Narcissists, the garden variety: loud, boisterous, and obvious, can be spotted a mile away. We see them coming and brace ourselves for the lies, manipulation, and embarrassingly vocal expressions of pomposity and putting others down. Their ego is worn on their sleeve with no hidden agenda. They will often brag about their conquests, and take pride in hurting others.
The Covert Narcissist is a different species. They will almost always present as kind, caring and benevolent souls, while luring you into their web of lies, deceit and manipulation. They often pretend to be co-dependents and will use this to lure victim after victim, by claiming to be one themselves. Beware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. They come disguised as charming, empathic, and full of love. The truth behind the mask is that they are not capable of any of these feelings and will use you in a manipulative game that victims never see coming. Covert Narcissists are just as selfish and self-centered as Overt Narcissists, but they are more cunning, deceptive and capable of unmatched cruelty. They live on the edge with secret lives that only those in the closest relationships will ever see. They have no boundaries and will systematically strip yours away, leaving you shell-shocked, wondering what the hell happened.
THE RED FLAGS – 5 Warning Signs
1. Love Bombing
When you first enter a relationship with a Covert Narcissist, they will shower you with attention, love, and affection. You will receive flowers, poems, songs, candy etc. and feel like you are the most important person in their lives. Be warned, that it is all too much and too fast. “I’ve never met anyone like you.” “You are the one.”, “I love you.” (within weeks or even days of meeting). It’s all fake! The barrage of attention sounds like the proverbial too good to be true, because that's what it is. They will become the centre of your life instantly, and start talking about marriage, moving in together, creating a new life, asking you to help them choose a new home “for us”, pick out their clothes, etc. Be leery of the lengths to which they are going. Have you told them repeatedly that you need space, but never get it? They may be doing “kind” things, but your boundaries are NOT being respected. All the while they are worming their way into your life. Are they using your friends in collusion to plan surprises to get close to you? You were chosen before you ever met. The Covert Narcissist has done their research. If you have recently lost a spouse, a child, a parent, or have gone through an illness or other crisis that has left you vulnerable, you are a prime target for the Covert Narcissist. A small family or no family or children is also very appealing. Any signs of weakness in your network of friends or family is a plus. It’s why they chose you.
Keep in mind that while the Covert Narcissist is love bombing their next victim (you), they are discarding their last partner in the cruelest way possible. When you are in the discard phase of the relationship, it will all be crystal clear. Also, you are never the only one! They will have a backup, just in case you get wise to the fact that they are playing you. They will tell you their last relationship ended months or years ago when in fact it was less than a week, or worse, is still happening. Covert Narcissists are incapable of closure and will always start a new relationship before the previous one has ended. They need their supply.
2. They Take on Your Persona
A very effective means for a Covert Narcissist to lure victims. They are generally very perceptive and will watch and listen closely for the cues that will be used to charm and win you. “Blue is your favourite colour!” “Blue is my favourite colour!” “You like to hike the back country!”, “That’s my favourite thing to do!” “You play the Euphonium – me too! “ “It’s fate!” “We are simpatico.” Blah, blah, blah and on it goes. It doesn’t matter what your interests are. They are master chameleons, and will feed you information that matches all of your morals, and desires in a game that they hope to win. You are the prize, but will be used and discarded if you EVER challenge them in any way about the use of lies, coercion and manipulative tactics that lead to getting what they want at all costs. Your needs are irrelevant and the game is not to please you. Cost you it does – usually, any sense of self, separate from your abuser, and, your emotional health.
3. They Will Feed You a Cocktail of Their False Image
A Covert Narcissist will repeatedly declare their non-traits that will either flatter you as like-minded bonding characteristics, or appeal to what matters to you morally. I am loyal, I am honest, I am trustworthy, and I never cheat. If someone has to tell you repeatedly who they are, this is a red flag in any relationship. Actions are what count. If people are honest, trustworthy, and sincere, it is never repeatedly spoken but obvious in behaviour. Other red flags include the personification of spirituality; incessant bragging while pretending not to brag by dropping hints of goodness; and constant flattery that is over the top. Pay attention. You’ve known them two weeks and they are claiming their territory in your home and your life.
