The Silent Manipulator: 11 Covert Narcissist Behaviors To Look Out For


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Toxic Covert Narcissist Behaviors Examples To Look For

Ever felt like someone’s kindness was a bit too calculated? Take a look at the 11 covert narcissist behavior examples that might be hiding beneath seemingly innocent actions.

Someone commented on one of my videos a while back, saying that she learned about covert narcissism by literally Googling the term crazymaking behavior. That sounded like a perfect description of what it’s like to be with a covert narcissist.

That comment also made me incredibly grateful that there are so many resources available on this topic today that someone could Google crazy-making behavior and discover that they’re in a relationship with a covert narcissist.

I hope you’re ready to hear about the eleven crazy-making behaviors that are incredibly common with the covert narcissist because that’s exactly what we’re going to cover.

A disclaimer:

You’ll find many of these bizarre behaviors in other types of narcissists and emotionally abusive people. However, there are some in here that are specific to the covert narcissist. There’s something for everyone here. And if you’ve ever been with a covert narcissist, you’ll probably be able to relate to all of these outlandish behaviors.

Related: Covert Narcissist Behavior: 12 Identifying Traits

The Passive Aggressive Narcissist: 11 Covert Narcissist Behavior Examples

1. Word Salad.

The first insane behavior of a covert narcissist on this list is the word salad.

I know you know how infuriating this is.

Narcissistic word salad is one of the most bizarre behaviors because it makes you feel dumb as if you can’t even follow a conversation. But the truth is that this isn’t a normal conversation. Far from it!

When you’re having a conversation, a discussion, an argument, or a disagreement with a covert narcissist, or any other type of narcissist (most narcissists will use this technique) you’re likely to lose track of what you’re talking about because the other person starts spewing nonsense.

They’re bringing up things that have nothing to do with the topic. Any rational person would recognize this.

But logic does not apply to narcissists. As a result, you’re left scratching your head, wondering what’s going on. Why is this conversation, which should be so simple, driving me insane?

Covert narcissist

2. Gaslighting.

I have a whole video dedicated to this. Gaslighting eventually leads to the realization that this person has a very selective grasp on reality.

Regardless of what they’ve done or how they’ve treated you, they’ll turn things around and make it appear as if you’re the one who is. You think maybe you’re the abuser, or they’ll just make you look or feel crazy for bringing this thing up.

You may even have hard evidence that this person lied to you. Or perhaps they called you out in front of many people and said things you didn’t like.

So you have witnesses and hard evidence that this person did the things you claim they did, but they simply deny it. They are attempting to persuade you to doubt your perception of reality.

Before you realize whom you’re dealing with and what type of personality you’re dealing with, you may have assumed that this person was otherwise logical. When someone you respect begins to question your sanity or causes you to question your sanity, it can have a considerable impact on you.

Gaslighting is extremely dangerous.

Related: Covert Narcissist Behavior Examples: 7 Phrases Used By Covert Narcissists That Reveal Who They Are

3. The Circular Argument.

This is related to the first two (word salad and gaslighting). And if you’re anything like me, you’ve had your fill of arguing with narcissists and would probably rather have a root canal. Seriously.

These are the kinds of conversations they will have if you let them. These are discussions that will never come to an ending point.

The narcissist will use the word salad, as well as various confusion and gaslighting techniques to keep the conversation running in circles. Honestly, they’ll use whatever they can get their hands on. They’ll go around in circles to avoid admitting they’re wrong about something. And it could be the silliest of things.

They’ll go around in circles until you’re sick of hearing about it and just let it go.

4. A Different Public Persona.

Others believe the narcissist is something they’re not. The outside world may believe that they are shy or insecure and that they would never hurt anyone but, behind closed doors, they are verbally or emotionally tearing you down. You realize that, while the abuse may be subtle and covert, it affects your sense of self-worth and self-esteem throughout your relationship with this person.

If you try to explain this to anyone else, they look at you as if there’s something wrong with you. They would never believe that this person would do anything to harm you.

5. Your Perception Of The Narcissist.

When you meet this person, they appear to be harmless. They appear to be completely safe.

Maybe you’ve had a relationship with someone more of an overt narcissist, or maybe people in your family who have been very overt narcissists, and you meet this person and think, well, they’re the polar opposite of that.

They’re not abusive. This person would never hurt me on purpose.

