Avoid Getting Entangled with Covert Narcissists – You Can Waste Your Time, Effort, Money or Giving that Exhausting Emotional Support and It Won’t Make A Difference to the Recipient
Time permitting, as I go forward, I’d like to do a series of posts warning anyone out there, especially if they are still a “rescuer,” an empath, or codependent, and/or a woman raised in churches teaching traditional gender roles under “gender complementarianism,” of not over-doing things for other people.
I did start a page about this issue which is under construction – I think I’d like to update that page later, or rework it. I haven’t decided. (The page is (Link): Offering Unconditional, Indefinite Emotional Support to Anyone and Everyone, or to the Same Person for Years, in Whatever Situations – It’s a Trap!)
Regardless of the messages you got from your family of origin, or the messages you get from secular culture, or messages you got from your gender complementarian church or preachers as you were growing up:
You have to be very careful and choosy about whom you give your emotional support, time, and attention to, and even among those whom you think are in legitimate need, you have to limit how much you do for the person, and for how long or how often.
There are people out there who have deep emotional or psychological issues, some have incurable personality disorders (such as NPD and watered down narcissistic traits) whom you will NOT be able to save, rescue, or fix…
No matter how hard you try, no matter how much you pray for the person, and no matter how long you spend doing things for them or trying to cheer them up or make their life better.
Never make your choices on whether to help another person, including whether or not to give them emotional support, strictly out of pity or compassion, or you can and will be taken advantage of as you go through life, or end up wasting your time and being left drained.
You will end up exhausted and/or with a depleted bank account, if any part of your rescuing includes financing any part of this person’s needs or dreams in life. Beware.
The following is from the page….
(Link): Covert narcissist: 5 things they do and how to handle them by L. Brown
Are You a Target for Covert Narcissists?
Covert narcissists tend to target a certain personality type. These are people who possess characteristics that make them most susceptible to covert narcissist behavior, people that covert narcissists can manipulate, exploit, and control over an extended period of time.
These characteristics include:
- Nurturer, home-maker (they pity the vulnerable side of the narcissist)
- Extremely sensitive
- Doesn’t have a big social network (they must rely on the narcissist)
- Overly kind
- Self-reflective (they have a desire to become better which the narcissist can exploit)
- Self-sacrificing (even if they do recognize the exploitation, they stay to help)
—– end excerpts from article by Brown —–
I am a recovered codependent who was brought up under gender complementarianism, so yes, while I was in that state (from childhood into my mid-40s or so), I kept attracting damaged people, emotionally needy people, depressed people, social misfits, shy people, selfish people, people with personality disorders – all of these people wanted my time, attention, non-judgmental emotional support, validation, affection, and in some cases, money.
After having spent years and years ignoring my own needs to meet the needs of all these people over the course of my life, I ended up exhausted and feeling taken advantage of.
The vast majority of those whom I helped seldom met my needs in return, and not one that I can recall, ever thanked me for listening to them, supporting them, or helping them in whatever way.
After my mother died, knowing how draining it can be to give emotional support (since I had done it for others for three plus decades!), on those few occasions a small number of people listened to me discuss my problems, I made sure to thank those few individuals. I expressed gratitude.
I never had all the previous needy people in my life thank me even once, not in all my 35+ years of listening to them discuss, cry, or rant about their problems.
Most emotionally needy, narcissistic, depressed, or pessimistic people are oblivious at how tiring it is to listen to them weep or complain for hours and/or over months, especially if they complain about the same problem or two repeatedly and they do nothing to solve the problem(s) they complain about.
During the years I bought into complementarianism and remained codependent, I felt I was obligated to help anyone and everyone who came to me presenting as an injured, hurting, sad, needy person. I felt guilty if I didn’t help these people.
And I felt guilty about putting boundaries or time limits in place (and I was taught NOT to do so by secular, social conditioning, my family, and complementarian Christians), so I didn’t enforce boundaries with these very needy people.
