The smooth charm and magnetic allure of the covert narcissist often disguise their true nature. Behind the friendly exterior and humble persona lies an intricate world of manipulation, mind games, and pathological ego-boosting.
To uncover what covert narcissists are really thinking and motivated by, we must go inside their minds and decipher the psychological tactics they utilize to feed their sense of superiority and control.
Covert narcissists are stealthier in their approach than their overt counterparts. They are the wolves in sheep’s clothing who capture our trust with false modesty. But beneath the façade of innocence lies the same hallmarks of all narcissists — an exaggerated sense of self-importance, fantasies of success and power, an unwavering need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.
“Being a control freak is a weakness, not a strength. If you can’t allow others to shine, you’re exhibiting signs of narcissism and showing a lack of self-confidence. It is isolation through ego.”
― Stewart Stafford
The mind games leveraged by covert narcissists allow them to procure their ego-stroking supply by stealthier means than outright bragging, aggression, or boundary violation. As masters of passive-aggressive warfare, they are adept at subtle sabotage, doublespeak, projection, amnesia, and pity ploys. This gives them plausible deniability while still allowing them to demean, obstruct, and distress their victims.
Learning to recognize narcissistic mind games is the first step in overcoming them. The more skilled we become at identifying manipulation tactics, the better prepared we are to set boundaries and push back. We can then begin disentangling from the distorted reality covert narcissists have ensnared us in. Recovery is possible once their masks fall and we finally start playing by our own rules, not theirs.
“In a narcissist’s world you are not their one and only. You are an extension of that person and last place in their mind, while they secure back up narcissistic supply.”
― Shannon L. Alder
They will use these tactics against you to get what they want or manipulate a situation so that you feel bad for them. You may have experienced this kind of behavior before or have witnessed it from someone else, but if not then read on! These are the most common mind games played by covert narcissists:
1. Hoovering — Sucking You Back In After Discarding you
Hoovering is a term for the process of sucking people back into a relationship after they have broken up with you. This is often a covert form of manipulation and abuse, as it allows covert narcissist to get their needs met without having to take responsibility for their actions or feelings.
“But both the narcissist and his partner do not really consider each other. Trapped in the moves of an all-consuming dance macabre, they follow the motions morbidly — semiconscious, desensitized, exhausted, and concerned only with survival.”
― Sam Vaknin
In fact, what they’re doing is often completely contradictory to their own feelings (i.e., saying that they don’t want anything from you while acting like they do).
2. Word Salad and Confusion — Using Nonsensical Language to Frustrate
This form of communication is used by covert narcissists to confuse, frustrate, and manipulate you. It can be very difficult to understand what they are saying because they use nonsensical language that mixes up words and phrases, often using incorrect grammar or syntax.
“For some, life may be a playground to undermine the brainwaves of others or simply a vainglorious game with an armory of theatrics, illustrating only bleak self-deception, haughty narcissism and dim deficiency in empathy. (“Another empty room”)”
― Erik Pevernagie
It may sound like this: “I’m not going to the store with no money in my pocket,” or “I know I told him about our plans but I don’t think he heard me.” Or maybe even something like this: “I saw an ambulance yesterday when we were driving home from work…it was actually blue!”
In short, word salads are simply made up of random thoughts strung together with no logical connection between them whatsoever!
When covert narcissists speak this way it serves two purposes:
- It makes them look smart by confusing others so much that they seem unable to respond;
- It keeps others off balance by preventing them from focusing on anything specific long enough for anyone else (including the covert narcissist)
3. Moving the Goalposts — Changing Requirements and Expectations
Often, covert narcissists will change the rules of a game after they have started playing it. They might set up expectations for you as a friend or partner, then later on demand more from you than what was originally agreed upon. This can lead to confusion and frustration if not handled properly by people who are being manipulated in this way.
“Hate is the complement of fear and narcissists like being feared. It imbues them with an intoxicating sensation of omnipotence.”
― Sam Vaknin
To deal with changing requirements: If someone asks something of you and then changes their mind about it later on without any apparent reason why they would want this change, ask them why they want such an alteration now when they didn’t before (or just refuse).
