Tag Archives: covert
This post is similar to the last one, except it helps to identify some of the tactics of covert narcissists.
Covert narcissists are like their name implies, very covert in their actions. Because of that, they can be much harder to identify than their overt counterpart. Their actions can leave a victim wondering if they are being oversensitive or reading too much into things. I’ve said many times that if I have to deal with a narcissist, I’d prefer an overt one simply because I know exactly what I’m dealing with.
Covert narcissists are quiet in how they get attention. They don’t get attention by bragging or being loud & obnoxious like overt narcissists. They get it by appearing gentle & humble. They “let it slip” about how they helped someone in need or that they are very active in their church.
Covert narcissists appear fragile & vulnerable, like they need someone to take care of them. They give off an air of naivete & needing someone to protect them that makes people want to take care of them, in particular, their children. The life purpose of the child of a covert narcissist is to take care of their parent’s every need.
They are always the victim. No matter what a covert narcissist does to someone, you can guarantee they will blame the victim for being so mean to them for reacting as they did. After all, they often say, they were just trying to help or they had no idea that the person would be upset by their actions. The covert narcissist comes away from this situation looking innocent while the victim is shamed & even shunned for being so mean.
Covert narcissists have no empathy. Unlike overt narcissists, however, coverts are quieter about this. They will simply act bored, discreetly change the subject or walk away if someone is talking to them about their problems.
Covert narcissists manipulate in subtle ways. A covert narcissist looking to manipulate someone won’t use fear or intimidation like an overt narcissist. Instead they may use tactics like guilt, pretending to be helpless or even acting concerned. Covertly narcissistic elderly parents also are known to use their health problems as a way to manipulate others, in particular their adult children. They may even go so far as to skip taking medication or taking too much to make themselves sick.
Covert narcissists will ask how their victims are doing & other questions about them or their friends & family, but it isn’t out of genuine concern or love. It’s about gathering information that can be used against the victim. They will use what they learn to smear the victim’s reputation to other people or to criticize the victim & those the victim cares about.
Speaking of criticism, covert narcissists have no problem using scathing, cruel criticisms, but only will do so when no one is around other than the victim. Covert narcissists always want to be seen as good people, so when they are verbally abusive, you can guarantee there will be no witnesses. That way, no one sees their awful behavior, which also makes it harder for the victim to be believed.
Covert narcissists can change according to who they are around. If a covert narcissist is around someone they wish to impress, they will claim to share the same likes, dislikes, beliefs & more as the person they wish to impress. This is called mirroring, because the narcissist is behaving as a mirror to the other person. Mirroring makes a person feel closer to the person mirroring their behavior, because it appears that they have a great deal in common.
While this list isn’t a fully comprehensive list of the many tactics covert narcissists use, it should help you to recognize several red flags, at least, & help you to protect yourself from these people.
Emotional incest, covert incest, parentification & parentalizing. All describe the same abusive behavior & a topic I’ve written about before. When a parent treats their child as an equal rather than their child, expecting that child to listen to their woes, tales of marital discord, details of their sex life, &/or expecting their child to care for them in ways such as cooking & cleaning for them well beyond what is age appropriate, it damages the child psychologically. The child in this situation often grows up anxious, depressed, lacking healthy relationship skills, feels guilt for things they aren’t responsible for & may even have issues with addiction. Often at the very least, they choose very poorly suited romantic partners.
Sadly, parentalizing is barely discussed in a negative light. Many people see a child & her parent behaving in this way & praise their “close” or “loving” relationship. They even tell the child how lucky she is to have a mom who loves her so much, how she has to be strong for her mom or other similar comments. And, when the child, no matter the age, does something that upsets her parent or *gasp* thinks of herself first, she is labeled unappreciative, selfish, a spoiled brat & more. This lays even more unnecessary guilt on that child, & it is absolutely unfair!
Let’s get one thing straight. No one is responsible for anyone else’s emotions. Yes, someone you love can make you feel happy, sad, angry, etc. sometimes, but that doesn’t mean they are in control of your emotions. YOU ARE! This is especially true for children. Children need to be children, not their parent’s emotional caregiver!
When a parent is abandoned by someone they love, & the only person close to them is their child, it can be understandable they reach out to their child for comfort & companionship. That doesn’t make it right, though! Children are growing up – that is enough responsibility on their little shoulders!
Children also didn’t ask to be born. It’s not their fault if the parents couldn’t maintain a healthy & loving relationship. Making the child feel that they must step into the role of that other parent is cruel, abusive & unfair!
If you grew up in this sort of situation, my heart goes out to you. I am so sorry for the pain & suffering you have been through. Having been there myself I know it is a miserable situation.
If it is still happening, you’re going to have to set some serious boundaries with your parent. Change the subject as soon as you start to feel uncomfortable. Tell your parent you’re leaving or hanging up the phone if she insists on talking about your other parent that way, then follow through with your threat if need be.
Whether the abuse is still happening or not, you’re going to need to heal from the damage done. Pray. Get angry. Cry. Remind yourself what was done to you was unfair & undeserved. Write in a journal. Talk to a trusted friend or therapist. Do whatever helps you to heal!
