Many individuals on the narcissism spectrum are so blatantly controlling and entitled that they leave little doubt about the pervasiveness of their condition.  These are the people who are defiantly stubborn, pushy, demanding, condescending, attacking, and the like.

Often, though, narcissists can decide that overtly narcissistic behaviors can create more problems than they solve, so they determine to become stealth.  They don’t eliminate their narcissistic attitudes, they just try to disguise them.  When they become stealth, narcissists remain committed to promoting their self-serving agenda, and they also continue to discount you in the process.  But stealth narcissists want to minimize their exposure while maximizing deniability. 

How does this work?  As you are able to identify and understand their patterns, you can resist their untoward schemes.  So, to that effect, let’s identify 10 of the most common stealth manipulations used by narcissists.

  1. Friendly non-cooperation.  Often narcissists will give the impression of being encouraging regarding your activities and plans.  They can ask upbeat questions and will offer well-wishes.  But when you want them to join you, they are nowhere to be found.  That is when you realize how phony the encouragement was and how they were only propping up a false image of connection.
  1. Secret sabotaging.  Narcissist want to be in the superior position, so they actively seek ways to keep you down.  One of their favorite tactics is to criticize you behind your back, passing along “intel” that will potentially turn others against you.  Narcissists see you as a competitor who needs to be laid low.
  1. Low connection, yet seeking favors.  You may find that a narcissist does not really care about you until they need favored treatment.  History may prove that they are disinterested, but they can still approach you with requests for all sorts of perks.  In doing so, they illustrate that relationships are only transactional.
  1. Showing curiosity, but merely collecting data.  Narcissists can often indicate that they wish to learn personal matters about you, and they can appear supportive.  They especially like learning about your vulnerabilities and mistakes, but all along, they are gathering bullets to put into their holster to be used at a later date.
  1. Looking “together” in public, yet being privately moody.  Image control is of utmost importance to a narcissist.  Behind the scenes they can be easily irritable and tense, but once they are on stage, an entirely different, pleasant person shows up.  Posturing, playing to the crowd is a common habit.
  1. Funny, clever joking, despite hidden disdain.  Narcissists often can be charming, telling funny stories, teasing, and creating a jovial aura.  But as you get to know them honestly, you can learn that they quietly hold people in contempt and their humor is a disguise for condescending feelings.
  1. Advice that you neither want or need.  When you reveal simple plans or discuss topics of interest, narcissists can inject “friendly” suggestions, or they can give directives that are not useful.  This reveals how they live with an ever-present Agenda, being driven by strongly judgmental attitudes.
  1. Constantly hijacking conversations.  While it is normal for discussions to have an ebb and flow with each person sharing perspectives or discussing their experiences, narcissists have an uncanny knack for drawing attention back onto their favorite topics.  They will interrupt, refuse to let you complete a story, or offer one-up alternatives to your expressions.  With zero empathy, they imply: “Why would I care about what you think?”
  1. Expressing “concern” about you with your allies.  Harboring quiet envy, narcissists need you to look unstable, so they will often talk with others about how they have noticed troubling tendencies in you.  They talk caringly, seemingly garnering support for you, yet they are carefully building a case against you and your character.
  2. Being thin-skinned in general.  Often you will find that narcissists can become defensive and perturbed over the slightest of matters.  Simple differences can alarm them and they absolutely cannot receive confrontations.  Pervasive insecurity is common, and their anxious reactions reveal how they require special considerations.

As you become aware of these (and other) stealth manipulations, keep in mind that direct discussions about your observations will not go well.  There is a reason they are stealth…they want control over you with the least personal exposure.  Understanding that, you can still remain true to your alternative healthy habits, but you’d have to accept how incapable narcissists are in being reliably harmonizing.

Narcissists are not safe.

That being the case, save your best relationship initiatives for those who are committed to open, fair exchanges.  Prioritize authenticity, which is typified by internal and external consistency related to mature priorities.  That is something narcissists lack.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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