4. Friends and Family – Not Many and Not Close
Covert Narcissists are extremely needy people and require a constant supply of adoration, love, and attention, while pretending they don’t. They count on the kind nature of others for their supply. As energy vampires, without their own capacity to love, they need to feed off others. Every moment they give comes with a cost to you, and they will keep score. If you ever have the audacity to question a motive, truth or action of the Covert Narcissist, you will trigger in them a Narcissistic Rage. They may not respond immediately, but you have set the stage for their wrath and revenge. Plots will be devised to hurt, get you back, and make you pay for your indiscretion of being honest and protecting your violated boundaries. People will be kept at a distance to keep the secret abuse of the Covert Narcissist insular and within the family. They may have one or two people they call friends but the relationships are distant with rare visits. A Covert Narcissist will also paint a picture of having a perfect childhood even though it was a nightmare.
5. Lies, Lies and More Lies
As the relationship progresses you will uncover lie after lie. They will increase in severity and frequency. If you dare to challenge the Covert Narcissist on the facts, you will find yourself in an impossible conversation that loops around, causes constant confusion, and strays over and over from the actual purpose of it in the first place, leaving you exhausted and ungrounded. The Covert Narcissist will cheat, dabble in many addictions (pornography, sex, drinking, gambling, stealing) or the appearance of goodness (obsessive exercise, veganism, meditation, expertise on all that is righteous), and do just about anything that violates your sense of values without an ounce of remorse or ever taking responsibility for their actions. If you question these behaviours, you are at risk of being abused emotionally and physically by the Covert Narcissist. Exposure is the ultimate shame and they will stop at nothing to stifle the truth, including a smear campaign, claiming their behaviours are your behaviours. You are in for the fight of your life and they have no intention of losing.
Gaslighting (the most serious and damaging emotional abuse), will be used with impeccable attention to detail. It will be planned, and delivered with precision at the most damaging times and when you are in your weakest and most vulnerable state. The Covert Narcissist will hide your belongings and swear they never touched them, or change the settings on your phone, computer and car radio, while feigning ignorance of doing so. They will forget memorably jaw-dropping behaviour or change the parameters (it happened – it didn’t happen) of every argument. Your head will be spinning in circles with the confusing and twisted details of what took place. The point is to keep you off balance and unsure of what is real or imagined – and what they will tell you is imagined. “You’re crazy.” “You’re too sensitive.” “You’re so smart, you see things others don’t. That’s why I love you.” Be forewarned that the abuse will escalate.
5 Key Pieces of Advice
Covert Narcissists are dangerous. You must cut your losses and move on. You cannot win their fight. You are not capable of the level of cruelty you will endure if you challenge them. They have everything to lose and will defend it. If you do challenge them, you are at risk emotionally, financially and physically. Let go and move on.
You must get help and emotional support. You have been abused and need professional help to recover and build self-esteem. If you do not examine your own self-worth problems and heal the wounds, you are destined to be vulnerable to this type of predator and repeat a pattern of abuse. Find a good counselor whom you trust and who understands Covert Narcissism and all its implications for your long-term health and recovery.
Surround yourself with loving, kind people whom you trust and can count on when you need support, a hug, or a place to go to if your life is in danger. Have an escape plan. Yes, it can get that bad. Don’t underestimate the capability of someone who is fearful of losing EVERYTHING. It is death to them and they will defend it.
Covert Narcissists will never truly go away. They can cause emotional distress and trouble for you, months or even years later as they casually decide to show up in your life again after long periods of absence. The emotional hook that lured you in the first place needs to be removed. That’s what the counseling is for. Do not underestimate their level of deviance. They are brilliant actors with lots of practice and a trail of bodies in their wake. ***NOTE: They will never change. You must be firm: NO CONTACT – EVER.***
Protecting yourself requires diligence. Record-keeping; filing documents; being a good detective; maintaining protection (the police, close friends who are aware of what is happening); an escape plan that includes money, a safe place to go, and a fully charged phone – all these are essential for your care of the most important person in this: yourself.
These words of advice may seem extreme, but it is always better to be prepared and err on the side of caution. If this is you, or someone you know, please know that you are not alone and that you do have options, starting with the recovery of your own mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional health and wellbeing. You are worth it! I urge you to have the conversation, seek the help you need, go "no contact", and heal the wounds that created the deficit of low self-esteem.
Peace and blessings to you with all my heart.
Susan Lee Woodward
© Susan Lee Woodward - 2017 - This article in its entirety is protected by Canadian and International copyright laws. Reproduction of this written content without written permission of the author is prohibited.