You can heal from the effects of emotional incest. It takes time & work, but it can be done. xoxo
Overt narcissists & covert narcissists often marry because this creates a perfect, dysfunctional union. The real problem begins when they have children. Overt narcissists are not only able to be the center of attention in this family but also abuse the child without interference from the covert partner who refuses to defend the child. The covert narcissist is able to look like the martyr, the long suffering spouse. People wonder how this wonderful person can put up with being married to that awful spouse. The covert narcissist is also able to convince everyone, including the abused child, that there is no way for him or her to protect the child. In fact, often, the child becomes protective of the covertly narcissistic parent & comforts that parent when the overtly narcissistic parent abuses them rather than the parent comforting the child as it should be. The covertly narcissistic parent appears to be the true victim in this scenario, not the child.
Once that child grows up though, she usually learns first that the overtly narcissistic parent was abusive. She accepts that truth, as painful as it is. She may even change her behavior to be healthier such as setting boundaries.
The problem adult children in this situation often have is the covertly narcissistic parent. Accepting that parent was equally if not more abusive is a very hard pill to swallow.
I wondered why this is for a long time, & came up with some ideas.
When you compare an overt & a covert narcissist, the covert doesn’t look so bad. That person isn’t the one who beat you, cussed you out, tore your self esteem to shreds or destroyed your identity like your overtly narcissistic parent did. It was much harder to deny that your overtly narcissistic parent was abusive when that parent did such awful, hurtful things to you. Your covertly narcissistic parent probably seemed normal or even loving by comparison because of not doing those terrible things.
Chances are, your covertly narcissistic parent also was nice to you sometimes, maybe doing nice little things for you that your other parent didn’t know about. Nice behavior mixed in with abusive creates a great deal of confusion, especially in a child. No one wants to believe that a person who can do such nice things can be abusive.
And, that parent made you feel as if you needed to care for him or her instead of he or she caring for you. That created a strong bond to that parent that wasn’t created with your overtly narcissistic parent. Caring for another person naturally creates a bond. Look at mothers who care for their children or adult children who care for their elderly, frail parents for example.
When discussing this topic with a friend of mine some time ago, she also added that she thinks part of the reason it’s harder to accept that the covertly narcissistic parent is abusive is because that means that neither of your parents truly loved you, which is incredibly hard to face. That is an excellent point.
Accepting one parent was abusive & didn’t love you is hard enough, but BOTH parents?! That is incredibly painful. No one wants to feel they aren’t loved by one parent, let alone both. Even if you know about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, realizing both your parents didn’t love you can be devastating to your self esteem. It can make you feel unworthy, because you think if your own parents don’t love you, you must be unworthy of love.
Dear Reader, if you’re in the position of having one overt & one covert narcissistic parent, please know you aren’t alone. This sort of situation happens more often than you might think. And if you’re struggling coming to terms with it, you’re definitely not alone. Many, many people have been there, including me. As painful as it is though, you need to find a way to come to terms with the fact your covertly narcissistic parent is also abusive & not the good parent you thought he or she was. It’s hard, but you can do it! It will help you to accept the truth. After all, the truth sets us free! xoxo
I remember when I first realized that my mother was a narcissist. Although it was painful, I was glad finally to understand why she treated me as she did. The raging, the silent treatments, the manipulation & control.. suddenly it all made sense. She blamed me for all of it, but the truth was it wasn’t me. It was her!
It was another few years before I realized my father was a narcissist as well. It took me so long because he was a covert narcissist.
My mother being an overt narcissist made it obvious something wasn’t right. Normal mothers didn’t keep their daughters from getting to know their extended family. They also didn’t scream at their teenage daughters daily, often multiple times in a day. They didn’t accuse their daughters of completely uncharacteristic behaviors, such as having sex with their entire high school football team, especially when there was no evidence to support this wild claim.
My father was nothing like this at all. For most of my life, I was convinced he was my one nice, normal parent. I was wrong.
While my father didn’t scream at me or accuse me of outrageous behaviors, he abused me nonetheless. He didn’t protect me from my mother. In fact, when I told him of some of her abusive behaviors, he would tell me how hard this was on him, & how there was nothing he could do to protect me. In spite of my pain, I often ended up comforting him after my mother abused me.
Compared to my mother’s constant criticisms & rages, I didn’t think this was a problem. He told me he loved me, unlike my mother who stopped saying it when I was in my teens. My father also complemented me, & bragged about me to other people. My mother didn’t do either.
As an adult, married with my own home, I finally noticed some subtle changes in my father’s behavior. He became critical. Nothing obvious like my mother at first, but still critical. He became more critical over the years. He also became more controlling in subtle ways. If I didn’t answer his call immediately, the next time we spoke, he would tell me how he thought I must be mad at him since I didn’t answer the phone. If I said I wasn’t home at the time, he didn’t believe me. Or, he would call folks we both knew, asking them to contact me & have me call him immediately because he was worried about me.
Eventually, I realized my father was a covert narcissist, & that fact truly hurt.
My situation is quite similar to that of many adult children of narcissistic parents. Accepting the overtly narcissistic parent is abusive is difficult, but it can be done. Accepting their covertly narcissistic parent is abusive is a much more difficult task, & can be impossible for some people.
