If you look into covert narcissism you will find that different people have different descriptions of what it's about. Here I will have a quick run through some of the various ideas that turn up on a search of the internet.
I will make comments as we go and finally I will point out a particular type of covert narcissism to watch out for.
The word 'covert', when used as an adjective means concealed, secret, disguised, hidden, covered over or not openly shown. So what exactly is hidden in covert narcissism?
A very common idea is that covert narcissism is where the manipulator hides who he really is. He initially pretends to be friendly to build relationships and then takes advantage of people later.
This, however, is a very common scenario for many people who are caught and abused by narcissists. In fact, many victims who consider that their abuser was a sociopath or a psychopath also tell similar stories.
The abusers, whether you label them narcissists, sociopaths or psychopaths, are not all stupid and they know that people won't start a relationship with someone who is abusive from the word go. They know that they have to hide that aspect initially and they basically trick their victims into believing they are normal, caring, considerate human beings until they have some level of control over their victims and they then begin to take advantage. In this sense, their true nature was hidden. Hence the use of the label of covert narcissism.
But it is only hidden because the victim does not recognize the trickery being used against them. Oftentimes the friends and family will see what is going on but the victim is being emotionally manipulated in such a way that they are unable to think logically and rationally. They literally cannot recognize the danger. In this way the manipulation is covert or hidden, but it's only hidden because the victim does not understand mind control or narcissism.
This occurrence is so common that it does not seem to me to be a useful description of covert narcissism.
This description involves the actual nature of the narcissist. As opposed to an overt narcissist who is loud, grandiose and lets everyone know who they are, the covert narcissist hints at it.
These types apparently tend to observe instead of acting, they listen rather than speak. They remain aloof although their body language gives them away. They have a glare, with lots of dismissive gestures, groans, sighs, yawns and can be very inattentive. Any comments they do make are typically very critical of others.
They are self centered but withdrawn and their smugness supposedly hides an inner vulnerability. Apart from that they are said to have all the usual characteristics of the narcissist.
Another source talks of covert narcissism as a situation where the manipulator is overly critical (supposedly because they have so many insecurities of their own). Their charm only appears when the manipulator wants something.
However, these things and, indeed, the rest of the characteristics listed could just as easily be applied to any narcissist.
There are even pages about the signs of covert narcissism that simply list traits of narcissism. There is not even any attempt to distinguish covert narcissism from any other type.
One source says that covert narcissism or stealth narcissism is the most severe and damaging kind. These individuals are defensive and very aggressive in hiding their emotional vulnerability.
This type has the ability to repress their narcissistic traits and it may take their victims decades to recognize the narcissism, although they are supposed to be dysfunctional (because their inner desires remain unfulfilled) and they are extremely self entitled and expect others to run around doing their bidding. This description seems to be a bit contradictory. Either they are repressing things or the signs are visible, it can't be both.
While we are on the subject, many people who have figured out that they are with a narcissist have little sense of this inner vulnerability that so many writers talk about. Their narcissist, their abuser, is usually full of themselves, overly confident, always right and is not afraid to say all sorts of things to criticize and put down others.
Another thing to keep in mind is that with psychological abuse, the victim's perceptions and thinking are altered by the manipulator. It is typical that the victim is not aware of what is going on. You can read more about these things in these articles on narcissist boyfriends, narcissistic husbands and why it's difficult to see the signs of a controlling relationship. Basically, in mind control environments, many things are hidden from the victim. This has nothing to do with the narcissist actively hiding their abusive side, it has to do with the nature of mind control. When the victim learns about mind control, they realize that the narcissist was abusive the whole time, they just didn't recognize the manipulation and abuse as manipulation and abuse.
Another author offers a picture of covert narcissism as one where the person is insecure, quiet, passive, frail, low functioning and he or she adopts a victim mode. These ones, unlike other types of narcissist, do apologize in order to trick their target back into thinking all is normal in the relationship.
This breed is very nasty, says the author, making the overt narcissist seem like a walk in the park.
However, you will never see them coming. This covert narcissist does use their shyness to flatter and charm at the start of the relationship and is apparently more likely to engage in domestic violence and incest than the overt narcissist. Not exactly quiet or passive!
