Postnatal depression, anxiety and narcissism

Is there a link between narcissism and postnatal depression? Mothers with a narcissistic personality disorder or spouses of a narcissistic partner are more likely to develop avoidant or insecure attachments with their own children who in turn can grow up more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression especially around the postnatal period.

It’s in this distinctive period, having become a mother, that a woman identifies more with her own mother and can recreate the attachment system she had experienced with her own mother.

In my work with women who went through a difficult time after birth, I come across insecure and anxious attachments established by women who had to be there for their self-absorbed mothers with either narcissistic or co-dependent traits. They might have found separation from their mothers difficult as their mum might have been dependent on their daughters or somehow needy. They might have found union difficult with an avoidant mother prone to sudden separations. As a consequence, these women are frequently confused about how to create a gradual separation and a secure attachment with their own children.

The narcissistic mother

The price for taking care of an overwhelming mother who takes all the space is the incapacity to clearly see how two people can both meet their needs at the same time, can both gain. It comes more natural instead to feel again suffocated by demands or imprisoned by a baby that brings back memories of being extremely needed or being completely put aside.

A mother whose needs were ignored by a narcissistic mother is more likely to repeat the circle by being anxious about how to meet the child’s needs and somehow backing off, leaving the caring work to others. Conversely, a mother who had to put her needs aside to meet the needs of a dependant mother can behave in the same way with her own children by simply substituting the mother with the children, repeating the circle again.

Narcissistic relationships

Narcissistic and codependency traits in the couple relationship can be reproduced in the mother-child relationship. Attachment styles are not only linked to motherhood but are constantly reproduced in love or other types of relationships starting in early life.

Breaking the cycle

Awareness is the key to lower anxiety and depression. Unjustified guilt feelings can be worked through in therapy as well as a healthy and gradual separation with the offspring. Besides awareness of the attachment allows a “ look from the outside to the inside “ more objectively noticing what comes from the past and how it’s different from the present. It doesn’t need to be necessarily replicated.

Fears and worries can be discussed but above all is the ambivalence that needs to be acknowledged as normal as is some anger against their own mothers so that it doesn’t need to be unconsciously expressed against one’s children.

Can opposite styles, fusional and avoidant, be adopted as defends mechanisms against awareness of the ambivalence towards their own children? These can be also be seen as defence mechanisms against loss of control and fear of the future or sometimes defence mechanisms against separation, rejection and disappointment?

Every situation is unique as every person is unique and needs to be seen in context, but undoubtedly in a selfie society that is increasingly narcissistic, I believe it’s likely that we will increasingly come across Postnatal mental difficulties.

Speaking to a counsellor might help if you have concerns around the postnatal period that can last up to as long as a few years after birth. 

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Rivka Mennesson

I’m a psychodynamic psychotherapist qualifies in 2010 from WPF and interested in postnatal depression since my MA dissertation about it 15 years ago. I co-lead a postnatal group in NW8 and see many women with this condition in private practice.… Read more

Written by Rivka Mennesson

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