Do you have a ‘covert narcissist’ in your life?

This could be your boss, co-worker, friend, relative or spouse
By Mariam Hakim , Family Flavours

Relationships and Couples Therapist

We are more familiar with the ‘overt narcissist’ who’s loud and demands attention and admiration openly and directly. ‘Covert narcissists’ have the same traits but are difficult to spot because they pretend to be loving, giving, altruistic and kind but are in fact deeply selfish and narcissistic. In other words, they are wolves in sheep clothing. 

Although they have all the negative qualities of the overt narcissist, they are smart enough to know that displaying them openly will get in the way of achieving the self-centred power, recognition and success that they so deeply want for themselves. By building a false persona that projects kindness and love, they are able to fool people around them by manipulating and controlling them to get what they want. The narcissist will always put themselves first even at the expense of others. 

Common tactics

• They listen and observe: They study you and try to know everything about you; your strengths, needs, and weaknesses to use later to manipulate and control you, They guard who whey are: They don’t show you their true selves because they are afraid you will see something you don’t like and then they will lose their grip on you and you will expose them. It is also difficult for them to show you who they are as they are not in touch with their true selves as a result of years of pretending to be someone else; pretending to be kind and loving

• They mirror who you are: They watch and observe who you are and what you need and like and then they start projecting back to you what they think you want to hear, what you’re interested in or what you want in life. They do so to woo you and for you to start to feel close to them. If, for example, you like sports, they will pretend to like it too. If you smoke, they might become an occasional smoker to fit in with you. With time, you will notice that they pretend to be and like many things depending on who they are trying to impress and manipulate; these likes tend to change according to their needs

• They will make you buy into the idea that you are soul mates: They will try and make you believe that you are soul mates by working hard to fulfil your needs and wants. They might shower you with gifts and favour, making you constantly feel like you owe them. This is one of their manipulative tactics which enables them to control you. Know that genuine gifts and favours do not come with any strings attached

• They push things fast in the relationship: A huge red flag is when someone is pushing to be with you in a relationship fast; for example, when a romantic partner pushes fast for commitment or marriage at the beginning of your relationship. A friend who bends over backwards to become your bestie. Genuine relationships need time and good boundaries to develop; you don’t just jump into them

• With time, they start pushing and testing your boundaries: This is when you start feeling uncomfortable around them and your misery begins; they will start by doing subtle things (putdowns, passive aggressive remarks, talk behind your back) to see what they can get away with or what you are willing to put up with. Although their actions will cause significant distress, you will tend to excuse them or give them the benefit of the doubt because they have worked so hard on convincing you that they are genuine and have your best interest at their heart. They will keep pushing your boundaries and using you to fulfil their own selfish needs until your distress becomes too much for you to handle and hopefully you will wake up and see them for who they really are

What can we do?

1. Do not beat yourself up for falling into their trap. Of course you will fall into their trap because they have spent so much effort and resources to make you believe that they are kind and loving and have your best interest at heart

2. Get out of the relationship quietly. Do not attempt to discuss this with them or blame them for what they have said or done as they will use every tactic they can think of to make you look like the perpetrator and them as the victim; you will never win as they are smart and manipulative [lying is normal for them]

3. Prepare yourself for some backslash As soon as you start setting some boundaries and retreating from the relationship, they will feel it, get angry and try to hurt you either directly or indirectly. Expect that and keep moving forwards with your plan.



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