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9 Secret Signs of Narcissism You Can’t Miss Once You Notice Them

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Sometimes the signs of narcissism aren’t so obvious and narcissists fly under our radar.

Not every narcissist is a puffed-up gym rat or a Mean Girl like Regina George. If they were, we could see the signs from a mile away and steer clear.

No, plenty of narcissists are sensitive, thoughtful, and generous – until the charade wears off, of course.

That’s why it’s so important to understand the subtle signs of narcissism that you might not notice until it’s too late and they’ve sucked you into their black hole.

What’s the Difference Between an Overt and Covert Narcissist?

Many people tend to think of narcissists as having extroverted personalities. They’re flamboyant and demand to be the center of attention – how can you miss them?

The truth is, introverts can also be narcissists. These are the ones who fool us into their web of manipulation.

“They’re not self-absorbed – they’re just sensitive!”

“They’re not a bad friend – they’re just misunderstood!”

After forming a relationship with a covert narcissist, you realize that this sensitivity and isolation were, in fact, signs of narcissism. Since the signs weren’t so obvious, however, you completely misjudged the situation. Watch the video which discusses Covert Narcissism, and then read the article to learn even more:

9 Secret Signs of Narcissism You Can’t Miss

Since the covert narcissist is better at hiding their abusive behavior, it’s important to understand the subtle cues that give them away.

1.     They’ll Never Utter the Phrase “I Don’t Know”

I once knew a narcissist who was so averse to this phrase that he would rather give someone dangerously incorrect answers than admit to not knowing something. He was confident in his woefully wrong answers, too.

Why do this?

Answering a question with “I don’t know” deprives the narcissist of vital attention. The person seeking an answer will simply move on to someone else who might help them. That’s a huge ego hit.

That’s why you’ll often find narcissists rambling on about topics they have no business speaking on.

2.     They’re a Bad Friend

The narcissist is generally a bad friend but you’ll typically find them playing the victim. Make sure to get all sides of the story if you’re not sure.

What are some red flag signs of narcissism that indicate the suspect is a narcissist?

  • They get irritated when their friends ask for help or advice.
  • They don’t bother to call or text their friends on birthdays or holidays.
  • They don’t return borrowed items. (A sign of entitlement.)
  • They owe their friends money. They may downplay this as “not a big deal.”
  • They embarrass their friends in front of others.
  • They seek out or flirt with their friends’ partners or love interests.

3.     They Have to Insert Themselves into Every Story

A covert narcissist may not demand everyone’s attention. They will, however, still find a way to make everything about them. A large part of this strategy involves inserting themselves into every story.

Is a coworker talking about their experience with homelessness? The narcissist, too, has a story about being poor.

Is a friend talking about his amazing trip to Vietnam? The narcissist also had a friend who went to Vietnam. And guess what? She heard it wasn’t so great.

No matter the topic, the narcissist has a remarkable skill for turning the attention their way – no matter how innocuous it might seem.

4.     They’re Sensitive

At first, you may appreciate their ability to freely express emotions. This is an excellent tactic narcissists use to lure empathetic people into their trap.

Maybe a fast-food worker got their order wrong and the narcissist hasn’t shut up about it all day. Maybe their boss asked them to stop playing on their phone so much and now the narcissist is crying about it over dinner.

As time goes on, you’ll realize that the narcissist isn’t vulnerable and sensitive: their fragile ego can’t handle honest mistakes and valid criticism. To the narcissist, these are personal attacks.

5.     They Treat Waitstaff or Service Workers Poorly

This is a dead giveaway. Run for the hills.

Anyone who disrespects waitstaff or service workers views people as “beneath” them. Soon, you’ll be part of the inferiors as well.

6.     They Form Relationships Based on What Someone Can “Do for Them”

If you’re at a party and the suspected narcissist suggests you talk to someone because they can help with your career or financial situation, don’t ignore it. They aren’t trying to help you: they’re letting you in on their game.

Narcissists tend to form shallow friendships based on what people can do for them. You’ll often find narcissists make friends with horribly toxic people just because these folks have money, own bars, or can offer career opportunities.

7.     Their Stories Don’t Match Reality

Both the overt and covert narcissist has an inflated sense of self. The thing is, they truly believe their own lies. As a result, you’ll often find they recall stories much differently than the situations actually played out.

If you notice that the suspect constantly reframes stories to make themselves the hero or victim, back away fast – this is one of the many signs of narcissism. By changing the story to fit their own narrative, the narcissist is gaslighting everyone else involved.

It’s not cute or funny to constantly have to correct them. Sooner or later, they’ll start gaslighting you, too.

8.     They Observe and Judge

“There’s no way she can be a narcissist. When we’re out with friends, she barely says ten words!”

I hear it all the time. By sitting back and observing everyone, however, the covert narcissist is silently taking notes and judging. I’m sure you heard all about her observations on the car ride home.

