Coping With and Responding to a Covert Narcissist in Your Life

So you’ve identified the covert narcissist in your life. The passive-aggressive comments, guilt-tripping, and underhanded manipulation make your skin crawl.

You’ve had enough—but how do you deal with someone who thinks they’re always right and feels entitled to exploit you?

Coping with a covert narcissist requires strategy. We’ll provide expert-backed communication tactics, boundary-setting advice, and self-care tips to protect your sanity.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Seeing through their false self – Understanding the deep insecurity beneath their arrogance breeds compassion.
  • Avoiding escalation – Arguments with a covert narcissist go nowhere. Calmly sticking to facts defuses drama.
  • Setting firm boundaries – Prioritizing your needs means limiting contact if required. Expect manipulative pushback.
  • Disarming tactics – Identify common manipulation ploys like gaslighting, and don’t take the bait. Broken record your boundaries.
  • Reality-testing – Narcissistic distortion fields make you feel crazy. Seek outside support and remember your truth.
  • Self-care and detachment – Reduce enmeshment through fulfilling activities away from the narcissist. You alone control your happiness.

Don’t allow compassion for their wounds to equate to enabling abuse. Time to regain your power!

Diagnosing Covert Narcissism

Wondering if a loved one meets the clinical criteria for narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)? Covert narcissism can be tricky to catch.

According to the DSM-5 psychiatric manual, someone with NPD possesses at least 5 of these traits:

  • Grandiose sense of self-importance – They inflate their achievements and talents.
  • Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love – They cultivate elaborate images of themselves at the top.
  • Needing constant admiration – They fish for compliments and react poorly to criticism.
  • Sense of entitlement – They expect special favours and privileges they haven’t earned.
  • Interpersonally exploitative – They take advantage of others to further their own goals.
  • Lack of empathy – They struggle to understand others’ perspectives and needs.
  • Envious of others – They resent people with what they think they’re entitled to.

The covert narcissist meets these criteria but in a less obvious way than their overt counterpart. Their grandiosity and lack of empathy hide behind a humble, anxious exterior.

Only a licensed mental health clinician can formally diagnose someone with NPD. Typically, a psychiatrist or psychologist will conduct an in-depth clinical interview, reviewing the person’s symptoms and relationship history.

Loved ones of a potential covert narcissist may seek support through individual therapy. A therapist can help set healthy boundaries and provide coping strategies.

While challenging, establishing boundaries and managing expectations is crucial for relating to the covert narcissist. Their disorder makes authentic, reciprocal relationships challenging.

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Self-Care Tips for Partners and Family Members

Coping with a covert narcissist in your life begins with caring for your well-being. You alone are responsible for your happiness.

Set aside time for centring activities that nourish your spirit. Say no to the covert narcissist’s demands when needed.

Reflect on Your Values

Stay grounded by identifying your core values. What matters most to you? What healthy boundaries align with those values? Reflect through journaling or discussion with a trusted friend.

Pursue Your Passions

Carve out time for hobbies that light you up inside. It could be art, sports, music, reading, hiking, or any activity unrelated to the covert narcissist. Follow your bliss.

Spend Time with Supportive Friends

Share your feelings and frustrations to keep your perspective. Lean on friends who bring out your best self. The support and laughter will lift your mood.

Exercise and Move Your Body

Release stress and anxiety through movement. Try walking, running, yoga, boxing physical activity that clears your mind. Breathe deeply.

Practice Relaxation Techniques

Try meditation, deep breathing, mindfulness, or visualization to calm your nervous system when tensions run high. Recenter yourself in the present.

Set Limits and Boundaries

Don’t let the covert narcissist make endless demands on your time and energy. Learn to say no. Limit contact if needed. Be firm yet compassionate.

Avoid Internalizing Criticism

Remember, the covert narcissist’s criticisms say more about them than you. Let judgments roll off your back. You know your worth.

