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
Narcissists will ignore any valid concerns you may have. They will choose to follow their agenda in every circumstance because they have are selfish. They don’t want to learn compassion and want to stay isolated and withdrawn. They will ignore you when you aren’t feeling well but want to be doted on when they are not well. There is no meeting halfway since they only want to be served, not to serve.
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
Narcissists are highly sensitive and take offense at simple criticisms. They magnify a perceived or real offense more than it deserves. They are not able to dialogue but deflect blame onto others for their reactions.
They attempt to cover their anger by pretending things don’t bother them, yet their nonverbal body language shows anger even though they don’t admit it. They can become passive-aggressive in their responses and not follow through with actions.
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
Narcissists will minimize the needs of the people around them. They will not explore the details of a particular situation because they don’t deem it worthy of their time. They will label people and deflect blame onto them instead of taking responsibility for their own actions. They reduce complex issues to simple ones in order to brush them aside as stupid or useless. They don’t want to be bothered with facts or logic, only their own limited scope of what is important so as not to invest their time or energy in anything contrary to their personal agenda.
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
Narcissists tend to “shoot from the hip” with quick advice and not ask questions during conversations, but instead shut down dialogue so they do the minimum amount. They do not want to expend any energy toward relationships. They do not care about what you have to say because they want to follow what is best for them regardless of what you are sharing. In the end, they don’t care enough to listen to you.
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.
The Bipolar Entrepreneur
DECEMBER 2, 2017
I’ve been feeling really sorry for myself lately. Being an entrepreneur is hard. Being Bipolar is hard. Being both is just stupid.
So I’ve been throwing several pity parties. Nightly bouts of crying and whining about how much my life sucks and how no one else’s life sucks as much as mine. Some would call it “Bitching,” but I prefer “creative complaining.”
You see, being Bipolar means life has severe ups and downs. Being an entrepreneur means waking up every morning questioning every decision you’ve ever made. Just kidding, being an entrepreneur means overcoming challenges and remaining confident in the face of instability.
Ahh, instability. My favorite foe. My frienemy. My Jim Halpert to my Dwight Schrute.
On one hand, by little Bipolar brain is all about instability. The waves feel familiar. When I’m up and business is going well, it’s EXCITING AND INVIGORATING AND OMG THERE ARE SO MANY OPPORTUNITIES WHAT WILL COME NEXT WHAT IS BEHIND THAT DOOR WHAT AM I DOING SORRY I’M YELLING. And when I’m down and my business is tanking, it’s exhausting….overwhelming…discouraging… scary…and icky.
I match my environment. I feel the depressive feelings when things are depressive and happy feelings when things are happy. Granted, it’s a bit extreme, but the ups and downs of entrepreneurship fit my personality like a glove.
On the other hand, my darling manic-depressive demeanor despises instability. It’s desperately searching for equilibrium and my fluctuating business will not allow for such things. I get momentarily reprieves for about a day or so when things seem like they may be ok, but then something is on fire and I’m on fire and everyone is on fire and this actually hell oh lord save me.
So how do I handle it?
- I don’t.
What a list, wow, so much advice.
Here’s the point. I don’t handle it. I can’t handle it. Instead, I have to create space for it. I throw down anchors for when a wave is about to crash. I grit my teeth knowing the eventual smooth waters will seem just as endless as the current storm. I hold on to what I know to be true.
“I throw down anchors for when a wave is about to crash.”
I am an adventurous spirit intended for rough waters. I can see the shore but I choose to sail away. All of this is my choice. Pursuing a risky career and acknowledging my Bipolar is my choice.
I could very easily ignore the call of the wild and box up my mental health problems. It would be easy and it would make sense. And you know what? It would also be easier to explain. It would be easier to talk about.
So yes, I feel sorry for myself. And yes, I admire my choices and my strength. So yes, I’m throwing pity parties, because you know what? Parties are fun. And if I’m going to deal with all this crap, then I might as well enjoy myself.
JUNE 19, 2017
Subject: We keep running into each other
I hope it’s ok that I’m emailing you. It seems like I keep
running into you and I feel like it’s time I say something. I know you want your space, and I get that, but I have to get this off my chest.
Sarah, I am so sorry for the way I acted. I know I can’t
undo any of it, but I so desperately wish that I could. I promise if you give me the chance I can do better. I really can. But if you can’t forgive me, if you want to hate me forever, I would at least like to apologize for all the things I did wrong. Even if it means we never talk again.
I’m sorry for giving you the loneliest two years of your
life. I’m sorry I convinced you that “you’re the kind of girl that only has guy friends.” I’m sorry I taught you to fear women. I’m sorry I taught you they weren’t too be trusted. Because I see now, especially watching how you’ve changed, that girlfriends are awesome. Like so awesome. I can see how happy you are and I regret so much that I kept that from you.
