“To be rendered powerless doesn’t destroy your humanity. Your resilience is your humanity. The only people who lose their humanity are those who believe they have the right to render another human being powerless. They are the weak. To yield and not break, that is incredible strength.” ~Hannah Gadsby
Have you lost yourself during an abusive, toxic relationship with a narcissist?
Going through a toxic relationship with a narcissist can tear you apart and make you feel so beaten down that it feels impossible to recover. At a minimum, you are left feeling devastated, frustrated, headachy, jittery, drained, straight-up exhausted…the list goes on. The pain can seem so bad that you feel cursed. And who could blame you?
It’s awful how someone you loved so deeply could walk away from you without so much as a backward glance. And as they rush around scooping up everything they own maybe including the clothes off your back, it’s almost like they are abusing you all over again! But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are techniques, tactics, coping mechanisms that allow you to feel in control again and to help you reclaim your life after narcissistic abuse.
What is narcissistic abuse?
Narcissistic abuse is a pervasive, covert type of abuse that involves the exploitation and psychological abuse of one partner in a toxic relationship. This kind of abuse can affect a personal connection, such as marriage, partnership, friendship, or family relationships. When you’re dealing with a narcissist in the family, they will often abuse everyone in the household and even affect the extended family members. Even professional relationships and acquaintanceships can be affected by narcissistic abuse.
While narcissistic abuse can result in profound emotional and psychological harm, as well as long-term physical effects, the covert nature can make it difficult to spot and even more challenging to manage. Worse, if you find yourself involved in this kind of relationship, your self-confidence and self-worth are often so low by the time you realize it, you can’t or won’t leave.
The Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Process, Explained
You finally understand that these were textbook narcissistic abuse methods! You also learn how to recover from a narcissist because whether or not it’s a conscious and intentional choice or a cluster B personality disorder causing trouble in your life and your relationship, the narcissist is focused on hurting you.
First, take the time to mourn the relationship.
I’ve always felt that the best way to get through narcissistic abuse recovery begins with some time for a mourning period, with an end date in mind. Depending on the length and nature of your relationship, you may need a few days, a few weeks, or even a few months. If possible, take a little time off work to “launch” your period of mourning, and then maybe a few days at the end of your chosen mourning period.
Then, think like a scientist: research and notice the patterns.
I’ve often mentioned that you need to look at a situation logically before you can understand the emotions that go along with it. What I mean is that to really push through the most painful parts, you can sort of look at the details like a scientist. Think about the psychology of the narcissist, just a bit. Look at and notice the pattern in their behavior, and d some research. You’ll find that what they’re doing might look a lot like a playbook. And then you’re going to want to look at yourself and your own psychology in the same way. Figure out what led you to be vulnerable to the narcissist in your life and notice the patterns that allowed you to stick around as long as you did. Chances are that it might have begun in childhood.
Next, identify and name the narcissist’s behaviors.
For me, being able to identify and name the narcissist’s manipulation tactics sort of took the sting out of the situation a bit, on some level. When I was able to understand the psychology of a toxic relationship, and to sort of look at it “like a scientist” – logically, as opposed to emotionally – I could connect my emotions to the facts.
Then, connect your past to your present.
Find the connection between your past trauma to your present circumstances. That was a big part of stopping the pain and the addiction to the narcissist for me, and I’ve found that my clients usually find it most effective to follow a similar path along their healing journies. It also helped me to learn everything I could about my own psychology (and about codependency, C-PTSD, and the related side-effects) and then to uncover and understand exactly which parts of my life were among the most traumatic and life-changing. Then, I needed to understand exactly how those events and circumstances might have led to my current understanding of both myself and my life. This helped me to work on understanding and learning how to have healthier self-esteem and to recognize that I deserve at least basic respect and that I could choose to set boundaries that make me feel comfortable and safe.
How do you get over the narcissist with the least amount of emotional pain?
When you step back and take a look at all of the things you need to do for narcissistic abuse recovery, it can be distressing to think about how long it will take. However, recovering from narcissistic abuse is not impossible! I believe that with the right mindset and the right tools, you can speed up your recovery time.
What’s the most important thing that you have to do AFTER your break up with the narcissist? There is no instant, painless quick-fix for narcissistic abuse. There is no magical undo button that will erase the effects of psychological manipulation and abuse, nor there is such a thing as an “easy way out” or a fast recovery time.
One of the (many) downfalls of relationships with narcissists is that they keep us hooked with intermittent reinforcement, which, combined with long-game gaslighting and manipulation of our realities, makes it extremely difficult to realize the severity of a situation and deny a painful reality.
Even though there is no magic pill to relieve ourselves of the after-effects of narcissistic abuse, and even though we can’t just snap our fingers and get recovery over with right away, it doesn’t mean we can’t make things better in the process.
