Remember the Covert

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

I have been reading some of the more popular writing on narcissism these days, just to see what’s out there. One of the things I notice is that most of the writing is done to expose the overt narcissist. They like to talk about the overbearing boss, the critical mother, the abusive husband; but they usually share characteristics almost anyone would reject. What people often miss are the characteristics of the covert narcissist.

Covert narcissists would rarely be called abusers, but they can push people to suicide. Covert narcissists are not loud and arrogant, but tend to be much more manipulative and subtly cruel. They don’t call people stupid or lazy, at least not to their faces; but covert narcissists will make you feel stupid or lazy and leave you wondering why. Covert narcissists are the real crazy-makers.

Four years ago, shortly after I started Narcissist Fridays, I wrote this about covert narcissists:

The covert narcissist still wants to be in control but does so by “helping.” Sometimes these folks offer to help with projects. The only problem is that they end up taking over. They work, or at least they motivate you to work harder, and they get things done. But you feel stupid in the process. When the project is done, it cost more than you had planned, and it doesn’t look quite the way you had wanted it to. But your “helper” assures you that this will be much better. Your way just wasn’t good enough.
This is the mother-in-law who comes to visit with her rubber gloves and cleaning supplies. You find yourself angry and wishing she hadn’t come at all, when you are supposed to be grateful. In the church, these people serve on committees and take jobs no one else will take. It will be very clear that they are making a sacrifice to help you, and you will be expected to praise them and honor them. Never mind that they can’t seem to stay in budget or they alienate everyone else on the committee. Never mind that the Missions Committee is now somehow responsible for setting the pastor’s salary and deciding what color to paint the outside of the church.

These are the narcissists who don’t seem to fit the mold. They are “nice” people, people who seem to be cooperative and helpful. Their criticisms are just helpful advice. Their manipulations are just trying to encourage you. Their generosity is just trying to make things better for everyone.

You probably won’t find many covert narcissists in jail. Nor will your friends understand the problem you have with them until they experience it for themselves. They will hold leadership positions in any organization—not the top, you understand—and they will mold the organization to their own liking. Very few will notice or be hurt or offended.

The covert narcissists make the overt narcissists look like bumbling clods. Very little can be traced back to them. Whereas the overt will lie and cheat blatantly, the covert will get others to lie and cheat for her. Whereas the overt will call someone names, the covert will just make you feel like the names he is calling you in his heart. The covert will apologize to you, praise you, speak words of encouragement to you, and put herself down—all to get you to do what she wants. Covert narcissists have learned to be subtle and patient.

I suspect covert narcissism and legalism are two sides of the same coin in the church. Some legalists are confrontational and argumentative. Some accuse others to their faces and speak loud words of condemnation. Others, who are far more dangerous, just sigh sadly and say they will continue to pray. They ask questions like: “Do you think that’s wise?” They remember sad stories of people who did the same things you are doing, and they hope you don’t end up the same way. This is not covert legalism as much as it is covert narcissism, manipulation at its best.

Coverts are the experts at gaslighting and projection. They twist your words, remember things differently, and accuse—all while smiling and pretending to be your biggest supporters. And those words of apology you wish you could hear from the overt narcissist? The covert says them with a sad and believable face. You probably won’t even realize that you have been duped.

Now, someone is thinking that this describes the “other side” of the narcissist they know. This is what others see as you see the overt narcissist. You experience the cruelty, while they see someone who is kind and helpful and thoughtful. Or you have seen the change, the Jekyll and Hyde phenomenon. The person who was kind and helpful and thoughtful suddenly becomes the abuser; and then might just as quickly change back with apologies and penance. Of course, this may be an indication of another problem (bi-polar or borderline or something else), but it can also be the eruption of the covert narcissist.

It seems to me that the covert is far more powerful and capable than the overt. The covert must work much harder to get the results, but can often do so undetected for years. But that work still comes with a price. Just ask the kids of the randomly exploding mom. They have seen the truth that no one else has seen.

The world is learning about narcissism. The incredible lack of empathy and the willingness to use or abuse others to fulfill personal goals is being noticed. But the covert narcissists are staying out of the spotlight. They are not seen as cruel or abusive or negative in any way. They are seen as helpful.


Filed under Legalism, Narcissism

67 responses to “Remember the Covert

  1. MeganC

    This is good and helpful. I love Dr. George Simon’s writings. He discusses the covert narcissist a lot and it was very eye-opening for me.

    • trstupar

      Yes, “In Sheep’s Clothing” is a lifesaver.

      • I remember listening to an interview about In Sheep’s Clothing right after anti-husband left, but before I woke up to what had been happening. I felt crazy for thinking it sounded like him and shamed myself for even thinking such a thought. How well-trained I was…I doubted all my perceptions.

        So glad to be out of the fog!!!

  2. jo

    This completely describes my experiences over the past decade. I’m so glad that I got my hands on “The Everything Guide to Narcissistic Personality Disorder” (Goodmand and Leef). I read that book cover to cover, word for word (except the chapter on Hollywood celebrities) and had a mind-blowing, eye-opening experience about the person who destroyed my life and reputation through covert, narcissistic manipulation. These people are truly masters of deception.

  3. Jeff Crippen

    This is true truth. Thank you. My experience with being targeted by narcissists has been in the setting of the local churches I have pastored. Virtually all such N’s in that environment are covert. They have to wear the facade of a sheep, you know. And because they do this behind the scenes and in disguise of “helping,” they deceive most people and cause far more harm to the victim than if they were overt.

  4. You described my ex to T. I had thought for a lot of years that he was actually spineless, (with everyone but me) He never got angry but then I started to see how he would get people back by charging them more for something, stealing from them, getting them fired. He used to sabotage my work truck and then almost gleefully come to rescue me. Every time we had a fight my truck would break down or he would injure himself and I would have to take care of him.
    The physical abuse got much worse the last year but I think that was because I was on to him by then and I was locking my truck so he couldn’t tamper with it. I was on to him injuring himself, I had nothing left for him to destroy so he had to get physical.
    But the first 5-6 years of the relationship it seemed like I just had really bad luck! 3 cars stolen in 3 years, all my clothes stolen twice in one year, all my jewelry got “lost”, thousands spent on tow trucks and repairs to my truck because I stopped letting him “fix” it. I was too dumb to realize he was staying up after I went to bed so he could sabotage it.
    He never acted jealous, never forbid me from going out, never told me what to wear, none of that but he a tracking device on my truck, tapped into my GPS on my phone and had hidden cameras in the house. (I learned all this in the last year of a 10 year relationship because his sister came to live with us and she started figuring it out, thank God for her!!)
    He could cry real tears and appear genuinely sorry and not mean a word of it, later say “I told you what you wanted to hear.”
    use double meaning words, or twist what I said, or what I heard. Like he said he could do something for me and when he didn’t do it and I asked him about it he would say, “I said I COULD do it, I didn’t say I WOULD do it.

