My Ex Was A Covert Narcissist. Don't Make The Mistakes I Did.

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Covert narcissists — could be as dangerous as overt narcissists. The difference is subtle. Thus, it may take a longer time to realize that they’re manipulating you.

In that sense, you may end up intertwined for longer in their spider web.

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Here’s what it was like.

Six years ago, I was living in Thailand with a man who wasn’t good for me. He would assure me I was his girlfriend, but around friends and colleagues, I was his best friend.

It was confusing. I confronted him and he convinced me it was better this way.

“Best friends last, girlfriends don’t,” he said and I bought it.


I stuck with him for three years. On the streets, he refused to hold my hand. He gawked at girls and even chatted them up in front of me.

He didn’t acknowledge my birthday, withheld sex, and kicked me out of his apartment in the middle of the night in midst of an argument.

He would disappear without any warning. Naturally, I worried and wondered if I was at fault. A week later, he would show up at the door, unhinged, calling me a “worry wart.”

At first, I tried to talk it out, but the conversation always circled back to how I was too sensitive. “C’mon. I just needed a break. I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal.”

“That’s true. I’m sorry,” I’d say. After a few years of this, I was too tired to fight back. His constant gaslighting and detachment trained my subconscious not to question or argue with his decisions. He was succeeding.


One day, we were walking home. As usual, he walked ahead of me while I tried to catch up.

“So, what should we do over the holidays?” I asked, hoping to slow him down.

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“Oh…um…that. I’m going to Korea to climb a mountain with my ol’ man,” he said glancing over to briefly make eye contact.

My old hip injury didn’t allow me to physically walk fast and he knew that.

“Oh….so just you and your dad? He’s flying all the way from New York?” I raised my voice to the back of his head.

‘Yep. Just me and my ol’ man,” he looked back and blurted.

He wanted me to complain he was walking too fast. He wanted me to ask why we weren’t doing anything together.

I didn’t bother. He and I both knew the silent rule — either do it his way or get a slew of back and forth that went nowhere. Most likely, he was going on a trip with another girl.

I adjusted my frown and forced a slight smile, hoping he wouldn’t notice the tears welling up in my dead eyes.

Love bombing

I broke up multiple times over the years and always came back, but I finally managed to break up for good.

It started with me landing a dream job as an editor of a lifestyle magazine. Surprisingly, he offered to take me out. I was ecstatic.

When the bill arrived, I watched him pay for his half and place the receipt in front of me.

“I thought you were taking me out,” I said.

“I did take you out. We’re here, aren’t we?” He quipped.

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Stabbed in the heart, again.

I dug through my bag, grabbed my wallet, scurried through the paper bills, slapped them on the table, and glared at him. What do you think I am? Stupid? After all, I’ve done for you. Eff you, you little piece of crap!

I swallowed those words and stormed out of the restaurant. After a few hours, he rang me, distraught and apologetic.

“You’re mad that I didn’t pay for your meal, right? I’m sorry. It’s not like I have money to spend. I just wanted to make you feel good,” he said. “I care about you. It’s just a meal. You had a good time, right?”

By now, I understood his tactics.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I said, cooly. “We’re breaking up. I mean it. Don’t call me anymore.”

“Don’t do this! I can’t believe you’re breaking up over a meal. You mean so much to me. I care you about, you know that. Please, June, I love you.” He was hysterical.

I love you? I smelled desperation. He never says I love you.

“Good-bye. Have a good life.” I hung up for the first and last time.

Predictably, after a few days, he emailed me, “Aww, look at us,” he wrote with an attachment of a picture of us cuddled up. I didn’t respond.

He attempted numerous times in text messages and emails to sprinkle me with love notes and compliments as he has done in the past.

The only difference was this time I knew the game.

You’re probably wondering why I let him treat me like this. I don’t know why either. I’m a strong, smart woman. I should have known better. Looking back, I tried to make it work because I thought if only I catered to him, our relationship will work.

I compare it to being in a cult. You do a lot of crazy stuff in a cult. You get out and you wonder what in the world you were thinking.

If your partner sounds like mine, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are a covert narcissist. But, it’s a huge indication the relationship is toxic. Pay attention to the cycle of grooming, discarding, and love bombing.

  • Grooming: He gaslighted me and trained me to question my reality.
  • Discarding: He found another supply so he treated me like crap.
  • Love bombing: He complimented me with flowery messages to reel me in.

1. A telltale sign of a covert narcissist: You’re crawling in confusion.

2, A telltale sign of a covert narcissist: You allow behavior you wouldn’t normally allow.

3. A telltale sign of a covert narcissist: You’re showered with flowery rhetoric when he’s trying to reel you in.

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June Kirri is a writer on culture, parenting, and mental health. Follow her on Twitter.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.