The narcissist has hurt you deeply, carved out huge chunks of your soul, and left you absolutely spinning. You don’t even know who you are anymore. You want to scream out loud “Why ME?!” You start to feel like you’re cursed. The pain is unbelievable, excruciating…and it lasts for months upon months. It’s like having shards of glass in your heart…
The only thing standing between you and the healthier, happier future you desire is the narcissist. So where do you begin?
Narcissistic abuse is a difficult thing to endure, but you’re not cursed. You’re a strong survivor and it won’t be long before the best parts of yourself emerge from the fog of manipulation and control. The pain will lessen with time…even if it feels like it will never end. But don’t give up – the journey to feeling whole again is more than worth the effort, I promise you. You can get help from a therapist or a coach, or you can join one of many online support groups for narcissistic abuse recovery.
Question of the Day: What have been your biggest hurdles in narcissistic abuse recovery, and how did you overcome them? Or, if you’re currently struggling, what’s slowing you down? Let me know – maybe I can help! Share your thoughts, share your ideas and your experiences in the comments section below this video, and let’s talk about it.
Start Getting Help with Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Today
Are you in a relationship with someone who seems to be the shy and quiet type who does not brag about themselves, but who also treats you differently behind closed doors? Do they, at times, seem to hate themselves? Does this person appear to be an introvert, and despite their apparent lack of empathy, pretend to be overly sensitive and caring?
Are you starting to wonder if you’re crazy because they keep twisting everything you say and do to make it seem like you’re wrong, bad, or otherwise unsavory? Are you feeling confused, lost, or completely alone in the world?
Why do you feel so confused in your relationship?
It makes total sense that you’re confused here. After all, why would someone who seems so humble and kind be difficult to deal with? They seem so gentle and insecure on the outside, but they somehow make you feel completely miserable. You’re not sure why or how this is happening, but you know that spending time with them makes you feel bad about yourself and your life. Yet, you can’t seem to get away from them somehow. I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is that you’re not crazy. But the bad news is that there is a good chance that you’re dealing with a covert narcissist.
A covert narcissist is also called an introverted narcissist or a vulnerable narcissist. They exhibit a very subtle, but equally toxic form of narcissism that presents with a more introverted personality. This kind of narcissism is referred to as “vulnerable narcissism,” which might be on the narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) spectrum (a cluster B disorder, according to the DSM). It is characterized by vulnerability and sensitivity, two characteristics that manifest with defensiveness and hostility. Like grandiose narcissism, covert narcissism will also involve grandiose fantasies and thoughts, an overinflated perception of entitlement, and a general sentiment of being better than others. But there are some subtle differences, in addition to the more obvious ones.
What’s different about the covert narcissist?
As explained above, the covert narcissist‘s personality is characterized differently. They are also plagued by constant worry, and they deal with their own inability to function normally in relationships. In addition to ineffective functioning, the covert narcissist actively struggles with unfulfilled expectations (which lead to abuse of their sources of narcissistic supply – also known as the people closest to them). They are can also be extremely vulnerable to the effects of stress, depression, and anxiety.
What are some traits of a covert narcissist?
1. They Put Themselves Down
Unlike typical narcissists, covert narcissists put themselves down by telling people that they feel they’re not good enough or not smart enough. They may also tell you how terrible their lives are – and in many cases, they will be telling the truth about how terrible they are as a person. Of course, this is at least partially about getting narcissistic supply from you. See, you’ll be inclined to soothe their pain by telling them that they really are good enough and smart enough, and they don’t give themselves enough credit. This is what they want. This is how they manipulate you and reel you in so they can go after other things they want from you.
2. They Are Passive-Aggressive
If they don’t feel they are getting enough of your attention, they will become passive-aggressive in order to get it. For example, they may purposely leave a mess after you ask them kindly to clean up after themselves after dinner. And when you get upset, then they put themselves down because “it’s not their fault they’re a slob,” or whatever excuse they choose to make. This makes you feel sorry for them and backpedal, and maybe even go ahead and clean up the mess yourself. It’s easier than dealing with their drama, and you feel a little sorry for them. This is exactly what they want, of course. It’s all about attention and sympathy – and getting what they want from you.
3. They Are Highly Reserved
Standard, grandiose narcissists are happy to make it known how amazing they are, or how amazing they think they are, anyway. They will brag about anything and everything, no matter how ridiculous. But you will not see this from a covert narcissist. They aren’t known to brag and they never tell anyone that they think they are the greatest, at least not overtly. They act like they’re shy and reserved but if you look closely, they are smug and express their superiority in quiet ways.
4. They May Be Involved In Helping Non-Profits Or Charities
Covert narcissists are sometimes harder to identify because they seem like such good people. As such, they often want to appear to be heroes and they may seem totally altruistic. That is why they will be involved in charities or non-profits, and they’ll pretend to be very passionate and to care deeply about whatever cause they are focusing on. This allows them to seem important and often gives them feelings of superiority over others. Here’s one way they might not brag, but they’ll definitely make it known that they are doing so much for the “less fortunate,” and they never do anything without strings attached.
