Covert, Altruistic Narcissist Parent

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  • #599

    I would love to hear from others who have such a seemingly loving, do-gooder parent that not only would most people never believe they are abusers but you even struggle to keep yourself convinced.

    It would help in validating in my belief that she is a narc, as I’m constantly doubting myself.

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  • #600
    Renee Swanson

    I fortunately did not experience this from my own parents. But I did experience it with the father of my children. To the world, he was great! When we got together with family and friends, he was playful and interactive. He engaged with our own boys, as well as any other kids in the family.

    When family was around, he would help in the kitchen. He would play cards with the family. He would play on the floor with the kids. He helped with projects and chores. But he was like a totally different person when everyone left.

    He would instantly disengage. He went right back to his gaming addiction. He made conversations completely impossible. He blamed the boys and me for anything and everything. He told my boys over and over all the things that were wrong with them, making a lot of that up. He would tell them how bad their communication skills were, in the process of dragging them through a circular conversation. Whenever they tried to voice their own thoughts and opinions, he always had a reason why they were wrong. They NEVER felt heard, validated, or accepted by him.

    He was not physically abusive to them or me. He used to tell me, “How can you tell me I am a bad husband? I have never hit you or the boys. I am faithful to you. I love you.” I doubted myself so much! But I knew how he made me feel, over and over again. The damage he caused to our boys has been huge. No one ever felt emotionally safe, EVER, and that is abuse!!


    Thank you so much for your reply, Renee.

    Thank you for sharing your story. It is really validating to hear your words.
    I think this M.O. makes this so much more difficult to come to terms with labeling someone like this an abuser. All the undeniably good things they do their displays of love and affection.

    But your last words are what really makes it hit home for me in recognizing the abuse for what it is.. “No one ever felt emotionally safe, EVER, and that is abuse!!”

    Thank-you for that! <3

    This past weekend was my daughter’s 3rd birthday party and I never invited my mother. It is one of the most heart-wrenching, painful things for me to do. The guilt is still thick and heavy, but I do kind of feel strangely empowered. I’m taking my daughter to see my mother today for a birthday hug. But I’m glad it’s on my terms.

    I never wanted to use my daughter as a pawn in personal conflicts with my mother, but I realise now that it’s for my daughter’s well being too that they do not get too close. My mother is nearing her 70’s now so I wouldn’t completely cut her off, but at least to keep the interaction on my terms.

    Again thank you for this wonderful space you have offered victims to come together and share their pains and get the support they need to over-come this misunderstood form of abuse. <3

    Renee Swanson

    I think your decision to not cut her off completely is honorable and the right thing. But I applaud you for finding ways to do this on your terms. You are standing up for yourself, while maintaining compassion and connection. You are setting boundaries with love and respect for yourself and your mom. This is often not easy in these situations. But what a marvelous example you are for your daughter! She doesn’t realize it yet, but someday she will see this for herself. Thank you for sharing your story here!!


    I agree with Renee’s situation! My ex had the exact same behavior–he is an expert at impression management. But behind closed doors his manipulation, gaslighting, controlling, rages and entitlement were epic. No one understood why I left him, and I spent a tremendous amount of my precious time and energy trying to defend myself. My son, who had just started college, ended up in the psychiatric hospital due to contemplating suicide as a result of the emotional and psychological damage he had experienced due to his covert narcissistic father. This was my serious wake-up call, and I started taking action immediately, both through therapy, hiring an excellent attorney, and going completely no contact. Two years later my son and I are healing, thriving and hopeful for a better, more authentic life.

    Renee Swanson

    I am so sorry for what you have been through. Our children truly suffer in these situations. Far more than I ever realized. I am so happy for your healing. I wish you and your son much peace!!
    Covert narcissists are experts at making you feel and look crazy! You are certainly not alone.


    Thank you for sharing your story “Grateful”. And like Renee I am so sorry for the heartache, pain and suffering that you and your son went through!

    It’s really one of the most difficult things to come to terms with.
    I think having so many siblings is a tragic and a blessing at the same time. Many of my younger siblings (and even nieces and nephews) are substance abusers and/or have varying degrees of mental health issues. But as we (myself and two older sisters) have slowly started to wake up to what we have been unknowingly dealing with for all these years we are slowly starting to heal ourselves and offer as much support as we can to our younger siblings who reach out.
    It’s been a scary path to navigate. I had tried to introduce narcissism to my sister directly older than me (by 18 months, we were often mistaken for twins) and her surprisingly harsh and negative backlash to the suggestion made me doubt myself for a long time – to the point where I had tried to build my relationship with my mother again thinking that I must be wrong. My sister has her Master’s in Peace-Keeping, she’s very clued up on conflict resolution and generally a very wise person. But her denial and blind-spot to this has really damaged our relationship. =(

    That being said it has strengthened my relationship with my other 2 older sisters and we do our best to support the younger siblings and family members who get caught in the crossfire. But many of them are also disordered and every time I decide to introduce a new person to the concept I do so very tentatively, terrified that I will get another bad reaction or be made to look like I’m the one doing a smear-campaign. So quite a complicated situation.

