A survivor of narcissistic abuse told me this week that he feels like narcissists are everywhere. He has met them at the grocery store, at work, and even in church. My response was that yes, it can feel like they are around every corner because we are sensitive to these people. That’s why you feel like you are playing the game Whack-A-Mole.

While this survivor and I laughed about the joke, we understood that when it comes to narcissism, it’s a serious subject. Narcissists can damage others for weeks, years, or decades. Their lies, manipulations, and deceptions often wreck the lives of those around them without anyone understanding what’s happening until it’s too late.

Psychologists and psychiatrists have identified two types of narcissists that exist:

  • Overt/Malignant
  • Covert/Vulnerable.

The overt/malignant narcissist is easy to recognize. This person is often outgoing, charming, loud, and acts “bigger than life.” Malignant narcissists (MNs)want to be the center of attention and be recognized as the best of the best. MNs work to get the supply that they need, no matter what. They don’t care who they hurt or how because they have little or no empathy.  

The covert/vulnerable narcissist is much more difficult to identify, making this type of narcissist more dangerous. Covert narcissists (CNs) are often introverted, so they fly under the radar. They have a deep desire to be liked and admired by others like malignant narcissists (MNs), but they know which social norms are acceptable and steer clear of those that are not. Survivors often say they didn’t see the real person in the relationship until years later. The push-pull nature and intermittent reinforcement with a CN are so subtle, that a survivor’s emotional health is destroyed slowly and almost imperceptibly.

Here are some common scenarios and how MNs and CNs react, so you can decide which narcissist you are dealing with in your life:

Your happiness –

Both MNs and CNs detest when others, especially those closest to them, are happy. Why? Narcissists cannot be happy themselves. They are miserable people who lack a sense of self, which is where true joy begins. Narcissists seek validation from outside sources, such as expensive cars, large homes, multiple sexual partners, multiple degrees, or through the actions of their children.

Both types of narcissists have a sense of entitlement and think that they deserve happiness and you do not. Narcissists feel envy and resentment when others are joyful and content.

There is a German word that describes this state of mind. It’s called schadenfreude. This word means “harm-joy.” Schadenfreude is when people celebrate the misfortunes or failures of others. That is why you may feel the narcissist wants to steal your joy, no matter what you are cheerful about.

Playing victim –

Narcissists could win Academy Awards for their abilities to play the victim in any scenario. Both CNs and MNs play the victim as a response to a narcissist injury. When the narcissist feels perceived or real criticism or contempt, the narcissist will turn the tables and become the victim. Most of the time, the narcissist is the perpetrator, but through manipulation, this person becomes the injured one, with a few deviations in behavior.

Malignant narcissists often choose the best times to play victim, and they can do so while being exceptionally angry and loud. There is projection, slander, and character assassination, all loudly doled out in a shaming tone.

For example, my ex (a malignant narcissist) grew very angry with me when he found sugar ants crawling around on the kitchen counter. I love margaritas, and sometimes the blender would splash the lime juice on the counter, drawing the minuscule creatures. Shane, the MN, yelled at me one day to “call the pest control people, dammit, because I don’t have time.” (He was too important to call I guess).

I did my research through neighbors and Yelp, and by 5 PM a local company pulled up to spray for pests. They were the best and least expensive. Shane went ballistic.

“Why did you hire THEM?” he yelled. “You should have called the people who monitor our termite control. You can’t do anything right. I have to do it all.”

The next time he asked me to do something, I responded with, “Remember that I can’t do anything right. It’s all yours, buddy.” That didn’t go over well, but I made my point.

Covert narcissists, however, often play the victim constantly, not only when there’s a narcissistic injury. CNs act like something is always wrong. Just under the surface of their “nice” demeanor, they act sad or angry. They may tell you the same stories over and over about how they were mistreated as a child or in their last relationship. It’s a black-tie pity party with one guest invited: you.

For example, a friend of mine ended a relationship with her boyfriend of 6 months, a covert narcissist. He told her a few days before the breakup that he just didn’t see them dating long-term. When she ended things, he told her, “See, you always abandon me. How can I date someone who leaves me?”

Situations like this can be maddening. Your reality is altered into a hell you didn’t see coming, and it’s by a person you love.

Their anger –

Both types of narcissists are angry at the world. They feel entitled to what they didn’t receive and seldom count their blessings about what they do have.

In my experience, the overt narcissist can appear extremely happy, then on a dime, rage about something that seems inconsequential. They may verbally lash back, projecting their issues onto you. This action leaves you in a stunning state wondering, “What just happened? What did I do to cause this?”

Covert narcissists, however, seem to have an underlying thread of anger that wants to erupt, but instead comes out in other ways. CNs may demonstrate passive aggressiveness or gaslighting to make you think you are the cause for their anger. That way you will cater to their needs, even more, ignoring other family members and yourself.

For example, a covert narcissist in my life once invited me over for dinner. When I arrived at his home, he acted like he didn’t want me there. After tiptoeing around him for over an hour, I asked him what was wrong. He blew up at me.

“Why do you always have to think something’s wrong, Laura? Here we go again,” the covert narcissist yelled.

I had done nothing wrong except show up as he asked me to.

I never went back to his house. Why would anyone want to face that?

Your personal growth –

Most narcissists avoid personal growth because they feel like they are the best at everything already. They are entitled to have the respect and admiration of others without putting in the work. When they see you determined to improve an aspect of your life, they want to steal that from you. Your resolve to grow emotionally, spiritually, or intellectually is a threat to them. And they will do what they can to stop that from happening.

Defending Yourself Against Narcissists

The most important thing you can do, no matter the label of the narcissist in your life, is to have boundaries. Decide what you will tolerate when it comes to your values, morals, and dignity. Then put boundaries in place around yourself to stop the narcissist from hurting you.

Secondly, be cautious about being vulnerable with people you have just met. And this can be friends, colleagues, or lovers. Don’t share personal, confidential, or other important things with people you have just met. Let them earn your trust first, no matter how much you want to connect. Taking it slow can be your armor when it comes to meeting new people.  Time is like a rope: these people will either prove they are safe people, or they will hang themselves while pretending to be open to you and your secrets.