The Covert Narcissist

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A much loved friend of mine came around the other day for dinner.  We sat.  We ate dinner.  We drank coke (like adults who don’t drink alcohol do), and we talked.

We talked about her very much ex-boyfriend.  He came back into her life after his then girlfriend left him and has proceeded to spend the last several months in a deep depression, bemoaning how nothing good ever happens to him, and generally getting on her nerves.  When she tries to talk to him about any problems she might be facing in her own life, he manages to very quickly turn it around so that they are discussing his problems.  When she has (previously and currently) attempted to implement boundaries, he has either thrown a fit of ‘I’m the most horrible human being in the whole world I’m so sorry I’m a monster’ or has agreed to them, ignored her for a while, complied with them for a week or two … and then thrown them out.

We talked for hours.  I hadn’t liked him from the get go when she mentioned him years ago, and I liked him even less now.  It seemed to me like his pain was so completely overpowering, no one else’s pain existed.  It seemed to me like he simply did not care about anyone else.

Granted, I was hearing from only one of two people involved, but this is a friend who is well known for the fullness, accuracy, and lack of embellishment in her retellings in all aspects of life, so I feel comfortable that it is in fact a complete picture of their interactions.

This got me to remembering my “friend” who shat bricks at me when I attempted to establish boundaries, and brought me back to what I had learned only a few months earlier about covert narcissists.

So what is a covert narcissist?  

Unlike their more grandiose counterparts who are quite clearly extroverts, covert narcissists are the introverts of the narcissist world.  They’re quiet and shy and insecure, but harbour a secret desire to be discovered or realised for their amazing talent, intelligence, compassion, etc.  They don’t go around with a loudspeaker proclaiming their amazingness, they want other people to recognise how amazing they are and do the proclaiming for them.  They want the world to recognise how amazing they are.  They often proclaim themselves to be incredibly misunderstood or emotionally sensitive.

Covert narcissists are more prone to feelings of “neglect or belittlement, hypersensitivity, anxiety, and delusions of persecution“.  Sound like anyone you know?

Covert narcissists feel superior to everyone else. 

Except they don’t show it as obviously as the grandiose narcissists.  Rather, they express this by feeling as though no one recognises their brilliance, or that they are misunderstood, or the victim of constant persecution.  They are in fact better than other people, it’s just that nobody knows it, but one day someone will recognise their brilliance, their amazing capacity for love, or their intelligence, or their potential, and everyone will know.

But no one ever does, and they’re so misunderstood because of it.  The world is truly out to get them.

Covert narcissists are self-absorbed.  

You may get the feeling that they are simply waiting for you to pause in your retelling of a story, or discussion of a topic, so that they can take it over and move it to a topic they want to talk about.  They are typically disinterested in anything you are interested in, unless it is a mutual interest, and you may feel like they’re not quite interested in what you have to say about it.

This is often shown with closed or disinterested body language, such things as feet pointing away from you, torso turned away, or more extreme, head turned away.  They may be easily distracted.  They may fidget, or cross their arms over their chests.

Or they may be overly attentive listeners, too intense, too involved, too judgmental and negative.  They are quick to criticise, and never note the good points.

This ties in with both their self absorption and their superiority complex – by belittling others, they are able to imply that they must therefore be superior.

Covert narcissists lack empathy.

Narcissists are narcissists, regardless of whether they’re introverted or extroverted – they just don’t care.  They don’t care what you’re going through, they don’t care how you feel, and they certainly don’t care about how their actions make you feel.

For example, you may be discussing some difficulties you are going through, and they will make the appropriate noises and sympathetic words but there’s something … not quite right about them.  You don’t quite know what it is, it’s just a feeling in your gut.  And then they move the topic to their woes.

Or you may be trying to tell them that their actions have impacted you in some way and they may either avoid it completely, gaslight you, or throw themselves at your feet professing they are sorry, they are such horrible creatures, awful people, and try to make you feel sorry for them and tell them it’s okay, you weren’t that mad in the first place …

Covert narcissists are passive aggressive.

Hell hath no fury like a covert narcissist scorned, criticised, not allowed to get their own way, or just displeased in some way or another.  They will out passive-aggressive everyone.  This is often quite hard to detect, other than a bad feeling in your gut that something isn’t quite right.