I know it’s not an excuse, but I truly didn’t know any better. I really thought being the most independent was the only way to protect myself. I’d been hurt so many times by females, I didn’t think they could be trusted. I thought becoming impressive would bring friends into my life. Turns out, girls love to be needed and don’t care for huge egos. Go figure.
And on the note of loneliness, and I hate to even bring this up, it’s so embarrassing…but I’m sorry for the way I used men. Or boys, they’re probably more like boys. They haven’t even reached an age where they can begin to understand woman and I used them like toys. The way I collected them…the way I led them on and begged for commitment, then walked away when things got too real…that really sucked. No one deserves that. I know its my daddy issues at play, but like, that was so shitty. I hurt so many guys you cared about. And I’m sorry.
I wish I could go back and undo it, but I don’t know if I would act any differently. It felt like I was protecting myself…and you. It’s always you I’ve cared about. I know it’s hard to believe, but that’s really why I did the things I did. You’d been rejected before; I just didn’t want that to happen again. If I kept distance, the danger felt manageable. But it wasn’t.
I’m sorry you felt so worthless. That was me again. It looks
like you’re doing well now, you seem happy. It looks like you’ve gained some
weight, which would drive me crazy, but it looks like you don’t even care. I
can’t imagine how great that feels. And your hair. I could literally never pull
And I heard you got married!! Congrats!! Was it scary? You
used to be so scared you’d never find anyone who would want to deal with you. I don’t think anyone will ever want to deal with me. I’m too much of a hot mess. But you seem to have it together.
I’d love to get together sometime. But again, I understand
if you hate me. I did a lot of crappy things. I wish I would have known better.
I really do. Because then maybe things would have turned out better for me. And for you.
I hope I didn’t completely ruin your life.
Subject: RE: We keep running into each other
Wow, I never expected to hear from you again! I’m not mad or anything, just surprised. It seems like a million years since we’ve talked. It’s funny how life brings people back together. One day you’re just walking the dog and your past pops right up haha.
I’m so sorry that you think I hate you. I mean, I’m not super happy about how things ended, but I would never say I hate you. Sarah, you were doing the best you could. You really were. And you definitely didn’t ruin my life. If you hadn’t been such a hot mess running around with boys, you would have never introduced me to my husband. Yeah, we met smoking cigars at a Super 8 Motel. Super classy. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
And I know your need for attention wasn’t because you were self-absorbed. I mean, you were a little self-absorbed, but I think we all are. But you weren’t trying to be. You’d been cheated on, abused, and neglected for a long time. I think most would feel the same way. You didn’t feel worthy of affection or love. You never felt safe to be vulnerable. And who could blame you? Everyone you ever opened up to was not prepared to love you.
And yes, I have gained weight, lol, I’m not surprised you noticed. You always worried about that nonsense. I can imagine it was super exhausting. Life got so much easier when I just let my body be what it wanted. And I’ve never felt SEXIER. Like really. I feel like a total babe and I’m all squishy and pale. I’m like a European Princess. That fairest of them all. You should try it out. Just let your body do what feels good. Except for drugs. That will only feel good for a little bit.
I’m really happy you reached out. I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately, about how sad you always were. You had more energy that anyone should ever possess, but I know that was just a front. And also, can we just talk about how great you were at being a fitness instructor??? Like seriously, you worked so hard at that, you never gave yourself enough credit.
More than anything, I truly truly forgive you. From the bottom of my heart, you are forgiven. You’ve already shown how much you can change. You’ve come so far and I have a feeling you will continue to grow. And whether or not you find a man who can appreciate you, I appreciate you. And you should appreciate you too. Because once you see yourself as the imperfect but divine being that you are, you will give others the chance to appreciate you.
And please open up. There are a lot of people who are going to need your help.
I know you think you’ve failed, but I don’t see it that way. Yeah, I’m still dealing with some of the crap we went through together, and sometimes some of the hurts come back. But you taught me so much and in such a real way.
I understand God now. I think. Well, as much as I can right now. And if you hadn’t dragged my butt to church so many times (against my will, I might add) I for sure wouldn’t be married to such a bad-ass God fearing man. And my friends wouldn’t be near as cool. Even if you didn’t understand why, you always encouraged me to seek Christ. Even when you didn’t understand what the Bible was telling you, you still encouraged me to read it.
Even when your world felt dark, you protected me. Even when you were so incredibly scared, you fought for me. When you faced the precipice of life, when you dangled your feet over the edge and wondered if it was worth it, you chose to be with me. And I love you for that.
I’d love to talk more, are you free to get coffee sometime? Oh yeah! I like coffee now. Huge. Game changer.