    Sorry to have turned that discussion back on myself. *Face-palm*.
    But again thank you for sharing “Grateful” and Renee. I hope that day-by-day, year-by-year we are able to stop the cycle of this narcissistic abuse and heal in authentic and loving relationships. <3

    Renee Swanson

    Hey Elusive Flame, no need to apologize for turning the discussion back to you. The whole purpose of this forum is for everyone to be able to open up about their situations and hear from each other. Besides, it was your thread to begin with. So no worries at all.
    I am sorry that your sister is so closed off to the discussion. It is so hard when those in the family scenario don’t see it and live in denial. It makes the relationship incredibly difficult and strained. For most in this situation, the person in denial will stay that way until they see it for themselves. There is nothing you can do or say that will change this. While she is your sister, she is a person, a fellow human being. She has to live her life and follow her path as she chooses. You can always still love her, even if conversation has to be limited.
    Keep making yourself a priority and taking care of you. I am so glad that you have a stronger relationship with your other 2 sisters. Cherish them! And yes, together we are all here to stop this horrible cycle of abuse!!


    Elusive Flame, We no longer need to shy away from expressing ourselves as we have done in the past. That is what heals us and makes us whole again. I’m glad that my comments enabled you to do that. I also deal with some narcissistic issues in my family aside from my ex husband, so I get it. Stay strong and keep working on the authentic you!


    Thank you so much to both of you for your kindness. And to you Renee, for creating this safe space to share our experiences. <3 It is a blessing to so many.


    I know this is the old post, but maybe what I have to add will help.

    My MIL is an altruistic narcissist masquerading as a borderline personality. She was also enmeshed with her son and grandson; they were not so enmeshed back, but suffer fallout of varying degrees (my stepson is worse, because his mom is also personality disordered).

    One of the first stories she shared with me was how she called a University hospital in another state, managing to convince them to write off the cost of cancer treatment for a friend’s wife. For this 15 minute effort, she thought he should have replaced all of her aging landscaping (the friend owns a nursery). She was disappointed when after three years of free Christmas trees and other nice things, he started charging her again.

    She paid half of the private school tuition for the school she pressured my husband to send his son to. Because of that, she believed she should have parental-level involvement at the school and with the teachers, and had the RIGHT to be involved in EVERY decision regarding the boy. (This is not an exaggeration.) If my husband was making a decision she disagreed with, she would call/text him up to 12x/day (conveniently forgetting about the last contact, acting as though it was the first time) to pressure him towards whatever decision she wanted. After days or weeks of this, he would wear down and give in – partially or entirely – just to make her stop.

    She schmoozed her way into being an aide at the school, only to do a series of actions that can only have been intended to further isolate my stepson from his peers, beyond being the “new kid” in a fairly closed atmosphere. If he was isolated, she could keep control had keep all his attention to herself.

    To encourage my husband’s to divorce the ex, she offered after-school care. Only after the divorce was finalized did she guilt him into taking her out to dinner on the weekday evenings the kid was with the ex (three evenings over each two week period). Sounds mundane, doesn’t it…? Consider that this was a single man who had spent seven years in a miserable marriage with a personality-disordered woman, and these evenings would have been prime opportunities for him to start dating again, but she ate up that time AND made him spend the money he might have used towards those dates on her instead. He had one Saturday night, every two weeks to use for dating because of this. Had we not already been friends with similar interests and both having work schedules that allowed us to meet up for lunchtime and Sunday outings, I doubt we would have ever been a “thing”, and that began years after his divorce (though he had used that time to heal from the ex and much of the known damage his mom had caused which lead him into that relationship in the first place).

    When my husband divorced his ex, his mom took a second mortgage out on her house to “help” him get custody so he could hire the best attorney, “to make sure he would have a good relationship with his son”… nevermind the guardian ad litum all but insisted on him getting custody because his ex couldn’t help herself to not badmouth him in front of the kid. Remember how she was so concerned about her son having a good relationship with his son? Well she used every opportunity alone with her grandson to tell him bad things about his father – to tell him how his dad is mean (because he pushes back when she would cross his boundaries), that he overreacts, how she disagreed with decisions he made (regarding him, her grandson), or would do things different if they were her decisions to make, or that his dad “didn’t know how to be a dad, because he never had a dad” (despite that being patently false and the kid knowing his dad’s dad). She told the kid every time she had a disagreement with his dad (and ultimately me), because “she has a right to talk about how she is feeling” (but really, she would never miss an opportunity to look like the victim, at the expense of making other adults in the kid’s life look like ogres, undermining all trust.

