Does the covert narcissist miss you after no contact? Do they really care about losing you? Do they actually grieve the loss of the relationship?
Grieving is normal and healthy when it comes to the end of a relationship. After all, healthy grief releases our feelings rather than allowing them to sort of “get stuck” and keep us from healing – or worse, make us sick. Healthy grief allows you to heal the loss and move on with life.
But grief is not always healing – especially when we’re talking about a covert narcissist.
A covert narcissist is different from their more overt counterparts in that they aren’t so blatantly open with their self-centeredness. Your standard, “out there” narcissist tends to be aggressive, self-important, exploitative, and they often have extreme delusions of grandeur and an obvious and extreme need for attention.
More “covert” narcissists, on the other hand, seem to sort of masquerade as “introverts,” as in they are seemingly shy and prone to feelings of neglect or loneliness. They seem to be hypersensitive, are riddled by anxiety, and in direct contrast to the overt narcissist, suffer from delusions of persecution.
So when we’re talking about grief, more overt narcissists will grieve loudly and tell anyone who will listen how they were wronged. They really dig in and suck up that attention – also known as narcissistic supply. But this is one area where the covert narcissist really differs.
Anyone can become stuck in their own grief, seemingly locked into the past and unable to move forward in their lives. This is true for almost everyone outside of the grandiose narcissist.
Covert narcissists, however, are a different story. On one hand, they are known to lack empathy and almost never demonstrate genuine remorse. They just don’t seem to care about things that most people do.
But do narcissists grieve the loss of a relationship? Well, in some cases they do – but not in the same way as you or I would.
The difference here lies in what they believe they have lost. If there is any space between the end of your relationship with the narcissist and the beginning of the next one they get into, they will feel deep and painful grief, at least until they move on. That’s because they’ve lost their source of narcissistic supply.
Let me explain by telling you a story about a couple I recently helped get through their breakup in a series of coaching sessions. For the sake of their privacy, we’ll call them Ned and Emily.
Ned had been in a three-year relationship with Emily when Emily decided to end the relationship. Ned was devastated. In this relationship, like in his past relationships, Ned was a taker.
While he seemed to always be trying to get love, we was clearly unable to give love or share love.
Emily, an empath by nature, had grown up with an overtly narcissistic mother. In choosing Ned, she thought she was choosing someone who was her mother’s polar opposite: he seemed so sensitive and different than her loud, pushy mother.
So she tried hard to make the relationship work. She always assumed that she was the problem, and she would try to change herself to fix things. Emily gave as much as she could – but she often felt very lonely with Ned. That was confusing to her, but she kept going, trying new ways to connect with him and make him understand her.
She thought maybe if she tried harder, he would reciprocate. That was what normal people did, right?
She would do everything she could to make him feel loved, special, important – she would listen to him intently when he talked about things that mattered to him, she learned to watch basketball (of which Ned was a superfan) and she even joined his bowling team.
But when Emily would try to talk about anything she cared about, Ned would cut her off, tell her he was bored, and quickly direct the conversation back to himself and his own interests. He showed literally no interest in her as a person, and after three years, she was emotionally exhausted. She had stopped even trying to talk to him about herself. In fact, she could barely even remember HOW to talk about herself.
She felt oppressed by Ned’s excessive need for her time and energy (all focused on him, of course) – and his lack of interest in her as a person made her feel more like an object. As the relationship went on, it became painfully clear to Emily that Ned didn’t seem to care about her at all. He treated her like she didn’t personally matter, and Emily was pretty sure that she could easily be replaced by – literally any other woman – and Ned wouldn’t even notice. In fact, Ned had even literally told her once that she “wasn’t even a real person.”
He had taken away everything that she was by not acknowledging it – and the relationship was, as far as he was concerned, all about him.
Like a lot of us do, Emily started Googling what was going on and she found my videos. A several-hours long binge watch led her to understand that Ned could possibly be a narcissist, and that he might not be capable of change. That, along with three years of ambient abuse, had led her to make the decision to end the relationship.
Ned resisted and insisted the two go to counseling and stick it out. Emily, against her better judgment, agreed after many hours of begging from Ned. She felt bad, she said, because Ned seemed so sincere and willing to change, now that she had tried to end the relationship.
