Surviving a Covert Narcissist Mother: Essential Strategies for Adult Children of Narcissists

Growing up with a covert narcissist mother can be an extraordinarily difficult journey. The deep psychological scars inflicted by such a parent last well into adulthood, and if left unaddressed they can significantly impact an individual’s life and relationships.

Covert narcissism is a subtle form of narcissism masked by a veneer of humility.

A covert narcissist mother usually hides her grandiose behaviors, often portraying herself as a victim who is often misunderstood.

This carefully crafted exterior makes it even more challenging for her children to comprehend the emotional manipulation and control they’ve been subjected to.

Understanding the complex nature of covert narcissism is a critical step towards healing.

It involves recognizing the concealed signs of this condition, which greatly differ from the more obvious ones associated with overt narcissism.

The path to recovery from the impacts of a covert narcissist mother can be long and challenging.

However, understanding the nature of covert narcissism and implementing coping strategies can set the stage for personal growth and healthier relationships in adulthood.

covert narcissist mother

Understanding a Covert Narcissist Mother

Understanding the complex dynamics of a relationship with a covert narcissist mother can be quite daunting.

These mothers are masters of deception, skilled at curating a nurturing and caring persona to the world.

They excel in sustaining this image, making it exceedingly challenging for outsiders to perceive even a hint of the manipulative and controlling behavior they inflict on their families behind closed doors.

Unlike overt narcissists, who are blatantly self-centered and incessantly seek attention, covert narcissists operate differently. Their narcissism is not immediately apparent but manifests subtly over time.

Covert narcissists might not exude the blatant selfishness or egotism characteristic of overt narcissists, yet their actions are rooted in an inflated sense of self-importance and a worldview that is fundamentally self-centered.

The Picture Perfect Mother

A covert narcissist mother paints a picture-perfect image of parenthood to those outside her immediate family circle.

She seems deeply involved in her children’s lives, appears attentive to their needs, and provides support in public settings.

Yet, this behavior is merely a façade, a veneer skillfully constructed to camouflage her true nature.

Behind this mask lies a personality that is overly critical, devoid of empathy, and emotionally unavailable.

This dichotomy creates a whirlwind of confusion and self-doubt in her children, further exacerbating the difficulty they face in coming to terms with her abusive behavior.

The stark contrast between the public and private personas of a covert narcissist mother can leave her children grappling with the reality of their experiences, making it all the more essential to understand these dynamics to navigate the path towards healing.

Recognizing the Signs of A Covert Narcissist Mother

Covert narcissism is harder to spot than its overt counterpart. The signs are subtle, making them difficult to identify, especially when the person exhibiting these behaviors is your mother.

Here are some signs that may indicate your mother could be a covert narcissist:

A covert narcissist mother is an expert in casting herself in the role of the perpetual victim.

1. A Covert Narcissist Mother is a Master of Victimhood

A covert narcissist mother is an expert in casting herself in the role of the perpetual victim.

She may frequently narrate tales of how she has been wronged by others, painting vivid pictures of personal injustices and hardships.

These stories often have a recurring theme: she is the misunderstood heroine who constantly battles against the odds.

Whether it’s a disagreement with a neighbor, a perceived slight from a friend, or a professional setback, she positions herself at the receiving end of unfair treatment.

This tactic serves a dual purpose.

First, it garners sympathy and support from those around her, reinforcing her role as the victim and ensuring a steady supply of attention and validation.

Second, it allows her to deflect any blame or responsibility for her own actions. By keeping the focus on the wrongs done to her, she effectively sidesteps any scrutiny of her behavior.

 covert narcissist mother - eternal victim

More subtly, this constant portrayal of victimhood can also be a form of emotional blackmail against her children.

It creates an unspoken obligation for them to support and defend her, regardless of the situation.

They are drawn into her web of perceived injustice, often feeling guilty if they dare to challenge her version of events or fail to provide the expected level of sympathy.

In this way, the covert narcissist mother ensures her needs are always center-stage, expertly manipulating those around her with her victimhood narrative.

It’s a powerful tactic that can have a profound impact on her children, often leading to a complex mix of emotions, including guilt, frustration, and a deep-seated sense of obligation

covert narcissist mother passive aggressive

2. A Covert Narcissist Mother is Passive-Aggressive

One of the hallmarks of covert narcissists, including mothers, is their mastery of passive-aggressive behavior.

Unlike overt aggression, which is direct and unambiguous, passive-aggression is subtle, indirect, and often masked by a façade of politeness or concern.