5. They Express Envy
While grandiose narcissists feel envy, they do not generally express it to others. They worry that it would make them seem week or vulnerable, and they do not want to be perceived this way. But the covert narcissist will make it known that they are jealous and envious of others, and they really are. This is not an act for a covert narcissist. Remember that they are narcissists who want to be better than everyone else. If they see that someone has more than they do, or that someone is “better” than they are in some way, they don’t take it well.
The QueenBeeing SPANily, Official – We consider this to be the best narcissistic abuse recovery support group on the web. Offers several subgroups and features a vigilant, compassionate admin team full of trained coaches and survivors, supporting more than 12k members. SPAN is an acronym created by Angie Atkinson that stands for Support for People Affected by Narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships.
Other Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups– We also have separate groups for each stage in your narcissistic abuse recovery, as well as some for those who have moved past recovery and are evolving into the next stage of their own life. Survivors have unique and individual needs, even when they’ve moved on – so we’re still here for you.
One-on-One Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coaching – If you prefer to get more personalized support in your recovery, you might like to schedule a session with one of our coaches to plan and execute your own narcissistic abuse recovery plan.
Find a Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Therapist – If you’re looking for a therapist for narcissistic abuse recovery, either because you cannot afford coaching and want to use your health insurance or because you have additional issues you need to address that do not fall within the realm of coaching, you will want to find the right therapist for you – and as far as we’re concerned, that therapist must understand what you’ve been through. This page offers assistance to help you do exactly that.
Not only do they tend to fly under the radar more often than male narcissists, but their toxic behaviors are often attributed to the fact that they’re a mother or that they’re “more emotional” than their male counterparts, among other things. But trust me when I tell you that they are just as toxic as any other narcissist, if not more so. So let’s talk about it.
You might already know that narcissists in general, regardless of sex, will continuously manipulate to get what they want. They usually show certain symptoms pretty universally – grandiosity, an inflated sense of self-importance and they tend to feel “superior” to others around them, whether they say that out loud or not.
Since their feelings of superiority are typically “bloated” versions of the truth, most narcissists, whether they are male and female, will spend a lot of time focusing on reinforcing their fragile self-perceptions – and that leads to their various forms of manipulation.
When many people think about narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder, they think of men who are more often stereotyped as violent, and full of rage.
And most narcissism experts would tell you that these stereotypes will more often manifest in narcissistic males when they feel threatened that their source of supply will disappear – or if we’re being honest – when they feel that they have been crossed in any way.
Despite popular assumption, narcissistic women are just as toxic and nearly as plentiful as narcissistic men. Studies vary on actual numbers and percentages, but in general, researchers estimate that just over half of all diagnosed narcissists are men. But those are DIAGNOSED narcissists – and you and I both know that most people who have the toxic qualities of a narcissist aren’t likely to be diagnosed.
With that being said, I personally think the numbers are most likely fairly equal. In addition to the fact that narcissistic women slide under the radar because they are often mothers, there’s the fact that fewer men are willing to admit to themselves or anyone else that they might be being abused by a woman. For that reason, fewer women are reported and diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder.
Key Identifiers of the Narcissistic Female
So clearly, there are plenty of narcissistic women around. And if you are a child of a narcissistic mother, you would most definitely know how true that is, based on your own first-hand experience. But whether or not your mother is or was a narcissist, you may not know the signs of a narcissistic female. Let’s talk about that now.
Women With NPD Express Anger Differently Than Men With NPD
Many people will assume that the malignant narcissist who becomes explosive and aggressive is always male. But that could not be further from the truth. In fact, women with NPD can be the same. There are a shocking amount of physically and emotionally abusive women – and it doesn’t only affect their children. Some women even physically and/or emotionally abuse their partners – male, female, or otherwise. They may also abuse their friends, coworkers or subordinates at work, their siblings, parents, and literally anyone else they feel they have the right to control – or who they feel is less than or otherwise wrong in any way, to put it nicely.
Some common ways female narcissists punish you for not doing what they want is by withholding affection or attention, or by making you feel very guilty to the point that you feel you have no choice other than to beg for their forgiveness. They will gaslight and manipulate you, sometimes covertly, but often blatantly and without remorse. And of course, as I said, many are physically abusive as well.
Women With NPD Appear To Be Martyrs
Women with NPD are more likely to play the victim or the “put-upon” martyr. They might even sacrifice more than is necessary, or appear to, as a play for attention and praise from the people around them. Plus, they are certain (and they expect you to know and recognize) that their pain is worse than the pain that anyone else has and that they suffer more than anyone else. To be fair, this is usually seen in women who might be considered covert narcissists, but any narcissistic woman can display this trait.
Women With NPD Are Extremely Superficial
Male narcissists are just as superficial as female narcissists, and they both care very much about image. They are concerned about their material items such as having the best car, house, and they will brag about how wonderful their kids are – all the while telling their kids the opposite behind closed doors. They do this to hide any insecurities they have just like their male counterparts. They may or may not want designer, name brand everything – and whatever they prefer, they’ll assume the other choice is wrong.