It may be worth asking whether there were other reasons behind their initial request besides what was stated openly at first glance — and if so, find out what those were! If nothing else works then simply say “No thanks” politely but firmly until they get over whatever issue has cropped up between now & then…
4. Smear Campaigns — Spreading Lies and Rumors to Ruin Your Reputation
When they aren’t trying to make you feel small and insignificant, covert narcissists will often use smear campaigns to ruin your reputation.
Smear campaigns are a common tactic used by covert narcissists because they allow them to damage your reputation without having to take responsibility for their actions or face any consequences for their behavior.
“Stay away from lazy parasites, who perch on you just to satisfy their needs, they do not come to alleviate your burdens, hence, their mission is to distract, detract and extract, and make you live in abject poverty.”
― Michael Bassey Johnson
They will spread lies about you and try to get other people on board with those lies in order to make it seem like there is some truth behind what they’re saying about you, even if there isn’t anything true at all! This can be done through gossiping with friends or coworkers (who may not know any better), posting negative comments online about someone else’s character/actions/personality traits, etc., sending emails around town with false information about someone else’s past actions or behavior — basically anything that would cause people who don’t know either party well enough yet still might believe whatever lies were being told anyway because why wouldn’t anyone believe such horrible things?
5. Manipulative Apologies — Giving Fake Apologies to Enable Further Abuse
The covert narcissist will apologize to you, but it’s not a real apology. Instead of acknowledging their wrongdoing, they’ll make excuses or shift blame onto someone else. They may even say something like “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings.”
“The sadistic narcissist perceives himself as Godlike, ruthless and devoid of scruples, capricious and unfathomable, emotion-less and non-sexual, omniscient, omnipotent and omni-present, a plague, a devastation, an inescapable verdict.”
― Sam Vaknin
This is what I call a manipulative apology: giving fake apologies in order to enable further abuse by the covert narcissist and keep their victims trapped in an abusive relationship with them.
The best way to avoid being manipulated by this type of false apology is simply not taking them at face value and asking yourself what outcome might be gained from making such an insincere statement (i.e., getting away from work early). If there’s nothing positive about accepting it then don’t accept it!
6. Crocodile Tears- Using Sympathy Ploys to Avoid Accountability
Covert narcissists will feign sadness and sorrow to get what they want or use sympathy ploys to avoid accountability. They shed crocodile tears to make you feel sorry for them, but it’s all an act — a way for covert narcissists to manipulate you into doing their bidding.
“Nice people don’t necessarily fall in love with nice people.”
― Jonathan Franzen, Freedom
A true covert narcissist will never apologize or admit when they’re wrong because it would be admitting weakness (which we’ve already learned is something they hate).
Instead, they will play the victim when caught red-handed doing something unethical or immoral by making up excuses like “I didn’t have time” or “It wasn’t my fault.”
The bottom line here is: If someone refuses to take responsibility for their actions and continues lying even after being caught in their lies multiple times…it’s almost always because there’s something more going on than meets the eye!
7. Sabotage — Obstructing your Goals and Aspirations Covertly
Sabotage is different from other forms of abuse because it’s not necessarily obvious to you or others who are witnessing it happening.
In the workplace, sabotage often occurs when one person tries to undermine another person’s efforts at work by making them look bad in front of others, sabotaging their projects or work performance, and/or stealing credit for their ideas or accomplishments.
“Narcissists are consumed with maintaining a shallow false self to others. They’re emotionally crippled souls that are addicted to attention. Because of this they use a multitude of games, in order to receive adoration. Sadly, they are the most ungodly of God’s creations because they don’t show remorse for their actions, take steps to make amends or have empathy for others. They are morally bankrupt.”
― Shannon L. Alder
This can happen even if there isn’t any competition between the two people involved; sometimes it just stems from jealousy or envy on behalf of one party towards another because they feel threatened by their success or capabilities as compared with their own (or lack thereof).
8. False Promises — Making Commitments they Never Intend to Keep
Narcissists love to make promises, but they rarely keep them. This is because they don’t really care about you or your feelings, and they have no problem breaking their word if it suits them. They can even convince themselves that it’s the right thing to do because they’ll find another way around any obstacles that stand in their way.
For example: You may have a coworker who makes a commitment to help you with something at work but never follows through on it — even after several reminders from you and others in the office (or even after being reminded by his boss).