It manifests as sullenness, stubbornness, subtle insults and of course, everyone’s favourite thing: the silent treatment.

One thing a lot of people don’t realise is passive aggressive behaviour is a failure to do tasks they are responsible for.  I’m not talking about just innocent forgetfulness here, or forgetfulness from stress, I’m talking about a consistent and deliberate behaviour of failing to do to do a task they are responsible for and leaving other people to pick up the mess.

Covert narcissists are highly sensitive.

Many people are highly sensitive – this doesn’t mean they’re covert narcissists.  There’s a difference between being highly sensitive and empathetic and being highly sensitive and narcissistic.

No one particularly likes being criticised, even when it’s done politely, phrased well, and is genuine constructive criticism.  It’s just hard to take.  The difference between a highly sensitive person with empathy is that they will ruminate on it and alter their behaviour accordingly – sometimes with a complete change, other times with a partial change that is respectful of this new bit of information.

A covert narcissist will not.  Their behaviour is perfect, because they themselves are perfect, therefore your criticism is wrong.

If you’ve ever asked someone to tidy up after themselves or not leave an empty chip packet in the cupboard and had a wild ride of ‘I’m a monster, I’m so sorry, I’m so terrible, I’m a horrible human being’ or just had a passive aggressive response, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  They won’t change their behaviour.  They want you to either not comment on it again, or tell them that everything is okay and you weren’t really that mad about it in the first place, it’s fine.

Covert narcissists are the misunderstood special person.

They’re special, they’re amazing, they’re all that and a bag of chips, and no one realises it.

For some covert narcissists, they are this amazing, loving, gentle human being who loves people with such intensity and cares for them so much nothing could possibly be better than them.

For others they are smarter than everyone else, and of course no one else realises it.

This ties in strongly with their superiority complex, self absorption, and (as discussed later in this article), their need to blame everyone else – they are so special, so much more special than other people, and one day someone will realise that and they will flourish so it’s not their fault they’re in the position they’re in, it’s everyone else’s fault for not realising how amazing they are.

Covert narcissists are takers.

It’s very much a one-sided relationship with covert narcissists, as it is with the grandiose narcissist.  Their needs and feelings are prioritised while your needs and feelings are dismissed, ignored, or judged overly harshly.

This ties back to their superiority complex, self absorption and lack of empathy.  Everything is about them, and they can’t possibly understand that someone else might have an important reason for doing something / not doing something.

For example, if you have to cancel dinner plans with one because you’re sick, they’ll be passive aggressive about it, but if they cancel dinner plans with you because they’re sick, they expect you to fuss over them and dote on them and be understanding.

A relationship with them is a one-way street – you give, they take, and it feels like exhaustion and stress when you even think about talking to them, it feels like discomfort in your stomach as you put your all into supporting them through their latest difficulties, and it feels like not wanting to confide in them despite them confiding in you.

Covert narcissists make you feel sorry for them.

Call them out on their behaviour?  They’ll throw such a demonstration you feel sorry for them and tell them it’s okay – without ever having addressed the behaviour you called them out on.

You’re having a bad day?  They’ll tell you their story which is way worse.

Your life is bright and sunny?  Their life is crumbling down.  Nothing ever goes well for a covert narcissist.  They are usually always miserable.

And they love it.  They don’t want to be happy, because being happy means they can’t complain about things, which means they can’t get your attention and sympathy.  They will actively find things to be negative about, or contrive situations to be negative about, and it’s never their fault, there’s always someone else to blame for maximum sympathy.

There is always a marked self-absorption and superiority with regards to their sob stories – it is always about them (never about the other party in the proceedings, although they may mention them in a ‘sympathetic’ manner while saying they themselves are a truly horrible person for doing these things to the other party – there’s no sympathy for the other party, only for them!!), and it is always so much bigger, so much more painful, so much all encompassing than anyone else’s sob story ever.  Broke up with someone?  So much more painful and horrific than anyone else’s break up ever.

Covert narcissists cannot have deep and meaningful relationships.

Not in the same way that non-narcissists can, in any event.  This is entirely down to their superiority, self absorption, and lack of empathy – they simply can’t care about another human being enough to develop those mutual deep bonds.