What I just said goes against all the messages women get from secular culture, their church, or their families, which leads them to think it’s their duty (a woman’s responsibility or God’s design, for women) to be nurturing, to grant chance after chance (limitless forgiveness, don’t have boundaries), to “fix” relationships, to grant un-ending emotional labor to other people, to put other people’s needs first at all times, no matter what the circumstances are.
One group of people you have to be on guard against are Covert Narcissists.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the Overt (Grandiose) variety, because they’re easy to spot.
From what I’ve read by experts, the Covert Narcissists (also known as “Vulnerable” or “Introverted” Narcissists) are harder to spot, and maybe the type of Narcissist that a codependent, empath, woman raised under Christian gender complementarianism, or who is a people pleaser, are more liable to end up with and wasting years of their life with – and regretting it later.
Covert Narcissists have the same core traits as Grandiose Narcissists and other types: lack of empathy, feeling entitled, etc.
Covert Narcissists, from what I’ve read so far, often present as shy, socially awkward, introverted, sensitive, even sweet or kind at times – but they also have a great big dose of Victim Mentality (also known as Victim Syndrome).
Covert Narcissists may tell you quickly in a dating relationship (or friendship) about how they have life terrible right now, and/or how they were abused or neglected as children.
Covert Narcissists will portray themselves as victims in life, and they will imply they want you to rescue or fix them. They want and crave that attention from you.
Or, it may be the case that you, as an empath or people pleaser, just naturally feel sorry for the Covert Narcissist and fall into the “rescuer” or “fixer” role, and you end up trying to fix their problems for them, or giving them non-stop emotional support.
You may act as their sounding board, where you listen to them sympathetically for hours over months as they complain about how difficult their life is.
This article explains what narcissism is, but I’m going to be quoting from what I believe are more pertinent portions of the piece:
Excerpts: by Eric Patterson, LPC, Reviewed by Benjamin Troy MD
Covert narcissists have narcissistic personality disorder, but they hide many of the typical signs and symptoms of a grandiose (or overt) narcissist.
They may appear to be shy and modest, but inside they are chronically envious of others, can’t handle criticism, and lack empathy for others. They may often spend time alone, since they are hypersensitive to criticism and compare themselves to others constantly.
What Is a Covert Narcissist?
Covert narcissists, or vulnerable narcissists as they are sometimes called, are emotionally fragile and sensitive to even limited amounts of perceived criticism….
… 8 Signs of the Covert Narcissist
[I will not be producing the entire list on my blog in all its detail, so click the link above if you’re interested in seeing the entire list]
1. An Outward Sense of Inferiority
[Covert Narcissists do not come across as self confident and self assured, unlike the Overt Narcissists]
…They may let other people make the important choices for them because they report being indecisive and fear making a mistake….
2. Emotionally Fragile & Hypersensitive
Due to an unstable self-esteem, people with covert narcissism are incredibly fragile and sensitive. If someone criticizes their work, family, or personality, the covert narcissist will respond with an extreme emotional reaction. They could be overly sad and despondent from even a minor comment.
….4. Chronically Envious
The outward sense of inferiority experienced by a covert narcissist will lead to powerful and chronic envy of others. The narcissist will always focus on what other people have that they do not.
[The Covert Narcissist can be jealous of any thing: someone else’s beauty, wealth, nice house, that someone else has a child but they do not, etc]
…No matter the area of envy, the covert narcissist will never be able to appreciate what they have. The focus will only be on what they are lacking
6. Completely Self-Absorbed
Whether covert or overt, the person with narcissistic personality disorder will be self-absorbed. They will only consider what is good for them and how they can get what they want.
This self-centeredness leads to two outcomes:
Emotional Manipulation: Because they are so focused on completing whatever their current goal is, they will do anything to achieve it, including manipulating others to be part of the plan. With guilt, threats of violence, and other forms of coercion, they will use others for their personal gain.
