All narcissists, whether covert or overt, whether high or low on the spectrum, are all about gaining that coveted narcissistic supply to make them feel good. Educating yourself on how they get that supply is important so you understand why they are behaving the way they are & protect yourself accordingly.
Covert narcissists are much different & more difficult to deal with (at least in my opinion) than overt narcissists. At least overt narcissists are open about their abuse. Coverts? They are much sneakier & more devious in the ways they abuse their victims. In fact, it takes most victims a lot longer to realize they are being abused by a narcissist when their abuser is a covert narcissist.
Overt narcissists are easy to spot. They are the ones bragging about their accomplishments, talking non stop about themselves, showing no empathy to anyone (& sometimes even bragging about that fact), & having no interest in other people beyond what those people can do for them.
Covert narcissists however are much harder to recognize. They like to give the impression of being kind & giving, even to the point of martyrdom. They’re often married to overt narcissists, & look like the innocent victim of that person’s bad behavior. They rarely, often never, stand up to the overt narcissist, saying there’s nothing they can do. Even if the overt narcissist abuses their child, the covert claims there’s nothing he can do to stop his wife. It’s so hard for him watching his wife abuse their child. He portrays himself as the real victim, not the child, even to the point of expecting the child to console him. (My father has done this as has my mother in-law). Covert narcissists can fake empathy & concern for others, although if you look closely, you’ll see it’s simply an act on their part. They also often mirror others, attempting to act like their victim to make the victim feel closer to them.
These differences in overt & covert narcissists also mean they get their narcissistic supply differently as well.
Overt narcissists want lots of praise & admiration. If they are the center of attention, that makes them incredibly happy. They are quite happy if you don’t talk, allowing them to control the conversation. In fact, openly controlling you, not only the conversation, will make them gloriously happy.
Covert narcissists are much more subtle. As I mentioned above, they get narcissistic supply by looking like a martyr. Being married to an overt narcissist is ideal for them, because they get pity for what they put up with & being unable to get out of the situation. They also appear modest when getting a complement, I think because this often makes people fuss more over them. Coverts are also very controlling, but not so obviously as their overt counterparts. For example, I’ve told my parents I don’t like calls after 9 p.m. My covertly narcissistic father has ignored this repeatedly. I decided I was going to drive the point home, & ignore him when he called at 9:15 once. From 9:15 until 10, he called 15 times. I let the phone ring… until my cousin called at 10:15. He lives 450 miles away & never calls me so late, so I was worried about him. It turns out my father called my cousin to tell my cousin to tell me to call my father! And, my cousin said my father had called my in-laws who he knows I haven’t spoken to in years. He told my cousin & father in-law he was worried sick about me since I didn’t answer his call. He looked like a caring father when in fact, he just wanted to control me- he wanted me to answer his call no matter what I wanted or felt. I didn’t call my father back that night. Instead, he called me early the next morning, & was obviously upset that I didn’t call him that night. If I had called, he would’ve gotten his narcissistic supply by being able to control me- it would’ve made him feel powerful. Instead, I told him exactly why I didn’t take his call, & after that he never called me after 9 again.
I recently realized narcissists also get narcissistic supply by rescuing you. I asked God once why does my father want to tell me how to fix any problems in my life or seem disappointed when I don’t need his help. God showed me that rescuing me provides narcissistic supply. It would make him feel like he’s doing something good by helping me, & not in the normal way helping people makes most people feel good. It goes deeper than that. Covert narcissists feel that helping others proves that they are good people. They hope the person they helped will tell others about what was done for them. They also bring it up periodically, hinting for praise. “Did that money I gave you help you get your car fixed?” “This room sure looks better since I helped you to paint it!” The goal of such comments is for you to say something about how grateful you are for their help, or maybe you couldn’t have done it without them.
Overt narcissists aren’t so subtle when they help you. They may bring it up often, remind you that you owe them or that you wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what you did without them. I’m not sure about other overt narcissists, but I noticed with my mother, she doesn’t usually mention something she helped me with to my face. Instead, she tells my father & I’m not sure who else how she’s always bailed me out of trouble (which she only did once- when my dog had to go to the emergency vet). She also seems to get a thrill out of giving me money even when I don’t need it. I wondered about this for a while & asked God. It made no sense to me- I don’t ask her for help nor do I expect it from her, yet a few years ago, she started giving me money. Immediately God showed me why she does this. My parents are quite financially comfortable. Moreso than my husband & I. She enjoys reminding me that she has more money than me & can give me money without worrying about not being able to pay bills.
I pray you learn all you can about narcissistic supply, so if you must deal with a narcissist, you learn what not to do. The less supply you provide, the less interested the narcissist will be in you.