The nature of a covert narcissist’s abuse is what makes the abuse so hard to comprehend. There is no obvious abuse. They don’t hit or scream. Their abuse is so much more subtle. They use guilt, disapproval, silence & portraying themselves as innocent, naive, in need of saving or protection. They also can turn a situation around to where they look like the innocent victim instead of the abuser, rather than the other way around as it should be.
This creates a cognitive dissonance in victims. In other words, the victim often may see the truth, but doesn’t want to accept it because it’s so painful.
There is also the fact that it’s hurtful enough to accept that one parent didn’t love you. Accepting both parents didn’t is even more so. Even when you understand it’s because they’re narcissists, knowing both of your parents didn’t love you can make you feel unlovable.
If this describes your situation, I’m so sorry, Dear Reader. You are in an extremely painful situation. Pray, journal, talk to safe people… do whatever you have to do to help you face this ugly truth & to heal. It will help you in the long run to face this awful situation. You can do this!
Sometimes avoiding narcissists is impossible no matter how hard you try & how much knowledge you have about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. When that happens, there are some ways that you can fluster them enough to where they will want to leave you alone.
If you have & enforce good boundaries, narcissists won’t like you. A good victim has weak or non existent boundaries. If you have & enforce your boundaries, a narcissist won’t know what to do with you. They may try to make you feel stupid or wrong for having them, but when you are secure in the knowledge what you are doing is right, their gaslighting won’t work.
Having healthy self esteem is a huge turn off to narcissists. The lower a person’s self esteem, the easier that person is to control. Similarly, the healthier a person’s self esteem, the harder that person is to control. While narcissists often enjoy the challenge of controlling a person with healthy self esteem, they will give up when they see that person isn’t going to tolerate their abuse.
Knowing about NPD is also a huge turn off to narcissists. Even if you don’t explain the ugly details of narcissism to them or call them out, so long as you know what these people are like & what they are capable of, it will be a problem for them. Narcissists don’t want anyone to figure out what they are doing, because a person who understands their games cannot be controlled or manipulated, & won’t create any narcissistic supply.
Self validation is a powerful weapon against narcissists. They want their victims to look only to them for validation. A person who doesn’t need the narcissist for validation won’t provide any narcissistic supply or be controlled by a narcissist.
Understanding that no contact is a very viable option gives you strength when dealing with a narcissist, & they can’t handle that. Narcissists want to be the ones in charge at all times. If you know that you have options, & don’t have to let the narcissist make all decisions in the relationship, you will become a problem to a narcissist.
If a narcissist knows you don’t need him or her, you become a threat. Narcissistic parents & spouses in particular like to make a victim completely dependent on them, preferably financially or emotionally. If they see you are well aware you don’t need the narcissist, can leave the relationship anytime & still survive just fine, you won’t be a good victim to the narcissist.
Avoiding all narcissists seems to be impossible, unfortunately. However, if you can implement some of these tools, you will be able to handle yourself very well when you must deal with them.
Hello, Dear Readers!
If you want to check them out, you can click on the links in the last paragraph, or go to my website at: http://www.CynthiaBaileyRug.com
Last night, I had two extremely vivid nightmares about my parents. I woke up anxious & afraid from both, but especially the second one.
I got to thinking & praying about the dreams, I realized they showed me something. It is incredibly hard to accept a covert narcissist parent as the evil, abuser that they are!
Over the last couple of years, I’ve had a LOT of dreams about my father & when I prayed, God would tell me to pay attention to them- they are showing what he is really like, as He did when I asked about last night’s nightmares. Yet in spite of the many warnings, I was still shocked when he did certain things like calling the police twice on me for “welfare checks” after I stopped speaking to him, accused my husband of keeping me from him or sending several flying monkeys after me.
When you’ve been raised with an overt narcissist & a covert narcissist, it is hard to accept the covert narcissist is bad. After all, compared to the overt, the covert doesn’t seem so bad. The covert doesn’t scream at you or hit you or shred your self-esteem. Plus, it’s incredibly hard to accept that both of your parents didn’t love you. One is hard enough, but two? Incredibly painful. So, many people tell themselves that their covertly narcissistic parent isn’t so bad. Sure, that parent has flaws, but it could be worse, right?
I firmly believe covert narcissists are way worse than overts. At least with overt narcissists, you know where you stand & what they’re capable of. Not so with covert narcissists. Due to their subtlety, they can abuse so discreetly, a person doesn’t even realize it’s happening. They also give such a good appearance as a victim that on the off chance you recognize they’re behavior is abusive, you don’t have the heart to upset them by confronting them. They also love to appear naive & innocent. This makes you doubt they know what they’re doing is wrong. It also means if you tell people you both know, you won’t be believed. Covert narcissists also make you feel sorry for them, which is another guarantee that you will let them get away with anything they want to do.
If anyone meets my father, they get the impression he’s a simple country boy- laid back, good sense of humor & a pleasant person. And, now that he’s pushing 80 & has Alzheimer’s & other health problems, they also feel bad for him. They don’t realize the incredibly evil, twisted things he is capable of because they only see the way he presents himself. They don’t believe that when my mother abused me, he not only failed to protect me, he also turned the situation around so I would comfort him because he said he was upset she hurt me. They wouldn’t believe he expected me to apologize to him for breaking a wall when my mother threw me into it when I was 19. Yet, these things are absolutely true.
