Updated: Dec 10, 2019
Covert narcissists are like demons: they each have their own specialty, but many of their traits do overlap.
My covert narcissist’s specialty was crushing my spirit, keeping me trapped at home with them, and trying to fill my free time with menial labor (and criticizing before, during, and after). My covert narcissist also had no shyness about using the fear of God to reinforce what they wanted.
Some of these traits I am happy to say that I abhorred and didn’t do. However, my rebellion manifested itself in opposite but also unhealthy or unhelpful habits. Other things became part of my personality without me even realizing how, why, or even that they were not normal.
The following were things I had to go through. I have written them in detail in the hope that if you have suffered similar, you will know that these are NOT normal or acceptable, and you are not alone!
I’m sorry if you have endured or are enduring the same. In between being well-taken care of physically, and having presents bought for me and other forms of wonderful but intermittent positive reinforcement, was a toxic diet of this:
This was life modeled for me by my covert narcissist, and what NOT to do in ANY healthy relationship:
0.) They obsess, complain, and worry about every human interaction, no matter how small or insignificant. Dissatisfaction, secrecy, and perseverating is a way of life.
This sets the stage for isolation and lack of a frame of reference.
The other person (you, the covert narcissist's prey) have been made to understand that the world is a dangerous, scary place and no one can be trusted; that you will be judged and rejected, cheated, preyed upon. There is nowhere else to turn.
You always feel like you have be on edge, neurotic, and assume you will be unliked or taken advantage of outside the home or church.
Instructions of one narcissist to another, Screwtape Letters-style: 1.) Start a project, do not get your tools together, and then have the other person be your Step-‘N-Fetch-It while you frazzle them by yelling angrily, barking the same order repeatedly in a row. Do not know where anything is so that they have to run around trying to find it, then get impatient and get it yourself anyway.
Do things the hard way. Use them to do a hard job that a tool (like a dolly or clamp) or a hired person could easily do instead. Call them lazy when they refuse to play the stupid ridiculous game anymore. You are entitled to their free time, not them. 2.) Give conflicting directions. Get angry they aren’t all carried out. Change your mind and cancel the orders. Or, if they started doing what you told them to do, tell them they’re doing it wrong. Bark the orders and interrupt constantly so the person is exhausted and miserable. Make it clear you would have done a better job anyway. 3.) Half-do something so that it looks the same as garbage. Don’t tell anyone. Get upset when someone doesn’t read your mind and disturbs it. (I do this a lot, so I have a blanket policy that only I throw things away or pour things out).
Demand mind-reading, no matter how insane it is. 4.) Always yell across the house. Never do someone the courtesy of walking into the room and asking politely or getting something for yourself.
Call them for no reason, or just to say, “Never mind”.
Call them to tell them to go get something from the room they were in so that they have to make another trip.
Don’t respect their time, energy, or that they were in the middle of something.
Do things for them so that you feel owed this. Don’t realize that people expect to do things for themselves so it doesn’t mean as much when you do little things for them that they didn’t ask for or expected to have to do themselves—they don’t necessarily want to reciprocate by taking care of your business at inconvenient times.
Get impatient a lot. Call them lazy when it is really you are. This puts you in the dominant “You have to obey me” position. 5.) Criticize whatever and whenever someone does something for themselves, or even THINKS about doing something for themselves, that they want to do.
Tell them how they should have told you because you would have done it better. Subtly make them feel incompetent and useless, or at least inferior to your capabilities. 6.) Don’t empathize and try to sense what someone needs—make them feel uncomfortable with lots of intrusive questions before they are ready to open up.
Don’t be understanding about this process, demand they be ready now for you. Say things like, “You can tell me anything. You’re disobeying me and that’s a sin!”.
Think it’s okay to share confidential information, and bring it up during arguments. The more sensitive, the better argument fodder to win with.
Don’t ask before you disturb someone’s things.
Assume you know what’s going on and “clean up” for them, destroying their project or plans. Make them feel nothing and no space is sacred or safe. Barge into the bathroom while they use it. It’s your house, not theirs. They need to know their place. If they buy you a present, make it clear they did it wrong (“Well...I don’t really wear rings”). Never use or wear it. Put it away and never look at it again.
