Identifying the Covert Narcissist.

An area of psychology massively under catered for: both a thorough understanding and analysis of covert narcissistic personality disorder and covert exploitative tactics and specifically how to treat the type of devastating long-term complex trauma and damage to an individuals psyche this kind of invisible abuse can cause.

Reblogged article: by Richard Gannon, Spartan Life Coach

“But they seemed so good-hearted and vulnerable, I just wanted to help…”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had clients tearfully admit this to me in a state of absolute despair.

Covert Narcissists dangle their vulnerability in front of you as bait, just waiting for your good nurturing mothering/fathering instincts to kick in and rescue the poor little lost child they are presenting to you.

As soon as you reach out a helping hand, their jaws snap shut on you.

We fall for the projected idealized image of the person the covert narcissist wishes they could be but knows in their hearts they are not. This is the person they NEED to convince others they are in order to foster narcissistic supply.

Clients would tell me the person was “not my usual type” or “I didn’t even find them attractive at first”.

Yes, because they are NOT your type. But they are smart enough to know what you are looking for at the level of your core values and mold themselves to appear to represent that whilst provoking as much sympathy in you for them as they can.

Beneath the mask of a shy, vulnerable and “good person” something far more sinister lurks.

And this what makes covert narcissism so damaging and dangerous: the nature of the disorder is such that you are brainwashed into thinking you are dealing with a human being with a morality, perhaps even a “pillar of the community”.

This is frequently a part of the covert narcissist’s fantasy: the misunderstood but kind, caring genius/ guru that the foolish world cruelly victimizes.

If the target is tricked into believing the FALSE narrative that this person is a vulnerable victim they are left suspecting that the manipulations, insults, transgressions, and abuses they experienced CAN’T be real …right?

Forced into a split reality, one in which the person is as vulnerable and victimized as they wish you to believe and the other in which you see shadowy, fleeting signs of something else entirely :

  • a social chameleon who would wear a completely different identity depending on who they were talking to
  • a sneaky, underhanded way of operating in the world that ONLY those closest to them ever get a glimpse of
  • a person whose actions RARELY match their words!

This leads to crushing feelings of frustrating isolation as you feel like you are the only one on the planet who can see this gaping disparity in the person and it’s impossible to explain to anyone not experiencing the abuse directly.

Am I just being paranoid? 

This is when the self-doubt sets in, you are never sure if the abuse is in fact abuse and are left with the endless agony of wondering if you are sick one and if it’s not, in fact, all your fault.

This is of course exactly what the covert narcissist wants you to believe.

“Maybe it really IS me that is the problem…”

Following prolonged exposure to the psychological toxic virus that is covert narcissism the agenda of wearing down the victim’s ego boundaries and injecting them with self-doubt, anxiety, and insecurity starts to work its way deeper and deeper into the mind and heart of the prey.

The victim, stuck in a maddening double bind, begins to go into a state of learned helplessness and submit to the twisted, upside-down reality tunnel of the covert narcissist and this is where the real, deep, prolonged damage can be done.

“Even when confronted with direct evidence of their hypocrisy and double standards they cheerfully lied to my face and called ME crazy”

As though following some kind of sick “Covert Narcissists Guidebook To Abuse” they follow a protocol of denial, contempt, reframing, reblaming and shaming the person who presents them with evidence of their lies. Most maddeningly they will simply look dead in the eyes and with no guilt or shame whatsoever tell you that black is white and up is down. There are none of the normal human responses to unpleasant behavior present. They are not uncomfortable about telling bare-faced lies and they do not feel remorse for the pain and emotional distress this clearly causes you.

“They stood by and watched me slowly lose myself to agony and despair and did absolutely nothing to help me”

I hear this frequently as well. “They told me they had never loved anyone the way they loved me, how could they stand by and watch me suffer as a result of their lies and abuse?”

The mercy and compassion you would expect from a loved one is not there.

Hell, even the mercy and compassion you would expect from a stranger on the street is not there.

