If You Experience These 4 Subtle Behaviors, You’re Being Sabotaged By A Covert Narcissist

There’s nothing like covert, underhanded sabotage, and narcissistic and psychopathic individuals tend to engage in these behaviors frequently to undermine the people they are envious of and feel threatened by. A researcher specializing in narcissism and psychopathy shares the four subtle behaviors you should be on the lookout for if you suspect you’re being sabotaged by a narcissist.

Crazymaking arguments and provocations before important events, milestones, or during celebrations.

People who have been in any kind of interaction or relationships with narcissistic and psychopathic people note that this individual usually attempted to provoke them before or during important events to sabotage their joy. This leads them to feel drained, exhausted, depleted and emotionally distressed in a way that caused them to not fulfill their commitments or deterred their goals. For example, an envious husband who is threatened by you going back to school and seeks control over you may start arguments with you the day before a big exam, or a jealous girlfriend who doesn’t want to see you succeed might try to diminish you with covert put-downs the day of your graduation. This is all about exerting control and power over a victim the narcissist perceives they are losing control over. To avoid covert sabotage in this manner, do not disclose important events if you suspect you have a toxic person in your life until these events are already over. Do not showcase what is important to you in the presence of a narcissist.

Pretending to support you overtly, but creating covert opportunities to shame, “humble,” or humiliate you.

Let’s say a narcissistic parent sees you becoming financially and professionally successful. Overtly, they may sing your praises to other family members and friends, to benefit from the boost you give to their own image and their association with you. However, behind closed doors, they may constantly ask you questions or take actions meant to shame or “humble” you. This is due to their malicious envy, which is associated with both narcissistic and psychopathic traits in research. For example, they might start sending you e-mails about job postings even though you already have a high-ranking career or ask probing questions in front of other family members to point out something they perceive to be lacking in your life (i.e. they may say something like “Are you sure you want to spend your money on that? Don’t you need to save?” despite the fact that they know you are financially stable), even if it is not. Or maybe a narcissistic partner notices you’re experiencing a physical glow-up and becoming fit and healthy, but they don’t want you to continue leveling up because they know you will outshine them. They might start hyper-focusing on fabricated flaws to make you feel insecure, or suddenly start mentioning people they’ve met at the gym in an attempt to make you jealous. This is all part of a ploy to “humble” you when you’re leveling up and succeeding, to prevent you from surpassing them or knowing you deserve better. In the dating world, be very cautious of anyone who tries to neg or minimize you. This is a red flag that they will not cheer you on and support you the way you would do for them.

Doing the opposite of what you have expressed you desire and need for them.

In healthy relationships, empathic people will listen to your concerns and take your needs, boundaries, and desires very seriously. In toxic relationships with narcissists and psychopaths, the narcissist may at times go out of their way to do the very opposite of what you’ve expressed you desire from them, as a way to diminish and derail you. I have jokingly said before you’d be better off telling the narcissist how you despise being left alone and hate receiving large cash gifts, because they love doing the opposite of what you express you desire.  For example, if you tell a narcissistic spouse you’d love for them to pick up the kids after school on the day of an important interview, they may tell you they will do it but then fail to follow through, doing the opposite on purpose so you have to figure out how to handle childcare on a day where you do not need the extra stress (this example is especially pertinent if you’re the spouse who normally takes on the majority of childrearing anyway, but your spouse displays “weaponized incompetence” to get out of their own obligations). Or let’s say you tell a narcissistic friend you need some alone time to prepare for an important presentation. They may suddenly proceed to bombard you with “emergencies,” texts, and phone calls the day of the presentation, especially if they feel jealous of your success, manufacturing chaos in your life at ill-timed moments to underhandedly sabotage you.

When someone pulls these antics the first time around, it’s important to distance yourself immediately. If you need to maintain contact with this toxic person in any way, you can leave “red herrings” or misrepresent your true needs, vulnerabilities, and desires if you need to, knowing that the narcissist will try to use such fabricated fears and desires against you, thus proving themselves to be an unsafe person. You might tell a date you suspect is toxic that you have an insecurity you don’t have, and watch them try to use it against you, thus confirming their true character and allowing you to detach early on. You may also enforce your boundaries rather than relying on the narcissist to fulfill your needs.  Rather than telling your friend you have an important presentation, for example, you may simply turn off your phone altogether and enforce the boundary. Instead of telling your toxic spouse you need someone to pick up the kids to attend an interview, you might make other arrangements ahead of time to protect yourself.

Minimizing your achievements or failing to give you your figurative “flowers” (healthy praise) while praising others in front of you, creating covert love triangles.

Narcissistic and psychopathic people are notorious for pitting people against each other and creating triangles: whether it be love triangles or the inclusion of a third party in a platonic, familial, or professional arrangement. This can include withholding healthy praise from you, or diminishing your visible strengths and achievements, while praising others in front of you who may not even compare to you. For example, a narcissistic father may congratulate his son on a job well done when he gets a promotion but berate his brother when he does the same at an even more high-tier establishment. Or a narcissistic partner may fail to compliment how beautiful you look when you’re out to dinner when he sees you are being complimented by other men but deliberately hit on a waitress to make you jealous because he feels threatened by all the attention you get in public.  This is known as jealousy induction, and it is more common during the devaluation rather than love bombing phase of the toxic relationship.

This is meant to destabilize you so that you don’t feel assured of your self-worth and strengths, and so you rely on their validation and approval rather than seeking better partners. It’s important to understand the pathological and egotistical needs that are behind a narcissist’s motives when evaluating their feedback or lack thereof so you do not internalize this. Rather, see it as evidence of your power – you are simply too threatening to the narcissist’s ego to celebrate or acknowledge at the moment especially if this type of minimization or withholding is occurring after a period of intense love bombing. They are uplifting others for the sole purpose of trying to provoke you. Remember to self-validate and remind yourself of the accurate feedback you do get from healthy, empathic people who do give you the “flowers” you deserve.

About the author

Shahida Arabi

Shahida is a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia University. She is a published researcher and author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse and Breaking Trauma Bonds with Narcissists and Psychopaths. Her books have been translated into 16+ languages all over the world. Her work has been featured on Salon, HuffPost, Inc., Bustle, Psychology Today, Healthline, VICE, NYDaily News and more. For more inspiration and insight on manipulation and red flags, follow her on Instagram here.