“Narcissists will never tell you the truth. They live with the fear of abandonment and can’t deal with facing their own shame. Therefore, they will twist the truth, downplay their behavior, blame others and say what ever it takes to remain the victim. They are master manipulators and conartists that don’t believe you are smart enough to figure out the depth of their disloyalty. Their needs will always be more important than telling you any truth that isn’t in their favor..”
― Shannon L. Alder
He might be lying about his ability or willingness at first, but eventually, he’ll figure out how easy it is just not to do what he said he would do later on down the line when he had no intention of doing so from day one!
9. Covert Put Downs — Subtly Undermining your Confidence and Competence
They’ll undermine your confidence and competence by making it seem like everything is your fault, even though it’s not. They might say things like:
- “You’re so forgetful.”
- “You always mess up our plans.” Or even better, they’ll accuse you of doing something wrong when there was no evidence that you did anything wrong at all! This is one way they can use gaslighting against us — by making us doubt ourselves so much that we begin questioning our own perceptions (and therefore coming under their spell).
10. Mask of Innocence — Projecting a Humble, Harmless Image to Disguise Narcissism
The narcissist will always do his best to project an image of being harmless and non-threatening. Even if he’s aggressive, he will try to make it seem like it was all your fault and that he had no control over himself.
“Often the narcissist believes that other people are “faking it”, leveraging emotional displays to achieve a goal. He is convinced that their ostensible “feelings” are grounded in ulterior, non-emotional motives. Faced with other people’s genuine emotions, the narcissist becomes suspicious and embarrassed. He feels compelled to avoid emotion-tinged situations, or worse, experiences surges of almost uncontrollable aggression in the presence of expressed sentiments. They remind him how imperfect he is and how poorly equipped.”
― Sam Vaknin
This allows him to get away with more than he would otherwise be able to get away with if people knew what kind of person he really was.
In addition, narcissists tend to act humble so as not to appear superior or threatening in any way; but at the same time, they want everyone else around them (especially those who matter most) to not only acknowledge their greatness but also admire it!
Narcissists also like portraying themselves as innocent victims rather than perpetrators — of abuse, neglectful parenting, etc. — because this helps them garner sympathy from others while avoiding responsibility for their actions/behaviors which may have caused damage in other people’s lives,” says Dr. Steve Pieczenik MD Ph.D. (psychiatrist).
11. Two-Faced — Showing a Different Side Behind Closed Doors
As a covert narcissist, they will often show a different side of themselves when they are with other people. They might be nice to your partner’s face but mean behind his or her back.
They may pretend that they care about others while secretly wanting them gone so that you don’t get in the way of their plans — or even worse: interfere with your relationship with the person who really matters (i.e., you!).
“You will never get the truth out of a Narcissist. The closest you will ever come is a story that either makes them the victim or the hero, but never the villain.”
― shannon l. alder
This behavior can make it very difficult for others to trust and love them because how can anyone trust someone who keeps showing different sides of themselves? It seems like one minute they are being manipulated into doing something they don’t want or like by their covertly narcissistic partners; then another minute they act like something happened later on as if nothing ever happened at all!
12. Hide and Seek — Mixing Periods of Attentiveness with Unexplained Absence
Covert narcissists are unpredictable. They can be very attentive, loving, and caring one day and then suddenly become cold or mean the next. The reason for this is that they want to keep you off guard so that you don’t have time to think about what’s going on in your relationship with them.
The covert narcissist will also use periods of absence as a way of controlling how much attention he gets from you when he returns home after being gone for days at a time without any explanation as to where he went or why he was away so long without contacting anyone (including family members).
By doing this over time it causes confusion within your mind which makes it harder for us normal people who don’t have control issues like covert narcissists do.
13. Amnesia — Denying Past Agreements and Commitments Ever Took Place
You can’t trust anything they say because they’ll just change their story later on. This can be especially frustrating when you’re trying to hold them accountable for something they’ve done or said in the past — and even more so when it comes down to things like your personal safety or physical health!
“Pathological narcissists can lose touch with reality in subtle ways that become extremely dangerous over time. When they can’t let go of their need to be admired or recognized, they have to bend or invent a reality in which they remain special despite all messages to the contrary.”
