Covert Narcissist Sister In Law
Covert Narcissist Sister In Law

Family dynamics can be both fulfilling and challenging, and if you’ve landed on this page, you may be grappling with the latter. The focus here is on dealing with a covert narcissist sister in law, a situation that can be emotionally taxing.

In this article, we’ll shed light on covert narcissism, help you identify its signs, and most crucially, guide you on how to compassionately navigate the complex relationship with your covert narcissist sister in law. We’ll offer insights and practical strategies for emotional well-being and effective relationship management not just with your covert narcissist sister in law but with the rest of your family.

Understanding Covert Narcissism

To effectively deal with a covert narcissist sister in law, it’s essential to first grasp the nature of covert narcissism itself and get into the mind of a covert narcissist. Unlike the more overt and flamboyant narcissists who openly display their self-absorption, covert narcissists are experts at hiding their narcissistic tendencies beneath a veneer of humility and selflessness.

Covert narcissism is characterized by an insatiable need for admiration, an inflated sense of self-importance, and a lack of empathy for others. However, unlike their overt counterparts, covert narcissists tend to present themselves as victims, often portraying themselves as self-sacrificing and caring individuals. So covert narcissist tactics are more subtle than those of their overt counterparts.

Here are some key traits and behaviors commonly associated with covert narcissists:

  • Manipulation: Covert narcissists often manipulate situations and people to meet their own needs while appearing innocent and well-intentioned.
  • Emotional manipulation: They can be masters of guilt-tripping, playing the victim, or using emotional blackmail to get their way.
  • Lack of empathy: Despite their outward appearance of caring, covert narcissists often lack genuine empathy for others and are primarily focused on their own needs and desires.
  • Control: They may subtly try to control those around them through passive-aggressive tactics, making it challenging to identify their manipulative behavior.
  • Gaslighting: Covert narcissists are experts at gaslighting, making their victims doubt their perceptions and sanity by denying or downplaying their own harmful actions.
  • Self-absorption: While appearing selfless on the surface, covert narcissists are highly self-absorbed and can become resentful if they don’t receive the attention and admiration they feel entitled to.

Understanding these traits and behaviors is the first step in recognizing if your sister-in-law may be a covert narcissist. In the next section, we’ll delve deeper into how to identify the signs of covert narcissism, helping you gain clarity about your situation.

Recognizing the Signs of Covert Narcissism

Identifying covert narcissism can be challenging because of its hidden nature. Your covert narcissist sister in law may appear sweet, caring, and charming on the surface, making it difficult to discern her true motivations and tendencies. However, recognizing the signs of covert narcissism is crucial in order to effectively deal with the situation.

Here are some common signs to look out for:

  1. Exaggerated Humility: Covert narcissists often present themselves as exceptionally humble and self-effacing. They may constantly downplay their achievements and make self-deprecating remarks. However, this humility is often a facade to gain admiration and sympathy.
  2. Playing the Victim: One of the hallmark traits of covert narcissism is playing the victim. This is especially true of the female covert narcissist. Your sister-in-law may frequently portray herself as someone who is constantly mistreated, taken advantage of, or misunderstood. This victim mentality serves to deflect blame and garner sympathy.
  3. Need for Validation: While covert narcissists may not openly seek admiration, they have a deep need for validation and approval. They may fish for compliments or subtly manipulate others into praising them.
  4. Lack of Empathy: Despite their outward appearance of kindness, covert narcissists often lack true empathy. They may not genuinely understand or care about the feelings and needs of others, especially when those needs conflict with their own.
  5. Passive-Aggressiveness: Covert narcissists are skilled in using passive-aggressive tactics. They may make sarcastic comments, give backhanded compliments, or engage in subtle acts of sabotage to maintain control.
  6. Selective Listening: Your sister-in-law may appear to listen attentively, but in reality, she may only focus on what serves her interests. She might dismiss or ignore anything that challenges her self-image.
  7. Manipulative Behavior: Covert narcissists excel at manipulation. They may use guilt, emotional manipulation, or triangulation (playing people against each other) to maintain control over situations and relationships.
  8. Inconsistent Self-Image: Covert narcissists often have a shifting self-image that depends on the situation and the people involved. They may present different personas to different individuals, making it challenging to pin down their true personality.