I must also mention that narcissists by and large are deeply insecure – their behaviours are predominantly around masking those insecurities.  A diagnosed narcissist commented that it’s not just that they’re insecure, it’s that they’re so insecure they loathe themselves.  They can’t stand the thought that another person could get to see what they are hiding, and so they keep people at arms length, forming only superficial bonds because they have hidden away their depths.

Covert narcissists blame everyone else for their problems.

It’s not their fault they don’t have a job, their previous job was absolute hell and they just had to quit.

It’s not their fault they’ve dropped out of uni, it’s the counselor’s fault for not being available, or it’s the car’s fault because it stopped working and they couldn’t get to uni, or it’s the professor’s fault for setting so much work … the list goes on!  I’ve even been blamed for someone’s failure at uni, living literally half way around the world from them and basically being their personal cheerleader!

It doesn’t matter what the problem is, it’s not their fault.  They accept no responsibility for their own actions, their own failures, or the consequences of their own actions.

“He/she/they made me do it,” is a common response to why they did a certain thing.  “I had no choice,” is another.

If you are dealing with a covert narcissist in your life…

My heart well and truly goes out to you – it is a painful and intensely stressful experience.  I myself have completely cut the covert narcissists from my life, and life has improved all the more for it.  If you have the opportunity, I would suggest you do so yourself, as they will not change and will only drag your mood down.

They are also likely to do similar things to grandiose narcissists, such as isolating you from family and friends, and talking badly about you to other people so they dislike you (which is admittedly also an isolating tactic).  This makes you more reliant on them, and so when they go from the love bomb phase into the narcissistic abuse phase (something I’ll discuss in a later post), you are less likely to leave and more likely to take the abuse and be their ‘supply’.

If you are feeling isolated, or suspect you may be the ‘supply’ for a covert or overt narcissist, my inbox is always open.

It’s okay, you are not alone.

 

Growing up with Chronic Pain

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As I have gained more information about fibromyalgia, I have come to the conclusion that I have most likely had this condition for well over half of my life.  Looking back on my memories, particularly of my early twenties, brings a lot of things into focus.

I was 13 when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released.  It was released during school holidays.  The family was having a rare shopping day at the local mall – we hadn’t pre-ordered the book (which I was kicking myself for, because I wanted it now), but we bumped into a friend who said the book shop around the corner still had a couple hundred copies, so we ran around the corner and bought one.

When we got home, I began to devour it.  I can’t remember how long it took me to read it, but I do remember lying in bed to read the last bit.  When I had finished the last page, I shut the book, set it to one side, and closed my eyes.  I was woken later to dinner, but didn’t want any – I was feeling quite unwell.  It was maybe a few hours later when I heard Mum talking about calling the neighbour to come over and look at me, as she was a nurse.  Said nurse came over and did a quick once over.  I was then rushed to hospital with suspected meningitis.

I remember the spinal tap.  The nurses were amazing, one of them asked me to tell him about my favourite thing in the world, so I rambled incoherently about Dragon Ball Z.  I don’t remember much else, just bits of being at home, Dad carefully sponging my face down with cold water, and everything hurting.  Especially my head – no pillow was soft enough.  I lost a week in this state.

When I finally came to, I had a two week recovery ahead of me before I began school again, part time.  It was around this time Mum said I began to lie in bed complaining of sore legs.  I remember them aching, throbbing, as I walked myself to and from school (uphill both ways – literally!) with my backpack that ranged between 4 to 15kg.  We went to a podiatrist and bought special inserts for my shoes.  It helped a bit, but still my hips burned.

I took up a part time cleaning job at 15 and regularly wondered why my knees and hips were on fire.  I had heart palpitations to the point where I had a mobile ECG put on for a monitoring period – they didn’t catch any and the doctor condescendingly said we can put you in touch with the psychiatrist.  I said I’d call them later to book a time and never did.

I took horse riding lessons for a few months.  Mum picked me up one day and I said I was sore and didn’t feel well enough to ride.  She drove me all the way out there and told me to get out and ride.  It was only after twenty minutes of crying in the car park that she took me home.

My time through my early twenties, which coincided with my time with It and Thing, was characterised by severe stress and so much pain.  My knees became so painful walking was excruciating.  My lower back was always throbbing, and random parts of my body would just start hurting for no reason.  My right thumb hurt so badly I wouldn’t move it for about three months straight – I went to the doctor and he said “well of course it hurts, you’re always poking it” and that was that.  I’d have to strap fingers together when the knuckles would flare up.