  5. Carol

    Thank you for bringing to the forefront that there are 2 types of narcissists. The general public is appearing to be more capable of identifying Ns in their world. Of course, these are the overt Ns. That being said, the covert Ns are allowed to continue their destructive work unidentified and unchallenged. I would say that covert Ns are much more lethal. They do push one to suicide, literally.

    • Remedy

      Two female Christian counselors very nearly pushed me over the brink. I seriously considered ending my life as my best option after spending time with these two!

  6. Reblogged this on Ladywithatruck's Blog and commented:
    This was James to a T. I got a knot in my stomach reading it. After 5 years away from him I almost forget the hell life with him was. I used to have a perpetual sick stomach, waiting for “payback” on some imagined slight against him. We would have a fight and I would wait to see what got broken, lost, driven over, thrown in the mud or spray painted (by accident of course) I own absolutely nothing from before I met James, he destroyed every single thing I owned, every momento from when Kris was a baby.
    It’s funny I bought a $400 car 2 years ago and have done nothing more than put oil in it the whole time. I was with James for 10 years and I never had a vehicle run for more than a few months without breaking down.

  7. Cora Marandino

    thank you for this article on covert narcissism … years ago, trying to educate myself about the overt narcissists in my life (addicts), I read The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists … and found myself seeing myself in the covert narcissism traits … not to the extreme that some describe here, but definitely on the spectrum … and my kids and most loved ones have paid the price …I’m wondering if covert narcissistic parenting doesn’t produce overt narcissists? I was oblivious to how hurtful my ways of relating were until i read that book … I give the credit to the Holy Spirit (yes even Christians can be narcissists of both types) for enlightening me … the damage was done for my kids by then, and there are still consequences (one child has cut me off), but slowly I have been changing … I am also wondering if many covert narcissists who are at the mild end of the spectrum are not labeled co-dependents and seen as victims … I believe narcissism of any type is a coping mechanism to survive an emotionally deprived chlldhood and we carry that distortion into adult lives seldom realizing the source of the pain in our adult relationship until so many have been killed by it … I am 69 years old and have only begun to understand this about myself in the last 5 years … and have healthier relationships now because of God’s intervention in my life and His faithfulness to transform my mind …

  8. jodi

    No one believes this about my ex best friend ( who also lives across the street). She is now trying to get my one new friend to turn against me. I feel as though I have no one to turn too. My husband tries to help, but truly has no idea what I am going through. It is a lonely experience. I keep looking for therapists to help me, but most aren’t qualified in this field. I feel like I am recovering from abuse, but without anyone understanding me.

  9. 38 years and counting...

    Yep. You nailed the covert narcissist. Spider like in waiting patiently for the opportunity to stab in the back without being seen by the victim or anyone else. Wolf in sheep’s clothing is a perfect description. Powerful mind games of manipulation, silence and projection. Will use well groomed proxies to do the open and dirty work of vilifying. Will throw the proxies under the bus in a heart beat. Yes, the covert is an extreme legalist with an adjustable sliding scale, meaning more grace for the covert and more law for their human objects. Mind games are the only way the covert can relate. Must come out on top in their covert mind. Will tell grandiose tales so others think more highly of them. To the face they are amiable, but, to ones back they use stilettos. Everyone is an object to a covert narcissist but, objects of differing degrees of value.

  10. Penny

    Many years ago I saw a poster that was half sun, half dark: 🌗
    The caption read: “Help is the sunny side of control”.
    THAT is the covert narc: controlling while appearing “sunny”.
    Beware the sacharrine, sunny, “helpful”, backstabbing narc.

  11. Kitkat

    My ex-friend asked me if I would help her run a big fund raising project at our church. She asked me to ask church council’s permission, as I was on council, so I did and they said yes. We started some preliminary preparations by getting the word out at church and people started to prepare and bring things in for the project. We were almost set to go, when about a month and a half before the big event she told me she wanted me to cancel everything after we already did some advertising for it. Expectations were high at the church and I knew if she cancelled it, her name would have been mud. I told her that I would do whatever she needed. I would suggest something like advertising in other venues, flyers etc. and she would okay it. She never gave me anything to work on unless it was me who made a suggestion. In other words, she had no clue as to what to do. I had handled several annual fundraising things for over ten years before I ever knew her, working in a committee setting, so I just changed gears and used my experience to work on this project. Once again, about 3 weeks before the event, she told me she was going to quit and leave me with the whole responsibility. And again, I convinced her to stay on, which she did. The event was very successful, and after it was all over she wouldn’t talk to me. When I finally got her to talk to me, she told me I just took over because she felt I wanted to be in charge. I only was willing to help her and I didn’t want to run the whole thing. She later admitted, that she wouldn’t have been able to have done it, because she didn’t know what to do. The reason she wanted to do this was so that she could get the spotlight, and she admitted that later. I felt setup. And I think she may have wanted me to cancel everything, so that she could say it was all my fault and therefore give her an out without anyone being the wiser that she couldn’t do the job.

  12. I’ve worked with overt and covert narcissists, and both are awful. I can’t say which is worse. Both are manipulative, sneaky, lying, bullies. The biggest difference in my experience is that you can find more people who see through the overt narc (naturally, right?), and that makes the behavior a little easier to bear than when you’re dealing with someone whom most people can’t seem to see is a snake. Overt narcs also seem a little more interested in you believing they’re nice, so they can be sickeningly polite (as though politeness can make up for their evil), which I find maddening.