Recognizing these signs can be the first step in understanding your sister-in-law’s behavior. It’s important to remember that dealing with a covert narcissist can be emotionally taxing, but gaining insight into their tactics is a crucial part of managing the situation effectively. In the following section, we’ll delve into strategies on how to deal with a covert narcissist sister in law with compassion and poise.

How To Deal with a Covert Narcissist Sister in Law

Now that you’ve gained an understanding of covert narcissism and recognized the signs in your sister-in-law’s behavior, it’s time to explore practical strategies for dealing with this challenging dynamic. Coping with a covert narcissist sister in law requires a delicate balance of self-preservation, empathy, managing family relationships and setting healthy boundaries. Let’s dive into some effective approaches to manage this situation:

#1. Set Clear Boundaries about Unacceptable Behaviors

Establishing boundaries is crucial when dealing with a covert narcissist. Clearly communicate what behaviors are unacceptable and what consequences will follow if those boundaries are crossed. Be firm but polite in asserting your limits. Be aware of the things covert narcissists say and be prepared to deal with them.

Example: “I will not tolerate disrespectful comments or manipulation in our interactions. If this behavior continues, I will limit my contact with you.”

Here are some additional retorts you can use to disarm a covert narcissist.

#2. Maintain Emotional Distance & Limit Emotional Investment

Recognize that your covert narcissist sister in law may not change her behavior, and emotional investment may lead to frustration. Protect your emotional well-being by maintaining a certain degree of emotional distance without shutting down completely. This is especially important if your dealing with a jealous narcissist sister-in-law because the jealousy makes the narcissism even worse.

Why Emotional Distance Matters

Maintaining emotional distance is essential because it shields you from the emotional manipulation that covert narcissists often employ. It allows you to engage with your sister-in-law without becoming entangled in her web of manipulation.

When you emotionally detach from her behavior, you become less susceptible to guilt trips, gaslighting, and emotional blackmail. Instead, you can respond from a place of clarity and strength, making it more challenging for her to control your emotions.

Additionally, emotional distance serves as a protective barrier, ensuring that her actions have less impact on your emotional well-being. It enables you to maintain your mental and emotional stability, which is crucial when dealing with a covert narcissist.

#3. Stay Calm and Composed

Covert narcissists can provoke strong emotional reactions. Try to stay calm and composed when confronted with their manipulative tactics. Responding with anger or frustration often fuels their behavior.

The Power of Emotional Control

Remaining calm and composed in the face of a covert narcissist’s provocations is a powerful strategy. It prevents you from falling into their emotional traps and maintains your inner peace.

Covert narcissists thrive on emotional reactions. When they can’t elicit strong emotions from you, their tactics become less effective. Your emotional control sends a clear message that their manipulations won’t work on you.

Remember that staying calm doesn’t mean suppressing your emotions. Instead, it means choosing when and how to express them, taking control of your responses, and preventing emotional hijacking by the narcissist.

#4. Avoid Personal Attacks

Resist the urge to retaliate with personal attacks, as this only escalates the situation. Stick to addressing specific behaviors or comments rather than attacking her character.

The Pitfalls of Personal Attacks

Engaging in personal attacks or name-calling with a covert narcissist rarely leads to a productive outcome. In fact, it usually exacerbates the conflict and intensifies their manipulative behavior.

When you attack her character, she may seize the opportunity to play the victim, casting herself as the innocent party under attack. This can further entrench her in her manipulative role and deflect attention from her harmful actions.

Additionally, personal attacks often lead to a cycle of blame and counter-blame, making it difficult to address the core issues in the relationship. Instead, focus on specific behaviors and their impact, as this keeps the conversation centered on constructive solutions.

#5. Choose Your Battles Wisely

Not every issue requires confrontation. Be selective about when to address problematic behavior. Focus on addressing issues that directly affect your well-being or the well-being of your family.

Strategic Conflict Management

Choosing your battles wisely is a strategic approach to dealing with a covert narcissist sister in law. It involves evaluating which issues are worth addressing and which are better left unattended.

Engaging in every minor conflict can be emotionally exhausting and counterproductive. Instead, prioritize issues that have a significant impact on your life or relationships. This allows you to conserve your emotional energy for meaningful discussions and boundary-setting.

When you choose your battles wisely, you maintain a sense of control over the situation. You’re not reactive but proactive in addressing the most crucial issues while letting smaller matters roll off your back.

