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10 Signs You're Dating A Covert Narcissist

Feb 26, 2023

Being in a relationship with a covert narcissist before realizing their true nature can be a confusing and frustrating experience. At the beginning of the relationship, the covert narcissist may come across as charming, attentive, and caring. They may shower you with love and affection, seemingly making them the center of their world.

However, as the relationship progresses, the bad times seem to escalate.

You may start to feel like you’re are walking on eggshells, always afraid of setting off the narcissist's fragile ego. You may feel like you’re are constantly being controlled, manipulated, or gaslighted, with the narcissist always shifting blame and making you feel responsible for their own shortcomings.

Over time, you may start to feel emotionally drained, unsupported, and unimportant. You may feel like they are constantly giving and getting very little in return, as the narcissist prioritizes their own needs and desires above all else.

It can be difficult to spot a covert narcissist, as they often present themselves as loving, kind, and caring individuals… and sometimes, they may even seem a little shy or introverted. However, there are some warning signs that you may be dating a covert narcissist. 

In this post, we'll explore 10 signs to watch out for.

1. They have an inflated sense of self-importance.

Covert narcissists have an inflated sense of importance because they have a deep-seated need for admiration and validation, but they lack the self-confidence to seek it in an overt and direct way. Instead, they often present themselves as humble, self-effacing, and unassuming, while secretly harboring grandiose fantasies of their own brilliance, uniqueness, and superiority.

Covert narcissists derive their self-worth from the positive attention and affirmation of others, and they may go to great lengths to manipulate and control others in order to get this validation. They may also use subtle forms of manipulation and emotional coercion to maintain a sense of control over others and to protect their fragile self-esteem.

The inflated sense of importance that covert narcissists have is often rooted in a deep-seated fear of being unimportant or insignificant. They may have experienced feelings of neglect, rejection, or abandonment in childhood, and they may have developed a coping mechanism of overcompensating for these feelings by seeking constant attention and validation from others.

Overall, the inflated sense of importance that covert narcissists have is a manifestation of their underlying emotional wounds and insecurities, which they try to mask and compensate for through their behavior and interactions with others.

2. They lack empathy.

Covert narcissists lack empathy because they are primarily focused on themselves and their own needs, desires, and interests. They tend to view other people as extensions of themselves rather than as separate individuals with their own feelings, needs, and perspectives. This self-centeredness can make it difficult for them to truly understand or care about other people's experiences and emotions.

Here are some signs that your romantic partner may have low empathy as a covert narcissist:

  • They tend to talk about themselves a lot and often steer conversations back to themselves.
  • They may dismiss or belittle your feelings or concerns, and make you feel like your emotions are unimportant or unwarranted.
  • They may seem insensitive or indifferent to your pain or suffering, or not show much interest in supporting you when you are going through a difficult time.
  • They may have a history of hurting or mistreating others, without showing much remorse or concern for the impact of their actions.
  • They may be quick to criticize or judge others, without considering their own role in a situation or empathizing with the other person's perspective.

3. They are highly sensitive to criticism.

Covert narcissists tend to be hypersensitive to criticism because their self-esteem is fragile and easily damaged. Unlike overt narcissists, who may respond to criticism with aggression or defensiveness, covert narcissists often respond with self-pity, victimhood, or passive-aggressive behavior.

Spotting sensitivity to criticism early in a relationship can be challenging, as covert narcissists often present themselves as humble, self-effacing, and empathetic individuals. However, there are some signs to watch out for:

  • They are overly defensive: Covert narcissists may be quick to take offense or become defensive when their actions or motives are questioned, even in a gentle or constructive manner.
  • They avoid accountability: When confronted with their mistakes or shortcomings, covert narcissists may try to shift the blame onto others, make excuses, or deny responsibility.
  • They seek validation and approval: Covert narcissists may fish for compliments or seek constant reassurance from others, especially those they perceive as being in a position of authority or influence.
  • They are overly sensitive to rejection: Covert narcissists may be hypersensitive to rejection or perceived slights, and may hold grudges or harbor resentment towards those who they feel have wronged them.
  • They lack empathy: Despite their outward appearance of empathy, covert narcissists often lack genuine empathy for others and may struggle to put themselves in another person's shoes.

