Coping with a Covert Narcissist

AUGUST 3, 2017

It didn’t start how I expected.

It started with good intentions, as most things do. It started with patience and understanding. At least on my end.

I extended and extended until I could extend no more.  I felt defeated and dumb and selfish. Who was this person? Why do I suddenly feel so… inadequate.  What was going on? Was I inadequate? 

…am I inadequate?

I’m not. I’m not. The internet proved it. One Google search and BAM. Self-deprecating narcissism. Different, but the same. Self-absorbed, but sneaky. All-consuming but humble. Honest, empathetic, vulnerable…but…not.

I knew what manipulation looked like. It looked like using someone’s affections and values as a bargaining tool. It looked like excuses and explanations and a failure to assume responsibility. I couldn’t see it so I didn’t fight it. But it was there. 

Covert narcissism, the shadowy side of the self-aggrandizing mental state is an illness of five parts.  


Part One: False Humility

“I’m a terrible person, I don’t know why anyone would want me.” Empathy, sympathy, sadness, “extend it all, Sarah, extend it all!” But no, that will not do. Compliments, yes, compliments. The narcissist is fishing and self-deprecation is th bait. And I’m the sucker. 

Part Two: Lack of Empathy

What I extend, I don’t receive. I’m here for you always, I can help. I see your struggle, your pain and your fear.

But do you see me? You don’t. You don’t see me or my pain or my extended spirit. I think you see the distress. My tired face. But no time, no time. Empathy isn’t on the agenda. The narcissist only has empathy for one.

Part Three: Discrediting the Source

I couldn’t find the words to explain how I felt. Small? Stupid? What’s the opposite of wise?

“You don’t know as much as you probably think, you’re still so young.”

What? The tone was soft but the words were sharp. Why? To discredit my view. To make me small so the narcissist had more room to be correct. To make the self-absorbed view the only view. If I am wrong, then they can be right.

“The narcissist only has empathy for one.”

Part Four: Simplification of Others Needs

A problem is only a problem as long as I don’t take the blame. Someone was wrong, and it somehow always turns out to be me. And I apologize. We’re all a little wrong sometimes, right? Until I’m a lot wrong all the time. When did I get so unobservant? When did I lose my self-awareness and my perspective?

But I didn’t, I know this now. I didn’t fight the blame then, so I must fight it now. Sifting through the same memories but arriving at different conclusions.

Part Five: Unable to Listen

I speak slowly and you respond quickly. Snap, just like that, you have the answer. You box me up and give me labels. It makes things easier. Not easier for me, because now I’m forced to stretch a space far too small, but it works for you. 

What had I expected? Grand proclamations of success? That would have made more sense. I could have caught that. But this fishing for compliments, fighting for attention, humbly degrading my opinions, yet not listening long enough to hear them, slipped through my grasp. 

It didn’t start how I expected, but that’s not how it will end.


If anything here rings familiar to you, please take a few minutes to read up on Self-Deprecating Narcissism. I resisted giving my experience the name “narcissism,” it felt too harsh and honestly, not terribly accurate. But narcissism takes many shapes, and in my case, it was all about the other person, but it was all about their suffering, their heartache, and their problems. Just as destructive, but more difficult to describe. Please don’t accept this reality; claim a reality where the center of the universe is the truth.

I hope this helps.

Sarah C.

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