  13. Yes. This is so true. My husband is a covert narcissist and it took me almost two decades to figure it out. It did such a number on me spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and physically. He makes very sure to be seen as the servant, the first one to volunteer, the helper all the way. He is a hero of a Christian man to everyone, but he is, like 38 years and counting… said, full of grace for himself and full of legalism for me. I didn’t see it until it was too late. I was so blind. I felt the red flags and glimpsed them all over the place, but I berated myself for even wondering if there was something wrong or off about him, for doubting such a seemingly nice person. The scapegoating was so sneaky. He is a pro. I am trying to heal now, though we are still in the same house, but there is so much damage. I can’t say it strongly enough that the covert narcissist is such a poison in a way that, at least for me, an overt narcissist never could have been. At the first sign of overt abusiveness, I would have advocated for myself. With the covert abuser, there was no way to do that because I didn’t even understand what was going on. He was the perfect weapon.

    • Wallace

      The more stealth-like the precision, the more it fools the greater number of others and hence controls their target by these proxys…… which in his case was everyone. Best of luck on your new life in the Light of Truth. GB

    • joy

      I feel the same way…the covert aspect kept me there so much longer. I couldn’t figure out what was going on….why I felt so bad, like such a disappointment, like I was crazy, like I could never do anything right. I didn’t feel that way with other people in my life.

      Eventually I saw how he makes people (mostly me when was with him) feel these things, and he does it in such a way that you can’t nail down how he did it. You know he thinks you are unattractive/lazy/ditzy/etc…all without ever actually calling you those things. If you call him on the actions that led you to think that he says, “I never SAID that.” He does all the gaslighting and blaming but by the silent treatment or withholding affection or sex…but a silent treatment that includes his answering when spoken to, so that if you tell him he is giving you the silent treatment the last few days, then he says, “I’ve spoken to you.” But you know it was only a few words when he was asked a direct question.

      He is the master of “covering his rear.” He is everyone’s hero…always helping others…yes it’s a control thing. “Help is the sunny side of control.” I am SOOO going to remember that one. He loves people feeling as if they owe him a favor, and he absolutely loves being the hero and providing help to others….many times the same kind of help he is withholding at home.

      It makes you crazy. And everyone wonders why you aren’t happy married to this wonderful guy! It makes it so hard to figure out what is going on…the nice guy hurting you with a smile on his face. Sometimes he even “helps” in some insulting way, and when I was offended he’d tell me he was just trying to be nice. Many times he could even cut you by NOT saying things that would have been normal and pleasant to hear. I was married 29 years to this guy…trying so hard to figure out what was going on and what to do about it. Eventually the only option left was to leave. 😦

      After I left, several chronic health problems I thought I’d have to live with for the rest of my life, went away…….almost like magic. I had no idea how much stress I was under until I was out from under it.

      • Oh, joy, your comment describes my own situation and my pseudo-husband SO well. It’s incredible how similar these types are. My health is so poor – chronic issues – diagnosable, but mysterious – that keep me very disabled and isolated. I have children and custody is an issue, especially because of my health. I am stuck in the catch-22 that I need to get away from him to try to heal, but I can’t get away from him and fight for my kids until I gain some health. I am living “separated” in the same house, but he doesn’t even seem to get it. What concerns me the most is that the children are not doing well under this division. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I see the truth of it every day. I am so glad for you that you left and that your body healed.

  14. Pingback: The “Helpful” Narcissist | quixoticfaith

  15. Robin

    I am now totally confused?
    “Do you think that wise? ” is covert narcissism? Teaching wisdom is wrong?
    The Bible calls laziness a sin, yet now calling someone lazy is narcissism?
    If this article were correct, then my feeling like a stupid parent right now would make the writer a covert narcissist.
    Please someone clarify.

    • Sarah

      “Robin,” please re-read the article.

    • Hi Robin! Yes, these are tools covert N’s use. They are not bad in themselves. Obviously we seek wisdom, but that’s not what this is about. I have heard that particular phrase (Do you think that’s wise?) used to put others down many many times. In fact, it was a favorite saying in a certain group I used to be part of. It was a way of manipulating and making the victim feel stupid. It had nothing to do with wisdom, or God, or the Scripture at all. It had everything to do with control, especially by leadership within the group and in the homes.

      Calling people derogatory things to manipulate them is part of both narcissism and legalism. I have heard mothers called lazy because they didn’t have their house clean when people dropped over. I have heard fathers called lazy because they didn’t make enough money. Did either of those have anything to do with laziness? Of course not. They had everything to do with making the people feel bad about themselves.

      So, my purpose here is simply to show the kinds of spiritual things some narcissists will use to control others. That doesn’t make spiritual things bad. I hope that helps you.

    • Cecilia K

      Robin, I understand your confusion, and there is nothing wrong with asking someone to consider the wisdom (or lack thereof) in a particular decision–IF the person’s motive is Truly for the other person’s good. If, for example, someone’s adolescent child wanted to stay out late on a school night when they had a big test the next day, it would be completely prudent to ask if they think that is wise (although I’m guessing most parents would simply say NO! and not ask what the child thinks, maybe? ha ha). However, I think Pastor Dave is saying that the narcissist’s Motive is not Actually for the person’s good; they simply want to make the person doubt themselves/their logical reasoning ability/their judgement–which they (the narcissist) think will, in turn, make them (the N) look/feel superior. I don’t recall my N ex-boyfriend using that particular phrase too often (“Do you think that’s wise?”), but he had other ways of causing me to doubt myself. It happened all the time; he was a master at it. And, as Pastor Dave, has said, this is a form of control.

      And this same ex-boyfriend Did call me lazy, b/c I chose to sleep on the couch in my apartment instead of my bed. Sometimes, yes, I could be lazy, but when I was going out with him, I became tired a lot, the more the relationship wore on. It wasn’t until further down the road that I finally realized I was so tired because I was drained from the relationship. Pastor Dave has also written about how N’s drain the life out of their victims (I think it’s entitled “The Lebensauger”), and that was certainly my experience. More importantly, even if laziness is/was genuinely a problem for me, this guy did not confront me about it in love. He shamed me with it. And as Pastor Dave and others have said, they only spew shame on other people; but they have an abundance of grace to pour out on themselves. So again, it’s about motive: his desire was not for my personal growth; he just wanted to shame me and feel superior to me.

      Another example: He once accused me of being “horrible” to my own mother. When I asked How I was horrible to her/what he was referring to, he wouldn’t tell me. He said, “If you don’t know, shame on you.” See, if his concern was truly for my mother’s well-being, he would have told me so that I could correct the problem (if there really was a problem); but no. Again, he just wanted to shame me.