 

4. They are manipulative.

Covert narcissists manipulate their romantic partners in subtle ways that are often hard to detect. Here are some common tactics they may use:

  • Gaslighting: Covert narcissists may deny or distort their partner's perception of reality, causing them to question their own sanity and memory.
  • Love-bombing: Covert narcissists may shower their partners with love, attention, and affection early on in the relationship, only to withdraw or become emotionally distant later.
  • Triangulation: Covert narcissists may create conflicts or competition between their partner and other people (e.g. an ex-partner, a family member, a friend) to keep their partner off-balance and dependent on them for validation and support.
  • Victim-playing: Covert narcissists may portray themselves as the victim of their partner's behavior or emotions, deflecting responsibility for their own actions and creating a sense of guilt and obligation in their partner.
  • Silent treatment: Covert narcissists may use the silent treatment as a form of punishment or control, withdrawing communication or affection to manipulate their partner into complying with their demands or desires.
  • Projection: Covert narcissists may project their own flaws, insecurities, and fears onto their partner, making them feel responsible for the narcissist's emotional wellbeing and causing them to doubt their own worth and competence.

 

  1. They have a need for control.

Covert narcissists love to control people because it feeds their sense of power, superiority, and validation. They often feel insecure and inadequate on the inside, and so they try to compensate for these feelings by exerting control over others.

Here are some signs that you may be in a relationship with a controlling covert narcissist:

  • They dictate your actions: Controlling covert narcissists may try to dictate what you wear, who you see, and how you spend your time, and may become angry or manipulative when you don't comply with their wishes.
  • They withhold affection: Controlling covert narcissists may use affection, attention, and praise as rewards for good behavior, and may withdraw these things when you don't meet their expectations or demands.
  • They isolate you from others: Controlling covert narcissists may try to isolate you from friends and family, or may try to control who you spend time with, in order to limit your exposure to alternative perspectives or support systems.
  • They use guilt and shame: Controlling covert narcissists may use guilt, shame, or emotional blackmail to manipulate you into complying with their wishes, or to make you feel responsible for their emotions or wellbeing.
  • They have rigid expectations: Controlling covert narcissists may have rigid expectations for how you should behave, think, or feel, and may become critical or dismissive when you don't meet these expectations.
  • They use technology to monitor you: Controlling covert narcissists may use technology (e.g. tracking apps, spyware) to monitor your activities or communications, or may demand that you give them access to your phone, email, or social media accounts.

 

  1. They lack boundaries.

Covert narcissists may hate boundaries because they see them as a threat to their sense of control, power, and superiority. Narcissists often feel entitled to special treatment or privileges, and may become angry or resentful when they perceive that others are trying to limit or regulate their behavior.

Here are some reasons why covert narcissists may hate boundaries:

Covert narcissists may hate boundaries because they see them as a threat to their sense of control, power, and superiority. They may feel entitled to special treatment or privileges and may become angry or resentful when they perceive that others are trying to limit or regulate their behavior.

Here are some examples of how covert narcissists may disrespect your boundaries in a relationship:

  • Ignoring your needs: Covert narcissists may be so focused on their own needs and desires that they ignore or dismiss yours. For example, they may show up late for a date or cancel plans at the last minute without considering how it will affect you.
  • Invalidating your feelings: Covert narcissists may be dismissive or critical of your feelings or opinions, and may belittle or mock you when you express them. They may say things like "You're overreacting" or "That's not a big deal" when you're upset or hurt.
  • Blaming you for their problems: Covert narcissists may deflect responsibility for their own behavior or mistakes by blaming you. For example, they may say things like "You made me do it" or "If you hadn't done X, I wouldn't have done Y" when confronted about their actions.
  • Violating your privacy: Covert narcissists may snoop through your phone or personal belongings without your permission, or may insist on knowing your every move or thought. They may become angry or suspicious if you try to maintain your privacy or independence.
  • Pushing your boundaries: Covert narcissists may try to push your boundaries or test your limits to see how much they can get away with. For example, they may pressure you to do something you're uncomfortable with or insist on having their way even if it means ignoring your needs or preferences.
  • Gaslighting you: Covert narcissists may try to distort or manipulate your perception of reality by denying or minimizing their behavior, or by twisting your words or actions. They may make you doubt your own memory or judgment, and may make you feel crazy or irrational.

 

  1. They can seem sheepish, awkward or insecure

Covert narcissists may seem like they're introverted and insecure because they often have a fragile sense of self-esteem and self-worth that they work hard to protect. Unlike overt narcissists, who are more obvious and grandiose in their self-promotion, covert narcissists often hide their sense of superiority and entitlement behind a façade of humility, shyness, or vulnerability.

