Tag Archives: pathological envy

3 Sneaky Techniques Covert Narcissists Use to Disarm and Demean You

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We’re all familiar with loud, bold, and overly confident overt narcissists. These types of narcissists are visibly grandiose, aggressively posturing their superiority for all to see. They may be vain and somatic, overly focused on their appearance, or they may be on the more cerebral end, contemptuously putting down anyone and everyone who threatens their so-called intellectual superiority.

Fortunately, overt narcissists are usually easy to spot and hopefully easier to avoid investing in. Covert narcissists, on the other hand, present new challenges; they can appear meek, innocent, charitable, even humble at first glance. They can be disarmingly seductive, even loving, personable and gracious.

Yet beneath their quieter nature and seemingly sensitive façade lurks a contempt and sense of entitlement that is ultimately even more harmful simply because it is so startling and traumatizing to the victims who bear witness to it. Their tactics work to diminish, demean and sabotage their victims behind the scenes – which is why their manipulation and exploitation can leave their loved ones blindsided and reeling from the unexpected psychological violence they subject them to. Here are three manipulation techniques that covert narcissists use and tips on how to stay grounded if you encounter one:

1. Mixed put-downs, double meanings and coded language.

A mixed put-down occurs when a covert narcissist is threatened by someone else’s intelligence, accomplishments, status, appearance or any other resources he or she may covet. It involves throwing the victim off the pedestal while also offering potential for getting back on it. In order to put their victims down while still evading accountability, the covert narcissist will first provide a sweet compliment, followed by a backhanded “slap” of sorts (ex. “Wow Mary, you’ve really lost weight! Too bad about the sagging skin, huh?”).

This can also occur vice versa – the narcissist may first attack with an overly critical stance, only to seemingly ‘soften’ the blow with a crumb of a compliment to create confusion in the victim (ex. “You do know you’re completely wrong about that, right? Well, you’re hardworking, at least, I’ll give you that.”). This will allow their put-down to appear more like a legitimate critique rather than an excuse to tear you down unnecessarily. It “trains” and conditions the victim over time to seek the narcissist’s approval and validation.

Covert narcissists can even get creative and send a mixed message by contradicting their seemingly innocuous words with a devious undercurrent. For example, this may include giving you a compliment with a condescending tone of voice, relaying a humorous “joke” at your expense with a contemptuous look, using a startling gesture or provocative facial expression or saying something that can easily have two meanings (one innocent, and the other, abusive). Of course, they will do everything possible to convince you that they never “meant” to communicate the more malicious meaning, but the underlying undercurrent of something deeper is always present in such an interaction.

They may also engage in what I like to call “coded” language. This can involve putting you down in front of others by poking fun at something they know you’re sensitive about, but others may not realize is a vulnerability of yours. Much like an inside joke, the knowledge of how this comment affects you is shared between you both, but unlike an inside joke, it is meant to undermine you rather than build rapport. It also serves to evoke reactions in you that may seem excessive to any outsider looking in. This is a way for them to get away with their abusive behavior and provoke the victim to react in public. They then use their victim’s reactions to prove the victim’s “instability” while casting themselves as the innocent party.

To understand why covert narcissists employ these methods, remember that their ability to prey upon a victim’s uncertainty allows them to create a sophisticated “Gaslighting Effect.” In her article, “Effects of Gaslighting in Narcissistic Victim Syndrome,”psychotherapist Christine Louis de Canonville describes how this effect is amplified over time:

“The gaslighting, as a harassment technique, starts with a series of subtle mind games that intentionally preys on the gaslightee’s limited ability to tolerate ambiguity or uncertainty. This is done in order to undercut the victim’s trust in their own reality and sense of self. Even when the victim is bewildered and left wondering, “What just happened there?”, there is reluctance to see the gaslighter for what they are…it is this denial that is the cornerstone of the gaslighting relationship.”

Essentially, the victim reduces his or her own cognitive dissonance and confusion by choosing to “believe” in the abuser’s version of events. Slowly but surely, these covert put-downs, coded messages and ambiguous comments become integrated into a warped reality that the covert manipulator creates for his or her victim. 

Tip: When encountering a put-down like this, avoid reacting to the narcissist’s hypercriticism as much as possible. Instead, validate your own accomplishments and leave the conversation as soon as possible. The more emotionally reactive you are to a put-down, the more likely the covert narcissist will store that information and use the same exact tactic again in order to provoke you. If you react to their hurtful tactics and coded language in public, rest assured they will use your reactions as “proof” that you are somehow unstable. Keep your cool in public whenever possible and if possible, address it to them in private (though, it is likely they will never own up to it) if you have to.

