While overt narcissists command attention with their grandiose behavior, covert narcissists employ more subtle tactics that can often go unnoticed for extended periods. You may have a sense that something isn’t right, but it’s challenging to pinpoint exactly what it is.
In this article, we will explore the peculiar behaviors exhibited by covert narcissists, delving into their intricate methods of gaining and maintaining control, seeking validation, and bolstering their already inflated self-esteem.
Playing the victim
Playing the victim is a common manipulative tactic used by covert narcissists to confuse and control others. Typically, this is achieved by highlighting their hardships and perceived mistreatment. The goal here is to elicit a desired response from others and gain their support and empathy.
Additionally, playing the victim allows them to redirect the focus on themselves and get attention, which they love. They may exaggerate and even fabricate stories to force others to prioritize their needs and concerns.
Another recurrent theme here is blame shifting. They may blame others and portray themselves as innocent victims, refusing to take responsibility for anything. This allows them to shift the narrative in their favor and guilt-trip others into complying with their demands.
Unlike overt narcissists, who often appear boastful and openly manipulative, covert narcissists use false modesty to fish for compliments and validation, all while maintaining their inflated self-importance. Here is how they do it:
1. Downplaying their abilities, achievements, or skills. By downplaying their abilities and achievements, they hope that others provide reassurance about their skills and even compliment them. Because many people feel they must be kind and supportive, this strategy works most of the time. The narcissist gets attention, reassurance, praise, and boosted self-esteem without ever appearing boastful.
2. Self-deprecating jokes can achieve the same results as above. By using self-deprecating humor, they hope that others will challenge their “self-criticism” and reassure their “strengths”.
3. Pretending to be more fragile and sensitive than they actually are. As weird as it sounds, some covert narcissists might fake a lack of confidence to compel others to support and encourage them.
Of course, all of these behaviors are just a facade aimed at achieving desired outcomes, such as gaining attention and support or appearing more morally superior than others. They do not reflect the covert narcissist’s real self-perception.
Stonewalling or silent treatment is another tool covert narcissists use to maintain the upper hand, punish their victims, or avoid taking responsibility for their actions. While refusing to communicate may seem like such a passive thing to do, it does actually allow the narcissist to achieve a number of goals:
1. Communication control. They will be the ones to dictate when and how communication will occur, leaving their victims helpless and uncertain.
2. Emotional manipulation. Stonewalling can make the victim feel anxious, guilty, and perhaps even desperate to reconcile.
3. Punishment. Covert narcissists may use silent treatment following a disagreement, perceived criticism, or when the victim’s behavior doesn’t meet their expectations. It serves to express disapproval, make the victim feel insignificant, unworthy of attention, and insecure, or force the victim to beg for forgiveness and comply with the narcissist’s demands.
4. Superiority. By stonewalling their victims, covert narcissists reinforce their perceived sense of superiority and the perceived insignificance of their victims. It gives them a sense of control and power over others.
Gaslighting is another manipulation tactic favored by covert narcissists. It involves denying facts, presenting events in another light, deliberate manipulation of information, omitting information, minimizing the importance of upsetting events, and other tricks to distort the victim’s perception of reality.
Once the victim begins to doubt the validity of their own feelings, memories, and perceptions, the narcissist can tell them how to think and feel. This allows the covert narcissist to control their victim, erode their self-esteem, isolate them, and get away with mistreatment.
Division or Triangulation
Covert narcissists may try to make others go against each other. For example, they may selectively share information, compliment one person at the expense of another, spread rumors, foster a competitive environment, instigate conflicts, distort the truth, and paint themselves in a favorable light.
The goal here is to force others to compete for the covert narcissist’s attention and approval, stimulating the narcissist’s inflated sense of self-worth. This can happen in small or large groups, in personal relationships, and at the workplace.
It is a manipulation strategy that allows the narcissist to control the flow of information and maintain the position of power. An experienced narcissist can control even very large groups of people using this strategy.
In both professional and personal settings, it can make people feel very jealous and insecure. This strategy is sometimes referred to as triangulation, but there can be many more people involved.
It’s not uncommon for covert narcissists to be overly concerned about their public image. They meticulously craft and control a specific image of themselves that doesn’t necessarily align with their true thoughts and behaviors.
Every narcissist has their own preferences, but generally, they want an image that garners attention and admiration. Oftentimes, they want to present themselves as morally superior, charitable, and highly ethical individuals; however, there will always be an inconsistency between the public and private personas.
Social media is one of the covert narcissists’ favorite tools, as it allows them to selectively curate images of happiness, success, charitable work, popularity, or whatever they value and want to be admired for. Any negative aspects can be omitted or downplayed, presenting a very misleading image. This allows the narcissist to feel superior and gather admiration or even envy from the online audience.
Covert narcissists use image crafting to shape other people’s perceptions of them, influence the way others interact with them, and reinforce desired power dynamics.
Recognizing inconsistencies between the narcissist’s public and private persona can help understand the narcissist’s true character and protect yourself from manipulation.
It’s important to note that while these behaviors are common among covert narcissists, not every individual who exhibits some of these traits is necessarily a covert narcissist.