Covert narcissists can be among the most difficult people to encounter because they can initially appear friendly and cooperative, when in fact they are not. A defining feature of narcissism is the willingness to use and exploit individuals, and that is a specialty with the covert narcissist.

Here’s how a covert narcissist works:

  • They are constantly on the prowl, sizing you up. They think: “How far can I go with you as I attempt to meet my need for admiration and control?”
  • Covert narcissists will pick up on your tendencies and desires, giving you the impression that they care. “What interests you? How might I help?”
  • They can use pseudo-empathy, pretending to understand who you are. They use mirroring comments (which might sound empathetic, but it is not). “Hey, you like that kind of music, me too!” or “Your sister is bossy? You should meet my ex-wife, she’s the same way.”
  • They might share personal information, yet in a non-vulnerable way. “Yeah, I got laid off from a job several years ago, and it really threw me off my game.” or “My dad was a real jerk.”
  • They can give the impression of loyalty, yet over time you realize their loyalties are fluid.

Scheming thoughts

As covert narcissists engage with you and all the other people in their personal landscape, they feed off of scheming thoughts, which all start with “Who”

“is most impressionable?”
“will be the least inclined to call me out on my inconsistencies?”
“can I count on to admire me?”
“will make me look good?”
“is the most likely to play the role of my enabler?”
“will let me be in charge?”

You’ve been played by a covert narcissist

Over time, it hits you that you are being played…that’s what narcissists do. Eventually their demands will become more and more unreasonable. Their anger and contempt will take center stage. You will become the object of their derision as you repeatedly fail to meet their needs. Over time, you will recognize:

“There is something not genuine about this person.”
“This person seems to have an underdeveloped conscience.”
“I don’t feel like they truly care; it’s all a phony show.”
“That person actually seems to believe the b.s. they shovel out.”
“There is no such thing as loyalty to this person.”
“Relationships seem to be a game or a competition, not a heart connection.”

Make your own changes

Covert narcissists wish to be dominant, but in sly ways, meaning it can take time for you to catch onto their game. But once you recognize their inauthentic nature, you can make various adjustments:

  • First, don’t beat yourself up for not seeing their conniving mannerisms up front. You’re dealing with a master manipulator who uses your best traits to his/her advantage.
  • Forget bringing the narcissist into your circle of truth. These people deceive you because they are first self-deceived. They don’t accept constructive input.
  • If possible, you might be interested to learn of other people who have had similar experiences with that person, not for the sake of gossip, but to affirm that you are not imagining what has happened.
  • Take your relationship energies elsewhere. You deserve better.

Covert narcissists have the same craving for superiority and the same self-serving insensitivities as their overt counterparts. They are just more sly or stealth. Working a crowd, working YOU, in pursuit of narcissistic supply is indeed a game, but once you see it, your response can be: “No thanks, I’m on Team Healthy. I’ll not waste my time fretting about someone who has no concept of decency. I can do better, much better.”

~Dr. Les Carter