The Female Narcissist Dress Code
One more reason female narcissists slip under the radar so frequently is that most of us would expect a narcissistic female to at least attempt to appear attractive on some level. We might expect that she would appear to be overdone or expensively dressed, and we might think these are the women we would see in the plastic surgeon’s office to get their weekly botox touchups. And in some cases, we’d be right.
But despite this unfortunate stereotype, women who care about how they appear can be narcissists or not. See, the way a woman chooses to present herself really has nothing to do with toxic narcissism. It’s really all about their personality traits and specifically how they perceive and treat others in their lives.
And let’s just put it out here – just as many female narcissists will judge women who focus on their appearance, and in these cases, they will be very “practical” in their attire, or even completely neglect their appearance. This is when you’ll see them calling other women “shallow” or “materialistic” or worse, they’ll imply that these women are somehow beneath or less than them because they are “attempting to get too much attention,” to put it politely.
Then there are female narcissists who are involved with certain types of religion or spirituality who may dress as dictated by their faith. In those cases, they will judge and feel superior to women who dress in other fashions. And they’ll even judge women who are in the same faith but who don’t, in their opinion, follow all of the specific rules their religion requires. For example, if a religion requires a woman to never cut her hair, but someone gets her ends trimmed, the narcissistic female might tell everyone she knows how that woman is a bad person.
In other words, regardless of what her physical look happens to be, this woman will judge anyone who chooses to look different than she does. The narcissistic female is ALWAYS right, no matter what, and she will not hesitate to tell you all about it.
Narcissistic Women Are Extremely Jealous And Competitive
Narcissistic women are highly competitive and will become jealous easily. They must be known as the prettiest, most successful, most endearing, and smartest around – or whatever their particular version of “best” happens to be. And watch out if you’ve got it going on yourself! Because if you are a woman who makes them feel threatened at all in any way, they will viciously bully you and shame you, and exile you from any social group. They will even do this to their daughters – often. You must remember that there are no limits to which a narcissist will not stoop to get their needs met.
Narcissistic Women Will Be Controlling Mothers Or Mothers-In-Law
While there are many neglectful narcissistic mothers who will simply ignore or refuse to take care of their kids, many will also actively control them without concern for how they feel or what they want. They will aggressively (or passive-aggressively) control the lives of their children and this will continue even when their kids are adults, unless and until they do happen to figure them out and go no contact. They might decide your house isn’t decorated right and start rearranging furniture for example, or they will demand that you raise your kids a certain way, or that you discipline them (or don’t discipline) them in the way they prefer. And in many cases, narcissistic mothers-in-law will be painfully cruel to their daughters-in-law as they see them as someone who took their son away or who is trying to “replace” them. They will also actively compete with them in weird ways – just as they will with their own daughters. Also worth noting: the narcissistic mother will often prefer her male children to her female ones for this reason, among others, and she is more likely to scapegoat her female child. But that isn’t always the case – male children can and are scapegoated often.
What Do Research Studies Tell Us About Identifying Narcissistic Females vs. Narcissistic Males?
I read about a study a while back that offered a few key findings of the major differences between male and female narcs, and in my own experience, a lot of the findings were true.
Male Narcissists Use Force, Female Narcissists Use Martyr Act
So, to begin with, men will often use a lot of force, directly or indirectly, to sort of “assert” themselves and their superiority over others, while women who are narcissists will often take a different form – usually a bit more of narcissistic injury or even seduction. So, in other words, they are more likely than males to either use the “poor me” martyr act mentioned earlier or to use their appearance and sexuality to manipulate people to get what they want.
Some of the study findings included some really interesting and telling key differences.
Male Narcissists More Likely to Self-Handicap
For example, male narcissists, but not female narcissists, will use a face-saving tactic called “self-handicapping.” This is defined as “a course of action to protect or enhance one’s self-evaluation in the face of an evaluation threat.”
In layman’s terms, that means that male narcissists will try to appear confident, but if they fear they will fail, they will “self-handicap” to avoid having to perform at all – they use this tactic to avoid feeling or seeming incompetent. So, for example, let’s say they’re a tennis pro and they’re going to play tennis with a new partner. To avoid humiliation (in case the new partner wins) they might claim this is the first time they’ve ever played. Or, they’ll feign an injury to avoid playing at all.
According to the study authors, this kind of manipulation is directly connected to a “failure in empathic responding by the mother, resulting in both males and females developing a deficient internalized structure of self. Strategies developed to compensate for it may take on different forms in the males and female.”
This means, according to the authors, that, “mothers may be responding to boys as a significant other figure (e.g. husband), but to girls as an extension of self. As a result, each gender uses different psychological resources to cope with the same deficient internalized structure of self.”
Male Narcissists Can Be More Blatantly Controlling
The study also noted that while male narcissists are likely to actively and openly assert their superiority over others in order to dominate them and for their own self-interest, they can get away with it because it is more socially acceptable for males in most societies. But this kind of behavior from females is less tolerated and will not benefit them as much, so they will often be a lot more subtle than their male counterparts with their brand of manipulation – another reason they slip under the radar so often.