― Bandy X Lee
It’s important to remember that this type of behavior isn’t limited only to romantic partners; covert narcissists will do this with any person who crosses their path if it means getting away with something without having consequences imposed upon them by others (or even themselves).
They want total control over situations where there could potentially be conflict between parties involved — like breakups or divorce proceedings — so one way they maintain control over relationships is by making sure everyone involved agrees with whatever decisions were made during those initial conversations/meetings before anything else happens between parties again later down the line.
14. Incremental Abuse — Introducing Maltreatment Gradually So It Seems Normal
Covert narcissists often employ incremental tactics as part of gaslighting — a form of emotional manipulation where an aggressor tries to make their target question reality by telling them lies or making them believe their own perceptions are wrong (i.e., “you’re too sensitive”).
The goal here isn’t just about hurting someone; rather, covert narcissists want complete control over another person’s life so they can feel powerful without having any real authority at all!
15. False Self—Concealing Profound Lack of Empathy Behind Charming Facade
The false self is a charade. It’s an act and one that may be difficult to detect. The covert narcissist hides behind this mask to manipulate others into thinking they’re someone else entirely — someone who cares about you and wants to help you. It’s all part of the manipulation game: if you think someone has empathy for your problems, then they probably do!
In reality? Not so much. The narcissist lacks genuine empathy; otherwise, they wouldn’t need a false self in the first place! But don’t take my word for it — here are some telltale signs that someone might be using their false self on you.
16. Emotional Hot Potato — Refusing to Discuss Issues and Stonewalling Conversations
They will refuse to discuss issues and stonewall conversations, refuse to explain their behavior, talk about their feelings, and stay silent when you try to talk. When you try to discuss an issue with them or ask them why they did something, they will ignore you or change the subject.
“So many abusers survivors feel they were loved so little, as if the abuser was the most important person to receive love from. They forget that God loves them deeply and that is the only person’s love they need to validate their worth.”
― Shannon L. Alder
The reason this is so effective as a mind game is that it makes it very difficult for others around them — especially those closest like spouses or family members — because it leaves no opportunity for resolution of any kind: no discussion; no explanation; no expression of feeling… nothing! It’s all hot air until YOU decide otherwise by walking away from them completely (and permanently).
17. Shaming and Belittling — Making you Feel Small and Trivializing Your Needs
It’s usually used this way:
- To make you feel small and trivialize your needs. This is done by pointing out that what you want or need isn’t important because it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things (like how many people are starving in Africa).
- To make sure that you know who’s boss and where the power lies between two people involved in an interaction — the covert narcissist uses shaming and belittling as a way of asserting dominance over someone else so that they don’t feel like they have any control over their own life!
18. Turning the Tables — Twisting Facts to Shift Blame Back to you
By turning the tables, covert narcissists can avoid taking responsibility for their behavior. They also use it as a way to shift blame back onto you, which allows them to avoid being held accountable for their actions. This is a common tactic that covert narcissists use when they’re caught in the act of doing something wrong or hurtful (or both).
When you’re dealing with someone who turns the tables on you, they will often accuse you of doing something wrong instead of taking responsibility for your actions.
For example: “You shouldn’t have done that!” Or: “Why did you do this?” These types of accusations are designed to make you feel bad about yourself so that your feelings get hurt instead of theirs being hurt by your actions or words!
19. Parasitic Host — Viewing You As An Object to Provide Them Supply
A parasite is an organism that lives in or on another organism and benefits from it, at the other’s expense. The relationship may be commensalism (mutually beneficial), parasitic (one-sided benefit), or predatory (no benefit).
A host is a person or animal that harbors a parasite. For example, dogs can act as hosts for fleas, ticks, and mites; humans can act as hosts for tapeworms; rabbits act as hosts for bacteria causing rabbit fever in humans; mosquitoes transmit malaria parasites from one human being to another by biting them.
20. The Mask of Normalcy: How Covert Narcissists Blend In
The covert narcissist is a master of disguise. They wear a mask of normalcy and likability to blend in and hide their true self from public view.
On the surface, they seem charming, agreeable, and interested in others. But behind closed doors, they become cold, critical, and manipulative. They save their cruelty for those closest to them — their intimate partners, family members, and children.