Lack of Empathy: Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s perspective and feelings. A narcissist is not interested in walking a mile in another’s shoes, so they will never experience empathy. They won’t care about others – only what others can do for them.
The article goes on to mention at this stage that people with Covert Narcissism can also suffer from anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts or engage in self-harm.
The article goes on to list common signs in husbands who are Covert Narcissists, and then parents.
Emphasis added by me to some portions:
(Link): The subtle signs of Covert Narcissism – what to look out for by Dr. Sarah Davies, EMDR Trauma Therapist
As a Counselling Psychologist specialising in narcissistic abuse I have seen and heard many stories and descriptions of the distinct characteristics of the narcissist.
One of the most helpful things I advise my clients to do is to arm yourself with as much as information as necessary so that you are more able to recognise narcissism before you find yourself in an abusive relationship with one.
[The doctor goes on to explain what Narcissism is.]
…Covert Narcissists share the same core pathology as the more obvious overt narcissist however the covert types are usually more willing to show their ‘vulnerability’.
However, please note, that in line with the manipulative and self-seeking actions of any narcissist, this will be with the aim of serving their own needs and gains.
They can come across as sweet and innocent, softly spoken, caring, sensitive, shy, complimentary and/or helpful.
They may also appear open about their vulnerabilities – however, unlike most people, this is ultimately with an aim of control and manipulation.
Their core deep-seated shame and fears and their focus on meeting their own needs are masked by an array of more subtle control and manipulation techniques than are typically observed in the overt narcissist.
You can help yourself to identify potential covert narcissism from the following sub definitions I have outlined below from my clinical experience and research. …
The victim-type covert is quite content with showing and sharing their ‘weakness’ and ‘vulnerabilities’ with others. They are the kind of person who will constantly be complaining about how badly they have been treated by others; their family, exes, colleagues, strangers…
They tend to have a history of ‘psycho’ exes and failed relationships, bad bosses, crap therapists, people who haven’t understood or are unskilled.
Regardless of what has happened, they portray themselves as the victim every time.
In true narcissistic style – any issues are everybody else’s fault and never theirs – they rarely have a part in it.
The ‘victim’ covert will suggest they are the abused in the current relationship. They will point the finger at their partner and complain about all the things their partner is doing or not doing.
They will suggest that they are the ‘victim’ of the other persons anger, insecurities, ‘issues’ and so on.
The victim-type covert tend to rely on guilt-tripping partners as a means to manipulate and also aim to try and pull others into a ‘rescue’ position.
This only further serves their reluctance and avoidance to take full responsibility for themselves.
How to spot:
Do you notice they seem to have interpersonal difficulties and fall outs with people on a regular basis? Do they accuse you of being an abuser, without taking responsibility for themselves or their part?
Do they claim this is usually everybody else’s fault? Or are they able to take responsibility for their part in it.
Familiarise yourself with Karpmans ‘drama triangle’ and see if you can recognise the victim role or if/when the ‘victim’ tries to pull you or others into a ‘rescuer/fixer’ position.
This insight and awareness can be powerful and help stop you being pulled blindly into unhealthy relationship dynamics.
Awareness is key.
This particular presentation of narcissist is actually one I see and hear a lot about in my private practice. The rescuer/saviours seem to almost always appear at a time of our vulnerability – perhaps at a time of a recent break-up, divorce, bereavement, change in job or other significant life change.
They appear ready to care (arguably over-care), protect, look after and rescue. They are the knight in shining armour.
The early phase is effectively care-bombing – a kind of love-bombing that serves to seduce a new partner in the early stages.
This ‘care’ though, unfortunately invariably turns into a form of control and abuse before long.
As with many guises of narcissistic abuse, it is often subtle, progressive and difficult to spot.
Even more so when we have been overwhelmed with the initial romance and saviour in the ‘knight in shining armour’. If this has come about a time of our own personal vulnerability or trauma then even more confusing for us to work our way through.
