What is a Closet Narcissist?

The Closet Narcissist appears shy or subservient. According to James Masterson, they present a ‘false self ‘that appears perfect, which hides an underlying vulnerability about feeling flawed for not being perfect. They often faced harsh criticism and are therefore hard on themselves or self critical, deep down, causing them to hide under the radar, so that they will not be criticised.  They will often avoid conflict, stonewall or say what people want to hear in order to avoid feeling judged or being wrong. They fear being found out, as not being perfect, so they cover up their traces and hide their mistakes or flaws. They end up in marriage counselling because they cannot admit their faults or own up to their problems, ignoring issues in their relationship. They lack the ability to have a real connection because they fear being vulnerable and letting people get close to see the real self. 

Covert narcissistsThe Grandiose Narcissist was idealised for being perfect, often becoming the golden child. Instead the Closet Narcissists feels flawed or inadequate for not being perfect or meeting the idealised others expectations. To avoid disappointing them, they will fuse with their expectations and be perfect for them, in order to obtain supplies and feel special in their eyes. When the idealisation  or supplies disappears, they devalue the relationship because it causes them to feel the emptiness within.

Where Covert Narcissism came from?

Imagine you grew up with a parent who pressured you to perform for you to get love and approval. If you didn’t meet their expectations, you were ignored, scorned or shamed for being less than perfect. You end up being compared to others who achieved, and asked what is wrong with you. If you scored 90% on your exam, you were asked why you didn’t get 100%. Nothing you did seemed good enough in the eyes of the parent, unless you were perfect and lived up to their expectations. Perhaps you experienced harsh criticism or the look of shame, which caused you to feel inadequate about yourself, so you ended up striving to be perfect so that you could feel good enough in the eyes of those you looked up to. 

When you felt vulnerable or sad, your parents told you not to be weak, so you learned to push down your feelings to make the parents happy with you. You slowly learned how to modulate your behaviour in accordance with your parents’ expectations. So, you learned to hide your real self in order to avoid judgement or criticism, avoiding to express yourself. In order to avoid criticism or judgement you adjusted your behaviour to get their approval, so that you could feel good enough in their eyes. You ended up appearing as the perfect child who could do no wrong, so that you could receive the idealising supplies from the parent. If you didn’t measure up to their standards you were devalued or discarded, because this caused the parent to feel not good about themselves.

The covert narcissist’s parent pushes the child to be perfect, so that the parent can avoid feeling inadequate about themselves. The parent sees the child as a narcissistic extension of themselves; if the child is perfect then the parent feels perfect. If the child is not perfect, then the parent feels inadequate about themselves. The child becomes used as a source that feeds the parent’s self-esteem. Closet narcissists who fuses with the parent’s expectations will get the idealising supplies from the parent. The parent will brag about their child’s achievements and live through their success, without acknowledging their child or being envious of them. The child lives out the parent’s expectations, by giving up their real self. They became the doctor because they wanted to gain the approval from the parent, not what they wanted for themselves, whereas, the child who become their own person will be devalued in some way or cut off.

How to Recognize a Closet Narcissist?

Covert narcissim According to James Masterson, those with a Closet Narcissist Disorder of Self  will present perfect for their partner in order to obtain idealising supplies from them. The Covert Narcissist goes out of their way to impress or please their partner in order to measure up to their expectations, so that they feel good enough in their eyes. They will usually find someone that they can idealise or look up to, someone smart, attractive, or wealthy, who has all the idealising supplies. By fusing with their expectations and measuring up to them, they seek their approval to feel important to them, this allows them to feel grandiose in the eyes of the idealised other. In this way they can hide their real impaired self that feels flawed for not being perfect, by seeking the approval of others so that they can shine in other person’s light. They develop a ‘false self’ that looks perfect to others, which covers the real self that hides because it feels vulnerable and flawed for not being perfect. They feel like a fraud or an imposter who feels like a fake or phoney that fools everyone and does not want to get uncovered or exposed for their real self. Yet, when they show their real self, they appear to connect in a real way, but it leaves them feeling immensely uncomfortable.

The person who develops a Closet Narcissistic Disorder has a real self that feels vulnerable or empty because they gave up their real self to appease the parent.  When they are not fused with an idealising other, whom they can admire or live up to their expectations, they feel empty, bored or dissatisfied. Therefore, they will often look for supplies or aspire to others who can lift themselves up, to make them feel better. It may be trying to get the attention of that successful business man, it may be having a trophy girlfriend who they can brag about to their friends. They hope to feel good about themselves by associating with those whom they admire or look up to, who has all the supplies, so they can shine their torch upon them. Similarly, they hide themselves, not expressing themselves, being subservient to the expectations of others. While, they avoid judgement by fusing with them, instead of expressing their own mind. They fear being judged for their real self and appease others to feel good enough in their eyes. They end up squashing themselves in relationships or running themselves rugged to please others, in order to be perfect for them.

Unlike the Grandiose Narcissist, who has an inflated, grandiose sense of self that feels superior, the Closet Narcissist appears accommodating in order to feed off the supplies of the admired partner. They can also hide behind the Grandiose Narcissist and obey them, or support them by boosting their career in order to enjoy the fame or fortune that they can offer them.  In this idealised fusion, they can feel the glory of living in the other persons shadow, feeling proud of them, admiring them.  They do not want to stand out, but prefer to live through the life of those that they can look up to, in order to acquire supplies from them. They feel grandiose by mirroring the perfection of the other.  This way, they can hide their empty self. They fall apart when this perfect bubble or fusion collapses. Projecting their grandiosity onto the other and idealising them, they rely on the other to keep their self esteem intact, otherwise they feel the emptiness that underlies their impaired self. Life crumbles when the idealised other falls off the pedestal, shattering the idealised fantasy that once kept them fused..

Narcissism closet Many attend Melbourne’s relationship counselling when the idealised partner does not approve of them or the idealised partner falls off the pedestal, when the idealised fusion is broken. For instance their partner may be angry at them or pulling them up on their behaviour, which causes them to shut down and devalue them, by finding fault in them.When they do not obtain the idealising supplies, to fill the empty self, the Closet Narcissist is left with the emptiness of their real impaired self. This can cause them to feel bored or empty. Often, they will think that the relationship is causing them to feel this way, believing that it is not exciting enough or boring. They protect themselves against these feelings by devaluing their partner, as an attempt to feel better about themselves. Often, they may seek an affair or find supplies elsewhere. If they identified with an abusive sadistic parent, they can act out the anger towards their partner in narcissistic rage, with devaluation or criticism.

Overcoming Closet Narcissism

The truth is, change occurs by accepting their real self as not perfect, and being able to rebuild their real self. Once they can come alive, and not lose themselves by measuring up to everyone else’s expectations, they can obtain self-fulfilment within their real self and foster deeper connections with relationships. Melbourne’s Counselling Services assists to deal with the vulnerable real self, by managing the deflation and hurt when letting go of the idealised fusion in relationships. Re-building the self allows them to be open in relationships and not hide behind the mask, which means working through the self-criticism and harsh self representations.

Nancy Carbone trained in the treatment of personality disorders from the Psychoanalytic International Masterson Institute. If you want help dealing with closet narcissism or a person with these personality traits, you can contact Nancy on 0449 861147 or sign up on her newsletter for free advice and tips.

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