Updated: 4/26/2021 | How to Identify a Covert Narcissist
Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.
There are different types of narcissists. Overt ones are typically easy to spot because they are loud and display their narcissism. Covert narcissists (CN) or silent narcissists are a little harder to identify and are considered more dangerous because everything seems to be going well until they do not need you anymore and move on. They are passive or subtle in their abuse, and even that can be just as damaging if not more so. Cue all the Jason Collier types.
I dated a covert narc and it sent my world for a spin. I had a hard time differentiating between what was real and what was not. I felt like I was being punished when I upset my narc and this ate away at my confidence and spirit.
I knew things were off when I started researching why someone behaves this way. I wanted to understand his behavior and why he did the things he did.
After so much research, I consider myself WELL VERSED in understanding narcissistic behavior. I think it’s insane that I ever found the need to do this in the first place. I was shocked that Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) has an almost cookie-cutter pattern of behavior with slight variation between each individual.
Below are traits covert narcissists may display. I hope my experience can help you identify these traits (also known as red flags) in current partners and prospects.
And the best way to protect yourself is to avoid them completely.
How to Identify a Covert Narcissist
#1 They hold up an appearance and may even be obsessed with their looks. They’ll dress nice, have a nice car, and look put together. When deep down inside they’re an empty shell of a human. Don’t let good looks fool you. It’s just a facade covering an emotionally broken and harmful human. My CN also worked out regularly and would send me gym selfies.
#2 My CN is introverted. He would be quietly observing and occasionally say something to get your attention. He would get chatty when drinking and with close friends. He prefers to remain behind the scenes because that is where he can do the greatest destruction without drawing too much attention to himself.
There would also be moments where he switched from Jekyll to Hyde. And in those moments I would have to literally be walking on eggshells and be careful that what I say that may trigger him.
#3 They will say one thing then do another. My narc would write down how important I am and then do things to invalidate his commitments and statements. This creates cognitive dissonance and can make reality seem foggy or contradicting. His actions would often not match his words.
He would future fake me. Future fake means to discuss future plans that will never materialize but are said to get what they want from you right now.
They know exactly what to say and do in order to manipulate others and get what they want. My narcissist made me feel like the most perfect partner he could build a life with. I literally felt like this image below…
#4 They will violate boundaries. We also set Polyamory boundaries and he broke them. The boundaries ended up being too much for him to commit to because he kept pursuing monogamous women and when they found out about me, it did not go well, to say the least.
His inability to respect boundaries blew up in our faces when it could’ve easily been prevented. He chose not to honor boundaries because he wants instant gratification. He is constantly overstepping boundaries. He has done this with me and with our mutual friends.
Doing the actual work is obviously harder and people with integrity will respect your boundaries and honor your requests in any partnership or friendship.
The easiest way to know you’re dealing with a narc is to set up multiple boundaries and see if they try to break them. If your boundary is to not have sex on the first date, see if they try to convince you otherwise throughout the evening. My NC has a way of getting women to go back to his place for a drink and then to have sex.
#5 They will hide things from you and even hide you. My narc would hide and unhide me on Instagram to improve his chances with women he was prospecting on dating apps and the platform itself. The hiding really hurt my feelings and made me feel worthless. When he changes partners, he’ll delete or hide his exes from his IG feed to start anew.
#6 When they violate your boundaries, they will gaslight you. I denied sex with my CN multiple times. One day he raped me and afterward tried to gaslight me into believing that those were not his intentions and that I had wanted to have sex with him because I went back to his place and was upset with a mutual friend of ours.
He literally asked me, “Do you think I would do that to you?” Well, you fucking did. I ended up reporting him because FUCK THAT GUY.
#7 Dating apps are a narcissist’s playground. It is very hard to identify whether people are actually serious or not on dating apps. You can’t tell what people’s intentions are and narcissists use this to their advantage.
Now that I recognize the signs the narcissism, I am quick to dismiss people. I am never allowing myself to become involved in these types of personalities ever again. It was not worth the headache or heartache being with a narcissist.