The covert narcissist may even appear to be a little self-deprecating at times. Even if they can talk about themselves however they want, bringing up something they did wrong is when you’ll see the narcissism shine through, and you’ll also see it in how they treat you daily, as if you’re not worthy, you’re not good enough.

Because their outward personas are so different, you’ll see it come and go in this relationship. Because that outward persona is so different from the abuser you’ve come to know over time, it makes you question yourself and your ability to determine whether someone is safe or not.

Related: What Is A Covert Narcissist? Covert Narcissist Traits

6. The Faux Apology

I have an entire video dedicated to the faux apology. The faux-pology can drive you insane because you believe it. You have faith in it. But what they mean when they say “I’m sorry” is “I’m sorry that I’m not getting what I want.”

They use an apology almost as a weapon against you, but you believe they’re sincere, and then they go ahead and repeat the same behavior.

It’s usually abusive behavior, and you feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall every time you have to bring it up because you’ve talked about it so many times. And maybe they’ve even apologized for it a million times before.

But narcissists don’t like to give apologies unless they’re going to get something out of it (and sometimes even then, they resist). So maybe the outright apology is lacking. Maybe they danced around the subject, appearing as if they apologized, but they didn’t.

In any case, you believe they were sorry. You believe they recognized and apologized for their bad behavior. Yet here they are, doing the same thing over and over.

Covert narcissist

7. Actions And Words Are Never Aligned.

In the love-bombing phase, they may tell you all kinds of things.

Their words will tell you, yes, but their actions will tell you no. Over time, you see that their actions are not lining up. In these abusive relationships, it does get very deep. They all will say “I love you,” but they won’t act as they love you.

Maybe they’ll end up cheating on you or lying to you or hiding stuff from you. Their actions and their words on every level are not aligned.

When you get into these relationships, when the trauma bond starts to take hold, it becomes very difficult to apply your logic to what’s going on. You start believing their words more than their actions. When really, it should be the other way around.

8. Avoidance.

So avoidance is yet another crazymaking behavior that often appears in those circular arguments. You ask a very direct question, and the narcissist answers with something that almost appears to be an answer but it’s not an answer at all. Essentially, they go to great lengths to avoid answering your question.


Where were you after work yesterday?

Answer: Where do you think I was after work yesterday?

Why are you questioning where I was after work yesterday?

What do you think? I went to the bar?

Isn’t it possible that I just worked late?

And why do you assume that I went somewhere after work yesterday? Maybe I just worked late.

This type of avoidance can make you crazy. Once you get used to it, you start seeing it so much in these conversations. Whenever you ask a narcissist a question they want to avoid, you can very quickly end up in a circular argument because you recognize they’re not answering your question.

You kind of take the bait and you keep pushing to get an answer, but you don’t get an answer. You get circular talk that just ends up making you crazy.

Related: Covert Narcissist Signs: 6 Covert Tactics Manipulators Use To Control And Confuse You

9. Shift Responses.

This one is a little more general, but narcissists love it.

You’re at work and overhear someone you thought was a friend saying something inappropriate about you behind your back, perhaps sharing something you shared with them in confidence or something else that made you feel uncomfortable.

You get home and tell the narcissist in your life what happened. Then, suddenly, they’ve shifted the subject back to themselves.

They’re describing something that happened maybe five years ago in great detail. It has nothing to do with your day or your emotions, but they’re simply redirecting the conversation back to them.

This kind of thing can drive you insane because we expect a little help from the people in our lives. We anticipate that if something unfortunate occurs, we will be able to discuss it with someone close to us. However, if that person is a narcissist, you won’t be able to talk for long before they redirect the conversation back to themselves.

10. They Make You Doubt Your Self-Worth.

This is a common symptom of an emotionally abusive relationship.

What I’m talking about here is how we can adopt some characteristics of a narcissist.

I can tell you from personal experience that I’ve been there. I’ve been in that place where I feel so low that when I talk to other people, especially people in this abusive person’s life, his friends, and his family, I feel like I have something to prove. In these conversations, I’d say something that sounded very narcissistic. Then I’d hate myself for saying it.

Oh, that sounded awful. Why did that come out?

How did that even come out of my mouth?

We pick up these narcissistic traits in our relationships with narcissists. However, one of those reasons could be that this person has essentially attacked your sense of self-worth and self-esteem. As a result, you feel like you’re starting from scratch.

You’re coming from a place of deficit, and you feel like you have to prove something, build yourself up, and you may act narcissistically. This is a frequently asked question for me.

