Covert Narcissist Tactics
Covert Narcissist Tactics

Covert narcissism is a hidden facet of personality that often eludes detection until its toxic effects take hold. In this comprehensive article, we delve into the intricate web of covert narcissist tactics, shedding light on the manipulation, emotional abuse, and control they employ. Understanding these tactics is your first step in defending yourself against their insidious influence.

We’ll guide you through recognition, self-care, and boundary-setting strategies, offering a comprehensive toolkit to safeguard your emotional well-being. Join us as we uncover the covert narcissist’s playbook and empower you to protect yourself from their often imperceptible, yet profoundly damaging, behavior.

First … Understand Covert Narcissism

Covert narcissism is a subtle but destructive form of narcissistic personality disorder. Unlike their more overt counterparts, covert narcissists possess a unique set of traits and tactics that make them particularly challenging to identify. To truly guard against their manipulative tendencies, one must first understand the nature of covert narcissism.

At its core, covert narcissism is characterized by an intense focus on the self, marked by insecurity, self-absorption, and an insatiable need for validation. Unlike overt narcissists who openly display grandiosity and self-importance, covert narcissists hide behind a façade of humility and self-effacement. This deceptive exterior often conceals a darker interior, where they harbor a sense of entitlement, control, and a strong desire for power within their relationships.

One key feature of covert narcissism is emotional unavailability. While they may appear kind and empathetic on the surface, there is something else lurking behind the mask and in the mind of a covert narcissist. Covert narcissists struggle to genuinely connect with others. Their need for constant validation often overshadows their ability to form healthy, authentic relationships.

Another hallmark of covert narcissism is the use of passive-aggressive tactics. Instead of openly asserting themselves, covert narcissists will often say things that will employ subtle, indirect means of manipulation. They may use guilt, self-deprecation, and other tactics to control those around them while maintaining a facade of innocence.

Understanding covert narcissism is the first step in guarding against its harmful effects. In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the covert narcissist’s playbook, exposing their tactics and providing strategies to protect yourself from falling victim to their emotionally destructive behavior.

Recognizing Covert Narcissist Tactics with 25 Examples

To protect yourself from the insidious grasp of covert narcissists, it’s essential to become adept at recognizing their manipulative tactics. These individuals are skilled in the art of control, employing a wide range of subtle strategies to achieve their objectives.

By identifying these tactics, you can empower yourself to guard against their harmful influence. Below, we’ve compiled a list of 25 covert narcissist tactics:

#1. Gaslighting

Covert narcissists manipulate your perception of reality, making you doubt your own thoughts and feelings.

#2. Blame-Shifting

They deflect responsibility for their actions and mistakes onto others, leaving you feeling guilty or at fault.

#3. Projection

Covert narcissists project their own flaws and insecurities onto their victims, causing confusion and self-doubt.

#4. Stonewalling

They shut down communication and emotional connection to maintain control and avoid accountability.

#5. Criticism

Constantly finding fault in your actions and decisions, undermining your self-esteem.

#6. Deception

Covert narcissists are adept at weaving webs of lies and half-truths to manipulate situations to their advantage.

#7. Guilt-Tripping

They use guilt as a weapon, making you feel responsible for their emotional state.

#8. Isolation

Covert narcissists isolate you from friends and family, reducing your support network and increasing their control.

#9. Manipulation

They employ tactics like charm, flattery, or feigned vulnerability to manipulate your emotions and decisions.

#10. Passive-Aggressive Behavior

Indirect hostility, sarcasm, and sabotage are their tools to maintain dominance.

#11. Splitting

Covert narcissists pit people against each other, sowing discord to keep themselves at the center of attention.

#12. Emotional Abuse

They play with your emotions to destabilize you, often leaving you feeling anxious and confused.

#13. Intimidation

Employing fear tactics to ensure compliance and dominance within the relationship.

#14. Control

Covert narcissists exert dominance in all aspects of the relationship, leaving you feeling powerless.

#15. Self-Deprecation

Feigning vulnerability to gain sympathy and control over your emotional responses.

#16. Attention-Seeking

Creating drama or crises to divert attention onto themselves.

#17. Power Struggle

Covert narcissists constantly need to be in charge and maintain an upper hand.

#18. Reality Distortion

Their version of events often contradicts the truth, causing confusion and doubt.

#19. Trust Manipulation

Making you question your instincts and trust their version of reality.

#20. Validation-Seeking

Craving constant admiration and validation from those around them.

#21. Boundaries Violation

Disregarding personal boundaries and crossing lines without respect for your comfort.

#22. Insecurity

Covert narcissists are deeply insecure and seek constant reassurance to bolster their fragile self-esteem.

#23. Jealousy

Often possessive and suspicious without just cause, attempting to maintain control.

#24. Vindictiveness

Retaliating when they don’t get their way or feel slighted.

#25. Controlling Behavior

Dictating your actions, decisions, and even thoughts to maintain dominance.

The Impact of Covert Narcissism

The tactics employed by covert narcissists are not just unsettling; they can have profound and lasting effects on their victims. Understanding the emotional, psychological, and social impact of covert narcissism is essential for recognizing the urgency of guarding against its harmful influence.

Emotional Consequences of Covert Narcissism

Covert narcissists excel at undermining their victims’ self-esteem and emotional well-being. Constant criticism, manipulation, and gaslighting erode your confidence and leave you questioning your worth. As a result, victims often experience:

  1. Low Self-Esteem: Covert narcissists consistently chip away at your self-worth, causing you to doubt your abilities and value.
  2. Anxiety: The unpredictable nature of their behavior and the constant need for their approval can lead to heightened anxiety and stress.
  3. Depression: The emotional abuse and manipulation can trigger feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
  4. Confusion: Gaslighting and reality distortion tactics can leave you feeling bewildered and disoriented.
  5. Self-Doubt: You may begin to second-guess your decisions and intuition, leading to a loss of self-trust.

