How to detect a covert narcissist?
What are the signs on how to detect a covert narcissist? How can you spot a person who is a covert narcissist? Unlike the grandiose narcissistic personality disorder, who is invested entirely in themselves to feel special, the covert or closet narcissist invests in others to feel good about themselves. They have low levels of grandiosity or their grandiosity is hidden, so they do not appear exhibitionistic. Deep down they feel inadequate for not being perfect, they cover their feelings by winning the approval of others by feeling special to them. However, when others do not provide the validation or approval they seek, they face the pain of an empty self, reliant on others to feel good about themselves. So, they fall apart when not feeling acknowledged by their partner, since they are unable to cope with how they feel about themselves.
The closet narcissist relies on an idealised partner to feel good enough. The partner can be the attractive younger woman or the wealthy business man, whom they admire for their attributes. The partner is often attractive, wealthy, smart or an empath, with all of the supplies that are required so that they do not have to face their empty self. The possessive, controlling and insecure behaviour of the closet narcissist is an attempt to keep their partner fused with them, so that they can feel special in relation to them. Any breaks in the fusion disrupt this feeling, whereby they are left with the emptiness of their real impaired self. They want their partner to be at one with them, on the same page. If the partner forms their own separate opinion, does not appear perfect or wants to separate from them, than this bond is broken. The narcissist feels lost, like a part of them is missing when the other is not on the same page as them, causing them to attempt to re-fuse with the partner, by being persuasive or pressuring them to agree with them. This can be controlling them, so they do not leave, convincing them on how to behave or even going as far as buying their love in order to have ownership of them. Some will even meet their partners expectations, to keep them where they want them. The idealised partner is a prize or possession that they control, who is a source of need fulfilment. Lets explore some signs to detect closet narcissists.
What are the signs to identify covert narcissism?
- Those with covert narcissism feels empty, flawed or inadequate when they expose their real self or express themselves. They avoid being in the spot light, hiding in the shadow of an idealised partner by preferring to bask in glow of them, to cover up feelings of inadequacy.
- They avoid exposing themselves in case others see them as not perfect, covering up to avoid feeling a fraud for not being perfect.
- Many avoid expressing their thoughts or feelings, by meeting others expectations. They will tell you what you want to hear, instead of what they actually think, unless they’re angry and stonewall
- They put all of their effort into impressing others to get their approval or validation in order to be perfect for them.
- Can appear shy, polite, perfect or impressive, because they are luring you in to approve them, so they feel good about themselves.
- They will try to meet your expectations and be perfect for you, to reel you in.
- They will not be able to handle criticism because they are highly critical of themselves, they fear judgement or disapproval. They can try harder to prove themselves, or persuade others to see how perfect they are, instead of listen.
- Because they cannot sustain the real connection of an intimate relationship the relationship falls apart and feels empty and void of connection.
- To feel good enough, they can pressure their partner for supplies, demanding sex or intimacy to feel special. They can seem infantile when their needs are not met, like a baby demanding more and more.
- When their partner stops emotionally feeding them, they will demand that their needs be met in appreciation of all the effort they put in.
- They require constant approval and will put a lot into the relationship to get this back. They will romance their partner, taking them to expensive places to get acknowledged.
- When the supplies stop, they can become, possessive, controlling and demanding to get their partner to re-fuse with them or win them back. They can pressure their partner’s that their reality is wrong and that they need to meet their needs, not accepting their partners thoughts or feelings, not listening to how they can feel trapped in the relationship because they cannot be themselves.
- Unlike the grandiose narcissist who can discard their partner, the closet narcissist cannot let go of them, holding onto them, often even shutting out things that they do not want to see. They avoid seeing that their partner is not perfect. So, they avoid raising issues, often putting up with things to pretend that everything is perfect, so that they can remain fused with their partner.
Covert narcissism or closet narcissism is defined by James Masterson as deriving from circumstances when the individual had to shut down their real self in order to live up to the idealised expectations of the parent, in order to feel special to them. They received libidinal supplies from mirroring the parents grandiosity, by being interested in what they wanted, being a perfect extension of them.When they did not meet the parents expectations they were shamed, humiliated or not accepted for who they were. So their real self was left feeling deflated for not measuring up, feeling flawed. As a result they avoid expressing themselves to avoid feeling exposed as not perfect, preferring to hide behind those that they can look up to instead. They rely on the supplies of idealised objects to hold up their self-esteem. They become fused with the expections of their partners, while modulating their behavior to act in accordance with their expectations. While trying to impress them by being perfect in their eyes, so they feel good about themselves. In order to feel special they rely on the validation and approval of others, to manage their self-esteem, because they did not develop the capacity to regulate their own self esteem.
Having a relationship with a covert narcissist.
The partner of the covert narcissist usually walks on eggshells and cannot express themselves, to avoid injuring them by not giving them what they need. So, they slowly give up themselves and withdraw into the relationship, often turning their attention elsewhere, even having affairs themselves, to get away.
Having a relationship with a covert narcissist is not easy. The problems occur when others fall off the pedestal, not approve them, criticise them, or break the fusion by leaving. This causes them to feel empty or inadequate, so they try to re-fuse to stay in a relationship and get the supplies. They do so by convincing partners to stay, being demanding or pressuring them to accept them back, trying to win their approval to prove themselves by meeting their expectations. They try desperately to win them back, to avoid the deflation of their self esteem, when they are left with emptiness of their real self. However, they cannot tolerate hearing what others say because it leaves them feeling inadequate, whereby they prove themselves and convince others to see that they are perfect. Couples counselling helps the narcissist absorb the painful blow to their self-esteem, so they have a softer place to fall, so they can take-in constructive feedback, and listen to their partners needs or feedback. The prognosis for change in couples therapy is more effective for the closet narcissist, unlike the grandiose narcissist. This is because they are willing to do anything to make the relationship work.
Often situations can escalate into domestic violence, anger, jealously, insecurity, mistrust, stalking or paranoia when their partner moves away from the relationship, in order to obtain their own self. The possible break in fusion is so threatening that the narcissist cannot cope without fusing with an idealised partner who can make them feel grandiose. When the partner stands up for themselves or attempts to leave the relationship, the narcissist falls apart or reacts with narcissistic rage, often requiring anger management counselling. When the narcissist feels hurt, they can hit back to discharge their pain that they are feeling. When their wife leaves them for another man or wants custody of the children, the narcissist suffers deep pain of a deflating self, and often resorts to revenge to get back at them. Many narcissists’ will be spiteful by taking their partner for everything they’ve got and destroying their life completely. The pain will never go away until they work though it in counselling and develop healthier coping mechanisms.
Nancy Carbone provides relationship counselling and psychotherapist. She specialises in the treatment of personality disorder treatment from the Psychoanalytic International Masterson Institute in New York.
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