After an incident earlier this year, we took a look into narcissistic personality disorders (NPDs) for an answer. We soon came across covert narcissism.
Normally, many of us will consider narcissists as loudmouth annoyances – extroverts such as Tony Robbins, Mariah Carey, Kim Kardashian, and certain politicians.
Yet there’s a type of narcissism some introverts have. A quietly lethal issue. With psychotherapist Ross Rosenberg’s insights in this work, we now know a bit more about it.
The Human Magnet Syndrome
Imagine you know someone for a long time and then a malicious and deeply disturbed pattern of behaviour emerges.
Unprovoked actions towards you that are manipulative and unsettling, designed to control and intimidate you through passive-aggressive means.
You’ll soon view the person as fearful, hateful, immoral, and incredibly bloody annoying.
But worse, the individual seems unaware of their atrocious behaviour. Instead looking to thump whatever blame they can onto everyone around them in a belligerent cycle of verbal abuse.
It feels shocking as that engaging and charming individual you know may suddenly turn. Or it can take time.
A man or woman with this issue will typically display the following personality traits:
- Infatuation with “success” and self-perceived achievements.
- Blatant lies and manipulation (although they’ll usually think no one can tell they’re doing either).
- Fantasies and delusions about intellectual/professional superiority.
- Lack of empathy.
- Spoiled brat tendencies.
Reading the patterns above, you may now recall a covert narcissist in your life. A boss, colleague, family member, friend, or a partner.
But as Rosenberg points out, this is the most destructive and unsettling type of narcissistic personality disorder. It draws people in with superficial charm and wondrous appearances.
The covert narcissist focuses on those with empathy—those who are:
Why? As that’s where they receive the adulation they crave. It also props up their fragile ego issues.
Over time (potentially decades) they’ll gradually turn and let their volatile, controlling, and poisonous true self out. And that’ll involve psychologically destroying their target.
The response from the victim is to either put up with the exhausting and demoralising abuse, or fight back and challenge them.
If you go for the latter, frenzied denial will commence. To their friends and family they’ll, for example, make out a relationship failure is entirely the fault of the other person.
Rosenberg highlights they’ll go to incredible lengths to disparage the other individual, likely making out they’re unintelligent, mentally ill, or whatever else. This helps them to maintain their persona.
And that is they’re an amazing person, rather than a horror story everybody should avoid.
On Covert Narcissism
Why keep up that act? As overt and covert narcissists are looking for a supply. They look to surround themselves with people who mirror back the false image they have in their mind of themselves.
They think they’re exceptional in some way—intellectually and/or through their perception of success (business achievements, educational accomplishments etc.).
Covert narcissists are looking for validation, but don’t have the overly grandiose behaviour of overt types. The former may be introverted and vulnerable.
They’ll pretend to have empathy. All because they’re playing a character to hook in people and receive a narcissistic supply from their victims.
If they have any issues, they’ll proclaim themselves to be the victim and rant about any perceived slights to anyone who’ll listen. They’re the mistreated party. Everyone else is at fault.
This, of course, is in direct contrast to the truth. How their behaviour is typically responsible for situations that develop.
The delusion is so strong they could read this book and view it as confirmation of how other people have wronged them, rather than recognise their obnoxious behaviour.
Dealing with the Consequences
Most covert narcissists will have an enormously destructive and disruptive set of failed relationships in their wake. Whether that’s familial, friendships, or a partner. But in their mind, none of the failings are their fault.
We have to wonder, do they ever have any inklings? If you’re clearly involved in dozens of disastrous relationships, will you eventually have a self-reflective moment and recognise you’re possibly to blame?
Due to fragile ego issues, the answer is usually: No. Most covert narcissists won’t have any clue about what they’re doing.
They may recognise they’re difficult at times, but if you flipped their behaviour around and treated them in the same way they’d up their victim game and have cannon fodder to fire at those in their circle still viewing them positively.
For all involved, that’s a disastrous situation from which there’s no escape.
But should we sympathise with the covert narcissist, despite them being responsible for so much carnage? Is there something wrong with them?
They do have free will here and can act to be more bearable. But Rosenberg’s work highlights they’re something of a lost cause.
Most will react angrily if you confront them about the issue. They’ll desperately attempt to cover up the reality at whatever cost, viewing your accusations as traitorous or libelous.
And what a sad state of affairs. For those who are a victim of this abuse, you have to jump ship and have nothing to do with them ever again.
All while the covert badmouths you to anyone within earshot.
Sometimes in life there’s a specific book for you at a time and a place. The Human Magnet Syndrome was one such example for us. Timely and exploratory, it provides answers some people won’t want to hear.
But in an age of narcissism where this deplorable personality trait is leading to global calamity, it’s essential to be aware of it.
Emotions and personality are incredible things. Many people are indeed charming and wonderful.
Others are a distorted husk—a façade that lays waste to what should have been. Knowing what to look out for can save yourself a lot of pain.