Revised on 1/1/20.
What is a Covert Narcissist Husband? In a previous post, I’ve discussed the problem of narcissistic personality disorders.
It’s a mistake to think that narcissism is always characterized by a larger than life expansive grandiosity. But overt narcissism isn’t the only expression of this personality disorder.
But there is another form of narcissism…it’s a closet narcissism which is essentially covert.
Over a period of time, their wives notice that their closet narcissist husbands are often prickly pears, hyper-sensitive, and keenly aware of their need to dominate by manipulating others to feel off-balance or inadequate.
All narcissists are readily identifiable by their confidence and superior bearing. The extroverted narcissist can often be somewhat blatantly in your face. But unlike the open narcissist, the covert narcissist husband is more subtle and indirect in establishing his superiority…and they tend to do so all day long.
We work with highly successful couples, and many men we see have reasons to be proud and confident in their achievements. But when does feeling good about yourself spill over to covert narcissism?
Passive-Aggression. Clinical Covert Narcissist Husbands engage their spouses with a heavy passive-aggression. Like the blatant narcissist, they will feign interest in what their wives want, but at the end of the day, these Covert Narcissist Husbands will either conveniently forget what their spouse asked for or supply some half-hearted, self-serving explanation why they didn’t follow through.
Supreme Self-Possession Smugness/Superiority. Blatant in-your-face narcissist husbands are obvious. You can see them coming. They crave attention and approval. Covert Narcissist Husbands may be sly and much harder to spot. They are keen observers. They observe, evaluate, and render abrupt and sometimes merciless judgment. They have an air of bored disdain.
These types of personality that these clinical Covert Narcissist Husbands present are emotionally disengaged from their intimate others. Even with family members, they make eye contact sparingly. Of they are also a narcissistic parent as well.
Their fate is to endure the folly of others. They exhibit contemptuous behavior such as smirking, stifled mocking laughter, or eye-rolling.
The wives of covert narcissist husbands may feel a withering contempt wrapped up in a superficial long-suffering demeanor.
Impeccable Hyper-Sensitivity. Covert Narcissist Husbands have an impeccable hyper-sensitivity. They will take offense by any criticism real or imagined.
They bristle at any suggestion that they have failed in any way. At the extreme end of the Narcissistic Continuum, these husbands can be extremely emotionally abusive.
If you are married to a covert narcissist, it often leaves you feeling as if you are in an emotionally abusive relationship.
Their most obvious narcissistic traits are to be witheringly dismissive. Or they skulk off into sullen silence and withdrawal. They tend not to comment on how upset they are, preferring to be perfectly self-contained and aloof.
Utter and Complete Self-Absorption. It ‘s sometimes easy to confuse the Covert Narcissist Husband with a garden variety introvert. Here is the essential difference.
Introverts may be quiet, but they are fully capable of bestowing attention. If you’re in a relationship with a covert narcissist husband, then you already know that he is a reliably poor listener.
The reason they are such poor listeners is that they are paying far more attention to a relentlessly evaluative inner dialogue. They will make a quick real-time assessment of a person or situation, deem it dull, stupid, or beneath their attention, and then they will disengage (not that they were particularly engaged in the first place).
Vitamin E Deficit
All clinical narcissists have a lack of empathy for others. Even when their wives complain about the negative impact of their behaviors, their Covert Narcissist Husbands somehow manage to shift the discussion back to where it more appropriately belongs…on themselves.
Here’s an interesting notion about what is called “normal” or sub-clinical narcissism.
It can be a good thing.
If you believe you are married to a narcissist or are dealing with a narcissist and have been for a long time, first let’s define our terms.
A “normal Covert Narcissist Husband” is only slightly more narcissistic than the average husband. They are much far down on the lower end of the narcissism spectrum than the Clinical Covert Narcissist Husband.
Most wives who collide with their husband’s self-focused behavior want to know if breaking up is the healthiest choice.
A recent study of 340 Italian adolescents found that, although young narcissists were self-centered, they did better on their exams than their IQ levels might have predicted.
