10 Things Covert Narcissists Want From a Relationship: Navigating the Maze of Emotional Manipulation

Navigating the tricky waters of a relationship with a covert narcissist can feel like deciphering a complex code. You’re not alone in this journey, and I want to shed light on 10 things that these individuals often seek in a relationship. Understanding these dynamics is the first step toward healing and regaining control of your life.

1. Constant Validation: The Craving for Assurance

Ever felt like you were on a loop, validating and reassuring your partner? Covert narcissists yearn for constant acknowledgment of their achievements, abilities, and contributions, even though they may not openly seek attention like grandiose narcissists. It’s like they need a perpetual applause track in the background.

2. Emotional Dependence: The Desire for Constant Support

Covert narcissists may seek emotional dependency, desiring a partner who prioritizes their emotional needs above all else. It’s as if they expect you to be their emotional anchor, available 24/7 to navigate their feelings.  They will often praise you for doing this, hoping that you will feel useful and important, hoping it will make you want to do it even more.

3. Idealization and Mirroring: The Art of Chameleon Connection

These individuals often engage in idealization and mirroring, adapting their interests, values, and personality to match yours. It creates a facade of deep connection and admiration, but beneath it lies a complex web of manipulation.  This mixed with Love Bombing during the initial stages of the relationship can be very effective in convincing the partner that this is “true love” with partners often saying and feeling things like “I’ve never had anyone ‘get me’ as much as he/she does.”

4. Victim Mentality: The Guilt-Inducing Narrative

Covert narcissists can adopt a victim mentality to manipulate your emotions. They want you to feel responsible for their emotional well-being, playing on your sympathy to maintain control.  Especially when they want to direct your attention away from another person or thing they will tell very convincing sob stories in which they are the victim of this other person, so that if that other person were to ever reach out to you, you would already be convinced not to listen to what they have to say.  Be aware if the person you are with seems to be the victim to everyone else in their lives in all the stories they tell.

5. Passive-Aggressive Behavior: Control in Subtle Shades

Rather than direct confrontation, covert narcissists favor passive-aggressive tactics. Expect subtle jabs, sarcasm, or affection withheld as a way to control and punish, all while wearing a mask of innocence.  It may also look like them only bringing up certain topics of conversation when other people are around, conversations you’ve been wanting to have for days or weeks, knowing that you will respond differently if others are there to witness it.

6. Boundary Violations: The Intrusion of Autonomy

Respecting personal boundaries may not be their strong suit. Actions such as invading privacy, manipulating social interactions, or expecting access to personal information disregard your need for autonomy.  They will often start by saying they “forgot” about the boundary you set as if they are an innocent child, and then it usually progresses into them telling you that you are “too sensitive”.

7. Emotional Manipulation through Guilt: Tugging at Heartstrings

Guilt becomes a manipulative tool for covert narcissists. They may make you feel responsible for their unhappiness or use emotional blackmail to get what they want.  It’s especially telling if when you ask them what parts of the situation are their fault or responsibility they are unable to come up with anything that is their fault.

8. Silent Treatment and Withdrawal: The Power of Silence

The silent treatment or withdrawal of affection is their weapon of choice. Leaving you anxious and uncertain reinforces their sense of power and control.  They will intermix the demand for conversation at other times, especially when you have asked not to have a particular conversation.  You never really know what you are going to get from them, but most often it is the silent treatment, sometimes for days at a time, only breaking silence when others are around.  If you point this out to them they will tell you that you are crazy.

9. Triangulation: Stirring the Relationship Pot

Covert narcissists may introduce a third person to create tension or competition. Comparisons and provocations aim to sow seeds of jealousy or insecurity within the relationship.  Sometimes this third person is called a “Flying Monkey” because, like in The Wizard of Oz where the wicked witch has her moneys that do her bidding, the covert narcissist has convinced this third person that what they are saying is true, so this person will confirm what the narcissist has said, even though they don’t have first hand knowledge of the truthfulness of what they are saying, and often are innocent victims to the lies of the narcissist too.