Psychological Impact of Covert Narcissism

Covert narcissism doesn’t just affect your emotions; it can also impact your mental health and well-being:

  1. Manipulated Perception of Reality: Victims of covert narcissists often struggle to distinguish between fact and fiction due to the constant distortion of reality.
  2. Isolation: Covert narcissists may isolate you from friends and family, leaving you feeling lonely and socially disconnected.
  3. Trust Issues: The trust manipulation tactics employed by covert narcissists can make it challenging to trust others, even after the relationship ends.

Social Consequences of Covert Narcissism

The influence of a covert narcissist can extend beyond the individual level and affect your social life:

  1. Strained Relationships: Covert narcissists often sow discord among family and friends, straining your relationships with loved ones.
  2. Isolation: The isolation tactics they employ can result in a reduced support network, making it more challenging to break free from their grip.

Recognizing the emotional and psychological toll of covert narcissism is vital. It underscores the importance of taking action to protect yourself and regain control of your life, which we will delve into in the upcoming sections. By understanding the impact of covert narcissism, you can begin your journey toward healing and empowerment.

How to Guard Against Covert Narcissist Tactics

Guarding against covert narcissist tactics requires a blend of awareness, assertiveness, and self-care. Here’s a comprehensive look on how to protect yourself from these manipulative behaviors.

1. Recognize the Signs

Education is key when it comes to recognizing covert narcissism. Take the time to learn about the traits, behaviors, and tactics associated with this personality disorder. Covert narcissists often initially present themselves as charming and likable, making it crucial to look beyond the surface.

Observation is your best ally. Pay close attention to the behavior of those around you, especially if you suspect someone may be a covert narcissist. Look for patterns of manipulation, control, and emotional abuse. Note instances where they consistently undermine your self-esteem or engage in deceitful behavior. And remember, that you are not without means – there are things you can say to disarm a covert narcissist and put them in their place.

2. Trust Your Instincts

Trusting your instincts is a fundamental aspect of guarding against covert narcissism. Often, your intuition can pick up on subtle cues and inconsistencies in behavior that may not be immediately apparent. If something feels off in a relationship or interaction, don’t dismiss those gut feelings.

Validation from others can be invaluable in affirming your instincts. Discuss your concerns with a trusted friend or therapist who can validate your feelings and provide an external perspective. They can help you decipher whether your intuition is accurate or if there are other factors at play.

3. Set Healthy Boundaries

Establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries is vital in protecting yourself from covert narcissistic tactics. Clearly define your personal boundaries, including what behavior you find acceptable and unacceptable in your relationships.

Effective communication is key to enforcing your boundaries. Assertively communicate your boundaries to others, making it crystal clear what behaviors you will not tolerate. Be firm but respectful in your communication, and avoid allowing anyone to violate your boundaries without consequences.

Consistency is crucial in enforcing your boundaries. Don’t make exceptions or allow others to manipulate you into bending your boundaries. By consistently defending your limits, you send a clear message that your boundaries are non-negotiable.

4. Build Self-Esteem

Building and maintaining a healthy sense of self-esteem is a powerful defense against covert narcissistic manipulation. Self-reflection is the first step. Take time to reflect on your strengths, accomplishments, and positive qualities. Recognize your intrinsic worth independent of others’ opinions or judgments.

Affirmations are a practical way to boost self-esteem. Practice daily self-affirmations where you repeat positive statements about yourself. These affirmations can reinforce your self-worth and resilience against external manipulation.

Surrounding yourself with positive associations can also contribute to your self-esteem. Spend time with people who uplift and support you, as their positivity can help reinforce your self-esteem and confidence.

5. Seek Support

Dealing with covert narcissism can be emotionally challenging, and you don’t have to face it alone. Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or support groups and confide in them about your experiences.

Seeking validation and emotional support from those you trust is essential. Share your feelings and experiences with them, and allow their empathy and understanding to provide you with the emotional strength you need.

Professional help may be necessary in some cases. If you find it particularly difficult to navigate the challenges of dealing with a covert narcissist, consider therapy or counseling. A mental health professional experienced in narcissistic abuse recovery can provide you with specialized guidance and strategies tailored to your situation.

6. Document Behavior

Maintaining a record of concerning behavior is a practical step in guarding against covert narcissism. Keep a journal or record of incidents, including dates, times, and descriptions of what transpired.

Having objective evidence can be invaluable if you need to address the issue with others or seek legal assistance. Detailed documentation can support your claims and help you establish a clear pattern of manipulation or abuse.

By implementing these strategies, you can effectively guard against covert narcissist tactics and protect yourself from manipulation and control. Each approach, from education and self-esteem building to boundary setting and seeking support, plays a crucial role in maintaining your emotional well-being and autonomy.


In the journey to guard against covert narcissism, knowledge is your most potent weapon. As we conclude this exploration of covert narcissist tactics and defense strategies, remember that you possess the strength to protect yourself. Recognize the signs, trust your instincts, set healthy boundaries, build self-esteem, seek support, document behavior, and, above all, prioritize your emotional well-being.

By arming yourself with these insights and strategies, you not only defend against covert narcissism but also reclaim the power to lead a life free from manipulation and control. Your path to healing and self-empowerment begins now, as you navigate relationships with newfound clarity and resilience.

Additional Resources

For those of you eager to delve deeper into understanding covert narcissism and its intricacies, I recommend the following books:

  1. “The Covert Passive-Aggressive Narcissist” by Debbie Mirza
  2. “Psychopath Free: Recovering from Emotionally Abusive Relationships With Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Other Toxic People” by Jackson MacKenzie
  3. The Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment” by Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robert M. Pressman