8 Signs You Were Raised By A Covert Narcissistic Mother

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Let me share an incident with you. A couple of months back, I did something I’m really ashamed of. Something I will not be able to forgive myself for a very long time. I lashed out with rage at my five-year-old boy for something which was not that big a deal.

I was eating my dinner, and my boy was irritating my girl (8 years old). Suddenly, they started fighting, and he hit her lightly with a stick, which made her cry.

But instead of handling the situation maturely, I got up in a rage, snatched the stick from my boy, and threw it violently on the ground. Seeing my reaction, he got so traumatized that he peed in his pants and ran crying towards his mom. He was in shock.

At that very instant, it hit me – what I’d done. It felt like a sharp arrow pierced my heart. I realized my mistake that very instant, but it was too late. My boy was so scared that he wouldn’t come to me. Fortunately, his mom was around to took care of the whole situation.

I locked myself in the room, I felt ashamed, and I sobbed that whole night inconsolably. I kept hitting my face until it turned blue. A voice in my head kept repeating that “You’re a monster,” “You’re a horrible father,” “You don’t deserve to live.”

Even right now, writing about this incident, I have tears in my eyes. There’s no excuse for what I did. I used to occasionally have my outbursts on people, but I had never behaved like this with my children. I don’t know what came over me that I acted in such a horrible manner.

Just imagine a 39-year-old, fully grown man terrorizing his own little innocent child. I will never be able to forget that fearful expression on his face, and no matter what I do, I cannot undo this mistake.

When I regained calm, I went up to him, hugged him, kissed him, and apologized profusely. I made a promise to myself that no matter what, I’ll never behave like that with anybody ever again.

I’m going to be a good father and shower my family with lots of love, affection, and care.

My outburst resulted from C-PTSD (Complex post-traumatic stress disorder) that I acquired due to undergoing narcissistic abuse from my mother for over 30 years. This is the kind of trauma narcissistic abuse creates.

Please note that I’m not trying to play the victim here and use my childhood abuse as an excuse to justify the way I behaved with my child.

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Narcissism is a psychological condition that causes people to have an exaggerated sense of self, where everything revolves around them and their needs, with complete disregard for the needs of others.

A narcissist is a broken individual that is incapable is feeling any compassion or empathy for other people.

In order to satisfy their agendas, they engage in emotional manipulation, gaslighting, and other vicious tactics without feeling any shame or guilt whatsoever.

An overt narcissist openly shows grandiose behaviors that are easy to spot. For example, they will openly brag about their achievements, speak loudly to be the center of attraction, publicly show a sense of entitlement, show uncontrollable rage when others fail to meet their demands and expectations, and much more.

On the other hand, covert narcissists are more dangerous because they do not openly show signs of narcissism but have the same traits as the overt ones.

In public, they will always appear to be very calm, subdued, and introverted. But in private, they show their true colors and are equally abusive.

To outsiders, they will always come across as loving and caring, but on the inside, you can hear the devil’s laugh.

They are capable of inflicting considerable physical and psychological damage, the effects of which manifest in the later years in life.

If you have undergone abuse at the hands of a covert narcissist for a prolonged period, you likely have some negative psychological impact. Some of the symptoms of narcissistic abuse are as follows:

  • You get bouts of anger, anxiety, and even depression, every now and then (and you can’t figure out why).
  • You are confused about your relationship and experience cognitive dissonance (You feel stuck).
  • You’re overly dependent on your narcissist for emotional and financial needs.
  • You suffer from low self-esteem.
  • You are a people-pleaser, and you have a hard time saying ‘No’ to people.
  • You are scared of confrontations.
  • You don’t feel like going out and meeting people (social anxiety).
  • You like to be aloof, and your mind continually generates negative chatter.
  • You have a weak immune system and frequently face physical health-related problems.
  • You have a hard time trusting others.
  • You blame yourself for everything.
  • You come up with excuses to justify the behavior of your abuser.

