We’ve all met a narcissist before. They tend to be like train wrecks: impossible to look away from. When we meet them, we want nothing more than to run away from them because of the damage they can do. Luckily, narcissists tend to advertise themselves with behaviors that are remarkably easy to identify. There have been a lot of articles written about finding and rooting out the narcissists in your life, to the point where that’s probably a sub-genre on the Internet right now. There’s a good reason for that, though: narcissists can roll into your life and completely ruin it if you let them. That’s why it’s so important to figure out when you’re dealing with a secret narcissist.
A secret narcissist is someone who’s just as narcissistic as any other narcissist, but they’re really quiet about it. You might not think of them as a narcissist because they don’t seem as infatuated with themselves as a regular narcissist might. They might actually seem quite humble and even down to earth, and you might feel really protective of them. However, beneath that exterior is a person who’s constantly projecting themselves as the victim, is super sensitive to any kind of criticism, and is practically immune to the idea that anything could possibly be their fault. Here are 15 things to look out for when trying to pick out a narcissist, even the ones that are nearly impossible to find.
15. Victim Mentality
Have you ever known someone to never take responsibility for anything, or worse, put all the responsibility on someone else? Everything happens to them, rather than them having any sort of control over their actions. This is a good example of someone who has a victim mentality. When something bad happens to them, or even when they’re gently told that they did something wrong, they look everywhere except inward. They’ll do anything and everything to appear sympathetic, but they won’t do anything to actually rectify their actions or mitigate the consequences of those actions for others. The scary thing is that their efforts to appear sympathetic and blameless almost always work, which allows them to throw the scent of toxicity off of them.
14. Blames Other People For Everything
This is a continuation off of that last point because the covert narcissist’s ability to blame others for everything is almost legendary. It might get to the point where people might not even think the narcissist is even capable of doing the thing that they did, and find someone else to blame. This allows the narcissist to feed off of the drama that they’re causing and seem like they’re the innocent party when they’re actually anything but. It’s not enough to have a victim mentality: the secret narcissist has to have an ability to blame others for what they do, or even just get the blame off of themselves. If they’re not able to do that, then they get found out as narcissists relatively easily, and then they’re not really secret narcissists anymore.
13. Can’t Take Even The Nicest Of Criticism
A secret narcissist will never be able to take criticism. They might pretend to take it, but secretly it’s killing them that someone called them out for something, even if it’s small. Worse, they might totally dismiss what someone has to say if it’s not a good thing, under the guise of not letting “negativity” into their lives. There’s a difference between negativity and someone being honest with you about your actions. It’s hard to not feel attacked when someone is telling you something that you did wrong, even when you know they’re not attacking you. That’s totally natural and normal, and it’s good to acknowledge that. However, if we know we’re not being attacked and the person telling us about ourselves is coming from a place of love, we owe it to them and ourselves to listen to what they have to say with a willing ear. More importantly, if we know we’re not being attacked, we shouldn’t go immediately go into defense mode, like secret narcissists might.
12. Low Emotional Intelligence
A lot of secret narcissists might think that they’re excellent at reading a room, and more importantly, the emotions of others. However, narcissists are notoriously terrible at doing that, which is ironic because they think they’re awesome at it. Secret narcissists are terrible at it, but they tend to fly under the radar simply because people think that they’re angels. That makes the secret narcissist a really dangerous person to be around because they’re going to be going around thinking that they’re great at figuring people out emotionally when really they’re just great at manipulating people to their own gain. On top of that, because they seem like angels, they’re often not even on anyone’s mind when they’re trying to figure out why there’s suddenly so much drama happening. This allows them to keep on doing it, messing with everyone around them in the process.
Narcissists love material possessions. It’s why some celebrities are known as divas and eat pizza with edible gold on it. (Yes, that’s a real thing.) Material things mean an awful lot to a narcissist, to the point that they might live extravagant lives that are well beyond their means. On top of that, they might not even see a big problem with that. A narcissist could be drowning in debt and have no problem digging themselves further into it, simply because they deserve nice things and are willing to procure them through any means necessary. Money is a lot like power for a narcissist. Sometimes they’ll hoard it and live extravagant, selfish lives. A secret narcissist does things differently. You might see a secret narcissist being very altruistic with their money and even insisting upon giving you money, but it’s a facade. They’re actually using their money to fed into their people pleasing, codependent ways, and draw people to them so they’ll never leave them for any reason and they’ll always have power over them. After all, look at all the things they’ve given.
