If you’ve discovered that you’re a covert narcissist and decided that you would like to change, you have a difficult road ahead. Change is possible, but it often requires long-term therapy and a strong commitment to follow through with making difficult changes in your behavior. There are some things you can do to help yourself make substantial and permanent changes, but it will not be an easy task.
Narcissism has serious consequences for your life. It’s not easy for a narcissist to admit flaws they may have or to change. If you are committed to change, you’ll have to take several steps to identify your triggers and manage your behavior. You’ll have to make conscious choices all along the way.
The first step on the road to change is understanding your condition. You’ll need to know how your specific type of narcissism manifests and how that affects your decision to change your behaviors. Let’s explore the difference between covert and grandiose narcissism and the steps you can take to really change.
What are the Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)?
All types of narcissists have a similar underlying pathology. They all need external validation to prop up their fragile ego. They utilize different ways to get their external validation, and thus, there are some differences in how their behavior manifests.
Despite those differences, the symptoms of narcissism are the same and include the following characteristics:
- You have an unusually high opinion of yourself. This goes beyond simply feeling confident or capable. For example, you might think you’re the most important person in the world or that you know everything there is to know.
- You feel entitled to all the best things in life. This means you feel you deserve the good things in life, and that you shouldn’t need to be grateful for them. You’re entitled to them, no gratitude required.
- You feel everyone should recognize how great you are. You believe this even if you really haven’t done anything that would merit such recognition.
- You exaggerate your abilities and achievements. You brag about things that you know you didn’t really do or that you really can’t do.
- Everything is about you. You find a way to make everything about you, even things that don’t happen to you directly. You always find a way to tie it back to you.
- You feel the need to manipulate the people in your life. This refers to the need to both manipulate them into praising you and to manipulate them so you can feel like you’re powerful and in control.
- You don’t recognize or value the needs of other people. Instead, you think they should be focused on your needs.
If you find that many or all of these symptoms are an accurate reflection of how you think and feel, you are likely a narcissist, but how does that manifest in your behavior?
What is the Difference Between Covert and Grandiose Narcissism?
All narcissists have the same need for external validation, but there are two general categories that describe the differences in how each type goes about getting those needs met. These two categories are grandiose and covert narcissism.
The grandiose narcissist is likely what you think about when you think about a narcissist. This is the loud, brash, braggart who is constantly talking about how great he or she is and how skillful they are. This is the annoying person who steals the spotlight at every turn and makes everything all about them in an open and obvious way.
Much more subtle is the covert narcissist. This is not someone who brags about their skills or accomplishments, and in fact, may put themselves down. They do this, however, so that you will correct them and assure them they are great or skilled or beautiful or whatever the case may be.
The covert narcissist will often do good works for other people, but the problem is they are doing it so that they will be praised for it. They’re not doing those good works because they genuinely care about other people; rather, they want to be recognized for what they have done. They want everyone to praise them for their humanitarianism.
Like the grandiose narcissist, the covert narcissist still feels they are entitled to everything good in life and they think everyone should be focused on them. They are just more subtle in how they manipulate people into recognizing their efforts.
Both types of narcissism are usually caused by the same dysfunctional parenting styles that cause them to bury their true self and construct an unsustainable false self-image. This is at the root of the narcissist’s behavior.
What is the Root Cause of Narcissism?
Narcissism develops as a result of childhood experiences that cause the same trauma to a child’s developing sense of self. The parenting styles that can cause narcissism include emotionally abusive parents or overprotective parents.
These might seem like two vastly different parenting styles, but they share one thing in common. They both result in a child who feels incapable and hopelessly flawed. Emotionally abusive parents tell the child they are flawed. They purposefully tear the child down and leave them full of shame and self-loathing.
Overprotective parents might not tear their child down using words, but because they don’t let them make their own choices in life or even do anything for themselves, the child still comes to feel the same way about themselves. In both cases, the development of the child’s sense of self is arrested.