Never help them fix their arts and craft projects, no matter how often they ask or how important it is to them, because it is not important at all.
Constantly criticize and dismiss school projects that they are excited about (“Dioramas are stupid. You should be writing papers.” “Art is unnecessary, anyone can make art. It’s just a busywork class—except in a religious context”).
Quash and guilt-trip their love of creativity on a regular basis (“You want to write a book?! Anyone can write a book! You’re going to be a doctor! I need good healthcare!”).
Pretend you are a monk living in the 1500s: only core academic classes and religion matter. Other interests are frivolous, foolish, wasteful, and take away from what is important. Everything must have utility, there is no such thing as enjoyment for it’s own sake. Find "pagan" messages in everything so you can ban it. NEVER laugh but demand the other person “look more happy”.
7.) Be hypocritical—about everything. Get angry they forgot to take their shoes off after they just had to remind you that you forgot the stovetop burner on. Do everything in a hysterical manner. Act out-of-control, then question the other person's sanity.
8.) Praise your “loved ones” for things you criticized them for not long ago. Tell them you love them, are happy they are there (after you made sure they felt like a burden), and admire them (despite constant criticism).
This is a free and shallow way to make you feel good while making them feel confused, mistrustful, tired, and bring back painful memories (of all of your previous negativity). Don’t realize that your compliments are insults that dredge up trauma so that you can be the good guy and they, of course, are the miserable, ungracious wretch. 9.) Rarely or never go do things the other person wants to do. Always have a great-sounding excuse for this (too expensive, too tired, inconvenient, risky (even when it really isn’t), you “don’t believe in that”, “sickness spell”, etc.).
Have a No Fun For Them policy.
Act appalled they didn’t meet their fun quota by just doing what you want them to do (or by doing nothing).
When you do throw them a bone, make sure to make it clear you are having a miserable time and don’t want to be there: complain, don’t engage, trudge, look miserable, sit on a bench and wait it out, etc. Make it clear this isn’t for you and you wouldn’t do it again.
As an added kick to the face, pull a number 8 and later thank them for the "great time" or compliment them on their choice of activities to confuse and demean them.
If they, unfortunately, do an extracurricular activity, NEVER show up and cheer them on.
Blame it for failures in other areas of life since it takes time away from other things (like studying subjects they hate). Find a way to piss on their excitement, or be a conscientious objector and refuse to condone it.
Have weird rules about what and where you will buy things. Make a $4 internet purchase of something that they really want into something they have to beg for and feel bad about, but $4 of crap they didn’t ask for from a garage sale (MOAR plain baggy t-shirts!) a “great deal” and a “special present”. 10.) Individuality is threatening. Showing a will of their own means they are robbing you of your most important, life-saving medical device: your co-dependent crutch. You disdain their likes and opinions differing from yours.
In fact, they make you sick! How could they be so rebellious and obstinate! You failed in your role.
You let them know this. You guilt them and make them feel dirty for even minor discrepancies between your personalities. Only a defective silly freak would like mid-century modern and music from the 1970s. Vegetarians are unhealthy. Thin people are unhealthy. Bring this up over and over again until they cry. That’s progress, keep at it until they stop the unwanted behavior from sheer misery.
Don’t allow them to experiment with anything because they will fail (incompetent fool), and that will reflect poorly on you. If you had friends, what would they say?! They would shake their heads in embarrassment for you!
You don’t allow your prey to sing spontaneously because “it slows them down when they should be doing something” and “it gets stuck in your head” (your needs are the important needs).
You control everything in subtle and not-subtle ways. You criticize and ridicule. You forbid and punish. And when you aren’t watching, well...God is.
Is it any wonder that dis-ease manifested itself in my body?
All my life I felt miserable. I also felt constantly exhausted, like a deflated balloon. My covert narcissist blamed me, of course: my diet (which actually was truly terrible but that they enabled and even contributed to—going out to eat was literally their expressed substitute for physical activities I actually wanted to do—we had money for the first but somehow never for the second), thyroid problems (blood tests were negative for any abnormalities), my own laziness and obstinacy, sin (sloth), and so on.
