Marc Hubs is a writer/researcher on mind, science, and conspiracy. He is the author of "Know Your Enemy: Reflections of NPD."
Stealth narcissism is by far the most dark, dangerous, damaging and difficult to deal with form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) that exists.
No longer to be confused with co-narcissism, or inverted narcissism (a term coined by Sam Vaknin) and as the name suggests, stealth narcissists are much more undercover and off-the-radar in the methods they use to exploit people than classic, elite or overt narcissists are.
They may therefore sometimes be referred to as covert, or closet, narcissists, as nobody knows that they are a narcissist.
Closet/stealth narcissists work behind the scenes, operating covertly and stealthily from behind the mask of sanity; the innocent, angelic exterior they project, just like the Wizard of Oz operating from behind the curtain. The "good as gold" angel that everyone has come to know the narcissist as is, in reality, nothing more than a false projection.
The stealth narcissist has been pulling the strings and controlling their victim's life, as though they were nothing more than a puppet.
However, the victim usually perceives the narcissist as the amazingly convincing "good as gold" projection they falsely portray and the behind-the-scenes manipulation continues outside of the victim's awareness.
The victim has no idea that the stealth narcissist is the real source of most of the problems they are facing in their life. They do not realize or understand that the narcissist has no empathy and that most of their empathy is feigned; just a learned behavior recalled from script.
The narcissist gradually and insidiously manipulates the victim into co-dependence first by destroying their identification (driving license, birth certificate), follow by their finances which is then followed by the destruction of their reputation by using a distortion campaign against them; spreading truths mixed with subtle malicious lies (half-truths); character assassination.
The victim ultimately becomes forced into isolation and eventually begins to lose contact with their family and friends, some of whom may also have been deceived by the narcissist's pathological deceit. The narcissist leaves no clues behinds and operates invisibly in the background whilst their victims remain fooled by their angelic facade.
The stealth narcissist has sociopathic tendencies and abuses their victim(s) covertly, subliminally and insidiously long-term over a great length of time, gradually violating their basic human rights, yet the abuse is so stealthy and undermines perception so much that it remains invisible and unnoticed. This can often happen for up to ten years or more, gradually escalating over time - for this reason the covert abuse may progressively become more and more overt over the long-term.
By the time the victim realizes what's happening it's already too late - the narcissist has them cornered into a situation that they do not have the resources to get out of. They cannot escape and have unwillingly been manipulated into co-dependence.
Although the covert narcissist has the same traits as an overt or classic narcissist (grandiose fantasies, high levels of self-entitlement, need for adulation and adoration, etc), these behaviors are rarely ever expressed in their overt behaviour making stealth narcissists much more difficult to recognize.
Additionally, stealth narcissists see their grandiose fantasies as being unacceptable, they see their dreams, desires and goals as being there to solicit goodness and power to one's self and therefore being way beyond their potential. They feel inadequate and so they never go on to achieve the things they are truly capable of in life. Their own sense of inferiority places limitations on their capacity for achievement.
Stealth narcissists feels so inadequate about being themselves that they may 'borrow' ideas from other people.
Instead of deciding for themselves how they would like their house to be decorated, they may simply copy what someone they know has already done. However, the borrowing of such an idea is not a one-off occasion. It happens time and time again, as though they must always model themselves on someone else.
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Co-narcissism, a term originally coined by Elan Golomb and Alexander Lowen, can be considered to be a malignant (or pernicious) form of co-dependence.
Whereas the term co-dependent can be applied to a broad range of people, co-narcissism can only really be applied to those who actively, compulsively and obsessively seek to be in a relationship whereby they are being controlled and manipulated (catered for) by a classic narcissist. They are a co-dependent (or inverted) narcissist, which is different from a co-dependent, hence the term co-narcissist.
Although there are many misconceptions about this term being used to describe a covert narcissist, this is not the case. The term "covert narcissist" is actually an accurate description of closet or stealth narcissism. There is a very significant difference between a co-narcissist and a covert narcissist.
It's important to understand that covert narcissism and co-narcissism are extremely similar yet both different. The narcissistic relationship is all about projective identification and reflection and so both the co-dependence and the narcissism within each side of the relationship fluctuates, switching back and forth in cycles, between each person in what has become known as the narcissist's dance.
