It is not uncommon for narcissists to cheat on their partners. Their need for external validation is so strong that it’s easy for them to become involved with someone outside of their relationship. Covert narcissists present a special case since these narcissists are not as obvious in their mental disorder as grandiose narcissists. It can be harder to spot the indications that a covert narcissist is cheating, but there are several patterns you might notice.
These patterns range from surprise gifts they give for no reason to accusing you of the very thing they are doing, which is called projection. You might also see more subtle indicators in the form of passive-aggressive behavior, and they protest too much about how they would never do such a thing.
It’s important to understand the difference between overt and covert narcissism to truly be able to spot the differences in their behavior. It’s also vital to know more about covert narcissism since it is more difficult to spot these kinds of narcissists and their cheating patterns. Let’s get to it!
What is a Covert Narcissist?
There are two general types of narcissists: overt or grandiose narcissists (also called exhibitionistic narcissists) and covert or vulnerable narcissists. All narcissists have the same problems and the same need for narcissistic supply; they just differ in how they go about getting their needs met.
Narcissism forms when a child fails to fully develop a sense of self. They bury what they see as a flawed true self deep inside and construct a false self in its place. Their false self, however, is not able to internally support the ego, and so, in order to prop up their self-esteem, the narcissist must look to external sources of validation.
This is true of all narcissists, but how they get that external validation differs. Grandiose narcissists are what you typically think of when you think of a narcissist. These are the braggarts, the arrogant people who constantly seek the spotlight. They want attention focused on them, and they seek out the spotlight.
Covert narcissists also want attention and need external validation, but instead of thrusting themselves into the spotlight, they go about getting their needs met using more subtle means. These narcissists may do good works, for example, to get praise for what they have done. They often become obsessive in their charity work, even to the exclusion of caring for their family.
Covert narcissists will also use more passive-aggressive methods of manipulation as opposed to overt narcissists who will create chaos openly. Covert narcissists, on the other hand, are more likely to employ the silent treatment as a manipulative tactic
Covert narcissists will also shut down and withdraw more readily than grandiose narcissists. They may even seem almost smug in their attitude. They want the same things as a grandiose narcissist, but they use different tactics to get it.
Will All Narcissists Cheat?
The short answer is that all narcissists have a propensity to cheat, but of course, every individual is different so it’s not possible to make that kind of blanket statement. Narcissists of all kinds do need that constant adoration and attention that is known as narcissistic supply, and that does make them more susceptible to infidelity.
While it’s not possible to say that all narcissists will cheat, the specific issues associated with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) make them more likely to do that. For one, narcissists lack empathy, and thus, they don’t have the capacity to fully understand how their actions hurt other people.
That makes it easier for them to cheat without feeling guilty. Another characteristic associated with NPD is the propensity to lie. Narcissists use lying as a manipulation tactic, and they frequently lie for no good reason at all. They become polished liars and can easily hide their infidelities. As a diagnosed narcissist, Riley Nichols notes, “As for why we’re good at stuff like this, it’s fun to us. We have years of practice and we are used to lying all the time.”
Another factor that is a problem with NPD is the obsessive need for external validation. That need is coupled with an often paralyzing fear that the narcissist will lose important sources of that external validation. In short, they fear you will leave them and they will lose the supply you give them.
That makes them more likely to cultivate relationships outside of the one they have with you so that they have someone waiting in the wings who can replace you if you should leave them. If you do actually leave them, they will bring their side relationships to the forefront, but they may also cycle back to you in time.
Why Do Narcissists Cheat and Lie?
Narcissists cheat and lie to manipulate and control the people they love. They fear being exposed as the truly bad person they believe themselves to be, and they will do almost anything to avoid confronting that reality. That means getting the people in their life to continuously validate their behavior, and so, they cultivate relationships out of fear they will be exposed, and ultimately, abandoned.
They hide their bad behavior out of a deep-seated fear of abandonment, but it’s not that they don’t want you to catch them because they know they’re doing something wrong. Narcissists are remarkably able to justify all kinds of bad behavior, and they will do the same with infidelity. They feel entitled to whatever they want, and they always have a reason for acting badly.
One woman told me her experience with her narcissistic husband. She had incontrovertible proof that he was cheating, but when she confronted him, he initially denied it. She presented the proof, and then he admitted he had cheated on one occasion.
She pressed him further, and he finally admitted it had been an ongoing relationship for about six months. He said his mistress manipulated him into having the affair, but then he turned to blaming her (his wife) for his infidelity. He told her he did it because some five years earlier, at the beginning of their relationship, she had dinner with an ex-boyfriend.
The narcissist claimed that, in his mind, that dinner was a form of infidelity, and that it had been bothering him ever since. He then claimed that he felt justified in having his affair because of that dinner. To a healthy person, there’s a lot wrong with that logic, but the narcissist doesn’t need it to make sense. They just need something to justify their behavior.
What are the Signs of a Cheating Covert Narcissist?
The signs of a cheating covert narcissist are similar to what you might see with many other kinds of partners. They will lie often about their whereabouts and who they have been with, they will disappear for long stretches of time with no explanation, and you might notice they are spending more money than usual or expected.
You might also notice they are flirting on their social media channels, and if you call them out on that, they will claim there’s nothing to it. It’s just harmless flirting. They will avoid letting you see their phone on the off chance you might see messages they don’t want you to see. You might also notice they don’t seem as interested in a physical relationship with you.
They may cancel plans suddenly, and of course, they will be very vague about where they have been and what they have been doing. If you try to talk to them about this behavior, they will avoid that conversation or they may use some of their favorite manipulation tactics to distract you.
For example, it’s not uncommon for a narcissist to accuse you of cheating when they are actually the one doing the cheating. This is known as projection, and it’s often a successful strategy. You confront them with what you think is evidence they are cheating and you suddenly find yourself defending your own behavior!
It successfully distracts you from the conversation you were having. They might also fly into a narcissistic rage to get you to back off and to distract and discourage you from pursuing this line of inquiry further.
Another thing they will frequently do is shower you with gifts. This may be an expression of their guilt, but they also view it as a way to rationalize what they’re doing.
Should I Leave a Cheating Narcissist?
That’s a difficult question to answer because, ultimately, you have to make the best decision for your life and your situation. You should be aware, however, that the cheating is unlikely to stop. They may end the affair you caught them in, but it’s likely they will do it again in the future.
The narcissist is simply unable to accept responsibility for their actions, and they also don’t have the capacity to fully understand how their actions affect you. Their lack of empathy combined with their constant need for narcissistic supply makes it very likely that they will cheat again.
That is something to seriously consider when thinking about how to respond to this situation. As you already know, the narcissist has no problem lying to you and that is another thing that won’t change. You’ll have to carefully consider if you can accept the likelihood they will cheat again before you make a decision about what to do.
Infidelity is common in narcissists who have a constant need for adoration, attention, and admiration. To get their narcissistic supply, they will lie and manipulate you to gain control over you and your life. They don’t have empathy, so they can’t understand how you feel when they cheat.
This is as true for a covert narcissist as the overt narcissist. The difference between the two is that the covert narcissist may act in less obvious ways to deceive you. That may make it more difficult to catch them, but if you do, you can be certain that they are likely to do it again. It puts you in a difficult place as you struggle to make the best choices for your life.
If you do decide to leave a cheating narcissist, you need to be aware that they will likely come back into your life at some point in time. You’ll want to read this article to get more information about how long it takes a narcissist to come back. It has valuable information about what a relationship with a narcissist is like.
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