12 red flags you’re in a relationship with a covert narcissist

Ever dated someone who seemed perfect at first but then made you feel like something was off?

You might be dealing with a covert narcissist.

These folks are experts at acting charming but can actually be pretty toxic.

Wondering if that’s what you’re going through?

I’ve got a list of 12 red flags that say, “Hey, something’s not right here.”

Keep reading to find out what to look out for.

1. They Love-Bomb You

Ever felt like you’re on cloud nine because someone showered you with love and attention right from the get-go?

They text you all the time, make grand gestures, and basically make you feel like you’re the center of their world.

While it’s natural to enjoy this kind of attention, be cautious.

This could be “love-bombing,” and it’s often the first move in a covert narcissist’s playbook.

Love-bombing is all about making you feel special so that you let your guard down.

It feels amazing at first, but the goal is to get you hooked.

Once you’re emotionally invested, that’s when the mask starts to slip, and their true colors show.

The affection might suddenly vanish, leaving you confused and craving that initial connection.

In short, if your partner goes from zero to sixty in the love department super fast and then starts acting differently, you might want to take a step back and think about what’s really going on.

2. They’re Never Wrong, and It’s Always Your Fault

Ah, the blame game—an oldie but a goodie in the covert narcissist’s toolbox.

Remember that time you brought up something they did that upset you?

Instead of a heartfelt apology or even a rational conversation, you found yourself somehow apologizing for having feelings in the first place.

Sound familiar?

Let me tell you, I’ve been there. It’s like you’re in this crazy-making cycle where they can do no wrong, and you’re always the one messing up.

If your partner never takes responsibility for their actions and turns the tables to make it about your shortcomings, you’re probably not the issue— they are.

In a healthy relationship, both people can admit when they’re wrong and work on it together.

But if your partner’s go-to move is to dodge blame and point fingers at you, that’s a glaring red flag waving right in your face.

3. Emotional Unavailability is Their Middle Name

Do you feel like you’re dating a brick wall? You spill your guts, share your fears, and open up your heart, only to get… what? Nada. Zip. Zero emotional support. It’s frustrating as hell, isn’t it?

Look, we all have our off days where we’re not the best at communicating.

But if you’re with someone who consistently leaves you hanging when you’re emotionally vulnerable, you’ve got to ask yourself: What’s the point?

If you’re putting your emotional cards on the table and the other person is still holding a full deck close to their chest, that’s not just a red flag—that’s a stop sign.

Real relationships are built on emotional give-and-take.

If you’re doing all the giving and they’re doing all the taking, something’s gotta give.

And let’s be honest, it shouldn’t have to be you.

4. They’re Your Biggest Fan (But Only When It Serves Them)

What if your partner is super supportive and always cheers you on? That’s great, right?

Not so fast.

Sometimes, a covert narcissist plays the role of your biggest fan, but only when it makes them look good or benefits them in some way.

Picture this: You get a promotion at work, and they’re over the moon for you—but only because your success reflects well on them or maybe boosts their lifestyle.

However, when you accomplish something that has nothing to do with them, or even worse, overshadows them, the enthusiasm suddenly vanishes.

It’s like they’re proud of “us” when there’s something in it for them, but when it’s just about you, their support is MIA.

The tricky part is distinguishing between genuine support and self-serving cheerleading.

A real partner takes joy in your accomplishments for your sake, not just theirs.

If the support you’re getting feels conditional or inconsistent, you’ve got another red flag on your hands.

5. They Make You Feel Isolated

Have you ever felt like you’re on an emotional island in your relationship?

I’ve been in a situation where my partner subtly, yet effectively, cut me off from friends and even family.

At first, it was framed as wanting to spend “quality time” together.

Sounds romantic, right?

But soon, those hangouts with friends became less frequent, and family events suddenly felt like a burden.

If this is hitting close to home, it’s worth thinking about why it’s happening.

Covert narcissists often want you all to themselves—not in a cute, romantic way, but in a controlling, isolating way.

By cutting you off from other support networks, they’re making you more dependent on them, which gives them more control over you.

Don’t get me wrong; spending time together is essential in any relationship.

But there’s a big difference between quality time and monopolizing your time to the point where you feel isolated.

If your circle is getting smaller and smaller, and your partner is the common denominator, it’s a red flag you shouldn’t ignore.

6. They Gaslight You

Gaslighting is a term you’ve probably heard tossed around, but do you know what it actually means?

It’s when someone manipulates you into doubting your own sanity or perception of events.

If you’ve ever had an argument with your partner and walked away thinking, “Am I going crazy?”, there’s a chance you’re being gaslighted.

For instance, you might bring up something they did that hurt you.

Instead of acknowledging it, they twist the story, question your memory, or outright deny that it ever happened.

The aim is to make you question your own judgment so much that you rely on theirs instead.

It’s a dirty trick, and it’s mental and emotional manipulation at its worst.

Gaslighting is a powerful tool in the covert narcissist’s arsenal.

It can be so subtle that you don’t realize it’s happening until you’re deep into the confusion.