Other points of note:
Female narcissists will use their bodies to get what they want, in many cases, and this includes their sexuality.
Female narcissists are more likely to have an eating disorder than male narcissists.
Female narcissists are more likely to have issues with getting older, especially when they use their bodies or sexuality to get what they want.
Female narcissists are more likely to secure their supply sources at home by controlling their family directly and using guilt to help secure their control.
Female narcissists tend to be less openly over-confident than male narcissists, who get much of their over-inflated confidence from inside their own heads – but females are more likely to take secret pleasure in their own perceived superiority over others.
Female narcissists are more likely to spend money frivolously while males are more likely to believe that money gives them power, control, status, and related conditions. (Neither concerns himself/herself with shame or remorse, of course).
While both female and male narcs are known to cheat, males are more likely to be serial adulterers. Females are more likely to idealize a guy and then emasculate him when they get him under their “spell.” In both cases, the more their partners give, the more they want and take from them – it’s an insatiable need for supply.
Male narcissists often see their kids as mostly a problem or an annoyance that gets in their way, as well as competition for the attention of their main forms of narcissistic supply (generally their wives and mothers), while females are more likely see the kids as an extension of themselves, even well into adulthood. So when the kid does good things, narcissist moms take credit – and when they do things that mom doesn’t like, she will take it very personally even and maybe especially when whatever they did was obviously not related to the mother or her efforts in any way at all.
Male narcissists are likely to openly treat other men as rivals or competition, while females are more likely to go nose-to-nose with other women in a more underhanded way (which often resembles “friendship” to the untrained eye). In other words, they are lifelong “mean girls.”
While this list isn’t all-encompassing, it does offer you a general overview of both male and female narcissists and their various differences in behaviors.
(Prefer to watch/listen? See video on YouTube) Narcissists have this way of exploiting your need for connection. It’s part of how they get you stuck in toxic relationships and feeling like you can’t leave, even if money or family isn’t an issue.
See, as humans, we are wired to connect with other humans. In fact, according to scientist Matthew Lieberman, author of the 2013 book Social, it is as necessary for us as food and water. He notes that social pain (as in being snubbed or having someone say hurtful things to you in a social setting) is as real to us as physical pain.
Lieberman points out that phrases such as “that breaks my heart” and “that hurts my feelings” are cultural evidence of the fact that emotional pain is so significant. And he says that while we might not like it, our wellbeing as humans is literally directly affected in profound ways by our connections to other people. He says social pain IS real pain – so not connecting can be as detrimental to our physical and mental health as not eating healthy food.
And this is confirmed by the Canadian Mental Health Association, which notes in a 2019 report that connecting with other people is far more important than we might think. In fact, we are told that “social connection can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and actually improve our immune systems.”
So literally, by not connecting with other people, we put our health at risk. In other words, the evidence shows that we NEED to connect with people in order to be relatively healthy. But when you’re dealing with a narcissist in a toxic relationship, you might often find yourself isolated and feeling very alone.
Worse, narcissists seem to instinctively exploit our basic human need for connection and use it against us to control and manipulate us. How? Well, let’s talk about it.
Narcissistic Abuse Affects Every Aspect of Your Life
Say the narcissist in your life is a partner or former partner. Do you remember the time when you were with that person and you thought that they were your soulmate? You could not believe that everything you loved, they loved, and everything you didn’t like, they didn’t either. And then they would be so sweet and charming until their narcissistic side came out. They were at first like a dream come true to you and became your worst nightmare.
While the narcissist cannot truly feel compassionate and emotional empathy, they certainly watch and learn what you like and how you want and need a connection. Therefore, the only type of empathy that the narcissist expresses is cognitive, superficial, and agenda-driven empathy. They simply just know that you have a need for connection. And they will do anything they can to exploit it.
But why would they do that? Let’s discuss it.
How Narcissists Exploit Your Need for Connection
How would it benefit a narcissist to exploit your need for connection? Two words: narcissistic supply – they need it. And they will whatever they need to get it – including pretending to care about you and expressing false empathy. Here are five different ways narcissists will exploit your need for connection.
1. Narcissists Idealize You
Most of us who end up in long-term relationships with narcissists have experienced at least some form of trauma in childhood. Often, our childhood experiences led us to become people-pleasers or codependents.
In so many cases, we also don’t truly see our value and we have rarely experienced unconditional love. We don’t know how it feels to have someone who is really “on our side” and we’ve rarely been given the opportunity to be the center of anyone’s attention. If we have, it has often been short-lived and spotty at best.
But when you first meet a narcissist, and they see you as a good source of supply, everything changes. The allure of love bombing and idealization – it’s powerful! Because for those of us who have had difficult upbringings, or who didn’t feel loved and seen by others, the kind of validation and perceived love that we get in the beginning of a toxic relationship is literally like a drug! It FEELS incredible and brings out all kinds of feel-good neurotransmitters in us. And since narcissists are so intense, we think we’ve practically won the lottery of soulmates.