The author says that covert narcissism is sometimes considered to be a subtype of borderline personality disorder and other times the covert narcissism overlaps with the worst forms of malignant narcissistic borderline personality disorder, whatever that is.
Yet another description of covert narcissism is where the narcissist blends into the background much of the time. These are the ones who appear calm and professional to most people (in public) but are demeaning and abusive to those in a close relationship with them (in private). They change easily between these Jekyll and Hyde personalities.
I have to say that a large percentage, more than half, of my clients describe this very pattern in their abusers, whether they consider their abusers narcissists, sociopaths or psychopaths.
Another author explains that the covert narcissist does not advertising their brilliance the way the overt narcissist does, but instead act like the world didn't notice them, like the world has done them wrong. They can be victimy but arrogant at the same time. They are hypersensitive to criticism. (But hypersensitivity is hardly special to covert narcissism!)
The term covert narcissism was coined to indicate a situation where the narcissist was not so loud, boastful and obnoxious about their superiority as the usual narcissist. They still consider themselves grandiose but are just not so vocal or so showy about such things.
I don't believe it was meant to be used to indicate that the narcissist is more sly or dangerous or damaging than others. Nor was it to be used to indicate that they were better at hiding their manipulation and abuse.
The covert narcissists are just as grandiose, arrogant and abusive as any other narcissist, (ask their victims!) they are just not constantly, openly selling themselves.
Introverted narcissist, closet narcissist, stealth narcissist, vulnerable narcissist and hypersensitive narcissist are terms that are also used to indicate covert narcissism.
The term covert narcissism, it would seem, is a bit misleading. Even overt narcissists learn to keep their mouths shut at times, for example, when they are meeting people for the first time and they are trying to make a good first impression. Does this make them covert narcissists? And covert narcissists will often be bold and brazen behind closed doors when they are abusing their family members. So it seems that there can be covert and overt features in the same narcissist at different times.
There is also the issue of the meaning of covert narcissism having been broadened and distorted by people who want to put their own labels on things in order to make their work special and unique. (Other narcissists, perhaps?!?)
The important thing about abusers is what they say and do. You can spend a long time researching to find an exact diagnosis for the abuser and it doesn't help you to manage your situation or to recover from the abuse. By understanding the mind control techniques they use in their speech and behaviors, it's possible to undo the personality changes they created in you and repair the damage they caused. Having a specific label for them may make you feel better, but in the end it is often of little practical value.
There is one type of 'covert' narcissism that you should watch out for if you have been subjected to narcissistic abuse. That's where the person offering help to victims is a narcissist themselves. The therapist is overtly helping victims, but covertly taking advantage of them.
When you read their web pages, the story goes like this:
The writer explains how they were the victim of narcissists or psychopaths. The story is very sad with the writer hitting rock bottom. The writer didn’t just have PTSD, they had Complex PTSD, or Complicated PTSD. They had tried all sorts of 'thinking' therapies, none of which had worked.
Then they had a realization. They knew what they had to do. They had come across some tool or technique and it helped them somewhat. They somehow knew how to tweak the technique, making it their own, and now they have some swish sounding name for it.
In the midst of all their suffering and anxiety, while they were having a rapid cure, their first thought on feeling instantaneously better was that they had to show this to the world.
The process has to do with the subconscious, energy, light, love, source, spirit or consciousness and there is nothing for you to understand. You just really need to trust in the process. The process involves changing yourself in some way, fixing your broken-ness. Oh, and taking full personal responsibility...!
The writer claims that this process is actually healing the root cause of the problem, which of course, is trapped internal trauma. There are no specific details of the process, it has to be experienced.
(Note how the emphasis has shifted from narcissistic abuse to changing you in some way! This is very important!)
By the time you read the article they are out of the abusive situation a short time and already they have touched the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of fortunate people who also have had instant improvements in their lives. They may claim that they have worked with sports stars, politicians, actors and actresses and even major companies.
This type of thing is actually the outline of the story that cult leaders use to recruit new people to their group. Be wary of people offering rapid cures or teaching you how to manage and change our emotions. They are up to no good.
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