mental health in the process.
You cannot help someone who does not have the ability to self-reflect and therefore does not see the need to improve themselves.
Set Your Boundaries
The first step is to recognise what your personal ‘deal breakers’ are with regards to the narcissist.
Deal breaker examples:
- Swearing, yelling, arguing
- Put-downs, invalidations
- Being demanding and telling others what to do
The next step is to start asserting your boundaries. You may wish to write a letter/ email or make a phone call discussing what your boundaries are. Or, you may prefer to address each behaviour as it arises.
The narcissist isn’t going to like these new boundaries and will no doubt push back and try to make you feel guilty for setting them in the first place.
It’s important to be firm and hold your position.
You can say something like, “If you continue to put Jane down, we will leave,” or “We’ll have to have this conversation another time if you keep yelling.”
Go Low Contact
It’s now time to start reducing the amount of correspondence and time you and your children spend with the narcissistic grandmother.
You are under no obligation to keep in close contact with someone who is abusive, no matter who that person is.
Keep the phone calls to a minimum and keep the visits short and sweet.
I also recommend pulling back your emotions from the narc grandma. Don’t impart personal information or details about your life, beyond the surface level stuff.
Remember, if she can get a rise out of you, you’ll be feeding her supply. That’s what you want to avoid. Eventually she’ll get bored with you and stop seeking you out as an energy source.
Talk to Your Children
Be open with your children and let them know that the way grandma sometimes talks or the things that she sometimes says are not okay.
They don’t need to know about narcissism, that’s something you can go into with them once they’re older.
Kids are very smart and pick up on a lot more than what we often realise. Demonstrating to them how a healthy person behaves and reacts, versus a toxic person, will speak volumes without even having to say a thing.
The most important thing is for the kids to know that they have a safe space with you.
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