We feel like we are walking on air! Not only will some narcissists go to extremes with wooing you, but during that idealization phase, they can literally make you feel you are the most important thing in the world. And when you’ve spent most of your life feeling like you aren’t important or like no one really “sees” you? Yeah. You’re going to fall in love, and fast. And how can you possibly run away from that since this is all a wonderful dream? This is how they trap you and you cannot help but fall for it because you are simply being treated like royalty. But all that is before the other shoe drops, which brings me to my next point.
2. Then They Devalue You
Once the narcissist has you in their trap, they will then show their true colors. They know you value your side of the relationship and while they’re intent on keeping you as a source of narcissistic supply, this is around the time that they notice that you have flaws – you know, that you’re human.
See, during the love-bombing and idealization phase, the narcissist is enamored with you – they can only see what is good about you. And since they lack object constancy, the moment they decide you are in fact human and they begin to mentally tally your flaws, the person you met initially seems to disappear. They start to criticize you, think less of you, and tell you all about it, one way or another.
You’ll start to be confused. You’ll try to figure out what you’re doing wrong, and you’ll do things to try to change yourself to be better for them. You’ll think it’s all your fault and that is partially because this is exactly what the narcissist wants you to think.
Plus, you’ll find that even when you do “fix” something the narcissist complains about, they’ll find something else that’s wrong. You cannot win. So, as you might imagine, this is when they begin to instill fear into you, make you insecure, and this is where the heavy-hitting manipulation tactics like gaslighting come into play.
All of this ends up confusing you to the point that you literally don’t even know which way is up sometimes. You feel like you aren’t capable of making your own choices and you start to lean on the narcissist more and more for affirmation of any decision you have to make. So, as you might imagine, you become increasingly dependent on the narcissist, despite the fact that they become increasingly cruel and negligent of you and the relationship you’re in.
They will play with your thoughts and feelings but will keep you afraid to do anything against their wishes because they also know at this point that you would never leave them because you just simply need a connection. You are dependant on them and they will abuse that and will abuse you. That means you at some point will fight back and this also provides them with the supply they need because even negative attention is still attention.
3. They Will Discard You If They Find New Supply
Even in a long-term relationship, narcissists always seem to be on the lookout for new supply. And while not all narcissists cheat, many or most do. And sadly, regardless of the level of commitment they’ve promised you and to which they’ve caused you to be obligated, the narcissist can easily disappear if they find a new source of narcissistic supply.
This is true even if they are still in a relationship with you. At this point, they might have even been cheating on you to find the new source. Because they can’t jump from one branch of a tree before they’ve got a good handle on the next – or, to put it more directly, they can’t ever be alone. So in most cases, they’ll hold on to you while they’re looking for their next victim.
And, of course, before they discard you, they will appear to act indifferent to you which will make you even more anxious. And this is another way the narcissist exploits your human need for connection.
See, because they know you fear that they will leave you – and they often do – they will manipulate you by giving intermittent reinforcement during this time. This is where they give you tiny glimpses of kindness, of love, and of that person you originally signed up to be with. You know – little “crumbs of affection,” just enough to keep you hooked and intermittently sprinkled between bouts of gaslighting and other forms of emotional and psychological abuse.
Often, this will lead to the narcissist ghosting you without warning – which will leave you confused, and if you are already dependent on them as it is, it will leave you frazzled, to put it mildly. A lot of times, what they want is for you to chase after them and to beg them to come back. And if you don’t, just wait – many, if not most, narcissists will come back around looking for more supply from you. We call that the hoover maneuver – and it means exactly what it sounds like. Just like a vacuum cleaner, the narcissist will try to “suck you back in.” You might even fall for it, thanks to that need for connection.
How to Deal When a Narcissist Has Exploited Your Need for Connection
With all of that being said, the best thing you can do for yourself if this happens is to never go back to a narcissist that discards you. If you are able to, go no contact. So so block them from your phone and platforms if they haven’t done that already to you. If you can’t go no contact because you have kids with this person, you can always go low-contact, meaning you can just only communicate with them about the business of raising the kids and never about emotional stuff.
When I was younger, I had a thing for a certain type of guy. I was seriously into these “dark and disturbed” types. The rebel without a cause. The guy who wrote poetry, who was probably a starving artist of some kind, and who hated the whole world and like 99 percent of the people in it. He would always have some cause he was super passionate about, and often called people “zombies” or “sheep.” He wasn’t super friendly and being the codependent I was, I would take pleasure in finding this kind of guy in dark corners of parties or other gatherings, and sort making it my mission to get inside his head and make him like me. We would end up having these deep, intellectual, and philosophical conversations that left me feeling like I’d had some sort of religious experience. I’d always be all googly-eyed, thinking that he “saw me” and that we were connecting on some deep level. The only thing was that after an initial couple of meetings, I’d always be left feeling like I’d been duped, but I couldn’t quite figure out why.