Get Professional Support

Seeking counselling empowers you to stop enabling behaviours. A therapist helps you implement coping strategies and navigate setting boundaries.

Focus on Gratitude

Make a daily list of things you’re grateful for. It shifts attention away from the covert narcissist’s drama and reminds you of life’s gifts.

The more you nurture your whole self, the less susceptible you’ll be to the covert narcissist’s manipulation. Your worth doesn’t depend on them.

Enforcing Boundaries Against Covert Narcissist Manipulation

You can’t control a covert narcissist’s behaviours, only your responses. The most powerful tool at your disposal? Healthy boundaries.

Boundary setting protects your sanity but requires consistency and courage. Be prepared for manipulative pushback.

Know Your Needs

Get clear on your core values and what you need to feel respected in the relationship. Maybe it’s:

  • Respect for your schedule and priorities
  • Speaking to you calmly in conflict
  • Mutual support and understanding
  • Appreciation for your contributions

Knowing your non-negotiable needs grounds you against narcissistic manipulation aimed at eroding them.

Communicate Expectations Calmly

Inform the covert narcissist of your boundaries using clear “I statements” focused on specific behaviours:

“I’m setting aside Thursdays for self-care. I won’t be available to help with your projects those days.”

Avoid attacking their character or making vague demands. Neutrally state your boundaries, then disengage from debate.

Follow Through Consistently

When your boundaries get crossed, enact the stated consequences calmly—for example, immediately leaving when disrespected.

Let go of threatening empty consequences. Covert narcissists often enjoy watching you flounder and then use it as proof your rules mean nothing. Don’t give them the satisfaction.

See Patterns, Not Progress

Expect occasional boundary compliance to be a manipulation, not a real change. Consistency reveals actual improvement.

Stay vigilant against intermittent reinforcement designed to suck you back into loosened boundaries. Progress takes time.

Refuse to sacrifice your worth and well-being. You teach others how to treat you. Make your boundaries your armour against manipulation.

How to Communicate and Respond to a Covert Narcissist

When you must interact with a covert narcissist, arming yourself with communication strategies preserves your self-worth against manipulation.

Choose Battles Wisely

Not every criticism or drama is worth engaging in. Consider which issues genuinely impact you before reacting.

Ask yourself, “Will this matter tomorrow?” Refuse to get hooked into nitpicking or entitlement masked as “concern.”

Detach from Emotion

Keep communication factual and unemotional. Despite provocations, avoid dramatic reactions that provide a narcissistic supply.

Stick to “I feel…” statements about concrete behaviours. Don’t label them as a “narcissist” or attack their character.

Set Consequences, Not Threats

Follow through consistently when they cross established boundaries.

Rather than threaten vaguely “or else!”, state exactly what will happen if they continue the problem behaviour. Then, stick to it.

Hold Your Position

Broken, record your boundaries calmly when challenged. Don’t let them derail you into defending yourself.

Stay solution-focused. State, “I’m happy to discuss this when we can focus on resolving the issue together.”

Don’t Expect Validation

Covert narcissists view relationships as one-way transactions. Expecting them to acknowledge your reality sets you up for frustration.

Share feedback seeking collaboration, not validation. If no progress results, limit contact for your well-being.

Observe Patterns, Not Promises

Occasional boundary compliance doesn’t equal change. Consistency over time reveals genuine improvement.

Beware of intermittent reinforcement designed to lower your guard before abusive patterns resume.

The covert narcissist’s manipulation can make you feel crazy. But knowledge of their games and calm, consistent responses help protect your inner peace. You’ve got this!

Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen’s career began in Behaviour Therapy, this is where she developed a passion for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approaches. Following a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Psychology she pursued a Master of Counselling. Pareen is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. She specializes in CBT and Lifespan Integrations approaches to anxiety and trauma. She has been published on major online publications such as - Yahoo, MSN, AskMen, PsychCentral, Best Life Online, and more.

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