I’m sure you’ve experienced this situation.
You meet someone new, and they instantly captivate you with their wit, charm, and magnetic personality.
They seem genuinely interested in you and shower you with compliments and attention. But as time passes, you start noticing a pattern of strange behaviors.
Suddenly, they’ll start to make backhanded compliments disguised as jokes, leaving you feeling confused and questioning your worth.
Soon enough, they’ll start manipulating situations and conversations to maintain control, yet they live with a fragile sense of self.
Even though it sounds familiar, it might not seem like it’s harmful. We’ll guide you through the weird things covert narcissists do and their impact on your relationship.
Table of Contents
What is Covert Narcissism?
Covert narcissism, not as common as a narcissistic personality disorder, is characterized by hidden manipulations and a desire for admiration.
While overt narcissists display their grandiosity openly, covert narcissists employ subtle tactics to achieve their desired outcomes.
Covert narcissism can be recognized by a set of unique narcissistic behaviors and tendencies. Unfortunately, covert narcissists operate in a more subtle and elusive manner, making their traits and actions harder to detect.
Clinical psychologist, Dr Gruber, Dana B. says “Overt narcissists are described as arrogant, aggressive, and hostile, whereas covert narcissists are described as hypersensitive, anxious, and shunning others.”
Unlike their overt counterparts, covert narcissists are adept at concealing their true intentions and presenting a facade of humility or empathy.
However, beneath their seemingly empathic traits lies a distinct lack of genuine empathy.
Identifying covert narcissism can be challenging due to the subtle and enigmatic nature of their behavior. If you’re involved with a covert narcissist, you might find yourself (unknowingly) trapped in a toxic relationship.
7 Weird Things Covert Narcissists Do
1. False Humility
False humility is a clever strategy used by a covert narcissist to control others and make them constantly seek their approval. It’s like a secret weapon they use to manipulate people into giving them the admiration they crave.
For instance, a covert narcissist who achieves something remarkable will intentionally not take credit for it openly. They will downplay their accomplishments, expecting others to shower them with praise and validation. They even use self-deprecating humor to deflect attention while secretly being needy of compliments.
Underneath their humble facade lies a calculated agenda to gain admiration and control.
2. Emotional Manipulation Tactics
Covert Narcissists are experts at using emotional manipulation to control and exploit people around them.
One of their go-to tactics is gaslighting. They twist reality and make you doubt your perceptions and sanity.
They might brush off your emotions, making you feel like your feelings don’t matter.
They manipulate events and conversations to make you question your memory, leaving you feeling confused and off-balance.
When a covert narcissist is upset, they will resort to silent treatment rather than having a conversation to resolve issues.
They weaponize silence as a means to punish you; they withdraw emotionally and refuse to communicate. The silence is suffocating, filling their partner with fear and anxiety.
Triangulation is yet another manipulative tactic covert narcissists use. They play people against each other, creating conflicts and alliances to divert attention from their flaws.
They’re skilled at sowing seeds of discord and maintaining their position of power through gossip and rumors.
Guilt-tripping is their specialty. They know how to use guilt to their advantage, making you feel responsible for their emotional well-being or happiness.
Their passive-aggressive behaviors and statements make you comply with their wishes, even if it goes against your feelings.
3. The Victim Card: Playing the Martyr
Have you met people who are experts at playing the victim card? Covert narcissists are adept at portraying themselves as victims, creating a narrative that elicits the sympathy and attention of other people.
They have this way of making every little thing that happens to them seem like a huge catastrophe, just to get sympathy and attention from others. It’s like they thrive on making people feel sorry for them.
They’ll constantly talk about their struggles and hardships, seeking validation and reassurance from everyone around them.
It’s as if they need constant confirmation that they are going through something tough and deserve special treatment because of it.
4. Love Bombing and Devaluation
Covert narcissists engage in a cycle of love bombing and devaluation within their relationships.
At first, they will appear charming, attentive, and seemingly perfect in every way. You can expect them to lavish you with compliments, gifts, and affection just to make you feel special and desired.
But when reality sets in and the ‘honeymoon stage’ is over, covert narcissists withdraw their love and affection, leaving their victims confused and emotionally drained.
And it doesn’t end there.
Once they have built this connection, things are likely to get worse, which is why you should get help as soon as possible.
5. Covert Narcissists’ Need for Control
Have you met people who just have this intense desire to control everything and everyone around them? It’s like they have this constant need to be in charge and feel superior.
It’s not a trait distinctive to covert narcissism, but it can indicate there is an issue.
From a distance, you may admire their confidence and ability to take charge of everything, but when you interact closely with them, you will notice behaviors that call for concern.
Control is a driving force behind the actions of covert narcissists. This is because they subtly undermine the self-confidence and independence of their partner or friend so the person can rely solely on them.
To make their control over a person absolute, they use subtle means to isolate their partner or friend from their friends and family.
6. Passive-Aggressive Behavior
Don’t we all hate love passive-aggressiveness?
I know that there are people who find it hard to express themselves when upset, they would probably just stay silent until they have the right words to express how they feel.
Covert Narcissists have a way of being passively aggressive when they are upset or bothered by something their partner or friend does.
Not just because they are unable to, but because they know the harm it causes to you.
Instead of addressing the issue with the other person by having a conversation, they’d drop subtle hints or make sarcastic comments, which can make the other person feel insecure about what happened.
At times, they would act indifferent or uninterested, but you can tell that there is an underlying anger or resentment. They will try to make you feel bad about the event, whether you are at fault or not.