    In short, she used my husband to get the access she wanted to the kid, then used her time alone to undermine the kid’s relationship with his parents – mostly with his dad – all while my husband faithfully paid back the loan that she told everyone who would stand still long enough to hear how she “generously” took out for him so he would have a good relationship with his son. Undoubtably she believed the ex’s propensity to badmouth my husband to the kid was enough cover for her to hide behind when the SHTF as a teenager. Yes, this caused the predictable issues one would expect when my stepson entered high school. Thank God for the completely awesome therapist we found for him who has managed to undo most of the effects of this extreme parental alienation in what has to be record time!)

    Shortly before we all went no-contact, she spiraled out of control. This started after my husband proposed to me (holy cr*p, was she shocked he didn’t tell her before he proposed, despite him being nearly 50 years old, and though clearly he had good reason not to).

    On one memorable day, she inexplicably declared that she was her grandson’s “third family” because of the time he spent with her after school. When I asked her if she didn’t feel like an honored extended member of her son’s and grandson’s family, she answered “no”. This followed her telling my husband that he shouldn’t expect his 12 year old son to turn in his homework (because, hormones. Lol), and can’t punish him when he doesn’t do it. Some of this was designed to get a reaction out of me (to make me look reactive and mean, because her lack of respect for my husband as a father and an autonomous adult had been a trigger point in the past, but I believe it also belied her true positions on the topics).

    So now that she had declared she was direct competition to my husband’s role as a parent, he started pulling back his control. First change, an age appropriate decision that he would start taking the bus home the next year (this was March/April of the school year) instead of going to her house. To counter and keep the kid coming to her house, she offered to buy the kid a gaming console – he turned her down, but she did it anyway (and then predictably tried to use it as a pressure point to guilt the kid for not coming over to play it after we went NC). She also offered to get him a Pug (his favorite breed of dog) to keep at her house. He was really excited about this until I asked him to find out what her expectations were regarding it. When he looked confused, I asked him if he thought she might expect him to go over there every day to feed/walk it… he understood immediately what she was really up to and that was the end of it.

    This was her M.O. – do something nice for someone, and use the owed favor to demand something she knew no sane person would do/give of their own free will, but drop that shoe only AFTER they had accepted something nice from her.

    I saw this immediately, but I’m from a reasonably healthy family, so I stayed as far away from her as I could. I even told my husband after my first solo convo with her that I wouldn’t be spending any more time alone with her because she spoke really poorly about people behind their backs, even while showing those same people great affection to their faces.

    I also refused to accept any sort of favor from her, which confounded her to no end because she had no leverage to use on me. And… after six years in a relationship with a narcissist prior to reconnecting with her son, I had learned to control negative emotions like pity and guilt, so she wasn’t able to use those against me either.

    I could go on and on, but this should paint an accurate enough image.

    Thanks for giving me a place to vent and let this go.



    I feel like I finally found a place that makes sense to me. I’ve been reading so much it has overwhelmed me. Lots of books tell you how to deal with a covert narcissist, but at 45 with 3 teenage children and a 20 year marriage, I am struggling with the idea that this is my fate. Especially when I see the long road ahead of me. If I could have an authentic relationship with this man, I find myself wondering could I ever be attracted to him again.
    I have know him and his family forever, but we always loved in different states until he moved to my state to date me. I should have known then because he didn’t listen to me when I asked him not to move here. I had just called off my wedding to another man less than a year prior to that I wasn’t ready. A month after he moved here I found out I was pregnant. He was happy. I was scared. But marriage was a very cultural expectation of my Italian American family and so I married him while I was five months pregnant.
    I have to say there were lots of times I had red flags looking back, but I had no idea. He’s very smart. Very sweet. Very loving. He’s also very controlling, defensive, arguementive, passive aggressive, blaming, etc. he literally does all of the things a covert narcissist does. It’s seems to have gotten worse over the years.
    Now my older daughters question the way he talks to me. I’m worried my son will think this is how men should behave. I want out but I’m scared he will ruin me.
    I cheated on him once. He’ll never let me forget it. It was my worst mistake. I know it was wrong, my father had died and he was not a support for me except when he was dying. After that it was back to him taking care of his needs. And I cheated. I needed to feel a connection with someone.
    He said he forgave me. But it comes up every year for seven years whenever I get upset about something. How dare I talk about a mistake he made. My mistakes are the worst and I’m lucky he forgave me.
    I should have left then. I should have left before I cheated but I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I thought I was crazy. His circular talk, gaslighting all of it was sending me into panic attacks. I was so depressed.
    I’m sorry to type so much. Maybe I don’t fit here because I cheated which is what narcissists seem to do too, but I am so relieved (and disheartened) to find that I am not alone in this very confusing marriage.
    It makes me less scared. I am also curious about the mother’s of these men. I feel like my husband got worse when his mother moved up here to be near him. She seems like a narcissist too, and their relationship borders on inappropriate to me.
    Thank you for listening. I have an appointment with the therapist who was our marriage counselor that he says is biased. So now I see her alone. I recently started recording our conversations and arguments so I am hoping she can help me understand what I am dealing with a little more today.
    All the best to everyone on here. And thank you Renee…it was your incredibly well written blog that intrigued me into joining. Your words often speak my heart!

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