Backhanded Compliments

Covert narcissist mothers excel at doling out backhanded compliments, those seemingly positive remarks that carry an undercurrent of criticism.

They might compliment your new haircut while lamenting how your previous style was so much more flattering, or praise your cooking skills and then wonder aloud why you don’t use them more often.

These comments leave you in a state of confusion, questioning whether you’ve been complimented or criticized.

Thinly Veiled Criticism

Another common passive-aggressive tactic used by covert narcissist mothers is the art of thinly veiled criticisms.

They make negative comments about your choices, actions, or character, but they do so in such a subtle manner that it’s often hard to call them out without seeming overly sensitive.

They might express concern about your health while implying you’re not taking care of yourself, or question your decision-making abilities under the guise of offering advice.

covert narcissist mother

Shifting Blame

Beyond their words, covert narcissist mothers are experts at shifting blame and making others feel guilty without appearing to do anything wrong.

They will forget important dates, neglect responsibilities, or fail to follow through on promises, then react with surprise or hurt when called out.

They create a narrative where they are the innocent party, misunderstood or unfairly accused, effectively shifting the blame onto others.

These passive-aggressive behaviors serve multiple purposes for the covert narcissist mother. They allow her to exert control and inflict emotional harm while maintaining an outward appearance of innocence.

They also create an environment of uncertainty and self-doubt, undermining her children’s confidence and self-esteem.

At the heart of narcissism lies a profound lack of empathy, and covert narcissist mothers are no exception.

3. A Covert Narcissist Mother Lacks Empathy

At the heart of narcissism lies a profound lack of empathy, and covert narcissist mothers are no exception. Despite their ability to portray a caring and concerned exterior, they do not care about the feelings of others, including their children.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, to step into their shoes and see the world from their perspective. For most people, empathy comes naturally, especially towards those they love.

However, for covert narcissist mothers, empathy is more of a performance than a genuine emotional response.

They might express concern or offer comfort when it’s expected of them, but these displays often feel hollow or insincere.

They lack the depth and warmth that comes with genuine empathy. This can be particularly confusing for their children, who may struggle to reconcile the caring image their mother projects with the coldness they often feel.

fake concern covert narcissist mother

Covert narcissist mothers are primarily focused on their own needs and feelings. Their world revolves around their experiences, their emotions, and their desires.

The needs and feelings of others, including their own children, are secondary at best.

They will often dismiss their children’s feelings as unimportant or trivial, especially if they conflict with their own.

They might ignore their child’s distress or respond with irritation or indifference.

In extreme cases, they may even use their child’s pain as an opportunity to draw attention to themselves, turning the spotlight back onto their own feelings or experiences.

This lack of empathy can have a profound impact on their children, leaving them feeling unseen, unheard, and emotionally neglected. It can erode their self-esteem, damage their ability to form healthy relationships, and leave them questioning their worth and validity of their feeling

covert narcissist mother

4. A Covert Narcissist Mother is Manipulative and Controlling

Covert narcissist mothers are masters of manipulation and control, often employing subtle tactics that can be difficult to recognize.

They skillfully weave a web of influence around their children, using emotional tools such as guilt, shame, and fear to shape their behavior and decisions.

One common tactic is the use of guilt.

Covert narcissist mothers may imply or outright state that their children are responsible for their happiness or unhappiness.

They might express disappointment or sadness when their children don’t meet their expectations, often exaggerated or unreasonable, instilling a sense of guilt for failing to make their mother happy.


Shame is another powerful tool in their arsenal.

They will belittle their children’s achievements, criticize their choices, or mock their interests.

By doing so, they instill a sense of shame, making their children feel inadequate or inferior. This can lead to a constant striving for approval and validation, further reinforcing the mother’s control.

Fear is also often used to manipulate and control.

This fear can take many forms, from fear of disappointing the mother to fear of her anger or rejection. Covert narcissist mothers can expertly play on these fears, using them to keep their children compliant and obedient.

enablers fear conflict

5. A Covert Narcissist Mother is Overly Critical and Judgmental

A covert narcissist mother is quick to point out faults, failures, and shortcomings, rarely missing an opportunity to critique or admonish.

This relentless scrutiny is not just limited to her children’s actions but can extend to their thoughts, feelings, and aspirations as well.

These mothers typically have high, often unrealistic, expectations of their children. They demand perfection in everything, from academics and extracurricular activities to behavior and appearance.