Dear Reader, if you have a covertly narcissistic parent, please pray about your situation. If you’re maintaining that relationship thinking that parent isn’t as bad as your overtly narcissistic one, you’re probably wrong. I thought that myself & I certainly was. It’s taken me a lot of painful events, & long time to see my father for the wicked narcissist he is. It took many nightmares & painful events to realize it. I would love to spare you the kind of pain that I have had to experience because I didn’t want to accept the truth, so please, please pray about your situation. Ask God to show you the truth about your parent, to enable you to handle it & what you should do about it.
One thing about narcissists is that they are extremely good at hiding how vicious they truly are from everyone except their victims. Covert narcissists are even better at this than their overt counterparts. Coverts can be so skilled at hiding their abusive actions that even the victims don’t consider it abuse. Often, if they tell others about what the covert narcissist is doing, they aren’t believed.
People often make excuses for the covert narcissist…
- “She just doesn’t know any better. She didn’t even graduate high school, after all…”
- “He’s getting old- he probably just didn’t even remember/think about….”
- “Well, he was diagnosed with Dementia.. he can’t help himself.”
- “Everyone loves her. She helps so many people. I must’ve overreacted. She wouldn’t have knowingly hurt me like that.”
- “Just look at what she puts up with from that awful husband! She was probably just stressed & didn’t mean to hurt me..”
If any of these excuses sound familiar because you have heard them or said them, then chances are you are dealing with a covert narcissist.
Are you still wondering? Here are some other clues…
- Does this person act innocent, even slow or naive, but you know for a fact they aren’t that way?
- Does this person act incompetent, unable to take care of herself or himself? Maybe relying completely on their spouse to make household decisions, pay bills, etc.
- Does this person come across as in need of protection? As if they are too weak to protect themselves?
- Do you feel as if you shouldn’t confront this person because they are too fragile to handle your confrontation, no matter how gently you approach them?
- Does this person offer looks of disapproval more than saying critical things?
- Does this person not give the disapproving looks when you both are around other people? Perhaps even complementing you in the presence of others?
- Does this person expect to be taken care of? For example, elderly parents with plenty of money who refuse to call a lawn care service, instead, expecting their adult son with his own home to maintain their lawn.
- Is this person married to an overt narcissist, & never stands up to him or her?
- If married to an overt narcissist, does he or she leave parenting to the overt narcissist, never protecting the children from that parent & appearing as the real victim of the overt narcissist?
Covert narcissists are much harder to spot than overts since they are so much sneakier & more deceptive. This is what I believe makes them even more dangerous than overt narcissists.
Dealing with covert narcissists is even more of a challenge than dealing with their overt counterparts. You still have to have & enforce strong boundaries, refuse to provide them with supply, limit your time in their presence, etc. like you do with overts. The problem is with coverts, they will slip into the victim role extremely easily & quickly. It can be VERY hard not to apologize or give in. The more you stick to your guns, though, the easier it gets.
Another thing I’ve found to be helpful is being cold & logical with them. Show them no emotion. If you do, they will try to squelch your joy or provoke you when they know something makes you angry. Instead, show them no emotion. Walk away if you feel emotions reaching a boiling point if you must, even if it appears rude.
Change the subject as needed. Since covert narcissists are pretty passive in some ways, this tactic works quite well with them.
Limiting or even ending contact with them is your best bet. The more time you spend with a covert narcissist, the worse they seem to get. At least that’s been my experience.
And lastly, never forget- just because a covert narcissist isn’t screaming in your face doesn’t mean they aren’t just as vicious as overt narcissists. In fact, many strike me as being even more vicious. They are simply better at hiding their viciousness under the guise of whatever works best for them- naivete, being helpful or innocence.
Learning about Narcissistic Personality Disorder is an amazing thing. It gives you answers you’ve always wanted & shows you that you were lied to- not everything was your fault. It’s a wonderful thing in that way!
Yet at the same time, learning about NPD also means you grieve. You realize that your narcissistic parents never will be the kind, loving, caring parents you always wanted & hoped they would be. It destroys that hope that one day, they’d see the error of their ways & start treating you well. Thank God, grieving does get easier, but I’m not sure it ever goes away entirely.
In my experience, I’ve realized something else about the grief process. For me, it was easier to grieve when I learned my overtly narcissistic mother was a narcissist than when I learned my covertly narcissistic father was one. Her actions were so obviously wrong, that there was no denial she was that way. There was no questioning that she was out to hurt & control me. I knew that even before learning about NPD.
My father, however, was a different story.
My father always acted naive, even though he’s very intelligent. He can play the victim or pitiful card well, too. When I went to him with problems about my mother, he would act sad & tell me he couldn’t do anything to help me. It was hard on him knowing she was hurting me, he said. I ended up comforting him when he should’ve been comforting & protecting me. He’s also very subtle at his manipulations, so it’s easy to miss what his true motives are unless you’re very familiar with narcissism. For example, there were times when I didn’t answer his phone call or didn’t call him when he thought I should. He would tell other people he’s so worried about me- he doesn’t know why I haven’t called him in a while. If they talk to me would they mind have me call him? Sounds like a concerned father, doesn’t it? Yet, it’s about making me do what he wants, not concern or love for me.
