Ever feel drained after spending time with a particular “high-maintenance” friend or family member? Do your romantic relationships start golden, then slowly turn dysfunctional? You may be dealing with a covert narcissist.
Unlike overt narcissists, covert narcissists fly under the radar with manipulation and entitlement. But don’t be fooled – their toll on relationships and mental health is just as severe.
In this article, we’ll explore how covert narcissism poisons relationships with:
- Romantic partners – Push-pull dynamics strain even the strongest bonds over time.
- Family members – Positions as loved ones provide cover for guilt-tripping and control.
- Friends – Jealousy and bitterness lurk below the surface of unstable friendships.
- Coworkers – Undermining, envy, and passive aggression disrupt work life.
Arm yourself with knowledge of their relationship impacts before a covert narcissist extinguishes your spirit. Forewarned is forearmed against their mind games!
How covert narcissism affects romantic partners
Romantic relationships often start out golden with a covert narcissist. They shower you with praise and affection—but only when you reflect their inflated sense of self back to them.
Before you know it, the fantasy sours. Covert narcissists subject partners to hot-and-cold mind games that strain even the strongest bonds over time.
The Push-Pull Dynamic
The covert narcissist pulls you into their web by mirroring your interests and making you feel like the center of their world. But the idealization never lasts.
When you stop feeding their ego constantly, they turn cold, critical, and controlling. They withdraw affection to punish you for “abandoning” them.
This push-pull dynamic keeps you trapped in pursuit of the fairytale beginning. You walk on eggshells, trying to please them and regain their approval.
Covert narcissists have mastered the art of emotional manipulation. Common tactics they use on romantic partners include:
- Gaslighting – They distort reality to suit their needs, making you question your sanity.
- Idealize, devalue, discard – Building you up to tear you down keeps you unbalanced.
- Triangulation – Comparing you to exes or new prospects seeds insecurity.
- Future faking – Empty promises about your shared future give false hope.
- Intermittent reinforcement – Random breadcrumbs of affection or compliments keep you hooked.
The covert narcissist’s constant need for validation leads to wild mood swings—one moment, they’re affectionate; the next cold as ice.
They demand your attention, suck you into their drama, and make everything about them. It’s emotionally exhausting.
The covert narcissist chips away at your self-esteem with criticism, judgment, and comparisons. You walk on eggshells, desperate to gain their approval.
Soon, your wants, needs, and reality cease to exist. There’s only their distorted worldview. This loss of self slowly destroys you from within.
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Ending the Cycle
Breaking narcissistic relationship cycles is challenging—but staying means relinquishing your self-worth.
Set firm boundaries. Seek support from a therapist. Expect manipulative pushback. But reclaiming your independence and peace of mind is worth it. You deserve so much better.
The covert narcissist’s seductive charm hooks you at first…until the massive price you pay for their “love” reveals itself. But educating yourself is the first step toward breaking free.
The Family Fallout of Covert Narcissism
When a covert narcissist occupies a position as a loved one, their manipulation corrodes families from within. Parents, children, siblings, and partners suffer under their false charm.
Parental Control and Conditional Love
To a covertly narcissistic parent, children represent a captive source of control and affirmation. They lavish praise and gifts when a child reflects back their “perfection,” then withdraw all affection as punishment for noncompliance.
Rather than nurture their child’s independent self, the narcissistic parent shapes the child to fill their emotional voids. Love becomes conditional on catering to the parent’s ego.
The covert narcissist weaponizes guilt, shame, and money to maintain dominance well into their children’s adulthood.
Nothing threatens a covert narcissist like a sibling’s success. Siblings represent competition for parental approval and attention.
Covert tactics covert narcissists use against high-achieving siblings include:
- Belittling or ridiculing their achievements behind a friendly façade
- Pointing out failures and shortcomings
- Making the sibling feel indebted to them
- Subtly turning relatives against the sibling
Scapegoating also provides cover for the covert narcissist’s underachievement. They can blame sibling rivalry for their lack of accomplishments.
The Tyranny of Secrecy
The covert narcissistic parent decrees: “What happens inside the home stays inside the home.” This isolates family members from outside support systems.
Children learn to hide bruises, bury their pain, and internalize shame. Partners feel alone and silenced by gaslighting.
The covert narcissist becomes judge, jury and executioner of the family’s reality. Breaking the secrecy is key to regaining autonomy.
Blind family loyalty enables dysfunction. Recognize when distancing empowers you to escape abuse. You can still care from afar without drowning yourself to save a sinking ship.
Form your tribe outside the family. Set impenetrable boundaries. Let the narcissist unravel alone while you focus on your peace of mind. You deserve so much better.
When Covert Narcissism Poisons Friendship
At first, the friendship feels flattering. They make you feel like the most crucial person in the world. But the covert narcissist’s charm soon spirals into instability.
Here are signs the relationship is turning toxic:
- They expect nonstop praise and validation from you. Your role is bolstering their ego.