If you are feeling baffled as to whether or not you’ve experienced a covert put-down, compare the way the narcissist has reacted to your success to the way other, healthier people in your life have. Chances are, the healthy people in your life congratulated and celebrated you in whatever arena the narcissist is currently putting you down in. This is a sign that the narcissist’s criticism stems not from helpfulness, but rather from their pathological envy.

2. The great diversion.

The covert narcissist does whatever is possible to distract you from the fact that they are putting you down in the first place. That means that they will create all sorts of diversions to get you from staying grounded in your own sense of what has just happened. This serves to disguise their malicious intent to gain control and power over you by keeping you in a state of perpetually walking on eggshells. Instead of focusing on holding them accountable for their behavior, they get you to refocus on your own behavior, personality, or fabricated flaws.

One second, they may be making a harsh, cruel comment about your body, and the next second, they’re being disarmingly sweet and complimentary about how slender you are, as well as how you “read too deeply into things” when you express your confusion about the sudden “switch.” Another minute, they’re planning a romantic evening out with you, and the next, they’re blaming you for expecting that of them in the first place – even if it was their idea to treat you in the first place. By intermittently switching from pain to pleasure, from dissatisfaction to loving admiration, they are able to hide the fact that they’re constantly shifting blame onto you.

This is how they “divert” from the fact that they’re putting you down and setting you up for failure by constantly shifting the goal posts. It is also how they change the subject rapidly when they are confronted on their shady behavior. Phrases such as, “I am not going to argue with you,” or “This isn’t worth pursuing” is common when they are called out on their insidious tactics.  No matter what you do or don’t do, the narcissist will rarely be satisfied and you will never be satisfied by their inability to ever take responsibility.

Tip: Stay true to what you experienced and observe the long-term patterns of behavior rather than what the narcissist claims to be doing or not doing. A narcissist’s longer-term predatory behavior will tell you far more than their contradictory words ever will. When a narcissist tries to “divert” you from the main topic by pointing out something irrelevant you did or said, or tries to stonewall you by ending the conversation even before it’s had a chance to begin, repeat the facts, stay focused on the issue and end the interaction without giving into their gaslighting attempts.

3. Tunnel vision minimization.

This is when the narcissist develops “tunnel vision” by hyperfocusing on something irrelevant or unrelated to minimize something you’ve accomplished, are proud of or something they know is considered an asset of yours. If you’ve graduated with a Master’s, the covert narcissist might start demanding to know when you plan to get your Ph.D; if you recently signed the lease on your dream apartment, they might change the subject to something in your neighborhood that seems unsavory or mundane. To a narcissist, there is always a way to get under your skin and inside of your head.

The presence of minimization can usually help you identify who the narcissist is in a group setting; while others are congratulating you on a job well done, the narcissist is often lurking in the corner, sulking and ready to burst your bubble like a needle to a balloon with a backhanded compliment, excessive critique or a “helpful” obnoxious reminder of something they perceive you’re lacking.

Remember: when a covert narcissist causes you to feel insecure, uncertain and unbalanced, it is often because they don’t want to deal with their own emotional issues and the fact that they may not be as special or unique as they desperately want to believe. This is what narcissism expert Dr. Craig Malkin (2015) calls playing “emotional hot potato,” where the narcissist continually passes off any unwanted feelings onto their victims. Minimization and projection act as self-serving tactics for the narcissist to avoid the discrepancy between the grandiose, false self and the true self.

Tip: Resist the minimization and maximize your self-validation. Instead of focusing on the narcissist’s envious attempts to minimize you, refocus on the people who are celebrating you. Realize that in the narcissist’s minimization is a secret confession of their own sense of ineptitude and entitlement; they want to be exactly where you are and have what you have but they know they never will. You really are that threatening to their false sense of superiority.

Most importantly, celebrate yourself. Self-validation and self-love are two of the most powerful tools you can have when conquering the sabotage of a covert narcissist.

References

De Canonville, C. L. (2016, October). The effects of gaslighting in Narcissistic Victim Syndrome. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from http://www.narcissisticbehavior.net/the-effects-of-gaslighting-in-narcissistic-victim-syndrome/

De Canonville, C. L. (2016, September). Revealing the two faces of narcissism: Overt and covert narcissism. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from http://www.narcissisticbehavior.net/revealing-the-two-faces-of-narcissism-overt-and-covert-narcissism/

Hammond, C. (2016, September 06). How to Identify a Covert Narcissist. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from http://www.pro.psychcentral.com/exhausted-woman/2016/09/how-to-identify-a-covert-narcissist/

Malkin, C. (2015, November). Rethinking Narcissism (Episode 4) [Audio blog post]. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from http://www.drcraigmalkin.com/podcast/DCM-Podcast-Episode-4.pdf

Photograph by Sergey Nivens. Standard License via Shutterstock.

