The lies, manipulation, and deceit of covert narcissism are in many ways far more destructive than the in-your-face approach of overt narcissists. When a covert narcissist successfully portrays their lie as the truth, they change the life course of everyone who believes their lie. – as well as their intended target. Most of us want to believe that what we are hearing from someone is the truth, and most of us start by believing the best of others – as this is a more positive way to live. That makes us more vulnerable to believing the lies of a covert narcissist.
The Bible illustrates this multiple times, starting with the original narcissist, Satan. When he first appeared to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he did not say “I’m a big powerful angel – in fact the most beautiful angel. I can do great things for you, so you should follow me and let me help you”. Instead his tool for getting them to follow him started by very subtly and deceitfully undermining a constraint which God had established.
God clearly told Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and outlined the consequences if they did….
15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. 16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
Satan did not use the overt narcissist tactic of, “I’m great, follow me”. Instead he first created doubt by asking a seemingly “innocent” question – “did God really say that?”
3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” 4 The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Satan’s first question was in fact not innocent because of his underlying intention to drive a wedge between Adam and Eve, and God. In our interactions with our covert narcissist we might consider such an “innocent” question as simply a request to double back and confirm the truth. In this case, since God had already clearly stated His boundary, questioning if God really said it was an invitation to disobedience.
After Eve’s not-quite-accurate answer to Satan’s setup question, Satan next directly lied in contradiction to God by saying, “you surely will not die!” He followed the lie by undermining God’s goodness by implying that God was withholding something good from Adam and Eve through the boundary He had set – “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”.
Satan used the setup question, the follow-up lie, and the questioning of God’s motive to turn the desires of Eve’s heart into successfully separating Adam and Eve from their Creator. We all know the result of Adam and Eve naively falling for this covert narcissist’s (Satan) tactics.
How can we avoid being duped by the covert narcissist?
We need to seek to replace our naivete with prudence. God says twice in Proverbs
The prudent sees the evil and hides himself, But the naive go on, and are punished for it.
A prudent man sees evil and hides himself, The naive proceed and pay the penalty.
When God repeats something, pay attention. Even though normal people want to take a constructive approach to others, it is important to understand that evil lurks in the heart of man, and not simply believe everything.
One way to do that is to fact check,
The first to plead his case seems right, Until another comes and examines him.
A covert narcissist will typically “go first” in his steps to manipulate a situation. He is the one with the plan, the intention to get what he wants. By going first he gets to set the agenda, to define the playing field, and to put his target on the defensive. Those whom the covert narcissist is trying to manipulate for there agenda must realize that these people exist, and not accept everything we hear at face value.
One other thing that we can do is to ask God to thwart the covert narcissist’s efforts. Psalm 5 is one of several Psalms to use as a prayer guide
For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness;
No evil dwells with You.
5 The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes;
You hate all who do iniquity.
6 You destroy those who speak falsehood;
The Lord abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit.
O Lord, lead me in Your righteousness because of my foes;
Make Your way straight before me.
9 There is nothing reliable in what they say;
Their inward part is destruction itself.
Their throat is an open grave;
They flatter with their tongue.
10 Hold them guilty, O God;
By their own devices let them fall!
In the multitude of their transgressions thrust them out,
For they are rebellious against You.
Psalm 5:4-6, 8-10
I believe that most covert narcissists would be overt narcissists if they got the chance. But in the meantime we should have a goal of becoming far more discerning to identify the covert narcissists in our midst and be alert to their tactics.