Narcissistic families are disconnected emotionally. They may appear solid on the exterior, but authentic communication and connections between the members rarely take place because the parents in this family are focused on themselves. They expect the children to react to their needs, instead of the other way around, as in a healthy family. In this dysfunctional system, adults do not deal with real feelings, and therefore do not meet the emotional needs of the children.
In a family with a narcissistic mother, everybody attends to the mother, and other family members' needs are not met. In the narcissistic family the mother is at the center of the system with the rest of the family revolving around her, like the planets revolving around the sun.
The unspoken rule in these families is that they do not discuss this dynamic and it becomes a family secret. In order to maintain the peace, the children have to keep quiet and not rock the boat.
Oftentimes when Mother is narcissistic, she may be able to do some of the earlier nurturing because she has control of the infant and small child and can mold the child to her wishes. But as the child grows older and develops a mind of her own, the mother loses control and no longer has the same kind of power. This causes the mother to begin her demeaning, critical behavior with the child, in hope of regaining that control, which is crazy-making for the daughter. Even if she learned a modicum of trust as an infant, she begins to unlearn it as she grows older. As she makes natural, reasonable demands on her mother, who is unable to meet them, the mother becomes resentful and threatened, and projects her inadequacies onto the daughter. She begins to focus on the daughter's failings, rather than on her own limited ability to parent effectively.
Narcissistic families commonly have a skewed, ineffective communication style called "triangulation." Instead of the mother talking to the daughter, the mother may express her thoughts and feelings~usually negative and criticizing~to another family member in the hope that he or she will tell the daughter. Then the mother can deny that she said it, although the message somehow got out there anyway. This triangulation in communication is passive-aggressive and is an expression of the sentiment "I will get you back, but not directly to your face." Many families, unfortunately, communicate in this dysfunctional manner, but narcissistic families are the poster example.
H/T: Karyl McBride, Ph.D.
Will I Ever Be Good Enough?