It’s taken me nearly two months of research to start writing on this topic. I’m still not ready.
Dealing with a covert narcissist parent is different than dating, being married to, or being friends with a covert narc. The dynamic is different. Parents are a child’s introduction to the world. They shape their view of relationships and themselves, among other things.
With my mother, this behavior went unnoticed until I was 30. I can’t say when it started but it was undeniable by 2019. I would often look at the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder and think, “she’s not like that”. Then I realized that I was thinking of the criteria in extremes, and if I took it down a notch, it was definitely her. (It also helped to do more thorough research.)
The DSM-5 criteria is very generalized and doesn’t delve as deep into the types of narcs and their specific traits. The covert is just one type. Keep in mind that the experience with your narc might be different, and there are more than just the ones I have listed below. Although I have plenty of ammunition, I’ll list each section with one example.
Inability to Take Criticism
I learned six months ago not to attempt correction anymore. I slip up sometimes, like that time I told her she was always right. (To which she replied “Yes I am” and then told me I was disrespectful.) Granted, no one wants to be told that they’re wrong. But if every time someone gives you criticism, you’re defensive and blaming, there’s a problem.
What the heck, I’ll tell you what happened in June of 2019. I had just been released from a mental facility, having been stressed into admitting myself by the narc in question. As she drove me home, she asked if there was anything I wanted to tell her. I said, “You yell. A lot.” That was it. She proceeds to get on the defensive and tell me that everyone expects a lot of their parents and puts them on a pedestal with high standards. I said “I don’t.” She said, “Yes you do.” Because she knows my feelings better than me. And she does it, so everyone else must do it too. She proceeds to say that she’s not perfect and I’ll be honest, at this point I tuned her out. She didn’t apologize. She didn’t say she would try to do better. She just defended her right to be a tyrant because she’s a victim and I expect too much of her.
Lack of Empathy
This is a little funny to write about for me, since I struggle to display empathy myself. (I’m going to go ahead and blame my autism. It won’t mind.) While I struggle to put myself in someone else’s shoes, I do know that other people have feelings. I just don’t know what they feel like if I haven’t had the same experience. My narc is not like this. Even if she’s had a similar experience (or the same, or worse), she doesn’t care how other people feel. All she cares about is her own feelings.
The example that comes to mind is her telling my sister that she had to function like she was fine in spite of her period cramps, because she did it. However, she did not. She had a doctor’s statement as a teenager excusing her from school and had to have her father carry her to the bathroom because she couldn’t walk. But my sister isn’t her, and therefore isn’t special, so she has to act like nothing is wrong.
You don’t know the half of this. For the past three weeks, I’ve been paying attention to what this narc talks about. Quite simply, herself. It’s like she can’t not talk about herself. Not only does she have an opinion on everything that others do, but she seems to have an experience that’s more interesting than everyone else’s too. Do you have a job? She’ll talk about her job, and how she could or couldn’t do your job. Did someone die recently? Well someone close to her died at some point too? Are you on a diet? She’s been on every diet there ever was, and she’ll tell you how it worked for her.
But this is two-fold. In addition to talking about herself, she also has to have her way. If she doesn’t get her way, we suffer. There will be a temper tantrum for sure. Usually she’ll tell her husband, edad (enabler dad), and he’ll have a stern talking to us. She is never wrong.
Since the first part came with its own examples, let’s give another one for the second part. Nmom and I were talking about my depression. I hadn’t and didn’t want to clean my room, and I told her that was a symptom of depression. I told her even if I have a bad reaction to whatever counsel she had, she should still tell me. Because that’s what normal people do. She literally starts crying and says “This is hard for me too,” and just sulks away. Now, I won’t deny that being close to someone with a mental illness takes it’s toll on everyone. But if that had been the end of it, I wouldn’t be using this as an example. A few hours later, I get a lecture from edad about how much stress nmom is under and my mental illness doesn’t matter – I need to clean my room for her sake.
That’s right. He said that.
I sat there, cried, said “OK”, waited for him to stop beating that dead horse because that’s what boomers do, and I went back into my room. And I kept crying. I realized that I wasn’t going to matter to them as a human being unless it was convenient for them. And it was never going to be convenient for them.
And then I realized I had to get away from them.
Stay tuned for more information about covert narcs, narcissistic abuse, and toxic parents.