10. Lack Of Empathy
A narcissist is known for their lack of empathy, but secret narcissists tend to go about it in a different way. many secret narcissists are what’s known as empathic narcissists, which is when a narcissist just happens to have the ability to tune into another person’s feelings and feel them firsthand. That might seem like a misnomer: a person who only cares about themselves wouldn’t care about being able to feel what another person’s feeling. Believe it or not, many secret narcissists actually use their empathic abilities to feed into their narcissism. Secret narcissists might be able to tell when another person is feeling sad or happy, but they won’t be able to understand why a person feels that way, or worse, they just won’t care. The only worldview that will seem legitimate or right to them is their own.
9. Lack Of Remorse
A narcissist’s lack of remorse feeds into just about everything else, but it’s a trait that’s often confused with a different personality disorder. We often conflate a lack of empathy with sociopaths and psychopaths, but narcissists are just as likely to be terrible at feeling remorse. A secret narcissist does that a bit differently, though. Secret narcissists always feel like the victim, so even when they’re confronted with their own misdeeds, they retreat back to that “poor me” mindset, even going so far as to say that no one will ever understand their specific situation and of course they should be excused for their bad behavior. Regular narcissists won’t bother with acting like they care about a person’s opinion of them, but a secret narcissist is more likely to act like they care what others think of them and use their distress over being called out to kind of martyr themselves, making people forget the thing that they did.
8. Extreme Stubbornness
Narcissists are people who are willing to dig in their heels and not move an inch, even if they find that the world is crashing down around them. They stay in their destructive mindsets for as long as they can, specifically because that’s where they feel most comfortable. It doesn’t matter that they’re wrong, or that their mindset doesn’t help in the slightest. What does matter to them is being able to get the things they want and being able to wield power over other people in any situation? The reason why narcissists rarely apologize sincerely or constantly see themselves as victims is because of an underlying stubbornness that shows up in every aspect of their lives. Secret narcissists are good at hiding that part of themselves and throwing people off to it, to the point where the secret narcissist might be the last person you’d expect to be a narcissist at all.
7. Very Good At Lying
Because secret narcissists have to do all this work to make themselves seem credible, it’s no surprise that they have to lie a lot in order to make that happen. The kicker here? Secret narcissists are awesome at lying. Narcissists are always charming, whether they’re quiet about it or not, but when you combine that slippery charm with an “altruistic” outlook and the “poor me” attitude of someone who’s always losing despite being so nice, you have a really dangerous person on your hands, simply because you’d never suspect them. If you think you’ve caught a narcissist in a lie, call them out on it and try not to let it stand. People love to test the waters, so when someone finds that something is acceptable, they’re going to keep going and in this case, that means that they’re going to continue building bigger lies.
6. Bad At Relationships
No matter how charming and altruistic your secret narcissist might be, they’ll always find that they’re terrible at relationships. There are a few reasons for that. For one, narcissists always seem to have something missing that you’ll never be able to put your finger on, even if you’re totally taken in by them. For another, any of the aforementioned reasons would make them terrible at relationships, simply because a lot of what makes a good, mature relationship is taking responsibility for your actions and being willing to grow with another person, and narcissists aren’t willing to do that. There’s also the emotional back and forth of the secret narcissist constantly making the people around them feel guilty even when something is their fault. That’s something that people never want around them when they start to catch wise. Secret narcissists also hate being alone, for reasons that we’ll get into in a bit, but because of that, they’ll bounce around different relationships because they’re not all that good at them.