The child is left with what they see as a flawed true self or ego. They are ashamed of it, and so, they bury it deep inside. In its place, they construct a false self and infuse it with child-like visions of what it means to be powerful and skillful. These are often over-the-top archetypes of omnipotence and omniscience.
The false self, however, is not a functional identity mechanism, and it can’t soothe the child or prop up their self-esteem. For that, the child quickly learns they need the recognition and praise of other people. What’s more, that need is almost constant, and to fill that need, they turn to manipulation and control.
What are the Negative Effects of Being a Narcissist?
The narcissist is well-known for causing negative effects on the lives of others, but they are also suffering. Because of their selfishness, manipulative behaviors, and lack of empathy, they are frequently lonely and isolated.
Narcissists have difficulty maintaining long-lasting relationships, and they find it almost impossible to form the deep, strong bonds that healthy people form with their family and friends. Narcissists fear getting too close because they fear being exposed as a worthless fraud.
Because narcissists frequently manipulate others, claim credit for work they didn’t do, and can’t recognize the contributions of colleagues, they often have problems in their career or school. They can rise to positions of power, but it’s usually because of manipulation and lies. They often step over their coworkers to get to the top, and that doesn’t make for cohesive bonds.
Narcissists also suffer the long-lasting effects of negative emotions. They are quick to anger because they are hypersensitive and hypervigilant for any threats that might expose their true self for the world to ridicule. The stress that results can lead to depression and anxiety.
As narcissism expert Seth Rosenthal states, “What people hypothesize is that narcissists are prone to higher highs and lower lows. They have this constant need to have their greatness verified by the world around them. When reality catches up with them, they may react by becoming depressed.”
That kind of stress can have serious consequences for their health, and it leaves them with a deep-seated sense of insecurity. While they seem overconfident, they are plagued by an almost constant fear that the ugly truth about them will be revealed. This constellation of negative effects can lead to an earlier death in those who suffer with NPD. So how can you help yourself if you’re a covert narcissist?
7 Steps to Stop Being a Covert Narcissist
Here are several steps that can help yourself if you’re a covert narcissist:
1. Consider Therapy
If you believe yourself to be any kind of narcissist and you’re serious about wanting to change, you really need to consider getting professional help. The roots of narcissism run deep into your childhood, and treating the underlying causes of the disorder will take a strong commitment to long-term therapy.
To really engage in effective and long-lasting healing, you need to explore the early experiences that resulted in the formation of your condition. It’s also a good idea to engage in family therapy with your loved ones since they have also been living with the impact of your condition.
It will be difficult and it will require a strong commitment, but if you can seek out professional help, you’ll stand a much better chance for making significant changes and really healing those old wounds.
2. Celebrate Your Decision
Narcissists have a tendency to see the need for therapy as an admission of being flawed or as a weakness, but nothing could be further from the truth. The decision to dive deep into the wounds you survived in your own childhood is one of the bravest and strongest things you can do.
If you’ve recognized that you are not happy with the way you treat other people and you want to change, you should celebrate that decision. You should recognize that you’re embarking on a difficult journey that requires strength, a strong will, and courage. The internal demons you’ll face will be more fearsome than any real-life monster.
Celebrate your courage and celebrate when you make even seemingly minor steps in the right direction. If you’re working on personal growth, you deserve to be recognized for the strength of character it takes to make that decision.
3. You Need to Love Yourself
It might be surprising to hear this given the story you’ve told yourself and others most, if not all, of your life, but you need to learn how to love yourself. While you may tell others you’re all-powerful and a great person, if you really think about how you feel inside, you’ll likely see that you’re riddled with fear, shame, and self-loathing.
You don’t deserve that, and you never did. Those feelings arose in childhood because of specific conditions that prevented you from developing a healthy sense of self. What you constructed in a healthy ego’s place is nothing more than a ghost. You need to dig up your true self, give that little you inside the support, faith, and love you deserved as a child and revive your ego.
