All the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances. And one man in his time plays many parts.
A covert narcissist is a chameleon. He or she is able to convey to the world the image that is necessary for them to get what they desire. They may exude the image of a loving, kind and generous person. They are people who many might consider a pillar of the community. Others play the role of a passive victim to strategically lure you in. They have similar qualities as overt narcissists. They are aware enough to know better than to show their true colors. They are master adapters. Their only dilemma is that they cannot as easily hide from those who truly know them. This can be loved ones, close friends or significant others. Covert narcissists thrive on being able to deceive and pretend to be someone else with the sole purpose of getting what they want.
A covert narcissist is the worst kind of narcissist there is. Like a stealth bomb, you can’t see them coming until they have left their destruction.
An area of psychology massively under catered for: both a thorough understanding and analysis of covert narcissistic personality disorder and covert exploitative tactics and specifically how to treat the type of devastating long term complex trauma and damage to an individual’s psyche this kind of invisible abuse can cause.
Undeniably and unequivocally, the most damaging, daunting and severe form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) that exists, covert narcissism – otherwise known as closet or stealth narcissism. Covert narcissists can seem highly defensive and extremely hostile whilst masking beneath their facade a highly insecure sense of emotional vulnerability; this vulnerability they will do absolutely anything within their ability to prevent being exposed, even if it means going to extreme lengths (desperate times call for desperate measures).
Even though they are braggarts, shirk responsibility, and rarely apologize, narcissists are notorious for their ability to charm. They are master manipulators who have an uncanny ability to enter into relationships with people who are taken in by them for far too long. Since you’re reading this, you’re probably one of these people. Which is why I want to warn you about covert narcissists. Because if you’ve been taken in by an overt narcissist, it’s even harder to catch what’s going on with a covert one.
There are countless articles written on the psychology of narcissism. The reason that it’s so highly researched is that someone who has narcissistic tendencies can do so much damage to the psyche of those around them, seemingly without having any idea of what they’re doing. Masters of manipulation, it’s almost inspiring to see the way they do what they do so flawlessly.
Narcissistic abuse is frankly bizarre behavior that emerges from a deranged mind. I don’t mean to be critical towards narcissists, but rather to point out the fact that narcissistic behavior is so far from normal behavior that descriptions of it simply do not sound believable. Narcissistic behavior is typically obsessive and extremely competitive. A narcissist will often go to extraordinary lengths to gain some real or perceived competitive edge, so extraordinary as to seem bizarre.
There is something to be said about allowing someone to overpower you when you know better and see the signs. But it’s something entirely different when you don’t even see it coming. This is why the covert narcissist is a whole new breed of a narcissist. As if it isn’t bad enough that they manipulate you, make you feel bad for just about everything, and that everything is your fault, by the time you know what’s going on, you’re so sucked in that it becomes difficult to find your way out.
In addition to the standard symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the covert narcissist is also susceptible to stress and worry. They have a tendency to function inefficiently (i.e. they are dysfunctional) whilst their inner expectations and desires remain unfulfilled. Closet/stealth narcissists repress awareness of their narcissistic traits due to inner conflict; deep down inside they find their fantasies embarrassing and unacceptable. Deep down inside they realize that their fantasies are ultimately self-centered and are to solicit goodness and power to one’s self; to put one’s self up on a pedestal, above all others.
Covert narcissists are usually too afraid to exhibit any of their accomplishments to others and they commonly underestimate their own capabilities.
Covert Narcissists dangle their vulnerability in front of you as bait, just waiting for your good nurturing mothering/fathering instincts to kick in and rescue the poor little lost child they are presenting to you. As soon as you reach out a helping hand, their jaws snap shut on you. We fall for the projected idealized image of the person the covert narcissist wishes they could be but knows in their hearts they are not. This is the person they NEED to convince others they are in order to foster narcissistic supply.
