How To Spot Narcissistic Mother Traits, Overt AND Covert

Narcissistic mother traits

It’s always about her.

How many times have you said that?

Every argument, every conversation, every time you try and tell her how she is hurting you, she manages to bring it back to herself.

You’ve wondered what exactly is wrong with your mother.  Your friends tell you that their mothers are their best friends. You wish you could say the same, but you can’t. You’ve heard about Narcissistic mothers and wonder what traits you should look for.

Let me help.

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

 10 Signs of a Narcissistic Mother

Narcissistic Mother Traits-Overt and Covert

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.

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 are making her look good and has little tolerance for your struggles. She micromanages your every move will ride you relentlessly, pressuring you to achieve the kind of success that reflects well on her.

2) She can’t admit she is wrong.

a) Overt NPD trait – Braggadocious 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. She may say, “what do I know? I’m only your mother.” Then she holds onto your failures, waiting for just 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…”.The punchline is always, “Mother knows best.”

3) She has to be right-

a) Overt NPD Trait-  Mom will tell anyone who will listen 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 Covertly Narcissistic Mother. When it comes down to it, she can’t offer you a genuine apology.

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. She’ll bully and dominate without a second thought to 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.”

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, she will be threatened by it.  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 covertly 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.  She will set things up, so she is indeed the fairest/most accomplished of them all.

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. Gaslighting and artfully dodging are her preferred ways to keep from being found out. 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. And if her daughter tries to pull away, she will guilt and shame her calling her ungrateful.

Narcissistic mother traits you need to know

How do all these Narcissistic Mother traits add up?

Now that you have been through a list of Narcissistic mother traits, you might be wondering if your mother is a full-blown Narcissist.  Some mothers might have a trait or two resulting from cultural conditioning or specific trauma. Still, if you find yourself nodding and recognizing the majority of these traits, chances are good you’ve uncovered a disorder that has affected you all of your life. (For a complete guide, go here.)

Why is it so hard to tell if your mother is a 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, and inverted or covert.

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

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.

If Dad is still 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, 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, grandiosity, and entitlement. It’s all a carefully constructed act.

How your Mother’s Narcissistic traits have affected you

If your mother is Narcissistic, 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 Narcissistic Mother Traits or has full-blown NPD, your self-esteem suffers; you doubt yourself constantly. You carry your insecurity into other relationships.

Thats’ 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

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

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.


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

Take the Free Quiz Do you have the Good Daughter Syndrome?

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.

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

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