  16. “Whereas the overt will call someone names, the covert will just make you feel like the names he is calling you in his heart.”

    This. Covert abuse is something you learn to recognize by its impact, much like seeing the impact of carbon monoxide.

  17. UnForsaken

    Spot on. My N to his back collarbone.

    He rarely becomes overt, but does have those infrequent outbursts. I have a feeling they are only infrequent because we are Sooo accommodating. I also think the outbursts are increasing, but that’s hard to gauge . Percentages ( every three years? ) don’t work with covert Ns, since they are both unpredictable and predictable. Ns Might do Anything! Tax time is fairly regular in mood though!

    That is why I find covert Ns frightening. I don’t think they realize what they are capable of. The ones I’ve known Seem to really want to believe they are the most caring of people, and they play that game to convince themselves as much as us. It’s very creepy. It reminds me of a time bomb doing a day job as an alarm clock. It will be faithful, attentive, and self-sufficient until the day it goes up….as previously planned. Or, there is the earthquake fault, that sits silently good like any fault ‘should’ do, then rocks your world at any given moment. Be ready for a repeat performance, because as they see it This is what they should do.

    Is it true that covert Ns are even better at successfully alienating friends and loved ones? So far I don’t know one person who would not take him at his word, but would always question mine….even if the truth is self evident. It’s not worth trying to communicate with this type around. I haven’t been able to make any lasting friends with him hovering nearby. And covert Ns have a great way of being indispensable and believable, especially to responsibly established society.

    I haven’t found mine to apologize very often, but when he does it is typically Narc. Come to think of it, I don’t think he’s Ever apologized for making a real scene or throwing a fit, perhaps because he felt we deserved it and he reserved that right.

    He may not tell us we are lazy to our faces – except in a tell-all blast – but I have heard him insinuating it, if not outright saying it, to ‘mutual’ friends. And, we all DO feel it. Don’t ask me how Ns do it, but they can convey more contempt and dislike with a superior ‘caress’ than anyone else arguing with you. A simpering question about how well my day went is about the only sentence I personally receive in a day. Or alternately, a loud ” Good morning” when he knows it’s afternoon.

    But here’s an interesting thing he cannot do . He seems incapable of knowing God’s will. He has said to the world in general that he doesn’t know how anyone can really know it. But the same N believes he knows God’s will for everyone else!!!! And if he wants something that anyone might object to for practical, responsible reasons, then he will claim that God gave him a good feeling about it.

    I never want to be blind to Ns again, to their feeble, legalistic attempts at replacing God. And I’m very much against being overly grateful to any N, only giving the modicum of deserved praise. They always think they deserve more. As we try harder, they drain us dry.

    I’m trying to see truth every day for a purpose. It is not happy truth, but truth none the less. I need to be grateful to GOD alone for this truth…..and many other more pleasant ones! God alone can show us the fraud we live with, and He alone can show us His way. And He wants all of us to know how precious we are in His sight, esp. as others tear us down.

    • Still Reforming


      You have SO nailed it on the head with respect to my (soon-to-be-ex-) N husband. I didn’t realize he was covert because, as you wrote, he’d only blow up in rage once every year or so. And it “only” happened three times in our 20-year marriage – interestingly all in the past six to eight years. But there were so many intervening episodes of his anger coming out in other ways – calling our insurance company for quoting increased rates and not telling me, but I got the letter in the mail “Here are the rate quotes you requested.” Giving me candy when I’d expressly ask him to not give me candy for Christmas again – and leaving it on my bathroom counter, gift-wrapped no less. Asking me which color I’d want a windowsill painted and then making sure it was the color I didn’t chose. Never mentioning that he painted the sill or gave me a gift. Never acknowledging the covert aggressive acts. (Which eventually lead to me realizing his intent in the acts, because normal people tell you what they do when they paint a sill or give a gift.) Hissing at me when I’d ask him to pick up a dead creature in the house that the cats brought in – so I cleaned it up. Sitting outside the bathroom to badger me about a small item ($25) on a credit card bill, in spite of (then) having money in the bank quite comfortably and no debt. And on and on and on it went….. And of course, being covert, no one else outside of our home would ever understand – and If I explained about the sill and the candy, it all sounds like something really nice that he’d have done and that I’m just being nit-picky. It’s intriguing how alike all these covert narcs are. It really makes me wonder if there’s a certain type of evil spirit influencing them all. (Remember when Jesus said, “‘This type’ only comes out by prayer and fasting?” As though there are different types.) And/or if this is a certain type of pride that when given over to itself is a particular type of seared conscience. Or both.

    • Annette

      “It reminds me of a time bomb doing a day job as an alarm clock.”
      That’s my mother as well as the rest of her family of covert narcissists. You never know when they’re going to explode; you just know you can’t trust them and have to walk on eggshells around them.

  18. Wallace

    I am a Mental Health Nurse of 34 years and when I started my investigation into this particular type of N, it changed my whole life and practice. False Humility in a helping professions is a typical cover to support and fuel their hidden Grandiose fantasies. These professions provide the context that ensures lots of N fuel, their EGO props. There is an obvious power – imbalance in these fields which is what they are always seeking and creating. Their entire social identity is invested in this mask, hence the reason for them aggressively lashing out when threatened. Undoubtedly the most damaging form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Covert narcissists, beneath their façade they are extremely insecure and emotional vulnerability hence the covert cover-up of these insecurities. Although the covert narcissist possesses the same traits as the overt narcissist (need for attention, approval, adulation and grandiose fantasies) these are not expressed in overt behaviour making them much more difficult to recognize. Some people go decades without recognizing the narcissist in their life. It has been suggested by some authors in the field that instead of using NPD to label this disorder, EPD (Evil Personality D/O) should be used. Duplicity is their speciality. And who is the Father of Lies, Darkness and Deception? Keep up the great work working on the Kingdom of Truth in God Vs the Kingdom of Lies.

    • Rachel K

      Hi Wallace, I agree wth you totally. My N husband is a consultant psychiatrist, of children and adolescents. He is well regarded and has been on TV and radio here, an expert in his field! But he has demolished our family by his unhealthy relationships with me and our children. He is well hidden in his profession.

