Narcissists have a strong need to appear together, as if they are the ones who set and maintain the standard for all that is best.  And yet, when you recognize the dominant themes that drive them, a very different picture comes into focus.  At the core of their world view is a lack of empathy, a need to dominate, entitlement, condescension, and a broad willingness to manipulate or exploit.  Those are not traits of a together person.  Simply put, narcissists are broken people who do not manage the intricacies of relationships cleanly and constantly play a game.

Behind the scenes, narcissists struggle with self-esteem. 

They are inclined toward easy anger, either of the openly aggressive or the passive aggressive variety.  They routinely hold others in disdain even as they simultaneously seek the favor of those same people.  (Go figure.)  They are not inclined toward personal insights and as a result they repeat the same maladaptive behaviors.  And their entire approach within close relationships is tainted by gaslighting, the attempt to keep others feeling insecure so they can stay dominant.

But instead of admitting such turmoil, narcissists go overboard trying to sell others on the notion that they are the ones who should set the pace in any ongoing efforts. 

Persistently, they play a psychological game that could be called “Let’s Pretend.”  This is especially true with covert narcissists who make special efforts to disguise their nefarious schemes.

There are multiple features prompting narcissists to play this game, and it can be very helpful to recognize when they are attempting to draw you in. 

Let’s look at how this unfolds:

Narcissists can be negatively positive

This involves them being complimentary even as they register complaints.  For instance, you might hear something like: “John did a great job, finally.  That’s not his norm.”  Or they might say something like: “I enjoy being with this group because there’s not the same backstabbing that I experienced with that last group I was with.”

They can seem interested, but with little follow-through

Initially, narcissists will indicate excitement about you or the prospects they are pursuing.  But when the time comes for real effort or elbow grease to be applied, they bail.  They are the consummate short-term, fair-weather friends.

Or…They might act in your best interest, but with the expectation of favors in return

Sadly, even when narcissists seem helpful or cooperative, they have a score-boarding mindset.  As time passes, you learn that each of their pleasantries comes with the presumption that you owe them for their seeming decency.

They make lots of excuses for mistakes

Narcissists cannot make a simple statement like “I blew it” or “I didn’t know how to handle that problem.”  Instead, they try to save face by pointing the finger of accusation outside themselves.  They dread being interpreted as imperfect.

They are inclined to making unsustainable exaggerated promises

For instance, narcissists may claim that you will never know anyone as loyal as they are, or that they will always have your back.  Yet later, their promises prove hollow as they default on their initial optimism.

Narcissists are quite sensitive regarding their public persona

They have to look right, to be in the right circumstances, associated with the right people.  Image is everything to them, even if it is only a mirage.

They might make exaggerated efforts to please

As part of the chameleon effect, they can be very helpful, showering you with good will and concern.  Later you will learn it is a ruse because they can just as easily reveal disdain toward you.  It all depends on how fully you show deference to their “goodness.”

Ultimately, they are poor listeners.

Over time, you learn that narcissists are not that interested in you.  Perhaps they will seem curious about your back story, but in the end, they illustrate that Self is the only person whose story matters.

They can speak half-truths or out-of-context lies

For instance, they might tell others that you have anger issues, but the real story is that you were displeased after you caught them being dishonest.  Or perhaps they might tell others that you are not reliable, when the real truth is that you had an unexpected problem that prompted you to shift priorities temporarily.

Each of the above illustrations show that narcissists are constantly in search for the favored position, and honesty is optional.  True to the covert pattern of narcissism, they give appearances of civility that do not hold up over time.  And worse, they demonstrate how they are driven by judgmental attitudes and manipulative scheming.

As you become increasingly aware of the covert narcissist’s “Let’s Pretend” game, you will learn that pretense defines them. 

Therefore, don’t go too deeply into a self-blaming hole when the narcissist persists in pointing the accusatory finger toward you.  That’s them being manipulative and they are skilled at it.

Instead, maintain healthy vigilance and stay committed to traits like dignity, respect, and civility.  Keep your boundaries with the narcissist…know what you believe and how you will prioritize your behaviors and initiatives.  And when the narcissist persists in being pretentious and playing a game, you can remind yourself:  This person is bound by a pervasive lack of honesty, but a defining feature in my life is authenticity.  I’ll remain on that path knowing the narcissist won’t walk alongside me.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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