Being raised by a narcissistic mother can be very crippling for your self-esteem and may lead to many psychological issues later on in life. To safeguard yourself (either as a son or as a daughter) from abuse, you must understand the behaviors of a covert narcissist mother.

Here are some of the signs that your mother is a covert narcissist.

She only Pretends to Care

She pretends to be very caring and is often perceived as a very dedicated mother by others on the outside.

She will often tell you that she wants to turn you into a good human being (based on her idea of what good human beings are like).

She will pretend to be understanding, loving, and caring, but that’s actually just an excuse to continue the abusive behavior.

I still remember my mother saying, “children are like diamonds that need constant polishing and dusting. If the dust settles on them, the world will not be able to see them shine”. Sounds psychopathic, doesn’t it?

She’s always overemphasizing that she’s a well-wisher and she’s someone you can trust and share your problems with.

But in reality, she’ll always use the information you give her against you as and when the opportunity arises. By putting down others, she compensates for her low self-esteem.

Narcissists sadistically enjoy tormenting others. Emotional manipulation is their primary choice of weapon. The strategy is to keep you confused all the time so that the cycle of abuse continues.

The problem is that they have wired their brains to react by repeatedly acting in a particular way.

Some narcissists are aware of their toxic behaviors. They are fully aware that they create pain for others, but they don’t care. All they care about is getting an emotional reaction (good or bad) from their victim, also known as the narcissistic supply.

Many times in the past, my mother would vent out her frustration and apologize afterward for saying mean things. Everything would be okay for a couple of days until she would start craving her supply and would repeat the behavior.

You Exists only To Make Her Look Good

She’s very loving and affectionate when you play along with her ideas of perfection. She will shower compliments when you wear clothes of her choice.

She will ask you to wear appropriate (air quotes) clothes when going out for family functions. If you don’t do that, be prepared to be humiliated in front of your relatives. Either she will ridicule your sense of dressing style or randomly point out a character flaw.

The reason she does this is that she suffers from low self-esteem. She considers you an extension of herself, and according to her, anything that makes you look bad is a direct attack on her, the false image of herself she has created.

I still remember that my parents made us (me and my brother) wear formal suits even for attending informal occasions like birthday parties.

Even now, as a grown-up man, she often asks me if I have the appropriate clothes to wear for an occasion. She doesn’t care about your likes or comfort. All she’s concerned is about how she looks.

She Lacks the Ability to Take Criticism

Covert narcissists have a very heightened (yet fragile) ego. They will be very nice to you as long as you conform to their way of thinking. The moment you try to stray, rebel, or even slightly critique them, they will unleash the unimaginable fury.

In my particular case, one of two things used to happen whenever I confronted my mother. Either she would become aggressive and lash out at me, or she would cry and play the victim (more on that later). The idea was to emotionally manipulate me into feeling blame and guilt for her faults.

Because of their super fragile ego, narcissists are unable to take any criticism. For them, it’s an all-out attack on their self-esteem. They will show agitation, anger, and rage and will fight you to death to defend themselves.

It’s all about winning. They lack conscience and are ready to play any dirty game to win. They see everything as either winning or losing. Unfortunately, you are that opponent in their game who can never win.

And if by any chance you do win, they are sure to take revenge and come back and attack you with more vengeance. The narrative that goes on in their mind will be something like, “How dare you? I’ll teach you a lesson”.

However, this is all covert. They very well know your weaknesses and will strike you when you least expect and not in a position to defend yourself.

She Will Make You Feel like “You’re Losing it”

Whenever you try to talk about something mean that she did in the past, she will either feign ignorance, blame it on you, or gaslight you. It’s all lies. It results in cognitive dissonance, and you start doubting your memory and senses.

She will use phrases like “Oh ! I didn’t mean it that way. You’re thinking too much”, “You have become too sensitive, honey,” “I think you are undergoing too much stress,” and so forth. It is known as gaslighting. The idea is to lie and make the other person feel like they’re losing it.

