After all —It is all about her, not you.
Not every narcissistic mother fits the fading movie star image — braggadocious and vain saying, “I’m ready for my close up Mr. DeMille.”
Because women have been socialized to appear accommodating and self-effacing, these learned behaviors could obscure an underlying narcissistic personality disorder. Mom might be the helicoptering PTA president, squeaky-clean Sunday school teacher or long-suffering martyred momma who appears to put her children first. Don’t be fooled.
Many covert narcissistic mothers have much more subtle telltale moves. Here is how to spot five (not so obvious) signs you have a covert narcissistic mother:
1. When you are making her look good, she glows.
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.
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. When she 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.
She may ask for the gift back or tell you what to give her. On gift-giving occasions, she makes requests instead of graciously receiving the gift you choose for her. She can’t receive; this would mean giving up control.
This subtext is “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 have something going on in your life and are unable to immediately attend to her, she quickly becomes resentful.
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 somewhere along the lines of “I’m SO SORRY for EVERYTHING and ANYTHING” she MIGHT have done. She was, after all ONLY trying to help.
This move is designed to deflect blame and make you feel guilty. She is protecting the emptiness inside of herself.
The subtext is this: you must answer to her, not the other way around.
5. When your boundaries about your personal life is not respected.
Everything and anything is her business. The requests for information feel more like a demand rather than 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.
You feel owned, instead of loved.
This is my “no punches pulled” list to help you spot the signs of a covert narcissistic mother. Harsh maybe; truthful, you bet.
As a psychotherapist to women for 30 years, I have seen these manipulative moves by mothers that are subtler 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, just harder to spot. 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.
Calling out these moves, unveiling them and naming them for what they are is the first step towards healing.
We are women. We can do better. Empower women one mother/daughter relationship at a time.