#8 My narc also followed a lot of random women on Instagram. Many of the women would be IG influencers in bikinis and lingerie. He had a thing for Asian Baby Girls or ABGs. Instagram was also his playground to find women to date and have sex with.
Prior to breaking up, he deleted all of his prospects on Instagram. I thought this was weird and out of character for him. I would not be surprised if he is going through and re-adding Instagram women on his account.
#9 Highly sensitive to criticism. I have made some statements that were meant to be constructive but immediately saw my narc’s behavior shift. His body language was defensive and he accused me of not believing in him. I had insulted his ego and was then stonewalled for a few days.
#10 When my narc got mad he’d ask me to leave and give me the silent treatment for a few days. This is known as Stonewalling. One partner shuts down, withdraws, and stops responding altogether, essentially turning into a “stone wall.” This is a form of passive aggressive abuse and punishment and is used to create the addiction in a relationship through demand-withdraw. One partner will demand to work things out and the other will withdraw in hopes of avoiding the issue because it’s uncomfortable. It’s also the biggest factor in creating a trauma bond between a narcissist and victim.
#11 They block you on social media to punish you. When it got really bad, he’d delete me from social media and once blocked my phone number. I’d want to talk and he would turn me away until he was ready. It was always on his terms and never mine.
I found this very abnormal and immature. A normal person would sit down and talk about what the issue is and try to resolve it. Instead, I was met with an outburst followed by silent treatment and occasional social media blocking.
#12 When I would refuse to leave and want to talk, he would shut me out and stay silent until I left. He would then reach out days later and always have the last word. I always seemed to have to be the one apologizing. There was one time where he walked away to control the situation. I drove around the neighborhood to try to find him. I can’t believe I even did that.
The entire process was really hurtful and draining. All the back and forth broke my spirit and confidence. I felt I couldn’t do anything right and I felt like I was always waiting on him to let me back in.
#13 My CN was very rude. There were moments where he would shush me. He would literally make the “shhh” sound and even place a finger over my mouth to shut me up. This was very bizarre behavior and caught me off guard the first time he did it.
#14 My CN would laugh like a maniac. There have been moments where his laugh is loud and hysterical. The things that he would laugh at were also weird. He had a maniacal laugh when one of our mutual friends filmed himself and my NC’s trauma bonded ex having sex. I accurately guessed who the person being videotaped was and he burst out laughing. I did not really find that funny enough for maniacal laughter and pretty disrespectful that our friend had recorded them.
Other moments were when my dog was in his arms and she would attack me when I got close to him (she is a protective chihuahua). And another time while we were in Baja Mexico. He was going through a mental breakdown and I was his emotional punching bag.
#15 They’re performative. They will do things to make you feel like the most important person in the world. They’ll learn what you value and mimic behavior that will make you feel cared for and listened to (a concept known as love bombing).
This part is VERY crucial in creating a bond with a CN. The love bombing is used to flatter you, charm you, force you to let your guard down, and reel you into this imaginary life with the CN. If the thought that this is too good to be true comes across your mind, it probably is.
By love bombing you, they are conning you into believing you’re their priority so that it distracts you from their true intentions. In reality, they are constantly distracted by new or potential supply elsewhere. Their search for validation is insatiable and bottomless. You’re never going to be enough for them.
Examples of love bombing are taking you on vacations and paying for everything, buying dinners and drinks, buying you fancy gifts, promising to do things in the future with you (future faking), making you feel like you’re the center of their universe, etc. It seems generous and flattering but is just another tactic to make you obligated to their needs. I tried to evenly split with my narc but he still name called me an ABG at the end. What gives?!
If they say you are “different than the rest” or “enough” then that is another tactic of love bombing. We are all humans. We can “never be enough,” we can only complement one another in many or a few ways. And finding common interests should be enough. My narc would tell me that he could not live without me. The idea of being in his life until we were old and grey was so appealing because of the strong bond he had created with me through love bombing and future faking.
#16 They’ll keep in touch with exes and past hookups. Occasionally he’ll message them “as a friend” but is actually just maintaining access to their attention or supply in case I fall through.
