By Rebecca Zung
Are you in a relationship with a covert narcissist? I’ve been there too and it sucks. We’ve all heard of narcissists, but the term “covert narcissist” is actually relatively new to the layperson. It is important to understand their behavior so you can negotiate effectively and have the confidence to win.
So what’s the difference between them and a regular narcissist? Well, a few things. First, remember thought that they’re every bit 100% narcissist. They are the same fragile little ego inside, the same super insecure person that’s deep inside there, but they look a little bit different because they’re not in your face the way regular overt narcissists are. They come across as a little bit more passive, a little bit more quiet, so that on the surface you don’t actually even notice that they’re narcissists at all in the beginning. What you think of as a typical narcissist, is a person who is telling everybody how great they are all the time. The covert narcissist does do that. They are much more cunning and smart than that. However, because they don’t engage in that typical boastful and bragging behavior, and because you can’t see it right off the bat on the surface, they’re actually way more insidious and way more toxic than overt/grandiose narcissists are.
Covert narcissists can even come across as shy and actually even reserved. They actually are probably even prone to bouts of depression. In fact, they may even tell you that they have bouts of depression. So, on the surface they’re going to seem to be like maybe they’re just nice people, maybe they might even seem just be more fragile or overly kind and generous. But often, they will let you know that things don’t always go their way, or that they’ve gotten a rotten deal in life somehow. They do this because being a victim is very much part of the covert narcissist plan to get people into their lair of control.
The third thing that you’ll see with covert narcissists is they seem to be super helpful in the beginning. They’ll actually lure you in with things that they know that you want, so that they can appear to be incredible people, almost too good to be true (because they are) but they really just want to use you. Remember, narcissists need an endless amount of “narcissistic supply” which is anything that feeds their external value/ego and once they are attached to you, they start sucking that supply out of you, like leeches suck blood from their prey.
In addition to draining the life from you, once you’re into their lair, then they start with the passive aggressive. They start to drip on you like the Chinese water torture (I’m half Chinese, I can say that) on your forehead . Just little things start happening that you know deep in your gut aren’t right but they’re so subtle that you’re not really sure what’s happening. And you start to think, “Am I crazy?” Because the rest of the world sees this person as being so nice, but you kind of know that something is not right.
They’re doing all these little things either directly to you, or behind your back and they’re very, very good at disguising it in such a way that if you tell somebody about it, the person’s going to go, “Well that doesn’t sound so bad.” Or others might say “Well that’s can’t be right. It must have been inadvertent because that person is so nice!” To the rest of the world, this person might be a fine upstanding citizen. Covert narcissists are often lawyers, therapists, politicians and even clergy. But you know that it’s like this drip, drip, drip thing that they’re doing to try to make you crazy. They lure you in with, “I’m going to help you with this,” and then they start with passive aggressive little things to try to make you crazy.
The next trait of a covert narcissist is that they often like to play the victim, or maybe they’re very sickly, or they often have health issues or something like that, because they constantly need to be the center of attention. So they come up with ways that they can constantly be the center of attention.
Coverts also will not have any sense of empathy for another person. They can feign empathy, and they know when they have to apologize just to apologize for the surface, but they really don’t actually have any empathy for the other person because they actually are narcissists. And narcissists don’t feel anything for anybody but themselves.
So this is all well and good, but if you have a covert narcissist in your life what can you do about it? So the first thing that you can do about it is not to react, especially if you know that this covert narcissist is trying to get under your skin or trying to manipulate you in some way, or they’re saying something to try to get a rise out of you. You just say, “Good for you,” or, “That’s great.” Don’t react, because that’s exactly what they want you to do.
The second thing that you could do is if the timing seems right, call them out on their behavior, but do it in a very subtle way; you sort of play their game. “Oh, I’m surprised to see that you’re here today. You said you were sick yesterday.” Something like that. But you say it without emotion. You don’t say it with smugness, you just say it so that they subtly know that you’re calling them out on their behavior. But you are not bothered by it, they’re not getting a rise out of you; you’re just noticing it.
So the third thing that you can do is do not, and I repeat, do not let them know that they are getting to you. You do not show any emotion, you do not show that anything that they’re doing has manipulated you in any way, because that is exactly what they want and if they get that, then they’re going to do more of it. So this is a subtle way to start shutting down this behavior. It’s kind of like a behavior modification program for narcissists. You don’t give them what they want, so don’t react because if you do, then that’s what they want.
The fourth thing that you can do is kind of similar to the others, but this is specific to gaslighting because this is something that narcissists will do often, and especially covert narcissists too; they’re going to try to gaslight you, so try to make you think that you’re crazy. So years ago there was a movie called Gaslight, and this husband was actually abusing the wife through trying to make her seem like she was crazy. He would blow out these gaslights, and then she would say, “Wasn’t that just lit?” And he would say, “No, it wasn’t.” And that’s what gaslighting is, it’s just like the subtle little things to try to make you think that you’re crazy.
With coverts, they will say things like, “We talked about that. You said that it was okay.” Or, “Oh, we had a conversation. I’m sorry there was a misunderstanding on your part,” and you know that there was no misunderstanding or maybe that there was no conversation ever at all. So don’t let them gaslight you that way. Just say, “No, there was never that conversation” or, “No, there was no misunderstanding. This is what we talked about.” Something like that. Remain firm. Don’t allow them to manipulate you into thinking that you’re crazy.
Number five is keep your barriers really strong. One of the things that narcissists do, because they’ve got this mantra that, “I will not be ignored,” is they don’t respect boundaries. So, they’ll come right into your room, they’ll read your mail, they will go places that they’re not supposed to be or whatever, and they act like, “Oh, here I am bringing you something nice. I’m doing something nice for you.” So, “I’m not respecting your boundaries, but you’re going to forgive me because I’m being nice about it.” Don’t allow them to not respect your boundaries. Have super strong barriers, That’s the only way you’re going to be able to manage their behavior and also keep your own sanity.
Number six is to slowly close down the barriers of communication. What I mean by this is, if you have a narcissist in your life, or a covert narcissist, the most thing that you can do for yourself is get them of your life. I’ve recently had to do that with people in my life. I had TWO coverts, one in my business life and one in my extended family, and it was extremely difficult and it’s painful because it’s sort of a betrayal in a lot of ways. But, you just have to understand and have compassion for the fact that they’re broken people and that they have deep, deep insecurities and problems. But that doesn’t mean they have to be in your space.
So if I were you, I would try to slowly shut down those barriers of communication and slowly start to wean them out of your space if you can. LESS with Coverts is way MORE!