#6. Document Behavior & Record Incidents

Maintain a record of interactions and incidents. This documentation can serve as evidence if needed and can help you maintain clarity about patterns of behavior.

The Value of Documentation

Keeping a record of your interactions with your covert narcissist sister in law serves several purposes:

  1. Validation: It provides validation for your experiences. When you document her behavior, you have a tangible record that helps you trust your perceptions and memories.
  2. Pattern Recognition: It allows you to identify patterns in her behavior. By noting when specific behaviors occur, you can gain insight into her tactics and motivations.
  3. Evidence: In extreme cases, if you need to involve a mediator, therapist, or legal authorities, your documentation can serve as evidence of her behavior and its impact on your well-being.

When documenting, include dates, times, locations, and details of the interactions or incidents. Be as objective as possible, focusing on observable behaviors rather than interpretations or judgments.

#7. Seek Support from Your Spouse & Family

Share your concerns with your spouse and other family members who may be affected by your sister-in-law’s behavior. A united front can be effective in managing the situation.

The Strength of a Support System

Dealing with a covert narcissist sister in law can be isolating, but you don’t have to face it alone. Seeking support from your spouse and other family members can provide emotional validation, strengthen your resolve, and create a united front against manipulative behavior.

When you share your experiences and concerns with your spouse, they can better understand your perspective and actively support you in setting boundaries and managing interactions with your sister-in-law.

Involving other family members, especially those who have witnessed her behavior, can help create a collective awareness of the issue and discourage her from engaging in manipulative tactics.

Remember that a support system can provide valuable insights and encouragement, making it easier for you to navigate the challenges posed by a covert narcissist sister in law.

#8. Empathize but Don’t Enable

Try to understand the underlying insecurities and motivations driving your sister-in-law’s behavior, but avoid enabling her by excusing or justifying her actions. Empathy doesn’t mean condoning manipulation.

Balancing Empathy and Accountability

Empathy can be a powerful tool in managing your relationship with a covert narcissist sister in law, but it must be balanced with accountability. While you may empathize with her struggles and insecurities, it’s essential to hold her accountable for her manipulative behavior.

Empathy involves recognizing her humanity, understanding her pain or insecurities, and acknowledging that her behavior may be a coping mechanism. However, it doesn’t mean allowing her to manipulate or mistreat you without consequences.

Hold her accountable for her actions by setting clear boundaries, addressing specific behaviors, and not excusing or justifying manipulative tactics. By maintaining this balance, you can empathize with her struggles while protecting your well-being.

#9. Limit Contact (If Possible)

If the situation becomes unbearable, consider limiting contact with your sister-in-law. This can be a temporary measure to protect your emotional well-being.

The Importance of Self-Preservation

Limiting contact with your covert narcissist sister in law is a form of self-preservation. It allows you to create distance and reduce exposure to her manipulative behavior when the situation becomes overwhelming.

Consider this option when other strategies have not been effective, and your emotional well-being is at risk. It’s a proactive step to safeguard your mental and emotional health.

Remember that limiting contact doesn’t mean cutting ties entirely, especially if you value your relationship with your spouse or other family members. It can be a temporary measure until you feel better equipped to manage interactions with her.

#10. Prioritize Self-Care & Maintain Your Emotional Well-Being

Ensure that you are taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally. Engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation, and seek professional support if necessary.

The Vital Role of Self-Care

Prioritizing self-care is essential when dealing with a covert narcissist sister in law. It’s a means of maintaining your emotional well-being and resilience in the face of emotional challenges.

Self-care encompasses various aspects of your life:

  • Physical: Ensure you get adequate sleep, eat well, and engage in regular physical activity to keep your body in optimal condition.
  • Emotional: Dedicate time to activities that bring you joy and relaxation. This might include hobbies, meditation, or spending time with supportive friends and family.
  • Mental: Seek professional support if you find yourself struggling to cope with the emotional toll of dealing with a covert narcissist. A therapist or counselor can provide valuable guidance and coping strategies.

Self-care isn’t selfish; it’s a form of self-preservation. When you prioritize your well-being, you’re better equipped to handle the challenges posed by your sister-in-law’s behavior.

#11. Build a Support Network

Connect with friends, support groups, or a therapist who can offer guidance and a safe space to discuss your feelings and experiences.

The Strength of a Support Network

Building a support network is crucial when dealing with your covert narcissist sister in law. It provides you with a safe space to share your thoughts and feelings without judgment.

