Do you know how to recognize covert narcissistic mother traits?
The covert part means they’re usually under the radar for most people — but not for the people they live with.
Sons and daughters of covert narcissistic mothers often don’t realize until much later what their mothers’ “parenting style” has cost them.
It’s not unusual to find you’re still dealing with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) due to your mother’s narcissistic behavior.
But how do you recognize that behavior for what it is?
And what can you do about it?
What Are the Signs of a Covert Narcissist Mother?
If you’re not sure whether your mother is a covert narcissist, here are a few tell-tale signs to look for.
1. When you make her look good, all is well.
When you do, say, or wear the right thing (i.e., what she wants), she glows with pride and self-satisfaction.
She sees you as an extension of her ego, so whenever you do what she wants, she’s happy to lavish you with praise.
2. Make her look bad, and she repays you in kind.
This is true even if you have no intention of making her look bad.
If you do something, say something, or wear something she doesn’t like, she’ll openly and publicly tear you apart because she takes it personally.
3. Gifts are not really gifts.
Every gift from her has strings attached. And if she wants it back, she’ll either ask for it or simply take it from you — in either case claiming you don’t use it anyway or that you never appreciated it.
If she does something for you, trust that she’ll collect before long.
4. She doesn’t gratefully receive what she doesn’t ask for.
If you give her something she hasn’t asked for, she’s likely to either turn it down or pretend to accept it graciously but later dispose of it.
She’d much rather simply tell you what she wants so she can control what you give her.
5. She doesn’t respond well to constructive criticism.
No matter how well-meant or tactfully delivered, any criticism is an attack, and she’ll either respond aggressively or play the victim to make the critic look or feel like a monster for “lashing out” at her.
7. She doesn’t respond well to questions, either.
Questions feel invasive to the covert narcissist and as threatening as open criticism.
How dare you question her decisions or her motives when she only ever wants to make her family happy?
8. She doesn’t respect your boundaries.
Anything and everything in your life is her business. She demands to know everything and to have access to your everything.
As far as she’s concerned, you will always owe her exactly what she wants from you.
9. Your concerns always take a back seat to hers.
She’s only there for you when it’s convenient. But if you don’t rush to her side when she asks for you, she’s quick to resent you for it.
She expects you to drop your thing (whatever it is) and put her first — always.
10. She doesn’t let go.
As a humanoid extension of her ego, you will always exist to make her look good and feel good about herself. Your growing need for independence feels like rejection to her.
She’ll do what she can to keep you under her control.
How Having a Narcissistic Mother Impacts You
Whether your situation involves a narcissistic mother and son (or daughter) or a covert narcissistic mother-in-law, you need to know how this dynamic is likely to affect you.
Granted, the one who grows up with a narcissistic mother has years of grooming to contend with.
But a narcissistic mother-in-law can destroy a marriage if she decides it interferes with her control.
In either case, it pays to know the signs of a narcissistic mother’s influence:
- You tend to forget or downplay your own needs and desires.
- You have low self-esteem and a low level of confidence.
- You struggle with insecurity and feelings of inadequacy in your relationships.
- You notice your tendency toward negativity.
- You sabotage yourself and your relationships because you expect the worst.
How to Deal With a Covert Narcissist Mother
The following 11 tips can help you identify your mother’s toxic behaviors and take back your control.
It’s up to you (and you alone) whether you continue to have a relationship with her. Because you don’t owe her that.
1. Become aware of the covert narcissism in your mother’s behavior.
The more you learn about the effects of narcissistic parents on their children, the easier it will be to see how your mother’s narcissism has affected you. From there, you can take steps to free yourself from her influence.
2. Keep calm when calling her out for those behaviors.
An emotional reaction will play right into her hands. If she’s the calm one, she’ll use your lack of control over your emotions against you. This is why so many who’ve grown up with covert narcissistic moms learn to keep a tight lid on their feelings.
If she can get you to snap, she’ll play the victim and ride that wave as far as it’ll take her.
3. Try to empathize — without excusing her behavior.
The better you understand what’s going on in your mother’s head and in her heart, the easier it is to see how to respond in the kindest and most effective way.
Kind doesn’t mean “nice.” You’re not letting her have her way. You’re just making an effort to see things from her perspective (though you know she won’t reciprocate).
4. Refuse to argue with her.
There’s no point. Even if your argument is sound and hers is not, she won’t see it. And in the end, you’ll have gained nothing. She won’t respect any viewpoint other than her own.
If you don’t think as she does, your thinking is automatically abhorrent to her. You can’t win. For her, the cost of acknowledging (or even recognizing) defeat is too high.
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5. Stand your ground with quiet confidence.
You don’t need her to agree with you. You don’t even need her to let you have your say (she won’t listen, anyway). Once you’ve made your decision, you just need to stick to it.
However vehemently she blames you for everything, and no matter how passionately she tries to convince you she knows better, maintain your position.
6. Remember, it’s not about you.
Depersonalize your mother’s behavior to detach it from yourself. What she does comes from her; it’s not really about you at all.
How she treats you and what she says all come from her own inflated but very fragile ego. You have as much right as anyone to be loved and to find happiness.
7. Learn to say no.
Or at least buy yourself some time by responding to one of her demands with, “I don’t know… Let me think about it,” or “This isn’t a good time. I’ll get back to you.”
The covert narcissist has many demands, and she thinks you owe her everything she asks. You don’t.
8. Work on building self-confidence.
Growing up with a narcissistic mother takes a toll on your confidence and self-esteem. It’s time to rebuild — or to build what you’ve never had.
9. Set boundaries and communicate them.
Connect with your mother on your terms, and make those terms clear.
If she invites you over, let her know you’d like to, but if the conversation devolves to yelling, criticizing, or bullying, you’ll be out the door faster than she blames you for it.
10. Take stock of your own behaviors.
When you grow up with a narcissistic parent, it’s understandable that you’d pick up some co-narcissistic behaviors of your own.
You might have no boundaries with her because she doesn’t respect them. And you might find it difficult to express your feelings, knowing she’ll use them against you.
11. Talk to someone who can help you sort things out.
This person can be a therapist, but it can also take the form of a support group or friends who understand what you’ve been through.
If possible, talk to a professional therapist who can help you sort through your personal baggage and finally learn how to let go.
Do you have a covert narcissistic mother?
Even if you’re better equipped to determine whether your mother is a covert narcissist, it doesn’t make that realization any easier. But putting a name to what you’ve been dealing with your whole life can help you work through the damage it’s caused and begin to heal.
It’s important to remember, too, that your mother’s covert narcissism doesn’t make her evil. Narcissism is a disorder. And it’s up to her to pursue treatment.
You have your own choices to make. May they lead you closer to peace.