I just started wearing running sneakers with proper support to work, and that enabled me to get around better, although my knees were still incredibly painful.

Then my abdomen began hurting very badly.  It went on for months before I decided I needed to get this looked into, so I went to a doctor who sent me off for ultrasounds.  The ultrasounds came back clear and nothing else was done about it.  Everything still hurt.

I’m lucky, in a way.  I grew up with this pain.  I wasn’t allowed to do anything to alleviate it.  If I was lying in bed complaining about my legs hurting, it was just growing pains, or it was because I wasn’t active enough.  Later, when I raised problems with medical professionals under my own steam, I was told it’s all in my head, or there’s nothing wrong with me so it can’t hurt.  I was never allowed to not do something because of the pain.

So now, in my early thirties, I still do things despite the pain.  I’m not as afraid of triggering it as other people are, because I have had it most of my life.  I barely remember a time when I was not in pain.  I mean, I remember being a very active child – I excelled in martial arts and climbing trees and running and jumping and doing all the things, but it’s too abstract for me to be able to apply it to myself, for me to be able to look at it and go ‘damn I miss those days’, because I don’t remember them well enough.

I’m also really glad to have a diagnosis and to finally be medicated for it, because holy shit does it make a huge difference now.

Farewell 2018, Hello 2019

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It’s the last day of 2018 and I’m awake early, traumatised from my PTSD flashback last night and the subsequent nighmares.  My amazing human being had innocently put on a different show (because it was light and fun) after I had said what show I wanted, and I had spiraled into a panic attack and minor meltdown.  It was one of the first instances where I’ve spoken up and asked for the input to stop, and explained that I’m having a panic attack.

My amazing human being immediately stopped the show, grabbed my hand, and guided my other hand to my cat and stood with me until I was more settled, then provided chocolate.  Unquestioning support.

For me, 2018 has been a year of self discovery, self expression, and healing.  It has been hard, it has been upsetting, in some instances it has been straight up traumatising, but I come out the other end of 2018 a calmer, more balanced, and possibly even more confident person than I began 2018.

I must absolutely credit this back to my phenomenal friends, the closest of which have also (sadly) gone through narcissistic abuse, and who have been open and loving and who have shown me how to be open and compassionate with regards to my own mental health issues.  In one of my oldest friends I have found a role model for how to live with chronic illness, how to go through life unapologetic and dignified with disability, and how to allow yourself to be how and who you are.

In my amazing human being I have unquestioning support and consideration, and unending laughter.  He enables me in all things and throws his enthusiasm behind me, regardless of what direction I take.  He is constantly thinking of ways to make life easier and better, and reminds me that yes, I can do things the easier way, I don’t have to just suck it up and do it the hard way.

Yes, this year has been a hard one, but it has been a good one.  I am still glad to see it go, and look forward to what 2019 brings.

Workplace Bullying

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Specific words and responses in the past week have led me to understand that I am currently the target of an active bullying campaign from a colleague, and have been since I joined.

From the very beginning she made it clear through her body language, dismissive attitude, word usage and tone of voice that I am Not Welcome and she Does Not Like Me.  Which is fine, I’m quite happy to leave her be and do my own thing and not unnecessarily interact with her so she doesn’t get annoyed and I don’t get snapped at.  This is a simple solution.  I know I’m not everyone’s cuppa tea and I’m happy to leave people be.

Last week she commented in a meeting to the effect of “you’re not doing your job”, a comment she never would have made had she not been confident she would be backed up.  And, unsurprisingly, she was – three of my other colleagues jumped in with very pointed comments on the topic at hand directed solely at me, in a manner that made me feel very attacked (although I didn’t quite understand until after the fact).  She was elated after that display.  Positively beaming.  It made me realise a few things.

First, that I wasn’t going to let this slide.  Passive bullying, being an ass to me directly, not a problem.  I can just avoid that person and we’ll all go on our happy way, but this was active.  She was seeking people out and telling them I wasn’t able to do my job.  She was cultivating this belief in my incompetence among other colleagues.  No, this I will not tolerate.

Secondly, just how much the stress of bullying has affected my mental and physical health!