But beneath the mask of a shy, vulnerable and “good person” something far more sinister lurks. And this what makes covert narcissism so damaging and dangerous: the nature of the disorder is such that you are brainwashed into thinking you are dealing with a human being with a morality, perhaps even a “pillar of the community”. This is frequently a part of the covert narcissists fantasy: the misunderstood but kind, caring genius/ guru that the foolish world cruelly victimizes. If the target is tricked into believing the FALSE narrative that this person is a vulnerable victim they are left suspecting that the manipulations, insults, transgressions and abuses they experienced CAN’T be real …right?
Their overt behavior projects an innocent, angel-like, good as gold persona which builds them a credible and a faultless reputation yet they fail to reach their true potential due to their own self-doubt.
Some covert narcissists end up losing all interest in their hobbies and desires and end up deciding to do nothing with their lives – they seem to have no real interests – yet they are extremely self-entitled and expect other people to do all the running round for them. The most damaging aspect of covert narcissism is the controlling and manipulative behavior that covert, or stealth, narcissists impose on the people closest to them. If in a relationship this is often solely their partner (though this is not always the case). They show a very real lack of empathy towards their partner and in many cases also towards their children, if they have any.
In a typical case the only person who realizes that there is a problem is the person who is closest to the covert/stealth narcissist, who is usually unwillingly forced to suffer covert narcissistic abuse (very subtle emotional blackmail, mental abuse and psychological manipulation). Narcissists end up obscuring the truth and twisting literally every little detail back round onto the victim. They expertly mix the truth with a lie in order to distort the truth in their favor. This abuse is so well hidden within the communication dynamics of the relationship that the victim often doesn’t pick up on it and is left scratching their head wondering:
Is it me or is it him?
Any single covert behavior, when repeated in a pattern, is lethal to a relationship. Multiple behaviors are exponentially more confusing, which is why covert emotional abuse is so powerful. Further, the longer it takes to name and define the abuse, the longer the victims remain in ‘stressful states of confusion.’ They develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which further diminishes their ability to communicate and think.
When a victim of this type of abuse eventually begins to develop awareness of the manipulation it gradually dawns on them that they have already been ostracized long before they anticipated and the people that they turn to for help have already been made to believe it’s them who is the problem – they’ve already been turned against the victim. The victim has been ostracized. The covert narcissist makes their victim feel like they are the one with the problem whilst projecting an innocent angel-like persona to everyone around them. They make their victim look bad and do their best to destroy their reputation in order to protect their deluded false sense of self and their distorted viewpoint of the world. Narcissists have no empathy and therefore have an invisible secret, an advantage over everyone around them.
It is in the narcissist’s best interest to “own” you. Like a vampire, he appears to be the one in control, but he can’t thrive without your blood. As you see through his rhetoric to his toxic subtext, you will stop feeling so attached and loyal to him. You can cease volunteering to be his donor.
The cover narcissist is: a social chameleon who would wear a completely different identity depending on who they were talking to; a sneaky, underhanded way of operating in the world that ONLY those closest to them ever get a glimpse of; and a person whose actions RARELY match their words.
Covert Emotional Abuse has many layers. It is confusing and easy to deny. Those who employ it, unconsciously or knowingly take steps to avoid being caught. Rewriting history is one way they step out of the story. Practicing one-ups-manship, causing others to feel inferior and reversing blame, shifting guilt onto the innocent, allows them to feel little or no guilt themselves. Covert abusive behaviors serve as way of life for perpetrators who don’t know how to relate authentically. They know only how to power over and hide. They scapegoat victims to cause others to join in. They may do a molehill of good to cover up a mountain of bad managing their own denial as well as their public image. This all has a tremendous gas lighting effect that causes victims to doubt their own reality and memory.
When arguing with a covert narcissist, a victim will usually be left at a dead-end. Their logic appears to be incompatible with that of the narcissist and they always get outwitted. If a relationship partner, then the narcissist will go on to state how they took that partner into their life and ‘saved’ them when they needed it and will make the partner feel like they are forever in debt to them.