  19. Kitkat

    Unforsaken and Wallace you guys rock! Unforsaken, you described my N to a T, very creepy. You would think butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. One of the things she tried with me was, she told me I had faked an illness to avoid work and all the while she soldiered on with the work even though she was in so much pain,throwing the Martyr complex in my face. Wallace I loved the EPD acronym, gave me a good chuckle. Okay, now here is a question, one of the things that my N did all the time was lavish all kinds of praise on me when we were still friends. It was to the point where, it was getting very uncomfortable. I would try to put her off many times, yet, she would insist and continue. Anybody got any ideas what that was all about? And then when everything blew up she would be just as vociferous in her condemnation of me. Confused the heck out of me. It reminded me of the verse, “out of their mouths come blessings and cursings”. Any ideas?

    • Hi Kitkat,

      I’ve read your posts through time on this site and I feel a kinship with you through our similar experiences with a backstabby best friend. Frankly, I feel that heaping praises are part of the narcissist arsenal to attract “likes” and retain adoring fans. Only after the betrayal does it all seem to be manipulative flattery. Not to be too cynical, but I watch the cycle over and over in my particular case as new friend-hijacking prospects appear (my friends, mostly, most of whom see me as overreactive and jealous. Thanks, friends!). People never suspect someone who makes them feel so good. Sigh.

      Now I’ve become quite sensitive and suspicious to the “red flag” of flattery in the people I meet, as it’s hard to discern sincerity without time playing a role in meting it out. I’d like to avoid being too emotionally distant, of course, just as much as I’d like to avoid being to vulnerable to these machinations. But we can’t “unsee” what we’ve been through, even if we’re the only ones who know the whole story. Sometimes I have to remind myself that this stuff really happened — despite the gaslighting and disbelief.

      • Kitkat

        Thanks Kate, I have had leadership roles thrust on me at times, rather unwillingly, and through the course of those experiences, I learned only too well the illusion of sycophantic flattery, as there are always people who see you as an opportunity to something better for themselves. Some have no problem being obvious about it (overt N’s), as you say, they are easier to spot, but for the covert N it is much more subtle in how they maneuver. These praises from my N came along gradually after seeing me function in a very visible major project here in my town and seemed genuine at first, so had taken me much more unawares. Then as time progressed they came to ring very hollow, insincere and excessive, which is why I asked the question. Perhaps, she knew I was onto her, and she was desperately trying to keep her claws in me, saying anything she thought would work on me. When I would rebuff her attempts at flattery, saying things like, “…this was a team effort. Or, so and so did that…” etc… she started to change in her attitude towards me. Finally, while working with other people, not just her, she turned abruptly to calling me names, or making accusations that she said other people were saying about me. She was no longer the center of my universe, in her own estimation. That was when the gaslighting, jealousy and personal accusations went into full assault. I too, am more suspicious because of this. And like you, I don’t want to distance myself emotionally where it is not justified. But I also, don’t want to get caught up in something like this again. That is why I am moving very cautiously, as I have been approached by several members of the church that I left, asking me to come back. They too, have heaped on the flattery in an effort for me to return. I am a helper by nature, I like to help and encourage people, which can also be a trap for me, and I think also, for others on this blog as well. Because, we want to help heal brokenness, rebuild where we can, love as God expects us to love, it makes us a target for Narcissists. But if I go back, I need to go back because they sincerely care about me, not because of what I can do for them.

      • UnForsaken

        Your reasoning is excellent, Kitkat. Their are genuine people who some across like that, but they are few and far between.

        Kate, we must all question ourselves about if these things really happened! I frequently find myself ‘seeing’ brief glimpses of things I didn’t remember happening at all. I wonder if my imagination has gone into overdrive……but it hasn’t! It’s just my memory switching back on.

        Kitkat, I wonder if your friend was making a play for your strongest emotion and had a thing for embarrassment. Someone mentioned recently if they wondered if their relation was Trying to cause them pain. I had to think about that, but I wonder if it isn’t the type of emotion that Ns care about so much- happiness, pain, gratitude, reliance (unless they have an esp. cruel bent too ) – but the idea that They Can Control Our Emotions. They will go for the Strongest feeling they can get out of us, and keep harping at it. So I guess my theory would be that she saw she could elicit embarrassment in you better than, say, gratitude. I do think they eventually go for the negative emotions though, it just takes time and perhaps a need to discard. Confusion is one of their favorite tactics. It keeps us on our toes and leaves all avenues open for their attack. Your verse describes this perfectly!

  20. Wow. A friend directed me to this blog, knowing that both her and I each deal with a narcissist family member. I feel like I’ve FINALLY found a safe- haven where I am understood and where people can relate to what I’m going thru. Being in a relationship with a narcissist can be a very lonely and isolated place; a place where you can often feel suffocated and drowning. As I read these posts, I find myself nodding my head over and over again, as I relate to so much of it! I’ve been in a narcissistic relationship for many years now, and only recently have I realized that I don’t have to allow myself to be controlled by this person. It’s hard though, when the narcissis happens to be someone you love, someone you want to please. I’ve lived with guilt for so many years now, guilt put on me by this person, and thankfully, I’m slowly finding my way out of that.

    Thank you so much for these posts; I can’t begin to tell you how freeing this has been for me, and how much healing this is bringing to my broken heart.

  21. Thank you so much for this article on covert narcissists. Most people don’t even know what a narcissist is, never mind that there are different species and that they have significant differences. I am the target of a covert narcissist and I can just see the blank stares when and if I try and explain what I had been living for 33 years. You become a victim all over again, sadly. We are separated now, and the ‘gig’ is up, as they say. I will undoubtedly be working through this for some time, but to realize that all the control, manipulation, lying, gas lighting, anger, twisting words, feeling as if you are 100% crazy, is over…..oh, it is a very good feeling and such a relief in so many ways, so many questions for so many years – answered!

    I am having a difficult time with the fact that he called himself a Christian, read the Bible and never acted like one at home, only in public, his job, and of course at church. I was always the outcast, never feeling like I belonged, anywhere really. I knew who & what he really was, but I also knew no one would believe me. Why are churches so blind when it comes to recognizing these abusers in their midst and coming to the aid of the women and children in these horrible ongoing nightmare situations? Anyone?

