Have you ever met someone with an extraordinary talent for eliciting sympathy and compassion from others around them? They’re those individuals who can make things work in their favor while making it seem like they’re the victim. Consider the situation of Sarah, a friend who has been attracting the attention and sympathy of her peers by claiming that she is continuously suffering serious health concerns. These people may display characteristics of covert narcissism, a kind of personality trait distinct from the more obvious and grandiose forms of narcissism. Recent studies of personality disorders have shown the reality of these covert behaviours. Covert narcissists, according to research by Dr. Emily Turner of the University of Psychology, use subtle manipulation methods, frequently centered on portraying themselves as victims. Actually these are things covert narcissists say to fulfill their desire for attention and sympathy.
Below, we’ll explore 15 unconventional strategies these covert narcissists employ while playing the victim card in an effort to gain the sympathy and support of their peers. While not everyone with these traits is a covert narcissist, being aware of them can help you identify and deal with manipulative people in your personal and professional life.
1. Playing the Savior
People who suffer from covert narcissism are experts at playing the hero, convincing others that they are the only ones who can help people in need. Things covert narcissists say like, “I’m the one who always has to step in and mend things around here” or “Without me, this place would fall apart.” They gain respect and sympathy from everyone around them by playing the role of the hero, who can’t be replaced. They often say how much they have to do to take care of everyone and everything, which is a subtle way of saying that they deserve praise and support.
2. Becoming the Expert Victim
Narcissists who are good at hiding their true selves are often good at playing the victim. When discussing their struggles, they often emphasize the psychological impact that these obstacles have had on them. Things covert narcissists say, such as, “Life is so unfair to me,” or “I just seem destined to suffer.” People who constantly portray themselves as helpless victims of their environment are able to elicit the compassion and assistance of others around them, who, therefore, feel obligated to care for them.
3. The Self-Inflicted Wound
Covert narcissists are masters at manipulating situations so that they appear to be victimized, even when they are the primary cause of any problems. The things covert narcissists say like, “I just cannot comprehend how I ended up in this circumstance,” or “I didn’t see this happening; it’s like life has conspired against me.” They get the support of others who might not suspect any manipulative intent by portraying themselves as victims of circumstances beyond their control. By acting on the part of helpless victims, they may maintain the impression that they are innocent bystanders.
4. Selective Helplessness
When confronted with an issue, covert narcissists are experts at seeming as if they have no idea how to solve it on their own. Things covert narcissists say, like “I’m so lost without your help” or “I wish I could do it, but I’m just not as talented as you are”, are common. They cultivate empathy from others around them by projecting an image of weakness in order to elicit offers of help. By appearing helpless, they can keep others feeling accountable for their well-being.
To give the impression that they are powerless, covert narcissists may deliberately create seemingly insurmountable problems. They may “struggle” to do something simple like open a jar, replace a light bulb, or parallel park, leading others to offer assistance. These actions are meant to elicit sympathy and maintain the impression that they are helpless without other people.
5. Exaggerated Health Issues
People who are covert narcissists typically complain about their health, whether mental or physical and may even exaggerate their symptoms to get others to feel sorry for them. Things covert narcissists say like “My headache is severe; I think it might be a brain tumour”, as well as “I can’t do this assignment because of my ‘terrible’ back pain.” By exaggerating the severity of their health problems, individuals attract sympathy and attention from people around them.
In an attempt to elicit sympathy and support from a large audience, covert narcissists may post fabricated health conditions on the Internet. Some people use social media to create a dramatic narrative about their health by posting about unexplained symptoms, trips to the doctor, and the effectiveness of various therapies.
6.Playing the Underdog
Covert narcissists frequently take on the role of the underdog, portraying themselves as the “little guy” who is always fighting against stronger opponents. Some examples of things covert narcissists say include, “Life is stacked against me, but I keep pushing forward,” or “I’m always fighting against the system; they never want me to succeed.” Since it’s human nature to cheer for the underdog, this story will likely elicit feelings of empathy and support for its protagonists.
To further emphasize their inferiority complex, covert narcissists could fabricate problems where none existed before. They could start a fight at work or stir up trouble with friends in order to portray themselves as the victim of unfair treatment. This strategic plan guarantees that they will always have people feel sorry for them, even when they aren’t actually going through anything difficult.
Individuals who are covert narcissists typically engage in self-sacrificial behaviour, portraying themselves as selfless martyrs. Things covert narcissists say, like, “I always put everyone else’s demands before mine; I’m constantly compromising for the family,” or even “No one else seems to care, so I have to bear the responsibility alone.” They want to win over the hearts and minds of people around them by playing the martyr card. In actuality, they tend to overestimate the extent of their sacrifices and may engage in subtle manipulation of events to ensure they are recognized and appreciated.
