How to recognize a covert narcissist.

covert_narcissism

When most of us think of narcissists, we think of the overt type– arrogant and full of themselves, outwardly aggressive, flying into rages if they don’t get their way or their supply is not cooperating, confrontational, demanding, and high-maintenance. Think of the tyrannical boss everyone’s terrified of; the demanding, high maintenance, conceited friend; the roommate who feels entitled to “borrow” your clothes, car or money without asking; or the abusive and philandering husband–those are examples of overt narcissists. They’re in your face. They’re outwardly obnoxious. They may seem nice when you meet them (otherwise they wouldn’t be able to trap you as prey), but as soon as you’re in their clutches, they begin to show their true colors.

The second type, covert narcissists, seem much more benign, even after they’ve reeled you in as a source of supply. They don’t necessarily drop the nice act. That’s why they’re so dangerous. Because it’s hard to put your finger on what these dolls are actually doing, you may think there’s something wrong with you for feeling wary or nervous around such a “nice” person. They are the true wolves in sheeps clothing. The red flags are much harder to see in a covert narcissist. But make no mistake–they are predators too.

Some examples of covert narcissists include:

— the compassionate and friendly nurse who “accidentally” kills her patients.
— the needy friend who gives you unasked for gifts or does unasked for favors, then complains that you are acting selfishly if you want to spend time doing something besides being with them.
— the spouse who plays “martyr” and puts everyone on a guilt trip because of “everything they’ve done for you.”
— the friend who seems to have a neverending litany of problems, but when you try to help them they never take your advice or give you a long list of reasons why the advice you give them will never work. This friend is an emotional parasite, and will make you feel drained.
— the parasitic spouse who won’t get a job (and doesn’t appear to be trying). They keep giving you “reasonable” excuses as to why they can’t find one or why they haven’t tried to look. Really, they are just trying to live off you.

grovel
Illustration by Mike Reed.

The red flags we normally look for to peg a narc are much more difficult to detect in a covert narcissist, because they can seem so friendly, charming, generous and even altruistic (yes, altruism can be selfish when it comes with strings attached). The website Info Self Development, in their article about covert vs overt narcissists, lists these tell tale signs for recognizing a covert narcissist:

–Emptiness, seems to have something missing that you can’t quite put your finger on
–Stubborn, rarely apologising unless they want something from you (see narcissistic supply)
–Ability to make you feel guilty, even when something is not your fault
–Entirely self centered; they are the center of their own universe
–Expert liars; charming, hypnotic, a master of manipulation
–Projecting their insecurities and defects onto you
–Very sensitive to constructive criticism
–Inability to form intimate relationships
–Inability to feel genuine remorse
–Blaming others for their problems
–Low emotional intelligence
–Highly materialistic
–Extreme lack of empathy
–Superficially charming
–A victim mentality.

I think the last one is important– victim mentality. These are the do-gooders, the “altruists,” the first person to volunteer for the church fundraising drive, the mother who volunteers as the classroom mother, the favor-doing friend. If you fail to “appreciate” their good deeds to their satisfaction or live up to their unrealistically high expectations (for example not volunteering ALL your free time to the church fundraising drive), watch out. That’s when they will work behind the scenes to ruin your reputation through gossip, lies, and triangulation. They are “martyrs” and you are selfish and evil for not sacrificing yourself the way they have “for you.”

talk_to_me

They can also appear in the form of a needy “friend” who monopolizes your time with a seemingly neverending litany of problems or crises (sometimes brought on by themselves). They never seem to learn from their mistakes, and they will eat up your time and patience pleading or begging you to “fix” things for them. They almost seem to take a perverse pride in being victims. But any advice you give them will be dismissed or ignored. They will make excuses as to why the advice you gave them wouldn’t work. In some cases you may even be blamed for giving them the “wrong” advice, thereby making their problems even worse. They are emotional vampires who take and take, but never give anything back in return. If you ever have a problem, fuggaddaboutit. They won’t be there for you.

Covert narcissists may seem nice, but they aren’t. As with any narcissist, the best way to handle them is by avoiding them or cutting off contact with them if you can.

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About luckyotter

This blog is my journal. I just choose to share it with the world instead of keeping everything inside my head. I'm a recovering Borderline and have also struggled with Avoidant Personality Disorder. I also have Complex PTSD due to having been the victim of narcissistic abuse for most of my life. I write mostly about narcissism, because I was the child of a narcissistic mother, and then married to a sociopathic malignant narcissist for 20 years. But there's a silver lining too. In some ways they taught me about myself. This blog is about all that. Not all my articles will be about NPD, BPD or other personality disorders or mental conditions. I pretty much write about whatever's on my mind at the moment. So there's something for everyone here. Blogging about stuff is crack for my soul. It's self therapy, and hopefully my insights and observations may help others too.
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29 Responses to How to recognize a covert narcissist.

