During the course of life, you invariably will come across and interact with many narcissists, whether at work, within your circle of friends, a love interest, or even within your family as a parent or sibling. But, what are narcissists and why are they prone to creating chaos and draining you of your emotional well-being? The answer is not one answered easily, until you get an understanding of the DSM-5, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition
According to the American Psychiatric Association, DSM-5 is the product of more than 10 years of effort by hundreds of international experts in all aspects of mental health. Their dedication and hard work have yielded an authoritative volume that defines and classifies mental disorders in order to improve diagnoses, treatment, and research. In it, you’ll come to understand that it lists 10 personality disturbances, grouped into 3 separate categories, known as clusters. They are :
Cluster A (the “odd, eccentric” cluster); includes
- Paranoid Personality Disorder,
- Schizoid Personality Disorder,
- Schizotypal Personality Disorder.
The common features of the personality disorders in this cluster are social awkwardness and social withdrawal.
Cluster B (the “dramatic, emotional,erratic” cluster); includes
- anti-social personality disorder,
- borderline personality disorder,
- histrionic personality disorder,
- narcissist personality disorder.
These are known to be the most dangerous to societies and individuals.
Cluster C (the “anxious, fearful” cluster); includes
- Avoidant, Dependant, and Obssessive-Compulsive disorder.
The shared traits among these disorders is an excessive amount of anxietiy.
A studied comparison of differences within these categories will show the Cluster B group of personality disorders to be far more nefarious and challenging to society as well as for professional treatment. This group is comprised of Sociopathy, Psychopathy and Narcissist Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder, and to complicate matters, the traits of the individual disorders overlap each other, and can be especially dangerous when combined with Machiavellian-ism. Like the others in this cluster, Narcissism is a spectrum disorder, which means it exists on a continuum ranging from a few narcissistic traits to the full-blown personality disorder.
The Cluster B group is known as anti-social personality disorder group of maladaptive disorders, and is most dangerous to society as a whole, and without question, dangerous to those who have the misfortune of being involved with them.
For the purpose of this blog, when referencing “narcissist”, I am referring to the grandiose manipulating abusive narcissist – either overt or covert, and not necessarily referring to NPD, which is a medical diagnosis of which I am not qualified to make.
Overt vs Covert Narcissist | What’s the difference?
This very inquiry was among the first asked when I began digging for answers to some perplexing questions I’ve had through many years of being involved with destructive people by virtue of being “family”. Absolutely nothing of their behavior made sense on the surface as it was akin to a Jeckl/Hyde relationship. There were several narcissists in our family which were represented by both the overt and covert personality types. Only later would I see that the most destructive of all was Machiavellian to her core. We’ll explore these two main types of abusive narcissists below.
The Overt Narcissist
The overt narcissist is by far the easiest to identify and are easier to spot in a crowd. Such types of personalities are exhibitionists, braggarts, and boisterous in their demand for attention. Just below the surface, they can rage with unspeakable anger and easily get offended due to any real or imaginary criticism, or disagreement during conversation. Anything that challenges their sense of superiority will be met with resentment and hostility.
The self-aggrandizing overt seems self-sufficient and believes that they are entitled to achieve success through any means possible. Such people make demands on a grand scale and also have intense ambitions regarding anything of their desire. The overt grandiose narcissist has no concern about another person’s well being, even of his family. Like all narcissists, they lack human conscience and empathy.
Because of their grandiosity, this personality type may have shallow relationships and often engage in spousal abuse, familial abuse, or physical attacks on a myriad of other people, because of their deluded sense of empowerment and belief of their self to be better than others. They can and often do put up a show of humility as a manipulating force, but his lack of conscience and empathy can be traumatizing for others. Because of their delusions of superiority, they are not able to genuinely participate in a large group.
They are prideful, haughty, arrogant, self aggrandizing, outgoing personalities that often command attention from all others within their social circle. Overt narcissists are real bullies who will verbally or physically threaten, insult or use a mocking or patronizing tone when you fail to deliver the praise that they so desperately need in order to fill the emptiness inside of them. They can be extremely jealous and envious of others, and will seek to undermine the perceived offender as a way to humiliate him. The overt narcissist will then retain his sense of prideful superiority. Any righteous shock or disbelief of his abuse will be met with minimizing or gaslighting of the target.
With no respect for personal boundaries, he will easily violate any sense of decency to achieve his goals. They can be emboldened to violate social norms of mores and unable to distinguish between “right and rude”. With their entitled sense of self, they often have no regard for the law.
Self-image is a protective layer, a “game face,” developed since early childhood. Overt narcissists maintain their self-image by projecting their buried feelings of shame and inadequacy. In other words, they blame others.
They are capable of great success, sophistication and polish, and have an unrealistic assessment of their personal power. But underneath this “confidence,” they are emotionally damaged – sometimes severely. The overt is sensitive about their own feelings… but not yours. The overt narcissist disdainfully avoids true self-examination and knowing themselves by living an externally-based life. Image is everything to them.
