The Covert Narcissist

Some abusive men use their fists, some intimidate with angry rages.

Others cry.

Crying leads to a similar outcome. Control over their intimate partner.

The victims of criers might escape the black eyes and bruises, but they will be controlled all the same. The victims of criers will be more confused, unaware that they’re being abused, unaware they’re being controlled and will often self-blame for being insensitive to his needs.

man, shame

They’ll believe he just needs more reassurance and compassionate understanding. They may not be aware that he is quite deliberately weaponising his sensitivities to manipulate. This is an insidious and covert form of abuse that relies on passive aggressive behaviour.

“Those who are crying are not always innocent.” – Emma Xu

He may be insecure because he had a difficult childhood. Perhaps his mother controlled him by shouting and emotionally manipulating. His father may have dominated and humiliated him. Insecure childhood attachments can encourage low self-esteem in adult life. Chronic feelings of unworthiness may develop.

When he engages in an intimate relationship, he’s not likely to feel good enough. He may feel a morbid insecurity and neediness. He may seek constant reassurance from his partner. He may, feel the need to eliminate everyone around his intimate partner so that he can totally possess her.



The covert narcissist will sometimes be sadistic, seeking to torture and punish his partner. But not all covert narcissists have these intentions.

He may genuinely want to treat her well, to be kind and compassionate and sensitive to her needs too. But his behaviour is abusive all the same. Whereas he’s not seeking to be cruel, he is seeking to control in order to dampen down his desperate feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness, his fear of rejection and abandonment.

These dynamics can prove to be a toxic mix for the survivor. She will feel his obsessive adoration for her and know that he strives to make her happy. His emotional vulnerability may trigger her empathy, especially when she understands about his difficult childhood. She may self-blame for not doing enough to reassure him. She’s not likely to understand that his insecurities are such that no amount of reassurance will ever be enough.

The covert narcissist may seek to isolate his partner. Everyone around her will be considered a threat to him. Anyone who takes up her time will take her away from him and he may struggle to tolerate this. He won’t tell her she can’t go out without him, even he would see this as abusive.


His behaviour will be rather more subtle. When she does go out on her own, she may notice his sadness on her return. He may look unhappy and dejected and she might feel responsible for this. She may find that it’s easier not to go out by herself, to always allow him to accompany her.

Over time, this behaviour becomes embedded. He may also manipulate her against her friends and family, perceiving them as a threat to his happiness with her. His behaviour will be fine-tuned and subtle. He might accuse others of being insensitive and upsetting him. He may tell her that others are being unkind towards her. She may feel stuck in the middle and forced to make choices, knowing he is not happy when others are taking her attention. She might be persuaded by his anxious perspective and distance herself from social contacts who make him feel threatened. It may be easier for her to give in to his needy demands to avert triggering his depressive moods.

Man and woman hug

Women in this type of relationship may become very guarded with what they say.

An innocent comment can trigger an evening of hand wringing anxious despair.

Certain subjects will be taboo. Conversations about her past relationships won’t be well tolerated by him, she’ll quickly learn this. He may not want to hear that she’s ever had good times in his absence. She will learn to tiptoe around his moods, always careful to soothe and reassure him.

It will never be enough, his neediness being all consuming.

Saying no to sex is a rejection he might not feel able to tolerate. He is not likely to force himself upon her, that wouldn’t be his style, but she will be sensitive to his insecurities and willingly engage to soothe and reassure his fragile self-esteem and pathological insecurity.

There might be fairly stable times when she manages to keep him calm for a period of time. But when he feels particularly threatened or vulnerable, he might resort to self-harm or suicide attempts.

These feelings of despair might be genuine, but it is likely he will use this behaviour to manipulate too, he will likely flaunt his vulnerability. It’s unlikely he will keep his suicidal ideations to himself when talking about them may give him some persuasive leverage.

Even when she is becoming weary of his moods and neediness, such behaviour may persuade her she needs to maintain the relationship and try harder to reassure him.

“Covert narcissists are very difficult to recognise and are even more difficult to expose. They appear wounded and gentle, even vulnerable and humble.” – Anonymous

His self-focus is overwhelming. He’ll be incapable of seeing the devastation he leaves in his wake. In his mind, his problems will all be external, the difficult step children, the insensitive mother-in-law, his adult children who appear to favour their mother. But as he slowly eliminates these people from his life, he will continue to identify other external reasons to blame for his crumbling mental health, seemingly never appreciating that he is the only constant in all of this.


The covert narcissist will seek to suck his partner in to his way of thinking. If successful, she may become accepting of his sensitivities and will feel hostile towards those identified as having upset him. She may defend his behaviour to others and claim that they have not been considerate towards him. She may agree with him that if various external things change, his mental health may miraculously recover. She will try harder to soothe him. She may become increasingly unboundaried so she sees no differentiation between where she ends and he begins. When this happens, a dangerous co-dependency can develop.

“The only way you will get along with a narcissist is if you become their ultimate source of supply. That means giving up yourself, your wants, your needs, your hopes, everything that makes you who you are, to try to fill the endless void in the heart of the narcissist.” – Maria Consiglio

Blog written by Sandra Reddish.

Sandra hopes to reach thousands more women by sharing her wisdom in a new book One in Four Women,  which is now for sale on Amazon. In the self-published book, Sandra shares her incredible knowledge of the vital steps to recovery for women who have been abused. Starting with their gaining a solid understanding of the complexity of abuse they’ve faced, and perpetrator’s behaviour.

You may also want to read these further blogs from Sandra.