12 (Unmistakable) Signs of a COVERT Narcissistic Mother

Narcissistic mother traits ( Covert Narcissistic Mother)

( For the audio version of this post- go to the end of the article)

You’ve read about narcissistic mothers… and the descriptions don’t exactly describe your Mother’s behavior.

Yes, she’s difficult, impossible is more like it… but instead of the loud, brash variety of narcissists, she’s subtle, quiet, and more manipulative.

That doesn’t make her any less dangerous. If anything, if she is a Covert Narcissist, she’s more dangerous- a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

covert narcissistic mother - a wolf in sheep's clothing  

When she’s so good at manipulating, you wonder if she’s really narcissistic… or if it is all in your head?

It’s hard to see clearly. You feel like you are in a fog.

No wonder you are confused. Anyone would be. That’s actually the point- to keep you in the dark and unaware.

Never fear- I have clarity for you.

And when you can see through a covert narcissistic mother’s disguises, you will no longer be groping in the dark. Instead, you will see through the moves for what they are so you can deal with them more effectively.

Please stick with me until the end, and I promise you, her covert moves will no longer hold the same power over you. Together we will begin to break her spell so that you will be set free.  


What does it feel to be under the spell of a Covert Narcissistic mother?

An encounter with a Covert Narcissistic Mother might seem pleasant enough on the surface, but you come away with a sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach. You feel guilty, of what,. you aren’t quite sure.

Frustrated, you can’t get it right with Mom.  And, you doubt yourself and wonder what you did wrong. But, mostly, you come away feeling bad about yourself.

With a straightforward Narcissistic mother, you come away feeling bad about her, a Covert Narcissistic mother leaves you feeling bad about yourself.

The Overt Narcissistic traits are easiest to spot, the Covert traits– not so much. However, after counseling women in psychotherapy for over 30 years, I know all the moves and can break them down so that you can see them for what they are too.

 Here’s how the Covert Narcissistic Mother accomplishes the same goals as an Overt Narcissistic Mother.

1)  She needs to look perfect –

a) Overt NPD trait – These mothers may be dressed to the nines, botoxed to the max, and name-drop her latest posh vacation spot. It’s all about how it looks and how she looks to the world. Yes, it’s easy to spot her ways.

b) Covert NPD trait– This Mom transfers her need to look perfect to you. You are what we call in the field her narcissistic extension. While she will brush off a compliment about herself, ” oh, this old thing, I’ve had it for ages,” she needs you to be her show pony, perfect and polished. She glows when you make her look good and has little tolerance for your struggles. She micromanages your every move and will ride you relentlessly, pressuring you to achieve the success that reflects well on her.

2) She can’t admit she is wrong.

a) Overt NPD traitBraggadocious and obnoxious, this Mom argues your every point, never backs down, and never admits fault.

b)  Covert NPD trait- the sneakier variety still can’t admit she is wrong but will do it in a roundabout way. For example, she may say, “what do I know? I’m only your mother.” Then she holds onto your failures, waiting for the right time to throw them back in your face when it serves her purposes.  If she does apologize, it isn’t genuine and is frequently followed by a “but you…”.

3) She has to be right-

a) Overt NPD Trait–  Mom will tell anyone who will listen to what she thinks, and she thinks plenty. She will sound off and won’t back down, no matter the evidence to the contrary. Her need to be right stems from her need to feel superior.

b)  Covert NPD Trait–  Mom privately prevails on you to see things her way, although, with others, she keeps her feelings of superiority under wraps. With you, she can be relentless. And when you try your way and fail, instead of protecting your pride, no one can wield an ” I told you so” with more self-satisfaction than a Covert Narcissistic Mother.

4)  She lacks empathy-

a) Overt  NPD trait- Mom can’t put herself in another person’s place. Frankly, she sees no need to do so. Instead, she’ll bully and dominate without a second thought about how her actions land.

b)  Covert NPD trait- Mom insists she is in your corner but tells you that you are just too sensitive if you show hurt feelings. She will blame you for the harm she causes and tells you her critical comments are “for your own good.” She needs your buy-in to her cruelty.

5) She needs to win at any cost-

a) Overt NPD trait – Everything is a contest, and there are winners and losers. If Mom isn’t the winner, in her mind, she’s a loser. As a result, she will do anything to win.

b) Covert NPD trait– If she can’t take credit for it, it will threaten her.  The line in the Snow White fairy tale, “mirror, mirror on the wall,” is very real to her. While most Mothers take pride in their daughter’s beauty and accomplishments, the Covert Narcissistic Mother is weirdly threatened by it.