The psychosomatic narcissist uses aches and pains, illness and health anxieties – either real or imagined – to ensure the focus and attention is on them. Illness and complaints of symptoms are used in order to control and manipulate or even to keep partners from leaving them.
[Presumably from a case study:]
“When I came to terms that I was in a relationship with a highly needy and manipulative partner I set about making plans to leave them. Whenever I did though, they would feign or actually even get very sick.
“It was only when this happened at the 5th or 6th time I tried to leave them that a friend pointed out this was a clear pattern. They had even arranged surgery on one occasion. They were seeking to guilt-trip me into not leaving each time, however when I saw this very manipulative pattern I left immediately and never looked back!”
…Feigning or using illness or health concerns (real or imagined) to elicit sympathy, care and concern, or guilt-tripping others as way of gaining control and getting their own needs met.
Finding subtle and indirect ways to receive attention, sympathy or admiration.
This can also include using love or sex as ways to control or manipulate.
The covert narcissist can be quite the silent seducer. All techniques are ultimately used in order to ultimately satisfy their own narcissistic supply needs.
The covert narcissist will find it easier to willingly portray their ‘weaknesses’ or ‘vulnerabilities’ than the overt narcissist. They will therefore happily relay stories of how they have been victimised, treated poorly by others, misunderstood and explain how hard done by they are and how it’s everybody else fault.
Again, this is all with the end goal of manipulating and controlling in order to receive the attention, affection and sympathies they so desperately need for their fragile ego state.
— end excerpts —
The following is about marriage, but I’ve had friends, co-workers, and maybe some family members who I recognize in this:
Covert Narcissists are extremely critical, but paradoxically, they cannot abide criticism themselves.
…In the face of any perceived criticism, Covert Narcissists will either become smug, or belligerent.
Then they skulk off into a sullen and moody withdrawal.
…Criticism May Make a Covert Narcissist Aggressive
Spouses [or friends or family members] who possess healthy self-esteem will respond well to a softened start-up. They are not particularly triggered by a marital [or other type of relationships] complaint.
But Covert Narcissists are deeply invested in their brittle self-image. They cannot abide criticism in any way, shape, or form.
…Psychiatrist Dr. Addul Saad in Sydney Australia describes 3 kinds of covert narcissism:
The lowest level is the Hypersensitive Introvert. This level is deemed the least pathological. They have a core need to be accepted and recognized. They are negativistic, sensitive to criticism, withdrawing to lick their wounds. …
When activated, they oscillate between self-loathing and anger toward others who have thwarted their greatness.
For the Hypersensitive Introvert, job one is giving up or at least curbing the tendency toward harboring a victim mentality.
If they fail to do that, they may become an Envious Scapegoater. Shifting from feeling inadequate, to wanting to get even.
Now they blame others for their victimhood and unfulfilled promise. These are the long-suffering outcasts marinated in envy and hostility.
Unlike the Hypersensitive Introvert, the Scapegoater finds a blameworthy scapegoat (spouse, child..etc.) the key idea is that they are proximal and willing to endure the spite and malice of the scapegoater. The scapegoater is now highly skilled at displacing their aggression.
As envy builds, so do self-defeating behaviors. Personal responsibility is not worth the cost of surrendering victimhood.
Because the Covert Narcissists demean, malign, and frustrate others, some Covert Narcissists become Punitive Avengers. This is a dangerous admixture of narcissism and psychopathy.
Punitive Avengers are delusional …exacting revenge, and punishing perceived enemies. A bad outcome such as a job loss, or relationship breakup could result in a violent psychic break.
— end —-
- The covert narcissist fails to develop emotional empathy, self-awareness, or a stable sense of identity and self-esteem in childhood.
- Covert narcissists avoid the spotlight and prefer passive-aggressive means of controlling others due to their fear being exposed and humiliated.
- Tactics of a covert narcissist might include belittling, triangulation, and avoiding direct responsibility.