The narcissist makes the victim believe that anything bad that happened was all in their imagination and that they are paranoid; it wasn’t real.
The narcissist attains the trust, respect and belief of everyone around them and anyone close to their victim who they are likely to turn to for help. The victim feels like they are suffering alone, no-one around them can see what the deceitful, deceptive, manipulative and controlling covert narcissist is really up to.
Covert narcissists use very cleverly hidden emotional blackmail, mental abuse, suggestive techniques and manipulative linguistic patterns to force their partner to question their own sanity; behaviors which people that know them would never ever dream of them of ever being capable of. They have everybody around them fooled by their pathological self whilst wearing down at the psyche and soul of their victim who, over time, becomes depressed, loses self-esteem and feels like their soul is being worn down until they eventually seemingly become devoid of emotion themselves – this then further backs up the narcissists claims that their victim is the one with the problem.
Covert narcissists are the sort of people who have multiple partners, secret affairs (sometimes within their own family) or sometimes even a complete secret life with someone else.
They recruit friends and family who are fooled by the innocent persona they project to defend their false self by convincing them that their discovered secrets are just a result of paranoia or suspicion, yet they use special occasions such as Valentine’s Day or even while their partner is away at funerals in order to get away with their infidelity; times when the victim least expects it.
When a narcissist’s deceit has been discovered literally every little detail gets twisted back round on to the true victim. They are then the one being accused of the abuse, lies and/or cheating. It’s a plain and simple defense mechanism which offers no logic or information on the subject and has to be kept secret in order to uphold the covert narcissist’s pathological self.
Narcissists come up with one-line defense mechanisms rather than offering any logical explanation for their behavior (e.g. “it’s all in your head”, “you’re paranoid”, “that didn’t happen”, “I think you need to see a doctor”, “I don’t know what you’re talking about”, “I never said that”). Statements like these are an instant sign of guilt and make it clear that they’re not willing to even talk about it; they are not willing to take the risk of slipping up.
However, on certain occasions (in private) the narcissist’s attitude towards their partner may change to “either let me get away with it or get out of my life” although this is usually short-lived and denial and repression kicks back in.
The victim, stuck in a maddening double bind, begins to go into a state of learned helplessness and submit to the twisted, upside-down reality tunnel of the covert narcissist and this is where the real, deep, prolonged damage can be done.
They make it clear, intermittently, that everything is about them whilst their partner’s feelings, needs, wants and desires are completely disregarded and they will discard their partner in the process with no empathy whatsoever, seemingly being heartless and sadistic.
Anyone who knows about a covert narcissist’s secret life is sure to be blackmailed or manipulated into keeping quiet, often by-proxy. Even when a narcissist does slip up, they may claim that they have a communication problem and that they didn’t mean to use those words, they will deny their secrets until the day they die even if they’ve already been discovered, even if you present them with 100% factual evidence and even if you know for a fact they are lying – they will attempt to make you question the evidence.
It’s also important to understand that a covert narcissist also suffers. Although on some level they must be aware of some of their abuse, mind-games and manipulation or they wouldn’t hide it from everyone, it has become their way of getting through life and is ultimately deep-rooted in their subconscious – it’s pathological. They must control their victim in order to continue to uphold their false self to everyone else around them.
However, narcissists ultimately still know the difference between right and wrong and good and evil but deep down inside they just simply don’t care – protecting their true (and self-denied) emotions is essential.
A covert narcissist may make it clear to the person closest to them that they understand they have a problem, that they simply don’t care that they have a problem and that they are not willing to do anything about it even if that means losing the people closest to them in their life. Again, this is usually an intermittent behavior. Narcissists have no empathy but seem to go through intermittent (but rare) phases of self-reflection and self-acknowledgement – these phases are also short-lived.