They do not have any empathy for you or the destruction they cause because they feel entitled it is their RIGHT to punish and abuse the mere mortals who are lucky enough to come into their superior presence.

Superiority Complex? God Complex? Messiah Complex? All mixed together in one.

“I am left with no closure, wondering if any of it meant anything at all”

I have a degree in psychology and I have a lot of experience on the frontline actually helping humans to heal from abuse, but I am not a published professor with a Ph.D.

So take this for what its worth as there is nothing I could find in the academic about what I’m about to say:

I have observed and gathered anecdotal evidence that covert narcissists are the absolute black belt masters of making you feel ABANDONED and BANISHED from their little cult kingdom.

They use various covert techniques and strategies to heighten and provoke and accelerate feelings of loss in their victims when they leave, they seem to really want you to feel the pain of the loss of the relationship.

Part of that strategy is to deny you any closure and to let you know they have moved on without a second thought for you. Leaving you obsessively wondering, anxiously investigating and sifting through the detritus of the past like a forensic detective at a bomb site to see if any of it meant anything at all.

“Forget what you think you know about narcissism.”

You are smart, you have done some research, because after all you just want to get over whatever this is and get on with your life.

So you head on over to google and you get to looking, you find some forums and some blogs and some youtube channels and away you go. And that can be when the next layer of trauma sets in as what you find is the opposite of what you experienced leaving you even more confused frustrated and depressed!


  1. You are Told: Narcissists are always brash, loud, assertive, flashy and Confident.
    The problem is: Coverts are quiet, insecure and passive.
  2. You are Told: Narcissists will never apologize for the things they do.
    The problem is: Coverts can learn that a quick and TOTAL apology is a really slick way of getting their target to “go back to sleep” if it looks like they are waking up.
  3. You are told: Narcissists are ambitious, successful, go-getters full of energy and pumped with charismatic charm.
    The problem is: Coverts are marked by failed ambition, chronic feelings of emptiness, fragility, low functioning and when depleted can frequently sink into outright depression.
  4. You are told: Narcissists can be detected because they will always tell you how amazing they are and by bragging about their achievements.
    The problem is: Coverts are known for presenting themselves as vulnerable victims who can even use that vulnerability as a hook to bait you in!

I could go on, but suffice to say when you google this you will see contradictory information regarding the subject. If you look at the academic literature itself you will see that even the clinicians are not in agreement about what covert narcissism is, with some even claiming its a subtype of borderline personality disorder.

Confused yet?

I’ve had clients twitching with anxiety and distress venting their frustration at me that so much information they are hearing is contradictory and conflicting when all they want is a rescue rope back to the solid dry land of some kind of sane perspective.

The difference between covert and overt narcissism?

The overt narcissist believes they are awesome and the world largely agrees with them. Narcissist supply is freely available.

The covert narcissist believes they are awesome and the world largely disagrees with them. Narcissistic supply is scarce, forcing them to be more cunning and deceptive than the overt narcissist.

Covert Narcissists Are Dangerous!

You will never see them coming, they will flaunt their vulnerability in front of you to capitalize on your compassion, they will flatter and charm you with their “shyness” to get close enough to you that they can get their fangs deep into you.

All the flattery of the initial meeting is a phase in which they are sizing you up, quite possibly full to the brim with boiling envy and narcissistic rage that you have something that they “deserve” to be given the purpose of which is to learn your weaknesses and vulnerabilities so they can drain you dry.

Narcissism on Steroids

Overt narcissists are a walk in the park compared to the covert, and they genuinely are a nastier breed.

There is research that indicates that coverts (usually referred to as “vulnerable” or “stealth” narcissists in the academic literature) are MORE likely than overt (or “grandiose”) to engage in domestic violence in the early phases of a relationship and to abuse children.

They are also shown to be more likely to engage in incest than overts.

Truly unpleasant.

Add to this that Covert Narcissists vector in with the worst forms of malignant narcissistic borderline personality disorder for certain key traits and behaviours and you have a hellish rollercoaster ride of emotional dysregulation in store during contact with a covert.

Original article:

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