The narcissist needs to feel superior to everyone around them. This is easy to do when you don’t open your mouth to engage in conversation and instead sit back to take notes about everyone’s shortcomings.

9.     They Only Hear Bits and Pieces of Your Stories

Does it feel like the suspected narcissist just. isn’t. listening? They’re probably not. And if they are, they don’t care.

Maybe you spent ten minutes venting to your mother about how you didn’t get that promotion at work because you showed up late one solitary time with a valid reason. How did she respond? “Well, maybe you’ll remember to show up on-time from now on.”

You can’t be the victim. Only the narcissist can be the victim.

You see this a lot with narcissist parents or partners who listen just enough to throw something back in your face later.

How to Turn the Tables on a Narcissist

Perhaps you’ve gone on a few dates with someone or a new coworker joined your team. You suspect they may be a narcissist but you aren’t entirely sure.

After all, the covert narcissist is particularly cunning at hiding the more obvious signs of narcissism. Here’s how to turn the tables on a narcissist and get them to expose themselves.

  • Play along. Don’t give the suspected narcissist room to adjust their manipulation tactics – play stupid and pretend you completely believe them. Use this opportunity to document their behavior.
  • Remain indifferent. If you must continue dealing with an overt or covert narcissist for reasons out of your control, act indifferent to their behavior. The narcissist wants to use your emotions against you. If you don’t give them anything to work with, they’ll seek their fix elsewhere.
  • Find Support: This may only include one or two people you trust. Confide in someone who will validate and believe you.

At the end of the day, the only way to truly turn the tables on a narcissist is to cut them off completely. If they had any real intentions of changing, they would have done so already.

The narcissist will not suddenly see things your way. If they ever do, it’s – a) for a fleeting moment and b) to use against you later. Don’t believe the conflicting information you might see from other websites or therapists – the narcissist will never change.

Studies suggest that over 6% of the population has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Personality disorders are much different than mental illnesses.

With a mental illness, a chemical imbalance in the brain causes different disturbances that manifest as depression, anxiety, and many others. Although complex, mental illnesses tend to respond well to medication because it targets the physical root of the problem: a chemical imbalance.

Personality disorders occur because of a repetitive stimuli-reward environment. At some point in their life, the narcissist realized they could elicit specific reactions and emotions from people – and it felt good and helped them achieve their self-fulfilling agendas.

Anything less than cutting them out of your life will give you a mental and emotional breakdown.

No Contact is the Only Way to Shut Down a Narcissist

Many narcissists have always been this way – even as far back as their teenage or childhood years. If you’re dealing with a narcissist, you cannot and should not expect them to change their behavior now or ever.

Treatment for narcissistic personality disorder often involves things like cognitive behavioral therapy. In many cases, a narcissist may also suffer from other mental illnesses like depression or substance use disorder. (You’ve probably heard extensively about these problems, too, when the narcissist needs your sympathy or someone to blame.)

Despite this, there is little evidence to suggest therapy actually works for narcissists as personality disorders are notoriously difficult to treat. The first step to getting help is to admit a problem exists – the narcissist will never believe they have or are a problem.

No Contact is the only option.

Trust in yourself and your support system. Because once you get to the other side and stick to No Contact, you’ll be amazed by all the amazing things you can accomplish.

Until you go No Contact, they’ll just keep repeating the cycle of manipulation and abuse. Free yourself today.  Explore The Essential Break Free Bootcamp, risk-free, and discover why therapists are referring their own clients to the program!

Your healed life starts with one step...

Join thousands of others who have signed up for the free Email Recovery Course and Healing Roadmap. Includes expert advice and tips for encouragement and support. * Seating in my masterclass: 7 Proven Steps to Defeat Narcissistic Abuse PLUS +* How to Ease Anxiety * 16 Empowering Beliefs to Live By + more!

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12 comments
Everything You Need to Know About the Narcissist's Biggest Fear - Kim Saeed: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program says October 20, 2019

[…] this describes your relationship, you are dealing with a narcissistic individual and you’ll need to get to a point where you decide whether you’re going to stay and get […]

Reply
Cindy says September 15, 2019

Why does my narcissistic daughter show me and me only, this horrible rage? She even threatened to kill me July 4th, I went no contact after that. 20 yrs. is long enough.

Reply
Marcelle says August 1, 2019

They piss all over your good news or accomplishments. My narc brother once sent me a You Tube video of a choir doing a great a cappella rendition of a popular song. When I saw it, I told him that was the choir I used to sing with. He ghosted me. It would have KILLED him to say something like’ “Wow. That’s so cool. I didn’t know that about you.”

