The word narcissist likely brings up the image of someone who puts their feet up on your desk while talking about how amazing they are. But there is a lesser-known type of narcissism: Covert Narcissism.
Narcissists come in all shapes and forms, not all narcissists are “femme-fatale” or “macho men” that spend most of the day taking selfies. More often, covert narcissists are just like me and you—they are quite ordinary.
The narcissist I knew is an ordinary woman who lives quite a mundane lifestyle. She rarely takes care of her appearance, doesn’t boast in front of others, doesn’t like to be the center of the party, and to be blunt — if you meet her, you would not even remember the encounter.
The covert narcissist is the one that you don’t see coming. At least I didn’t. So let me first give you a brief overview of a covert narcissist.
Covert narcissists can appear innocent, charitable, or even humble at first glimpse. They can be loving, personable, and gracious. There has been an increase in studies about covert narcissist.
Two things stand out from this research: people with covert narcissism have a very high level of neuroticism. What does this mean?
People scoring high on the neuroticism scale are more sensitive to emotions. People with this trait handle stress poorly, get overwhelmed by minor frustrations. Consistent with that, covert narcissists get their feelings hurt quickly because they take a lot of things personally.
People who score high in narcissism also tend to worry excessively — about everything from health to employment to relationships. Because of all of this, they tend to struggle with depression.
The second trait is poor self-esteem. Narcissists have a fragile sense of self and, as a result, spend a lot of time thinking about how others perceive them and how they are faring in life.
Covert narcissists are insecurity-driven.
When it comes to spotting a covert narcissist, the most important thing you can do is to trust your gut. Besides that, here are a few signs to look for.
- They perform passive-aggressive behavior like eye-rolling, and sighing out loud.
- You find yourself spending a lot of time reassuring them, stroking their ego, and lifting them up.
- They are emotionally fragile, hypersensitive, and easily wounded.
- They frequently play the victim.
- They handle stress poorly and will lash out in anger as a result.
- They may bounce back and forth from job to job or project a project because they are always trying to do things that will impress others, instead of following their own passion or talent.
- They are lacking in empathy.
- They are self-effacing, often in order to get other people to complement them.
- They hold grudges.
- They are envious of others and resent when others succeed and they do not.
- They feel entitled to be taken care of.
The Covert Narcissist That I Didn’t See Coming
Few years ago I’ve met a lady who at first glance seemed kind, understanding and very generous. I like, many of us, ignored all the warning signs. It took me three years to realize that I was dealing with a covert narcissist who was frustrated and has emotionally abused all of her previous partners. She misused my trust and embarked on a mission to destroy me.
She has made some irreversible damage to herself — and unfortunately, she still doesn’t realize that.
Narcissists don’t comprehend what they are doing. We should remember that narcissists are unaware often of their actions. It is quite easy to overlook covert narcissists, especially when they exhibit traits that might be perceived as kind, friendly and even cute.
Covert narcissists play pretend that they are incapable of doing things on their own. This way they can entrap the other person to keep helping them out, providing for them, giving them support. At first, it may seem cute when the someone is constantly relying on you to sort out their life. You might feel like a superman/superwoman, but soon you realize that your goodwill is being misused.
The narcissist I knew has come up with various excuses why she isn’t able to take on her own responsibilities. I was there to help on countless occasions. Soon all my help was thrown back into my face and I was facing a smear campaign.
Narcissists don’t take responsibility for their actions. They will come with absurd, tragic excuses just to keep you close and do the dirty work for them. It’s okay to ask for help once in a while, but when you notice that suddenly you are taking on the responsibilities of another person daily — you are becoming, so to speak, their “parent.”
Narcissists often choose to never grow up and as long as there is someone who will pick up their slack, they don’t have to grow up.
Covert Narcissists Want to Be Saved By You.
A narcissist I’ve known always looked for someone else to save them — they never rented a flat on their own, they never paid their own bills, and they crashed into other people’s lives.
There are many narcissists who want to “marry” into a tranquil life.
They cause trouble and debts, and then they demand that you save them. My narcissist used to call on my help always last minute as if they expected that I would drop everything I was doing and help out— and I did. Until I realized it was all pre-planned.
Narcissists create a sense of urgency and drama in order to entrap others. They exaggerate and lie just to get what they want when they want it. Remember, narcissists don’t want to be saved — they want to control you. By guilt trapping you and putting pressure on you, they wish to ensure that you will do what they want.
The covert narcissist I knew was too friendly with me and wished to be in constant touch with me; she asked me for favours. She was my partner’s ex. I was grateful at first, but what baffled me was that she never found time to meet me and have a proper chat. Even though I asked on multiple occasions to have a coffee together. She used only text messages and reached out whenever she needed any help from me. I obliged.
Later I realized that the only reason she was texting was to learn more about me, and stay close in case something came up she could misuse against me. Which she did later.
Stay away from people that tell you they do things because of you. The covert narcissists will always find a way how to make you feel as if you own them something. Once the narcissist texted my partner, telling him, she would move closer to the area where he lives because of him.
That was a lie — she wished to be close to being able to use him and control him. Narcissists do nothing because of other people — they are self-centered and everything they do is to suit their own interests.
Look for these signs to avoid relationships with covert narcissists. If you already know one, then limit your personal interactions with this person. Remember, your goal is to protect yourself from narcissists and create space for you to heal and pursue new healthy relationships.
When dealing with a narcissist, whether covert or overt, their manipulative behavior can feel very personal. No matter how painful the behaviors might feel in the moment, it’s important to remember that they have nothing to do with you. A narcissist behaves in toxic ways because of something unhealthy within them—not because there is something unhealthy about you.
Narcissists do not have healthy boundaries. Because covert narcissists lack empathy, have a strong sense of entitlement, and exploit others, boundaries are something that impedes their goals. The more you can practice setting boundaries with a narcissist, the more you are conveying to them that their tactics are not working.
When interacting with a covert narcissist, it’s easy to lose your voice. Sharing your stories with others: be it your friends, family, therapist or support groups is very beneficial to your mental health.
I write. I share my stories and it has helped me through my recovery journey. At PMH we believe everybody has a story to share.
Please share your recovery/ survival stories on our dedicated TAR Tales page, where you can share your experiences with the rest of our community and help us raise awareness of the victims of narcissistic abuse.
I am a screenwriter, and I believe that sharing our tales is a chance to dive in and dig deeper. To ask the hard and uncomfortable questions. The ones that might make you question yourself and every decision you’ve ever made in the beginning, but will help you love and trust yourself in the end. It will bring clarity and purpose back into your life.