    • Jeff Crippen has done a great job of calling the church to accountability at

      I reviewed his book here:

      Frankly, while I think almost any organization can be a hiding place for Ns, the church adds the benefit of being spiritually superior while hurting others. You should find several posts here about Ns in the church.

      But again, the covert Ns are particularly hard to spot unless you are in a direct relationship with them. Even then it is hard.

      • Thank you so much for your review on the ACFJ book. Their blog is amazing and I have found a place of refuge, safety and understanding there, but have not breached the book, yet. It’s still in the package it came in, unopened. I am separated, but living in the same house with my abuser and don’t feel it is safe to do so right now. But, your review was excellent, thank you. And your blog is very helpful, as well. Your information and efforts are greatly appreciated. God must be in favor of social media given the church’s bent against those of us who cannot find help and justice and refuge in the one place we should be able to – in church.

      • Spiritually superior, that was my Narc!

      • UnForsaken

        This is what I struggle to say: If you knew my N you might like him.

        It is his family who get the brunt of this. It’s not normal and we shouldn’t make excuses for it, but first we have to Know. I didn’t see this for my whole life. The rest of my family – except one – probably will never see it. I don’t blame them. Now I do know, I feel compelled to listen to the truth that goes along with seeing it. But I was fooled too.

        We are none of us superior, but any organization or crowd of people is a great place to hide/breed/swallow prejudice. Yes, that goes for secular groups too! I really appreciate your attitude, Dave, of kindly calling out falsehood Wherever you may find it.

        We seem to have an inborn desire to especially overlook it in Christian circles and organizations. In the long run believing what we are told or not questioning it can backfire if we are looking for a safe haven, as we are essentially placing absolute faith in flawed humankind and not God. Organizations need doubt, then they have something higher to live up to. They are like any individual who needs to remember they are still humanly capable of sin, but have a Perfect Adviser in the One who has already paid for it all.

      • Still Reforming

        You are so right. “Even then it is hard.”
        I thank you for being a beacon of light to shed truth on this difficult matter. It is SUCH a great help to many of us out here struggling to stand while still dealing with such covert narcs in our lives.
        Thank you SO much for your faithfulness to the Lord and doing His work in this difficult area. It is a HUGE blessing.
        In fact, were it not for you, I would never have found Jeff’s book, which for me has been life-changing, as have been your posts and comments in my life. Thank you.

  22. Kitkat

    Survirorthrivor2, You are so right about the church. A lot of these N folks hold positions of responsibility and others don’t want to rock the boat. When they should be asking the question, “What is the right or judicious thing to do?” they are more concerned with, “Who will do their job if they get angry and stop working for us?”. The premonition of more responsibility falling on already overtaxed volunteers or staff is less acceptable than caring for those who are injured by these Narcissistic individuals. Cowardice, greed and laziness prevail, which results in other people leaving because they feel their concerns go unanswered. Money is also a reason for nothing being done, especially if the N is a large contributor.

  23. Still Reforming

    Yes, I have long thought the same thing – that the covert is more difficult than the overt – if such a thing can even be compared. I think it’s because of the added difficulty to the target of being believed by anyone that it’s really happening. It’s next to impossible to tell people about the abuse and be believed – even by smart friends and biological family and church family. So it really tends to isolate the target of the abuse all the more and make her (or him) feel tremendously alone and scared – sometimes (perhaps likely so) for years on end. And this only after the target has already suffered for years without understanding what’s happening because it is so covert. Twisted – like the post title at acfj “Beware of nice followed by mean followed by nice followed by mean.” Who wouldn’t want to believe that the “nice” was the really guy and the “mean” was just an anomaly or something that we ourselves caused? Then after years to realize that there really is something intentional going on. (I’ll never forget the minute that truth came down on me like a ton of bricks.) Then trying to get help. Well, all I can say is that I thank the Lord and praise His holy Name for this website and acfj that come alongside those of us who are targets and say to us, “We believe you. And God knows the way you take.”

  24. Bonefundle

    The covert is terrifying because there is a sense of cunning and secrecy about their behavior. Last week I read Elan Golomb’s book “Trapped In The Mirror”. I felt like a vice grip was on my heart. I told my husband it was as if I was reading my own life story and in many ways it terrified me. I prayed earnestly to be able to fully comprehend what I had read because for the first time in my life, someone “wrote my story”. I made the decision as a very young child that I was going to “make my life different” from my mom and dad, some of my siblings, and my grandparents on both sides. I have been working hard on this for almost three years now. I was not able to take that next step forward until last week. I finished the book last Friday (3/6) and was so exhausted with emotion after reading it that I slept a full 12 hours which is something I have not done in over 30 years. I did a lot of praying and felt the Grace of Christ wash over me. We live in a world rife with narcissism. I participate as a facilitator for recovery 12 step recovery meetings for a myriad of addictions. Narcissism seems to me to be another form of addiction. I am only all to grateful to a loving God who literally directed me to a counselor that finally helped me see that living in the shadow of narcissism has been the source of most of my sorrow and shame in my life. I do know this with a certainty; that a person who wishes to truly heal from this bondage must turn to Christ for his Grace and infinite love. It is not or ever will be an easy path, but it is one that I am finding to be the most happy and freeing thing I have ever done for myself. Thank you Mr. Orrison and all of those who make such incredible comments. You shore me up and I have found a place of peace and solitude to come to after I pray each day to find strength to battle the “demon” that has plagued me for so long. God bless all of you with His infinite grace and mercy.

  25. Abbi

    I am just getting out of a narcissistic relationship with my sister in law. This is so very helpful for me to understand what I’m dealing with. She’s made me feel guilty for posting pictures of my own sisters kids on social media admitting she is jealous that I don’t have as close of a relationship with her kids. Our husbands are brothers and they aren’t extremely close. My sisters and I on the other hand are the best of friends and have a tight knit family, dad is a pastor etc. Over the years, she has manipulated situations, is easily and often offended by anything I do or don’t do, and gossips to other family members. I’ve had her number all along and have called her on her lies and ways gently and harshly several times but it doesn’t change. All it does is blow up in my face and she comes out smelling like a rose every time. I prayed for discernment, He showed me exactly what she is.. I prayed for wisdom, He told me to cut all ties. Now this will be hard for family functions but I have the Lord to cover my mouth and give me strength. I am so grateful for what I’ve read here. I’m really not crazy and she can continue to call herself a victim, I know the Lord is bigger than this mess she’s made and it will be unravelled one day and I pray others will see what I’ve seen in her for so long. She is a believer and in leadership which does make it harder but I still have faith.