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Geraldine says July 30, 2019

The covert I knew favourite ploy was to stonewall and not answer me or other people if he didn’t feel like and then just leave the room. This had the desired result of us all feeling bad that we had upset him. Oh and yes being embarrassingly rude/over pally with the staff seemed to be the main enjoyment of going out for a meal. I refused to go out in the end as I would just cringe all the time.

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Anonymous says July 30, 2019

Under “They’re a Bad Friend”

They don’t return borrowed items. (A sign of entitlement.)
and
take things back they gave you

They owe their friends money. They may downplay this as “not a big deal.”
and
they constantly look for ways to borrow money, spend it irresponsibly then complain they’re broke

They seek out or flirt with their friends’ partners or love interests.”
and
they flirt with everyone, I mean everyone

Reply
Alexandra D says July 30, 2019

You are so right about covert narcissists. I had a thirty-year “crash course” in overt narcissism with my husband. When the relationship went “no contact” I moved back to the Northeast. I bought a new house and made some new friends. Just as I had once no idea of what an overt narcissist was, I had no idea of what a covert narcissist was. After “no contact” with my husband I was exquisitely sensitive to any kind of narcissism. In fact, I entered back into therapy with the sole purpose of avoiding any future narcissists in my life. This one friend of mine kept giving me this weird vibe. I couldn’t put my finger on it. She was clearly a manipulator and a social climber and she would make up facts and statistics just to “win” her point in a conversation. But when I would ask her to email me her source for her quoted statistic, it never came. Later when I asked her once again to send me her source she made me sound petty for asking her to prove her point. She put me down and said she couldn’t possibly remember with all she had to do where exactly that quote came from and why on earth was I asking her for it again NOW? It soon became obvious that she would outright make up statistics and facts to “win” any disagreement and to make herself “right”. One famous argument we had was about the Hudson River. I claimed the Hudson River was an estuary and rose and fell with the tides and she vehemently said no, I emailed her the definition of the word “estuary” and she twisted it around to make herself sound right. I finally got so incensed with her refusal to admit she was wrong that I drove to a certain river that had a New York State sign claiming the river was a part of the Hudson River ESTUARY and took a photo of that official sign with my phone and showed it to her at our next dinner. She immediately changed the subject and when I pushed the phone with the photo back at her she called me a bully and changed the subject once again. She absolutely refused to admit she was wrong even with photographic evidence from the state of New York in front of her face. And the other not so charming characteristic she has is never saying “I’m sorry”. Which is basically just another form of not admitting she’s wrong. But never ever, ever has she ever said “I’m sorry” to me. Finally last December after a huge faux pas that she made, rather than admit it and say “I’m sorry” she tried to blame it on me. That was it for me – covert narcissist – no contact.

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Mike says July 30, 2019

Hi What about if you cant go no contact? Mutual kids for instance.
I have a 8 year old daughter with a narc. I already see her effects on the kid. I only see her everyother weekend. You know the story…
Thanks for you input.
Mike

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Gwendolyn Stewart says March 4, 2019

The narc is not going to change because they don’t see anything wrong with them to change for…if you’re not married, why waste your life with someone, that you’re going nowhere with….sad. I wished I’d known about this toxic relationship or just even heard of the name (narcissism). I’ve gone NO CONTACT for 1 1/2 years, but I still deal with and suffer a lot of trauma.

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Helen says March 4, 2019

I do not drive. Sometimes my mother has picked me up for things. I usually avoid this now. She has a trick which I believe is narcissistic. She is very late when she picks me up. I will give an example. My grandmother had a stroke and she was paralysed down one side. She offered to pick up my husband and I to visit her. We could go on the bus but it took about an hour and a half to get there by bus. We asked her to pick us up at 12 noon. She came to my house at 12.50pm! This also meant that we were too late to have lunch there. They had a cafe which closed about 1.30pm. She did this about three times. I rang her up and asked her nicely to pick us up on time. She said that I am taking you and you just have to put up with it! I spoke to my husband about this. I rang her back later and said that we would catch the bus there.

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LaSheka H says March 4, 2019

Kim, all of your points are dead on. My ex-Covert Narc would lie just to lie, but I didn’t realize it until everything came together like a puzzle. Also, they form relationships with supply just to have a place to live or just to get sex or drugs. Narcs will judge their prey all the time, and they don’t care for anyone, ever.

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Debra says March 3, 2019

Why play games ? Get out

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Karen says March 3, 2019

Hi Kim. Excellent article as always. Spot on. The only place where my ex-covert-narc differed was that he ALWAYS called his friends and family on their birthdays and at Christmas. He just usually “forgot” mine. One year for Christmas he got me a robe like his mother’s. Ugly. Another year he got me a black see-through nighty (as if we had a sex life) and pressed me to hold it up to show our grown kids and their wives! I refused. Crazy making. Kim, keep telling us it gets better. NO CONTACT is the best gift I’ve ever given myself and it’s bringing me unexpected laughter every day now. Thank you for all you do!

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