Unlike overt narcissists who are unabashedly self-aggrandizing, covert narcissists aren’t as easy to spot because their narcissistic traits are inverted, making them appear shy and unassuming. Despite the “poor me” routine, however, the covert narcissist is often more victimizer than victim. Read on to learn more about how they operate…
Signs of a Covert Narcissist
- Perpetual victim. While the classic narcissist wants to appear invincible, their covert counterpart behaves like a wounded bird. They believe that everyone is out to get them and nothing is ever their fault. While they’re busy convincing others that you’re the bad guy, they’re often plotting ways to carry out their well-nursed grudges.
- Passive-aggressive. Overt narcissists tend to be demonstrably angry, whereas covert narcissists make you feel crazy by pretending they’re not mad when they are: for instance, promising to sign divorce paperwork but being “too busy,” neglecting to return children’s items that belong in your home, or always sending the child support check late.
- Quiet demeanor. Covert narcissists come across as shy and self-deferential. However, this behavior is really a way to get others to draw them out and tell them how special they are.
- Depression/Anxiety. The covert narcissist may struggle with lifelong depression and anxiety that neither medication nor therapy help. This may be due less to brain chemistry than to maladaptive coping mechanisms. Covert narcissists prefer therapists who let them vent indefinitely instead of encouraging behavior change.
- Hypersensitivity. The covert narcissist is quick to dole out criticism, but will have a dramatic reaction to even the smallest perceived slight. Their outrage is a way to get you to apologize for something you didn’t do wrong, accommodate their bad behavior, or spend time telling them how wonderful they are.
- Appear empathetic. A covert narcissist’s public good deeds stem less from altruism than from a desire to be perceived as a caring helper.
Tips For Divorcing Your Covert Narcissist
Your covert narcissist may drag out the fight because the divorce gives them purpose. They may regale anyone who will listen with their divorce woes in order to garner sympathy. They may devote boundless energy to being seen as the Good Parent who must rescue the children from you, the hopelessly misguided Bad Parent. Don’t despair! Here are some strategies to help you navigate divorce from a covert narcissist.
- Don’t get angry. Lashing out at the covert narcissist will fuel their victimization and give them “proof” that you are an abusive parent. The more level-headed you are, the more their unreasonableness will show.
- Be appreciative. Find opportunities to thank and compliment the covert narcissist: for instance, acknowledge their efforts on behalf of the children, or for responding to an email in a timely manner. This will decrease opportunities for them to feel slighted and thus, to retaliate.
- Be direct. Don’t respond to their passive-aggressive behavior with games of your own. Avoid sarcasm, lectures, and attempts to make them see the light. When communicating, stick to the facts. You may not — nor should not — need to reply to every email, but don’t go MIA simply to get revenge.
- Empathize. Covert narcissists have strong negative reactions to feeling unheard or misunderstood. No matter how unreasonable their behavior, try to validate their experience and feelings: “I know how much you miss the kids when they’re not with you, but according to our court-ordered visitation schedule, they are with me this weekend. Rest assured you will have them back on Monday.” You’re not empathizing with the covert narcissist to coddle them; you’re empathizing in order to defuse conflict.
Although you can’t change a covert narcissist’s ingrained defense mechanisms, you can empower yourself by changing your own expectations and reactions.
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