Do you know a covert narcissist?
Can you relate? Let me ask you: Have you ever met someone who seemed to be sort of an introvert – they might have been a little shy, and might have even talked about how they were a highly sensitive person or even an empath, but the more you got to know them, they also seemed to kind of show a weird sense of selfishness and low-key egocentricity?
If so, you might have been dealing with a covert narcissist. This is what we call someone who is sort of an “incognito” narcissist. They might act like an introvert as far as most people can tell. People who don’t live with them might even assume they ARE an introvert – just a little shy, maybe a bit too sensitive.
So, how can you tell someone is a covert narcissist? What are the signs and how are they different from introverts and “regular,” more overt narcissists? Do you know how to identify covert narcissism? What are the traits you will see in a covert narcissist?
You might also hear covert narcissists being referred to as vulnerable narcissists, closet narcissists, and introverted narcissists. This is likely due to the fact that they don’t appear to have much self-confidence, as opposed to their overt counterparts. They are the eternal damsel in distress or the martyrs of some oh-so-noble cause.
What is covert narcissism?
Covert narcissism is a term coined by psychotherapist Dr. Karen Horney for individuals who are driven by the desire to be admired. This is a state of being characterized by deep-seated feelings of shame, low self-esteem, and feelings of personal inadequacy. These individuals are often driven by an unconscious fear that they are inadequate or inferior to others. They use charm, manipulation, and intimidation to make themselves feel better, but ultimately they have no real sense of self-worth or unconditional love for themselves, which results in unstable self-concepts and emotional outbursts when frustrated.
What is a Covert Narcissist?
In layman’s terms, a covert narcissist is someone who has narcissistic personality disorder (or might, if they’d ever go see a psychologist for a diagnosis), but who doesn’t seem to have the obvious grandiosity factor. Covert narcissists exhibit a very subtle, but equally toxic form of narcissism that is exhibited by someone with a more introverted personality. It’s characterized by grandiose fantasies and thoughts, perception of entitlement, and a general sentiment of being better than others.
What are the traits of a covert narcissist?
Covert narcissists are known to have an inflated sense of their own self-importance, an extreme need for admiration, and a lack of empathy toward others. Instead of being more concerned with themselves like grandiose narcissists, covert narcissists tend to focus their attention on how other people feel about them.
Covert narcissists often:
1. Are highly sensitive to rejection.
The main trait of a covert narcissist is being highly sensitive to rejection and criticism. This sensitivity leads them to develop a false self, which is used as a shield against potential disapproval and hurt feelings. The false self is easygoing and agreeable but also timid and agreeable — qualities that make others feel safe and secure around them while also making it difficult for them to express their true thoughts or feelings because of fear of rejection.
2. Are great actors.
They can be charming when it suits their needs; this enables them to take advantage of other people without remorse. They can also pretend to be humble and modest when it serves them to do so.
3. Are hypersensitive.
They’re quick to feel slighted or insulted because they hold unrealistic expectations for how others should treat them — as if anyone could ever live up to their grandiose self-image!
4. Are arrogant and boastful.
Their need for adulation prompts them to exaggerate their talents and achievements; they may even lie just to be able to say they’ve done something impressive or noteworthy in their lives. They want to be liked and admired by others, but this desire stems from a belief that they are superior. Covert narcissists believe that they are superior, but they don’t want others to know it.
5. Live with impostor syndrome.
In other words, they fear being exposed as a fraud. As a result, they try to hide their true nature, covering it up with a cloak of meekness and humility. For this reason, it is much easier for other people to take advantage of them than it is with overt narcissists who have no reason or desire to hide their grandiosity.
6. Have fragile egos.
The high standards they set for themselves and others make them prone to feeling humiliated and rejected, so they protect themselves by developing a cold, callous exterior.
Other traits of a covert narcissist include:
A deep need for attention and admiration
Subtly manipulative behaviors and attempts to one-up others
A tendency to display arrogance and a belief that he or she deserves special treatment
An inflated sense of importance, power, and knowledge; exaggerated opinions about their talents and abilities
Why are covert narcissists more difficult to identify?
Someone who is affected by covert narcissism might be harder to detect because they don’t always seem to act as self-important as the more overt or grandiose narcissist. They don’t appear to feel like they’re better than everyone – at least not before you know them well. They appear to be vulnerable and oversensitive, which will often manifest in their behavior as hostility and defensiveness. They will be the one who is quietly looking down their nose at you, judging you and everyone else around them harshly and often unfairly. It might help to understand the similarities and differences between covert narcissists and grandiose or overt narcissists.
Covert Narcissist vs. Grandiose Narcissist: The Similarities
They do have a few things in common with overt narcissists, including:
But how does a covert narcissist differ from an overt narcissist?
Covert Narcissist vs. Grandiose Narcissist: The Differences
Unlike the grandiose narcissist, the covert narcissist will not necessarily display narcissistic behavior that is immediately recognizable. You might even think they’re an empath because they seem so modest, so sensitive and so very unsure of themselves.
