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"Single, ambitious, and actively dating to find the one; perhaps that might even be you..."
The above dating profile description was mines a few years ago, and I suspect thousands of other women who are actively searching online for their soulmates. Although not the exact wording, but perhaps something similar.
If I had the opportunity to do things differently, I wish I would have done my due diligence in learning more about identifying the warning signs of what covert narcissism is; but let’s be real, the last thing most professional, single women who are actively dating in hopes of finding their perfect life partner are not doing is consciously Googling what pathological narcissism is.
However, what I have, unfortunately, learned the hard way is that as women we tend to overlook or don’t pay enough attention to the subtle and not-so-subtle warning signs that we might be dating an individual who is indeed a narcissist; more specifically in my case, a covert narcissist. The main question I often hear women regretfully ask after leaving such as toxic, destructive relationship is "what happened to the person I first met? I don’t know who they are anymore."
This is a common question that many survivors of covert narcissistic abuse (emotional abuse) regretfully ask and are often bewildered at the fact that they had no clue their ex-partner was capable of such cruelty and to their knowledge there were no warning signs until it was too late — but was there really no warning signs or were they blind-sighted by all the love-bombing they received at the beginning of this fairy tale relationship?
Unfortunately, by the time you realize what’s going on in this relationship, you’ve already been hooked into the crazy-making, emotional roller-coaster of being in a toxic, emotionally abusive relationship, and in my case, this was with a covert narcissist. Whether you are at the tail end of leaving such a relationship or are months or even a couple of years out from having dated such a toxic individual, and you too have questioned time and time again, “did I experience emotional abuse?” Please consider the 8 warning signs you may have been the target of covert narcissistic abuse.
Knowing what and who you are dealing with either as a target or survivor of narcissistic abuse will help you take back your power and strategize your recovery and healing journey moving forward so that you will know what to look out for in the future and, if need be, diligently protect yourself from unnecessary exposure of being in such a destructive, soul-sucking relationship.
Covert Narcissist Discard Signs
1. Love-Bombing: The Set-Up Before the Discard Phase Begins...
This tactic is what I like to call Molding the Muse, before the actual discard happens.
This is when your partner has identified and chosen you to be their next target, with the hopes of withdrawing a fresh, new supply of energy from you to stroke and maintain their fragile ego throughout the relationship in the form of Intermittent Reinforcement, which is another way of understanding what ‘love-bombing’ is. IR is when the narcissist rewards you with love and adoration one day and the next day you are their worst enemy, without just cause, and are punished accordingly for not being able to satisfy their fragile ego.
This usually happens quite rapidly at the start of the relationship and over time it becomes your abuser’s secret weapon of choice, which acts as a sort of kryptonite that is strategically used against you with the intention of hooking you into a the dream of having a fairytale relationship. Just as Superman’s powers were weakened whenever he was around the mysterious mineral of Kryptonite, a narcissist will use ‘love-bombing’ to weaken your boundaries with the intent of disarming you emotionally, as a result giving you the false impression that the two of you are bonding at lightning speed, which creates a false sense of security and safety because it deceives you into believing that you can trust this person with your whole heart. However, when you trigger them causing injury to their ego, they will strategically withdraw the fabricated love they showered you with at the beginning of the relationship.
2. Chronic Absences AKA Ghosting:
Ghosting is another warning sign you should look out for. This will usually happen once they are confident that they have got you right where they want you to be, both emotionally and mentally, and that is for you to slowly become dependent upon them for emotional comfort and support.
Once they are satisfied that they have hooked you into their fantasy of being the perfect, ideal partner for them, they will shortly after start ghosting you. The first time they ghost you, they will make it appear as though you are over-reacting to the fact that they simply forgot to call or text you for a couple of days.
Unfortunately, the covert narcissist I dated was a habitual liar and ghosting was his go-to choice for emotional manipulation and control. It finally came to the point where it started to become a routine occurrence with him. What you should pay attention to is the frequency of how many times your partner has ghosted you and for what reasons. Do those reasons line up with a good enough excuse, or is it always one lame excuse after the other?
3. The True Self vs. The False Self:
This warning sign is quite a popular one among many targets and survivors who have often described their narcissistic partners as having split personalities. A narcissist has their perfect public persona and then there is the private, darker, true self of who they are. Narcissists are masters at wearing different masks, to conceal their true, manipulative nature. Who they are in public when at work with their colleagues and when socializing with their friends is completely different from who they are in private behind closed doors with you. I used to often refer to my ex-partner’s behavior and personality as having a split personality like that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Do you feel that way when you are in the presence of your current or ex-partner? This is a classic trait of narcissists; you never know what to expect from one day to the next. There would be times when we were out in public on a date and we would run into a group of his friends and he was the most polite, well-mannered person you could ever meet, and then there were an equal number of times in private that he would allow his mask to drop and become a disrespectful, manipulative, ice-cold individual to be around.
The two, faces or masks, exist unapologetically in the same person; and when it’s convenient for the narcissist to put on the mask of Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde, it’s a natural and comfortable switch for them, because they are master manipulators in disguise. Don't let their charm fool you.
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4. Habitually Lying for No Reason:
Have you caught them recently in an innocent white lie and never thought twice about it because it was just one, innocent lie? The lying will usually appear to be minor at first, but over time their white lies will slowly reveal to you that this person has been living an entirely different life from the one you thought that you shared with them. The lies may start as a cover-up for why they came home 1–2 hours later than promised, and when asked what was the delay in them coming home, they state because they needed to stop at the grocery store to grab some 'stuff'.
However, your gut instinct is telling you something completely different, so you decide to dig a little more for the truth and when you finally get it out of them they reveal that they were at a bar with some friends having a drink. Seems forgivable and nothing to worry about, right? But what about when those lies start to become more frequent and the excuses are no longer adding up, what then?