Many years later I read a book called The Secret Language of Your Body by: Inna Segal. The entry on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is eerily accurate:
“Resisting life" [I was often so unhappy that I would pray to die].
"Not knowing how to say no" [my covert narcissist would not take no for an answer, or would shame, terrify (non-physically—nothing they could go to jail for), or non-stop harass me into compliance].
"Frustrated about constantly having to do what you don’t want to do" [see above].
"Wishing you were somewhere else" [all the time. Reading and public school was the one escape I was allowed to have].
"Belief that life is heavy and hard, and that you must toil to get anywhere" [this was ceaselessly hammered into me daily].
"Pushing past your limits" [my best was rarely good enough and I was shamed for not being as good as "so-and-so"—contrast-toxicity].
"Feeling stuck" [I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere and didn’t know how to make friends. I had no hope of going anywhere and my Covert Narcissist made it clear they needed me always by their side. I wasn’t even allowed to dream of my future because they had already decided I would be a doctor and I would need to live nearby so I could care for them as their health was “rapidly deteriorating” (psychosomatic, hypochondria, no substantive basis). There was no escape].
"Ignoring your body, intuition, and creativity" [I was constantly ignored or told I was wrong, ungrateful, sinful, inadequate, things were my fault. School grades were important, anything else was not and a foolish waste].
"Thinking someone else is right and has the answers" [my Covert Narcissist left no room for other opinions and...well, see below].
"Giving away your power" [I was trained to believe I had no power. Resistance was futile and resulted in tireless harassment, nagging, criticism, and fear tactics until I backed down].
Can you identify with any of the above?
This is not and was not normal. This was abuse. This was control.
It turns out that each part of your body has a link to your emotional well-being. Sometimes chronic emotional suffering will become physical suffering. Did you know that even each of your teeth individually has a link?
I would get mysterious, inexplicable pains throughout my life. I feel sure now that this is why.
Is it any wonder that I also had horrible, chronic, almost unbearable acne that didn’t go away until I moved out? (Never once was I offered a visit to the dermatologist or medication—instead I deserved it because I had a cat. The cat gave me acne because it was dirty. Any joy I had was manipulated into the cause of my pain).
Here is what Inna Segal writes about acne in The Secret Language of Your Body:
“Feeling uncomfortable in your own skin, insecure, unacceptable, rejected, not good enough, unworthy of love" [in all kinds of ways—never outright but out of “concern” so that I didn’t consciously realize it—but my body did].
"Holding on to self-hatred" [I was taught to hate and have contempt for myself. I was so difficult, so ridiculous].
"Trying to hurt yourself and punish yourself for past mistakes" [Catholicism has a special term for this: atonement. Being sorry is never enough. Atone now, and/or in a terrifying lake of fire. You are never safe].
"Controlling; demanding unrealistic perfection from self" [brainwashed with religious standards of perfection and endless punishment for not meeting them, embarrassment for imperfections (real or contrived), guilted for relaxation or non-academic pursuits].
"Overly sensitive" [I was an emotional self-loathing wreck who never had mature coping behavior modeled to me. Lashing out or withdrawing completely was all I knew—and I was criticized for that too].”
This is what life with a drudgery-obsessed covert narcissist looked like. From the outside, it looked noble. People always praised my covert narcissist when I tried to express how trapped and depressed I was. After all, I was physically treated very well and they knew how to behave in public. Saving money by doing things yourself is good. As an only child, of course the excuse others made was that it was difficult for my covert narcissist to let go.
From the inside it was Hell.
If you wonder why you are always tired and depressed, if you are truly a lazy slothful indolent sinner bound for hell, with mental ideas and viewpoints (normal by outside world standards), and outlandish (again, normal for your peers) requests and wishes for more autonomy and activities...YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
You aren’t alone. You are so enough. You are amazing. You are so strong and beautiful and interesting and capable.
You are healing every day.
Awareness is the first step. I am so proud of you. Leave a comment below.
All My Love,