I had a brother whom you couldn’t have an honest debate with about the smallest or pettiest of topics. His response would oftentimes become violent toward you, for having the “audacity” to question his opinion. At the moment I went “no contact” from the family, I had described him a being a psychotic sociopath, and I wasn’t that far off in my assessment of this deeply troubled person. He was an angry child who grew into a man who was extremely abusive towards all others, yet could be funny and charming when he invariably was needing something form you. All of the above descriptions of the overt narcissist were taken from my experience with him through a couple of decades of back stabbing betrayals.
The Covert, or Introverted Narcissist
Nobody likes a person who is full of themselves and shows no care for anyone else. But there is something far mor sinister than an overt narcissist – a covert narcissist. You will not even notice them until they have deconstructed everything around you.
Narcissists can cause a lot of damage, especially when you do not know exactly how to deal with them. They are great manipulators and usually get what they want. They can and will turn the situation against you with a blink of an eye and make you the one who is at fault or needs to apologize in the end.
Why are covert narcissists are so much worse than their overt counterparts? It’s because you cannot see or contemplate their actions through established social mores. Their sneaky manipulations are often wrapped in a coy innocence that isn’t perceptible to a balanced casual listener who relies on trust. They may seem like the nicest and friendliest people ever, but this is their superficiality that masks their true self. When you start trusting them or counting on them, you are the one who is going to be betrayed.
While the covert narcissist shares all of the identifying traits of the overt narcissist as outlined in the DSM, many of their techniques differ greatly.
The covert narcissist has all of the characteristics of the overt, but are not in-your-face aggressive as the overt. They are as poisonous but much more difficult to spot, even during a prolonged relationship with them. Because of this, covert narcissists can easily infiltrate your mind and cause pain and confusion through their manipulations. The covert narcissist may not be as aggressive and obvious as their overt counterpart, but they leave you feeling just as used, overlooked, unimportant, depleted, and guilty of something you haven’t actually done. The covert also makes you feel sorry for them, as they play the “victim” card to garner sympathy while you expose your vulnerabilities. This lets the covert identify your weaknesses for future manipulations.
The danger of the covert predator is realized usually at the end of their “use” for you as a source of their needs. Upon final discard, you will experience the
The covert narcissist is as a chameleon, displaying an uncanny ability to morph into another person at will. They accomplish this through a lifetime of pretense as a way to re-invent themselves to their current target audience. If you observe that a person won’t take a stand on a topic “on the record”, then you might be in the presence of a covert narcissist.
For this reason, certain individuals will be left out of the narcissist’s current harem of ‘friends’, if those individuals can challenge the covert. And like any narcissist, the covert despises any contradiction to their current stated position, whether it be a topic of discussion, or their “flavor of the day” reinvention of themselves.
A good example of this would be from a personal observation I had with the inspiration for this blog. After an admitted fail on her attempt to become a “senior” model, she re-invented herself as a former professional model to her new husband and others in her new group of admirers. Also, the re-telling of her past was the most laughable for me since I am her brother and know her past.
In other words, the covert narcissist can be a total fraud that is concealed behind a well crafted facade that changes according to her current needs.
The covert narcissist leaves numerous signals to alert those around them of their complications. They will often be subtle and easily dismissed as being unimportant or unrelated to any kind of disorder. Like the overt, they will often appear to be charming, perfect, and impressive or even shy when meeting new people. This is a tactic used to create an appeal to others that will allow the narcissist to gain additional admiration and validation from the opinion of others. The positive opinion and expectation of others becomes the primary goal for a covert narcissist to achieve. They seek any and every opportunity to receive gratitude or praise for meeting these expectations. This is also called “narcissistic supply”.
Covert narcissists desperately seek continuous approval from their partners or those around them. They resent any form or critique or criticism as they often overly critical of themselves, and judge every action or thought negatively. Fearing any negative review or feedback from others, they avoid conflict and strive only to for praise and respect from those around them.
1. They are overly critical and will point out all your mistakes and faults, seeing the negativity of the situation as well. They can blame you without feeling guilt or being sorry, but they cannot accept critisism or even a petty negative comment in return. Narcissists can never admit fault, and find it easy to blame it all on you. Being great manipulators, many people might actually believe them.
2. Covert Narcissists have a hidden agenda – always! Beware of their superficial charm, as they never do anything for anyone “for the good of heart”. If a covert narcissist gives a gift, there will be strings attached. A simple gracious “thank you” will not be enough for the covert, as they will expect to be reminded of their phony generosity many times over. Be very careful if you ask a covert for a favor, because they will always expect something in return. Expect to be brow-beaten by the covert narcissist when they decide it’s time to “pay the piper”.
3. They do not care about rules when they want something. The narcissist can and will lie, cheat, and steal when they are on a mission to get what they want. They can violate law as well as social mores on a whim without remorse, guilt or shame, and will destroy your character if they suspect that you’ve caught on to their illegal or immoral acts. Be very careful as they will stab you in the back when they no longer need you.