  1. lbeth1950 says:

    Certainly seen these.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Souldiergirl says:

    Thank you for getting the word out on this. So important and yes hard to detect- their behavior leads to intense crazy making and that is so hard to recover from.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. danquality says:

    In my opinion, they are the worst! Overts are easy to spot whereas these people are not.
    I lived 4-5 years with my cousin who was definitely a covert. Some of your examples were perfect at describing him. He manipulated me into being his “butler” and would annoy the hell out of me with his sob stories, ignoring every bit of advice I’d offer.
    So glad I’m away from him. What a baby he was.
    Want to know why he wasn’t looking for a job? Because he was waiting for me to get a job so that he could help take me to my interviews and give me advice about interviews, even though every job he’s had was given to him. When I finally told him to not worry about me and start looking for a job, he already had another excuse as to why he couldn’t. He’s now living with his grandmother, feeding off her retirement and getting whatever he wants. I hope she’s okay and will one day cut him off until he finds a job.

    Liked by 1 person

    • luckyotter says:

      Good Lord, he sounds exactly like my ex, who was a sociopath. The biggest leech and parasite you ever met. Don’t get me started on that. But anyway….this cousin of yours made you his BUTLER? I’m sorry, but that made me LOL! It’s really not funny at all though.

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      • danquality says:

        He didn’t actually call me and told me to be his butler, but he manipulated me to do things for him, little by little, taking advantage of my passive nature and willingness to please; before I knew it, I was doing all of the chores in the house and all he did was cook dinner, but then eventually he wasn’t even doing that because he guilted his grandmother into doing it, only to constantly complain about it, saying her food was “wrecking” his stomach, although me and his grandmother weren’t having any stomach problems. Aaaand I’m ranting again. Anyhoo…

        Liked by 1 person

        • luckyotter says:

          They do like to prey on the vulnerable and people who they know are passive by nature. It’s very insidious the way they slowly manipulate you into doing things and then before you know it you are at their complete mercy. You’d think they’re smart but this ability they have to turn you into exactly what they want you to be comes second nature to them–it’s not something they even think about. It’s as natural as breathing.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Alex says:

    Something tells me the higher the sociopathic tendencies , the more skilled the narc is at being so camelion like. As I watched my father switch from evil to good-ole-boy in the blink of an eye, I wondered how he could have the energy night and day for such a constant ongoing production. All the reading I’ve done has shown me , they thrive on deception, get thrilled by lying, triangulating. Funny how when something is nourishing to a person, even if it’s evil , they can reach an almost supernatural talent at it after decades of successful practice. One other thing about emotional covert abuse, just like physical abuse, the longer I stuck around the more intense and cutting the attacks became. Eventually the abuse crossed over to the physical . That’s when I knew the only way to “honor the parents” was to abandon them to their own corrupted machinations .

    Liked by 2 people

    • luckyotter says:

      It’s really creepy. I do agree with you the more sociopathic narcs are better at hiding their evil motives. The in your face ones are just too obvious. They’re dangerous but they’re worse at lying or pulling the wool over your eyes. You never suspect them and then, WHAM! They gotcha!

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  5. natasha says:

    Covert “narcissists” are borderlines. Read Lowen’s “narcissism: denial of true self”. If you’re wondering what’s in there, he claims that borderlines are even more pathologically narcissistic than those with NPD.

    It’s funny though that you give the advice to run when that is often the advice given to those with bpd.

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    • luckyotter says:

      I’m well aware there are some mental health professionals who believe BPD is actually on the narcissistic spectrum. It could be, there is a lot of overlap. Other than that, I can’t say. I have a lot of reading I want to do, especially about BPD. I never said I’m an expert on these disorders; I am not a mental health professional but a victim of narcissistic abuse who is trying to find my way in the world through writing about it. I do have a deep interest in this topic though.

      My disclaimer does state these are my opinions and I am not a professional and do not have all the answers. That being said, you could be correct–though I seriously doubt Borderlines are MORE narcissistic than people diagnosed with NPD.

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      • natasha says:

        It depends on what you mean by narcissistic i suppose. Some literature says that borderlines had their egos knocked down too soon while the narcissist never has. So the borderline is subconsciously narcissistic.

        Psychology is an art not a hard science so who knows anymore.

        Sorry you were abused. Ive been lurking on this blog for a while. I too have bpd and avpd.

        Liked by 1 person

        • luckyotter says:

          I take it you read the article I just posted then. Having both BPD and AVPD really sucks. 😦

          I have recently been made aware that BPD may actually be on the same spectrum as NPD (which is very dismaying to me of course), but is a less adaptive form of narcissism (to the sufferer, that is). And almost as hard to cure. 😦
          Thank you for finding my blog, and I agree psychology is more an art than a science, something I’ve said so many times. It’s all so confusing sometimes.

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          • natasha says:

            Have you looked into dbt? I am going in on my third week. It is supposed to be really helpful.

            Ive also done some reading on IFS and schema therapy so ill be looking into those too if dbt doesnt work out.