10. Lack of Accountability: Dodging Responsibility

Similar to their overt counterparts, covert narcissists struggle with accountability. Blame-shifting, denial, or downplaying their actions are common tactics to avoid facing consequences.

It’s crucial to remember that covert narcissism operates on a spectrum, and not everyone with these traits exhibits all these behaviors. Each individual is unique in their manipulation tactics.  This blog is meant only as a reference, and is in no way diagnosing anyone or anything.

However, I will say that in my personal opinion, getting a diagnosis is not necessary for healing.  First it is extremely difficult to get a Covert Narcissist diagnosed.  It requires both self disclosure, which the narcissist is usually unwilling to provide at that level of honesty, and it requires participation from their intimate partner who sees these behaviors in action.  Because covert narcissists often display very different behaviors around most people, and only act this way around their partners who bear the brunt of this abuse, it is almost impossible to properly diagnose without the partner’s involvement.

This is why I say that diagnosis is not necessary.  Recognizing the truth of the behaviors you are seeing in your relationship is enough to decide if you are going to continue to put up with them, or if you are going to set new boundaries, and/or possibly end the relationship.  It takes an awareness, not a diagnosis, for YOU to heal.

In the journey of healing, finding a supportive guide can make all the difference. As a certified Life Coach, who has personally been in a marriage, and now divorced a covert narcissist, I’m here to offer understanding, encouragement, and resources to help you navigate through the complexities of narcissistic relationships. Together, we can minimize the negative effects and empower you to make educated decisions about your path forward.

The thing I hear over and over from my clients is what a relief it is to talk to me about these relationships.  They were used to trying to explain things to their friends who had no idea what was going on.  Then they come to me and I can see clearly what is going on, because I have lived it too, and can help them see a clear path forward. You have the option to stay in the relationship, or leave it.  Having someone help you understand what narcissistic abuse is, can be helpful in making your decision.

If you are ready to talk to someone who truly “gets you”, it’s time that you schedule your first coaching call with me.  We will spend 60 minutes talking and coaching.  At the end of the call, if you feel it was helpful, and I feel like you are a good fit for coaching, then we talk about what coaching together further would look like.  I only accept 3 new clients a month, so not everyone is a good fit, but I guarantee that our 60 minute call will be helpful for you, whether we end up continuing to coach together or not.

I’m here to help YOU.  If reading this list of 10 things describes your relationship, even if only 5 or more rings true, I want you to be one of the 3 new clients I will be adding to my coaching practice this month.  You deserve the healing and help that I can give you.  Do yourself a favor, and schedule that first call together HERE NOW!

You are not alone on this journey, and there is hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Before we part ways, I want to extend a heartfelt invitation to join my community. If you’re not already on my email list, I encourage you to click HERE and become a valued member. By doing so, you’ll receive timely notifications when new blog posts go live, offering you a regular dose of positive truths about relationships, insights into navigating betrayal trauma, and strategies for overcoming narcissistic abuse. 

If you know someone struggling with relationship challenges, working to build self-confidence, or seeking guidance to make decisions they can feel good about, be their guiding light. Share this blog with them and invite them to my page. Together, we can empower others to make choices that resonate with their true selves. Because, deep down, I believe each human is their own best expert.

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As you contemplate your next steps, remember that the power to change your life for the better lies within you. If you’re ready for gentle, wise guidance as you face these challenging decisions, don’t let time slip away. Book a session now, and start your journey towards healing and clarity together.

Warmly, Kendra Last, Certified Life Coach

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My name is Kendra Last

I’m a life coach and author of the book Journaling to Recovery: A Reference Guide to Healing from Betrayal Trauma. I have been working in the betrayal recovery world for almost a decade. I’ve been there, and I will help you let go of the pain of the past, help you recognize your own inner beauty and strength, and help you learn to celebrate yourself again.

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