Due to the nature of this type of abuse, at certain times, the narcissism in the co-narcissist (co-dependent) is brought out and the co-dependence in the narcissist is brought out; it becomes regulated.
Because the reflection in such a relationship (not necessarily an intimate one), is always switching back and forth, it leaves people who are outside of the relationship being able to recognize that there is a problem but never being able to tell who in the relationship is the true source of the problem. However, co-narcissists and classic narcissists are compatible and can therefore have a stable relationship with each other.
Narcissistic abuse can be perpetrated by either the co-narcissist or the classic narcissist, for if a classic narcissist is in a relationship with someone who is not an inverted narcissist, then they will attempt to manipulate and abuse them into co-dependence whereas if an inverted narcissist is in a relationship with someone who is not a classic narcissist they will refuse to take responsibility for their self and force dependence upon them by passing on all responsibility.
Just like the stealth narcissist, the inverted narcissist is also full of self-doubt, often under-estimating their true potential. They therefore rarely go on to attain the achievements they are truly capable of in life.
On the surface inverted/co-narcissists often come across as being extremely quiet, timid and shy due to their inner feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. Inverted narcissists may become so dependent that should someone cut off communication with them, they may harass that person with non-stop phone calls, they may attempt to visit them at their workplace without consent and/or they may continue to stalk them.
Inverted/Co-narcissists simply do not want to take any responsibility for themselves, it scares them because of their deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy.
* eBook by this author now available - Reflections Of NPD
- Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): The Emotional Abuser/Self-Harmer
- Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD): The Drama Queen/Attention Whore
- Inside The Mind Of A Narcissist (Malignant Self-Love)
© 2013 Marc Hubs
Gail Meyers from Johnson County, Kansas on December 23, 2019:
Hello Sparkster. This is another thought provoking, engaging article. I have noticed similar behavior as that articulated under the subheading of "Covert Abuse," but it appears to have occurred in a slightly different order. Also, I have noticed evidence left behind, but it being systematically destroyed.
We announced Gaslighting: Rewriting History and Identity Theft a few months ago that we are still working on.
sschardt52 on August 21, 2018:
I did not know anything or even heard of one when my narc boyfriend and I got together he told me he has never felt this way about anyone before he fell in love, of course, I did to hook line and sinker but every other day he was throwing me out of his Motorhome calling me names he broke up with me every other day I knew there was something so I asked my BFF and she said yes he is the Narc. We have been together for almost 2 yrs and it been nothing but him calling the foulest names and I tell him to stop he just gets worse cuts me down he has done nothing wrong it's all my fault I have hurt his heart. I am ready to get out of this we do not live together and I am glad one day he loves me so much I wake up the next morning and he is attacking me about something. I have caught him on dating sites I have talked to the women he recently met he was trying to get them into bed, of course, he denies it. I am mentally drained I can not do it any longer. He is almost 60 and he use to be a big player slept with all kinds of women and cheated on his wives. I dont know if he has ever actually cheated on me because he has ED and he does not have any friends he used them all up he does not come out of his Motorhome and he love Porn he said he would rather do it himself its easier our sex life there has never been a problem when we have sex he waits till I am asleep and turns on porn and does his thing. I am afraid when I delete him off my facebook messenger block him and from my phone, he will come to where I reside and he gets scary. I thought he really did love me till he started to one day love me the next he doesn't. I am done with it if Love has to hurt you so bad I dont want it.
Miriam on August 11, 2018:
This is so true, in that there is a difference between inverted narcissism (aka BPD) and a covert narcissist (i.e. the kind to break into your house/steal your belongings/damage your property/smear your reputation and commit character assassination by projecting their own inadequacies onto you & spreading lies and then act like nothing happened / there is often this "angel" or "saint complex" - "I am beyond reproach, and I can do no wrong, say no wrong").
I was honestly confused about this, even though I have had fine examples of this in my own life.
The BPD can only have a "working relationship" (albeit very destructive and tumultuous) with an NPD (where one is overly compliant and irresponsible, whereas the other is overly controlling and overly responsible and these roles can change).
My father and mother are the classic example of a narcissistic couple (dad NPD and mom BPD).