She needs to take her daughter down a notch and is the master of the backhanded compliment and doublespeak

6) She acts entitled-

a) Overt NPD trait – Somehow, the rules don’t apply to Mom. She breaks in line, expects special treatment for no reason, and thinks others should do her bidding just because. Depending on the level of Narcissism, this can range from bending the rules to out-and-out criminality.

B) Covert NPD trait – She is just as entitled yet gets her way through manipulation and has no trouble in lying and making up the facts as she goes along as long as they fit her purposes. However, her preferred ways to avoid being found out are gaslighting and artfully dodging the truth.

She feels justified in her truth-bending and will portray herself as the victim instead of owning up to victimizing another.

7) She exploits others-

a) Overt NPD trait – She uses people and then discards and devalues them when they are no longer of use to her.

b) Covert NPD trait- She might look as if she is close and caring, but in reality, Mom is collecting chips she hopes to cash in when she needs them. This includes appropriating her daughter to supply her needs.

Many times the Covert Narcissistic Mother parentifies her daughter. Because a daughter is unable to say no, her expectation is inappropriate.

Bonus- Traits for the Covert Narcissistic mother

8) Guilt-tripping-

Nobody and I mean nobody, is better at making you feel guilty than the Covert Narcissistic Mother. She won’t be done with you until you show some sign that YOU are the one who shows remorse and culpability, not her. She needs you to go away with the feeling that you owe her something.

Your guilt is a credit she can cash in when she pleases.

9) Silent treatment and withholding affection.

If she is unhappy with you or feels you are out from under her control, she will give you the silent treatment. Her silence speaks louder than any words could.

Mom keeps the relational tension leash tight and doesn’t let up until you’ve shown your fealty to her. She keeps you second-guessing until you have figured out what she thinks you have done wrong and are working to get back in her good graces.

In this way, she uses your anxiety for control over you.

10) She says one thing and does another

Mind reading is a requirement to stay in Mom’s good graces. And since it is hell on earth to be outside of them, you are a willing student.

You need to watch for her gestures, an eye-roll, the rage cleaning, the slammed doors – all backed in with plausible deniability. ” What, I’m not mad- I don’t know what you are talking about. ” to know when she is displeased without her having to own it.

11) She will play one sibling against another if it suits her purposes

Not afraid to pit siblings against one another to maintain her control, the Covert Narcissistic Mother plays favorites. She praises the child who is working to please her or making her look good. This, of course, sets siblings up to be at odds with each other.

Mom will say she loves all her children equally, but her actions tell a different story.

12) She will make Dad’s life a living hell if he crosses her.

Dad is in a no-win situation.

Besides divorce, there isn’t any escape or hope for a better life as long he is with Mom. Mostly men in this situation try to keep their heads down and go along to get along. Of course, this leaves their children with no protection or example of how to stand up to Mom.

Frequently, Mom won’t “let” her daughter have a relationship with her father without feeling extremely threatened. Daughters pick up the unspoken rule- I belong to Mom.


Why is it so hard to tell if your mother is a Covert Narcissist?

We’ve all familiar with the jerk at the bar, certain politicians, the a-hole boss you can barely tolerate. We even know to watch our back around the mean girl/neighbor/coworker who would sleep with our partner given half a chance or throw you under the bus if it suits her purposes. With Narcissism so prevalent in our culture, we know the classic narcissist signs, and we know to stay away.

But when it comes to our very own Mother dearest, it gets a bit trickier.  A child needs her mother. She doesn’t have the luxury of moving out or finding another, so she follows a biological mandate to make it work, whatever it takes. Because she is used to putting Mom’s needs ahead of her own, she has normalized much of Mom’s behavior.  And it’s even trickier when the symptoms or traits are veiled, hidden, inverted, or covert.

If Mom is a Covert Narcissist, why can’t anyone else (including my family) see it?

covert narcissistic mother family

Because women and especially mothers are hyper-aware of what the culture expects from them, they know how to put on a good front.  In fact, they are experts at it.

You will ( likely) find a supporting cast of characters behind the scenes, including an enabling passive father and (possibly) a golden child brother.  The Narcissistic mother’s outside friendships tend toward the superficial. No one outside the family is allowed a backstage pass to her inner workings. Strangely, but not so strangely, she will have few to no really close friendships.

If Dad has stuck around, he had most likely made his peace with it by doing her bidding instead of protecting you or standing up for himself. He is very invested in not rocking the boat and will encourage you to do the same. With a “you know how your mother is,” the expectation is that she will get her way no matter the cost. Her social relationships are a mile wide and an inch deep, mostly designed for show.