He has chatted with multiple women at once, but that was never an issue for me since I practice Polyamory. The bigger issue was him not being upfront about us to them, thus causing us all confusion and heartache later on when they would find out.
Many of his past hookups were also still his Instagram “friends.”
#17 They don’t have any platonic female friends. My CN wanted to hook up with everyone woman he met. He couldn’t remain friends with most women he interacted with, including me. He constantly crossed boundaries and made interactions with women sexual.
#18 Their attention span is inconsistent or nonexistent. Sometimes they listen and sometimes it goes in one ear and out the other. My narc started to forget that I had said things. I also noticed that he would not respond to my questions via text. I’d have to ask twice or verbally for a response. They are self-absorbed even though they say you are “important.” I also think he was distracted because he was talking with other women and conversations started to blend with one another.
#19 They target empaths because they know we are forgiving and are even willing to look past their bad behavior. We hope they can change for the better. My narc believed I was worth it and I wanted to believe him. I knew my narc was addicted to validation from women so I, alone, was definitely not enough. I never had to be his one and only because I am Poly. If anything, he could have many women!
It’s best to follow the adage that actions speak louder than words.
#20 My narc would flatter me to pique my interest. If he’s interested in you sexually he may compliment your outfit or looks to gain favor. There is always a motive behind their compliments.
View this post on Instagram
#21 Sex was one of the main ways my CN felt validated by women. He would lean in and place his hand on their thigh to indicate his interest. He did this with me on the night we had sex and a few other times before. I denied him but he had his way with me anyway. He violated my boundary and sincerely thought that I wanted to have sex with him.
I later learned this behavior is known as “slight touching.” It just gives me the creeps thinking about how manipulative he turned a simple touch into.
#22 He would also pay for things to get what he wanted. Many women will see this as a nice gentlemanly gesture, but again, it comes with a price.
We went on vacation to Mexico and during that vacation, he stated that I was an ABG and that I used men for my personal gain. I thought this was insane because I paid for half of the trip!
#23 My narc also wanted to have sex with pretty much anyone. He rushes into intimacy. This is a HUGE red flag that I disregarded. Our friend group had to ban him from meeting any more of our girlfriends because they feared he’d take advantage of them.
He even considered having sex with one of our friend’s exes (at the time she was our friend’s girlfriend). While they were dating, my CN was DMing and commenting on her social stories and posts, giving her attention. Sometimes he would even do it in front of me. That was hurtful.
#24 My narc has had many short-lived relationships. When I asked about why his past relationships did not work out, he explained that he felt he was being taken advantage of and had to do more work to maintain the relationship. Many of his relationships spanned a few months (approximately 2-4 months long). While he was dating someone, he would already be pursuing the next woman. He explained to me that I was his longest relationship (a little over a year).
#25 My narc will also jump from one relationship and into the next almost immediately. He uses dating apps and Instagram to find women to date. Again, he constantly rushes into intimacy which he hopes would typically result in sex after the first date. I have never heard him talk about long-term relationships because he has never really had one.
#26 My CN cheats and lies. My CN cheated on his girlfriend when he raped me. He also slept with other women while we were together as well under the premise as a single man. I am Polyamorous, so cheating never ever had to happen.
He was extremely dishonest with new prospects. He lied about our relationship and kept me hidden while he was pursuing women on dating apps. He was cheating on them as soon as they matched on dating apps.
My CN essentially wanted both me and new prospects but on his terms. And of course, that failed miserably.
He would tell me things from time to time but very briefly. As a partner, I was hoping he would be more transparent with me so that I could fully understand the situations he was getting himself into.
#27 My narc hated using condoms. He would complain when a woman wanted to use protection. He would also chastise women and say things like, “she was down to fuck without a condom on the first date” or “we went back to my place and had sex on our first date.” He made it sound like these women were sluts when he had a part in encouraging and pressuring them into it.
#28 My narc also tried to go on dates with my friends. He directly said that he would “bone” certain friends to my face. It was very hurtful.