  26. It’s difficult when the ‘covert’ or passive aggressive abusive man is typically charming, adored, liked, and loved by so many others. It contributes to the already in-place gaslighting that’s a part of life.

    If abuse is a culture, then covert abuse is a sub-culture. If abuse is a language, then covert abuse is like a very region specific dialect.

    Please look at the impact beyond the surface appearance. There is possibly no other way to see it.

  27. Thank you for posting this. It does seem the cover narc is not getting as much press as the overt narc. But they are certainly out there. You described my former significant other to a T. Except one thing, he never, ever, ever apologized, ever. Even when it was crystal clear he was wrong and even if he might gain favor in some way he simply would not apologize. Even when asked to or even subtly advised to or it was directly pointed out that this is one of those times/things you need to apologize for, he would not. He didn’t feel he had to as he was simply never wrong. Such an insidious evil thing these covert narcissists…are they even human?

    • Hi Rose, I completely understand your point about your Covert Narc not apologizing ever, even in the face of blatant sin. My Covert Narc did apologize, get me flowers, gifts, etc., and then turn right around, sometimes within a week and do the same action or worse. Once, after a particularly awful fight, he brought my favorite sterling silver roses to me at work (of course he must look wonderful in front of my co-workers), I told him that he was putting them on a grave, because I was dead inside toward him. It really took him back for a moment, he didn’t expect that, but nothing changed, and he never asked why I said that or what he could do to fix it. Not that I thought he would, you just get that ‘blank Narc stare.’ Talk about crazy making! Repentance is change, I reminded him of that endlessly, to no avail – ever.
      They have no ability or desire to live within the realm of relational normalcies, at least with their targets, and for that and so many other evil, sick, incomprehensibly cruel reasons; I deduct that they are not human.

      • No ability or desire…yup, that sums it up doesn’t it? My monster never came to my job. Ever. My coworkers and boss (of two years) never knew he existed. I’d go to company functions, Christmas party’s etc., solo. He didn’t want to go anyway even if I asked him he’d say no. so at least I didn’t have him invading THAT boundary. Monsters, all of these NARC’s…male/female…just monsters creating havoc and chaos in anyone’s lives they enter, regardless of the time frame. smh I’m just now truly coming to an understanding of life with a monster….a NARC…its actually rather stunning to find so many people that have been victims. Victims of crimes that cannot be seen by many and prosecuted by none.

  28. susanbotchie

    Have had to put up with more than one of these freaks-of-nature, and my trust in people is about trashed. i am so glad the Lord Jesus is for real. i will get past the freaks, eventually. Praise the Lord for your blog and your guests.

  29. Yes! Thank you for writing about this!

    I was raised by an overt narcissist and worked for and even dated a few–eventually I would experience their wrath and labeled them bullies, because narcissist wasn’t in my vocabulary back then.

    My anti-husband was the one who fooled me. The one who starved me of love and fed me poison under the guise of caring concern. He is the one whose silent derision caused me so much pain that I twice envisioned ending my life. But he is such a “nice guy”…the first to offer help and be such a gentlemen. One day shortly after my grandmother died he went on and on about how bad he felt for a coworker losing his grandmother. I will never forget the sense of feeling like the world was upside down…he was showing more compassion for a stranger than for his own wife.

    He was quiet and disarming. He was nearly the death of me.

    Covert narcissists are soul crushers that aren’t so easy to spot.

    • marriedtohyde, < I have used that example so many times when referring to my Covert Narc, not that any understand it, but at least they relate to the movie. "The one who starved me of (real) love and fed me poison under the guise of caring concern. He is the one whose silent derision caused me so much pain….." Those words nail the chilling truth of what its like to be in the clutches of these wolves in sheep's clothing. I know that kind of pain as you tell about your grandmother and I am so sorry. My covert Narc would tell EVERY mother a cheery, heartfelt Happy Mother's Day as soon as he got to church (especially My friends!), but had not yet told me at home as we got up, ate breakfast together and got ready for church. And that's not the worst part, I lost my wonderful, loving, caring Mother when I was just 26, she was much too young, too – it took only 9 months from beginning to end. During the entire ordeal, he never once was there for me in any way; NOTHING! SILENCE! I went through it alone, totally alone. I know, looking back that God was there, but at the time, I felt nothing but cold hands, cold empty stares and a cold, cold heart. I am still working on forgiving him for that and it has been many, many, years now. And yes, they show more compassion for strangers for much less.

      • Oh, Survivorthrivor2, I am so very sorry you lost your mother so early in life. I am so sorry you had to go through that ordeal without support from the one person who should have been there for you. God is so good…He never fosakes us.

        Mother’s Day was also a heart-rending day for me. He barely acknowledged my motherhood to my son. On the last Mother’s Day we lived together, he handed me flowers on Saturday and said “Blumen” (flowers). Not a single word of Happy Mother’s Day. I spent that Mother’s Day blacked out from drinking 1/3 bottle of vodka trying foolishly to obliterate the pain of his revelation that he didn’t want to have children with me after promising me before he married that he wanted children. The pain was so bad, that I had very clear suicidal ideations–I really felt like I wanted to die because it hurt so bad.

        Did your anti-husband also stonewall you? I have never felt more crazy than when he would act like I wasn’t speaking when I was sitting beside him trying to resolve a problem.

        Cold hands, cold stare, cold heart–that is exactly him!!!

      • Still Reforming


        I didn’t know anyone else handled the pain like I did. I drank early on in my relationship (pre-marriage) with my husband because it was how I chose to handle the spin he put on things and the resultant confusion. We got along so well half of the time and the other half of the time I was in a tizzy. He would spin things with just enough truth that they seemed plausible, and the only way I knew to handle it was to turn in on myself – by drinking.

        I clearly remember wanting to continue seeing him because half of the time he was such a great guy. It was just that other half of the time – and I never knew how to predict it. I had never been a drinker before, and of course, it didn’t work. Thankfully, the Lord reached down and gave me reasons to stop. I never blamed my drinking on him TO him or to anyone else because it was my choice. But I know why I did it. And the Lord knows. Not that it justifies the drinking, but it wasn’t for the drink itself.