And if you need their help or important information, they will purposely withhold it and keep you in the dark, causing frustration and inconvenience.
7. Hypersensitivity to criticism
Covert narcissists have a fragile sense of self-esteem and are highly sensitive to any form of criticism or perceived rejection.
They can give the ‘tough guy’ look and act like they are all confident and superior on the outside, but they are actually very sensitive on the inside.
When someone criticizes them, it’s like they take it to heart really intensely. Even the slightest bit of criticism can set them off.
Instead of taking it in stride like most people, they become overly defensive, denying any wrongdoing or even shifting the blame onto others. It’s like they can’t handle any form of criticism at all.
Even when you give constructive feedback, which is not meant to be harsh or hurtful, these sensitive souls will see it as a huge blow to their self-worth.
9 Ways to Deal with a Covert Narcissist
Dealing with a covert narcissist can be tough and affect your emotional well-being. It’s crucial to put your mental health first and devise ways to cope.
Here are some tips to help you navigate the complexities of dealing with a covert narcissist:
1. Recognize the Traits
It’s important to know the signs and behaviors of a narcissist and to educate yourself about their lack of empathy, manipulative tactics, and big ego.
Understanding these traits can help you distance yourself emotionally and keep things in perspective when dealing with their actions.
However, recognizing the traits includes knowing the differences.
For example, your partner might be more egotistical as opposed to narcissistic. If you take the example of love bombing, it is not considered narcissistic if you’re having a great time at the start of your relationship and get in a massive fight 3 weeks later.
That’s just a relationship.
2. Set Boundaries
It’s essential to set boundaries with a covert narcissist.
Make sure you establish clear limits and stick to them, as you will draw the line between what is okay and what isn’t.
They might try to push your boundaries and invade your personal space, but you must clearly communicate your limits and stand your ground when enforcing them.
Remember, it’s not selfish to prioritize your well-being and protect yourself from harmful behavior.
3. Maintain Emotional Distance
When dealing with a covert narcissist, protecting yourself emotionally is important. Don’t invest too much of your heart and feelings in the relationship.
These narcissists thrive on emotional reactions and prey on your vulnerability. Practice emotional detachment and avoid sharing personal information or vulnerabilities that they can exploit.
4. Focus on Self-Care
Prioritize self-care and nurture your well-being. Make self-care a priority, and do things that bring you joy and happiness.
Taking care of your well-being will build your resilience and help you withstand the manipulations of narcissists.
5. Practice Assertiveness
Dealing with covert narcissists can be tough, as they often use sneaky tactics to control you. But don’t let them push you around!
Learn to be assertive and stand up for yourself. Advocate for your needs and set clear boundaries. If you feel disrespected or mistreated, don’t stay silent.
Speak up and protect your self-esteem from their manipulations.
6. Manage Expectations
Adjust your expectations of the narcissist. Recognize that they are unlikely to change their behavior or show empathy. Avoid seeking validation or approval from them, as their inability to provide genuine support can lead to disappointment and frustration.
7. Maintain Perspective
It’s natural to hope for change in people, but with covert narcissists, it’s essential to be realistic.
They’re unlikely to change their behavior or show empathy. Don’t expect genuine support or validation from them, as it will only lead to disappointment and frustration.
Focus on finding support and validation from healthier sources in your life.
8. Practice Self-Reflection
When dealing with a covert narcissist, it’s easy to get caught up in their games and doubt yourself.
But remember, you are valuable and strong. Surround yourself with positive affirmations and reminders of your accomplishments.
Understand that narcissists’ behavior is about their issues, not your worth as a person.
9. Exit the Relationship
Finally, if the relationship becomes unbearable and threatens your well-being, consider leaving.
Ending a toxic relationship with a covert narcissist is tough, but it’s vital for your long-term happiness and mental health.
Seek professional support to guide you safely through this challenging process.
Remember, you deserve to be in a healthy and respectful relationship!
Knowing how covert narcissists operate is vital for protecting our emotional well-being and relationships. Their strange and hidden manipulative behaviors can affect our mental health.
Their use of several tactics can devastate our relationships and self-esteem.
By recognizing these traits and developing effective coping strategies, we can assert our boundaries, prioritize self-care, and maintain perspective.
How can I identify a covert narcissist?
Identifying covert narcissists can be challenging due to their subtle manipulations and deceptive behaviors. Look for patterns of emotional manipulation, a constant need for validation, and a tendency to play the victim. Pay attention to their actions rather than their words.
Can covert narcissists change their behavior?
While change is possible, it is challenging for covert narcissists to alter their deeply ingrained patterns of manipulation and entitlement. Seeking professional help, such as therapy, can be a crucial step in the journey towards self-awareness and change.
Are covert narcissists aware of their manipulative tactics?
Covert narcissists are often aware of their manipulative tactics but may rationalize their behavior or believe they are justified in their actions. Their ability to deceive others extends to themselves, making self-reflection and acceptance difficult.
Can covert narcissists have healthy relationships?
A: Building healthy relationships with covert narcissists is challenging due to their constant need for control and manipulation. Without significant self-reflection and a genuine desire to change, their relationships tend to be marked by emotional turmoil and instability.
Is there a cure for covert narcissism?
While there is no cure for narcissistic personality disorder, individuals with covert narcissism can work towards personal growth and healthier relationships through therapy and self-awareness. It is a long and challenging process that requires commitment and dedication.