I Feel Crazy! What is Happening? I Think my Partner is a Covert Narcissist.
I am a life coach who works with people who have experienced covert narcissistic abuse. I am here to coach the victim/survivor. It is not my job to, nor am I capable of, diagnosing a narcissist, or any other condition. If you are seeking a diagnosis please contact your healthcare provider. If you are looking for emotional support please read on.
I came to the world of Covert Narcissistic (CN) abuse by accident. After my first divorce, I had done a lot of healing and I thought I knew what to look for to avoid another bad marriage. And yet, I married a CN. You can be an incredibly smart individual and get fooled by a CN because their tactics and abuse are so hidden/covert.
Although I entered this world by accident, I now help others from a very conscious place. I am here to provide the help to others that I wish I could have found for myself. Survivors of CN abuse have a hard time coming forward to seek help. They often don’t believe that anyone will believe them, which often ends up being true because family and friends don’t understand. It can even be hard to find a mental health professional who really understands CN. Combine that with the fact that the victim has been gaslit for so long, they feel crazy, making it hard to get help.
A lot of mental health professionals don’t fully understand CN abuse because so much of the nuance of CN behavior can really only be understood through lived experience. I have lived this experience. Growing up, I was nicknamed “the noticer” because I just notice everything. So not only have I lived this, I noticed so many little behaviors and patterns that just seemed a little “off” from the very beginning. After leaving my marriage to the CN I went back to school to become a certified life coach specifically to help others find the support they need, the support I had a hard time finding.
If you believe you are a victim to CN abuse, I want you to know you are NOT crazy, and you are not alone! There is help available. If you have tried to get help in the past, and have not found the right professional, keep looking and don’t give up. There are those of us out here who do understand!
When people talk about narcissistic behavior, or say someone is a narcissist, usually they are referring to someone who is loud, obnoxious, and very overtly thinks they are better than everyone else. That describes an Overt Narcissist (ON). So when looking at a list of characteristics of a narcissist, someone in a relationship with a CN might think “yeah that just doesn’t sound like my partner/parent/friend.” That’s common because CN’s operate day-to-day very differently than an ON.
Covert Narcissists are often the “nicest guy/gal in the room.” Everyone seems to adore them, and no one would suspect the type of abuse they are capable of. That is because they tend to target 1 person. And because they only target that one person, when that person comes forward, no one believes them, because everyone else knows the CN as the nicest, most helpful person they know. That is all a very calculated part of the CN’s act.
The victim can feel incredibly loved by the CN, AND simultaneously the CN can make them feel terrible about themselves. And often the victim doesn’t notice what is happening for years, and by then the damage is great!
I want to talk a little bit about the 3 phases of CN abuse. What I describe is both from my personal experience as well as learning I’ve done on the subject. I highly recommend the book, “The Passive Aggressive Covert Narcissist” by Debbie Mirza, to anyone who thinks CN abuse describes them and their relationship. The 3 phases of CN abuse are Love Bombing, Devaluing, and The Discard.
The first, and honestly most damaging phase of CN abuse is love bombing. This is when the CN is being incredibly nice, doing nice things, giving plenty of compliments, and seems to be listening so well. Often the victim will think they have found their soulmate because the CN appears to be so much like them, into the same things, willing to talk and share and be vulnerable, and is incredibly helpful.
I know I felt that way. I was pleasantly surprised to find someone who was willing to talk about their emotions and be vulnerable the way I wanted to be. We would talk on the phone for hours, and I really thought I had found “the one.” From very early on in our dating, I was thinking I had won the lottery and hit the jackpot.
The reason victims often feel this way is because the CN is a chameleon. They are a master manipulator and mirror their victim. In essence they listen to what the partner is saying and doing, and then say and do those same things. In essence, the CN becomes the victim, and in doing so the CN tricks the victim into thinking they have found the perfect match. This can go on for quite some time.