After we broke up, he immediately called my friend to grab a drink with him. She stated that was inappropriate, as my friend, and that she was already in a relationship. I practice Polyamory but it’s not an excuse to go out and have sex with whomever you want. People are real human beings who want real meaningful relationships.
#29 They may be addicted to sex. My narc has had sex with over 90 women. He later retracted this statement and has never given me an updated number. I know that in the year we dated, he had slept with 7 women including me.
He uses sex as a tool to bond and manipulate women. He finds validation in having sex with women. His actions show me that he objectifies women. This particular type of narcissist is known as a somatic narcissist.
View this post on Instagram
#30 He conducts smear campaigns with anyone who will listen. This was very hurtful. He villainized me to women who will give him the time of day. I am pretty sure he tells his new prospects his side of the story and makes his exes look crazy. I acted crazy because I was hurt by all the lying. I was fed up with that and that’s OK. I respect myself to warrant trust and respect from my relationships.
One time our friend’s ex-GF messaged me out of the blue calling me a “spoiled brat” and “bitch.” He stated that he didn’t tell her anything but that was enough context to know he was not being honest with me. I would not be surprised if he were seeing her even after his closest friend’s wishes were for him to block her. He tends to do things behind our backs because he is addicted to attention and has no qualms about betraying and sabotaging friendships.
#31 My CN would talk negatively about his exes. I remember at the beginning of our relationship, he would criticize women and tell me how crazy they were. Later on, he re-hooked up with one of them because she was always reaching out for his attention. They have a trauma bond and will never result in a healthy relationship.
His actions were very confusing and hypocritical. I later learned that he was willing to say anything and degrade others to get what he needed…attention and sex from anyone willing to give it to him.
View this post on Instagram
In regards to Polyamory, when he would date new women, he would say she seems like a potential long term partner. I was excited for him! Ok…so when will she learn about us. Never. He also made statements like, “They’ll never measure up to you” or “They’ll never replace you” to flatter me and keep me tethered to him. So much for not wanting to compare.
Essentially, he never took accountability for his failed relationships and it was always the women who were the problem.
#32 CNs are very sensitive and reactive to questioning or criticism. At times, I have said things that made my narc feel like I lost faith in him. There was one time where I said he should try for a mid-level job instead of a lead role because he lacked the experience. He became really upset and scolded me for not believing in him. It made me feel very bad for contesting his ideas and thoughts about himself. I was trying to be constructive and he took it as an attack on his abilities and worth. He ended up Stonewalling me.
#33 My CN barely has friends. He is constantly agitating friendships or burning bridges. He considered me his best friend and burnt that bridge to the ground when I couldn’t tolerate the lies anymore. We have a group of mutual friends who cannot fully trust him around others.
When we broke up for good, he deleted all our mutual friends. While we were dating, he also used my friends to help get him a job at big tech companies.
#34 My CN has a bad relationship with his family. His mom abandoned him over 15 years ago. This has caused him to have a void that he continues to try to fill with the attention and physical sex with women. His parents and siblings criticize him constantly. He doesn’t take it lightly. It really affects him and he has limited contact with them and has at times cut them out of his life.
#35 My CN often has negative things to say about people and things. It often sounds gossipy and is irrelevant or unimportant. The things he says makes him sound jealous or envious of others.
#36 My CN obsesses about the weirdest things. He tried to find out where our friend took his car for the weekend. His car has a GPS tracker and was feverishly trying to find out who our friend was seeing and thinking it was possibly his ex. I am not sure why this was so important. This behavior was very bizarre and stalker-like.
#37 My CN created social accounts for my dog. My friends hit me up and were like, “Aww you created an Instagram for Bebot (my Chihuahua). That is so cute.” When I told them my CN had taken the initiative on that, my friends told me that was not OK and to run far away. He had not consulted with me prior to creating the accounts.
This was another form of control and definitely crossing boundaries.
#38 My CN also created an Instagram account to stalk my social media. I blocked him on Instagram, so he created a new account to spy on my stories. I have since unblocked him because I really don’t care if he sees my success and happiness.
#39 My CN is very competitive. He hates comparisons and wants to be seen as the best. He has asked for me to leave my Nesting Partner (NP) to be with and live with him. He gave me an ultimatum and said he would like to be my primary and everyone else to be secondary to him.
