Covert narcissism (or any covert, cluster B personality disorder) is very difficult to put your finger on. Many people waste years of their lives with covert narcissists trying to figure out what the heck is going on. Once they discover that it could be covert narcissism, they waste further time questioning if it’s really the case or not.
The reason for this is that many of us do not have clear in our minds what abuse is. We often think of abuse as only being physical and don’t clearly define what emotional abuse is. On top of this, covert narcissists are very good at covering up emotional abuse, denying that they are being emotionally abusive and actually projecting it on to you to the point where you doubt your own instincts and start to believe that it is you who has the problem.
Covert emotional abuse is very real and once you have identified it you must treat it with the same severity as you would physical abuse.
We may not clearly recognize emotional abuse for many reasons. These reasons include not having a strong sense of self, which is common in empaths and highly intelligent self-taught people, growing up to put another person first, being covertly emotionally abused as a child or simply not having your unique abilities nurtured and valued. There are as many reasons as there are people that make us vulnerable to emotional abuse, but all of the reasons have the same result. Having no boundaries or having flexible boundaries and a tendency to put other peoples’ needs first.
Highly intelligent and successful people often fall victim to covert abuse because of flexible boundaries. Flexible boundaries are common in intelligent people who like to keep an open mind and not be judgmental and who often learn and grow by doubting and questioning themselves and the environment around them.
In addition to this, covert abusers are experts at probing, testing and reducing personal boundaries little by little over large periods of time.
Following, I will cover how we develop boundaries and give some examples of techniques used by covert emotional abusers to test and reduce boundaries and examples of emotional abuse.
Boundaries and emotional abuse
Let’s start by looking at what personal boundaries are. Personal boundaries are normally established when we are children. We learn by the examples set around us of what type of behavior is acceptable and just how much we should tolerate in given situations.
Instead of being taught to have very strong personal boundaries, we are often taught that it is better to forgive, to give people the benefit of the doubt, to be understanding, to help others as much as possible and to accept that everyone makes mistakes. These are all valuable and important qualities and should always be employed with other people who share the same values. However, something that we are not taught is the very sad fact that there exists a growing number of people in society who cannot feel love, do not have empathy and use these qualities in other people to their advantage. This of course does not mean that we should not continue to have these human values and qualities, but it does mean that we have to start being taught the importance of personal boundaries in conjunction with these valuable qualities and to realize immediately when these boundaries are being crossed. Putting boundaries in place and not allowing people to cross them is the development of self-respect. This starts by recognizing that your qualities are valuable and are not to be squandered on people who will not value them and then to recognize very early on when you are being abused.
Narcissists, sociopaths, histrionics and psychopaths will, without exception, push people’s boundaries to the limit, break them, extract what they need from the person, then leave them feeling as they have no self-worth and obsessing about the person who did it to them. If they come across a person who has strong boundaries they will either have nothing to do with them, as they cannot extract what they need from them, or they will see it as their greatest challenge and set to work at chipping them away, thus providing them with the buzz of a lifetime when they succeed.
Breaking down a confident, successful person with strong boundaries is the ultimate in narcissistic supply. It is, however, quite hard work and so they will have be working on an easier target simultaneously or on targets who are at different stages of being broken down.
Once a person is completely broken down, they will abuse them until they have nothing left to give or offer, then leave. They will then return when their target has begun to heal and/or has something further to give or something further to break down.
You should not underestimate the danger of having one of these types of disordered person in your life and the damage that they can cause. It is important to recognize them, name them and keep them away from yourself and the people that you love.