3 Main Techniques Covert Narcissists Use On You And How You Can Handle Them

“What’s different about covert narcissists is that because they’re introverted, they don’t advertise their inflated egos.” – Dr. Craig Malkin

We’ve all had the “pleasure” to deal with loud, bold and painfully confident narcissists. They are visibly grandiose, aggressively displaying their superiority for all to witness. They may be overly focused on their image, or they may be on the more cerebral end, viciously putting down anyone who threatens they’re self-perceived intellectual superiority.

Fortunately, such types are usually easy to spot and easier to avoid.

Covert narcissists, however, present new threats; they appear soft, innocent, giving, and modest at first glance.

They can be seductive, even loving and gracious.

But beneath their calm nature and seemingly sensitive disguise lurks a sense of self-entitlement and contempt even more dangerous simply because it is so disarming and traumatizing to the victims who are subject to it.

They can leave even their loved ones blindsided and damaged from the unexpected psychological violence they subject them to.

Here are five manipulation tactics that covert narcissists use, along with some tips on how to shield yourself if you encounter one:

1. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person, in order to gain the upper hand, makes a victim question their sense of reality. It works much better than you might expect. Anyone is vulnerable to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, cult leaders, narcissists, and dictators. It is done with patience, so the victim is unaware of how much they’ve been brainwashed.

Clinical psychologist Giulia Suro, Ph.D explains: “Gaslighting is an interpersonal communication tactic that involves manipulating someone to question their own judgment, memory, or even sanity.

It is often observed in individuals who are narcissistic, abusive, or at the extreme, sociopathic. Gaslighting is often done in such a subtle manner that the person on the receiving end doesn’t even realize it is happening.

Some common examples may include attempting to assert yourself to a friend, partner or colleague only to end up apologizing for something you did. Over the course of the conversation, the focus somehow shifted off of them and on to you and something you did wrong. Another example is the person in your life who may say all the right things, but their behavior does not match up. You may give feedback and find yourself having the same conversation again and again without behavior change. Lastly, a gaslighter may cut you down and make you feel bad about yourself before laying on positive reinforcement and telling you how wonderful you are. The hot and cold interactions may lead you to make excuses for the negative and tell yourself that they’re not so bad.”

How can you fight back

If you notice a troubling pattern of such kind your instincts will most likely tell you to run away as fast as you can. But it’s actually critical that you call them out on their behavior. “Last, it is important to not walk on eggshells,” adds Suro. “If you become aware that someone is trying to manipulate you, call it out. For example, a gaslighter may tell you that they never promised to do something that you are sure they did. Rather than letting it go or sweeping it under the rug, state clearly: ‘Actually, I’m certain that you did promise to do that.’”

2. The smear campaign

The smear campaign is a method of damage control narcissists use when they have been found out. A typical smear campaign might involve painting the victim as insane, bipolar, an addict, unstable, a cheater, thief, or bad parent. By inventing a series of lies, exaggerations, semi-truths, suspicions and false allegations about the victim’s behavior the smearer undermines the victim’s credibility and sanity.

As a result, the victim might lose their support system, and become isolated and fearful, not knowing where to run.

Bestselling author and expert on the topic of narcissism, Shahida Arabi, says:

“When toxic types can’t control the way you see yourself, they start to control how others see you; they play the martyr while you’re labeled the toxic one. A smear campaign is a preemptive strike to sabotage your reputation and slander your name”

How to fight back

Arabi advises documenting any form of harassment and making sure not to take the bait. Most importantly, don’t let the person’s nastiness provoke you into behaving in just the sort of negative ways they’ve falsely ascribed to you.

3. The minimizing technique

This is when the narcissist focuses on something irrelevant or unimportant to minimize an accomplishment you have made, or when they see you showing pride in your own strength. If you’ve graduated with a Bachelor’s degree, the covert narcissist might start demanding to know when you intend to get your Master’s.’ if you’ve recently started paying off a new apartment, they might change the conversation to something in your neighborhood that seems questionable or mundane. They will always find a way to get under your skin.

It is usually easy to spot the narcissist among a group of people who congratulate you on your success because they will focus on minimizing it. Or they can avoid blending in, lurking in the corner, getting ready to approach you with a backhanded compliment, or a “helpful” reminder of something they perceive you’re lacking.

How to deal with this

Clinical psychologist Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D., says, “Short of becoming indiscriminately wary of others’ praise or flattery, it’s only prudent to consider whether they might have a hidden agenda in praising you. That way you can minimize the possibility that their seemingly trustworthy compliments aren’t really some sort of two-faced con.

Focus on the narcissist’s envious attempts to belittle you, and refocus on the people celebrating with you.

The narcissist’s minimization is a covered confession of their own inability to succeed. Thus, they want you to stay exactly where you are so you won’t reach for what they know they can never become.

Eventually, you will learn their abusive tendencies and use them to drive you to be more successful.  You will become an unstoppable force of nature in the process. 

Can you relate to having a narcissist try to smear you, mentally imprison you, or try to stop you from succeeding? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section and let’s discuss it.

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