By gaslighting, she’s trying to break your confidence, thereby increasing your dependence on her. All she wants to hear from you is, “Oh, mom! What would I do without you? Thanks for being there for me”.

Make no mistake, but this is a well-planned strategy by the narcissist to exercise control. By keeping you dependent on her, she continues to exercise control and keep up the abuse.

Playing the “Victim” Card and Emotional Manipulation

She will always play the victim card to gain sympathy. And that works most of the time. She will tell you stories of how she was one to sacrifice everything to keep the family united. How horrible your father was and how she took abuse from him for so many years.

It will be a never-ending one-sided rant (like what I’m doing right now 😉), and she will keep going on and on till you’re exhausted from listening. You will notice that she keeps repeating the same things over and over again. It’s as if she’s stuck in a loop.

She will often tell you how she sacrificed her career to take out time to raise you. How she could have achieved so much greatness, but she sacrificed it all for you. She will also tell you how everybody misunderstands her and doesn’t appreciate her enough.

Stories of how her parents, siblings, and other relatives were mean to her when she was growing up and how she had to cut off ties with them. She will cry, sob, and shed crocodile tears – anything that puts the highlight on her. The same stories repeated again and again.

She will portray herself as the main lead of a movie character who undergoes so much trouble and hardships in life, only to emerge victorious in the end. And for that, the reward she expects is that she should be allowed to decide for others. In other words – she wants complete control.

While playing the victim, she will also emphasize how monumental her role is in the family. And that it’s because of her values and upbringing that you turned out so well.

She’s the Captain in the Game, Rest of You Have to Follow Her Lead

As I mentioned earlier, the whole world revolves around her. She believes that she is always right and considers others secondary to her. She’s the captain of the game, and she alone calls the shots.

She writes the rulebook of this game, and she changes the rules at will. Anybody who disagrees or questions her motives will be out of the game.

She is the ultimate authority in the family, and nobody can go against her. Father, in such cases, emotionally isolates himself from all of her dramas. He has understood the game and doesn’t want to participate anymore. So it’s the children who have to bear the brunt of her wrath.

If you try to talk to your elder sibling or your father about her, the only response you’ll get is, “Honey! Don’t make your mom mad again”, “You know she hates that – don’t you,” or “Why do you have to upset her every time.”

In such cases, the father is generally perceived as weak by the children. As a result, the children develop resentment towards the father for enabling the mother and failing to protect them from emotional abuse.

She believes herself to be the ‘know it all’ person in the family. And she always reminds you about how much you will benefit if you follow her advice as opposed to that of others in the family.

It’s Always Someone Else’s Fault (Blame Game)

Whenever something goes wrong, she’ll find someone else to place blame. She will never accept her mistake, and she doesn’t give a damn about hurting emotions. Narcissists tend to self-sabotage their relationships.

On the contrary, she will become aggressive because admitting a mistake is like a crack in her fragile ego-shell. She will fight and argue until someone comes up and takes the blame. Generally, it’s one of the children (the scapegoat) who takes responsibility to end the unpleasantness.

After accepting the fault, the child will now receive punishment in the form of stone-walling or silent treatment. She will not speak to you or even look at you to express her displeasure.

This kind of silent treatment by the narcissist is emotional abuse.

She Never Respects Your Boundaries

Her intrusive nature is no mystery to you. Here are some examples of how narcissistic mothers will violate your boundaries.

  • She will barge into your room without asking and then go through your stuff.
  • She will secretly check messages on your phone (or even text your friends) in your absence.
  • She will use subtle insults to hurt you in front of others. She may say something like, “I have the best daughter in the world. The only thing she needs to work on is her dressing style”.
  • She will wear your clothes without asking you.
  • If you’re married, she will not shy away from giving marriage advice to your husband, boasting about her achievements.
  • She will deliberately do things that irritate you just to get a reaction from you.
  • She will always take credit for your achievements.