4. Covert narcissists are stubborn and dogmatic in their view of their world. When they have an opinion, it’s impossible to present evidence to the contrary. Without an ability to admit to them being wrong or even from their mistakes, they fail to learn from those mistakes. As mentioned above, they do not like to be challenged on their world view. At work, they are not good team players as they feel a need to be in charge. When they are in charge, the suborinate can expect to take the role of servitude.
5. They are not empathic and usually do not bother to listen to your problems or difficulties. Their response to any other persons problems or difficulties will be met with indifference. The “perfect” covert narcissist doesn’t want to hear about your imperfections and will ultimately discard you for having a human reaction to life’s decisions. Their self serving concerns are sex, money, power, and influence.
6. Pathological envy. They want and need all of the good things for themselves, and can’t allow for someone to be happier, richer or more successful than them. Narcissists are extremely jealous and envious of others, and never feel sincerely happy for another. Their inner rage is comprised of anger and resentment towards others.
7. Covert narcissists always plays the victim. They do this to garner sympathy even on a minute level that causes the unsuspecting person to identify with their manufactured role. They want you to feel sorry for them and want your compassion. This covert display of hypocrisy is is apparent since the covert is not able to feel compassion towards anyone. All slights are flipped and blamed on others and nothing is ever their fault.
8. They need to be in the center of attention. Covert narcissists will brag about their accomplishments, irrespective of how large or small they may be. They need to be acknowledged for their actions, regardless of how small, petty or unimportant they may be. They often resort to non-verbal cues of their greatness by surrounding themselves with expensive and the latest of trends in attire or possessions, and to assimilate with people of power and/or prestige. To the narcissist, these are paramount to attain envy or jealousy from others.
9. They project their feelings onto you. Because of their lack of self-awareness, their self worth is dependent on how other’s perceive them. People with narcissist tendencies are projection heavy individuals and tend to deny character flaws and blame others for shortcomings and misfortunes. The narcissist will call you things that you are not, yet they are guilty of themselves. Should the narcissist be having a bad day, they will try to ensure that you will be, also.
10. They lack intelligence and cannot engage a conversation of substance, as they lack real interest in their environment or in other people’s experiences. You’ll notice that they will turn the topic of conversation to make them the center of attention as they like to talk about themselves or their accomplishments. Their opinions reign supreme and oftentimes are without insight of experience or based on nothing but their own desires. An astute observer will notice the lack of depth in a conversation with a covert narcissist, as they will often stray onto a long-winded explanation about something not related.
11. Lack of depth in themselves. Covert narcissists cannot open up and show their true colors to those around them as a protective measure against closeness or intimacy. Their lack of personal intimacy is revealed in the shallowness of their insights and understanding, that most normally adaptive persons revere as learning experiences. Because of an internal emotional emptiness, they wear the mask of perfection and are terrified of showing the real person underneath the facade.
12. The narcissist will use your words against you. The covert narcissist will attentively listen and silently gather information from you to be used against you at a later time. This is done to torpedo and sabotage you at a time of their choosing. It’s also nothing less than blackmail that they covertly smear your character with. Regardless of the facts, the covert narcissist will twist and distort all relevancy to make it look as sinister as possible as a manipulating tool to use for your isolation and social assassination, and will broadcast your deepest weaknesses and secrets to others. They will go as far as manufacturing lies and fabricating evidence against you as they lack scruples and integrity. Their pathological need to defeat you as a way to cover-up for their own misdeeds shows the passive-aggressive nature of the covert narcissist.
13. Covert narcissists are hyper-sensitive and over-reactive. While they are eager to criticize and condemn others, they cannot allow for criticism of themselves. Even a small truthful remark that is made during a discussion will be taken as an affront to their superiority and remembered for a very long time. The covert narcissist does not value honesty and personal integrity, so it’s best to not engage them in a way that they deem intrusive to their thoughts or emotions.
14. They target people who they perceive to be weaker. Because of their deep insecurities of shame, narcissists will use all of the arrows in their quiver to bring you down to their level and to demoralize you if they perceive you as a threat to their self aggrandizing superiority. They will look for those who they believe to be the weakest among them who might not put forth a hearty defense. Should the perceived threat be of strong mind and character, the covert narcissist will employ covert behind your back smears. The covert narcissist is a master manipulator, but that cannot defeat a strong independent thinker. They will then become passive-aggressive by means using their superficial charm to compliment you to your face, while destroying you behind your back.
Covert narcissists are exceptionally deceitful, very secretive and vindictive. They may give the appearance of innocence and of high scruples, but they are not. If you have the misfortune of being involved with a covert narcissist, you may find yourself isolated and alone by the time they are finished with you, to be tossed aside without remorse, guilt or shame, like last weeks garbage. You will ultimately be the last to know of their hidden treachery, as by then, it will be too late to make amends. Whether the relationship be a friend, co-worker, spousal, or familial, it’s best to cut your losses and stay away from them entirely.