The Covert Narcissist

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    When we hear the term narcissist we tend to think of a lack of empathy and extroverted grandiosity. We imagine overt control, manipulation and the abuse of others. However, like most characteristics there is a range of different shades and types, and narcissism is no different.

    The covert narcissist can be difficult to spot as rather than openly control others they do it through being a perpetual victim, always in difficulty.

    The main differences would be that unlike overt narcissists, coverts are passive, quiet and insecure. They are not ambitious and often feel empty and fragile. They have failed ambitions, which is usually the fault of others and, more often than not, the fault of their victims. Often they are low functioning and are prone to depression and low energy. They never brag about qualities or achievements but rather claim to be helpless and vulnerable.

    Covert narcissists play on compassion and empathy, turning it against their victims without them even knowing it. They charm with shyness and vulnerability. They portray an image of being moral upstanding people. Their victims are often fooled by this as they hide something quite dark and sinister behind the façade.  They rely on their victims offering support, a helping hand or wanting to rescue them from their distress and discomfort. Then they trap them. Typically they are always ill, tired or under some kind of difficulty. They continually display and perform this vulnerability for their victim, keeping them in a state of strain as they struggle to help.

    The covert narcissist portrays an image of upstanding but misunderstood victim. The real victim is left doubting their own experiences of being abused and manipulated. The victim is often left feeling they are being unreasonable for having boundaries, expectations, values or even for just feeling pain.

    Their behaviour rarely matches their words. Promises are never kept and assurances are never given. They never really connect with anyone other than a surface level. Any form of intimacy is terrifying as it might involve them having to show a part of themselves they’d rather keep hidden.

    The covert narcissist works to wear down self-respect and boundaries on their victim until they feel insecure, worthless and helpless. When confronted or challenged the covert narcissist will be elusive, or act ill or tired.. They claim they don’t understand or that they are being bullied by just having their behaviour pointed out. There is often a deadness in the eyes that shows no shame, guilt or remorse over their behaviour. No acknowledgement of any distress or pain they have caused in not validating or empathizing with their victims. They watch their victims fall apart and do nothing to help.

    A covert narcissist was once challenged by a third party. They asked if validating her partner’s experiences felt like she was invalidating herself. She didn’t answer. She asked her partner later that evening why he never said he needed to be validated. He sighed in exasperation.

    Covert narcissists only win when you give in.


    This article was written by sentientcounselling