Covert narcissists are adept at impression management. They know how to act humble, kind, and altruistic. But it’s all an act to get their needs met and uphold their flawless false image. Their mask allows them to gain trust, adoration, and access to resources.
Once they have you under their spell, the mask begins to slip. Their manipulative tactics, subtle digs, and passive aggression start to show through. But by then, their victim is already emotionally invested and inclined to see the covert narcissist in the best possible light.
The covert narcissist’s normalcy is a cunning disguise. But there are cracks in the façade if you know the signs. Look for a lack of genuine empathy, an entitled attitude, and a tendency to put their needs first. Watch how they treat people they don’t need to impress. And be wary if they never seem to take responsibility for their actions or mistakes.
The covert narcissist may look harmless, but behind their mask of decency lurks a callous disregard for anyone but themselves. They blend into the crowd seamlessly, wreaking havoc on their victims behind the scenes. But with awareness, we can spot these wolfish deceivers in sheep’s clothing and avoid their manipulative claws.
21. The False Self — Shows A Facade To Cover Feelings Of Inadequacy
The covert narcissist has a false self they present to the world to cover up deep feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. Their outward persona is an illusion, a facade they hide behind.
Underneath the charming exterior is a fragile ego that needs constant validation and praise. They crave attention and admiration from those around them to fill an inner void. The problem is, that no amount of external validation can make up for a lack of inner self-worth.
22. The Mask of Normalcy
To the outside world, the covert narcissist seems perfectly ordinary. They fly under the radar, coming across as friendly, agreeable, and well-adjusted. But behind closed doors, they become controlling, manipulative, and demanding.
Their closest relationships suffer the most, as these individuals rely heavily on their partners, family members, and friends to prop them up and make them feel good about themselves.
23. The Blame Game
Deep down, the covert narcissist believes they are flawed and inadequate. But instead of acknowledging their own shortcomings, they project their insecurities onto others. They blame external factors for their unhappiness and failures. Nothing is ever their fault.
Their behavior, no matter how unreasonable, is always justified in their mind. They lack the ability to self-reflect and accept personal responsibility for their actions. Until they recognize the root cause of their behaviors lies within, they will continue to point fingers outward.
The signs are subtle, but covert narcissism causes real harm. The false self protects the narcissist at the expense of authentic relationships. Only by addressing the emotional wounds that feed their ego can the covert narcissist drop the act, embrace vulnerability, and build true intimacy with others.
They will make you feel guilty for being critical of them as if it were your fault that they are so needy and insecure. This is a way of deflecting attention from themselves and avoiding responsibility, accountability, and consequences for their actions.
They may even play the victim role when things don’t go their way or someone criticizes them, which gives them an excuse not to take any action at all because “they had no choice!”
This makes it easy for covert narcissists to get others (including their victims) to do things for them without having to put any effort into doing anything themselves — again avoiding any real work!
24. Idealizing New Victims
This mind game is played by covert narcissists to attract new victims. The purpose of idealizing is to make the target feel special and worthy so that they will accept and trust the covert narcissist. This can be done through flattery, compliments, praise, or even gifts.
The covert narcissist may seem incredibly charming and friendly at first — but don’t be fooled! They’re just trying to win your trust so they can use you later on in their games.
The more time passes, however — the more likely it is that this person will become more critical than complimentary towards their victims (especially if those victims happen not to do what was expected).
25. Love Bombing
The covert narcissist will bombard you with compliments, gifts, clothes, affectionate messages, and declarations of love and admiration. They want to win you over as quickly as possible so you become dependent on their praise and validation. Everything about you seems perfect to them. You can do no wrong.
During this stage, the narcissist is shaping your reality and grooming you to be their supply. They are figuring out your vulnerabilities, insecurities, hopes, and dreams so they know exactly how to manipulate you later on. Don’t be fooled by their charm and empty flattery. Their excessive affection is not genuine and will not last.
Mirroring is used to make the narcissist feel important and special. The covert narcissist will mirror your body language, tone of voice, and other mannerisms. They may even repeat what you say back to you in order to draw attention to themselves.
The problem with this behavior is that although it makes them look like they’re listening and understanding what you’re saying — they aren’t really doing either one!
