Covert narcissists are one of the most damaging types of narcissists.
The way they manipulate and control is subtle; it usually goes unnoticed.
Because of this, you can be in a relationship with someone who has this type of personality disorder for years, often decades, without recognizing their destructive behavior.
You can be raised by one who is often revered and looked up to by others but is subtly demeaning and devaluing you at home, which ends up giving you the feeling that you are the problem, not them.
The covert narcissist has the same traits as the well-known overt narcissist, listed in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), but displays them in more insidious ways. They leave you questioning your own reality, experiencing low self-esteem, often having unexplained health issues, and slowly losing your life force energy.
One common way a narcissist drains your energy and robs you of your joy is by sabotaging special days, like holidays. During these times, you end up feeling exhausted, depleted, and depressed without noticing the true source of why you feel the way you do.
An overt type will yell at you and put you down in blatant ways. The more covert the narcissist is, the more their tactics go unseen. But the damage to your physical and mental well-being will be greatly affected over time.
Here are three tactics covert narcissists use during the holidays to deplete your energy and keep themselves at the center of your attention:
1. They criticize the way you do things.
When you are with a covert narcissist, they give you the feeling and subtle message that who you are and how you do things is never—and never will be—good enough. This destructive and untrue message is especially pronounced on days that are special to you.
Here is an example of how this might play out if you celebrate Christmas:
You are decorating the Christmas tree. They are “helping you” here and there, but mostly you are the one doing all the work. As they “take a break” from helping, they sit on the couch and say, in what sounds like a kind and caring tone, “I’ve noticed you really rush through putting up the decorations. I wish you could enjoy the process more.”
Your stomach tightens, but you feel like you can’t be upset because the tone in which they spoke sounded like they were trying to help you find a different way to “do” Christmas—one that may help you enjoy it more. You do notice yourself trying to get things done quickly, but you also know how much there is to do. And over the years, without realizing it, you have become the one who has the full responsibility to create a wonderful Christmas for the family. You are a self-actualizing person who is always trying to grow and evolve, so you accept the comment as something to look at in yourself and “improve.”
You don’t recognize the truth of their comment being tone-deaf, selfish, or lazy. This is because you still view them as who they presented themselves as when you first fell in love (the love-bombing stage). You see them as someone who cares about you. Or if they are a parent, you can see them as someone who knows more than you and is just concerned about you.
A person who truly cares about you would notice you are stressed and have a lot on your plate. They would ask how they could help, or, at least, would inquire as to how you are feeling; your feelings and mental well-being would actually matter to them. But after years of being with a covert narcissist, you have lost touch with what love really looks like. You learn to accept the crumbs of care and attention they give you.
2. They control and manipulate with their emotions.
A narcissist’s goal is to keep the attention on them as much as possible, and they often use their emotions to do this.
For example, while you are trying to create the magic of the holidays, they might suddenly become depressed and express that to you. Or, they may display actions that show they are feeling down, so you will inquire about how they are doing.
Covert narcissists target caring, nurturing, kind, people to be with because they know they can exploit your tender heart—control and manipulate you.
Naturally, you will be affected, knowing they feel depressed, so you will turn your attention on them and see if you can help. They will rope you into their made-up drama throughout the holiday, keeping you from enjoying this time and ensuring the focus is all on them.
Some will even go as far as to fake an illness or injury to turn the attention onto them, knowing you will always take care of them.
Another emotion they use to control those around them is their hidden rage. When you are with a covert narcissist, you can feel the rage boiling inside them, like a dormant volcano that could erupt at any moment. This leaves the rest of the household feeling on edge and emotionally unsafe.
All of these tactics will leave you drained and exhausted, keeping you from what could have been a joyous bonding time with loved ones.
3. They give gifts with strings attached.
When you receive a gift from a covert narcissist, it feels like it is more about them than you; because it is. The gifts they give can often be insensitive, out of touch with who you are, or they may have some excuse as to why they have no gift for you.
Suppose they do happen to give you a special or extravagant gift. In that case, they will always make sure other people are around to see—that others know about it—whether they plaster it on social media or have an audience in front of them. They want to be seen as an amazing and generous person.
Sometimes they will tell dramatic tales of the harrowing journey they went on to find their gift for you, or how expensive it was, putting the focus on them. Then after the big build-up, the gift ends up being something that doesn’t fit who you are at all; it’s nothing from your wish list—something you would definitely not use. You then feel guilty that you don’t like it, that you feel disappointed by it. You feel like you should be grateful, especially after the ordeal they went through to get it. So, you thank them, choosing to see this as an honest mistake, an innocent, naïve act, giving them the benefit of the doubt.
They later mention that you are never grateful enough, you don’t appreciate them, or how difficult you are to please. Or, they give you the silent treatment to punish you for not having a bigger reaction, which makes you feel even worse. You begin to wonder if you really are difficult to please—if you ask for or want too much. You end up feeling bad about yourself. And, after experiencing this year after year, you begin to feel unworthy of someone celebrating you or treating you.
The truth is, you do deserve to be celebrated, loved, cherished, and respected.
You deserve to be with someone who feels so grateful to be with you—someone who loves treating you.
You deserve to have the freedom to enjoy the holidays (however you want to enjoy them).
No one has the right to tell you how you should create an experience or how you should live your life.
If you have experienced these subtle tactics of control and manipulation or struggle to see them for what they are, please, be kind to yourself. These people are master manipulators. Millions of highly intelligent and intuitive people have not been able to see through this kind of subtle behavior.
There is nothing wrong with you. It’s about them, their issues, not yours.
You are magnificent just the way you are.
May this holiday season bring you the clarity and reassurance that you need. You are a valuable human being who is so worthy and deserving of real, genuine love.