If you struggle with boundary issues, I highly recommend Dr. Judith Orloff’s Empath Survival Guide.

Final Thoughts

The list above is by no means exhaustive, and I could go on and on, but I think I’ve conveyed the key points here. A narcissistic mother is all about control, and she is incapable of any empathy or motherly love that you expect as a son or daughter. Narc parents are not trustworthy.

The next question that comes to mind is whether there is a cure for narcissism. From what I have seen, narcissists, especially the covert ones, are incredibly clever, and they will not go to therapy in the first place because they do not see any problem with themselves.

Even if you try to give them a hint to go to a therapist, they will lash out at you and tell you that it’s you who needs therapy. And somehow, even if you do convince them to take treatment, they will be dishonest and make you look bad in the therapist’s eyes.

People who undergo abuse from their parents develop complex psychological disorders later in life. However, there’s no need to despair as there are several ways to recover and heal yourself fully.

What I’m trying to tell you here is that the abuse you’ve gone through for so many years is not your fault. So never blame yourself for anything. It was never you; it was your mother’s inability to deal with her emotions. And as an escape, she projected her insecurities onto you to make herself feel better.

It’s imperative to set firm boundaries with such people so that they don’t get a chance to play their dirty games. Even though she’s your mother, you should maintain distance to ensure your physical and psychological wellbeing.

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This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. Meghna

    Thankyou so much….I couldn’t even explain this to my own husband….what i go through i alone have to face….thing about relenting fathers for not standing up for you absolutely correct….she even tried to destroy my marriage by making me bad in the eyes of my husband….atleast i have got that under control by communicating to my husband about everything i went through even if he doesn’t believe me completely….and why would he believe me his mother is so awsome and caring…i wish i had this article in hindi so that i could have circulated it in family groups.

    1. Jagjot Singh

      Thank you Meghna, I know it’s hard to make believe people about this issue, specially in the Indian culture. Unfortunately, I don’t have this article in Hindi, but you can subscribe to my youtube channel, where i’m planning to cover some of these topics in Hindi. You can find the link to my youtube channel on the right side of the top bar.

  2. Ariana

    Oh, Jagjot… My Mom is a covert narc too… But what has striken me SO in your text is the amount of self-punishment in relation to an incident that wasn’t so horrible after all – you reacted violently but didn’t even hit the boy. And now see this: “I locked myself in the room, I felt ashamed, and I sobbed that whole night, inconsolably. I kept hitting my face until it turned blue. A voice in my head kept repeating that “You’re a monster,” “You’re a horrible father,” “You don’t deserve to live.” … Just imagine that you did any of THOSE to your boy. And is it okay to do it to yourself? Are you less deserving of love and compassion and respect that he is? Are you less a child of god? … Please, watch Luna & Sol videos… and have more validation for your – natural – emotions… All the best <3, Ariana

    1. Jagjot Singh

      Thanks Ariana! I’m a changed person now. I have forgiven my parents and I share a loving bond with my wife and kids. I’m no more a slave of my mind.

  3. Ariana

    “You will never be able to forgive yourself.” Really? That’s very self-loving. 😉 … “Freedom is not worth having if it doesn’t involve freedom to make mistakes.” Mahatma Gandhi … I’ll add – and how else are we supposed to learn than from our mistakes? … About your incident – your reaction (or over-reaction) was a doorway to another pain you haven’t dealt with – and through releasing it – to more freedom and love… for yourself, and only then – also for your family. … See “The Completion Process” by Teal Swan. I can send you a copy via e-mail.

  4. Emily

    Hi Jagjot. Thank you for writing this. Every single point is like reading my own life. There is not much I find written on the nuance of covert narcissism, so this has been a painful (yet relieving) thing to read. I find it hard to find the language to describe it because it never conveys the seriousness of it all combined (and the years of gaslighting make everything a fog!!) I so appreciate the validation and the bravery of you writing this. Thank you!