- They secretly envy your accomplishments. Your successes threaten their superiority.
- They hijack conversations back to themselves. There’s no genuine interest in your life.
- You feel pressure to tiptoe around their outbursts and depression. Your needs come last.
- Passive aggression and subtle sabotage undercut you when you steal their spotlight.
- Your confidence plummets from constant covert criticism masked as jokes or concern.
Unlike overt narcissists, covert narcissists undermine subtly, using your compassion against you. Their tactics erode your self-worth slowly over time:
- Guilt tripping you if you set boundaries
- Sulking and giving you the cold shoulder when displeased
- Making themselves the victim to elicit sympathy
The friendship becomes a never-ending cycle of manipulation. Save your spirit by limiting contact, blocking texts, and surrounding yourself with people who make you feel good. You deserve to feel seen.
Genetic links may be associated with narcissism, passed from parents to children. The characteristic lack of empathy found in narcissists could be inherited.
When a Covert Narcissist Is Your Coworker
That office manipulator who spreads rumours and sucks up to the boss? The jealous coworker who sabotages you and steals credit? Look for the hallmarks of a covert narcissist.
The workplace or classroom provides prime playgrounds for covert narcissists to undermine peers and feel superior.
Signs a coworker or classmate leans covertly narcissistic:
- Hogs the spotlight in meetings/class. Becomes moody and withdrawn when not center stage.
- Gossip and put others down to feel powerful. Their charm disguises constant judgment.
- Passive aggression masks their entitled belief that grunt work is “beneath” them.
- Ingratiates themselves to authority figures while ostracizing “outsiders.”
- Feigns team spirit while ultimately self-serving. Quick to blame failures on others.
- Craves recognition and advancement despite mediocre work. Envies work “rivals.”
The misery of a workplace or academic covert narcissist spreads like cancer, sabotaging morale and performance.
Protect yourself by setting firm boundaries, avoiding seclusion with them, and keeping documentation to refute their accusations.
Don’t let a narcissistic coworker or classmate jeopardize your success through their undermining games. Spot the signs early and don’t empower their toxicity. You deserve to thrive free from manipulation.
Covert Narcissism in Women: Overlooked But Damaging
While narcissism is more commonly associated with men, covert narcissism tends to be more prevalent among women. Research indicates that 75% of those diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder are men. However, experts suggest covert narcissism is underdiagnosed in women.
Society typically emphasizes overt narcissistic traits like arrogance, aggression, and dominance as “masculine.” So when women display entitlement, lack of empathy, or exploitation, it flies under the radar.
Why Covert Traits Flourish in Women
Women face unique social pressures that foster covert narcissism, including:
- Expectations to be communal, modest, and nurturing make openly arrogant behaviour less acceptable.
- Emphasis on physical beauty leads to distortions in female self-image.
- Minimizing accomplishments or competing with other women earns social rewards.
- Victimhood elicits the sympathy and condolences they crave.
Impact on Female Relationships
A covertly narcissistic woman wreaks havoc through subtle sabotage due to feelings of inadequacy and envy. For example:
- Undermining a spouse’s success through manipulated comfort like “You’re working too hard – don’t you love us?”
- Enforcing an image of perfection that isolates women from meaningful friendships.
- I am living vicariously through a daughter’s accomplishments.
- I am using self-deprecation to elicit sympathetic compliments.
Why Identification Matters
Recognizing covert narcissism empowers women to set boundaries against its damaging impact. It also promotes awareness that womanhood alone does not make one immune from possessing narcissistic traits.
Owning how covert narcissism may appear in female friendships, parenting, and partner dynamics is key to mitigating harm. There are healthier ways for women to build self-esteem than manipulating relationships.
The Mental Health Toll of Covert Narcissistic Abuse
The manipulation inflicts more than relational damage—covert narcissism takes a devastating toll on mental health.
Victims suffer higher rates of:
- Depression – Constant criticism and gaslighting erode self-confidence and mood.
- Anxiety Disorder – Walking on eggshells around the narcissist’s outbursts causes severe anxiety.
- PTSD – The cycle of idealization, devaluation, and discarding creates trauma. Victims experience hypervigilance about setting off the narcissist.
- Codependency – People pleasing and obsessively tending to the narcissist’s needs becomes the norm.
- Substance abuse – Drugs or alcohol provide an escapist coping mechanism against the narcissist’s mind games.
- Suicidality – Victims see no way out from the emotional rollercoaster.
Many targets of narcissists develop C-PTSD–complex post-traumatic stress disorder. The cumulative layers of abuse–covert and overt–inflict deep scars.
Seeking counselling helps process the trauma and regain self-worth. Establish rigorous boundaries to protect your mental health, even if it means limiting contact.
No matter how much they argue otherwise, you owe your well-being to no one. Free yourself from the torturous grip of a covert narcissist–the peace is out there waiting.