Here are some reasons why covert narcissists may seem introverted and insecure:

  • Fear of exposure: Covert narcissists may be afraid that if they reveal their true selves or express their true thoughts and feelings, they will be rejected or criticized. As a result, they may hide behind a mask of modesty or timidity, and may avoid situations where they feel vulnerable or exposed.
  • Need for admiration: Covert narcissists may have a deep need for admiration and validation, but may be reluctant to seek it out openly or directly. Instead, they may use passive-aggressive or manipulative tactics to elicit praise or attention, or may become resentful or hostile when they feel that they are not getting the recognition they deserve.
  • Lack of empathy: Covert narcissists may struggle to connect with others on an emotional level, and may be less skilled at reading and responding to social cues. As a result, they may appear withdrawn, aloof, or socially awkward, even if they are actually quite confident or self-assured on the inside.
  • Cognitive dissonance: Covert narcissists may experience cognitive dissonance, or a sense of discomfort or anxiety when their thoughts, beliefs, or behaviors conflict with their self-image. As a result, they may avoid situations or people that challenge their sense of identity or force them to confront their flaws or weaknesses.
  1. They lack accountability.

Covert narcissists may struggle to take accountability for their actions because they have an inflated sense of self-importance and a deep need to maintain their image of perfection or superiority. They may have a fragile self-esteem and may perceive any criticism or admission of wrongdoing as a threat to their self-image.

Here are some examples of how a lack of accountability may show up in a relationship with a covert narcissist:

  • Blaming others: Covert narcissists may deflect responsibility for their actions by blaming others. For example, they may say "It's not my fault, you made me do it" or "If only you had done X, I wouldn't have done Y."
  • Denying or minimizing their behavior: Covert narcissists may deny or minimize their behavior, even when confronted with evidence to the contrary. They may say things like "I don't remember doing that" or "That's not what happened."
  • Making excuses: Covert narcissists may make excuses for their behavior, rather than taking responsibility for it. For example, they may say "I had a rough day at work" or "I was really stressed out."
  • Shifting the focus: Covert narcissists may try to shift the focus away from their own behavior by bringing up unrelated issues or criticizing you. For example, they may say "Well, what about the time you did X?" or "You're always so critical of me."
  • Refusing to apologize: Covert narcissists may be unwilling or unable to apologize, even when their behavior has hurt you. They may see apologizing as a sign of weakness or vulnerability.

9. They are secretive.

Covert narcissists may be secretive in relationships because they have a need to control the narrative and maintain their image of perfection or superiority. They may be afraid that if their partner knows too much about them, they will be exposed as imperfect or vulnerable.

Here are some reasons why covert narcissists may be secretive in relationships:

  • Fear of vulnerability: Covert narcissists may have a deep-seated fear of vulnerability and may be unwilling to show their true selves to others. They may see vulnerability as a weakness and may worry that if their partner sees them as imperfect, they will lose their admiration or respect.
  • Desire for control: Covert narcissists may have a strong desire for control and may be unwilling to share power or decision-making with their partner. They may see secrecy as a way to maintain control over the relationship and may be unwilling to compromise or collaborate.
  • Need for privacy: Covert narcissists may have a strong need for privacy and may be unwilling to share personal information with their partner. They may see their thoughts and feelings as private and may be uncomfortable sharing them with others.
  • Fear of abandonment: Covert narcissists may be afraid of being abandoned or rejected by their partner and may see secrecy as a way to protect themselves from potential hurt. They may worry that if their partner knows too much about them, they will be more likely to leave or reject them.
  • Manipulation tactics: Covert narcissists may use secrecy as a manipulation tactic to control their partner or maintain power in the relationship. They may withhold information or lie to their partner to gain an advantage or manipulate their partner's behavior.
  1. They have a sense of entitlement.

Covert narcissists may feel entitled to special treatment or privileges because they have an inflated sense of self-importance and a belief that they are better than others. They may believe that they are entitled to special treatment because of their supposed superiority.

Here are some examples of what a covert narcissist's sense of entitlement may look like in a relationship:

  • Expecting special treatment: Covert narcissists may expect special treatment from their partner, such as being given priority or being catered to. They may believe that their needs and wants are more important than their partner's.
  • Demanding attention: Covert narcissists may demand a lot of attention from their partner and may become upset or angry if they don't receive it. They may believe that they deserve their partner's undivided attention at all times.
  • Refusing to compromise: Covert narcissists may be unwilling to compromise with their partner, as they believe that their needs and wants should always come first. They may see compromise as a sign of weakness or inferiority.
  • Belittling their partner: Covert narcissists may belittle their partner or put them down, as they believe that they are superior to their partner. They may criticize their partner's opinions or accomplishments, or dismiss their feelings or concerns.
  • Expecting loyalty: Covert narcissists may expect unwavering loyalty from their partner, and may become upset or angry if their partner doesn't show it. They may see any perceived disloyalty as a personal attack.

If you're seeing any of these warning signs in your partner, it's important to address them and have an open and honest conversation about your concerns. Remember that you deserve to be in a healthy and supportive relationship, and if your partner is unwilling or unable to change their behavior, it may be time to consider moving on.

 

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