…Covert Narcissism Checklist [partial on this blog-visit their page to see the entire list]
- Is passive-aggressive
7. Cultivates a public image sharply different from his/her private behavior
8. Identifies as a victim
9. Is cynical and sarcastic
11. Turns your problems into his/her dramas
12. Belittles and blames
13. Exploits and/or attacks others’ vulnerability
14. Is reactive to questioning or criticism
15. Plays on sympathies
16. Fakes or exaggerates illness/injury for attention
17. Withholds and stonewalls
19. Avoids introspection and lacks self-awareness
27. Holds a grudge
32. Fixates on others’ problems and misfortunes
35. Resists decision-making
36. Does not sincerely apologize
37. Avoids direct responsibility
50. Uses guilt and shame to control and punish
51. Expects caretaking
52. Conducts smear campaigns
— end excerpts —
by Emily DiNuzzo
….Covert narcissist traits
Covert narcissists are prone to experiencing shame and may respond to perceived slights by attacking and showing vindictiveness or passive-aggressiveness.
They are also especially preoccupied with feelings of inadequacy.
Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Santa Monica, California, whose work focuses on the impact of narcissism, adds that they may be sullen, resentful, and argumentative too.
[The article briefly discusses how covert narcissists can be difficult to spot because their signs are way more subtle than the ones of overt narcissists]
…Covert narcissists may have other mental health issues
One thing that makes covert narcissists so much harder to spot than overt ones is the fact that this type of narcissism can overlap with other personality or mental health disorders.
“If you score high on vulnerable narcissism, you tend to endure psychopathology of every kind like anxiety, depression, panic, and substance abuse,” Miller says. “So it is going to be hard to recognize because it does, in fact, seem to be just this global tendency toward intense negative emotion.”
These negative mood states or depressive reactions occur mostly when life doesn’t go their way, which is often, according to Durvasula.
Covert narcissists have a “woe is me” mentality
One of the main things that every expert agrees on is that covert narcissists feel disproportionately mistreated and have an overexaggerated sense of suffering.
Their sense of self-importance comes from the idea that they deserve more, or special treatment, because of their distress or because of bad treatment from other people, Miller explains.
These feelings come from a place of lacking, Miller says.
Another way to think about it is as entitled victimization, Durvasula says.
“[It’s] feeling inadequate or feeling insufficient, and at the same time feeling sort of resentful toward others and feeling like you’re not getting your fair share or due in the world,” Miller says.
It’s always only about their suffering
Covert narcissists lack the recognition that lots of people have difficult times.
“There’s this sense that their situation is unique and special, despite the fact that, from an objective perspective, we might realize that [all] people experience difficult situations,” Levy says.
Covert narcissists believe people are out to get them
People who are vulnerable or covert narcissists have low-grade paranoia, according to Durvasula. They feel that people are out to get them and that everybody has bad motives or is trying to take advantage of them.
They don’t have long-term relationships
Covert narcissists may have trouble forming long-term intimate reciprocal relations with others because of their own neediness.
That’s because the narcissist directs so many of their resources toward their own distress and their own need to feel better, according to Miller.
“They make it hard to also care sufficiently for others because they feel like they have not been cared for sufficiently,” he adds.
And it’s hard to form long-lasting relationships if your go-to move is to withdraw from people when angry, Levy explains.
Covert narcissists manipulate relationships
It’s extremely stressful to be in a relationship with someone affected by any form of narcissism, according to Pereira. Especially because they are prone to gaslighting.
…Another trademark: pushing for pity and guilt. You may even feel compelled to help them. But people often find that no matter how they try to help, it’s never enough, says Durvasula.
… Consider saving your breath
“Don’t defend yourself when you talk to them, because they aren’t listening and don’t really care about what you are saying,” Durvasula says.
…“You want to empathize with their perspective at some level, but you don’t want to do it to a degree where you are actually reinforcing distortions in their perspective,” he says.