Instead of processing what’s being said or trying to understand how their behavior affects others around them (i.e., empathy), they are simply mimicking their target’s actions without any real intention beyond making themselves look good at another person’s expense…and that can be very hurtful!
27. Future Faking
The narcissist will make empty promises about your future together to secure your trust and commitment. They may talk about marriage, children, dream vacations, promotions at work, or other milestones to give you the illusion of a bright future by their side. They have no intention of following through but need you to believe the fantasy.
This idealization phase never lasts for long. As soon as the narcissist has you hooked and the chase is over, their mask will slip and the devaluation stage will begin. But for now, enjoy this honeymoon period while you can — the nightmare is yet to come.
28. Devaluation Stage — Devalues Victims When They Fail To Meet Demands
The devaluation stage is when the covert narcissist begins to devalue their victim in subtle, manipulative ways. They do this when you fail to meet their unrealistic demands and expectations.
At first, the devaluation will be slight, through small criticisms and backhanded compliments. But over time, it escalates into more outright insults, humiliation, gaslighting, and abuse.
29. Criticism and Comparisons
The covert narcissist loves to make you feel like you are not good enough. They will criticize and compare you with their ex, making sure that they come out on top of the comparison in every way. This can be in terms of intelligence, wealth, appearance, or success.
The covert narcissist will often say things like “I’m smarter than you” or “I look better than you do”. Their goal is to make sure that any competition between the two of us is completely one-sided; with them as the victor and me as the loser at all times.
The reason why this game works so well for covert narcissists is because it allows them to control how others perceive them by putting themselves above others in their mindsets — even if those other people aren’t aware of this fact yet! If someone were able to see through their drama then perhaps these false beliefs would crumble away into nothingness.
30. Withholding Affection
Covert narcissists withhold affection as a way to control their partners and make them feel guilty for not giving the covert narcissist enough attention.
In this game, the covert narcissist will give you all the signs that they love you and want to be with you, but if there’s something else going on in their head that makes them angry or frustrated, then all of that love goes away immediately and is replaced with coldness and distance.
The reason why this happens is because your partner wants complete control over everything in his/her life; including who he/she spends time with (i.e., you).
At the core of many narcissistic mind games is gaslighting — the distortion of reality to suit the narcissist’s agenda. The term comes from the 1944 film Gaslight, where a manipulative husband tries convincing his wife she’s insane.
Today, gaslighting may involve the narcissist flat-out denying something you know is true, insisting a different version of events took place, or trivializing your thoughts and feelings to make you doubt your own sanity. The cumulative effect is an erosion of confidence and trust in your own judgment.
The covert narcissist will gaslight you, causing you to question your own memory, perception, and sanity. They deny saying or doing things that you know happened.
They claim events occurred differently than they really did. Over time, this makes you doubt yourself and become more dependent on the narcissist’s version of reality.
They start comparing you to others in their life, like friends, family members, or exes. This triangulation makes you feel like you have to compete for their affection and approval. It also causes feelings of insecurity, jealousy, and low self-worth.
The devaluation stage is a manipulative tactic used by covert narcissists to keep their victims under control and seek approval. Recognizing the signs of devaluation is the first step to breaking free from their grip and protecting your mental and emotional well-being.
Projection is also employed, where the narcissist deflects blame or attributes their own bad behavior onto you. If they were the unfaithful ones in the relationship, they would accuse you of cheating.
When confronted about their lies, they will call you the dishonest one. This transfers their guilt, confuses you, and knocks down your credibility if you were to expose their duplicity to others.
34. Guilt Trips
They use guilt-inducing statements and actions in an effort to get their way, which can be very effective at getting you to do what they want.
A typical guilt trip might start with something like “I feel so bad for not spending more time with my family,” followed by criticism of your behavior as being selfish or uncaring: “I just don’t understand how someone could ignore their mother like this.”
Guilt trips make you feel guilty and then manipulate you into doing what they want. In this case, it’s making sure that the covert narcissist gets his way about where he spends Christmas Eve dinner instead of having an argument about it (even though he has no intention of showing up).
35. False Praise And Flattery
You’re going to hear a lot of false praise from this type of person. They will tell you how great you are, how smart and talented and beautiful you are. They might even go so far as to say that they have never met anyone like you before!
