A member of my Facebook group shared a meme made from a quote from author & life coach Lisa Romano. I don’t remember the meme, but one of her comments on it said this: “Narcissism at its finest is like carbon monoxide. Your inner world will become chaotic and every aspect of your life will become suffocated by dysfunction, but you will not know from where the poison is coming from.”
Having suffered both narcissistic abuse & carbon monoxide, I really related to this comparison.
While narcissistic abuse is often thought of as loud, sometimes even physically abusive & basically easy to identify, that isn’t always the case. Overt narcissists are that way of course, but coverts aren’t. They are so much more subtle. They can abuse undetected.. much the same way carbon monoxide can injure or even kill.
Carbon monoxide has absolutely no smell whatsoever. You don’t see it hanging in the air like you would smoke, either. It silently & subtly does its damage, & you don’t even realize it until the damage has been done. The day I survived carbon monoxide poisoning, I knew I felt bad, but I didn’t know why. The thought of calling 911 or my husband for help also never crossed my mind. The poison ruined my ability to think clearly or recognize what the problem was.
Covert narcissists are much the same way. They aren’t like their overt counterparts who yell & scream to get their way. They’re often soft spoken. They come across as unassuming & meek, sometimes even not very intelligent. They may help people by donating to or volunteering with charities. They may be active in their church. If they are financially comfortable, they’re the first one to give money to someone they know who is struggling. People not close enough to the covert narcissist to see behind the make usually think they are really good, kind, generous people who will do anything to help someone in need. This allows covert narcissists to fly under the radar, abusing however they like. Even If someone does recognize a problem, most likely they’ll excuse the abuse because they claim the person meant well or doesn’t know any better.
What few people see is that covert narcissists wear a very convincing mask. Behind that mask is someone who rules their family with guilt, shaming, feigned helplessness, or exaggerating or even faking sickness. These weapons are every bit as effective, if not more so, than an overt narcissist’s screaming & raging while appearing innocent.
Often, these covert narcissists even control their overtly narcissistic spouse by quietly pushing their buttons until the overt narcissist snaps & attacks them either verbally or physically. Covert narcissists love this, because any witnesses to this see the covert narcissist as the long suffering, wonderful spouse of a crazy & even abusive person. They also get pity, which they love. Also in this situation, children of this narcissistic couple automatically side with their covertly narcissistic parent, & become protective of him or her. They never question why their parent expects their protection when it’s really parents’ job to protect their children instead. This behavior stays well into adulthood, which usually causes problems in the adult child’s marriage. Narcissistic parents are usually terrible in-laws. They expect their adult child to keep them first priority, not their spouse or children. When the spouse says something, the adult child often protects their covertly narcissistic parent, as they’ve always done, which causes strain in the marriage for which the spouse is blamed.
While there are carbon monoxide detectors to help protect us from that terrible poison, there aren’t such detectors to help us identify covert narcissists. There are ways you can protect yourself, though.
Pray. Ask God to give you discernment & wisdom. Then if you meet someone who you get an inkling about that something isn’t right, pay attention to the feeling! If their actions seem innocent but leave you feeling guilty or angry, chances are good that you’re in the presence of a covert narcissist.
If you discover you are dealing with a covert narcissist, again, pray. You’ll need all the wisdom you can get, especially if that covert narcissist is a parent of your spouse. Remember the Gray Rock method. When you & your spouse discuss the problem, stay calm, stating only the facts as calmly & logically as you can. Stick to your boundaries, too. Showing your anger will make your spouse more protective of that parent & angry with you.
Remember, just because covert narcissists come across safer than overt ones doesn’t mean they are safe. They really are like carbon monoxide- they may not appear dangerous, but they absolutely are!