The constant criticism and judgement from a covert narcissist mother inevitably significantly erodes her children’s self-esteem. It creates feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and a distorted self-image.

Children may grow up believing that their worth is tied to their performance, that they must earn love and approval through achievement.

covert narcissist mother

Strategies for Survival

Surviving a covert narcissist mother requires strength, resilience, and a good support system.

Here are some strategies that can help:

1. Establish Strong Boundaries

Setting firm boundaries is a critical strategy when dealing with a covert narcissist mother.

This means defining what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in your relationship.

It could involve limiting the frequency and duration of contact or setting rules about which topics are off-limits during conversations.

an enabler has weak boundaries

How to Set Boundaries

Identify Your Limits: Start by identifying what makes you uncomfortable or stressed. These feelings signal that someone may be crossing your boundaries. Reflect on past interactions and identify situations where you felt manipulated or emotionally drained.

Communicate Clearly: Once you’ve identified your limits, communicate them clearly and assertively to your mother. Use ‘I’ statements to express your feelings and needs, such as “I feel upset when you criticize my choices. I need you to respect my decisions.”

Be Firm and Consistent: Covert narcissists can be manipulative and may try to test or ignore your boundaries. It’s essential to stand your ground and consistently reinforce your boundaries.


Maintaining Boundaries

Maintaining boundaries requires strength and persistence. Here are some strategies to help maintain the boundaries you’ve set:

Practice Self-Care: Regular self-care can help you stay strong in the face of manipulation or guilt-tripping. This could include physical exercise, meditation, spending time with friends, or pursuing hobbies.

Seek Support: Share your experiences with trusted friends or a counselor. They can provide validation, encouragement, and advice.

Stay Assertive: Remember, it’s okay to say no. You have the right to protect your mental and emotional health. If your boundaries are repeatedly violated despite your efforts, you may need to consider more drastic measures such as low-contact or no-contact arrangements.

Remember, setting and maintaining boundaries is not about punishing the other person. It’s about taking care of your well-being. It’s a challenging process, but with time and practice, it can significantly improve your quality of life.

setting boundaries

2. Seek Professional Help

Therapy can serve as a safe haven for individuals who have experienced childhood trauma. Below are different types of therapy that can be particularly useful.

All these therapeutic interventions can play a significant role in the healing journey of an individual who has a covert narcissist mother.

It’s crucial to remember that everyone’s experience is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Therefore, it might take trying out different therapeutic approaches to find the one that fits best for you

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on changing thought patterns that lead to harmful actions or feelings.

It encourages individuals to challenge their negative beliefs and replace them with more positive and beneficial ones.

This can be especially helpful for those who have internalized the negative messages they received from their narcissistic mothers.

cognitive behavioral therapy

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is another therapeutic approach that can be beneficial.

Originally designed to treat borderline personality disorder, DBT has proven effective for a range of conditions, including trauma-related disorders.

DBT focuses on teaching coping skills in four key areas: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.

These skills can be invaluable for managing the emotional ups and downs of dealing with a covert narcissist mother.


Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy explores how past experiences, including childhood experiences, influence current behavior.

In the context of a covert narcissist mother, psychodynamic therapy can help uncover the ways in which the narcissistic abuse has affected your sense of self, your relationships, and your overall worldview.

By bringing these unconscious processes into conscious awareness, healing can begin.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of therapy specifically designed to help people recover from traumatic events.

It involves recalling distressing images while receiving side-to-side eye movements, hand tapping, or auditory tones.

EMDR can be particularly helpful for children of covert narcissist mothers, as it can help process traumatic memories and reduce their impact.


Group Therapy

Group therapy provides a supportive environment where individuals can share their experiences and feelings with others who have had similar experiences.

This can reduce feelings of isolation and provide a sense of community.

In a group therapy setting, individuals can learn from each other’s experiences, share coping strategies, and gain a sense of empowerment from helping others.

group therapy

3. Practice Self-Care

Self-care is about building a life that you don’t need to routinely escape from.

It’s about creating a lifestyle where you don’t feel the need to ‘take a break’ because you’ve balanced your responsibilities with activities you love and that rejuvenate you.

It is about taking care of your own needs while also caring for those around you.

By incorporating these self-care practices into your daily routine, you can create a healthier, happier, and more balanced life.

Here are some self-care strategies that you could incorporate into your routine.

Physical Self-Care

Physical self-care involves activities that help you stay fit and healthy, and also includes practices that have psychological benefits too.