Because my father is so good at being subtle (the opposite of my mother), it’s been really hard to accept that he’s a covert narcissist. I always thought of him as the good, loving parent. He never called me names, verbally tore me down, or screamed at me like my mother did, so he had to be the good parent. Or, so I told myself.
Besides, having two parents who don’t love you is a very painful thing to accept. No one wants to believe neither of their parents care about them. It’s easier to deny that the covertly narcissistic parent is that way. Their actions are so subtle anyway, it’s easy to miss their abuse, unlike overt narcissists. Compared to an overt narcissist parent, the covert seems like a tiptoe through the tulips. At least until you learn about covert narcissists & how diabolical they truly are, hiding behind the mask of the good parent.
If you’re having a tough time accepting that you have a covertly narcissistic parent, please don’t feel bad. It’s tough to accept! It really hurts & is very disappointing when you realize the one parent you thought loved you really didn’t.
You need to grieve & get your hurt out to come to a healthy place of acceptance. As you do, you may find yourself going through an angry phase. I have. Angry about being fooled, angry at being manipulated into thinking he was the good parent, angry about being manipulated & guilt tripped.. lots of anger. I think this is very normal. Covert narcissists work even harder than overts do to fool people. Most overts worry about fooling those they want to impress, while not caring about their victims. Coverts, however, want everyone to think they’re good people, including their victims. Since we do buy their “good guy/good girl” act, it’s incredibly maddening to find out how badly we were duped. So, when the anger surfaces, just know- it ain’t gonna be pretty, but it’s OK. Get it out however works for you- pray, journal, talk to someone safe.
The anger also may come back even when you think it’s all gone. Nothing wrong with that so long as you’re dealing with it when that happens. Anger isn’t always easy to process. Sometimes it takes a long time. Sometimes, you’re only able to deal with it in small doses, so God hides some things from you until you’re able to cope. All you can do is deal with it in whatever ways help you the most.
Never forget, God will help you get through it all. Ask for help & wisdom on how to do what you need to do. Listen to what He tells you. Trust Him, & you will be just fine. xoxo
When people first learn about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the almost always learn about overt narcissists. They read that narcissists are always loud, brash, braggarts who openly use & abuse people. Which is mostly true. Overt narcissists are absolutely that way.
What is equally true is not all narcissists are like that. Some narcissists come across as insecure & passive, even offering apologies sometimes which overt narcissists don’t do. They make you feel sorry for them. If you’re romantically involved with one, he may not even be someone you were attracted to at first. Somehow though, he acted in a way that gained your attention. He pretended to share your values while also gaining your sympathy, thus making him attractive to you. He probably says things like he’s never loved anyone like he loves you, he’s waited for someone like you his whole life & other lies.
Over time, the mask slips & a much more devious & sinister person comes to light. Yet when you have believed that this person was good, believing that they are cruel doesn’t compute. You think the abuse can’t be real. You must be paranoid. You must be imagining things or reading too much into it. After all, when you approach this person, he blames you & says he is the victim of your cruelty. Someone so good wouldn’t abuse you..
Or would they?
Covert narcissists are extremely good at hiding their abuse. So much so even victims don’t always consider it abuse. They make excuses- “she just doesn’t know any better,” “He was just kidding!” “She was just trying to help…”
Confronting a covert narcissist never goes well. They tell you that you’re crazy, wrong, reading too much into things, they never said or did what you believe they did & more.
In this position, victims often submit to the twisted beliefs of the covert narcissist, losing their self-esteem in the process & doubting their sanity. Some try harder & harder to please the narcissist, never being able to do so. The narcissist constantly changes what they want so you aren’t able to please them. The victim’s self-esteem continues dropping, & they try harder to please the narcissist, & the cycle continues.
If the covert narcissist is a parent, the parent will do their best to gain their child’s sympathy. They commit emotional incest on a constant basis, treating their child as a partner rather than a child. They burden their child with their woes about their failing marriage or other inappropriate topics. If still married to the other parent, they expect the child to get involved with marital problems or protect the parent from the other parent. They portray themselves as the real victims of this dysfunctional situation, not the child, nor do they care that they & possibly the other parent abused that child
Covert narcissists are a thousand times worse to deal with than overt narcissists, in my opinion. At least with an overt narcissist, you know what you’re getting. They are bold & “in your face” with their actions, leaving you no doubt what they’re like. Covert narcissists keep you guessing. They use your natural instincts of kindness against you. While overt & covert narcissists both can make you feel like you’re crazy, chances are you will figure out that you aren’t much sooner with an overt narcissist. Coverts are not only great at manipulation but also using pity to get what they want. Victims don’t want to think the covert narcissist is trying to make them feel crazy, & they’re afraid of upsetting him, so they are less likely to question what they are told.
Covert narcissists are everywhere. The mother in-law who won’t let go of her adult son & quietly treats her daughter in-law like dirt when no one is around. The father married to an overtly narcissistic wife who fails to protect his child, instead wanting her to comfort him because his wife abuses his child & it’s hard for him. The husband who everyone thinks is a good guy, but behind closed doors, criticizes his wife in every area possible, compares her unfavorably to other women & makes her feel guilty for not measuring up. The parent who sexually abuses their child.