Although love bombing always happens at the beginning, it usually shows up again and again after periods of devaluing. The narcissist uses this tactic as a calculated effort to “love” the victim just enough to keep them around, but devaluing them enough so the victim believes there is no one else out there who will love them because they are worthless.
Love bombing can also be called “idealization.” Jackson MacKenzie, in their book “Psychopath Free” states the following about the first phase of abuse:. “Although it feels amazing at first, this idealization is actually responsible for most of the damage when the relationship comes crashing down. They set a trap, and it’s a trap no unsuspecting victim could hope to escape from.”
Why is love bombing such a dangerous trap? It’s because the victim believes the CN is a good person. So later in the relationship when the devaluing behaviors start, the victim sees it all through the lens that “the CN is a good person.” Often the victims would never tolerate much of the behavior if it wasn’t for the ground work laid in this first part of the relationship. The CN is a master manipulator, and those who haven’t experienced this kind of abuse will never fully understand it. The victims of CNs are smart, kind, empathetic people. You can be incredibly smart, and still be fooled by a CN.
While ON have a very hard time hiding their narcissistic traits, CN can go on for years before letting their true colors show. Debbie Mirza, in her book, “The Covert Passive Aggressive Narcissist,” says “Covert narcissism is the most insidious form of narcissism because the abuse is so hidden. Most people don’t even realize they are being abused when they are in these relationships. The life inside them is slowly depleted over time as a result of the devaluing tactics by the narcissist. Their self-worth is beaten down. There are no visible scars, but the impact these people have on you is profound.”
This is a phase that happens little by little, over a very long period of time. I have described this part of the abuse as death by 1000 papercuts, or being crushed to death by a pile of feathers. As you try to explain this abuse to your family or friends, they will usually be very confused. Even some well meaning mental health professionals will dismiss these behaviors, and tell you that you are too sensitive or are making this bigger than it really is.
You are not too sensitive: you are highly intuitive, and have been experiencing long term abuse, and you have a right to work with someone who understands you and what you are going through. Every time the CN devalues you, it is like a little papercut that bleeds a few drops of blood. If it happens once, no big deal, you don’t even really need a bandaid. But the problem with these cuts is that they never fully close up and heal, and they keep happening, until one day your entire body is covered by these little cuts. You can’t fix it with a bandaid, and all of the life in you bleeds out from a million tiny cuts.
Victims are given the message (from someone they trust and love) that they have no value, no matter what you do, no matter how kind you are, no matter how much you do for them, you will never be enough for them. This is because at the core, you do not matter to them, period.
For me, these messages came in waves about my parenting. CNs know the things that mean the most to you and prey on your weaknesses. My ex would constantly berate my parenting, and tell me that I was not being “fair” to my stepkids. Because I am an introspective person (as are most victims), I would spend a lot of time thinking about this and evaluating my parenting. I was walking on eggshells around him and my stepkids constantly, and no matter how hard I tried, I could never get it right.
Looking back, now that I’m free from that relationship, one of the things I’m most proud of, was how good of a mom and stepmom I was to our kids. I did an amazing job blending the kids from two families, and they still love each other very much. I can look back and know I did a fantastic job, but in the moment, I was given constant feedback that I was the worst stepmom on the planet. In fact I would often ask him “if I’m so awful, why would you stay with me? Why would you subject your kids to this kind of “abuse” if I really am this bad?! Because if I truly felt this way about the person I was with, I would leave.” The ironic part is that when I was saying these things, I WAS with someone like that, I just couldn’t see it yet, and so I stayed. Thankfully for me, there was a part of me that knew deep down that I was a great mom and stepmom, and when that inner truth finally got loud enough, I was able to leave.
Advice that I give to all my clients is TRUST YOUR GUT! Listen to your body, the part of you that can’t use words to convince you out of your own knowing. Trust this wise inner voice that we often call your gut reaction, trust that part of you above all else, it simply cannot lie to you.