They will flatter you in order to get what they want from the relationship. And since covert narcissists lack empathy for other’s feelings or needs, they won’t stop at just praising your accomplishments — they’ll also try to make sure that any compliments come with an agenda attached.
For example: “You’re so talented.” This compliment could mean “I want something from you,” or “I want something out of our relationship” (e.g., sex).
The covert narcissist may also say things like “I’ve never met anyone who thinks like me before” in order to manipulate their target into thinking that they share similar interests/values/ideas when in reality those things may not exist at all!
36. Silent Treatment
The covert narcissist uses the silent treatment, or withholding of emotional or physical intimacy, as punishment when you don’t do what you want.
They disappear or ignore you to manipulate you into chasing after them and giving them control again. They know how much you crave their love and approval, and they exploit that.
The manipulation tactics of a covert narcissist are pervasive and insidious. Recognizing them is the first step to stopping them in their tracks and reclaiming your independence and sanity.
You deserve so much better than to be under the psychological thumb of someone else. There are people out there who will love and appreciate you for who you are — don’t settle for less.
The exploitation game is a form of abuse, but it’s also a way for the covert narcissist to get what he or she wants. The covert narcissist uses this technique to control and manipulate others, making them feel bad about themselves so that their abuser feels better about himself or herself.
It can be hard for people who’ve been abused by a covert narcissist to understand how someone could do this kind of thing without feeling any remorse afterward — but it happens all the time! If you’re trying to figure out whether someone has been playing mind games with you, keep an eye out for signs that they might have been using some form of exploitation against you:
They told me what I wanted before I realized I wanted it (or outright gave me something). This may sound like manipulation at first glance — but if someone knows exactly what buttons they need to push in order for others not just accept their help but also appreciate it wholeheartedly without question, then chances are pretty high that person isn’t being honest when they say “I just want what’s best” or whatever else comes outta their mouth next time around either.
38. Playing the Victim
A covert narcissist will use this game to get attention and sympathy, avoid responsibility for their actions, and excuse their behavior. It’s important to understand that the victim card isn’t just played by those who are truly victims; it’s also used by people who want something from you.
You may have heard the phrase “playing the victim card,” but what does it mean? When someone plays their victim card on you, they’re using an experience from their past as leverage in order to manipulate you into feeling sorry for them.
It can be hard not to feel compassion when someone shares with us about something painful that happened in their life — and even harder not to give into requests made after hearing such personal stories — but if someone keeps playing this mind game with us over and over again (and doesn’t seem like they’re ready for change), then there might be something else going on here besides just needing some support during tough times!
Covert narcissists are too cowardly for direct confrontation, so they express their narcissistic rage through passive-aggressive behavior.
They’ll make snide comments, give you the silent treatment, make veiled insults and threats, or sabotage you behind your back. Their passive-aggression is meant to demean you while still allowing them to maintain their mask of innocence. Don’t engage or show them you’re affected — remain detached from their drama.
40. Boundary Violations
Covert narcissists have no respect for boundaries and see other people as extensions of themselves. They feel entitled to know your personal business, borrow money or things without asking, make unreasonable demands on your time, or manipulate you into doing things for them.
When you try to assert a boundary, they become angry and try to erode it. Be firm in your boundaries and don’t give in to their tactics. Protect your privacy, time, money, and well-being.
In the end, the only way to deal with the exploitation of a covert narcissist is through detachment and refusal to feed into their manipulations.
Deprive them of their narcissistic supply by not giving them what they want, and they will eventually look elsewhere for victims to exploit. Stand up for yourself, set clear boundaries, and don’t buy into their charm, flattery, guilt trips, or passive-aggression. Your independence is their kryptonite.
41. Lack of Empathy
When it comes to covert narcissists, they lack empathy because they are self-absorbed and not interested in the feelings of others. They don’t care about your feelings and don’t want to know them either!
This may sound harsh but it’s true! If you’ve ever dated or been friends with someone who has this trait, then you’ll know how difficult it can be when they don’t seem to care about what you’re going through or what they have done wrong (which might even be intentional).
