THE COVERT OR VULNERABLE NARCISSIST
I have realised, that this series is polarising quite a bit. It appears to have hit a nerve and yet there is something I want to clarify which cannot be said often enough. I mentioned it in the first episode already. We ALL have narcissistic tendencies and we need these as they are usually good and healthy as well as important for survival. The word narcissism gets tossed around a lot in our selfie-obsessed, celebrity-driven culture, often to describe someone who seems excessively vain or hopelessly full of themselves. What I am writing about are not people with narcissistic tendencies, I am writing about full-blown narcissists that use and abuse others for their own gain.
So, let’s dive into Covert or Vulnerable Narcissism
It’s common to imagine all narcissists as dominant and overwhelming in social situations. However, covert narcissists are often introverted. They tend to be extremely sensitive to criticism and always suffer from low self-esteem. They can be defensive and passive-aggressive, but they are less likely to overestimate their emotional abilities than grandiose narcissists. Covert narcissism is a more secretive, introverted kind of narcissism. Yet, it is just as selfish, manipulative, and harmful to relationships as overt narcissism. You could even say that a covert narcissist is more like an undercover narcissist, and that’s why they can be much more difficult to spot.
The information I am giving you here is from research I have done and from a lot of personal experience. With that in mind, the signs of a covert narcissist are quite different from a grandiose narcissist. Of course, there is, as in most things in life, no black and white and the lines between the two types can blur together.
What seems unusual at first is that a covert narcissist practices self-deprecation. They very often self-deprecate and put themselves down or criticize themselves – sometimes it is done in a humorous way or even as a joke. A vulnerable narcissist, as with all narcissists, struggles with low self-esteem, feeling constantly unworthy and believing in their own inadequacy, and struggles with self-praise. The reason the vulnerable narcissist self-deprecates, is to solicit praise and encouragement from others.
They do this in hope that you will disagree and give them a compliment – they are fishing for compliments and praise. In other words, for the covert narcissist, self-deprecation is just a way to manipulate others to give them what they so dearly crave. They may even offer you a compliment, only because they want to prompt you to give one in return. It is quite simple, for the covert narcissist, selfishness, and self-deception are motivators for most behaviors.
In contrast to a grandiose or overt narcissist, a covert narcissist actually spends more time thinking about their own talents or accomplishments, than talking about them. They tend to live in their own heads and in a world of their own making.
The talents and accomplishments of the vulnerable narcissist may be real or just fantasy. When they are real, the covert narcissist wants others to talk about them and be praised and if they are fantasy, they will insist they will accomplish them. Their fantasies are very often grandiose and larger-than-life dreams. Because vulnerable narcissists suffer from low self-esteem, they often tend to avoid realistic goals. What they do instead is fantasise about amazing and heroic endeavors often even identifying with famous and accomplished people.
Covert narcissists are good at holding grudges. Instead of speaking their mind and standing up for themselves they rather hold a grudge when they feel wronged. They also often hold grudges against someone they perceive to have gotten something they deserve. For example, if someone is asked to be part of an event they believe is their territory. And when a covert narcissist holds a grudge, it can breed bitterness, anger, and even a desire for revenge. The vulnerable narcissist will often bide their time, waiting for a chance to get revenge. However, because bold action is not their habit, their revenge is often petty and seemingly insignificant.
A covert narcissist uses passive aggression to manipulate others, seek revenge, and ultimately feel superior. Remember, even though they have low self-esteem, in their fantasy world they are superior to all others. So, they will lash out at someone they perceive feels superior to them or has accomplished something they did not as they feel almost constant entitlement. In order to satisfy their need for entitlement, the covert narcissist may use sarcasm or jokes couched in truth to make others feel inferior. They will wait for just the right moment and strike. And yet, when you confront them, they will pass it off as a mere joke or careless comment.
One of the things that make covert narcissists so difficult to spot is that they can appear to have empathy. You wouldn’t normally think of a narcissist as showing empathy. But that’s really all it is- the appearance of empathy. Remember how a covert narcissist will give you a compliment, but only because they want to be complimented in return?
