As you come to terms with the nature of covert narcissism, stay focused on the concept of covertness.   Covert narcissists are defined by the same dark traits of their overt counterparts.  They need control over others.  They have low levels of empathy and a desire to maintain superiority.  They are willing manipulators.  And their raw self-centeredness is hardly contained. 

But their covertness means they disguise their bent toward dark themes.  

Instead of insightfully examining inner issues, they are schemers who wish to dupe others into thinking they are someone they are not.  So know, they have primary goals as they seek cover from psychological exposure.  Let’s identify four of the most common:

  1. Create a false positive public persona.   More than making fleeting efforts to impress, covert narcissists are chameleons by design.  They feel compelled to exaggerate what is good about oneself while minimizing what is questionable.  This is evidenced in their many forms of defensiveness, including denial, rationalization, projection, evasiveness, secrecy, lying, blame-shifting, and more.
  1. Hide psychological chaos.  Covert narcissists refuse to admit the breadth of their insecurity, yet they constantly wonder about their standing with others: Do people like me?  Believe I’m really smart?  Respect me? Deeply concerned about judgments and social status, they cannot reveal that which might invite scorn.  Their covertness is driven by the need to run away from a history of shame and fear.  This is evidenced by their chronic criticism and agitation toward others.  They have convinced themselves that if they can be the givers of shame and judgment, it takes the focus off of the same within themselves.
  1. Perpetuate confusion within others.  A major tactic of covert narcissists is to control your reactions to them.  They tell you what you should think and how you should manage life.  They are quite unwilling to make room for diverse or complex ideas since that would require open-mindedness…and the self-reflection that accompanies it.  Instead, they are masters at gaslighting you when your opinions, feelings, and impressions differ.
  1. Make others feel responsible for their well-being.  Lacking honest introspection, narcissists are empty inside.  Because of this, they actively seek external solutions for internal conflicts.  For instance, if they feel disappointed, they instinctively seek someone to blame as opposed to examining their potentially misguided needs and expectations.  As a result, they use many imperative directives as they discuss personal problems: “You should have; you’d better; you need to.”

These four patterns are highly predictable with covert narcissists, as if each of them is reading from the same playbook.  

Once you learn to spot their tendencies, prompting you to balk at their controlling initiatives, they continue to be predictable. 

In private, they become more covert in their efforts to squelch your distinctions.  This leads to a broader pattern of anger and criticism.  In public, they intensify their efforts to look clean toward others.  This leads to a broader pattern of self-promotion while simultaneously smearing you…usually in subtle ways.

Keep in mind, that the most skilled covert narcissists may “succeed” in convincing others of their superiority and your inferiority.  Others may not have the benefit of seeing behind the scenes what you see.  So, it could be, at least for a while, that they win in the court of public opinion.  While that is certainly frustrating, your best recourse is to focus on keeping steady from the inside out.

While you probably would probably not get far by declaring to the narcissists and that person’s sycophants who you really are, in your dreams, you might wish to send specific messages refuting their invalidations.  For instance:

  • You need me to see you only in a positive light, which sets up your pervasive dishonesty.  I stand for ongoing honesty and authenticity.
  • You want me to feel confused.  I am not.  I trust my discernments and will act upon them accordingly.
  • You want me to ignore your hidden emotional chaos.  I can’t do that.  I see it for what it is and will not co-mingle.
  • You want me to take responsibility for your many problems.  That makes no sense.  You’re an adult and it’s time to act like one.

While it is not your job to convince the narcissist to be honest or to change, you can choose to take a separate path.  Therefore, as you see the covert narcissist’s exploitive schemes, you can conclude:  I can do better.  I’m committed to a healthy psychological life, which means I refuse to come under the dominance of one who seeks artificial power over me.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

To watch the video on this topic, click here.