42. They Only Care About Themselves
Covert narcissists only care about themselves and their own needs. They are the most selfish person that you have ever met in your life. They don’t consider how their behavior impacts those around them even among their loved ones. All that matters is getting their needs met and maintaining their fragile ego.
They expect friends and family to cater to them but offer little in return. Their selfishness and self-centeredness make healthy, reciprocal relationships impossible.
43. Semantic Games — Arguing Semantics or Technicalities to Frustrate and Divert
Covert narcissists love to engage in endless debates over semantics, word meanings, and technicalities as a way to frustrate, divert, and gain power in conversations. When engaged in dialogue with others, they nitpick over terminology rather than address the core issues at hand.
They may argue excessively over the definitions of particular words, take statements overly literally, or derail the discussion by focusing intensely on minor inconsistencies or phrasing issues.
For example, if you try to confront them about lying or violating a boundary, they may obsessively debate the meaning of terms like “lie” or “boundary,” rather than take responsibility for their actions. They may insist on precise definitions that exonerate them on a technicality or pick apart word choices rather than acknowledge the intention behind the message.
This semantic manipulation allows them to avoid accountability and gaslight others. All too often, these tedious semantic clashes lead their victims to feel self-doubt, frustration, and a sense of going “crazy” over the pointless disagreement. The covert narcissist, meanwhile, feels an inflated sense of intellectual superiority.
In many cases, the over-analysis of language provides cover for the narcissist to avoid uncomfortable topics and meaningful discussion of issues. They hide behind semantics rather than engage directly, switching the focus to definitions rather than the key matter at hand. They also project an image of virtue for being so “precise” in their speech, while casting others as illogical, ignorant, or emotionally driven.
44. They Lack Emotional Intelligence
Covert narcissists lack empathy, which means that they don’t feel the same way as you do when something bad happens to you.
For example, if your car breaks down and you are stranded on the side of the road in 100-degree weather without any water or food in sight, they will not feel sorry for your situation because it happened to them before and they survived just fine without any help from anyone else (which was not actually true).
They also have no idea how their behavior affects others around them — if anything goes wrong in a relationship with a covert narcissist then there must be something wrong with you! It’s never their fault; it’s always yours! These people are masters at manipulating others into believing what they say about themselves so that no one questions their authority over others’ lives.
45. They Lack Remorse
Covert narcissists lack remorse for the pain and hurt they cause others. They feel justified in their actions and believe they are always right. They don’t feel bad for lying, manipulating, or treating people poorly.
Even when confronted with the consequences of their behavior, they fail to take full responsibility and apologize sincerely. Remorse requires empathy, which covert narcissists lack.
The inability to empathize or see other perspectives makes healthy, balanced relationships impossible for covert narcissists. Their selfishness, blame, lack of emotional intelligence, and remorse inevitably damage the people around them. The only way to deal with a covert narcissist is through strict boundaries and limits.
In closing, the mind of the covert narcissist is akin to a labyrinth of smoke and mirrors. Their outward behavior often obscures the hidden motives and agenda that drive them. Only by unpacking their most common manipulation tactics can we begin to decipher their playbook.
Yet even when we understand the psychological games at play, covert narcissists retain an advantage. They have no limits, conscience, or reason to play fair. Meanwhile, we enter interactions in good faith, unaware of the exploitation being secretly orchestrated. The narcissist is always three steps ahead, with a contingency plan to safeguard their false self.
This is why the most powerful response lies in shifting attention away from analyzing and outsmarting the narcissist, and back onto ourselves. We must reflect on why we were vulnerable to manipulation in the first place. Did we have poor boundaries, abandonment wounds, and low self-worth? Understanding these root causes allows us to heal and develop resiliency.
We must also reconnect to our inner guidance system of emotions and intuition. The narcissist works to detach us from our emotions and inner truth. But these are the resources that can anchor and orient us when their false reality starts to warp our perspective.
At the end of the day, what covert narcissists think and feel is far less significant than reclaiming and empowering ourselves. We do not need to expend so much time unraveling their motives and strategies.
We only need enough insight to recognize that we are being manipulated, so that we can walk away and invest in our growth and well-being. For it is our own minds and hearts that hold the map toward the light and authenticity the narcissist tries to keep obscured. But the light always finds its way through, if we have the courage to let it in.