Example: Tom is an introverted narcissist who likes to think of himself as the best provider for his loved ones. Tom would work long hours and take on other obligations without giving any thought to how he was feeling. He would moan about how his family was the reason he gave up so much of his life, and people would feel sorry for him and admire his altruism. Tom acted the martyr for the sake of others’ admiration and adoration.
People who are covert narcissists are skilled at guiding discussions in ways that allow them to complain about their problems and gain sympathy. Things covert narcissists say like, “Oh, I don’t want to trouble you with my problems” or “I’ve been having a hard time lately, but it’s not a big deal,” which are both clues and oblique comments. By using this tactic, the covert narcissist can get others interested in what’s going on in their life, prompting them to ask more probing questions. This strategy keeps the focus on them while giving the impression of real concern to those around them.
Example: Lisa, a covert narcissist who frequently resorted to sympathizing with parties to gain attention, is a good illustration of this tactic in action. Without ever coming out and saying it, she would casually mention her difficulties in conversation. For example, she may remark, “I’ve been feeling really down, but it’s not important.” When her friends asked how she was doing, Lisa would open up about her struggles, making a point to underscore how difficult things were for her.
9.Dramatic Stories of Hardship
Covert narcissists often tell emotionally charged stories about bad things that happened to them in the past to make people feel sorry for them, even if the stories are made up or completely false. They may tell stories about their background that make them seem like they went through terrible ordeals as children or as a result of bad relationships. They tell these stories in an effort to gain sympathy and acceptance from their listeners and to further establish themselves as helpless victims.
Covert narcissists like Jessica know how to do a story telling job. She regularly shared stories about the hardships and losses she endured as a teenager. Her friends had no idea she had manipulative tendencies, so they were empathetic and supportive. Eventually, it became clear that Jessica fabricated many of her claims in order to maintain the public’s attention and gain the recognition and compassion she craved.
10. Comparative Suffering
Covert narcissists often use the tactic of comparing their suffering to that of others to make their misery seem more serious or profound. Things covert narcissists say like, “You think you have it undesirable, but let me tell you about my difficulties; they’re far worse.” Covert Narcissists use these techniques to gain attention and sympathy for their plight while downplaying those of others in the discourse.
Mary, who had recently lost her job, was speaking to her buddy Alex about her struggles. Alex, rather than giving comfort, began talking about how she had experienced a more terrible job loss many years earlier, skillfully shifting the focus back to her pain.
11. Over-identification with Others’ Problems
Covert narcissists often feel too much connected to their friends and family’s troubles and pain. They make it seem like they’re very concerned by other people’s problems, which gives the impression of empathy and help. For example, if a buddy confides in a covert narcissist about relationship issues, the narcissist can reply, “I can’t sleep at night pondering what you’re going through; I feel your suffering.” By acting as though they show that other people’s problems are truly troubling them.
Sarah, a good friend of John’s, just went through a difficult divorce. John never actually helped, but he made Sarah feel like she should comfort him because of how much her predicament affected him.
12.Dependency on Others
Covert narcissists purposefully cultivate emotional dependence on themselves and others. They make it seem as though they can’t handle life on their own and are always in need of help from others. They appear vulnerable and in need of sympathy due to their actions. For example, things covert narcissists say like, “I can’t handle these daily chores; I rely on you to assist me with everything.” Having to rely on others creates feelings of obligation and compassion.
Chris, in his relationship with Lisa, often acted like a helpless dependant, incapable of handling even the most basic of responsibilities on his own, such as making decisions or taking care of the house.
Navigating relationships and encounters with covert narcissists requires an understanding of the unique ways they employ to elicit sympathy. More covert narcissists use subtle forms of manipulation to gain the approval and sympathy of others around them. These strategies, which range from playing on people’s compassion for the sake of their gain to empathizing too much with the difficulties of others to openly pleading for it, are all attempts to elicit sympathy without directly appealing for it.
Understanding the significance of these actions is crucial for preserving appropriate limits and healthy connections. It promotes healthy connections and emotional well-being by helping people tell the difference between genuine expressions of need and deceptive approaches. One may maintain empathy and avoid unwittingly aiding the covert narcissist’s desire for sympathy if one is aware of and avoids falling prey to these covert tactics.
To successfully manage the complexity of relationships with covert narcissists, it is crucial to do so with compassion and, if required, to seek advice from mental health specialists. Ultimately, better interactions may be maintained with persons who may adopt these unusual approaches if open, honest communication and clear limits are established.