Secret communication in covert narcissistic abuse

Why don't people believe me?


One of the most distressing elements of realising that you are in a relationship with a covert narcissist is that others may not believe you. This can even extend to your family and friends. It is hard enough for you, as a victim of narcissistic abuse, to realise that your relationship is not what you believed it was for years - potentially even decades - but when those nearest and dear to you do not believe you, your distress is compounded. This can lead you to a place beyond despair and finding a counsellor who truly understands this confusing disorder is essential in order for you to begin to understand what has happened to you and to heal.

How can they abuse in plain sight?

One of the ways in which a covert narcissist can abuse you in plain sight and maintain a seemingly kind, humble, perhaps charming demeanour in front of family and friends, is the use of targetted secret communication. Secret communication will seem benign and completely innocent to others: only you feel the hurt and confusion around what the person is saying, or how the person is acting because only you are aware of the hidden messages. Only you have been conditioned.

So what is secret communication?

The narcissist will use the knowledge that only you and the narcissist share. They can behave in a certain way and say seemingly innocent things in the presence of others because only you are aware that they are lying, or gaslighting you (and potentially also your family and friends), or they had a totally different view the day before and the day before that and the day before that. It may be that they are subtly and secretly referring to a previous disagreement, a previous diminishing, episode of abuse, or a previous act that upset you. Living with someone who is a completely different person, saying entirely different things in front of different groups of people is disturbing and destabilising. Explaining it to others, who don't understand the subtleties of narcissistic abuse, is nigh on impossible.

Patterns and conditioning

In order to comprehend how someone with covert (vulnerable) narcissistic personality disorder can abuse in plain sight and not be recognised by others, it is crucial to understand an essential element of this form of abuse; that the entirety of the relationship with a narcissist is abusive. It is not only the times when the abuse is more obvious to you - when they are gaslighting you, diminishing you, ignoring you or blatantly lying to you - the abuse includes the apparently nicer times.

The helpful gestures, the giving of gifts, utterings of adoration, promises made and agreed plans for the future. These periods of ease - the cyclical love bombing phases - allow the narcissist to embed you with certain beliefs, understandings and messages around the relationship. They allow the narcissist to keep you trapped in malignant hope for a brighter future and a return to the heady first days of the relationship. The messages embedded can then be used to abuse you in plain sight without it being noticed by others as abuse.

How does secret communication help the narcissist?

The narcissist constantly needs to fill their inner void of self. They need to stabilise their fragile, superficially high self-esteem and suppress at all costs the reality of their total lack of true self-worth. Everything the narcissist does and says is designed to keep you, as their primary supply, close and under control. They need to keep you de-stabilised, hopeful and available any time their fragile self-esteem needs topping up with attention and adoration, or they need to diminish or gaslight you in order to feel powerful.

Doing this with an audience has a double benefit for them - they can gain supply through upsetting you and potentially gaining admiration through lies to others. It can also benefit them from what is termed reactive abuse.

So what does secret communication do to you?

Narcissists are like addicts. Their preoccupation with gaining supply takes up their every waking hour; it truly has to be exhausting for them. It is absolutely shattering for you. It is highly destabilising and seriously affects your physical and mental health. After a time, you become hyper-sensitive and hyper-reactive. Being in a constant state of stress and alert changes our biology and seriously affects our mental health and ability to cope. The narcissist can benefit from this aspect of narcissistic abuse because it truly is crazy-making.

You can see that they are lying; you know that they are not being authentic. This can cause you to react. Sometimes overreact. They can then point to you and say 'See what I have to deal with? They can do what covert narcissists do best - they can play the victim to your 'abusive' behaviour. People will then be led to believe that you are the difficult one - the unhinged one - because likely, by now, you do feel unhinged.

It is important to know that this is in no way whatsoever your fault! You have been conditioned - potentially over many years and many, many incidents. However, for your health and well-being and the health of your future relationships, it is crucial that these overworked systems are calmed.

A counsellor with the right training and full understanding of this complex form of emotional abuse can help you do this. A counsellor with the right knowledge can help you see the entirety of the relationship for what it is, help you see the light in what may seem like a very dark tunnel and find a way forward and out. Seeing the entirety of the relationship as abusive, not just the 'bad bits' can help you separate from your abuser and go on to live the full life you deserve with contentment, self-compassion, self-worth and fulfilling, kind and authentic relationships.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Hungerford, Berkshire, RG17
Written by Susie Bowell, BA (Hons), RGN, Cert & Dip in Counselling, BACP reg.
Hungerford, Berkshire, RG17

Susie Bowell
BA (Hons); RGN; Dip. Counselling.
I trained as a counsellor later in life after a wonderful and rewarding near twenty years as a nurse working with those with life changing and life limiting conditions. A difficult realisation led me to retrain and begin to focus my time where I feel I can give the most added benefit to my clients.

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