What is Narcissism?

You’re probably familiar with the more flagrant characteristics of narcissism, such as a grandiose sense of self-importance, needing excessive admiration, lack of empathy, a sense of entitlement, and arrogance. These characteristics are usually a sign of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

People with NPD also have low self-esteem. They are extremely sensitive to any perceived slights; they lack insight and believe others are the cause of their problems. 

People with these flagrant narcissistic traits may not be a huge challenge for you because they typically can be spotted a mile away. Hopefully, you’ve been avoiding them as soon as you see their true colors.

The bigger challenge is people with covert or subtle narcissism, such as a person who only has a couple of the traits listed above, so they’re not as easily recognizable upon first meeting them. Or, they may have several NPD traits, but the traits are not as extreme as someone with NPD. 

Coach Meredith Miller https://www.innerintegration.com/home 

says covert narcissists are “more sophisticated” in how they manipulate others. You can’t spot them from a mile away; sometimes, it takes years to realize who you’re dealing with. Hence the descriptive words “covert” or “subtle.”

What is Covert or Subtle Narcissism?

Every personality problem lies on a continuum; there are always degrees to our personality traits. 

Once more, covert narcissism refers to people who have a few narcissistic traits rather than all of them, and/or the traits are not as extreme or noticeable as those with NPD. 

However, those few traits can cause major difficulties for the people in their lives. 

If you’re wondering if someone has covert narcissism or NPD, here’s a comparison list that can help:

:: The person with covert narcissism is insensitive rather than directly cruel

:: They lack insight into their responsibility for problems in a relationship but generally lack the outright intention to harm the other person

:: They are defiant, passive-aggressive, and oppositional rather than aggressive

:: They are manipulative rather than purposely deceptive 

= the goal in both manipulation and deception is to protect the ego, but the covert narcissist’s actions are an attempt to get the focus off of them, while the full-blown narcissist’s actions are an attempt to get away with something; sounds like we’re splitting hairs but there is a difference – so instead of outright lying like the person with NPD (“I love you, I would never cheat on you”), a covert narcissist will say “Did you have a hard day at work?” to distract you from the topic at hand

How Does Someone with Covert Narcissism Affect You?
There are many ways a covert narcissist affects others; here are just a few:

:: Your self-worth is lowered because you’re constantly told (directly or indirectly) you’re to blame for all the problems in the relationship
:: You become a people pleaser from walking on eggshells, trying not to trigger the covert narcissist’s abusive reactions
:: You feel lonely and empty because the covert narcissist lacks empathy and can’t understand when you express your feelings (and doesn’t care to understand you)

How You Can Protect Yourself

It would be great if you could just avoid that subtle narcissist forever or even get them out of your life, right? But you can’t just cut some covert narcissists out of your life. 

There are people you can’t or don’t want to just stop seeing, like parents, siblings, spouses, co-workers, and bosses.

You can learn ways to protect yourself with them:

1 – don’t take their behavior personally, even though it feels like a personal attack; they’re treating you pretty much the way they treat everyone
2 – commit to a daily self-care routine no matter how you’re feeling
3 – create a close support network; share with them honestly and ask for their help
4 – learn assertiveness, including setting and sticking to boundaries on what you’ll tolerate 

5 – become more aware of your emotions, especially guilt and resentment, because those are  red flags that you’re not being true to yourself (maybe you’re being a people pleaser)

6 – change your expectation that the covert narcissist can have a rational conversation, can look within themselves, and can apologize; I’m not saying don’t be hopeful, but when you have unrealistic expectations of someone, you’ll repeatedly be disappointed

Each of these six items can is a topic by itself. This is definitely an overview; don’t get discouraged or think you have to start all of them immediately and extensively. Learning these 6 areas takes time and practice to implement and maintain in your life. 

Where to Start with Your Healing

A person with narcissistic personality traits is unlikely to change. 

The biggest challenge to them changing is that, before they would even want to start counseling, they would have to realize that they are at least part of the relationship problem and would want to change their behavior. This rarely, if ever, happens with a true narcissist. 

The most impactful thing you can do is see where you can change to make your life better. 

If you’ve been affected by a covert narcissist, it can feel so discouraging to look at your recovery road ahead, especially if you’re looking at the list of six items above and thinking, “I don’t do any of those!” But healing can and will happen for you

Make a decision to start on your healing path today. That’s all you need to do right now. Commit to your healing. Start making a list of what you want to accomplish and how you will start with baby steps to begin your healing journey.

There’s a lot of support online for people who have been affected by narcissism. For instance, if you go to Facebook and search the words narcissistic or narcissist, you’ll find many private groups to join where you can share your experiences and receive support and feedback from others who understand, or you can just read the helpful posts without having to participate. 

Rest assured; your progress will continue to grow as long as you make healing your top priority and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Dr. Tristan Sophia coaches career women to heal and thrive after narcissistic abuse and to create fulfilling relationships and joyful lives.
Dr. Tristan Sophia coaches career women to heal and thrive after narcissistic abuse and to create fulfilling relationships and joyful lives.

Are you ready to heal and thrive after narcissistic abuse? 

follow me on Pinterest