Covert narcissism is very difficult to put your finger on.
Many people waste years of their lives with covert narcissists trying to figure out the unusual dynamic they’re experiencing in their relationship. Once they discover that it could be covert narcissism, they waste further time questioning if that’s really the case or not.
The reason for this is that many of us do not have a clear definition in our minds of what constitutes abuse. We often think of abuse as being only physical and do not have a clear definition of what emotional abuse is.
On top of this, covert narcissists are very good at covering up emotional abuse, denying that they are being emotionally abusive, and actually projecting it on to you to the point where you doubt your own instincts and start to believe that it is you who has the problem.
Covert emotional abuse is very real and once you have identified it you must treat it with the same severity as you would physical abuse. Learn more in today’s article and video…
Faulty Programming Leads to Soft Boundaries
We may not clearly recognize emotional abuse for many reasons. These reasons may include not having a strong sense of self, which is common in empaths and highly intelligent self-taught people, growing up to put other people first, being covertly emotionally abused as a child, or simply not having our unique abilities nurtured and valued.
There are many reasons we become vulnerable to emotional abuse, but all of these reasons have the same result… having no boundaries (or having flexible boundaries) and a tendency to put other peoples’ needs first.
Highly intelligent and successful people often fall victim to covert abuse because of flexible boundaries. Flexible boundaries are common in intelligent people who like to keep an open mind, not be judgmental, and who often learn and grow by doubting and questioning themselves and the environment around them.
In addition to this, covert abusers are experts at probing, testing, and reducing personal boundaries little by little over large periods of time.
Following, I will cover how we develop boundaries and give some examples of techniques used by covert emotional abusers to test and reduce boundaries and signs of covert narcissism.
Boundaries and emotional abuse
Let’s start by looking at what personal boundaries are.
Personal boundaries should be established when we are children. Unfortunately, we were taught not to trust our instincts. We learned by the examples set around us of what type of behavior is acceptable and just how much we should tolerate in given situations.
Instead of being taught to have very strong personal boundaries, we were taught that it is better to forgive, to give people the benefit of the doubt, to be understanding, and to accept that everyone makes mistakes.
These are all valuable and important qualities and should always be employed with other people who share the same values.
However, something that we are not taught is the very sad fact that there exists a growing number of people in society who cannot feel love, who do not have empathy, and who use these qualities in other people to their advantage.
This, of course, does not mean that we should not continue to have these human values and qualities, but it does mean that we have to start recognizing the importance of personal boundaries in conjunction with these qualities and to realize immediately when those boundaries are being crossed.
Putting boundaries in place and not allowing people to cross them is the development of self-respect. This starts by recognizing that your qualities are valuable and are not to be squandered on people who will not value them and then recognize very early on when you are being abused.
Narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths will, without exception, push people’s boundaries to the limit, break them, extract what they need from the person, then leave them feeling as if they have no self-worth and obsessing about the person who did it to them.
If these individuals come across a person who has strong boundaries they will either have nothing to do with them, as they cannot extract what they need from them, or they will see it as their greatest challenge and set to work at chipping them away, thus providing them with the buzz of a lifetime if they succeed.
Breaking down a confident, successful person with strong boundaries is the ultimate in narcissistic supply. It is, however, quite hard work and so they will be working on an easier target simultaneously or on targets who are at different stages of being broken down.
Once a person is completely broken down, they will abuse them until they have nothing left to give or offer, then leave. They often return when their target has begun to heal or has something further to give or something further to break down.
You should not underestimate the danger of having one of these types of disordered persons in your life and the damage that they can cause.
It is important to recognize them, name them, and keep them away from yourself and the people that you love.
7 Signs of Covert Narcissism
1 – There’s something empty about them that you can’t quite put your finger on
Covert narcissists may look good on paper, but there’s an emotional abyss inside them that often peeks out during their interactions with you and other people.
For example, on rare occasions, I have a random narcissistic individual sign up for a coaching session. I can always tell right away that there is something off about them. They’re able to skillfully talk about how they’ve been in therapy, are being abused by a partner or family member, and how their friends worry about them.
Only, there’s no emotion behind their words. It’s literally as if they’re reading from a script…or, trying to speak a foreign language to be able to communicate a message, but in a particularly emotionless manner.
Their speeches and diatribes are often rather monotone because they don’t feel anything when they are communicating. They seem almost robotic.
2 – Impersonal and aloof relationships
A relationship with a covert narcissist often feels like the person in front of you is simply going through the motions.
