Weapons of passive-aggressive covert behaviors:
- the silent treatment – to punish and abuse their victims. When the covert narcissist goes dark (ghosting) and refuses to engage, the victim feels rejected and wonders what they did to provoke this behavior, making them feel like they did something wrong. Ultimately, the victim will get angry causing resentment from the narcissist because they believe they are entitled to treat people this way.
- ignoring you – pretending not to hear you or understand your request, completely aware that this is aggravating behavior.
- reactive abuse – pushing the victim to react with anger and then placing blame regarding their anger issues
- playing the victim – a control tool to garner emotions and evoke sympathy by always having a sad story about past mistreatment or making others believe they are team players by consistently accepting the short end of the stick.
- the joke is on you – off-handed jokes are designed to make the victim feel bad. Humor to tease and belittle someone is followed by a “just kidding” in an insincere attempt to ease the pain, but the objective is achieved.
- name calling and constant verbal abuse – typically done in private but sometimes the line is crossed, and it’s done in front of family or friends.
- pretending to forget the things they promised to do – intentionally not doing something after they said they would and expressing anger or exasperation if it is mentioned.
The same behaviors are often not shared from one covert narcissist to another. Narcissists have created many masks throughout their lives that they present to the world. Imagine a mask as a character, role, or a false persona that they play. Masks of normalcy are routinely invoked to create the illusion to the world that they are normal and not disordered. Designed to entice the people they want to attract for various supply, it’s ultimately all about the status, services, money, accolades, dedication, sex, and servitude. The masks are interchangeable so you may identify or cross-identify with several depending on the target of their influence. Narcissists don’t need friends or partners; they need an audience so the mask must be selected very carefully.
The narcissistic mask is used as a tool to build a carefully tailored persona in order to friend people who they will later use for supply. When you see a contradiction to what they do in public and what they say in private, you are observing the public mask being removed behind closed doors. The masks may seem familiar to you but look a bit deeper and observe other relationships they have and the way the “show” might have always been interchangeable depending on the crowd. Once an actor, always an actor and this performance theater will carry over in every social circle in their lives.
A quote from one of my favorite movies, Sabrina, is apropos – “Illusions are dangerous people. They have no flaws.” The mask chosen for you is customized to your needs; they made themselves your dream illusion. The role was defined by your own imagination and carefully orchestrated to trap you. I envision the mask being removed at the door and placed on a hook like a hat. Once you see thru the fantasy and catch a glimpse of the real person, you can’t unsee it. It’s scary and the sense of betrayal may be overwhelming.
Narcissists do not want to be exposed. After their mask falls and they realize you have seen the truth, a narcissistic injury usually occurs. To reduce the risk of being unmasked, they know when the gig is up and begin planning their exit.
The Charmer (MASK)
Covert narcissists are infamous for their charming mask, even though all narcissists can manifest charm on demand. When in use, charm can ooze thick and gooey, but it is easily recognized after the fact as fake. In the beginning, they attract a person to them by finding commonalities to show the new victim how perfect they are for each other. If you like yoga, horses, and classical music, they do too. The passive-aggressive behaviors are more stealth than the more aggressive abusive behaviors we have come to know. It’s a slow drip that makes recognizing the coercive control difficult to see. As soon as the victim questions annoying or bad behavior, they are immediately shut down and accused of being wounded by past relationships and projecting that on them. Your ability to trust them will be probed as they doubt your loyalty, simply because you had the nerve to raise a concern. This gaslighting technique, followed by promises, makes it easy to give the impropriety a pass. You are charmed again, and they are back in control. The confusing dual personalities, mixed with intermittent charm, forms the victim’s trauma bond like prey in a spider’s web.
This is how your relationship began, with a persona you believed was the person you had fallen in love with. Until you are completely infatuated, the charming mask will be used both in public and in private; then they are free to act differently behind closed doors. The slippage of the mask can be gradual or immediate; the narcissist has studied and tested your reactions. The decision on how fast you are transported to narc-world is guided by your toleration tipping point. Inside your home, you start to see little things that are confusing.
The victim of the charming mask struggles to let go of the public persona because they believe that to be the real person. Holding onto the better version of the person will keep victims trapped for years as they try to love the narcissist more to help them find that charming happy person they believe to be deep inside. As the fog dissipates and the victim can see the narcissist clearly for whom they really are, they are no longer fooled. This is the real them; the charm was just an act.
Often when survivors listen to videos or read books on narcissistic abuse, they question whether their spouse is really a narcissist. What if they weren’t the type that cheated, or stole money, or was verbally abusive? Not all narcissistic people check all the boxes; some are verbally abusive all the time and some utilize manipulation in a stealthier manner. I often hear, “We never even fought.” If this sounds familiar, you may have been blind to the covert, passive-aggressive form of control that had been festering under the surface. Maybe you got used to it or justified the actions by thinking “this is just how they are.” Don’t be fooled into thinking that the charm and love bombing isn’t abusive. It absolutely is. Equating obvious actions like fighting and throwing things with abuse is not the MO of a covert narcissist. Lies, hiding money, and passively making you feel like you’re not good enough is.
Physical symptoms can be caused by emotional trauma: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), for example. Your body has a memory and will store feelings in certain areas as a warning sign – what you choose to do with it is the complicated part. If you tend to feel unwell, your narcissist may make fun of you for being “sickly, just like your mother” (a passive-aggressive trigger to intentionally piss you off). Learn to listen to your body’s responses. Once free of the covert abuse, the symptoms almost always disappear. You should never assume, however, that an illness is a certain thing and not get checked by a doctor. Always put your health first.
Someone with NPD cannot change. They can promise, misrepresent themselves, and fake change for a little while, but will soon unconsciously revert back to their bad behaviors. When it is a spouse, once they know you aren’t happy and that their mask has fallen, they will begin the discard process.
Recognizing the onset of the discard process may be obvious because the passive-aggressive manners escalate. If your abuse was physical, the mistreatment will surge as well because the gig is up and there is no reason for them to pretend to be nice anymore. If you are married to a covert narcissist, a more stealth discard may begin in the background. On the hunt for new supply, detachment from you will be quick. You may find them not being present for you or your family because in their mind, they have already moved on. If this is happening, don’t be surprised by their sudden exit.
Other types of abuse may have been obvious all along be assured, any form of abuse will make your life a daily dose of hell.