This article originally appeared on Psych Central as 3 Sneaky Techniques Covert Narcissists Use to Disarm and Demean You on July 17, 2017.

Copyright © 2017 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. No part of this entry may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author. This includes adaptations in all forms of media.

Get my #1 Amazon Bestselling Book, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare.how-to-devalue-and-discard-the-narcissist-r2-ebook-cover-3

About Shahida Arabi, Bestselling Author

Shahida Arabi is a summa cum laude graduate of Columbia University graduate school, where she studied the effects of bullying across the life-course trajectory. She is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of three books, including Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself, featured as a #1 Amazon Bestseller in three categories and as a #1 Amazon bestseller in personality disorders for twelve consecutive months after its release. Her most recent bookPOWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse, was also featured as a #1 Amazon best seller in Applied Psychology.

She is the founder of the popular blog for abuse survivors, Self-Care Haven, which has millions of views from all over the world. Her work has been shared and endorsed by numerous clinicians, mental health advocates, mental health professionals and bestselling authors. For her undergraduate education, Shahida graduated summa cum laude from NYU where she studied English Literature and Psychology. She is passionate about using her knowledge base in psychology, sociology, gender studies and mental health to help survivors empower themselves after emotional abuse and trauma. Her writing has been featured on The National Domestic Violence Hotline, The Huffington Post, MOGUL, The Meadows, Thought Catalog and Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Monica O’Neal’s website.

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The Narcissist’s Pathological Envy Represents How Powerful You Really Are

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Credit: mysticlight via Shutterstock

Abusers manipulate victims because they enjoy the feelings
of power and control, not because victims themselves lack
merits. In fact, narcissistic abusers feel particular joy at bringing
down anyone whose accomplishments and traits they
envy to reinforce their false sense of superiority.

Shahida Arabi, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare

By Shahida Arabi

Out of all of the manipulative tactics and forms of coercion and control a malignant narcissistic abuser subjects us to, the pathological envy of a narcissist is one of the most baffling and devastating experiences of the narcissistic abuse experience. We often cannot fathom that a loved one, whether a friend, a family member or significant other, would ever want to sabotage our success, undermine our joy or belittle our accomplishments. Yet this horrifying aspect of a narcissist’s diagnostic criteria is even noted in the DSM-5, which states that not only are narcissists envious of others, they believe others to be envious of them.

A narcissist’s pathological envy arises from their need to be the best, their excessive sense of entitlement to being the center of attention at all times, with the most fame, wealth, and status. Any threat to their grandiose delusions of grandeur will result in a narcissistic injury, and inevitably, narcissistic rage. This is why narcissists tend to be pompous critics, usually incapable of the same efforts they criticize in others. The success of others evokes their pathological envy, reminding them of what they lack and could never achieve themselves. As a result, they will do anything and everything possible to minimize the accomplishments of those who threaten their false sense of grandiosity and superiority.

Initially, narcissists and otherwise toxic people may claim to be very happy for your success; during the idealization and love-bombing phases of the relationship, they may even excessively congratulate, praise and flatter you. They may use you as a “trophy” to show off to others, gaining status and prestige from simply being associated with you. They have no problem in benefiting from your wealth, your reputation and your various assets. As the relationship moves forward, however, their need to devalue their victims kicks in and their pathological envy and competitiveness becomes more and more apparent. What was once a subtle look of contempt at the sight of your success soon becomes hour-long arguments bashing every aspect of your identity, your dreams, your goals, and any source of joy outside of the realm of the narcissist’s control.

What many people don’t realize is that narcissists don’t just gravitate towards us because of our vulnerabilities; they are also attracted to our assets – and  not only because they can exploit those assets for narcissistic supply. Anything you achieve or gain joy from stirs this envy within them and in inexplicable need to win or one-up you at all costs. It also represents a threat to their control over you – after all, if you are gaining happiness and validation from somewhere outside of the narcissist, this means you don’t need them. This strengthens their desire to destroy us and our success in every way possible – so that they can isolate us from other sources of validation while demeaning the very core of who we are.

The starry-eyed admiration followed by anger and envy is a classic case of the type of crazymaking you’re likely to encounter in a narcissist once in the devaluation and discard phases of the relationships. Whatever happiness they seem to project in the idealization stage is merely a facade for the deep contempt they feel for anyone they feel threatened by.