Following prolonged exposure to the psychological toxic virus that is covert narcissism the agenda of wearing down the victims ego boundaries and injecting them with self doubt, anxiety and insecurity starts to work its way deeper and deeper into the mind and heart of the prey.
Your value in the narcissist’s life will depend on your usefulness. When you are no longer regarded as useful or you challenge them about who they really are, you will be cast aside without a second thought as if you never existed. Your reputation will have been discredited so that you will never be believed.
While the overt narcissists tended to be aggressive, self-aggrandizing, exploitative, and have extreme delusions of grandeur and a need for attention, covert narcissists were more prone to feelings of neglect or belittlement, hypersensitivity, anxiety, and delusions of persecution.
A narcissist is someone who can take a toll on your sensibilities and your self-esteem, but a covert one can take a toll on your sanity, too. Many characteristics that are specific to covert narcissism are more difficult to spot. To maintain your self-esteem and your sanity, look for these signs that you’re in a relationship with someone who is keeping their narcissism under wraps:
They are overly critical. Because they have so many insecurities of their own, they have a tendency to be overly critical of those around them. Projecting their own weaknesses onto those in their path, they can leave you to feel stupid, unwanted, or insignificant.
Although charming, you only see it when they want something. Very charismatic when they want to be, the covert narcissist’s charm only comes out when they want something from you or the people around you. Like a switch, they can turn it on and turn it off, but it’s always to get something from the person they’re schmoozing.
No matter what happens, you always feel at fault. As upset as you are with them, if you confront them or get into an argument with them, they manipulate the situation with such mastery that you end up feeling at fault and apologizing. A covert narcissist knows exactly how to spin something to make you feel like everything you were thinking is wrong, even when your own common sense and logic tells you otherwise. This tactic can be so mind-manipulating that you can start to feel like you’re going insane.
They leave you feeling empty in your relationship with them. No matter how long you’re with them, you can feel alone and lonely. Regardless of the time you are together, the experiences that you share with them and the closeness that you crave, it always feels as if something is missing or isn’t quite right.
They don’t care if they have to lie, steal, or cheat to get what they want. A narcissist sees everyone in relation to what they can do for them. Not really caring about anyone but themselves, everyone and everything is merely a tool to get what they want in life. They are not above lying, cheating, or stealing in order to make themselves feel better, more powerful, more admired, or more wealthy.
Stubborn and dogmatic, they only will concede if it gets them something. Getting an apology from a covert narcissist can only be accomplished if they want something from you or if it’s part of their end-game. You can argue with them until you’re blue in the face, but even when you get an apology, it’s empty. They don’t mean they are sorry; they mean that they stand to gain something from the concession, not that they believe they’re wrong.
There’s something empty and uncaring about them that you can’t put your finger on. There’s no way to get close to them in a relationship. As if there is a protective layer to them that you can’t penetrate, things never seem quite right or real when you’re with a covert narcissist.
They lack empathy. It makes no difference if it’s you or someone in a third-world nation who is starving to death, they have no ability to empathize, so they never feel sorry for anyone.
They want the good things in life and are envious if anyone else has them. A narcissist rarely wants what they have; they are constantly in the market for what everyone else has that they deem important or worthy. They could be the richest person in the world and still envy others for something more than what they have.
Their emotional intelligence is very low. Like talking to a brick wall, they just don’t seem to “get” what you’re saying. Not being able to feel empathy, they’re very low on emotional intelligence, which makes it difficult to talk to them on a deeper level.
They have an inability to feel remorseful for what they do. Always blaming others, covert narcissists have an inability to feel sorry for what they have done.
They will play the victim often and well. A covert narcissist will make you feel sorry for them, no matter what the truth of the matter is. Everything is someone else’s fault, and they are always merely an innocent bystander.
They will blame everyone for their mistakes and misfortune. They seemingly have no control over anything they do or anything that is done to them. All of their misfortune is someone else’s fault because they bare no responsibility for their actions.
