The covert narcissist – the wolf in sheep’s clothing – is, in my opinion, a bigger threat than the covert variety – and I’m definitely not the only one with this belief. You don’t see them coming, you are lured into their domains under the impression that they are helpless victims who just need to be loved the right way, who happened to have been very unlucky in life, been in the wrong relationships with people who wanted nothing but to exploit, abuse and diminish them.
You may spend years in the pursuit of proving that you won’t be “that” person to them, the one who would hurt them again. This completely blinds you from their true agenda and keeps you in the position of overlooking their misdeeds and abusive behavior, because the second you point them out, they resort to gaslighting and point right back at you, showing how you are acting just like “that” person.
Much like Little Red Riding Hood, there you are thinking you’re taking care of “old and sick grandma”, and you notice how the big eyes and the big nose don’t quite add up, but it isn’t until you ask the wolf about its mouth, that you realize this is actually a predator who is there to harm you – and let’s not forget: you are still alone with the wolf inside an isolated cottage in the woods.
That’s a terrifying experience to say the least, but eventually victims see the predator in all its true colors. And after running for your life, getting settled somewhere else and beginning to analyze what in the world happened, in hindsight we start seeing that all the red flags were there all along.
While in a relationship with a covert narcissist, these red flags are truly difficult to make sense of if you don’t know what you should be watching out for. So much so, that a lot of times we can put them inside that frame of reference that is telling us they just need understanding.
However, every once in a while, even covert narcissists will let their truth slip out in a major way. That can look like a very odd comment or behavior that stands out, out it could be so blatant it will throw you off spinning in cognitive dissonance. How you react to this largely depends on which stage of the relationship or cycle you happen to be in.
I’ll give you 4 examples of such external displays of almost literal narcissistic thinking and what they can look like in real life:
1. I need to always come first.
I wrote about this example in detail in another blog post, but basically, this was said to me in regards to the fact that I was taking care of my son, as opposed to tending to the narcissist’s needs and demands – in other words, a reaction to my focus being on someone else (my infant son, in this case), rather than on him. This was possibly the most obvious display of the narcissist’s mentality – and quite a shocking one as well, as you can imagine. When you withdraw supply, whether because you are too tired of the game or for circumstantial reasons, that becomes a serious narcissistic injury. “How dare you give someone else what I’m entitled to?”
2. What happens in the relationship stays in the relationship. Talking to people about what happens between us is always a bad idea.
This may fall into the garden variety red flag category if said in the beginning stages of the relationship, but as it evolves, this starts to sound more and more strange. Either way, it’s a clear display of the predator’s thinking. Abusers need you isolated in order to exert control over you. So either by implying or flat out telling you that you aren’t allowed to speak about the relationship to any outside party is designed to isolate you from external perspectives that could enlighten you about how abusive they are actually being towards you. There are too many moving parts in the outside world, they can’t control them all. So they will attempt to control your access to them instead. In my situation, this was said to me at the beginning of the relationship, then reiterated when he felt necessary to keep me quiet.
3. What you are living right now isn’t real.
“Gaslighting”, as most of us know, is a form of manipulation meant to alter a person’s perception of reality. Typically, it is done in more disguised, manipulative ways, as to imply that what we perceive as real, isn’t. But this statement made by the narcissist was by no means implied: this was literally said to me months after leaving the narcissist, in an attempt to invalidate my reality, my new life away from him. Why I am not 100% no contact is circumstantial, but suffice to say, I refuse to engage in anything that doesn’t directly relate to my son. Therefore, whole conversations through which he could attempt to gaslight me are not an option. Since employing the typical ways to manipulate my perception is an impossibility, he instead took this bizarre shortcut, with the literal statement to say that my current reality wasn’t real.
Say what?? I’ll call this “gaslighting for dummies”, for lack of a better term.
I couldn’t help but see the similarities between this type of behavior and what my 5 year old son does when he doesn’t like the reality as it’s presented:
If he decides he wants cookies and I tell him we don’t have any, he’ll say “Yes we do!!”. I say “No, sweetie, we don’t” and he repeats “Yes we do!!” – except now he’s starting to sound like he’s getting ready to throw a fit. As if, somehow, repeating “Yes we do”, perhaps more emphatically, will cause for cookies to magically appear somehow. However, here’s a key element: despite trying to verbally fight reality, deep down he doesn’t lack the insight to know that there are, in fact, no cookies. And the tantrum comes in reaction to the frustration caused by that reality.
Five-year-olds are developmentally expected to act somewhat opposing and defiant, as part of the individuation process – even when it contradicts reality. As kids’ brains develop, they will learn to cope with feelings of frustration and, hopefully, turn into adults who understand the limitations of reality.
Narcissists seem to be stuck in this stage. The narcissist in question here is over 40. And his speech resembles the one of a 5-year-old child!! “Yes, we have cookies” and “What you’re living isn’t real” are different verbalizations of the exact same thing: I don’t like the reality as it presents itself, therefore I will try to speak it into something that I prefer. In a 5-year-old: magical thinking, maybe. In a 40-year-old? Dysfunctional.
4. I always want instant gratification
I’m not quite sure why a covert narcissist would say that to me in many occasions, since it would be logical to imagine that this would apply to cheating and other questionable behaviors in the category of “on the spur of the moment”, just as much as it applied to the pie he wanted to eat right that second or buying the expensive TV, despite the fact that saving money would be the wiser choice. Regardless, I lost count of how many times I heard this phrase – and it became even more narcissistic when he displayed a sense of pride about his “instant gratification” tendencies as if somehow this should be seen as a positive quality. In the words of Sam Vaknin, narcissists “are creatures of the here and now”. It’s part of their entitlement, “this is what I want and I want it now” – and who this may hurt or harm, or what consequences this will create becomes irrelevant.
These are only simple examples, but they are all true stories. Watch out for comments and behaviors that point in the direction of the narcissistic functioning and how they see the world and other people. Small red flags are simply the tip of a deeply, deeply set iceberg and, trust me, you don’t want to see what’s under the water. The tip of any iceberg serves as a warning, letting us know there’s something much bigger and potentially dangerous underneath. We are all aware of what happened to Titanic, so if you see red flags, it’s time to change course. Entirely. Immediately.
Please share in the comments if you’ve seen the more overt type of comment or statement from an, otherwise, mostly covert narcissist. Thanks for reading.