After a revelation in March 2019, we took a look into narcissistic personality disorders (NPDs) for answers. 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.
And it’s a quietly lethal issue. With psychotherapist Ross Rosenberg’s insights in this work, we now know more about it and the long-term consequences.
Exploring Narcissism in 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, and immoral. Or they’ll just be incredibly bloody annoying.
But worse, the individual seems unaware of their atrocious behaviour.
Instead, they’ll look to thump whatever blame they can onto everyone around them in a belligerent cycle of abuse (see JCS – Criminal Psychology for the manipulative extent this can reach).
It’s a shocking revelation. That engaging and charming individual you knew has suddenly turned. Yet there are plenty of warning signs (red flags, if you will) along the way that, unfortunately, codependent people will make excuses for.
A person with narcissistic personality disorder 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 narcissist in your life. A boss, colleague, family member, friend, or a partner.
But as Rosenberg points out, covert narcissism is the most destructive and unsettling 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 (and it can be over decades) they’ll gradually turn and let their volatile, controlling, and poisonous true self emerges. 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.
They can go on remarkable smear campaigns.
Rosenberg highlights they’ll go to incredible lengths to disparage other people, likely making out they’re unintelligent, mentally ill, or whatever else.
The goal is to cultivate an image of themselves as an amazing person. If not perfect. And that’s to cover up the horror story they well and truly are.
Again, discovering this reality of someone you once liked a great deal is a hell of a shock to the system. And it can take years to overcome.
That’s where this book comes in so essential. It is, in many ways, the start of the healing process for those affected by a narcissist.
On Covert Narcissism
Why do coverts keep up the act? Ultimately, they’re looking to surround themselves with people who mirror back the false image they have of themselves.
Again, the picture perfect concept of the amazing and successful person.
They think they’re exceptional—intellectually or through their perception of success (business achievements, wealth, educational accomplishments etc.).
So, covert narcissists are looking for constant validation. But the dangerous here is they don’t have the overly grandiose behaviour of overt narcissists. In fact, coverts may be introverted and quite vulnerable.
They’ll even pretend to have empathy. All because they’re playing a character to hook in people and receive a narcissistic supply from their victims.
It’s a bizarre thing. The people around them are simply there to prop up their ego.
And if they have any issues in relationships, they’ll proclaim themselves 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.
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.
Remarkable behaviour. And often wholly terrifying for those on the receiving end, or mightily deleterious over a long-term basis.
For those married to anyone with an NPD, covert or otherwise, the realisation can come at the end of 20 years of marriage. With kids, homes, and other considerations.
This all begs the question—how do you deal with such a personal crisis? The Human Magnet Syndrome offers answers, although they’re not always easy to take.
How to Deal With the Consequences of Narcissism
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. It’s also very frustrating.
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.
That’s a difficult reality to have to accept. It may go against your every instinct. But the fact is getting away from this person, cutting all ties, never hearing from them ever again, is the only solution.
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 numerous global disasters, it’s essential to be aware of it.
Emotions and personality are incredible things. Many people are indeed charming and wonderful.
But others are a distorted husk—a façade out only for themselves. Knowing how to spot the red flags will save you a lot of pain.