I recently found myself in a situation where I was dealing with what I call a ‘covert narcissist’.
Although the context was not in an intimate relationship, I started to think about the difference between a covert narcissist and an overt narcissist and what effect of being around or in an intimate relationship with a narcissist (whether covert or overt) had on me and the quality of my life.
It wasn’t until after a few months of working with a covert narcissist that my partner pointed out that I looked visibly exhausted. My friends also noticed that I became withdrawn and I was not my usual happy go lucky self. For me, I knew that something was not right, wrong even- but I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
In the past I have had my fair share of dating narcissists and even living with one. However, it wasn’t until those relationships ended that I realized what I was dealing with was overt narcissism- you know the type of guy that is charming to others but behind closed doors is a total nightmare. The type that is always better than you and lets you know how much of a disappointment you are or how embarrassing you appeared to his family, friends, work mates and the list goes on.
What are the signs of an Overt Narcissist?
It’s true that most of us have some narcissistic traits or tendencies, however tempered with this is a true sense of self -awareness and the ability to self-reflect and empathize with others. We can all be jerks at times but thankfully, we can also say sorry, self- reflect and see the errors of our ways and finally make amends if necessary.
The overt narcissist sadly is an individual who suffers with a personality flaw that is rarely able to authentically self-reflect and truly empathize with another’s experiences, emotions or feelings in life. Although it is beyond the scope of this article to offer any clinical assessment or questionnaire – it is possible to highlight the common characteristics of narcissists:
A narcissistic personality characterised by a person who has an:
- over inflated ego
- He or she has a sense of self-importance and views themselves as special or brilliant in some way
- overtly craves excessive attention and compliments
- has a sense of entitlement
- is arrogant or rude without any remorse
- Never accepts any blame or fault of any situation
Overt narcissists will not respect boundaries and if you find yourself dealing with such people, especially in an intimate relationship then understandably its very easy to lose yourself in these situations. You may find yourself agreeing to behave in certain ways that are not necessarily what you want but because your sense of worth has been miserably eroded or you no longer know what you want or what you believe in.
An outsider looking at your behaviour may wonder why on earth you have been complicit for so long to behaviours that are clearly toxic, unhealthy or don’t serve you but on the inside, your experience is one of being lost and unable to assert yourself.
What are the signs of a covert narcissist?
A covert narcissist is hard to detect. This is because they are not necessarily loud or obnoxious – typically their behaviour is characterised by a deep desire to undermine you in the most subtle or passive and aggressive ways.
For example, they may say things like ‘you don’t look well today’ (even though you are feeling just fine).
Never ever expect a covert narcissist to praise you or even compliment you. I remember once being super excited about my new outfit and when I tried it on and asked my partner how I looked- I immediately received the deflating response of “you’ll do!”.
Later, when I left that relationship. I thought to myself.
“What the hell… are you kidding me… I’ll do!!! What does that even mean?”
The covert narcissist presents as ‘pleasant’ but sadly they harbour a resentment and an inability to truly relate or empathise with you. The aim is to leave you feeling disrespected, unliked and undermined.
All narcissists whether overt or covert cannot give empathy, love or compassion unconditionally- there is always a hidden agenda to all that they do. The aim of the game for them is to come out on top. They strive for a sense of superiority either by overtly criticising you or covertly withdrawing and ignoring you.
The result is that you are left damaged with a sense of shame and guilt for not living up to their unrealistic and manipulated standard.
How to survive a narcissist relationship?
Set and enforce boundaries
Just like any property has legal boundaries separating it from the neighboring properties, you too must create emotional, psychological and even physical boundaries from your narcissistic partner, ex-partner or work colleague.
The easy part is setting the boundaries, the hardest part of course is enforcing the boundaries, especially when times get extremely trying or frightening or uncertain.
If you want to win, then you must teach the narcissist that his or her behaviour no longer works with you.
I remember a situation where for weeks a covert narcissist colleague would whenever she saw me say “ Hi Pamela, geez you don’t look great today and wow you look really anxious today and what happened to you last night, you seem really upset”. It was very apparent to me that this person did not genuinely care about me and the intent of these questions was only to make me feel crap and make her feel better about herself.
Finally, after weeks of putting up with this nonsense- I decided to set boundaries. I made it very clear that I was not interested in being ‘psychoanalyzed’ by her in this way and I reassured her, if I needed any assistance, I would ask for it. Needless to say, she stopped.
This person stopped, because I expressed clearly that I knew what she was doing and that I was no longer buying into this behaviour and it wasn’t working on me- so that was it.
Get physically strong
There is saying that a strong mind, begins at the gym.
To keep away anxiety, depression, stress and all the myriad of emotional ailments (let alone physical pain) we experience, then hitting the gym, following a tailored program or simply taking regular physical exercise whether it be outdoors or indoors is critical.
You simply cannot argue with the research – over and over and over again the evidence is clear and consistent – exercise matters! Exercise is essential for the health and quality of not only our physical bodies but importantly for clear, calm and logical thinking.
If you truly want a strong mind, then physical exercise is non-negotiable. Its simple. Yes I have heard all the excuses under the sun – “oh I have no time” “ I don’t have the money” “I’m too unfit” – but if you don’t commit to consistent physical activity then kiss goodbye your ability to build your inner confidence, your self-love and your chance at healthy relationships.
You know what to do – although I can give you more motivation, tips and advice – unless you genuinely commit and take personal responsibility to become physically stronger, everything here is mere words and theories.
As Nike says, no more excuses- “Just do it”
It’s not personal
The narcissists behaviour is not your problem (unless you allow it to become that).
There is nothing that you did or said that created this narcissist.
Narcissists thrive on confusing, manipulating and demeaning others – and they do this simply to make themselves feel better. It’s not at all personal to you.
These people are so insecure and live with so much inner doubt that the only way they can have any semblance of worth is by bringing others down. At this moment in time, you just happen to be the person whom the narcissists can play with.
Once you become aware of the narcissists game – you can step away and no longer play.
Should I stay or should I leave a relationship with a narcissist?
This answer depends on the response you give to this one question:
“Am I worth it?” Think hard about this question and dig deep.
If your response is yes but you don’t understand what he/she will do or yes but I can’t afford it now or yes but my child is sitting the HSC or whatever your excuse is, then you are not ready to leave.
If you answered with all your conviction, strength and courage a resounding “yes, I am very worth it” you are ready.
Of course, you will be afraid, uncertain and have sleepless nights, but these are temporary feelings and experiences that will pass leaving you will lightness and liberation.
This article is written to educate and inform you on some of the traits of the narcissist.
If you are ready to leave a narcissist and you are seeking a family law specialist with experience dealing with narcissistic relationships, then drop us a line on 02 8999 1800 or email us [email protected]
Pamela Cominos is the founder of Cominos Family Lawyers.
She is on a mission to empower every individual to live with courage.