This is how you should have been treated as a child. Every child deserves to have someone who believes in them and who sees how wonderful they are. Many people don’t get that, but you can give that to yourself now. You can take that wounded child into your heart and give them the love they have always deserved. Until you do, you cannot truly heal and you cannot truly love other people.
4. Understand Your Triggers
All narcissists have triggers. These are the situations, words, or actions that trigger your narcissistic behavior, your need for your narcissistic supply of adulation. Begin by noticing what has happened when you feel a sudden surge of anger or a need to react strongly.
Who is there? What was said? Did someone do something? Carry a notebook with you for a week and write down the specifics about every situation that triggers you. Include also how you felt. What was it that made you feel so angry? What did you perceive the other person was doing or the situation was revealing about you?
When you start to recognize your triggers, you can begin to examine the roots of how they formed. That’s an important step to healing those old wounds and giving yourself the love you deserve.
5. Check Your Reactions
Another important step is learning how to manage those impulsive reactions you have when you feel triggered. Most of the time, narcissists react without thinking about what they are doing or the consequences of their actions.
Try to pause before you react. You might make a note to count to ten every time you feel a surge of anger or other strong emotions. Once you know what triggers you, you can recognize what’s causing your feelings, and now, you can begin to check your reactions and choose different behaviors.
Creating a space between the stimulus (the trigger) and the response can give you the opportunity to choose a new behavior that over time will become your new habit. Habits are formed when you repeatedly and consciously act instead of emotionally reacting. These new habits can be better and less narcissistic than your usual tendencies.
6. Choose and Use Empathy
Empathy is not an ability that narcissists have, but you can develop it. It’s critical for reducing the normal behavior of a narcissist. This will be perhaps the most difficult step to take, but if you can do it, you will be on your way to improving your behavior and to genuine change.
To do this, you have to make a habit out of responding with empathy. Begin by listening to other people and really thinking about their needs and perceptions. Think about how you approach them. Be careful not to intrude into their space or take up their time without their permission. You start by consciously thinking about other people and then it becomes a habit.
You can also start to train yourself to react differently when you’re triggered. You can start by writing down reactions that incorporate empathy. How would it make you feel if someone reacted to you in a narcissistic way? How do you feel when criticized? Other people feel the same way.
Now think about how you would rather be treated? That can be a guide to how you should react to them. Empathy is not about reading the mind of other people, it’s really all about how you would like to be treated. You don’t want people to criticize you or make you feel worthless, so don’t treat them that way either.
The most important thing here is instituting that pause before you react so that you can really think about the best way to react and begin responding with more empathetic behaviors. This will be difficult and even strange at first, but if you keep doing it every time you feel triggered, this will become a habit for you. You will have successfully created a new behavior pattern.
7. Take Responsibility
The final step is to acknowledge that you, and only you, are responsible for your actions. No one made you react the way you did, you chose to behave that way. You have to accept this to really make the changes you need to make to really heal yourself.
To take responsibility is not to admit that you are weak or flawed. It simply means acknowledging that you have control over your own behavior and you can choose to behave differently. This is a good step toward creating long-lasting change.
When you do these things, you’ll start to notice that other people are responding in a positive way toward the new you. The attention you have sought for your entire life through manipulation and control will now come to you because you are becoming a responsible, empathetic person. You can let go of those narcissistic tendencies forever and welcome that damaged child home.
Changing is difficult for anyone to do. It means accepting responsibility for your actions and making a conscious effort to confront the reasons for your negative behaviors. For narcissists, the problem is compounded by the fact that they have difficulty accepting even the slightest criticism for fear their flawed true self will be exposed and they will be abandoned by all around them.
To implement long-lasting and effective changes in your covert narcissism, you need to have courage, you need to cultivate self-love, and you need to become aware of how your behaviors affect other people. It will be worth your while in the end because it will bring you the adulation you’ve desired all your life.
It’s critical to understand how important it is to change. Aside from the positive effects it will have in your relations with other people, it will also increase your longevity. You need to read this post about how narcissism affects your life expectancy. It will give you insight into just how devastating the negative impacts of narcissism can be for your health.
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