But after several failed attempts with traditional therapy, during which Ned charmed the therapist and fooled them into thinking Emily was the problem, Emily finally scheduled a couples coaching appointment with me.
During our first session, Ned was all charm and kindness. He said he was just absolutely devastated when Emily threatened to leave him. He said felt like his “source of love” was gone. (Yes, that means “source of narcissistic supply,” and yes, he LITERALLY said this.)
But here’s the thing: Ned wasn’t was not grieving the loss of Emily as a person he loved. He was grieving the loss of her love for him. He was grieving what she DID for him, NOT who she was. He didn’t even seem to really KNOW who she was, because he hadn’t actually bothered to learn about her outside of what he needed to know to manipulate and control her.
And as it would turn out, Ned was grieving the loss of the relationship more like a child would, rather than a mature adult. This, as you may know, is common for narcissists; they tend to resemble emotional children. There seems to be a spectrum ranging from toddler to pre-teen.
As you might expect, Ned felt like he would die if Emily actually left him. He was stuck in his grief, stuck in feeling like a victim – LIVING in the “poor me” space. He was showing narcissistic injury all over the place, and this would occasionally turn to narcissistic rage.
As someone who seemed to have narcissistic qualities, it made sense that Ned had never done the inner work to develop the adult part of himself that would allow him to not only bring love to himself, but also to share it with others.
And so, this left him feeling lost, abandoned, and just plain-old hurt. He laid heavy guilt trips on Emily, even threatening self-harm at one point, and this made her afraid to leave.
Ned couldn’t seem to heal. In fact, no matter how much he cried, he remained stuck in his apparent grief. Because he was abandoning himself, he just continued to feel alone and despairing. Sometimes he was angry at Emily for abandoning him and other times he was angry at himself for not being a better partner. He had many regrets that plagued him, and a constant inner refrain was, “If only I had….If only, I had listened to her more, maybe she wouldn’t have left. If only I had told her how beautiful she is, maybe she wouldn’t have left.”
But Emily had heard all this before, and she knew it was only talk. During their three-year relationship, she had believed this line so many times that she actually felt kind of dumb for falling for it. She had repeatedly believed him and he had repeatedly proven to her that the minute he knew she was “back in” – he’d go back to his usual ways.
Emily was just done. And who could blame her? But she knew what she had to do: she ended things with Ned and she went no contact. Within six months, she started to feel like a human again, and last month, she reached out to me to tell me that she was in a new, healthy relationship with an amazing guy. I was thrilled for her – she deserves to be loved and cherished, just like each of us does.
Ned, on the other hand, was not okay, no matter how much sadness he released, because Emily, for him, had been his Source of love, or as we call it, his narcissistic supply.
He had handed to her the job of defining his sense of self, so when she left, all he could feel was abandoned. While he hadn’t really bothered to understand her for the amazing woman she was, Ned had made Emily responsible for his feelings, his self-worth, so when she left, he felt like an abandoned child.
Emily thrived in her new relationship because she had learned how to love herself and so she had learned how to set boundaries for herself and how to love her new guy in a healthier way.
Ned, not surprisingly, found another relationship within a couple of weeks of losing Emily, and he thought all of his problems were solved! He was in love, he told me in an email, and this one was SOOOO much better than old Emily, who had the nerve to want a two-sided relationship. Luckily for his new source of supply, Ned ended up alone again six months after that.
The truth is that this cycle will likely repeat for the rest of Ned’s life, or at least until he decides to learn to take responsibility for his own feelings and needs. This may never happen, since he demonstrates so many narcissistic qualities, so he will likely continue to lose relationship after relationship and continue to be stuck in feeling like a victim of the women in his life – when in reality, his excessive need for their attention and energy is the very thing that stops them from staying.
Angela Atkinson is a Certified Life Coach and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic relationships since 2006, Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed coaching and has certifications in life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. In her life coaching practice, Atkinson’s clients enjoy her personalized approach that allows and encourages them to become the best possible versions of themselves and to succeed in doing what they love most. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online and NarcissismSupportCoach.com.