(Link): Signs of Covert Narcissism
Hypersensitive to criticism
People with vulnerable or covert NPD are very sensitive to criticism. They may perceive insults where others do not and are likely to become defensive easily. They may act in a vindictive or passive-aggressive way if they believe that someone has slighted them.
…Depression and anxiety
People with covert narcissism are likely to experience depression, anxiety, and symptoms of other personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder.
…How to respond
Regularly interacting with someone with covert NPD can be challenging.
Someone with a close friend or family member with NPD may find that this individual’s narcissistic behavior affects their own mental health. In these cases, a person might benefit from setting some boundaries.
For instance, the person could limit their interactions with the friend or family member with NPD so that they only see them on specific days or for certain periods. They may also want to limit the amount of personal data that they share with them.
If someone has experienced abuse or trauma as a result of their relationship with a person who has NPD, they may need to cease contact with them entirely.
—- end excerpts —-
by Margalis Fjelstad, PhD, LMFT
…Regardless of who makes the first move to leave, here’s what you can expect at the end of a relationship with a narcissist. They will:
1. Blame you
When things don’t work out, the narcissist puts the blame entirely on someone else. You were on a pedestal at the beginning of the relationship.
You were wonderful and perfect, and the narcissist was thrilled to have “won” you as a mate. Now that the narcissist sees the relationship as broken, damaged, and ending—it’s all your fault.
…[The narcissist will say or think that] You’re unappreciative of all they have done for you.
…Obviously that is shocking, hurtful, insulting, and thoroughly unfair and wrong. When the narcissist reaches this point, they will no longer listen to you or give you any consideration and may no longer be willing to even speak to you.
…3. Attempt to guilt-trip you into staying
Guilt is a powerful tool for the narcissist to pull you back into the relationship.
The narcissist brings up every time they have done something nice for you or stresses how much they care about you or reminds you of the wonderful times you’ve had together.
If the positives don’t work to bring you back, narcissists default to their devaluing attacks.
Any complaint you have made about them will be turned around on you. Narcissists consistently blame their partners for behaviors they are actually exhibiting in that very moment—screaming, name-calling, hostility, selfishness, hatred, and passive-aggressiveness, to name a few.
…These kinds of accusations also increase your feelings of guilt, so you’re more likely to redouble your efforts to prove to the narcissist that you’re not that kind of person.
That’s just what the narcissist wants because it reengages you in the relationship.
Once the narcissist has goaded you into reacting, they can keep you feeling powerless, guilty, and participating in the relationship until they’re ready to end it.
— end excerpts —
Here’s a 22 minute video from You Tube by a licensed psychologist – it starts getting very pertinent for the purposes of this post, and this blog, around the 11.38 minute mark or so:
If I can think of any other links to add to this post later, I will edit the post to add those.
The Take Away
Do not indiscriminately give out your emotional support (empathy), time, attention, and money to every sad sack person who enters your life, whether they are truly hurting or not, no matter how sad their sob story is. You cannot save everyone.
On occasions you do determine that person in your life really does need your time, attention, and emotional support, don’t fall into the unproductive trap of giving this emotional support forever, or always unconditionally.
At some point, your hurting friend will need to work on herself, work on getting over and through whatever she is going through, and she may need to see a therapist – this person and her issues may be too much for you to take on alone, or for too long!
Bear in mind that some of the “sad sacks” (the hurting, depressed, pessimistic, or downer people) you meet along the way don’t want to be saved, even if they say they do. If you try to forever help or save this person, it will only be a big waste of your time.
(Link): 10 Signs Someone’s Always Playing the Victim (6.05 long video)
(Link): The “Victim” Narcissist | How to tell who is playing the victim (17 minute long video)
Applicable to Emma (and to “Donna Hazel”):
This post was edited after publication to add more content
(Link): When You’re in Imbalanced, Unfair Relationships – You’re the Free Therapist, The Supportive, Sounding Board Who Listens to Other People’s Non-Stop Complaining, But They Don’t Listen to You – re: The Toilet Function of Friendship