    1. Jagjot Singh

      Thanks, Emily! It really was hard to write this article.

  5. Debra wyman

    Please DO call yourself a victim!
    You ARE a victim.
    You’ve gotten to this point because you are a SURVIVOR!
    I have endured the most horrific despicable evil at the hands of my sociopathic covert narcissistic mother, and the emotional abuse from my flying monkey siblings who were all to willing to continue the abuse by proxy.
    My father, the enabler…
    I “woke up” at 56 years old!
    I understand completely CPTSD
    Clarity is a beautiful thing!
    I’m about to celebrate my first Christmas with real joy because after clarity I went no contact!
    I am living! I am finally alive!
    You are a victim but more importantly you are a SURVIVOR!

    1. Jagjot Singh

      Thanks for sharing, Debra! I’m sorry you had to go through all that pain. All the anger and the rush of emotions can be very overwhelming. But at the same time, We have responsibilities towards those who love us. Therefore, I say that I’m a survivor, but not a victim, anymore. Victim mentally is destructive because it gives us an excuse to propagate and project pain on others. We might even do it unknowingly and end up hurting others. We armor ourselves and lose the capacity to love. But when we forgive, we release the innermost pain and empower ourselves to take charge of our emotions. It isn’t easy! Very difficult! It takes a lot of reparenting and self-love to open the heart and build trust again. But it’s possible. And it will happen. I wish you happiness, love, and light. Take care 🙏

  6. Ruth Pritchard

    It is Christmas Day and I have sat reading your article. I have for the last year been finding out more and more about how my mother treated me was not right. Even reading my diary when I was a child. Expecting me to tell her everything that happens in my life. She had an affair for 25 years of being married to my dad. She told me on a Christmas Day as I found her crying as she was missing her “lover”. From then on I was her confidant and alibi, even being taken in the car to meet her lover. It made her control worse as I had “chosen” her over my dad. As I hadn’t told him. She is in hospital at the moment after having a fall. She is desperate to get home and live back in her own home. She keeps saying, as is every conversation since my dad died. I want you to come and live with me and look after me. Making me feel guilty every time I talk to her. And today instead of enjoying Christmas Day with my family I am searching the internet to validate how I feel. It’s like I have two voices in my head. One who sees all the lies and manipulation. Even when there is prof from a third party. The more dominant voice will always say the third party is lying as my mom would never treat me like that. I go from wanting to have nothing to do with her ever again to crying because she has not answered her phone or text I have sent. I don’t think I will ever be happy.

    1. Jagjot Singh

      I’m sorry you’re going through such a hard time. You’re experiencing cognitive dissonance. I have written about it in one of my articles. It creates stress by creating a conflict in mind. Remember, your own physical, and mental wellbeing should be a priority. Don’t get sucked up in the drama. It never ends. I would suggest minimal interaction, don’t be defensive, don’t show interest in the drama, and if possible, seek external help in the form of therapy or consultation. I’m sorry if my words seem harsh; there’s no simple solution for dealing with narcissism. Work on yourself. Heal yourself physically, psychologically, spiritually, and you’ll get the happiness you deserve.

  7. Josie

    I just learned the term “Covert Narcissist” while listening to a podcast about codependency and cannot believe I have never stumbled upon it before. It’s like a bunch of people who know my mother are writing about her behavior.
    Thank you for this article, it is the most organized and articulate that I have found. I have been struggling for probably my entire life with my mother’s behavior, but especially in the last 10-12 years. I have 3 sisters. 1 has stopped talking to my mother completely, 1 has very limited contact with her and me and the last sister live close together and near both of our parents. My sister and I have some resentment towards our 2 other sisters approach to our mom, but I am beginning to get it. I still cannot imagine cutting my mom off completely, the guilt would surely consume me… if not now, then after she is gone from this earth. I have tried to put up boundaries, but have not been very firm, as obviously she makes it VERY difficult. My sister and I are looking into going to therapy together to navigate the issues with our mother.

