A covert narcissistic mother often appears to be just like any other loving, caring parent. It’s easy to overlook the signs as covert narcissists can skillfully conceal narcissistic behavior behind a facade of normalcy and devotion. Narcissistic personality disorder is a formal mental disorder diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).1 Individuals with NPD are self-centered and arrogant, with subtypes including overt narcissism (exhibitionist) and covert narcissism (hypersensitive and vulnerable).
Key signs of a covert mother include always needing to be right, creating drama, manipulating others, controlling children, pretending altruism, blaming others, neglecting others’ feelings, constant criticism, and reacting explosively to criticism. Children of narcissistic mothers may have low self-esteem, seek to please others, feel anxious, and have difficulty with relationships.
What is a covert narcissistic mother?
A covert narcissistic mother has narcissistic traits, such as self-absorption, craving for attention, and lack of empathy. However, she struggles with low self-esteem, anxiety, and a heightened sensitivity to criticism.2
An individual with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is self-centered, arrogant, attention-seeking, and entitled. They have fragile self-esteem and little concern for others.
Psychologists have found that there are two subtypes – overt and covert.
Covert narcissists are hypersensitive and vulnerable. They may seem grand but are insecure inside. They are easily hurt by criticism and often keep to themselves. They have lower self-esteem and belief in their own abilities (self-efficacy).
Overt narcissism is grandiosity exhibitionists. They show their self-importance and desire for attention openly. Overt narcissists need others to admire them to feel good about themselves. Their self-esteem changes based on how much attention they get.
What are covert narcissistic mother traits?
Here are 9 covert narcissistic mother traits.
1. She is always right.
A covert narcissistic mother sees herself to be a perfect mother and can do nothing wrong. She has an exaggerated sense of entitlement. She expects preferential treatment, being unconditionally correct and favored in all situations.
For example, the mother repeats the same joke at every family gathering. When her child gently points out that she’s told this joke before, the mother reprimands the child for being disrespectful instead of acknowledging her repetition and considering that others might be bored of hearing the same story.
2. She creates drama.
A covert narcissistic mom’s self-esteem depends on external validation. She subtly seeks constant attention and recognition. When the focus shifts away from her, she may create drama to passive-aggressively regain the spotlight.
For example, at a graduation party celebrating her niece’s achievements, a covert narcissistic mother suddenly starts loudly criticizing the catering, drawing guests’ attention away from her niece and back onto herself with her harsh complaints.
3. She manipulates.
A narcissistic parent may covertly manipulate her children or family members for her own benefit. She may use emotional manipulation, such as guilt trips, sympathy, silent treatment, shame, or gaslighting, to meet her own needs.
For example, she might tell her child that she feels lonely when the child spends time with friends. She creates feelings of guilt in her children with her emotional blackmail.
4. She controls her children’s lives.
A covert narcissist is controlling. In the mind of a narcissistic mother, her children’s behavior reflects on her and her parenting. She highly controls their behavior so that others see the perfect children she wants them to see.
For example, children can only enroll in extracurricular activities that enhance the mother’s image rather than activities that align with the children’s own interests and enjoyment.
5. She pretends to be altruistic.
A covert narcissistic mother might do things for her children or family believing it demonstrates her superiority or altruism while behind closed doors, secretly loathing the act.
For example, the mother agrees to bake cookies for her child’s school function, presenting it as a selfless act. In reality, she thinks it’s a waste of time and does it begrudgingly, more interested in the praise from other parents than the joy of contributing to her child’s event.
6. She blames others.
A covert narcissistic individual often deflects blame onto others when faced with mistakes or failures instead of acknowledging her own role.
For example, if a dinner turns out poorly, the mother might blame her children for distracting her during cooking or criticize the quality of ingredients bought by the father.
7. She neglects others’ feelings.
A covert mom does not care about her children’s emotional needs as the children are only an extension of herself. Only her own emotions, desires, and perspectives are important.
Whenever her child expresses sadness or frustration, the mother quickly dismisses the feelings as unimportant.
8. She constantly criticizes others.
A mother with traits of covert narcissism is critical, scrutinizing her others’ actions, choices, achievements, and personalities without regard to others’ feelings. She carries a belief that she is the only one who truly knows how to do things correctly, feeling superior in her knowledge and approach.
For example, the mom might constantly find fault in her children’s academic performance, dismissing their good grades as not good enough or criticizing their study methods, even if they are successful. She may also belittle their choice of hobbies or friends, implying that her preferences or opinions are superior.
9. She explodes when others criticize her.
While a covert mom is quick to judge and criticize others, she is notably intolerant of receiving criticism herself. She has deep-seated anxiety and lacks self-confidence internally. When others express disagreement or offer constructive feedback, she feels personally attacked and reacts aggressively with outbursts of rage.
For example, if a family member suggests a different approach to a problem, the mother might yell angrily, perceiving the suggestion as a direct challenge to her authority.
However, individuals can exhibit some narcissistic behaviors as part of their personality traits without meeting the criteria for a formal diagnosis. An accurate mental health diagnosis can only be made by a trained professional.
What are the signs of having a narcissistic mother
Studies show that symptoms of children of narcissistic mothers include low self-esteem, a tendency to please others, anxiety, and difficulty forming or keeping healthy relationships.3
How to deal with a covert narcissist mother
Here are 5 tips on dealing with a narcissistic parent.
- Set healthy boundaries to protect your mental health.
- Recognize things that narcissistic mothers say.
- Call out her manipulative behavior.
- State your boundaries again.
- Disengage from narcissistic conversation.
How to heal from a covert narcissistic upbringing
To heal from a covert narcissistic childhood, understanding the different types of maternal narcissism is the first step.
Growing up with a covert narcissistic mother, you might have normalized her behaviors, feeling that any negative emotions towards her were misplaced.
Our society often upholds the idea that all parents deserve respect and acknowledgment for their parenting, which can leave children of narcissistic parents feeling isolated and guilty for harboring doubts about their mother’s behavior.
It’s not unusual to feel alone in these thoughts or struggle with guilt for even considering something might be amiss.
However, these feelings are not unfounded.
The behavior of your mother could be attributed to covert narcissism, a condition that’s challenging to identify, especially from an outsider’s perspective.
This subtlety means that sharing your experiences with others might not always lead to understanding or validation, especially if you have a “nice narcissist mother.”
- 1.Caligor E, Levy KN, Yeomans FE. Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Diagnostic and Clinical Challenges. AJP. Published online May 2015:415-422. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2014.14060723
- 2.Brookes J. The effect of overt and covert narcissism on self-esteem and self-efficacy beyond self-esteem. Personality and Individual Differences. Published online October 2015:172-175. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2015.05.013
- 3.Hart CM, Bush-Evans RD, Hepper EG, Hickman HM. The children of narcissus: Insights into narcissists’ parenting styles. Personality and Individual Differences. Published online October 2017:249-254. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2017.06.019