These people are incredibly dangerous! Covert narcissists should NOT be underestimated! Be aware of what to look for with covert narcissists, & protect yourself accordingly!! Have good, strong boundaries. Pay attention to their words & actions. Don’t let your guard down around them. Keep conversations very superficial. Most of all, pray. Pray lots! Ask God for wisdom on how to deal with this person.
A thought crossed my mind a little while ago. Over the last maybe 10-15 years, my father has become quite obsessed with rescuing me. If I’m in financial trouble, he wants to give me money. If I have car trouble, he wants to tell me what’s wrong with the car even though I know cars & my husband has worked in the automotive industry for 30 years. I even remember one day when I was knitting during his visit to my home, I dropped a skein of yarn & he practically leaped towards me as if he was going to pick up my yarn. He also tried to tell me how to knit differently. Mind you, he knows nothing of knitting.
Since this rescue thing began, it’s been a problem. It infuriates my mother & she in turn would take her rage out on me. Plus, I don’t need a “daddy”- I’m a capable adult. I needed a father as a child when my mother was actively abusing me & my father wanted me to console him about that fact rather than protect me. Him wanting to rescue me now & not then just ticks me off.
I’ve been wondering why he does this. I thought it was just about getting some narcissistic supply. Covert narcissists like him love to look good by helping people. They don’t help out of the kindness of their hearts or because they care- they help for supply only. However, it felt like there was something more to it than that.
Today, God showed me there is more to it.
My father’s behavior started as I began to set more boundaries with my father, to spend less time with him & to pull away emotionally as well as physically. Narcissists don’t handle their child growing up as normal parents do. Normal parents embrace each stage of life their child is in. Narcissists want their child to remain small children indefinitely. Small children are easy to manipulate & control as well as are eager to please their parents. Since children grow up, narcissistic parents are forced to find ways to keep their children from maturing too much. My father has opted to rescue me to accomplish this. If I see that I need him to help me often, it will keep me doubting myself & dependent on him. He’ll get the narcissistic supply he needs by looking like the good dad who helps his daughter, plus I’ll stay dependent on him, easier to manipulate & wanting to please him. I won’t cause “problems” by having boundaries or my own wants, needs, or feelings.
There are a great deal of covert narcissists in the world, so I’m sure that my father isn’t the only one who behaves this way. They all seem to use the same rule book so I’m sure some of you reading this have a covertly narcissistic parent who behaves in this manner. It can be so frustrating wondering what is happening when they behave this way! I hope this helps you, Dear Reader, by giving you a possible reason for this behavior.
If you’re wondering how to deal with it, the only thing I found to do is to refuse the gifts, advice or attempts at rescuing. I remind my father I’m an adult & can handle whatever the situation is I need to handle- I don’t need any help or advice. It’s going to anger your parent, but the good part of that is they can’t say so without looking foolish, so they won’t say anything. In fact, I’ve found my father pulled away from me more & more as I refused his rescuing.
When narcissism is discussed, often it is the behavior of the overt narcissist. Very little is discussed about covert narcissists.
Covert narcissists are much more devious & sly in their actions, yet they are just as abusive if not moreso than overt narcissists. Because their actions are so covert, their victims are often very hesitant to admit what was done to them was abusive. They often doubt what was done to them was done out of maliciousness, taking the blame on themselves for being over sensitive or reading too much into things. One way this is accomplished is by the covert narcissist using pity & sympathy.
Pity & sympathy are tools covert narcissists often use. If they can make you feel sorry for them, chances of you calling them out on their actions or setting boundaries are very slim. If you do either, you are going to feel very guilty for being so mean & unreasonable.
One way covert narcissists acquire that pity is by acting as if they aren’t very smart. Whether or not they are educated is beside the point. Covert narcissists like to give the impression that they’re very naive & innocent. Do NOT be fooled by this act however! There is absolutely no way a person can be stupid & extremely devious at the same time. Someone who is genuinely not very smart won’t know how to abuse people while appearing innocent. They also wouldn’t know what they are doing is wrong & it needs to be hidden.
Another way they acquire sympathy is by being married to an overt narcissist. Very often, overt & covert narcissists marry. It’s the perfect dysfunctional match. The overt narcissist can do anything, gaining all the attention, without anyone standing up to him or her. Meanwhile, the covert narcissist is able to abuse quietly, behind the scenes. No one really notices because the overt narcissist is gaining all the attention. The covert narcissist enjoys this because compared to the overt narcissist, the covert narcissist doesn’t look so bad. In fact, they tend to play the role of the good spouse very well. They look long suffering, patient, even martyr-like in the fact they can tolerate so much from their spouse.
Because of this appearance, many people, particularly empathetic ones, are extremely hesitant to set boundaries with or confront covert narcissists. I was the same way with my late mother in-law who was clearly a covert narcissist. I noticed she was especially mean to me after a disagreement with my father in-law. I felt bad for her- sometimes he said some really hurtful things to her. I thought, naively, maybe she was just getting out her frustrations. And, I didn’t have the heart to say anything to her because she had enough to deal with. As time went on though, I realized she got meaner & meaner, whether or not they had a disagreement. Not saying something wasn’t helping her or me.
Most people like getting a little sympathy or pity periodically. If you have a bad cold, doesn’t if feel good if someone says they’re sorry you’re sick & brings you some soup? Covert narcissists take that normal thing to an extreme, though, using it to get away with any abuse they can.