A covert narcissist will often even do extra work, be a Good Samaritan, help the needy or go the extra mile. It’s all for the show and they always want something in return. Acknowledgment and praise. If they are refused acknowledgment or praise for appearing to show empathy, they will cease and desist. They did not give because they genuinely care, they give to be praised. Moreover, if the covert narcissist is not praised or acknowledged, they will become bitter or resentful. The covert narcissist also likes to complain about how they are not appreciated and how others take advantage of them. They love to play the martyr and solicit sympathy and condolences from others.
A vulnerable narcissist can be just as toxic for relationships as an overt narcissist, sometimes even more so. The covert narcissist manipulates others and is nearly incapable of a truly selfless act. When it comes to a covert narcissist, every action and every word is a self-serving quid pro quo.
My personal experience with a covert narcissist was in an on-and-off relationship that lasted almost a decade. You might think that I should have learned from the last experience, and you could be right. Perhaps it was my learning to fall into the trap of another narcissist to finally learn my lesson.
The tragedy is basically that the relationship with the covert narcissist came right after the relationship with the overt narcissist – admittedly, there was some time in between.
When I met this man, I was absolutely not ready for a relationship and had no interest whatsoever. I was still recovering from the last one. I’m not the type to jump from one relationship to the next without time to heal properly.
When we met, I knew he was married and I didn’t see him as a man, but as an interesting person. You can judge me now for making the mistake of falling in love with the wrong man. I am not proud of it and I will not justify myself. Believe me, I paid.
What started as a friendship turned into something more after about eight months. We saw each other regularly and even traveled together. I think one of the reasons I allowed this to happen in the first place was that I knew that my children would be safe from him. I would never have to introduce him to them and he would have no influence on them whatsoever.
The conversations we had were wonderful and I admit that it was amazing to see that there was actually intelligent life out there. When he moved to another country with his family, I was in despair. But it turned out that we could still see each other almost every fortnight because he was still very active in Germany on business and we traveled together quite frequently.
This was probably one of the reasons why it took me so long to realize that he was a full-blown covert narcissist. In the stolen hours or days it was relatively easy for him to keep the mask on and I was deeply in love.
The push and pull started relatively early in the relationship and I again made the mistake of revealing my greatest vulnerabilities – you would have thought I had learned my lesson – that were used against me.
In retrospect, he followed the classic pattern of a covert narcissist.
The Love Bombing – this is how it starts. Getting hit by a love bomb feels glorious. The lavish attention and affection seem to make dreams come true. It feels like you have found Mr. or Ms. Right — your soul mate — not realising that you have been targeted by a narcissist. When someone love bombs you, they often shower you with excessive or overwhelming levels of affection, attention, and adoration. They tend to mirror you, knowing what you want and need. While that might not necessarily sound like a negative thing, the goal behind love bombing isn’t always so innocent. Love bombing can be a way of establishing control over another person. It can actually make you feel guilty or ungrateful if you’re at odds with your partner. You might go against your initial instincts, for example, because you feel you owe it to them to do what they want.
The High – when a narcissist has reeled you in you experience an unbelievable high – which is very addictive. You don’t even realize that you are being manipulated as covert narcissists are great at reading people and even better at manipulating them.
The Gaslighting – by the time they have you where they want you, the narcissist will argue any doubts or concerns you may have away and even make you feel like a fool, ungrateful, or guilty for ever having questioned them. You don’t stand a chance arguing with a narcissist as they are convinced and feel entitled to the only truth – theirs!
The Discard – this is one of the inevitables in this game of push and pull. Discarding means throwing something away that is not useful anymore. A narcissist will objectify people or their supply. It means they see people as objects that are needed to be discarded when they are of no use anymore. For them, you are just an interchangeable object that can serve their needs. They will groom you the way they want, use you, and will then discard you. They can be cruel at discarding someone by simply going silent or ghosting them without any explanation – simply because in their eyes you don’t deserve an explanation and they see absolutely no need to justify themselves. After a discard, often the narcissist will block you on all channels except one. Keeping options is important. If you were a good supply – giving them what they needed – and there is no new or better supply at hand, they will eventually come back.
