It can be a hard question to ask yourself,- ” Is my mother a covert narcissist? ” You know something is amiss but you can’t quite put your finger on it.
Mom isn’t loud and overtly self-centered but she does always seem make it about her. In fact, if mom doesn’t get her way there is hell to pay. This you know is true. And if you are in the role of the “good” daughter you may have been enabling mom’s covert narcissism for years without realizing it. It’s time to become informed.
Let’s have a look beneath the surface.
Because mom knows the socially appropriate ways to co-opt you her ways are underground and slippery. This makes it hard to detect and harder still for daughters to understand their justifiable anger at having their lives appropriated. Mom might be the helicoptering PTA president, a squeaky clean Sunday school teacher or long-suffering martyred momma yet still have an underlying personality disorder or be high in traits of this disorder.
Don’t be fooled. Many covert narcissistic mothers have much more subtle telltale moves. Here is how to spot them:
Disclaimer- it is important to remember Narcissism isn’t a crime. It is a disorder. If mom has this disorder she is suffering too. She doesn’t consciously decide to act selfishly, she is driven to do it.
1. When you are making her look good, she glows…
but when you are struggling she peppers you with criticism and questions. You have broken a rule you didn’t know was there; your purpose is to make her look good. If you break this rule you will pay, pay with your self-esteem. There are no practice tests, no dress rehearsals. All of life is a performance. Her limitations can’t withstand tolerating your struggle.
Sadly, It’s about how you make her look as a mother not about supporting you as a daughter. Subtext: she exists on a steady diet of self-importance, you are there to feed her not the other way around.
2. Gift giving- she may ask for the gift back or tell you what to give her.
On holidays, she doesn’t graciously receive the gift you choose for her. She can’t receive; this would mean giving up control. Subtext: “You are not free to choose what to give me. That would imply we are equals. I will control the giving and taking.”
3. Despite outward appearances to the contrary, your life must take a back seat to her needs.
When you are unable to immediately attend to her, she becomes resentful. Again, the subtext is this; it is her needs that are important.
4. When you question her or ask for clarification, she becomes immediately defensive and fires back at you.
Or she gives an overblown hyperbolic response. Something along the lines of I’m SO SORRY for EVERYTHING and ANYTHING she MIGHT have done. She was, after all ONLY trying to help. The subtext is this; you are to answer to her, not the other way around. This move is designed to deflect blame and make you feel guilty. She is protecting the emptiness inside of herself.
5. When your boundaries about your personal life are not respected.
Everything and anything is her business. The requests for information feel more like a demand, not a respectful exchange. You get push back if you try and set healthy boundaries. The subtext is this; your business is mine for the taking. In a relationship with a covertly Narcissistic mother, you feel owned, more than loved.
6. Mom can’t let go.
Letting go of a daughter is hard, really hard. The covert narcissistic mother can’t support her daughter’s need for growing independence. She takes it as a rejection of her.
This is my “no punches pulled” list to help you spot the signs of a covert narcissistic mother. Harsh maybe, truthful, you bet.
Why would I want to call out these characteristics?
Because I have seen many daughters suffer and not know why they feel so angry one minute and guilty the next. They are truly trapped in the good daughter syndrome and can’t see their way out. They may be wearing a mask to the world and yet be suffocating inside and not know why.
As a psychotherapist counseling women for 30 years, I have seen these manipulative moves by mothers.
They are more subtle than the boorish moves you might see in a narcissistic man. These are the moves of the covert narcissistic mother. Not the blowhard bluster of the narcissistic man. Still, they are every bit as destructive to her daughter as the overt narcissistic mother. I would argue the damage is worse because of the insidious nature of the wounds. Like a nick from an extra sharp razor, you don’t know you’ve been cut until you see the blood running down your leg.
As the daughter of the covert narcissistic mother, you feel the sting of shame but think it is your fault, not hers. Shame keeps you second-guessing yourself. Bogged down in a sea of self-doubt you can’t see these moves for what they are- a desperate attempt to shore up mom at your expense.
It’s not you. It’s her. Really. By that I mean it is her needs that are getting met by your actions. Again, she isn’t evil – just unaware and driven to shore up her fragile sense of self.
Calling out these moves and naming them for what they are is the first step towards healing. With awareness, you can evolve beyond Good Daughter into an empowered woman. You need to see mom’s moves for what they are and how they have held you back. We are women. We can do better. Empowering women one mother/daughter relationship at a time.
Find out if you are trapped in the role of the good daughter here
DO YOU EXPERIENCE THE "GOOD DAUGHTER" SYNDROME?
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TWEET IT OUT-Women have been socialized to appear accommodating and self-effacing. These learned behaviors can obscure an underlying covert narcissistic personality disorder. Click To Tweet As the daughter of the covert narcissistic mother you feel the sting of shame, but think it is your fault, not hers. Click To Tweet Shame keeps you second-guessing yourself. Bogged down in a sea of self-doubt you can't see these moves for what they are- a desperate attempt to shore up mom at your expense. Click To Tweet When you question the covert Narcissistic mother or ask for clarification, she becomes immediately defensive and fires back at you. Or she gives an overblown hyperbolic response. She was, after all ONLY trying to help. Click To Tweet For the Covertly Narcissistic mother, your boundaries are not respected. Everything and anything is her business. The requests for information feel more like a demand, not a respectful exchange. Click To Tweet Giving a gift to the covertly Narcissistic mother is difficult. She must control the process and the outcome. The subtext is, “You are not free to choose what to give me. That would imply we are equals. Click To Tweet When the Covert Narcissistic mother gives you gifts, there are always strings attached. Gift giving has a push me, pull me feel. She feels so empty herself that she can’t give without extracting something from you. Click To Tweet With a covertly Narcissistic mother, your life must take a back seat to her needs. When you are unable to immediately attend to her, she becomes resentful. Click To Tweet In a relationship with a covertly Narcissistic mother, you feel owned, instead of loved. Click To Tweet