7 smart ways to show a covert narcissist you won’t play their psychological games

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Have you ever met a covert narcissist? And how would you know, seeing as they are covert?

If this is your first time hearing the phrase, covert narcissism is a type of narcissism that is often displayed by those who are more introverted than overt narcissists.

They aren’t necessarily the center of attention or the loudest people in the room, but they possess narcissistic traits nonetheless. This often manifests in their defensiveness, hypersensitivity, and self-absorption.

So, how can you show a covert narcissist you won’t play their psychological games?

Let’s dive in!

1) Always remain emotionally detached

The first thing to keep in mind is that narcissists latch onto emotions. If you’re dealing with a covert narcissist, there’s a high chance they will try to guilt-trip you, gaslight, and project.

The thing is, though, you can’t guilt-trip someone who knows they’re not to blame. You can’t gaslight someone who doesn’t give in to doubts. You can’t project your weaknesses on to someone who doesn’t react to your projections.

Narcissists feed off emotional energy, and if you don’t provide it, they will feel uprooted, unsure of how to proceed.

Of course, they may react by just flipping out or trying to start another argument. Eventually, though, they’ll realize that you are simply too detached. They have nothing to work with.

However, practicing detachment is easier said than done, especially if the narcissist in question is someone you care about.

This is why I’ve learned another trick…

2) Don’t take things personally

One of the people closest to me is a narcissist. Since I’ve decided not to cut ties – I can see they’re trying to improve and work on themselves, even though it’s hard – I’ve had to come up with a strategy that would help me remain calm when they do something out of line.

And the one thing that’s helped me most was the realization that their behavior had nothing to do with me.

Almost everything a narcissist does and says is essentially a projection of their internal state of mind.

When they accuse you of something, they are itching for a fight; when they guilt-trip you, it’s due to the fact they want pity or attention; when they don’t understand where you’re coming from, it’s because they lack empathy.

Ironically, it’s precisely through empathy that I’ve arrived at my solution.

“It must be really difficult to be like this,” it dawned on me once. “They’re fighting so many battles inside their heads.”

Since then, I’ve been doing a much better job at not taking things personally because I now know that a narcissist’s behavior has very little to do with me as a person and a lot to do with their diagnosis.

(Of course, this doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes. But it’s important to be able to trust yourself.)

3) Clearly set and reinforce your boundaries

If there’s one thing narcissists struggle with, it’s the ability to recognize where other people’s boundaries lie.

You might think it’s obvious when others feel uncomfortable or when you should ask them for consent before you do something, but if you had very little empathy, you’d probably struggle, too.

This is why one of the best ways to show a covert narcissist you won’t play their psychological games is to clearly set and reinforce your boundaries.

For example, you can say, “The way you speak to me right now makes me uncomfortable. Don’t use those words again. If you do, I will leave the conversation.”

It’s very likely that one such reprimand won’t be enough.

The next time you and the narcissist in question are having a disagreement, they may use the same kind of language, either because they haven’t committed your boundary to memory (which they should have) or because they’re trying to test your limits.

In that case, you can say something along the lines of, “I told you not to speak to me this way. I said I would leave the conversation if it happened, so I am leaving right now.”

When they receive this kind of “punishment” for playing their games, they’ll realize that you mean business and they’ll be less likely to keep pushing.

Be careful, though – if your boundaries slip over time, they might notice. It’s important that you keep them firmly in place.

4) Stick to rational arguments and use “I” statements

A covert narcissist will grab onto every opportunity to feel offended and wounded.

If you tell them they never clean the kitchen properly, they will say, “Oh, because I’m a terrible and messy monster, aren’t I? Just say it!”

If you say the joke they made yesterday hurt your feelings, they’ll reply with, “Fine, I’ll never joke again! Are you happy now?”

This is why it’s essential not only to remain emotionally detached but also to be a very effective communicator.

Don’t use “never” and “always” statements. Address the issue in question in a calm way that opens the door to a productive discussion. 

Try not to place blame – instead, use “I” statements such as, “I felt uncomfortable when you made that joke. I know you probably didn’t mean it, but it’d mean a lot to me if you didn’t joke like that in the future.”

This way, you’re making it very difficult for the other person to play psychological games because, again, you’re giving them very little to latch onto.

5) Keep a list of concrete examples you want to address

Not always can you address something precisely when it happens. You might be around family or friends or out in public; you might think it’s not that big a deal as long as it only happens once.

Once all the little instances pile up, though, you suddenly feel you need to bring it up. And you should.

The issue is that you don’t remember half of the situations because they were so small, so inconsequential, that they are now lost to time.

Telling a covert narcissist that they’ve done something to wound you and struggling to come up with concrete examples is a recipe for disaster.

Chances are, they’ll end up gaslighting you, twisting your words, or playing the victim.

“You’re just trying to come up with something to hold over me!” they might say. “You don’t even have proof!”

The lesson here is clear. Always write down concrete examples as they occur. You may never need to bring them up – for example, it’s possible that it truly is a one-time thing – but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

6) Build a stable social network you can fall back on

Manipulators, including narcissists, thrive in very confined dynamics.

If they cut you off from your family and friends, it’ll be much easier for them to enforce the unhealthy relationship you’ve got going on because you won’t have anyone to confide in, anyone to tell you that this is not okay.

This is why a great way to show a covert narcissist you won’t fall for their tricks is to simply lead a rich social life.

When you do that, you’re claiming your independence; you’re making it impossible for them to isolate you and mold you to their liking; you’re asserting your right to exist outside of this relationship.

Strong friendships can do wonders. Not only do they improve your mental well-being, but who knew they also scare away narcissists?

7) Prioritize your mental well-being

Your mental health is of the utmost importance here.

Covert narcissists are so focused on their own needs that they demand to be catered to at all times, and if you have the tendency to overlook your own desires in favor of someone else’s, you might soon find yourself in a co-dependent dynamic that is increasingly more difficult to untangle yourself from.

What you want out of life and relationships matters. Don’t just go with the flow because it’s easier.

You deserve to assert your needs, claim your space, and speak up.

You deserve to lead a fulfilling life, look after your mental well-being, and flourish.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to cut narcissists out of your life. If you don’t want to or can’t do that, that is also completely valid. In that case, I hope the seven tips above can help.

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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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