I’ve always had a peculiar disconnect between my mind and my body.  Prior to a few years ago, I just didn’t think, I didn’t contemplate, I didn’t look within and analyse my own thoughts, feelings, or behaviours.  I just did, and bottled it all up.  Super healthy, right?

Now I take the time to figure out what my body and mind are telling me, and everything is ringing stress bells.  My gastrointestinal tract became deeply upset.  My mind couldn’t settle.  I was restless and antsy.  My heart rate was high.  I had difficulties getting to sleep, maintaining a restful sleep, and staying asleep.  I genuinely did not think I would be this affected by bullying in the workplace, and yet here I am, my anxiety still twisting in my gut.

I’ve lodged a complaint, and I’ll pursue this.  I think I’ll let the higher ups handle it – I don’t think it will be good for my health to interact with her myself in any way, especially as I am very confident she will simply gaslight me and I will end up getting nowhere.  I’m only there for a couple more months, and if I really need to, I will leave.  Although that’d have to be pretty dire for me to leave, I often have a hard time doing what’s best for myself when it comes to work.

But I’ve got to look after my health first.

I Am Allowed To Be Burnt Out

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I am allowed to be burnt out.

For me, this is a radical idea.  The admitting and acceptance of the state of being burnt out, and actually giving myself permission to be burnt out.  To be honest, I think I’ve been burnt out for years, and it finally caught up with me last year.

I am autistic.  From a very early age I was conditioned against expressing that and pressured into appearing neurotypical.  I have, up until this year, put on a facade of a successful, bubbly, vivacious and sociable business woman.  Mostly this appearance was abused into me by It, but it was also expected of me from all of my previous roles.

I have overworked and over performed in every single role I have undertaken.  I would typically arrive at 8am and leave anywhere between 6 and 8pm, having worked through all of my breaks and most of my lunch, always at break-neck speed, because there was so much work to do.  I worked myself ragged, and I went back in and did it all again the next day, because that’s just what you do.  I’ve done this in every role until I moved to my current city, so that’s a good decade or so.

Throughout most of that decade, I was also with It.  The narcissist.  The ending came about because It was becoming desperate, and eventually manipulated Itself into the position of ‘either you come with me or I go alone’.  I was in a position where I was actively pursuing the career I wanted, and I wasn’t prepared to jeopardize the career I had been working for years to be able to pursue, and I was angry that he would ask that of me while putting his own career first (always first).  So I said no.

Then I went straight back to work the next day.  And continued working, and overworking, and not thinking about anything, and putting on the facade of being a lively, successful young businesswoman.

It’s all caught up with me and there is no escaping the exhaustion that I have denied for so long.  I ignored my body at every turn.  When it screamed ‘rest’ I said ‘harden up’ and went to work.  When it said ‘no more, go home’ I said ‘nope, we’ve still got to finish this document pack’ and kept going.  And when I say I worked fast, I mean I worked bloody fast.  I put out more work in one day than most would in three.  My brain was constantly on the go planning my next move, identifying the path to take to complete the required tasks in the shortest amount of time, and in the right priority order.

Oh, and through most of that I was working a second job on weekends and doing one paper a semester at university.

So yeah, I’m allowed to be burnt out now.  I sound defensive, and that’s because I am, because I expect to be told ‘no, you’re not allowed to be burnt out, harden up and keep on going’, because that’s what I’ve basically been told my entire life in various ways.  Stiff upper lip.  Carry on.  That kind of claptrap.  Telling myself I’m allowed to be burnt out is one thing, but taking a stand and saying ‘I AM ALLOWED TO BE BURNT OUT’ to the world is an entirely different kettle of fish.

Because despite the abuse I’ve been through, despite feeling as though I’m brittle and nothing but bone and sinew, despite almost falling asleep at work on numerous occasions because I am so exhausted, I … I gaslight myself.  It’s so ingrained in me, I gaslight myself.  It has been reinforced so thoroughly in my life that I am not important, what I feel is not important, what I want to do is not important, what I don’t want to do is not important, that I can’t possibly imagine that what I’ve been through is … something.  That it’s actually not good, that I’ve been impacted by it and that feeling is valid and true and reasonable.

It’s a horrific mindset, but I’m battling it.  Slowly but surely.  Because I deserve to not be burnt out.