Unless everyone has had enough and flown the coop, only her daughter will have intimate knowledge of her harmful ways.   This can be confusing at best, isolating, and infuriating at worst. 

So what is Narcissism at its root?

 What is the core of Narcissism?

Narcissism, at its core, is a problem of desperate insecurity. The traits or defenses we’re talking about here keep Mom unaware of the painful core reality she can’t face.  At her very center, she feels unbearable unworthiness, shame, and emptiness. Thus the reason for the show of specialness, manipulation, and entitlement.

It’s all a carefully constructed act.

How your Covert Mother’s Narcissistic traits have affected you

If your mother is a Covert Narcissist, she has parented you from a place of hurt, deception, and pain. As such, you have been fed a steady (emotional) diet of smoke and mirrors. Nothing is what it seems on the surface. When you are raised by a mother who is either high in these CovertNarcissistic Traits or has full-blown NPD, your self-esteem suffers; you doubt yourself constantly. You are at risk for carrying your insecurity into other relationships.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that awareness is the first step to healing from a Narcissistic Mother.

When you finally can begin to make sense of what makes your mother tick, you can begin to piece together your childhood.  You realize the whole thing was upside down and that Mom’s needs came before yours… this helps you understand how you feel today. 

Identifying the source of your pain and confusion is the foundation for dealing with it and ultimately rising above it.

It’s a new day. You are waking up!

freedom from narcissistic mother traits

Wake up so that you can find freedom from the oppressive chains of bondage to a dysfunctional relationship.

To listen- here is the audio version of this post)

You’ve taken an important step towards getting free. Here’s a  guide to your next steps.

To find out if you are trapped in the role of the good daughter- take the quiz- 

What traits would you add? Let me know in the comments.

Frequently Asked Questions:

They transfer their need to be special to their daughters, whom they appropriate, criticize, and micromanage.

No, they are passive-aggressive and use manipulation to get their way instead of bullying and overt force.

Covert narcissists ar also known as vulnerable or inverted narcissists.

Volatility, instability, mood swings, and the lack of resilience, are all traits of a mother with BPD.

A covert narcissist is a narcissist who disguises their need for power, admiration, and entitlement by appearing meek and vulnerable. Underneath it all, they are both driven to cover up their insecurity- just in seemingly opposite ways.


Do you relate?
If so, here are some ways I can help on your journey from Good Daughter to Empowered Woman:

Do you have The Good Daughter Syndrome? Take the Quiz (It’s Free)

Read the first two chapters of The 4 Good Daughter Traps- Break Free of Your Difficult Mother and Take control of Your Life …for Free- Go here! 

Watch & Learn Video Course Practical Strategies for Dealing with a Narcissistic, Borderline, or Difficult Mother That Work Tips honed from working with daughters of difficult mothers for 30 years, as a psychotherapist.

What Kind of Good Daughter Are You? Conflicted? Independent? Obedient? Take this (Free) Quiz

Consult with Katherine- Private Coaching – When it’s time to tell your story.

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  1. Emily Shelene

    I found out the answer at 35 because of your help online. Thank you so much!!! God be with you as He is daily with me

    • Katherine Fabrizio

      Hi Emily,
      Thank you for writing. I’m glad it helped.
      Take care,

  2. Ivan Miller

    I’m recently divorced from a vulnerable narcissist and have split custody of our 6 yr old daughter. My ex wife’s anger was always targeted at me, but after she lashed out at our daughter in front of me– I realize she took my place & everything is redirected solely on her.
    Do you know of any good resources for handling this? Her mom is an extreme vulnerable narcissist, on steroids with every trait magnified.

    • Katherine Fabrizio

      Hi Ivan-
      How difficult it must be to witness your ex’s behavior towards the daughter you both share. It’s hard for you because you can’t go directly at your ex. You can, however offer your daughter a sense of stability and base your parenting on supporting her (your daughter’s) separate sense of self. Don’t underestimate how powerful the experience of a different way of relating to her can be.

      You might have guessed this already, but the danger here is that/if your daughter feels the need to defend her mother. So you are best to tread lightly and not bring that on- as tempting as it might be.

      This type of mother/daughter dynamic tends to produce a very enmeshed relationship. That is… your daughter may have a hard time differentiating from her mother and instead settle for being her ally.

      If you are patient however- there will come a time when your daughter will most likely turn to you and need your help in sorting out her dynamic with her mother.

      For now, my best guess is.. that you will have to settle for modeling a different type of parenting.

      Of course it would be great if your daughter could form a relationship with a therapist where she could sort through her experience without feeling like she is betraying one parent over the other.

      Best of luck,


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