            Liked by 1 person

            • luckyotter says:

              Yes, in fact I have a copy of Marsha Linehan’s book that I got when I was hospitalized for depression in 1996–the DBT exercises in it have helped me immensely. I just discussed it in the article I wrote tonight. I feel like I have my BPD mostly under control, even though I’m not cured. I know a little about schema therapy, and if I ever have health insurance again, I would like to try it. I know it’s been effective for both NPD (non-malignant) and BPD. I don’t know much about IFS though

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  6. Joe says:

    I have a theory that borderline personality disorder goes hand in hand with both types of NPD with the primary difference is that the borderline seems to teter between the “true self” and the “false self” – hence the “loss of self”. This results in periods of depression and dissillusionment and emotional displays. The NPD mini-cycle that Sam Vaknin speaks of for NPD is then changed into something that could be described as emotional responses to randomly occuring triggers and not a cycle at all in Covert NP’s and perhaps borderlines. Borderlines and covert NPD’s have not completely lost the “true self” All three have a sense of entitlement. The overt NPD sees any attack on his sense of entitlement or his grandiosity as a threat and acts out in anger or overtly with a dialogue of “how dare you…you are just an idiot”. The covert narcissist creates the dialogue “they just do not understand…why can’t the world recognize that I am special” and the borderline thinks “what do you want from me…I am doing all I can here” The threats to their uniqueness are the same, but the dialogues seem to play out differently. I somewhat feel that a covert narcissist and a borderline are virtually identical except the borderline is unaware of the narcissistic nature of their defenses and dialogues. The covert narcissist knows they are manipulating and acting and have a underlying sense of evil empathy. Borderlines seem as though they really are just crying for love and attention and have really have no clue that their behavior is manipulative and self serving. Borderlines will dissassociate in a split second. The narc will do more of a magic act and move in a new direction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • luckyotter says:

      Joe, I think you are really onto something here. I always thought of BPDs as not really having a “false self”, but because they never really developed a true one either, they try to latch onto people and become chameleons, becoming absorbed in the other person’s reality. They idealize that person until offended or rejected, then will devalue the same person. But it could be, that they DO have a false self, but it comes and goes, alternating with the true one, which is why they are so changeable and mercurial, and also why they are more curable than people with NPD. The true self isn’t buried all the time as it is in a narcissist. They are “part time” narcissists.
      Covert narcissists do feel more entitled than borderlines, I think. But their tactics for being recognized and validated (getting supply) are less overt than in a classic/grandiose one.
      I think this article I just posted which is related to what you have talked about might interest you:
      http://healingnpd.com/2015/09/16/its-the-principle-of-the-thing/
      Thanks for your insights!
      If you don’t mind, I would really like to write a new post based on your theory. Let me know if this would be alright.

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  7. Momof2 says:

    I have no idea if my first ex was also a narcissistic but this part “the parasitic spouse who won’t get a job (and doesn’t appear to be trying). They keep giving you “reasonable” excuses as to why they can’t find one or why they haven’t tried to look. Really, they are just trying to live off you” sounded a lot like him. He didn’t want to work and always had excuses but they were always lame ones. I mostly describe my first ex as a bum and lazy and a leech and he wanted to be taken care of and he was so unmotivated and I tried to help him when he had excuses but he blew them all off so that is how I know he just didn’t want to work. Then he didn’t want to work because no job would pay him a lot of money so my mom told him “A little money is better than no money.” I also think he played mind games with me which was his excuses he did. I also swore he would twist what I would say rather than just being literal unless he was that stupid. It is possible he might have just had traits and still be on the spectrum than having covert narcissism. Also he would get upset when I would take his humor seriously and not even know he was joking. He also refused to modify his behavior because he was so into being true to himself and I think he took “being himself” too literal but my mom says some people just twist it to justify their behavior. I could go on but I don’t want to make a long post.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Kevin Taylor says:

    Patsy Kensit, codependent Covert Narcissist.

    Al Murray, counter dependent Covert Narcissist.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Matthew cameron says:

    Hi lucky otter sorry about the battle you face in overcoming bpd I think self awareness is probably the secret to Making your life more settled ,I’m not sure if you have seen Spartan life coaches work but he believes that victims of coverts suffer cptsd which can lead to temporarily being borderline personality,I was married to a covert who had an anti social father and a covert mother after ten years of marriage I was a ghost with cptsd and I think I
    That my personality was borderline , very needy and lonely .
    All the best with your journey .

    Liked by 1 person

    • luckyotter says:

      Hi Matthew,
      Yes, I am familiar with SLC’s work, I think he is very good with an entertaining style. I also agree with him about a connection between BPD and C-PTSD, in fact I would go a step further and say that all cluster B PD’s (and possibly all PD’s) are complications or further developments of complex PTSD. That is why the treatments for personality disorders are almost identical in many ways to treatments for complex PTSD and PTSD. I think BPD comes the closest– the symptoms of complex PTSD and BPD are nearly identical. I am sorry you were married to a covert narcissist, but I think people who had an abusive parent tend to be attracted to a partner with the same sort of abusive personality. My mother was a malignant somatic narcissist and I married a sociopathic man with narcissism and antisocial PD.
      I thinkit’s possible I may no longer have BPD; my dx. was years ago and I’ve learned mindfulness techniques to the point I don’t even have to think about “not acting out” anymore. However, the PTSD symptoms such as mood swings and dissociation remain.
      Good luck on your journey too and hope you like what you find here. Sorry for rambling on so long.

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