        The only reason he married me was because after three years of seeing him, without any discussion of marriage on his part, I decided to end the relationship to move across the state to be closer to my mother, which is when he chose to propose – so I wouldn’t move. I married him, and the rest is history.

        With respect to children, he played the same games. We each already had a child from a previous marriage, and I wasn’t sure we deserved a child together. I tried talking with him about it, and he would agree that “Yeah, sure. We can have a child someday…” until my body was reaching an age of past time to conceive. My child from the previous marriage was a very young teen by then and asked if he could be an only child because he liked the attention. (My husband’s son lived with his maternal grandmother.)

        I replied that’s how it would be because I was too old to have children anymore, to which my husband then said, “Oh, I don’t know about that.” He was toying with me, but I didn’t realize it at the time. Eventually I was crying about it one night and he said we can try, which we did and I conceived. And now, that child is bounced around by the courts between me and the covert narc, but the Lord will be gracious to her, as He has been to me. And to us all.

      • I have to get to work, but I want to respond to you.

      • Still Reforming

        That’s okay. Write when convenient to you. I’m glad you want to respond. 🙂

      • Oh the confusion…the fog. My life felt out of sync and I tried everything to cure it except to leave the person creating the fog.

        I didn’t realize until after he left how much alcohol I had been drinking–two rum and cokes every night and more on the weekends. Now I drink very rarely. Coincidence? I think not. Evenings and weekends were misery because he was there like a vacuum, sucking out any joy or fun. I drank heaviest on Saturday nights…the only night he’d touch me. It sounds crazy that I drank a lot when his physical touch was something I longed for, but the pain of feeling rejected even while he was connected to me was an emotional assault.

        Oh he is poison. Poison.

        Wow. Writing about that just tapped into a very deep hurt.

        Still Reforming, I am sorry for responding so self-centeredly. I didn’t mean to…I just derailed whatever I started out saying. I am so, so sorry for the pain you have experienced. Few things are more painful than betrayal. Jesus knows that–and knowing that He understands makes it bearable.

        Have a good night.

      • Still Reforming


        Please don’t feel you need to apologize for saying you responded self-centeredly. I feel the same way quite often in my replies, and yet, I find great comfort in reading the testimonies of others, especially those with which I can relate – and I do so relate to yours. I appreciate your sharing your personal information, so thank you – and no apology necessary.

        Like you, I don’t really drink now. I can, but I just don’t want to anymore. I probably have a drink two times a year and that with my mom. I completely understand your drinking when he would touch you, because instinctively you knew it wasn’t the touch or man you desired. The drink sounds like a self-defense thing; I think it was for me.

        The way my habit started was I would take a drink after work before seeing him, because invariably I knew that there would be something that would go wrong, so I rationalized that the drink took my edge off, and I was better prepared for handling whatever came. The truth was that I wasn’t better prepared, but I think it was like a crutch to help me stand. Something to help me cope so I wasn’t facing the weirdness on my own.

        I distinctly remember how I was able to stop drinking. We were on an outing with family. We were at a beach, and I bought some wine because we were having an argument. After drinking it, I lay myself down beside a garbage can. When my mom found me, she was mortified. When I sobered up, I was embarrassed and mortified too. Did I really think that little of myself to drink myself into a stupor and lay down beside a waste can?

        The next morning, I told my mom that I would find an AA counselor, a marriage counselor, and a church. I knew that the order was reversed in priority there, but it was how God got me back to Him. I descended so low that the only way to look was up. And He mercifully saved me from myself. Marriage counseling never worked (that was the first of three counselors we saw over the years and always at my initiation). Good as it was, AA wasn’t really for me because alcohol really wasn’t the crux of my issues. My relationship with God and with my husband were the real issues. God stayed. My husband left.

        I do hope that your tapping into that very deep hurt has helped you. I don’t know if confessing this part of myself has helped or not. Likely it has. I’m ashamed of my own actions and drinking at that time of my life. Very much so. But it comforted me a great deal to know that I wasn’t the only one who turned to drink to handle that time of my life with him.

        Perhaps the revelation to me now is that I turned to alcohol to help, which never did, but it was used by God to get me back to church. It’s also a surprise to realize that I drank in the early days of my relationship with my husband, and yet it was God Who carried me through the next two decades with the man and eventually delivered me.

      • Thank you, Still Reforming. Reading about others who have experienced this has shown me how not crazy I am..because he had me believing I was.

        Honestly, I did not even connect the drinking to the abuse until recently. Something our discussion has opened up and shined light on a very painful part of this puzzle. I wouldn’t call it rape because I wanted to connect sexually, but once the emotional abuse escalated everytime we did I felt a little violated. I remember crying silently and he never knew because he kept his eyes shut the entire time.

        You mentioned feeling ashamed…I felt that too and right after he left it was the worst. But you know what? That shame is actually theirs. They drove us to despair and we were trying to cope, trying to hold it together to make ourselves less emotionally budensome to them so we could save our marriages. The shame is theirs.

  30. Still Reforming

    married to hyde,

    I’ve wondered about the “rape” aspect as well. I’d never have called it that either, but for years I just wasn’t interested because… there was no true connection emotionally. Perhaps I was catching on to the ruse and games he was playing. I don’t know. I just knew that I couldn’t connect with him, so there was no physical connection possible for me. I never denied him, but he eventually lost interest because I wasn’t really “there.”

    Like you, I’ve cried so many times in private. Alone. I’d give him early Christmas gifts only to hear him say, “Oh, I feel so bad. I didn’t get you anything,” and I’d smile and say “That’s okay. I need to go take a shower,” and then I’d cry alone in the shower. So many times were like that.

    You weren’t – and aren’t – crazy. As I am not. We are graced by God with the wisdom and discernment to have seen what they were doing to us. We have been delivered.

    It’s lonely now, but I don’t miss him – to be sure. I hope you and I can take what God has allowed to happen in our lives and use it somehow to glorify Him and to rebuild ourselves constructive lives that enjoy whatever God blesses us with. There is so much, and I have to take great care to not look too hard at the ugliness. I still see and remember a lot of it, but I’m trying too to rebuild slowly – like after a war. There’s so much ugliness and remembrance, yet there is also a future and hope. It takes time, I think, to strike the right balance and move increasingly toward the bright horizon.

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