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The Recovery Expert
with Sharie Stines, Psy.D.

Covert Narcissism

They will break you and they will walk away. Richard Grannon

A narcissist or other psychopath will see the parts of you that have not been healed and will exploit you in those areas until there’s nothing left of you. Beware.

One day you wake up to the reality of your situation. Perhaps it’s after 30 years of marriage. You thought you were in a loving relationship that you both wanted for the same reasons, only to find out years later you were never loved, only exploited and used, and a victim of trauma-bonding.

Your loved one offers you affection, seduction, and charm. You think, “I found my soulmate!” “We are perfect for each other!” But eventually you realize it was all an act – a script from some sort of narcissist “play book.”

You realize that your loved one, whom you trusted, and believed felt the same about you as you did about him/her, was merely “smoke and mirrors,” and that he/she was really pretending to be what you needed in order to “hook” you in to the relationship. Your purpose in the relationship was not to be loved, it was to be objectified and used as narcissistic supply. People don’t realize this is what’s happening to them until after it’s too late, and even then it takes a long time to grasp the gravity of the situation.

Tactics frequently used by covert narcissists:

  • Money/Gifts. Oftentimes, covert narcissists will use money to control people. Think of the typical scenario where children are “written out” of wills. Also, consider the person who buys you a gift, only for you to discover later, it has an emotional “string” attached. You thought the gift was given out of love. Really, it was given out of manipulation. In these cases the gift-giver expects your loyalty, sex on demand, silence, and even your very soul.
  • Emotional “trump cards.” Think of the example above. Some covert narcissists believe that if they buy you a gift then they can always hold this over your head to get you to do whatever they want. When you tell him/her about a weakness of yours, or confess a wrong-doing you did in the past, they will bring it up at an opportune moment to make you “lose,” particularly when you’re trying to get him/her to see something they did to hurt you. There are many things that can be emotional trump-cards, and they are always pulled out when necessary to control you.
  • Implications. This is one of the covert narcissist’s favorite tool. In the case of implication, the narcissist always implies that something is wrong with you. They don’t say anything directly, but the message is received loud and clear.
  • Acting innocent and clueless – while simultaneously stabbing you in the back.
  • Telling lies. It’s hard to tell that you’re being lied to, but mark my words, narcissists are master liars. And it often appears that they are so convincing they even believe themselves!
  • Acts of omission. This occurs by failing to answer questions, comment on your Social Media, or in other ways acting indifferent to what you say or do. Being disengaged from the relationship can also be an act of omission.
  • Conveniently forgetting what you asked him/her to do. They innocently act as if the forgetting was accidental. You feel confused because something in your gut tells you this happens too often to be unintentional, but why?
  • The “Bait and Switch.” The narcissist professes undying love for you, even marries you, only for you to realize, sometimes years later, that it was all a sham. There are other examples as well, but the basic idea is to make a promise of some sort to you and then when you expect it to be upheld they act confused, baffled, and usually become angry and then blame you for why you’re not getting what you expected.
  • Double messages. They are masters at acting both happy with you and unhappy with you all at the same time. Or, they give you a compliment that could be an insult, such as “You don’t look that bad in that dress!” or, “You look prettier in that picture than you do in person.”
  • Being very nice but not intimate. Many people in narcissistic relationships love their spouse because he/she is “the nicest person in the world,” but this same person does not touch him/her in an intimate way and may even seek sex outside the relationship.
  • Refuses to listen to you. You become so frustrated because the narcissist cannot and/or will not ever listen to your point of view. Well, maybe that’s a misstatement. If they do listen to you, they take this as an opportunity to misrepresent and/or criticize what you say. In all circumstances you are not validated and end up feeling frustrated and give up trying to be heard and understood.
  • Controls the communication. Narcissists control when and if you talk, the topic and tone of the conversation, and how long the discussion will last. You become very frustrated after years of not having “seamless” dialogues, but feel that every communication effort is designed to sabotage you.
  • Will not answer direct questions. This is a subset of the statement above “Controls the communication.” If you try to make a specific plan with the narcissist, or need him/her to help make a decision, such as how to plan a vacation, they will intentionally stonewall you or ignore you, causing you to have to guess what to do; and most likely, this is a set-up, and you will probably guess wrong.
  • The silent treatment. I think this is the top technique all narcissists use to hurt others, whether covert or overt. The silent treatment is very painful and very effective. Once a person has been shut out this way, they will do almost anything the narcissist wants to get him/her to to stop ignoring them.

The main thing I have observed with victims of narcissism, particularly this covert type of abuse, is that victims will often feel that they are somehow at fault and will try to over-compensate by showing their narcissist how much they are really loved. Victims will try to “love well.” In triangulation situations, two victims may even compete to show that they can love better than the other. The narcissist particularly loves this game. Think of all the power, control, and narcissistic supply this brings to him/her.

Victims of covert narcissism often think they’re going crazy. They lose themselves, feel anxious and depressed, and have almost zero awareness that they are being abused.

Every narc free day is a good day.

Covert Narcissism

Sharie Stines, Psy.D

Sharie Stines, Psy.D. is a recovery expert specializing in personality disorders, complex trauma and helping people overcome damage caused to their lives by addictions, abuse, trauma and dysfunctional relationships. Sharie is a counselor at LIfeline Counseling & Education Inc., in Southern California ( Lifeline Counseling is a non-profit organization 501(c)(3) corporation. Sharie is also an abusive relationship recovery coach -


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APA Reference
Stines, S. (2019). Covert Narcissism. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 9, 2020, from