As we consider the pervasiveness of covert narcissists’ dishonesty, let’s focus on the word covert.  When narcissists act in covert ways, it involves disguise, cover-up, phoniness, being sneaky or sly.  Lacking genuineness, they portray themselves in a manner that draws attention away from their many inner tensions.  

Research tells us that a healthy person is able to have openness, which offers a stark contrast to covertness.  When open, a person is willing to admit flaws. Likewise, open people want to be authentically known, can become appropriately vulnerable, and are unafraid of accountability.  

Narcissists, in general, seek power and dominance while simultaneously propping up a false public facade.  Unlike their overt counterparts, covert narcissists have decided it is in their vested interest to feign reliability as they set you up to come under their control.  Sadly, as they engage with you, honesty is (shall we say) fluid.

Let’s get an idea of the many ways covert narcissists can dishonestly pull you into their influences:

  • Paying compliments, and apparently seeming interested in you, when in fact it is little more than false flattery.  Later you realize you are in their debt.
  • Offering assistance, yet being inconsistent with true concern.  
  • Pretending to be personally vulnerable, but in reality, they are merely griping about others’ faults.
  • Asking personal questions as a show of curiosity, when they are simply gathering data to be used against you later.
  • Praising you in public, but criticizing or ignoring you in private.  It’s all part of their ruse to look good.
  • Registering anger with you while being unwilling to discuss it fairly.  Their aim is not successful conflict resolution, but assessing blame.
  • Consistently hiding behind a shield of defensiveness, being unwilling to consider input that might feel uncomfortable.
  • Playing the role of Victim when an event or interaction does not unfold as they wish.
  • Secretly holding onto spite and contempt, carrying grudges for a long time.

It is essential for you to know that a defining feature of narcissism is the pursuit of control and superiority.  Narcissists genuinely believe you are beneath them, and if there is a problem (or just a simple difference) between you and them, they insist that you created it, and you are the problem.  

Narcissists cannot or will not take responsibility for their many imperfections.  Doing so would require giving up the illusion of power.  But on a deeper level, being honest is too painful.  They are like wounded animals who have lost the capacity for trust.  Narcissists cannot trust, and worse, they have a very limited understanding of love.  

If narcissists could be truly open and honest about who they really are, they would be required to make multiple confessions about their inner tensions.  For instance, they would admit:

  • Being honest signals that I see you as my equal, and I don’t want to think like that.
  • I’m afraid if I were truly vulnerable, you would judge me, or worse, you would mock me.
  • I hate the human (translated: weak) side of me.
  • If I’m too open, it would get in the way of my exploitive efforts.
  • I like the surge of power that comes from making you squirm.
  • Keeping the upper hand over you makes me feel better about myself.
  • Having the appearance of respectability is enough.  Being respectable is not my thing.
  • No one, and I mean no one, needs to know my problems.
  • I have to stay in control and if that requires questionable tactics, I’m ok with that.

As you learn how fully committed narcissists are to their dishonesty, a primary truth can surface:  Narcissists are defined, not by what they publicly portray, but by what they hide.  Let that thought soak in.  

The dishonesty at the heart of covert narcissists will be their undoing.  Once you see the many indicators of its pervasiveness, adjust your expectations and remind yourself that the more negative person tends to bring down the healthier one.  That said, protect yourself and practice self-care.  Keep your obligations with that person as minimal as possible.  These are not safe people.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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