When you are dating a covert narcissist, everything to them is all about mind games, what they can get away with, and for how long? The lies, cover-ups, and ridiculous excuses are temperature checks to gauge what they can and cannot get away with and if your boundaries are weak, if you are unable to put your foot down and stand up for yourself when you are being repeatedly disrespected and devalued within the relationship it signals to them that they’ve got you right where they want you and that is right in the palm of their cunning hands.
5. Gossiping + Slandering Past Lovers:
I thought it was a ‘good sign’ that he used to always complain to me about his child’s mother; I thought to myself, finally, he trusts me. It made me feel special and set apart from every other woman he has dated in the past that he was so-called openly sharing his life with me. I remember one evening he made a derogatory comment about his child’s mother stating to me that one of the reasons he stopped being intimate with her was because he wasn’t satisfied in bed anymore (I’m paraphrasing to keep it clean).
Then there was another occasion when he called her the B-word without blinking an eye; I remember saying to him, “don’t say that this is the mother of your child, how dare you”. On other occasions, he would allude to the fact that she was crazy and impossible to be around because according to him, she always over-reacted whenever he wanted to go out with his friends. However, years after the fact I realized she probably flipped out on him because she too became aware of the fact that he was a habitual liar, who constantly lied about who he was with and where he was going — Reference point 4, again.
I later understood that just how he has spoken negatively about his child’s mother, he too has already gossiped about me and slandered my name to someone else the same way or maybe even worse; and if he hasn’t done so yet, that’s probably another to-do item for him to check off his twisted list of torment. The lesson that I learned is very much in line with the famous quote by Maya Angelou, who famously states, “When someone shows you who they are the first time, believe them.”
Is a form of emotional manipulation that is utilized extensively by narcissists and other toxic individuals when they want you to doubt your reality and truth. Gaslighting can be tricky to spot when it first happens to you because it is intended to create self-doubt within the chosen target so that any time you confront your partner, for example, when you have caught them in another lie and you know for a fact that they are lying to you they will, in turn, question your facts about the situation, which cleverly makes you rethink what you thought you knew about the situation and when this happens consistently, over time you begin to doubt everything about yourself and what you perceive to be the truth from fiction, which ultimately leads to the crazy-making cycle of the relationship that most targets and survivors have identified as being the worst part of the relationship.
When your thoughts and feelings are constantly invalidated and not being acknowledged within the relationship, it does harm your overall self-worth and confidence because you feel as though you are the only one in this relationship who sees things for what they are.
Furthermore, if your opinions and feelings are not being validated by the one person who is causing some or all the troubles within the relationship, you will feel as if you are going crazy. This manipulative tactic used by the narcissist admittedly drove me up the wall— hence the crazy making reference most survivors often refer to when they have left the relationship.
7. Drama, Drama, Drama:
Toxic individuals and more specifically in my experience of dating a covert narcissist feed-off drama, whether directly or indirectly. They thrive and excel in environments that are drama fueled and if it’s not drama fueled, they will covertly create confusion around a situation or person to activate unnecessary arguments and rifts, thus feeding themselves with the much-needed toxic energy to sustain and maintain their position of superiority in the target’s life.
This drama is called the drama triangle by Psychologist, Stephen Karpman where the narcissist will pit two people against one another, for example, my narcissistic ex turned two of my best friends against me by positioning himself to be the calm, rational, peacemaker in our relationship compared to myself who he manipulatively portrayed as being an irrational, unpredictable woman who refuses to accept that he had moved on with his life.
Narcissists need stimulating toxic energy to maintain their parasitic connection, whether that is with their chosen target or someone outside the relationship, which is commonly called fishing for new supply. Please note, that it is not beneath the narcissist to also accept a lower, grade supply of attention and energy from any outside source they deem would be a good enough ego boost for them, and will feed off this new source of attention and energy to maintain their position within the relationship for as long as they have an immediate need for that person.
8. Constantly Depletes Your Energy (Emotional Vampirism):
Lastly, another prominent warning sign that you are dating a narcissist is that you no longer have the energy to stand up for yourself and leave the relationship, or if you do muster up the energy to finally leave you will be leaving that relationship as a shadow of the woman you used to be. Shortly after being devalued and discarded by the covert narcissist, I realized that I was no longer the same woman I used to be before meeting and agreeing to date this vile parasite.
Narcissistic relationships will drain your energy because when you break up from a normal, healthy functioning relationship, it is a completely different experience vs. when breaking up from an emotionally abusive one. The process is never linear, there are different dynamics at play, and if you are not careful about protecting your energy, you will feel as though you are a walking zombie by the time you leave that destructive, soul-sucking relationship.
This is what is also known as emotional vampirism. As the target, the narcissist has already identified early in the relationship whether you would be a good source of supply, and as I mentioned earlier in the article, their number one concern is to extract energy from you to feed and sustain their ego — this is the only way they know how to survive; thus leaving you feeling like a shadow of who you used to be.
A Toxic Relationship From Hell
What you must understand is that narcissists feel most comfortable and, in their element, when they are in the heads of their chosen target. It’s a twisted, roller-coaster of psychological terror and emotional manipulation that they only seem to know the rules to, and everyone else is a sitting duck, waiting to be silently destroyed. These are just a few of the major warning signs to be aware of and to vigilantly monitor and protect yourself from if you think that you are dating a narcissist.
I hope you enjoyed this week's article and have gained some valuable information to help you move forward with confidence! As a Breakup and Wellness Coach, my work in this world is dedicated to supporting and helping women such as yourself to HEAL, RECLAIM and TRANSFORM your life after leaving a toxic relationship. Do reach out if you would like to discuss how I can support you on your journey of recovery, healing, and transformation.
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