“The love bombing phase is incredibly powerful to the psyche. The devaluing stage is mixed with many loving acts. That’s the incredibly confusing part.” Debbie Mirza, TPACN
Part of the devaluing phase that hits incredibly hard for me is the sabotaging of vacations, birthdays, most holidays, and times or places that are special to the victim. This was probably some of the first big red flags I saw in my relationship, and the scars that are still hardest to fully heal.
The first holiday I experienced married to my CN was Mother’s Day. It’s important to note that this was the first holiday married, because that is when his true CN ways came out. Prior to marriage (when the CN feels like they have finally trapped you and it’s safe for them to really start the abuse) the Love Bombing phase was still happening and holidays were lovely. After marriage and the Love Bombing was mixed with Devaluing, the holidays got worse.
Mothers Day is a day all about me, the mom/stepmom. His kids were with his ex, so it was just me, my children, and him. We went to church, and after church the plan was for him to make a nice meal. Instead he fell asleep on the couch. When it was time to make dinner I went to wake him up and he wouldn’t get up, saying he was just too depressed to get up and do anything. When I asked why he was depressed he said it was because he was so mad that his kids had the mom they did, and he was upset with himself for choosing her all those years ago. When I told him, “yeah, but today isn’t about her, it’s about me. And you can celebrate what a good choice you made in the stepmom for your kids.” He said something about how new choices don’t make old ones better or something and went back to sleep. So I made the family dinner.
He had also bought a Mother’s Day card for me, had it out next to him on the couch, but never wrote in it. It just stayed there on the ground for days. I later moved it to his night stand and asked him if he was going to write in it. He said he was still too depressed about his ex to write in it, but he would later. After about a month of seeing it daily on his night stand I threw it away. He repeated this situation with cards for every holiday, my birthdays, valentines day, anniversaries, everything. He would buy a card, it would be out, and he would never write in it. I finally stopped asking him to, and started throwing them away after a couple days. This was very painful to me because all through out 1.5 years dating I mailed him lots of cards. These types of words of affirmation are important to me and he knew it.
On my birthdays he’d always be upset about something too. If there was ever a day that was to only celebrate me, I could guarantee he would sabotage it in some way. My first birthday married he had a tantrum about an old lawnmower and made us all late to dinner, and was yelling at everyone all day. The lawnmower had sat broken in the garage for years, and he had to work on it on my birthday and be upset and angry at everyone because he couldn’t get it working. We of course had a different, working lawnmower at the time.
Christmases looked a little different, and the devaluing was more covert. Because he stood to gain from me being in a good mood about Christmas, he wouldn’t pull back entirely, but he would tell me that everything I was doing was wrong, not right, not fair, or selfish. So I tried harder, I evaluated everything, I kept lists making sure I wasn’t spending more money on any kid over another, I put even more effort into my stepkids because he was always saying I was favoring my kids over his. Christmas was incredibly exhausting for me, and I got the message loud and clear that no matter what I did, it was never enough.
In a previous blog post I wrote about When the Worst Day Turned into my Saving Grace. I talk about the family vacation that I had planned, worked hard to save up money for with my side business, and how cruel he was to me as we were packing up the car to leave on this epic vacation. We were taking our 6 kids who were living at home for 10 days in Mexico. I was in such a good mood that I felt like nothing could get my mood down. However, with a CN, they are always willing to pull out bigger and bigger emotional abuse, especially when you seem so happy.
As we were loading up the car with all our luggage to head to the airport, he told me I should stay home. Now at this point we were already in-home separated, and things were not good between us. But I was very much looking forward to this trip. Something clicked in me in that moment. It was both incredibly painful, and peacefully clear. I didn’t matter to him, and any time I was truly happy and showed it, he would be extra cruel. I decided in that moment that I was DONE, and I would start to plan my escape.
As many of you probably know, divorcing or leaving a CN can be dangerous and full of more abuse. Stay tuned for next week’s blog post where I will talk about the 3rd stage of CN abuse, The Discard. I’ll also talk about common traits that their targets/victims share, and tips if you are trying to divorce a CN.
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Stay tuned……………………..part 2 of life with a Covert Narcissist will be out next week.
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