While they will have the standard grandiose fantasies for their life – all of which are sure to be unrealistic and self-centered, not to mention ridiculously over-inflated, they will believe that their dreams are unrealistic and unattainable. They will blame the world for somehow holding them back, but secretly believe they are a fraud. You see a lot of “imposter syndrome” in people like this.
Ironically, the covert narcissist will even feel guilty for wanting what they want, and somehow this inner conflict leads them to suppress most of their true feelings.
This leads to the inevitable for a covert narcissist: their inner conflict translates into outer behavior, such as:
Being unacceptably aggressive when it comes to getting what they want
Covert Narcissists and Narcissistic Injury
Ever heard of the “poor me game?” It was likely first played by a covert narcissist. After all, the average covert narcissist spends a lot of time feeling sorry for themselves. They practically invented narcissistic injury. But why do they do this? Why does the “vulnerable narcissist” play the “poor me” game so well?
It all comes down to one thing: covert narcissists hate themselves. In fact, they seem to believe that it is possible to hate yourself BETTER.
Though they continue to demonstrate the behavior they loathe, the covert narcissist is powerless to control their thoughts – and their deep inner conscience is NOT okay with the person they are (or have become).
Covert Narcissists Openly Criticize Themselves
Unlike their more overt counterparts, covert narcissists actually judge themselves more harshly than anyone judges them. And on a deep level, more harshly than they judge other people (at least those outside of his immediate inner circle).
Covert Narcissists Have ‘Quietly High,’ Unreasonable Standards
Either way, while they seem to be outwardly unconcerned with the world, they certainly have quietly high standards for their lives. But these may be outside of “normal” high standards. For example, the covert narcissist might be broke, but he might claim that this is because he doesn’t believe in capitalism, and then he will feel superior to anyone who he considers a sort of “servant to their jobs” or who wants and obtains things of monetary value.
So, they will quietly stick to this unreasonable standard to the best of their abilities, happy to secretly look down their nose at the people they deem “lesser” or otherwise inferior to themselves.
An Example of Typical Covert Narcissistic Behavior
For example, let’s say the covert narcissist is a passionate but broke musician who plays exclusively in basements and backrooms, and who does so because they claim they want to stay true to their art and they don’t want to “sell out.” And one evening after a gig, a record executive comes up to them and asks if they have a demo because they think they might be able to get a recording contract. The covert narcissist at that moment is likely to jump at this opportunity – because who doesn’t want a chance to be rich and famous?
But then, once they take the time to put together a demo and send it to the record exec, the guy either never respond or realizes he was more intoxicated than he thought that night and tells the narcissist that the deal is off. This sends the narcissist into a spiral of self-loathing.
And, of course, anytime the covert narcissist fails to meet these so-called “standards” and behaves in any way that their inner critic deems bad or not desirable (by, in this case, agreeing to “sell out” and sending the demo, rather than snubbing the commercial industry that they’ve always claimed to hate), they’re back to square one: hating both themselves and the “zombies” or “sheep” who caused them to fall off-track.
Now, they hate the industry, and especially the music executives who they say always want to commercialize everything. They even justify their rejection by saying that the exec in question just didn’t get their music because it is somehow above their level of understanding.
Later, they might even make up stories about how they were offered a record deal and turned it down because they wanted to avoid becoming a sellout.
Why the Covert Narcissist Lives with Self-Hate: Distorted Self-Awareness
It all boils down to one thing: a covert narcissist understands on some level that their self-inflating ideas are not quite realistic – at least on some level. So, though they continue to have narcissistic thoughts and even occasional external behaviors, they are always holding themselves to a very high standard. They spend their lives competing with the one person they’ll never be able to beat: themselves – or some version of that.
At the same time, they are incapable of openly accepting blame or responsibility for anything that isn’t positive, and in fact they relate any such admission to weakness and “badness” of other people – which, most likely, is because of the angry kind of envy that psychologists say is involved in the creation of any narcissistic behavior.
The Covert Narcissist is a Perpetual Victim
The covert narcissist is often mistaken for an introvert or a shy person because to the untrained eye, they appear to be a pushover who is generally unassertive. They see themselves (and others see them) as victims or as people who aren’t able to obtain what they should have or deserve. People who don’t really know them may say things like, “oh, they’re just a big teddy bear” or “oh, their bark is worse than their bite!”
They will also:
Have outrageously adolescent daydreams about being a big famous something-or-other
Have feelings of being worthless, countered by feelings of being different, separate or “better” than other people
Have a somewhat questionable grip on reality, leading to personal guilt and self-hate.
Claim to be “a little OCD”
Call themselves a perfectionist
What do you think? Any of that sound familiar to you?
Are you concerned that you might be a covert narcissist?
Question of the Day: Have you ever met a covert narcissist? How could you tell? What characteristics do you think most clearly identify the covert narc? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section, below this video.
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