If you’re constantly second-guessing yourself within your relationship, take it as a serious red flag.

7. They’re Jealous, but Not in the Cute Way

Let’s be brutally honest: Jealousy sucks. It’s even worse when it’s coming from your partner and it’s more about controlling you than it is about their affection for you.

Do you feel like you can’t even talk to someone of the opposite sex—or same sex, depending on your orientation—without getting the third degree afterward?

Or maybe you mentioned an achievement, and instead of celebrating with you, they downplay it out of envy?

In the covert narcissist’s world, other people can’t have good things happen to them unless it’s also beneficial for the narcissist.

And God forbid you shine a little too brightly—you’ll get a one-way ticket to passive-aggressive town or even outright hostility.

This isn’t love; it’s ownership. Love isn’t about clipping someone’s wings. It’s about helping each other soar.

If your partner’s jealousy is weighing you down, that’s a glaring red flag you shouldn’t ignore.

8. They’re Amazing Listeners (When They Want to Be)

A covert narcissist can actually be a fantastic listener, but there’s a catch.

They listen intently when it serves their interests, like gathering information they can use later, either to manipulate you or to shine in social settings.

Ever notice how they can recall the smallest detail from a story you told weeks ago when it makes them look good, but conveniently forget any emotional needs you’ve mentioned?

You might initially think you’ve hit the jackpot. “Finally, someone who really listens to me!” you think.

But over time, you might notice this listening skill only kicks in selectively.

If you’re discussing something that doesn’t interest them or, heaven forbid, focusing the conversation on your own feelings or concerns, that attentive listener suddenly has selective hearing.

Listening, in a healthy relationship, should be about mutual care and concern.

But if you start to feel like your partner’s attention comes with strings attached, or only appears when it benefits them, that’s a counterintuitive red flag you shouldn’t ignore.

9. They’re Always the Victim

Ever notice that your partner never seems to be at fault for anything?

Whether it’s issues at work, falling outs with friends, or even problems in your relationship, they’re somehow always the innocent victim.

Playing the perpetual victim is a common tactic among narcissists, including the covert ones.

This tactic serves as a deflection strategy, steering the conversation away from their own shortcomings.

Being perpetually cast as the villain in their victim narrative can be emotionally exhausting.

You might find yourself constantly trying to “rescue” them, only to realize that each heroic effort goes unnoticed or unappreciated.

Over time, this can take a toll on your emotional well-being as you’re made to feel responsible for all their woes.

If your partner is a perpetual victim, dodging accountability at every turn, that’s not just frustrating—it’s a significant red flag.

10. Intimacy is a One-Way Street

Now, let’s talk about something many of us find hard to discuss openly: intimacy.

No, not just the physical kind—I’m talking emotional intimacy, too.

In a balanced relationship, this is a two-way street. You both open up, you both share, and you both strive to meet each other’s needs.

But if you’re with a covert narcissist, intimacy becomes a one-way flow, and guess what? You’re not on the receiving end.

If you feel like you’re giving your all—emotionally, mentally, and physically—and getting crumbs in return, that’s not love; that’s exploitation.

You might share your deepest fears, ambitions, and emotions only to receive shallow responses that never delve into their true feelings or concerns.

Or worse, your vulnerabilities might later be used against you.

It’s heartbreaking to realize you’re laying bare your soul to someone who’s only interested in taking what they can get.

True intimacy requires vulnerability from both parties. If your partner is holding back or using your own vulnerability against you, it’s a red flag you need to face head-on.

11. They Make You Doubt Your Worth

Here’s a tough one to swallow, and I can say this because I’ve been there: If you constantly feel like you’re not good enough, smart enough, or just “enough” in general, and these feelings get worse when you’re around your partner, you’re waving a huge red flag.

I remember dating someone who made me feel like I had to earn their love, like I was always one mistake away from being replaced.

And let me tell you, it’s a soul-crushing experience.

A covert narcissist often uses subtle tactics to make you doubt your worth.

Whether it’s through backhanded compliments, veiled criticisms, or simply a lack of emotional support, the end game is to make you feel small so they can feel big. That’s not love; that’s control.

You deserve a relationship where you feel valued and respected, not one where you’re constantly questioning your worth.

If your self-esteem is taking a nosedive and your partner is the common denominator, that’s a glaring red flag you should not ignore.

12. Your Gut Says Something’s Off

This last one isn’t about a specific action or phrase; it’s about a feeling, a gut instinct.

Now, gut feelings are something we often ignore, thinking our brains know better.

But in my experience, that gut feeling usually knows what’s up before our rational mind catches on.

If something feels off, if you find yourself making excuses for your partner’s behavior, or if you just can’t shake the feeling that you’re not being treated right, don’t dismiss that.

Our gut feelings are an evolved defense mechanism designed to alert us to potential dangers; it’s your subconscious picking up on signals you might not consciously notice.

So if your intuition is sending you warning signals, consider it the final and perhaps most crucial red flag.

Even if you can’t put your finger on what exactly is wrong, that gut feeling could be telling you that you’re in a relationship with a covert narcissist.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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