“Mother knows best,” they say.
Have you ever questioned the possibility that such a bold statement could’ve come straight from the maternal mouth of ‘mother dearest’?
What if these words are just a ploy to make the world bow down and mindlessly adhere to the matriarch’s narcissistic regime?
Whatever purpose this declaration serves, we know that it can be detrimental; it prevents the world from holding mothers accountable when they don’t know what’s best—and get away with slowly chipping away at their children’s true selves and sanity over the years. In reality, no two mothers are alike. Not all mothers pursue motherhood with pure intentions, and, simultaneously, not all mothers are night terrors. Some mothers are warm, responsive, consistent, and humble—and some balance inflated heads and crowns while they sit high in the heavens on their thrones, treating their children like lifelong servants. The latter mother isn’t just any mother; she’s a covert maternal narcissist.
Narcissism can be a destructive, relentless personality product that comes as a packaged deal with trying traits—such as the following:
Narcissists can also be overt or covert. People who present with overt narcissism wear their narcissism on their sleeve—while covert narcissism flies under the radar. An overt narcissist, for example, is more likely to hand deliver a one million dollar donation check to a charity organization during a public event and announce the good deed to the world. A covert narcissist, on the other hand, may submit a private donation yet become visibly upset and feel slighted for not eventually being acknowledged by the nonprofit—which is a scenario that also showcases benevolent narcissism, a type of narcissism that we see from individuals who quietly expect and long for admiration in exchange for seemingly selfless deeds.
In the case of covert maternal narcissism, the mother’s flawed personality is subtle due to the fact that the traits aren’t considered characteristically narcissistic—as well as the fact that society views mothers as saints and refuses to believe that a mother is capable of such nastiness. Despite this, the impact of dealing with a covert maternal narcissist is very real. Children, whether dependent or independent, know that their mothers present with covert maternal narcissism when they witness some of her quirks:
- Carbon copy. Maternal narcissists tend to believe that they’re supreme creators and view their children as extensions of themselves. Dealing with her inflated sense of self as a mother becomes tricky and exasperating when she also minimizes your efforts and takes full credit for all of your accomplishments.
- Keeping tabs. The covert maternal narcissist brought you into this world, and she’ll quickly remind you about it. In her mind, you owe her—and always will. She also either boasts or complains about sacrificing for you, and her ‘sacrifice’ comes with a hefty price or unspoken expectation—whether it’s financial support, praise, or eternal care-giving.
- Up and down. The grand matriarch is also extremely codependent, which means that she needs to be needed by you as her child—or others. The codependence is one reason why she’s happy or thrilled when your ‘down’; it gives her an opportunity to switch into mom savior mode for self-absorbed reasons. In turn, she’s unhappy when you’re ‘up’, especially if that ‘up’ feeling connects to you gaining independence—the ultimate threat to her power and ability to retrieve narcissistic supply stock from you.
- Hot and cold. She’s a professional when it comes to putting up a front and loves putting on shows for the public, eager to show off as the ‘world’s greatest mother’. In private, however, she breaks character quickly. She shows her profound insecurity and misery. She projects. She becomes cold, unresponsive, apathetic, and excessively critical or shaming.
- Gaslighting and guilt-tripping. Covert maternal narcissists swiftly deflect when you expose them for coming up short; they often say that they’ve ‘tried their best’ in response. However, you can think of this response as a cop-out, an opportunity to avoid owning up and taking accountability for how they’ve harmed you.
- Let the games begin. For the matriarch, her throne is always threatened—especially by you, her child. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for covert maternal narcissists to become jealous of their children—their natural talents, happiness, or independence. When she witnesses her child’s success, it nearly pulverizes her already fragile ego. Ultimately, she fears being dethroned by you or someone else and is always willing to compete for the top seat.
- Picking favorites. This is pretty self-explanatory. She prefers one sibling over the other(s) and, specifically, pits siblings against one another by treating one as the golden child and the other as the scapegoat. The scapegoat is, essentially, a projection punching bag for the covert maternal narcissist who, concurrently, adores the golden child who bows down to her and reminds her of the distorted, perfect self-image that she fixates on so often.
- Martyr mentality. She’s always innocent. She’s never wrong. She’s always the victim. It’s always you and the rest of the world against her. The covert maternal narcissist is the type to throw stones and then claim victimhood. She also loves to weaponize her tears, using them as ammo to continue to manipulate and exploit others—including her own children.
If you’ve grappled with the effects of narcissistic abuse by a parent, friend, spouse, or even colleague, consider working with a licensed therapist in order to reconnect with your true self.