Overt narcissists may use sympathy & pity too, but not nearly as much as covert narcissists do. Plus, their methods are much easier to spot. They often can turn on & off their tears as easily as most people flip a switch, for example. I’ve seen that with my overtly narcissistic mother. She has back problems, & uses that for sympathy. If she isn’t getting enough attention, she has burst into tears, claiming to be in pain. Yet interestingly, when I didn’t rush to her side, after a moment she stopped crying & went on with her activities.
If you notice someone in your life constantly wants pity or sympathy, be forewarned, chances are, you’re dealing with a narcissist.
Periodically, I like to post about the signs of a covert narcissist. Everyone knows about overt narcissists, but there just isn’t much information on their covert counterparts. Today, I want to share some warning signs of covert narcissists.
They are terrible listeners. When having a conversation with a covert narcissist, it is painfully obvious they want you to shut up so they can resume talking. They look bored. They pretend they’re going to talk as you start to talk, then obviously stop talking, acting as if you interrupted them. They try to hurry your conversation up.
They create a false image of themselves. Covert narcissists are not as obvious in their delusions of grandeur like overt narcissists. They may even say depreciating things about themselves such as “I can’t do that.. I’m not talented.” “I’m not very smart.” This false image of modesty often makes people complement them & provide narcissistic supply when they make such comments. Some pretend to be stupid, when in fact they are quite intelligent, so people will take care of them & protect them. Others do for the people in their life to create the image of the self-sacrificing martyr who never thinks of herself.
They are smug. Narcissists look down on other people, whether they are covert or overt, but coverts are quieter about it. They may not tell a person flat out that they are better than the victim, but the victim knows this is how that person feels anyway. Covert narcissists have a look that conveys the message well. Or, they compare you unfavorably to someone else. My mother in-law told me how disappointed she was my husband married me instead of someone he used to date, which left me feeling not good enough to be a part of her family.
Covert narcissists have no empathy. Like their overt counterparts, covert narcissists have zero empathy. They don’t care about your pain unless it directly affects them. If you cry in their presence, they will look at you blankly. If there is a witness, the covert narcissist might offer you a hug or some kind words, but that is only to make the witness think well of them. They really don’t feel any empathy for you whatsoever.
Always the victim. Covert narcissists are always the victim. If they hurt you, & you confront them, you are mean/unreasonable/abusive/etc. They’ll even bring out the fake tears to attempt to make you feel guilty.
Covert narcissists fake apologize. On the off chance you get an apology from a covert narcissist, it is obviously fake. They don’t understand why what they did was wrong, but they feel forced to apologize to appease you & keep you providing their narcissistic supply. When there’s no way to get around that apology, it can be either passive/aggressive (“I’m sorry you feel that way”) or by saying things they think you would want to hear. Chances are, they’ll be dead wrong on what they think you want to hear, too.
They are extremely sensitive. Narcissists are all sensitive to any criticism, real or imagined, but covert narcissists are the worst. Any slight from you can have them crying about how cruel you are.
Growing up with at least one narcissistic parents almost always means there was an emotionally incestuous or parentalizing relationship between the narcissistic parent & her child. Since narcissists are so self-absorbed, they often have children to take care of them or to fill some need in their life. This is where emotional incest, aka parentalizing, comes into play.
Parentalizing, parentification, covert incest & emotional incest all describe the same thing. (To simply, we’ll use “parentalizing” in this post.) It is when a parent & child’s roles are reversed, when the parent makes the child responsible for her emotional well being. A parent who talks to a child about adult matters such as her sex life or failing marriage is indulging in parentalizing. Although this behavior may not sound so bad, it is devastating to a child. Her feelings & issues can be made worse when people tell her how lucky her parent is to have her to count on or other misguided comments such as, “She needs you!” “You have to be strong for her!” “I don’t know what she’d do without you!” On the outside, this parentalized relationship may appear loving & good. The parent & child are close- what a wonderful thing! When people see the relationship, they encourage it or make those misguided comments, often without realizing the harm this is doing to the child.
Children who have survived a parentalizing relationship with their parent or parents often grow up full of guilt, angry, depressed, possess poor relationship skills, are in co-dependent relationships, have a very overdeveloped sense of responsibility (feeling responsible for everyone in their life) or have addictions. Another side effect you rarely see mentioned though is the feeling of needing to be invisible, to blend into the background.
Parentalizing parents seem to take up all the space in the relationship with their child. Be they overt or covert narcissists, they share one common thing- the fact that they come first in that relationship, period. Through fear or guilt, they give their child the message that they are more important, & their child isn’t important at all. Children often internalize the message, & as a result feel they must stay invisible so as not to disturb their narcissistic parent. Never upset that parent! Either comply with anything & everything the parent wants or stay strong for her.. All of these ideas are to please the narcissistic parent & avoid the rage that comes from not pleasing her. These thoughts even continue into adult relationships, such as “If I’m good enough to him & give him what he wants, he’ll stop hitting me.”
Parentalizing parents also communicate the message that they aren’t able to handle things, they are weak, & need the child to clean up their mess. This message tells the child that her needs are just too much. Just existing is a burden to the parent. Her needs aren’t important, including the need for validation. In fact, often the only validation the child gets is when she is her parent’s “savior” by fixing her parent’s problem. If she dares to express any need, chances are good it will be met with anger, even rage, so the child learns to fade into the background until she is needed.