People who are the center of their own universes in some way are always charming. It’s why some psychopaths and narcissists are impossible to resist: people are attracted to confidence, and they’ve got it in spades. When a secret narcissist lies, their stubbornness might be at the root of the behavior, but it’s their charm that will really sell that lie. This is the reason why people are so willing to believe that they did something wrong rather than see the secret narcissist for who they are. After all, the secret narcissist is so generous and is constantly putting themselves out to help you, so why would they do anything wrong? A lot of where a narcissist’s power comes from is their charm. This is why a lot of celebrities have a die-hard fanbase even if evidence comes out that they’re divas or not very nice. For example, think about Beliebers. Justin Bieber has come out with some terrible behavior over the years, but his fans still love him, because to them he’s charming. That’s the kind of effect we’re dealing with here.
4. Attention Seeking
Narcissists are pretty good at commanding attention, and so are secret narcissists. However, since secret narcissists are better at keeping their narcissism under wraps, they go about it in a different way. Instead of going on about how awesome they are, they’ll act like the entire world is against them and that no one cares about them, and can’t the spotlight ever be on them for once? That results in the attention they want. This is why many narcissists have robust social media lives, and why social media feeds into narcissistic behavior perfectly. It allows people to get the attention they want at the pace that they want it, and that validation can be accessed at any time. Some of the biggest secret narcissists will make an art out of being messy on social media because they’ll know they’ll be met with an echo chamber of people who don’t know them as well telling them that they’re amazing, even if they’re not. Some secret narcissists might even find themselves preferring their online friends to their real life friends because their online friends see a curated, perfected version of themselves, so they only get good attention from them.
3. Envious And Resentful
Naturally, narcissists who see other people getting attention, being good at relationships, and carrying on living without lying all the time get jealous of those people who can do those things. A narcissist’s charm is superficial, and a person’s tolerance for a narcissist will go away when their charm does, so a narcissist is constantly trying to stretch that charm as far as it can go. A person who isn’t a narcissist doesn’t have to worry about that. A narcissist feeds off of other people, and it’s exhausting to live that way since they’re always playing the part of the victim. Some narcissists will go so far as to overtly or covertly sabotage the people around them so the attention stays on them and they’re seen as the best. They’ll pretend to be happy for you, make you feel nothing but loved, and even use your status to elevate themselves. At the same time, they’ll constantly be kicking you, trying to make you feel bad about yourself, so you’ll never feel like you’re better than them. This is because narcissists feed off of our vulnerability and emotions, but are attracted to us based on what we can offer them.
2. All About Gaslighting
Gaslighting is one of those things that can really make your head spin. It’s an emotional abuse tactic that abusers used to essentially erase your reality. Many abuser types will use this tactic, including dictators, but nobody loves to gaslight more than a narcissist. Basically, a secret narcissist who thinks that you’re onto them or just wants you more under their control will subtly act like the way you remember something is wrong, and they’ll do it so much and so often that you’ll believe them. They’ll straight up lie, deny that the truth happened, and even weaponize the things that mean a lot to you in order to keep you in line. The scary part about gaslighting is that it works: gaslighting serves to wear down even the most secure, self-assured people. Think about the boiling frog in the pot: the secret narcissist will slowly turn up the heat until you’re boiling and you don’t know it because you adjusted to it. When you catch wise, they might make everyone around you think that you’re crazy, discrediting you to those around you, almost to punish you for stepping out of line. It’s all really toxic behavior and it’s hard to spot, but when you see it, it’s very hard to unsee it.
1. You Need Therapy
If you’re a secret narcissist who realizes the error of their way, congratulations for becoming more self-aware. It’s up to you to take responsibility for the things that you did and the ways that you manipulated other people, and it’s also up to you to try and get to know yourself without having to play the part of the victim. While playing the victim can allow people to feel sympathy for you and even do things for you, it’s also exhausting to do that all the time, and you’re robbing yourself and other people of the chance to get to know the real you.
If you’re a person who’s dealing with a secret narcissist who isn’t willing to change, the best thing you can do for yourself is to cut off contact with them. If your mutual friends are taking their side and believe the secret narcissist trying to discredit you, you might want to consider cutting them off as well. I can promise you that the machinations of a secret narcissist aren’t anything that you want in your life, and while it’s sad to lose a friend, you will be happier in the long run for it. Secret narcissism is really hard to detect, primarily because they’re dressing up that narcissism in other qualities that serve to make you feel protective over them. However, when you know what to look for, you can do a lot to keep unnecessary drama and heartache out of your life.
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