And fortunately, in your adult life, a narcissist can’t pull you down to their level (unless you were already a narcissist). And if you’re questioning whether you are a narcissist, I have a video on it that might help you kind of work through those things.

11. Cognitive Dissonance

The final crazy-making behavior of the covert narcissist on this list is the cognitive dissonance you experience in that relationship. Cognitive dissonance is something that occurs within you.

To understand cognitive dissonance in this context, let’s look at an example.

When someone engages in crazy-making behaviors, you know they’re driving you insane. You know it, but you continue to return to that person. You recognize that this person on some level is harmful to you.

You are aware that you feel worse about yourself in this relationship than you do outside of it. And you feel better about yourself when you’ve had a little space from this person.

But then they come back around…And you feel driven to reconnect. You want to allow this harmful person back into your life.

It’s that internal struggle that can make you feel crazy. It can make you feel like you know the answers but you’re doing the exact opposite of what seems logical.

It’s as if you’ve become a person whose actions and words aren’t in sync, and you can recognize it. You can say, “I know this is bad for me, I know this person is doing all these bad things, but I still want to be here”.

That is cognitive dissonance, which is entirely natural in these relationships. If you’re currently struggling with this or thinking about going back to someone abusive to you, I have a video on the trauma bond that might help you work through some of that because, again, it’s natural.

Related: 6 Things To Keep In Mind After Unmasking A Covert Narcissist

It’s not a reason to pass judgment on yourself. I believe it is beneficial to acknowledge the trauma bond and what occurs naturally after being in an abusive relationship.

Want to know more about the behaviors of a covert narcissist? Check this video out on covert narcissism below!

covert narcissist behavior examples

Written By Common Ego
Originally Appeared On Common Ego
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  1. Jeanelle surgener Avatar
    Jeanelle surgener

    With all due respect, all these signs and recognizing techniques and behaviors…
    Simply ask yourself these questions and then decide we are either all narcs or we are all just people hurting?

    Does a naarc know they are aa naarc? Especially when there main issue is admitting mistake? And isn’t all of their behavior a result of their own abuse? They aren’t sitting back thinking about which technique to use on you next? There’s is an immediate response in their own panic mode. Even if it’s not the same day, “they” will laash out but it’s just more time for them to worry and panic on solving that issue for their own piece of mind! They’re not thinking “um should I use word salad or shift response this time? How can I make this hurt her more?” No, it’s probably a million frantic questions whirling in their mind on how to safely get thru another disaster (aka looking for those keys) without blame!
    Oh wait! As I go on, that sounds exactly as I feel every second of the day and I have been continuously abused for most of my life! But I’m the victim? No wait, but he’s the victim? No but he’s the abuser or naarc or bipolar or histrionic? Idk but HE is the abuser… Or is he? Oh well, he’s already got that label so I’ll go on still being the victim being victimized… The only way I can get out of my frantic mode… Me me me! I’ll just stay consumed in that, it’s the simplest quick way to breath and not tremble! Or. Where are my pills? Just my own little bandaid but I’m breathing for now! Mutter mutter… I wish he wasn’t breathing. Grrr. And cool I found my keys! Can’t wait to show him they were right there where I said they were or where he said they were! Oh, who cares, I get to put that confrontation to rest without taking the blame! I win!!!
    And that last part, is not said or directly thought! Aall you might hear is Whew!
    …and they get back to more important coping they don’t know to call coping…
    Catch up on emails, friends on tik tok, saved Mom episodes, how many likes on your dating app, finish your lake forest reviews so you can help your community make better decisions on food delivery options, go lock the doors and check twice cuz mom worries of …well everything cuz she saw it on Facebook not outside! But, we won’t go there…
    And, hopefully if you’re still reading this, then kudos to you for maintaining your attention span enough to read that many lines! The key is if you listened to the words! And I don’t blame you if you’re unable!
    Self preservation is everyone’s basic tool for coping! All of us matter! There’s no abuser if we are all abused! There’s no victim if we are all victimizing… And don’t know it! There is no premeditation in self perservance! And it’s not rash judgement(cuz that’s the offense). It’s really panic mode! And were told fight or flight and always choose fight cuz running away make me s you feel more victimized and cowardice!
    Damn, this team is not going on my fantasy football pics! All defending ourselves by being offensive! We might need a refresher on Living/Loving 101! Is there a book…FOR DUMMIES on this one?


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