    1. Jagjot Singh

      Thanks for sharing, Josie! I’m sorry you’re going through such a hard time. That feeling of guilt you’re going through can be so crippling. Narcs know how to entrap empaths with psychological manipulation. And it’s all the more difficult when the narc in question is your parent. I sincerely wish that things change for you and you live the life you deserve.

  8. Arkey

    It’s unfortunate for me that sites like this (and the internet) were not around when I was young (I am in my 60’s). I always knew my mother was missing parts, but I never put a finger on it until recently. I was treated cruelly by her and I became rebellious, for which I was forced to go a bunch of unpleasant medical procedures, as though I was nuts. My self esteem was 0 in adolescence and into my 20’s. I got married at 21 and it was a joy to be gone from “home.”
    I suffered a lot of anxiety throughout my life, including social anxiety, which caused me to drop out of college many years ago. I eventually retired from an OK job but I have regretted that I didn’t accomplish more. Sorry to say, the CPTSD thing was true for me and I was at times a less than perfect husband and father. Still working on that with wife #2.
    All of the behavior you described was spot on – the snooping, belittling, gaslighting, silent treatment plus physical abuse plus I was scapegoated until the day the bitch died. I would gladly commemorate each anniversary of her death by pissing on her grave, but alas, it’s over 300 miles to drive there and it’s in a very visible place. She simply wasn’t worth it.

    1. Jagjot Singh

      Thanks for sharing, Arkey! It’s extremely difficult to process these feelings. But I’m glad that you’re working on yourself. Take care.

  9. Tash

    Thank you for sharing this. Everyone thinks my mother is an angel and so caring and compassionate. I am an only child and now divorced(because my ex and mothrr couldnt get along..both were narcs) with 3 children. She has refused to let me move out of her home, even though the new house is a 5 minute walk. My children and I have to share 1 room and bathroom just to keep her happy.
    I have a job i am happy with, and my children have all learrnt that my mother is not ‘normal’ and have learnt how to deal with her lies, grandiose sense of self and exploits.
    I do love her but liking her as a person is hard.
    There are just so many things she does to undermine and sabotage my life to ensure that, as my children call it, my life is like rapunzel…its taken weird turns. No matter what I do, its never enough. I dont earn enough, I dont care enough etc etc but never directly. Its always this subtle message. I have tried living a ‘normal’ life as best as I can and sent my children to school and boarding life as well so that they can feel a sense of normalcy. She indirectly makes sure i cant date again either. And she wants all the children to go the same school, abroad, so we can all ‘be together happily’ because right now i have apparently ‘broken up’ the family. My children and I are close, I try to make sure they are independant as possible and ensure she doesnt interfere. But every day is a drama and she does not lift a finger at home to help. Being a single mother and having to do everything is a tough job and she gets jealous when I have friends so none of my female friendships have lasted. Male friends she doesnt mind, but tries to be ‘better friends’ with them or shows moodiness or isolates herself if I hang out too much with female friends. She loved lockdown during covid because all of us had to be together, doing nothing all day, everyday. That was her ideal situation. Even keeping the children busy with baking, walks etc made her grumpy. I realises I was home schooled and taught to fear so many people because she preferred me home. I could go on and on but just wanted to say how good it feels to be validates in this article and know that it is an illness and not just me being a bad child

    1. Jagjot Singh

      You’re welcome, Tash! The scenario you’ve described above is somewhat similar to what I faced with my mother. Now the big question is, what fear stops you from going independent? Sometimes is better to lower the aspirations to be peaceful. Your children will always remember you for the quality of time you spend with them rather than what you give them in terms of material and education. While I don’t tell people to be hateful towards anyone, but if keeping distance and going your own way is the answer to peace of mind, then nothing should be able to stop you from achieving that. A golden cage is still a cage. So, you have to ask yourself, what future do you envision for yourself and your children, and how would go about it?

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