Exercise: Regular physical activity can boost your mood, reduce anxiety, and improve your overall health. This doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the gym – even a daily walk in the park can be beneficial.

Nutrition: Eating a balanced diet can have a profound effect on your mood and energy levels. Try to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains in your diet.

Sleep: Quality sleep is crucial for mental health. Try to maintain regular sleep patterns and create a calming pre-bed routine to help ensure a good night’s rest.

Tips to overcome insomnia: Simple lifestyle changes to get a better night's sleep

Emotional Self-Care

Emotional self-care involves activities that help you connect, process, and reflect on a range of emotions.

Journaling: Writing about your thoughts and feelings can be a therapeutic outlet for expressing what you’re going through. It can also promote better understanding of your emotions and triggers.

Mindfulness and meditation: These practices can help you stay grounded by focusing on the present moment. Mindfulness can also be a useful tool in managing stress and anxiety.


Social Self-Care

Maintaining healthy relationships forms an integral part of self-care.

Support system: Keep in touch with friends and family who understand your situation and offer positive influence.

Boundaries: Set and maintain healthy boundaries in all your relationships. It’s okay to take time for yourself and say no to demands on your time and energy.

Join a group: Finding a new interest or passion and joining a group of like-minded individuals can be a game-changer in your healing journey. It can provide a sense of belonging, an outlet for self-expression, and a distraction from past traumas.


4. Foster Self-Compassion

Self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same kindness, concern, and support you’d offer to a good friend.

When confronted with difficult life events, such as dealing with a covert narcissist mother, it’s important to soothe and comfort ourselves, recognizing that imperfection is part of the shared human experience.

How to Foster Self-Compassion

Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness involves staying present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment, free from judgment or distraction. By practicing mindfulness, you can learn to approach your feelings and experiences with openness and curiosity instead of with self-blame or avoidance.

Challenge Negative Self-Talk: Pay attention to the way you talk to yourself. Is your inner voice critical or supportive? Learn to recognize patterns of negative self-talk and challenge them with more positive, compassionate thoughts.

Forgive Yourself: Accept that everyone makes mistakes and has weaknesses. Instead of berating yourself for your perceived faults, acknowledge them as part of being human and forgive yourself.

Engage in Self-Care: As mentioned earlier, taking care of your physical, emotional, and mental well-being is an act of self-compassion. Make sure to set aside time for relaxation and activities that you enjoy.

Cultivating self-compassion can have profound effects on your mental and emotional health.

It can ease feelings of anxiety and depression, boost happiness, enhance self-worth, and even improve physical health.

As you navigate the complex path of healing from the trauma inflicted by a covert narcissist mother, remember to be patient with yourself.

Healing is not a linear process, and it’s okay to have ups and downs. What’s important is that you treat yourself with kindness and understanding along the way.

Final Thoughts on Dealing with a Covert Narcissist Mother

Dealing with a covert narcissist mother is an arduous journey that requires self-validation, healthy boundaries, and support from others.

It’s essential to prioritize self-care, seek professional guidance if needed, and focus on personal growth.

By acknowledging your experiences, setting boundaries, and nurturing your well-being, you can move towards healing and create a brighter future free from the toxic effects of narcissistic abuse.

Remember, you are not defined by this relationship, and with time, patience, and self-compassion, you can overcome the challenges and thrive.

Frequently Asked Questions about Narcissism

Frequently Asked Questions About The Covert Narcissist Mother

What is a covert narcissist mother?

A covert narcissist mother is someone who exhibits narcissistic traits but in a more subtle and hidden manner. They often present themselves as caring, empathetic individuals while manipulating and controlling those around them for their own gain.

How can I recognize if my mother is a covert narcissist?

Recognizing a covert narcissistic mother can be challenging as they excel at hiding their true nature. However, some signs include excessive need for attention, inability to empathize, emotional manipulation, playing the victim, and undermining others’ achievements.

How does a covert narcissist mother affect her children?

A covert narcissist mother can have significant negative effects on her children. They often manipulate their children’s emotions, belittle their achievements, neglect their emotional needs, and create an environment of constant criticism and control. This can result in low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and difficulties in forming healthy relationships.

How can I cope with a covert narcissist mother?

Coping with a covert narcissist mother requires setting clear boundaries, seeking support from trusted individuals or support groups, practicing self-care, and prioritizing your own well-being. Establishing a support network and engaging in therapy can also provide valuable tools for navigating this challenging relationship.

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