There is no such thing as a perfect parent, or a perfect mother.
That being said, it is possible that some of your mother’s traits or behaviors are toxic and affect your mental health.
Specifically, this article is about how to deal with a mother who shows narcissistic traits and tends to play the victim.
We’re going to have a look at the potential reasons a mother may play the victim, other potential signs of a toxic mother, and how to deal with her.
Without further ado…
Why a mother may play the victim
- To get your attention. Typically, you would expect a child to do this. However, it is possible that a mother plays the victim to get attention from her son or daughter. I’m referring to an unhealthy need for attention, time and/or approval.
- To avoid responsibility. Let’s say you and your mother are discussing an issue, and she is somehow responsible for that. Because accepting responsibility may be uncomfortable, because it may lead to vulnerability, then a mother may play the victim instead.
- To be immune. Similarly, she may play the victim to be immune from criticism. We tend not to criticize those who are, at least in theory, victims to external events and circumstances; so playing victim can be a defense mechanism.
- To get you to open up. If you’re the type that is gentle and caring, then you may be especially vulnerable to this. Manipulative people can pretend to be victims just so they can get you to open up and share your own issues.
- To avoid apologizing. It takes courage to say “sorry”. Someone with a fragile self-image may struggle to apologize for anything because it may make them feel bad about themselves. So if they play victim, they work around that.
- To make you feel bad. Guilt is a very powerful emotion; this is why it plays such a big role in social conditioning. Guilt and shame are almost never helpful, though. By making you feel guilty, your mother can have more control over you.
Is playing the victim manipulative behavior?
Not necessarily. But it very often is the case. We define manipulative behavior as any type of behavior aimed at influencing others, usually in a selfish way.
This could be influencing what others think about the manipulator, or influencing their actions in a way that benefits the manipulator.
As we’ve seen, a mother who plays the victim can indeed be manipulative in the sense that her tactics may serve to get your attention, or make you feel a certain way.
Now, the act of manipulating others, including a son or daughter, could be unconscious — the manipulator may not be aware that they are trying to influence others, if that makes sense.
However, that would still count as manipulative behavior. And yes, it can still be toxic to your mental health.
Other potential signs of a toxic mother
- Gaslighting (using tactics to make you think you are wrong, e.g. that you have forgotten something, or that you are lying to yourself)
- Conditional love (as opposed to conditional love; “conditional” means that you only deserve love if you do this or that)
- No empathy (little to no ability to understand your feelings, including your needs and desires, even when you verbalize them)
- No boundaries (deliberately failing to respect clear boundaries, e.g. being too intrusive or expecting you to be always available)
- Selfishness (she always puts herself first and seems to ignore the importance of your needs as a child)
How to deal with a mother who plays the victim
1. Accept she tends to play victim
If your mother clearly plays the victim as a manipulation tactic (consciously or unconsciously), then the first step is to acknowledge and accept that.
It’s not easy. But it’s a necessary step. You’re never going to justify change as long as you believe your mother’s behavior is totally normal.
2. Don’t try to fix her
People who play the victim have learned that playing the victim can be very effective in terms of influencing others and getting attention, so they rarely change.
Plus, it’s not your responsibility to fix her behavior. Let me repeat that — it’s not your responsibility. She’s your mother, yes, but you’re not her therapist.
3. Be as independent as possible
It can be very hard to distance yourself from a toxic mother if you still depend on your parents, e.g. financially.
Obviously, this depends on a lot of different factors. But regardless of your situation, do whatever you can to be as independent as possible. Most importantly, learn to be independent from your mother’s idea of you.
4. Set clear boundaries
What is acceptable, and what isn’t? When it comes to giving time and attention to your mother, what would be a reasonable amount? And so on.
The fourth tip to deal with a mother who plays victim is to set boundaries as soon as possible, and then notice if your mother fails to respect those, because that is a clear red flag.
5. Stop feeling guilty
As explained earlier, manipulators are very good at making others feel guilty. If your mother tends to play the victim, it’s possible that she is too.
So here’s another important tip — never feel guilty for things you shouldn’t feel guilty for, and don’t necessarily believe everything your mother says; learn to question her words whenever she accuses you.
6. Be emotionally detached
Easier said than done, right? But once you acknowledge that your mother’s behavior is manipulative and toxic to your wellbeing, then it does become a lot easier.
Learn to be emotionally detached — it’s vital. For example, learn not to react to everything your mother says about you, whether it’s positive or negative comments.
7. Let go; live in the present
If your mother has always been playing the victim and/or had an unhealthy relationship with you, you may have developed bitter feelings toward her. Which is understandable.
However, know that those feelings are rarely helpful. Once you’ve walked away, there really is no point in holding those feelings. You have to let them go: never forget, but always forgive.
8. Consider blocking her
Notice the word “consider”. On one hand, this is something you want to carefully think about. On the other hand, you don’t want to overthink so much you never take action.
You may have reached a point where your mother’s manipulative behavior is simply too much, and you know she won’t change, so blocking her could be sensible.
Tip: if you’re not sure, I would always recommend taking a break instead. Spend a few days with no calls, messages, etc. Then evaluate your feelings.
Also (and this applies to pretty much everything I’ve written so far), consider talking to a therapist. It’s their job to help you out.
Dealing with a mother who plays the victim can be overwhelming; you may feel confused, trapped, or frustrated. It’s great that you’re reading posts like this one, but ultimately therapy is irreplaceable.