Consider the following sources of support:

  • Friends: Trusted friends can offer emotional support, empathy, and a listening ear.
  • Support Groups: Joining a support group for individuals dealing with narcissistic family members can provide valuable insights and a sense of community.
  • Therapist or Counselor: A mental health professional can offer tailored guidance and coping strategies for managing the emotional challenges.

Having a support network allows you to express your frustrations, receive validation, and gain perspective on your situation. It can be a source of strength and resilience as you navigate the complexities of your relationship with your sister-in-law.

#12. Educate Yourself & Stay Informed

Learn more about narcissism and effective communication strategies. Knowledge empowers you to navigate challenging situations.

The Power of Knowledge

Educating yourself about narcissism and effective communication is a proactive step in managing your relationship with your covert narcissist sister in law.

By understanding the dynamics of narcissism, you can better recognize her manipulative tactics and anticipate her behavior. Knowledge equips you with strategies for setting boundaries, maintaining emotional distance, and responding effectively to her actions.

Additionally, learning about healthy communication techniques can enhance your ability to assert your needs and address conflicts constructively. This knowledge can empower you to maintain your composure and respond with clarity when faced with manipulation.

Knowledge is a valuable tool in managing challenging relationships, and it can be a source of confidence and resilience in your interactions with your sister-in-law.

#13. Practice Emotional Detachment

Detach from your sister-in-law’s emotional manipulation by reminding yourself that her behavior is a reflection of her issues, not your worth.

The Concept of Emotional Detachment

Emotional detachment is a powerful psychological strategy for dealing with your covert narcissist sister in law. It involves separating your emotional well-being from her actions and behavior.

Remember that her manipulative tactics are not a reflection of your worth or character. They stem from her own insecurities and narcissistic tendencies. When you detach emotionally, you can maintain your self-esteem and mental stability in the face of her behavior.

Emotional detachment allows you to respond to her actions with a sense of calm and self-assuredness, making it more challenging for her to control your emotions.

#14. Use Gray Rock Technique

The Gray Rock Technique involves responding to your sister-in-law’s provocations with neutral, unemotional responses. This can deter her from seeking emotional reactions.

The Gray Rock Technique Explained

The Gray Rock Technique is a behavioral strategy that can be highly effective when dealing with your covert narcissist sister in law. It entails responding to her manipulative behavior with minimal emotional engagement.

Here’s how it works:

  • Maintain a neutral and unemotional demeanor when interacting with her.
  • Provide short and straightforward responses without elaborating or offering emotional reactions.
  • Avoid sharing personal information or feelings with her.

The goal is to become as uninteresting and unresponsive as a gray rock, which in turn reduces her incentive to engage in manipulative behavior. By offering little emotional fodder, you can discourage her from seeking emotional reactions from you.

#15. Consider Professional Help

In severe cases, involving a therapist or mediator may be necessary to facilitate communication and find a resolution.

The Role of Professional Intervention

If your relationship with your covert narcissist sister in law becomes extremely challenging and detrimental to your well-being or family dynamics, professional help may be the best course of action.

A therapist or mediator can serve as a neutral third party who can facilitate communication, address underlying issues, and help find a resolution. They can create a structured and safe environment for discussions and conflict resolution.

Involving a professional can be particularly beneficial when:

  • Communication has completely broken down.
  • There is a history of severe emotional manipulation or abuse.
  • Your family relationships are significantly strained.

Professional intervention is a proactive step toward finding a resolution and improving your overall family dynamics.

Remember, dealing with a covert narcissist sister in law can be emotionally draining, and progress may be slow. Patience, self-care, and maintaining healthy boundaries are key to managing this challenging relationship while preserving your own well-being.


In the complex world of family relationships, dealing with a covert narcissist sister in law can be a daunting journey. However, armed with understanding, compassion, and the right strategies, you can navigate this challenging dynamic with grace and resilience.

Remember that you’re not alone in this experience, and recognizing the signs of covert narcissism is the first step toward managing the situation effectively. Setting boundaries, practicing self-care, and seeking support from loved ones can empower you to maintain your emotional well-being.

While the road ahead may be difficult, your commitment to preserving your own mental and emotional health is invaluable. With patience and the strategies discussed in this guide, you can find a way to coexist with a covert narcissist sister in law while minimizing the impact on your life and relationships.