I was romantically involved with one co-narcissist (BPD) and one covert narcissist (NPD) (one of them showed signs of borderline disorder and the other was simply narcissistic but covert - shy, timid, reserved and felt deeply inadequate and acted like he was beyond reproach).
I could not have a working relationship with the borderline disordered individual because I refused to be controlled and manipulated and [I refused to take responsibility] for the co-narcissist/inverted narcissist.
And the other person who was an actual narcissist (but closeted) felt way too entitled and too deserving of things he had no business feeling entitled to (and without needing to put forth any effort whatsoever, especially in the romance/partnership department - so in a way he was very lazy, rigid, black-white and expected to be worshipped and not have any of his faults pointed out to him and if I dared do that I was the bad one).
He expected to be treated like someone who was single (but with the benefits of a married individual).
He had such fantasies (they weren't expressed explicitely) but I could tell from the way he behaved that he wasn't completely grounded in reality (if anything, he rejected reality and was extremely emotionally fragile).
Some of his behaviour was incredibly corny (like a caricature). He definitely expressed signs of suffering with delusions of grandeur (which stemmed from his deep feelings of inadequacy & powerlessness).
Deep down he knew he was f*cked up and "different" (and not in a good way).
But he expected me to be "his partner in denial".
I also got entangled into a nasty mess with a covert narcissistic neighbour (of the truly criminal type) - this was last year and one of the most exhausting and upsetting periods of my life.
I have since moved, and am now dealing with yet another covert narcissist (who lives above me).
I'm trying to nip her unacceptable behaviour in the bud. I'm going to document everything.
So far, she's entered my apartment once at night (obviously without my consent) and lied about it (I had neglected to shut the door, and had fallen asleep).
I didn't think anybody would have the guts to just enter my place (because there's just 3 tenants here, and 1 is out most of the time and I'm home most of the time, so it would be easy to tell someone came in).
This wasn't the first time she had tried coming in (I had caught her trying to come in at least 2 other times - but the door was locked, and I even heard her walk up the stairs during the night in the hallway).
Belle on December 15, 2016:
What you said about a covert narcissist not taking responsibility for themselves is so true. This is exactly what happened to me. All responsibilities were pushed onto me- I even would help him understand why he had been disrespectful to me. I packed his lunches for work. The smallest of things I would ask, he would never do. I once asked him to get a bucket from the shed- it was just a casual inquiry. Well, 3 days later, I realized he never brought it in and when I asked about it, he said he had decided that I could soak "our" laundry in the sink and I didn't need a bucket to do it. It was a shocker. I had to manage both our lives, literally, emotionally, etc., but he would decide whether or not the help I asked for was worthy. I have my Masters in Clinical Psychology too. I never would have thought I could enter into a relationship like this, let alone get married to someone like this. I was a very strong, independent woman- the one saying she would never get married. Hopefully women and men can understand that this is not their fault. I'm glad to see more and more online content about this confusing, often unheard of, mental illness.
norton67 on July 12, 2015:
I've been going through hell in the work place because of a covert narcissist. I had no idea what was going on. First it started as a subtle covert attack on my reputation. One clique would be told I was a drinker. Another clique would be told I was a liar, another individual told something else completely false with all these different negative stories about me then converging in the workplace, yet no one knew the origin. I mean anything negative, such as he's forgetful, has bad breath beats his wife, beats his dog, I mean anything. Then started the sabotage. Workplace sabotage, every project that I just successfully completed seemed to be falling apart shortly thereafter. Anything I touched and completed would mysteriously be tampered with, but extremely cleverly tampered with that it almost appeared to be a new issue. This was going on for months. Then one day I saw him commit an act of sabotage, and I knew he must have did all the other things as well. I did not confront him because he is so well liked he would have turned it around on me, He would have had many supporters if I dare accuse him. He also uses rehearsed techniques, an extremely perverse use of Rosenbergs negotiation techniques, almost hypnotic. I can't believe how everyone is being controlled like henchmen by this guy. But its to my detriment. I need help in combatting this. I am just putting up with it because its all I can do. I have no where else to go. I could write volumes but will end this just to say it feels good to even type this, even if no one reads it.
