Healthy relationships are grounded in honesty, reliability, authenticity, availability, and more.  In contrast, narcissism is grounded in selfishness, entitlement, scheming, secrecy, and haughtiness.

Narcissists, especially of the covert variety, want to give the appearance of healthiness even though they are anything but healthy.  Part of the definition of covert narcissism is the ability to portray seemingly positive traits as they disguise their inner dysfunction.  They want to be in relationships, but their goal is gaining narcissistic supply. 

In other words, they want your loyalty and deference and if they have to hide their many problems, so be it.

Sly as covert narcissists may be, over time you can spot trends that reveal their real intentions.  Make no mistake, they will eventually betray the integrity of the relationship with you.  But as you learn to see behind the disguise, you can position yourself for you own separate independence. 

Let’s identify ten of their most common ploys.

  1. Creating false positive regard.  Covert narcissists are skilled at the art of pleasantness, giving the impression of interest in you.  But eventually you will learn they are little more than data gatherers who are taking notes about your vulnerabilities.
  1. Starting out as loyal.  As part of their false positive regard, they also give the impression of being your advocate, one who will publicly go to bat for you.  Time reveals, however, they are building a “you owe me” list of good deeds.
  1. Criticisms creep into conversations.  Narcissists have a strong judgmental mindset which cannot be contained permanently.  You will notice how their pleasant demeanor is tainted by snarky comments, and eventually it becomes clear that you are not measuring up to their expectations.
  1. Lying by omission.  There are many priorities or tendencies that narcissists do not want to reveal.  They inevitably have secret activities they do not want to disclose.  Perhaps they misuse money, have addictions, or speak poorly about you behind your back.  Their goal is to maintain such behaviors without self-disclosure.
  1. Compliments become sparse.  The longer you are in a relationship with a narcissist, it becomes apparent that the shine will lose its luster.  That early friendliness will give way to apathy or competing priorities.
  1. Refusal to give honest apologies.  Naturally, mistakes or blunders can creep into any longstanding relationship, and the mark of maturity is taking responsibility when they happen.  Desperate to be superior, though, narcissists are loathe to offer a true apology.
  1. Being dismissive toward your interests.  Having no sincere empathy, narcissists simply feel no real need to know and understand you.  Eventually you learn that your topics of interest are brushed off since they are with you only for selfish pursuits.
  1. Gossiping about others.  Because narcissists like having the advantage over anyone and everyone, they gladly pass gossip about others in the hope that they can claim a moral high ground.  Running smear campaigns is a skill they prize.  Of course, they will depict it as passing along helpful information.
  1. Fishing for compliments.  Narcissists are desperately needy for admiration and approval, so they are not bashful about drawing attention to their positive traits.  They don’t just want affirmation, they must have it as if it is a right.
  1. Unwilling to receive input.  In healthy conflict resolution, give-and-take is necessary as differences are addressed.  But narcissists will only give input, as they prove unwilling to receive feedback.  They are forceful with their own opinions, but not receptive to yours.

Understand, covert narcissism is built upon passive aggressive anger.

They have simmering agitation that can be contained only in small increments of time.  They want control, and even if their motives are initially hidden, the mask cannot be sustained.  After multiple engagements you will learn that they would rather invalidate or argue than cooperate.  

If you have been connected to a covert narcissist and have eventually learned you were being played, don’t be too hard on yourself.  You are dealing with a master manipulator.  Your “problem” is that you don’t think like a manipulator, meaning the covert narcissist has the upper hand…for a while.

But once you recognize how willing a person is to betray your trust, take stock. 

That person is not likely to adjust to you, so the adjusting will have to begin within yourself.  Over time, you can determine: “I want better, I deserve better.”  And with that admission, you are poised to establish relationship boundaries, giving highest priority to self-care.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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