7 warning signs you’re in a relationship with a covert narcissist

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

Intimate relationships are filled with their own complexities and intricacies, but what if these complexities hide a more sinister reality?

You might look back on your relationship and question the moments of love and affection, wondering if they were genuine or just a facade. It’s not always easy to gauge whether your partner is truly supportive and caring, or if they’re covertly manipulating you for their own benefit.

So, how do you know if you are involved with a covert narcissist, or just dealing with the usual relationship struggles?

After intensely analyzing various relationships and the subtle signs of narcissism, I’ve compiled a list of 7 warning signs that could help you decipher the confusing dynamics of your relationship. If these signs seem all too familiar, it might be time to face some uncomfortable truths.

1. Subtle Control and Manipulation:

In a healthy relationship, power is shared and decisions are made together. However, when you’re in a relationship with a covert narcissist, you might notice a gradual shift in this balance. They may present their control as concern or love, subtly manipulating you into doing things their way.

For instance, they might insist on driving you everywhere, under the guise of concern for your safety. Or they might make decisions about where to eat or vacation without considering your preferences, justifying it as them taking care of things so you don’t have to worry.

At first glance, these actions might seem caring or protective. But on closer inspection, they’re methods of control and manipulation that create an imbalance of power in the relationship. And if you start to feel like your choices are being overshadowed or your voice is going unheard, it could be a sign that you’re dealing with a covert narcissist.

2. Gaslighting:

Gaslighting is a common tactic used by covert narcissists to make you question your own reality and sanity. It’s a form of psychological manipulation where they deny your experiences, twist facts, and shift blame to make you second-guess your memories and perceptions.

For example, they might deny a hurtful comment they made, insisting that you misunderstood them or are being overly sensitive. Or they may create confusion around an event, causing you to doubt your own recollection of what happened.

This constant questioning and self-doubt can leave you feeling disoriented and insecure, leading to a dependency on the narcissist for validation and reality checks. If you find yourself questioning your memory or sanity on a regular basis within the relationship, it’s a significant warning sign of covert narcissism.

3. Emotional Unavailability:

One of the more subtle signs of a covert narcissist is their emotional unavailability. On the surface, they may appear charming and engaged, but when it comes to sharing genuine emotional connections, they often fall short.

I remember a time in my own relationship when I was going through a tough situation at work. I was stressed and needed someone to lean on. But when I tried to share my feelings with my partner, instead of providing support or empathizing with me, he quickly redirected the conversation to his own work challenges. It felt as though my feelings were being dismissed or overshadowed by his own experiences.

It wasn’t just a one-time thing. It became a recurring pattern whenever I needed emotional reassurance or empathy. Each time, my feelings were either minimized or completely ignored, leaving me feeling alone and unsupported in the relationship.

If you notice your partner consistently lacks empathy, dismisses your feelings, or is unable to provide emotional support when you need it most, it could be a sign of covert narcissism.

4. Grandiose Sense of Self:

Covert narcissists often have an inflated sense of self-importance or superiority, even if they don’t openly flaunt it. They might not openly brag or show off, but their actions and words often reveal an underlying belief that they’re superior to others.

Interestingly, narcissists often overestimate their own abilities and achievements while underestimating the skills and accomplishments of others. This aligns with common behavior seen in covert narcissists, who often subtly devalue others to elevate themselves.

For example, they might subtly belittle your accomplishments or make light of your successes while highlighting their own. This grandiose sense of self can be damaging to your self-esteem and confidence, making it another significant warning sign of covert narcissism in a relationship.

5. Lack of Accountability:

In my experience with a covert narcissist, one of the most frustrating aspects was their complete lack of accountability. They seemed incapable of accepting responsibility or acknowledging their mistakes.

I remember one instance where a special date was forgotten – our anniversary. When I expressed my disappointment, instead of apologizing, my partner quickly deflected the blame onto me. He claimed that I hadn’t reminded him or made it clear how important the date was to me, effectively turning the situation around to make it appear as if it was my fault.

This pattern of deflection and blame-shifting was a recurring theme in our relationship. Every argument, every mistake, somehow always ended up being my fault. This consistent lack of accountability is not just frustrating but also emotionally draining and is a clear sign of covert narcissism.

6. Silent Treatment:

Covert narcissists often use silent treatment as a form of punishment and control. It’s a passive-aggressive way of expressing their displeasure or asserting dominance without having to openly confront or discuss the issue.

I recall a time in my relationship when my partner stopped speaking to me completely after a minor disagreement. There was no yelling or heated argument, just a sudden, chilling silence that lasted for days. I was left feeling confused and anxious, not knowing what I had done wrong or how to fix it.

This prolonged silence and withdrawal of affection was used as a weapon to make me feel guilty and desperate for reconciliation. If you find yourself frequently on the receiving end of such punishing silences with no clear reason, it’s a warning sign of covert narcissism.

7. The Cycle of Idealization and Devaluation:

Covert narcissists often engage in a cycle of idealization (putting you on a pedestal) and devaluation (knocking you down). This cycle can be incredibly confusing and emotionally exhausting.

During the idealization phase, they might shower you with love, attention, and praise, making you feel special and cherished. But soon enough, they shift to the devaluation phase, where they criticize, belittle, and ignore you.

I experienced this rollercoaster ride firsthand in my relationship. One moment I was being treated like a queen, the next I was made to feel worthless. This constant shifting between extremes left me emotionally drained and constantly walking on eggshells.

This pattern of idealization and devaluation can be damaging to your emotional health and self-esteem. If you recognize this cycle in your relationship, it’s a clear warning sign of covert narcissism.

Did you like my article? Like me on Facebook to see more articles like this in your feed.

Justin Brown

Justin Brown is an entrepreneur and thought leader in personal development and digital media, with a foundation in education from The London School of Economics and The Australian National University. As the co-founder of Ideapod, The Vessel, and a director at Brown Brothers Media, Justin has spearheaded platforms that significantly contribute to personal and collective growth. His deep insights are shared on his YouTube channel, JustinBrownVids, offering a rich blend of guidance on living a meaningful and purposeful life.

10 psychological questions to ask someone on a first date

If someone displays these 7 behaviors, they’re silently struggling in life