Signs of Pathological Envy in a Malignant Narcissist Include:

  • Praises you highly for your accomplishments initially; uses your accomplishments as a way to associate themselves with you and look good. Likes feeling as if they have the “successful girlfriend” or boyfriend – while simultaneously resenting you for it.
  • Competes with you often; if you bring up what you achieved, they have to bring up something bigger or downgrade what you’ve achieved to make you feel small. Nothing you do is truly special or “impressive” – or, it’s really, really special until the narcissist gets tired of praising you and wants to cut you down a thousand pegs or so.
  • Highly competitive in recreational games, sports and other activities; they will be a sore loser and resort to immature actions to “win” or insult your ability.
  • Will accuse you of being arrogant should you happen to share your happiness or present a healthy confidence in your abilities. They are in fact projecting their own sense of arrogance onto you.
  • Isolates you from friends or family members who are likely to support you, by turning them against you or by smearing your name to them. They will emphasize the idea that people are against you (projecting the fact that it’s them that is against you).
  • Behind closed doors (or sometimes even out in the open), devalues and minimizes the things they once praised, making them seem unimportant and lacking because they know they would’ve never been able to accomplish those things themselves. They will suggest that your contribution to the world isn’t valuable or degrade/ignore accomplishments that are in fact a big deal, all with an innocent or smug look on their face.
  • Sabotages important events in your life such as big interviews, projects, deadlines using methods like put-downs, crazymaking arguments that lead to sleep deprivation, pressuring you to spend time with them right beforehand, insulting you, covertly casting doubt onto your abilities and talents, one-upping you and making themselves seem more important, accomplished and talented to stroke their sense of superiority.
  • Treats your goals, dreams and interests with contempt or a condescending attitude, all while bringing the conversation back to them.

It is also helpful to keep in mind that a narcissist will often deny they are envious, though their actions clearly say otherwise. They strive very hard to hide their own envy not just from their victims but from themselves, to the point of delusion. Their false sense of superiority and haughty contempt often accompanies their put-downs, subtle digs, minimizing statements and demeaning insults – all of which serve to belittle the victim and make the victim ashamed of succeeding, of feeling joy, of creating new connections, of flourishing – of thriving and owning their power to create a beautiful life.

To resist internalizing the verbal garbage a narcissist may spew at you out of their envy, remember the following: if someone expresses rage and contempt towards you for daring to be proud of yourself (with a healthy level of pride, of course) or loving yourself, your life, and your accomplishments, the problem is not you. It is them.

HOW TO COPE WITH THE ATTACKS OF A GREEN-EYED NARCISSIST

Survivors may struggle with self-sabotage after experiencing a narcissist’s abusive bouts of envy, rage and verbal attacks. They may begin to fear speaking about their accomplishments or their happiness, lest they evoke their narcissist’s wrath. The cutting words of the narcissistic abuser may reverberate in their minds long after the relationship has ended, instilling in them a sense of pervasive self-doubt and worthlessness. Walking on eggshells and disowning your power, however, is no way to live. Survivors have to regain the certainty that the reason they experienced such a pathological reaction was because they were so powerful in the first place.

As I describe in my new book, POWER, it is essential that survivors develop a “toxic people phrases filter” – one in which anything a toxic person says is “translated into what it actually means. For example, a narcissist’s degradation of the victim’s goals and dreams can be translated and seen for what it truly is: a sign that the narcissist is attempting to sabotage them, because they recognize what the victim has (whether it be financial assets, talent, a support network, etc.) is valuable. This is how survivors can begin to turn put-downs into power.

Remember: normal, healthy people do not sustain a narcissistic injury or lash out in narcissistic rage when they see other people succeeding and doing well for themselves. Healthy people have enough security and empathy to feel happiness for others, and to witness someone else beaming with authentic pride and self-love – without wanting to destroy it or sabotage it in some way.

You deserve to succeed. You deserve to flourish. You deserve to be abundant. You deserve the support of others who are happy for you and share in your joy. Do not let any green-eyed narcissist rain on your parade, trample over your boundaries and make you feel less than because they sense you are rising above and beyond what they ever could. You owe it to yourself to be powerful and victorious.

See the narcissist’s pathological envy for what it really is: a measure of how powerful you really are and have the potential to become.

Copyright © 2016 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. This article is derived from copyrighted excerpts from Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying YourselfNo part of this entry may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author. This includes adaptations in all forms of media.


Interested in learning more about narcissistic abuse? Order my #1 Amazon bestselling book on narcissistic abuse, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself.

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About the Author

Shahida Arabi is a graduate of Columbia University graduate school where she studied the effects of bullying across the life-course trajectory. She is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care and  Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue, and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself, featured as a #1 Amazon Bestseller in three categories and in personality disorders for six consecutive months after its release. She studied Psychology and English Literature as an undergraduate at NYU, where she graduated summa cum laude. Her interests include psychology, sociology, education, gender studies and mental health advocacy. Her writing has been featured on The Huffington Post, MOGUL, Thought Catalog, and Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Monica O’Neal’s website. Her blog, Self-Care Haven, has had millions of views from all over the world and her work has been shared by numerous mental health professionals, award-winning bloggers and bestselling authors.