5 Forms of Narcissistic Abuse Used by Covert Narcissists and What They Really Mean

Dr. Melanie Cabrera Image


Covert, or vulnerable, narcissists differ from their overt (grandiose) counterparts in several ways.  One of the main ways is that, contrary to pop psychology belief, overt narcissists do not have an underlying belief of themselves as inadequate or less than.  They truly believe the world should fall at their feet.  Covert narcissists, on the other hand, have a fragile ego in which shame and envy drive the narcissistic abuse bus.  They absolutely NEED to objectify others and destroy intersubjectivity in their relationships as a way to “prove” to themselves they are not the inadequate beings they feel they are.  In short, they view their inner self as shameful but lack the intrinsic motivation to change.  When combined with deficits in emotional recognition (empathy), deficits in affect regulation, and a biased conceptualization of self and others, you get a covert narcissist.  

In this article, we’ll take a look at five examples of narcissistic abuse used by covert narcissists and what they really mean.  As you’ll notice, their behaviors have nothing to do with you and everything to do with their attempts to regain or retain a stable self image.

  1. Having your social media, emails, phone calls and texts combed through regularly. 

This invasion of privacy serves two distinct aspects of the narcissist’s psyche.  First, this narcissistic abuse relates to testing your boundaries when done early on in the relationship.  To him or her, you have no true privacy as you are something to be “owned” and used to maintain his or her sense of self.  For the covert narcissist, however, this boundary violation morphs into a need to ensure continued hold over you.  He or she needs to make sure you are not speaking ill or otherwise catching on to the game being played. If he or she does not find anything, this maintains the sense of self as adequate and desirable. However, any indication that you are not all about him or her (in a positive light) will lead to an argument, including talking to members of the opposite sex.  Although it may appear that he or she is just starting a fight for the sake of starting a fight, in actuality, the fight is way to preserve the sense of self – his or her perspective is that you should not be talking or gaining attention from anyone else.  

  1. Being coerced into sex or sexual acts you aren’t comfortable with

I have yet to hear a survivor of narcissist abuse say that sex with a narcissist felt like love. Mine didn’t either.  Although not all sexual experiences look the same amongst victims, they do share a common theme – it’s all about the narcissist. In the beginning, the narcissist mirrors you and can appear to be very generous and sensual.  However, at time goes on, your body responds to the disingenuousity emanating from the narcissist. You feel less into it and your sex drive screeches to a halt.  This is where the narcissistic abuse really begins.  The narcissist will make you feel as if it is all your fault, there must be something wrong with you.  The covert narcissist will appear to be concerned at first and recommend seeing a therapist, provide articles, and otherwise appear to help.  These offers turn to making you feel guilty for not providing for the narcissist’s “needs” and may extend to pressuring you into sexual acts you are not comfortable with.  Throughout this entire process, the narcissist’s goal is maintain a sense of self that speaks to being “better” than you and a sexually desirable being. 

The narcissist will make you feel as if it is all your fault, there must be something wrong with you.

  1. Being unable to leave or enter a room, being locked out

This tactic is typically used just before discard and it is purely an attempt to regain a sense of stable self for the narcissist.  If this form of narcissistic abuse is being used, it is because you have begun to question him or her, have caught on to other incidences of abuse, or are otherwise indicating you are fed up with their behavior.  You perhaps set a boundary.  My narcissistic ex used to lock me out of the bedroom or lock my dog in one room while I was locked in another when I would confront him on his crappy behaviors (usually involving invading my privacy).  They do this in hopes that you will become erratic, yell, beg, plead, etc so that they can use it against you during their smear campaign and ensuing “woe is me” attempts at victimhood.

  1. Having to explain yourself in explicit detail because they are projecting their crappy behavior onto you.

Covert narcissists live in a perpetual state of contradiction. You’ll see this form of narcissist abuse usually when they are doing something they should not be doing OR when they are feeling very vulnerable and shameful.  This is where they will pick fights with you over the most mundane and crazy-making things, accuse you of being abusive or cheating, and put you in the mental state where you feel the need to defend yourself.   

  1. Being gaslit into thinking your reactions to being abused was dramatic and inappropriate

Gaslighting is the covert narcissistic’s way of maintaining a stable sense of self.  They absolutely cannot handle the thought of being wrong, never mind abusive.  They have to justify their actions or deny them altogether.  This is also where they engage in something called the Gish Gallop.  Named after the 20th century creationist Duane Gish, this technique attempts to convince or overwhelm others by listing many shorthand arguments, any one of which could be easily refuted, but the collective weight of which seem convincing and would take time and effort to refute.  Thus, the rapid fire questions and assertions naturally confuse you into wondering if perhaps they are right.  They’re not.

It is time to get some help dealing with the narcissist in your life.