My narcissist is a covert narcissists. This video by Richard Grannon is spot on, so I wanted to share it here along with some personal examples and experiences.
Initially Grannon lays out the terms “overt narcissist” and “covert narcissist.” Overt narcissists are the microphone stealing Kanye Wests of the world. They don’t hide their asshole like behavior because they don’t need to. The world agrees, at least somewhat, with the Overt Narccist’s opinion of himself. “The covert narcissist,” Grannon says, “cannot really afford to be so direct because people don’t really agree with their world view.” The covert narcissist wakes up every day feeling like King of the World, but is immediately and continually confronted by situations that remind him that he isn’t King of the World. This causes him to live in a state of narcissistic injury.
This is an amazingly accurate description of my narcissist. He has a low status job which provides an almost poverty level income. He has been in a similar position with different companies for decades, always trying to move up the ladder, but constantly unable to do so. His home is small and unkept. Now he gets to add divorcé to his resume of worldly slights. All the while he behaves as if the world owes him something because he is a misunderstood genius. Life is so unfair to him. “I’m always the biggest victim in the room.” the covert narcissist cries and my narcissist has a long list of failures to trot out in his defense.
Gannon then moved on to talk about some linguistic tendencies of narcissists, specifically “word salad,” but with some other golden nuggets of understanding tossed in. Word salad started as a psychiatric term for an issue associated with schizophrenia. It was then borrowed by pop culture and used to describe the way politicians speak. Gannon, describing how politicians answer questions says, “They word salad the answer. You get a sequence of words that is about the subject, that clearly is around the question that you’ve asked or is appropriate to that sequence in the conversation, but it really isn’t answering anything or saying anything.”
Here is one very succinct example of this from my week. In a message I asked, “Have you had a chance to read the book the pediatrician wanted us to read?” He replied, “I’ve downloaded it to my tablet.” Great! That’s super! But isn’t doesn’t answer my question. He can’t say “No, I didn’t read the book that directly impacts the health of our child.” but he also can’t say nothing. Gannon says this is the first advantage word salad gives the narcissist. It seems like he is answering the question, but he isn’t. The narcissist is able to have the last word without saying anything meaningful.
Narcissists, almost by definition, are highly competitive. As Gannon describes, this competitiveness is antithetical to authentic conversation. “We’re not two adults sincerely discussing an issue moving toward a solution…This is a boxing match…In the narcissist’s head it’s a ping pong game. They just have to keep playing it back to you.” In my example, it’s clear that finding a solution for our child’s medical needs isn’t the motive for his response. He just has to return the ball.
I’m constantly having to engage in these endless exchanges because we have joint decision making. It’s irritating and frustrating to be unable to get my kids the medical care they deserve, but when he stops at just avoiding saying anything of substance I know I’m getting off easy.
There is a second advantage word salad gives to a Narcissist which can be much more damaging to the person on the receiving end. The second advantage comes in two parts: it allows the narcissist to control the conversational partner’s emotional state and it opens the other person up to to suggestion.
Gannon say, “The covert narcissist can use word salad for blatant provocation of a negative state.” For example, he can use it to enduce rage in the other person which closes down the argument and transfers the shame and guilt on to the other person. Quite the win for the narcissist. I’m an exceedingly calm person, slow to anger, and very introverted. Outward displays of anger are just not in my repertoire. However, my narcissist was still able to provoke me into throwing my phone at him during an argument. I don’t remember what the argument was about and it only happened once, but the guilt is certainly still there.
In the video, Gannon likens the linguist structure of word salad to that used in hypnosis. For me, this was truly scary. My narcissist never hit me or blatantly called me names. He never overtly did anything, yet I was an empty husk, chafe in the wind, when my narcissist discarded me. Word salad is definitely his method of manipulation.
Word salad is much more visible in text form and much more safe for me to deal with. I still would rather not deal with it at all. Even in text it can trigger me, but it Is what it is. One recent text exchange (which I will fictionalize for the sake of my anonymity and post later) contained 28 messages from him and 20 from me. There were 12 messages in which he directly stated or implied the situation was my fault. I know it wasn’t. After his 19th text, I informed him I had called my lawyer. After that he stopped blaming me, that means that up until that point 63% of his messages were just functioning to shift blame. “Frequently you will be accused of doing the same thing the covert narcissist has done and worse.”
I’m closing, Gannon sums up why the covert narcissist is so dangerous using one a reference to one of my favorite books. He says, “Until you’re in pain you won’t know that you’re even in danger. Like in Dune where you’re the good guys from house of Atreides and then house are Harkonnen comes up and goes ‘Hey homie, can I have a hug?’ and slips the poison blade…[the] poison’s a bad one it’s worse than the gom jabbar. I feel all fiery and agonize that I’m going to die soon and that’s when you realize that you’re in trouble!”