While it’s flattering he wants to spend more time with me, he has done more for me to not trust him. Personally, I also don’t see how a hierarchal structure matters. All my relationships are equally important and they’re all very different from one another.
Positive Things About My Narc
He can cook. He is great in the kitchen. His palette is very adventurous and we found common foods to enjoy together. It’s our love language. This is one way he love bombed me. We would cook together or he would prepare meals and invite me over.
Sex was great. Our sexual chemistry was amazing. I love having sex with him and feeling his body mimic and move with mine. Again, maybe that was a performance in itself.
He is very resourceful. One of the biggest things that drew me to him was his ability to plan things. Whether it was travel, a date, etc. He knew how to create an experience.
He is adventurous. He was willing to travel to new places, try new things, and keep things interesting.
He’s a software engineer and is smart. We could talk about all sorts of topics. He does gossip about his co workers.
He has a very cute adoring humor. He knows how to make me laugh. He often says inside jokes that make me feel like he is paying attention and knows me.
He has a thing with animals. They all love him. My dog adores him. When we break up, I could tell she is sad about not being in his presence.
Things I’ve Experienced Being with a Narc
In the past year, I have experienced the following being with a covert narcissist.
I’ve lost my joy and peace. I feel like doing nothing on most days. Sometimes I don’t even eat. This happens mostly when he is giving me the silent treatment.
I feel depressed. Throughout the day, sadness sweeps over me for no reason.
My friends can see my pain and started to dislike him. One friend stated that she hated when we were together and could not deal with our toxic dynamic. I truly want to be healthy with him and understand why we fight in front of friends. We set boundaries and then something else would come up. It’s a constant battle with his ego.
It affected my relationship with my Nesting Partner (NP) of 8 years. I have to heal from all the abuse and confusion that has been happening for the past year. I can already tell the healing may take months and maybe even years. My NP has to deal with this too.
I can’t sleep and suffer from insomnia. I lay in bed awake and can’t sleep. I am lethargic the entire day and take random naps throughout the day.
I’ve lost weight.
I began to feel addicted to him. When he discarded me, he withdrew. I am stuck missing the high of him.
All the back and forth has really made me lose myself. Things would be good then they weren’t. It was really inconsistent and exhausting.
I’ve cried more than I’ve ever cried before. I found myself crying because he didn’t invite me to his birthday. My intuition told me he was hiding me or hiding something from me. He considers me his best friend and priority and did not think to invite me to his birthday. I later learned that he invited an ex to his birthday and was probably the reason why I was excluded. She came to get closure, they ended up fighting and he left. All these past actions caused me to break down and lose control of my emotions. I don’t deserve to be hidden.
I hate that he feels the need to lie and hide things from me. I don’t care that he is with other women, hence our Polyamorous situation. He has a need for validation and it’s ok if he gets it elsewhere. I just want our relationship to be transparent and honest with one another.
I was diagnosed with PTSD. I’ve been seeing a therapist and diagnosed with PTSD in the high range. I am going to go through a treatment plan to heal.
I just want normalcy again. I want to revert to the time before all this where interactions were healthy. Our relationship never began the right way and I should’ve demanded that at the beginning. I condoned his bad behavior. I knew that hiding things and being dishonest would hurt everyone involved, and it did not have to have been that way.
Here we are a year later and our relationship and most importantly, our friendship is completely destroyed. I do not even know if he feels remorseful about his behavior.
What Can I Do?
Most people recommend completely walking away from the relationship. This is known as “no contact” and abbreviated as NC. Block them and act like they never existed. It may hurt, but you’ll be better for it in the end.
If you need to, start a journal on Google Docs or on your phone. Document the timeline of abuse, arguments, and odd behavior and see how often things occur. Once the list gets long enough (trust me, it will if the person is truly a narcissist) use it as motivation to get out. Your health is more important than losing yourself in their manipulation.
You can also use the document as a way to identify a covert narcissist and remember why you need to avoid these types of personalities in the future.