Feeling invisible, I think, is rooted in shame. We are ashamed of having needs, wants, feelings because we were made to feel ashamed of them. Our parentalizing parent also gave us the message that we aren’t important. Both of these things, I believe, work together to create a root of toxic shame. Toxic shame can cause you to feel so ashamed of who you are, that you don’t feel worthy of anything. You assume people won’t want to help you or even talk to you. Simple things most people don’t think twice about can be a challenge for you, such as leaving your home. You may feel so ashamed of who you are that you don’t think you should bother people with your presence. Even expecting help from salespeople, service people, or staff in a hospital may seem impossible because of that deep root of shame. It’s surprising just how deep shame can go.
So what do you do to get rid of toxic shame?
First, pray. Ask God to help you to heal. Obey any instructions He gives you.
Next, push yourself outside of your comfort zone sometimes. The more you see you can do things successfully, the more confident you will become & the less hold shame will have on you. Sharing things with trustworthy people, you will see that other people actually do care about you which helps as well.
Also, question the shaming beliefs when they come up. Why do you feel so ashamed of yourself for wanting something? Why do you feel to blame for a situation where you had no control? Things like this. Ask God for the answers if you don’t know them. And, ask Him to help you to release those beliefs.
I have learned these things help a great deal. I have slipped up, unfortunately, & when I have stopped doing these three things, I fell right back into old, dysfunctional & miserable patterns. For them to work, you have to keep doing them, even when it gets uncomfortable. Remind yourself of these things often. You’ll be glad you did!
Those of us who grew up with overtly narcissistic mothers often grew up thinking our fathers were great guys. After all, compared to Mom, they really were great. They didn’t berate & control us constantly. Since we also had a skewed view of love, we believe they loved us.
The sad truth though is many of us have fathers who weren’t the great guys we thought they were. Many men married to overtly narcissistic women are covert narcissists.
Covertly narcissistic fathers often come across as hard workers (working long hours &/or traveling for work), soft spoken & naive. They need to be taken care of because they don’t always know what to do. They may be clingy with their daughters, confiding in her about problems in their marriage. When told about how abusive their children’s mother is, they claim they had no idea it was that bad, & there is nothing they can do to stop it. They may even turn it around, claiming it’s so hard on them, knowing how cruel their wives are to their children. Many are quite sneaky too, telling their wives one thing & their children another, to stir up strife between the mother & her children. Some men, if their wife is angry, will somehow find a way to bring up their children to refocus her anger onto her children. They will not hesitate to throw their children (of any age) under the bus with their wife in order to protect themselves from her anger.
Does this sound familiar to you? If so, I really understand! It’s my father in a nutshell. And, I also understand that Father’s Day is a painful & frustrating day for you because of this! It is for me too.
Remember my post about the recent argument with my parents? I’m still dealing with it. My mother is still not speaking to me, which works just fine for me. She won’t hear my side of it, I don’t understand hers, so there is no working things out with her. My father, however, is obviously still angry at me, but refuses to talk about it. He insists on looking like the good guy no matter what, so rather than come out & say he’s angry with me, he goes into passive/aggressive mode. He constantly brings up how he upset my dog by coming by one day when I wasn’t here, & hints that he doesn’t believe I wasn’t here. He knows it bothers me he upset her & that he doesn’t believe me when I say I wasn’t here that day. About a week ago, I didn’t answer when he called as I was busy (& frankly not in the mood to deal with him), so the next time we spoke, he told me he was so worried when I didn’t answer my phone. According to him, since I didn’t answer the phone, he was forced to call one of my cousins who lives 450 miles away to try to get in touch with me. All of this drama is about control- letting me know I am wrong for being upset with him & for not taking his call.
Normally I’m not thrilled with Father’s Day anyway, but this year? UGH. Much worse than normal.
I figured out to deal with it this year, I would still get my father a card, but it’s quite different than any other card I’ve given him. I usually opt for a nice, Christian themed card that basically says “God bless you, have a nice day”. Simple but nice while not saying he was a great father, since he wasn’t. This year? I opted for something funny. My father will be glad he got a card, so there won’t be any repercussions for me. I wasn’t even feeling like sending him a nice card, so the funny one worked for me. It was a good compromise. On the actual day, I won’t be calling my father or seeing him. I’ll focus on my husband, who is a good dad to our furkids instead. Plus, this is hubby’s first Father’s Day since his mother died. She often had big family parties on Father’s Day, & since this is his first year without that, I want to be available for him in case he wants to talk or needs some support.
I’m choosing to focus on what is the most important to me, & there is nothing wrong with that!
Father’s Day is a lovely idea. If you have a great dad, then by all means, let him know he is a great dad! Celebrate him on Father’s Day & any other day you feel the urge to do so. However, if you too have a covertly narcissistic father, you don’t need to celebrate him on Father’s Day. It’s OK! There is nothing wrong with you! You aren’t failing to honor your father! It’s not un-Christian not to celebrate it. It’s not commanded in the Bible to celebrate Father’s Day. You are allowed to do whatever you feel you need to do. Get him a card or don’t, give him a gift or don’t- there are no rules. You need to do what feels right to you.