The Breadcrumbing – is what they start with to test the waters. This can be a message, sometimes just one word, or even an emoji. It can be an interaction on any social media platform in form of a „like“ or a comment. If you don‘t react they will up their game. If you do react they will immediately start the next phase.
The Hoovering – Hoovering is a manipulation strategy narcissists use to reengage with their supply and to suck them back into a toxic relationship. Narcissists use this type of emotional abuse when they either sense that their supply – never forget that this is all you ever are to a narcissist – is seeking to pull out of the narcissistic and dysfunctional relationship or simply to pull them back in after a discard.
And then the vicious cycle begins all over.
When you read this you might ask yourself how someone can let a narcissist do this over and over and over again. And you are right. Yet, never underestimate a narcissist that has a goal.
What is interesting is that the time between the discard and the breadcrumbing, hovering, or love bombing can vary greatly. It actually depends on whether the narcissist discards the supply or if the supply ends the relationship.
If it is the narcissist that discards, it can take weeks, months, or even years before the narcissist goes for the next round, as they were in control. But if the narcissist is left by their victim, they cannot bear it and the total loss of control over this person.
This is my experience with a covert narcissist when I dictated the terms of the end of our „relationship“. It was five or six years into our on-and-off relationship and he tried to discard me via messenger – once again. I was still deeply in love with this man and believed him to be the love of my life at that time. I told him very clearly, as all attempts to end what we have – yes, I still naively believed there was actually something there as he swore he loved me – had failed miserably, that we should do it properly and in person. I suggested we spend my birthday weekend together, talk, enjoy one another one more time, and part with some dignity and respect. I was surprised that he agreed and on the first evening we went to dinner and he started crying uncontrollably. I was very much surprised as I had never seen him like this and believed he was sad because our time was coming to its inevitable end. We spent a wonderful weekend and on Sunday morning we had breakfast and said our final goodbye. I drove off and in my rear mirror saw him standing there watching me drive away. I had made my peace. I was of course very sad but it was an ending I could live with.
Just a few days later I received a long message via Twitter about how much he missed me and how terrible he felt without me. I made the huge mistake to reply – my biggest regret in all the years. Another few days later he sent me a love letter that any woman would kill for. As he is very eloquent and a true wordsmith, his love bombing worked immediately. Only a few weeks later he discarded me again in a cruel manner.
Today I know that the tears he wept at that dinner were not because he was losing me but because he had lost control over me. I was foolish enough to give that control and power over me back to him. Everything that followed was punishment for taking the control away from him on that one weekend – it was unforgivable.
I always knew he had narcissistic tendencies, even strong ones, and was so arrogant to believe I could handle them as I had vast experience with narcissists. I couldn’t and I paid a very high price.
One thing is true for all narcissists though. At some point, they overplay their hand and show who they really are – a sad person, incapable of feeling or giving love.
Next week will be the last part of the series about narcissism and I will tell you a bit more about NPD, the signs, and how to avoid and deal with narcissists.
🎶My Song of the Week
Is by one of my favourite artists – Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa, with Your Heart Is As Black As Night! This song could have been written for this topic – great lyrics, great voice, and great guitar!
It’s also here on the Spotify playlist
📚My Poem of the Week
Is by T.O.W
What began as friendship became true love Not realising it was one sided only Always hoping for a sign from above That never came and leaving you lonely The constant push an pull took its toll Having the wrong focus, wanting to believe - Not knowing you were being played and a fool - That he was sincere was just naive. Being used and thrown aside, over and over again Reeled in with promises to never be kept - ever You come to realise he is not a good man Followed by that one moment when you liberate yourself - forever.
Mr. Spock on a full moon night…
For personal reasons, I will be concentrating a large part of my work and expertise on helping people that have become victims of narcissistic abuse and helping them find the road to healing. I would be happy to take the time for a speed coaching call that you can reserve right here, go to my website or simply hit reply and get in touch with me directly.
Thank you for your time and for reading this post. If you know anyone that has been subjected to narcissistic abuse, please share this post with them.
If you enjoyed this post, leave a ❤️ and a comment! I wish you an amazing weekend and look very much forward to hearing from you.