How do you handle a narcissistic mother who appears to be a wonderful mom to everyone else but you?
This is the difficulty of dealing with what is called a “vulnerable narcissist” or a “covert narcissist.” You can learn about the differences between covert and overt narcissism in this post.
Instead of engaging in easily observable narcissistic behaviors, the vulnerable narcissist will sneakily manipulate and quietly exert control. She puts up a good front and is overly invested in appearance over substance.
The “overt narcissist” is a bragging bundle of aggressive self-confidence, easily recognizable and thus easier to avoid. But the covert narcissist is more subtle and can feign self-effacing behavior.
Since women are often socialized to be less assertive, they are far more likely to develop vulnerable or covert narcissistic behavior than men. They might look like the ideal mom in public, but in private they are cutting and cruel or martyred and thin-skinned—or both.
Take a look at these seven signs that help you to identify the covert narcissist in your life, and if you think you’re dating a covert narcissist, check out this post for more information.
How to Spot a Secret Narcissist
If you suspect your mother is a narcissist but have a hard time pinning down the specific behaviors, then read on to discover seven clear signs that your mother is a covert narcissist. This list will give you evidence with which to back up your claims and garner support from others.
1. Caring is Conditional
While everyone outside the family sees your mother as loving, caring, and devoted, the family knows the truth. The vulnerable narcissist’s love is entirely conditional on what you can do to best serve her interests. She is constantly critical in private and withdraws her affection if you thwart her desires.
She may try to ingratiate herself to you in order to gain your trust, only to break that trust when she can make herself look better at your expense. She will trample on your self-esteem in order to boost her own. Her apologies—if given—will only buy her time until the next cycle begins.
2. Your Existence is an Extension of Her
When your behavior aligns with what she perceives as right and good, then she will compliment you and show you off to anyone around. Because you are seen as an extension of her, you are only necessary for the purpose of building her self-worth.
If you go “off script,” then she will go out of her way to humiliate you, especially in front of people you care about. Should you even accidentally make her look bad (even if it’s only in her distorted view), she will lash out with anger and ridicule. Her self-esteem is dependent on your obedience to her wishes.
3. Criticism is a One Way Street
While she is abundantly skilled in passing judgment on you and everyone else around her, she is quite incapable of accepting any criticism herself. Her incredibly inflated yet ironically fragile ego demands that she only be propped up, never questioned.
The covert narcissist is very discrete in this behavior. Criticisms are doled out behind closed doors, as the narcissistic mother needs the public eye to witness the loving and caring mom. She will store up her anger and unleash her retaliation when nobody else is looking. You are left the sole victim of her ire.
4. Manipulation and Martyrdom
The covert narcissist becomes a master of manipulation. Instead of overtly bullying her way into getting what she wants, she will employ a skillful set of emotional manipulations to get others on her side and to get you to do what she wants. She uses guilt trips effectively and frequently.
She will also readily play the victim, crying about how ill-treated she is and always has been. She will emphasize the sacrifices she claims she has made for you, for the family, for all her loved ones. She ensures that you feel guilty that she is underappreciated.
5. Her Way or the Highway
As a vulnerable narcissist, your mother cannot risk losing control, so she designs the rules by which everyone is to play her game. She is also allowed to change those rules any time she likes in order to accommodate her shifting needs and desires.
She usurps the authority from anyone else in the home, so that the father figure in the household has no recourse but simply to follow along. If you try to buck her system, she will freeze you out and enlist other family members to enable her interests.
6. Turning the Tables of Blame
The vulnerable narcissist is also incapable of accepting responsibility for their actions. If she is confronted with the inappropriateness of her behavior, she will quickly grow defensive and angry. Covert and overt narcissists alike view themselves as eternally right.
Instead of taking any of the blame for the chaos and hurt she causes, the covert narcissist will redirect the blame on someone else, usually one of her children. This scapegoat then becomes the focal point of her anger, and a family awash in her dysfunction will likely go along.
7. Boundaries Are Set to be Violated
Finally, the vulnerable narcissistic mother, like the over narcissist, will violate as many boundaries as you set. In particular, the narcissist mother will intrude on your privacy by going through your room or your electronic devices (even when you are fully grown).
She will interfere in your relationships, both personal and professional. She will take credit for your achievements, while distancing herself from your failures. That, she will tell others, must be your father’s fault or your innate failings. That’s why it’s just as important to protect yourself from this kind of narcissistic mother as it is for any other type of narcissism.
The vulnerable narcissistic mother is harder for outsiders to identify, but you are well aware of the set of behaviors she employs in order to maintain control and supremacy in the household. While she may genuinely love and care about you, it is difficult to see it beneath the layers of manipulation and self-absorption. Recognizing the pattern of her bad behavior is the first step in protecting yourself from her disorder.
Now that you know more about vulnerable narcissism, you might be interested in a free copy of my “Narcissistic Rejection Guide.” You will learn how to say no and push back against narcissistic manipulation, even from a vulnerable narcissist. Just click on this link and I’ll send it directly to your inbox for free!
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