Covert Narcissist (def.) – A more discrete form of narcissism displayed by a person with a more shy and reserved personality. It’s characterized by grandiose fantasies and thoughts, a perception of entitlement, and a general sentiment of being better than others.
Long story short, it turns out my partner (now ex) is a covert narcissist. During the course of our 10-year relationship (a marriage), he did various things that led me to become socially isolated, and emotionally and financially dependent upon him. When I recognized this as a very unhealthy situation and decided to end the relationship, he told my close friends and family that I was crazy. He used his inaccurate depiction of my anxiety (which was very high at the time) to make even my closest friends and family question my decision to walk away.
What’s a covert narcissist, you might ask? Not Trump, yet often as harmful as Trump. Now that we’ve had a few years of narcissist President Donald Trump, everyone thinks they can see a narcissist shark fin coming in the water a mile away. Not true! Yes, you can see a really vocal bully like Trump coming, but the fact is that less obvious, less showy, less bragadocious, less overtly egotistical narcissists are hiding in plain sight all around us.
These covert narcissists do just as much psychological (and at times physical) damage as overt narcissists. But in part because they hide behind positions of respect and authority, and pride themselves on always maintaining a calm exterior, they’re much harder to spot.
Covert Narcissists Look Like Great People
From the outside, many covert narcissists look like great people. They’re community leaders, ministers and pastors, politicians, teachers, business leaders, successful entrepreneurs, counselors, doctors, lawyers, etc. It’s hard to know just how many narcissists are out there, because they generally think they’re great and don’t come in for therapy. When they do land in a therapist’s office, they often trick the therapist into thinking that other people in their life are the source of their problems.
Take it from me, never go into couples therapy with a covert narcissist. You will always, always come out looking like the crazy person. (More on that later.) Anyhow, psychologists estimate about 1 in 6 people is a narcissist of some kind. That’s BILLIONS of people around the world who are causing a lot of damage to people they supposedly love. Guaranteed, you know many covert narcissists.
Don’t Expect Your Therapist to Know About Covert Narcissists
Never heard of covert narcissism? Me neither. It’s not a new thing, but is still new to a number of psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors and other medical professionals. So when you come into their office for help, these well-meaning clinicians will first ask you to look to yourself and/or your lifestyle or genetics as the source of your problems – be they mental (depression, anxiety, paranoia) or physical (tachycardia, irregular heartbeat, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, constipation, general malaise).
After spending a lot of time and money on declaring you the problem and trying to fix you, they might examine your relationships in more detail. But often, medical professionals still fail to recognize the toxic covert narcissist (or covert narcissists) as the source of trouble.
Despite an appalling lack of widespread clinical education on covert narcissism, it turns out there’s a lot of information out there about this type of abuser and the very real physical and emotional havoc they wreak. I’ll wrap this section simply by saying this: Everyone in medicine, along with all of us laypeople, needs to know about this new-ish category of psychopath. And yes, covert narcissists are psychopaths (see the DSM-V for more info on why narcissists are classified as psychopaths).
Covert Narcissist = Psychopath
So what does average Jane or Joe covert narcissist have in common with sociopath and murderer Ted Bundy? A complete lack of real empathy. Maybe they don’t lead cults, and don’t commit murder or other violent acts, but covert narcissists cause real damage. The common thread among all psychopaths is that they don’t care who they harm, and will never take responsibility for their actions. Whatever damage they have done is always someone else’s fault.
Phew! Take a breath, that’s a lot of info. I’m kinda far along in my recovery journey to be just starting to blog about it. Honestly, until now I was too exhausted, and at times confused by what I’m coming out of, to write about it. In the previous paragraphs, we breezed through some very complex topics. Stay with me, I will slow down as I blog about the small, simple daily steps I’m taking in recovery from a narcissistic relationship.
Bottom line: If you think you have an overt or covert narcissist in your life, and want to get caught up on how to either live with them without completely losing your sense of self, or escape from them and get your life back, here are a few books I’ve read that have been super helpful:
Healing from Hidden Abuse
A Journey Through the Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse
By Shannon Thomas, LCSW
This website is a great place to go if you’re trying to figure out if you’re the victim of a narcissist:
The Empathy Card: Don’t Fall For It
Stay strong, get educated and get covert narcissists out of your life. As pitiful as some may seem (a common covert narcissist move is to blame any current emotional shortcomings, such as a nasty temper, on a painful childhood), you can pour empathy and love into a relationship or friendship with a covert narcissist but they will never change. The love, empathy and positive reinforcement you’re giving them will never be fully appreciated nor returned.
More to come…meanwhile, heal thyself with knowledge and check out the links. Empaths unite! We’ve got this. 🙂