You may experience something known as a trauma bond, which feels like you are dying without this person. But trust me, it’s a reaction to the abuse that you were put through. Essentially it’s your physiological and psychological reaction to the withdrawal of the narcissist, much like an addiction.
Any attention you give a narcissist is an opportunity for them to reel you back in and use you. They keep doorways to past relationships open because it supplies their need for attention and resources. Understand your worth and know that you are worth more than an unstable relationship with a narc. You’ll ultimately end up in a lot of pain and lose yourself.
I started as my narc’s best friend and I overlooked a lot of his bad behavior. I was an enabler and painted his red flags white.
A friend pointed out that if they were already lying from the beginning, what makes you think they won’t toward the end. It’s a lie every step of the way and to heal you need to recognize that none of this was real. It was a mask to manipulate you into getting what they want from you.
When I asked one of his exes why they left, they said it was because she could tell he was not a good person and that things just did not add up. She also mentioned that it seemed like he did not have any real friends. They respected themselves enough to know that a relationship with him was not what they wanted.
Can Narcissists Change?
I am open to being with him, but he needs to understand how damaging his actions have been. I know he will not change, but if we both understand NPD better, we can work around how to manage our relationship with one another. Living with a narcissist is possible but everyone needs to be aware and educated about the disorder.
We have created boundaries and will need to revisit them if we decide to get back together. I know that if we do, I need to keep my distance at times, advocate for myself and know exactly what our relationship entails. If it is physical, that is perfectly fine too.
I know that my biggest issues are the stonewalling/silent treatment, lying to me to other women (I’m Polyamorous for goodness sake), and making promises and saying things to keep me around (future faking).
He also needs to commit to therapy and not lie about his disorder to the therapist. He needs to fully understand it and see how harmful it is to people, including himself. I want him to get better for himself.
Yeah, and if you haven’t noticed, I’m suffering from Stockholm syndrome. It’s something I am also working through.
Update: February 2021 – I met up with my CN for “closure.” I had questions I wanted to be answered and he said he would answer them truthfully. We met up and he could not answer them. The two questions I had were how he was talking about me to other people (mainly women, potential supplies) and he was just silent. I wanted to see what light he was painting me in. The silence said all that I needed to know.
And the second question was if he knew why he hurt me. I wanted to know if he recognizes or feels remorseful for what he did? Again more silence.
He changed the subject and asked me to take down my posts and stop Google bombing him. I realized that this wasn’t about closure. It was still about his ego. I said no. He got flustered and departed from my vehicle. Blocked me on everything and that is OK, I’m used to it by now.
His inability to answer me truthfully and his silence were enough to help me move on. I gave him a chance to be honest and he chose silence. I deserve more than anything he has to give.
Narcissist Cheat Sheet
I made a narcissist cheat sheet for those who are looking to screen potential partners, family members or co-workers.
While my narcissist didn’t display all these behaviors, he ticked off a lot of the boxes, which is enough for me to know I should stay away for my sanity.
A Narcissist’s Karma Is Their Actions
Imagine how miserable your life is when you can’t even realize you are receiving your own karma?
Narcissists have to convince themselves that they are always winning, but they lose so much. They lose the opportunity to ever experience true love. They lose the ability to grow and establish real friendships. They lose more and more of themselves every time they move to a new supply and begin mirroring them, not even knowing their own identity.
What a miserable way to live.
Please do not envy their “power” or their charm or their ability to manipulate and always get their way. They are great pretenders with a different mask for every occasion.
More Resources on How to Identify a Covert Narcissist
We find these articles super helpful in helping to identify CN:
- For all our resources on narcissism and abuse, visit Fuck the Abuser.
- Narcissist Book Recommendations
- Narcissist Abuse Support
Check out the Better Bachelor on Youtube. His videos are SUPER informative in helping people identify and avoid psychopaths, narcissists and more toxic relationship types.
Did you find our article on How to Identify a Covert Narcissist helpful? Please share it on Pinterest.
Sign-up for our monthly newsletter for updates and more. We promise we won't spam you! Feel free to unsubscribe anytime.