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.