Here’s the thing. Covert Narcissists are not more intelligent.
But they believe that they are, and that belief bestows an assertive self-confidence. Covert Narcissist Husbands probably became husbands in the first place because their calm sense of poise and confidence was a deeply attractive trait to their future spouse.
Dr. Kostas Papageorgiou was the lead researcher who reminds us again of the “Dark Triad” that we discussed in an earlier post.
“Narcissism is considered as a socially malevolent trait and it is part of the Dark Triad of personality traits — narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.
Previous studies indicate that narcissism is a growing trend in our society but this does not necessarily mean that an individual who displays high narcissistic qualities has a personality disorder.
In our research, we focused on subclinical or “normal” narcissism. Subclinical Narcissism includes some of the same features of the clinical syndrome — grandiosity, entitlement, dominance, and superiority. If you are a narcissist you believe strongly that you are better than anyone else and that you deserve a reward.” Dr. Kostas Papageorgiou
Dr. Papageorgiou believes that mental toughness is the key:
What we are talking about here in an important trait…mental toughness. Resiliency. An abiding sense of self-confidence. If a person is mentally tough, they are likely to embrace challenges and see these as an opportunity for personal growth.
People who score high on subclinical narcissism may be at an advantage because their heightened sense of self-worth may mean they are more motivated, assertive, and successful in certain contexts. Previous research in our lab has shown that subclinical narcissism may increase mental toughness.
If an individual scores high on mental toughness this means they can perform at their very best in pressured and diverse situations. Dr. Kostas Papageorgiou
Dr. Papageorgiou suggests that we should try to think about narcissism in a more complex way.
On the low end of the spectrum, many “normal” Covert Narcissist Husbands can be highly attractive. They have an unshakable self-confidence and mental toughness.
They convey a self-possession, a poise, and self-confidence that bestows a quality of resiliency and inner calm. They can be very attractive. If you have a relationship with a narcissist, it may surprise you to find out it has any mental health benefits at all!
Dr. Papageorgiou believes that wholesale classifications such as the “Dark Triad” are reflections of rather limited conventional notions of morality. Other research also suggests that low levels of narcissism can be socially useful.
He believes that we have an unfortunate tendency to classify emotions or personality traits as being either “bad” or “good.” However, these traits exist for a reason. They are the products of the ongoing evolution, and as such, are neither truly “bad” nor “good.”
At the end of the day, narcissistic traits are either adaptive or maladaptive…they either work for you or they work against you.
And if a Covert Narcissist Husband is in the normal range he can be an attractive mate. He is not devoid of empathy, and he has a greater ability to bestow attention on others than a spouse with a full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
These men possess a mental toughness and inner strength that often exceeds the actual parameters of their abilities. They are bold. We know that confidence and resilience are highly adaptive and valuable traits.
The idea that a smidgeon of narcissism is good for you is coming up pretty regularly in recent research in a number of places, but will probably remain a controversial idea for some time to come.
The “sub-clinical” or “normally” narcissistic husband is one who displays an occasional obtuse narcissistic behavior. These men may respond quite well to couples therapy.
That is why science-based couples therapy is so important. Careful phone screening and assessment help our clinicians to understand the marital dynamics of each case ahead of time.
The reality is that a great many extremely narcissistic husbands do not respond well to couples therapy, and we prefer not to have them as clients. But we must be careful…it’s all a matter of degree.
If your spouse has more than a smidgeon of narcissism, couples therapy with him might not work.
However, Hopeful Spouse counseling with a trained science-based couples therapist can help you unpack negative encounters with his covert narcissism. It can also help you to keep your sanity and establish healthy boundaries…whether you stay married to your Covert Narcissist Husband or not.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He is the Blog Editor. He currently works online seeing couples from Massachusetts at Couples Therapy Inc. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.
We schedule three double sessions with you in total. You complete an extensive online relationship questionnaire. In that final meeting, we spend almost two hours with you explaining, from a science perspective what's working in your relationship, what's not, and how to fix it.
It's all done online, either week-by-week or over a weekend.