Marc Hubs (author) from United Kingdom on January 24, 2015:
It's a form of identity theft. Once identification documents are out of the way, they then move on to stealing your physical and mental identity and leave you in a state of dissociation.
Sandi on January 24, 2015:
how is stealing ones drivers license or birth certificate part of this?
Grateful 61 on September 20, 2014:
I cannot thank you enough Sparkster. I cannot stop crying! It has taken me 30 plus years to realize that my sister" has been sabotaging my life and destroying my self esteem and sense of worth. This while coming across to everyone as the sane , butter wouldn't melt in her mouth type EVERYONE adores. I am not mad after all!!!
I have been left scratching my head on so many occasions over the years wondering just what it was I had "done" when all along she was undermining me to anyone and everyone she came in contact with. She has an insatiable need to be the centre of attention and the object of everyone's pity. She manipulates and lies in order to get this. She has totally ruined my relationship with one of my sisters and one of my nieces. I don't have the strength left to recover these relationships-she has done too much damage and besides they believe her. But again thank you for reaffirming what my instinct had been telling me all along. I just wish I had trusted this a long time ago.
Lisa on January 19, 2014:
I'm in recovery after 23 years of torcher, my 4 kids and family have been fooled. Isuffered 23 years of rollercoster depression, fibroid growths all over- including my thyroid, breasts and uterus, eventually PTSD. My youngest has suffered so badly he tried to end his life and prior came at me with a butcher knife. His dad never took off work for any of us suffering. Never a family vacation (I took the kids, while he stayed). I'm in the discovery part of divorce and daily I'm uncovering more deceit and lies. It's so devastating, I was violated, my kids were brain washed and my 23 yr old daughter can't love!!! I found out it was his mother that burdened him, now he burdens our daughter. He swindled me and was able to do me under financially because I trusted him 100%, he is a Pepperdine MBA, CFO and VP same company 27 years. He is a monster in sheeps clothing!!! He has manipulated everyone and the lies OMG! He had me give up everything (Nursing license, family inheritance, pets, time away from family, etc). If you are a compassionate nurturer, please wake-up!!! My GF had to point out to me what he is, and only felt safe too do so after he filed for divorce and moved out with my daughter, leaving me with a explosive angry 17 yr old son (I'm thinking he will try to have him finish me off?). TG my mother is still capable of helping me, she is the only one who can admit to and validate his abuse. Her and I both are in shock still.
If anyone is in Southern Calif. that has a good therapist experienced in coverts PLEASE reply!! My son and I need experienced help! If there is an experienced attorney to refer PLEASE reply. It is, as you know, VERY HARD TO TRUST ANYONE!
I don't even know how to safely exchange info to communicate to those who can help online .......
rainneerain on November 10, 2013:
I have the ultimate covert narcissist story! One that would make your head spin. My story will undoubtably help you in your search to understand the poison these people spread because I have dealt with a mother who almost drove me to the brink of suicide and murder. Only the good lord kept me from hurting myself or this woman. I would like to tell you about it but it is a story that spans 20 some years and there isn't enough room on this page. If you would like to hear about it...please contact me. I was given a 24 carrot covert narcissistic mother . She worked in soul murder like other artists might work in painting and drawing. She was a true master. I would love to tell you about it...Thanks ...Rainnee
Michelle Liew from Singapore on May 28, 2013:
Wow. Sparkster, this is interesting! I have always associated it NPD with other being just that and was not aware of the sub-types. Thanks for sharing!
Marc Hubs (author) from United Kingdom on April 09, 2013:
Thanks for the comment nybride, it's amazing that so many people have had to suffer this kind of abuse when the statistics show that such a small percentage of the population are inflicted with this personality disorder. It's so true what you said, it really is as if narcissists suck your soul dry until it feels like there's nothing left - this is sometimes called 'soul murder' and is also why narcissists are often called 'emotional vampires'.
Lisa Kroulik from Minnesota on April 08, 2013:
My ex-husband is a covert narcissist. I would much rather deal with someone who didn't try to hide who they really are than one who projects an image of Christian good guy. It was a real shock to me when I finally figured out that I was not crazy and that much of my anxiety and depression came from living with someone who was in reality two people. Not too many people got to see the selfish and angry person who I lived with. This relationship sucked my soul dry and I am so glad to be out of it.