When it comes to moments that touch your heart or would cause most people to feel emotional, the covert narcissist can only pretend…or exhibit an aloofness that you find rather odd.
The covert narcissist is not comfortable with displays of emotion or even simple cuddling. You may find that you always sit on opposite sides in the living room or sleep in separate bedrooms. This may manifest as the covert narcissist’s insistence on keeping a separate sleep schedule as you or their narrow focus on self-absorbing work.
For instance, I once knew a covert narcissist who would spend hours a day during the summer tending their garden, only to let it rot at the end of every season. This same individual also spent an inordinate amount of time supposedly writing a book (that never got published)…all to minimize wider human interactions.
3 – You feel less than and belittled, but you can’t really explain why
A covert narcissist can emotionally assault you even though they may not be doing anything outwardly obvious.
If you were to try to explain the situation to an outsider, you might feel a little silly because when you say it out loud, you realize it doesn’t sound like the narcissist is doing anything wrong.
But your body knows they are. Your body tells you when you aren’t emotionally safe with someone. It might be their cold indifference on a special occasion even though, according to appearances, they are being “just a normal person”.
Perhaps you feel like a total dunce simply riding beside them on the way to dinner. That’s because they are emitting this kind of energy based on the fact that they truly believe you are their subordinate and less intelligent than they are.
How does your body respond when you’re around them? Do you feel free to be your authentic self? Do you feel cared for? It’s not about how they’re communicating with you. They might be saying kind things to you, but you feel like they’re a total fraud. You know, based on your history with them, that they are just paying you lip service and don’t really care about you aside from how you make their own life more convenient.
4 – You feel emotionally starved
No matter how long you’ve been with them, you realize you have felt alone since the beginning. Sure, there may have been a period of love-bombing, but that ended abruptly and you were left to figure out why their feelings changed with no warning.
While things may appear normal on the outside, you realize you’re being kept at arm’s length on an emotional and energetic level. You understand that there are unspoken barriers that you are not to cross. The idea of a spontaneous hug or truly romantic walk in the park is something you only experience in your imagination.
5 – Passive-Aggressiveness
The covert narcissist is often long on words, but short on action.
Since covert narcissists prefer to keep their inflated egos to themselves, they generally won’t outwardly argue with you. If you offer an idea, they’ll simply agree or say, “Great suggestion!” They will wax poetic, going into great detail about the idea, and then completely disregard it.
When you ask why they didn’t follow through, they’ll brush it off and give you no real explanation. To further their self-serving agendas, they will call you a nag for bringing it up.
6 – They’re repelled by your desire for intimate encounters
Covert narcissists are often very good lovers in the beginning.
However, just like the short-lived love bombing phase, it quickly becomes apparent that they are not at all interested in your needs or desires to be intimate.
If you try to talk to them about this sensitive subject, they will accuse you of being selfish, only caring about your own needs. There may be long periods of abstinence in your relationship. Ironically, you discover that they are only concerned with their needs and the only time you are intimate is when it’s something they want…and not a moment sooner.
7 – They never smile with their eyes…unless they are putting you down
Covert narcissists don’t really get excited or feel warm fuzzies the way the rest of us do.
Not all narcissists, however, have the dead-eyed smile of the covert narcissist.
I’ve seen even malignant narcissists express varying levels of short-lived happiness in their eyes…but the covert narcissist has a dead stare that leaves you feeling uncomfortable, even when they are smiling.
The only time you see their eyes light up is when they have successfully belittled you. Extra points if they can achieve this while pretending to behave normally.
The First Step to a Healed Life is Recognition
You do not need the narcissist’s permission, validation, or recognition to leave the relationship. You do not need to submit proof that you are being hurt. You do not need closure from the narcissist, who will withhold it anyway.
You do not need to prove to yourself that you know how to handle the narcissist, you simply need to get far away from them so that healing can begin.
Like all new beginnings, it starts with the first step and the first step is recognition of the signs of covert narcissism.
If you are at the point where you have started to realize that you are tolerating abuse, that you have handed your power to another, it’s time to honor yourself with the first step towards healing. Have faith that you can leave the relationship and trust that the pain will pass.
Celebrate this lonely time, because it is the first step in taking back control of your destiny. It’s time to begin the journey to discovering the joys and the life that is waiting for you just out of sight.
And take hope from those that have succeeded because you have the opportunity and potential to be next.
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