No matter what you do, you can’t get close to them. Because of their low emotional intelligence, you just can’t seem to feel close to them no matter what you do. That will leave you feeling empty and alone.
Whatever they’re feeling, they will project it onto you. They are experts at projecting any negative feelings they have onto the people in their lives. By making you feel bad, they make themselves feel better.
Only one person exists in their universe, and it isn’t you. Highly selfish, they appear to be the only one in their universe. The only time they care about something that has to do with you is when it really has something to do with them.
They are highly sensitive and over-reactive to criticism of any type. The covert narcissist is unable to take any form of criticism. They are hyper sensitive and unable to accept that someone would see them as anything less than perfect. Unlike the classic narcissist who reacts aggressively to any critique, the covert narcissist pretends it does not bother them while fuming over it internally. Some covert narcissists will defend against a perceived slight by exhibiting an increased sense of superior smugness and dismissiveness about the criticism while other covert narcissists may sullenly retreat into being a victim. The covert narcissist may even display passive-aggressive behavior when criticized. They will “forget” to perform a task or deny that they ever even committed to completing the task.
They will engage in high-risk activities to get attention. Attention is the goal at any cost. If they have to do something dangerous or engage in risky behavior, the result is always greater than the danger of the act. There is nothing they won’t do to get the attention they crave.
They see people as objects to get what they want. Incapable of forming bonds with people, they see those in their lives as tools to get what they want and need.
They usually target those weaker than them. A covert narcissist will target anyone they think they can manipulate, whether they are strong or weak. But weakness is easier to dominate, so they very often choose highly sensitive or insecure people to be with.
Although not empathetic, they know what you need and will play it against you. One of their biggest strengths is knowing what someone needs, and holding that over them to get what they want is one of their favorite manipulations games.
They’re very jealous of others whom they admire. We are all jealous at times of successful people in our lives, but the covert narcissist is consumed by envy and jealousy. Not being able to see what they have, they are always searching to get something more.
They will make you look bad to make themselves feel and look better. Working behind the scenes, a covert narcissist will often talk badly about the person they are closest to. Having to paint themselves as the martyr, the only way they can make themselves look good is by making everyone else look bad. That makes them the victor.
Passive aggression is their weapon of choice. If you feel like you’re going insane, you are probably with a covert narcissist. They will plant seeds and let them grow. Making tiny suggestions about who you are or what you have done, they leave it to rest and fester in you until you believe it to be true.
They need constant attention. The covert narcissist is not happy unless all eyes are on them. That makes those in a relationship with them feel as if they are only an accessory. They will charm everyone in their path and often ignore those who are the closest to them, knowing that they have gotten the attention they need from you already.
Like a Trojan horse, you don’t see the covert narcissist coming. They will take everything that they can from you and leave you an empty shell. Highly destructive to your self-esteem, if you are with one, you should find your way out while you can still leave with your heart, mind, and sensibilities still intact.
It can be difficult not to get sucked in to a narcissist’s web of deceit and feel sorry for them when they play the victim card. The narcissist is looking for a reaction from you. Don’t feed the monster! When they fail to get their desired reaction from you, they will take a step back and look for their supply elsewhere. Be aware of the traits before it’s too late and don’t let yourself be controlled by someone whose ultimate goal is to control not only your mind but your life.
The covert narcissist is a great pretender, hiding who they really are with expertise. They know that if they displayed their true colors in public, they would lose the recognition, respect and admiration that they so desperately crave. Perhaps their ability to fool the outside world makes this type of personality one of the most dangerous. They worry about being found out. They are deeply envious knowing that they can never be the person that others believe them to be. The covert narcissist is a con artist who lacks the confidence of the overt narcissist. They need constant attention moving from one relationship to another in order to avoid being alone. Time spent alone often leads to depression when their needs are not being met. Narcissistic supply is vital to their well-being.