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Can a Covert Narcissist Change?

unhappy couple

The decision to divorce, especially from a covert narcissist, is never simple and usually feels like a dilemma in one way or another. Many spouses find themselves in the difficult position of wanting to end their marriage to escape the manipulative and emotionally draining behaviors characteristic of a covert narcissist but also hold onto hope that their spouse might change. This internal conflict is not only about ending a relationship but also about the deep desire for genuine transformation in their spouse. No matter which direction is chosen, one thing is clear: the spouse who is a covert narcissist will have to change—but is it possible?

Why is Covert Narcissism Hard to Change?

Covert narcissism is a subtler form of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) characterized by less obvious manifestations than those seen in overt narcissism. Unlike their overt counterparts, covert narcissists display traits that are harder to recognize. They often appear shy, sensitive, or withdrawn. Their narcissistic tendencies manifest in ways that are not immediately apparent, making it challenging for themselves and those around them to identify the disorder. Covert narcissists' behaviors are deeply ingrained and serve as defense mechanisms against feelings of inadequacy or vulnerability, contributing to why it is difficult for people with this type of narcissism to change.

Key behaviors of a covert narcissist that make change difficult include:

  • Manipulation: Covert narcissists often engage in subtle manipulation tactics to get what they want, such as guilt-tripping, gaslighting, or playing the victim. Since these behaviors are less overt, they can be challenging to confront and change.
  • Lack of empathy: Despite sometimes appearing sensitive or compassionate, covert narcissists struggle with genuine empathy. They focus on their own needs and feelings, which makes it hard for them to truly understand or prioritize the needs and feelings of others, hindering meaningful personal growth or change.
  • Need for admiration: Covert narcissists have a deep-seated need for admiration and validation from others, though they may not seek it as openly as overt narcissists. This dependence on external validation makes it difficult for them to develop a stable sense of self-worth independently of others' perceptions.
  • Passive-aggressiveness: Rather than expressing anger or dissatisfaction openly, covert narcissists often resort to passive-aggressive behaviors. This indirect expression of hostility can sabotage relationships and make it hard for them to address issues directly and constructively.
  • Introversion: The introversion associated with covert narcissism isn't merely a preference for solitude over social interaction. It's often linked to feelings of insecurity, inferiority, and a deceptive need for control. If the narcissist is stuck on an inward focus, it can make it challenging to seek out or engage in the kind of introspective, therapeutic work necessary for significant behavioral change.

Possibility of Change for a Covert Narcissist

Therapy, especially modalities tailored to address narcissistic behaviors such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and schema therapy, can be exactly what a covert narcissist needs to start to change. Unique therapeutic approaches can help them recognize and understand their narcissistic patterns, develop healthier coping mechanisms, and build empathy toward the people around them. A key aspect of therapy is shifting the focus from external validation to fostering a more stable sense of self-worth from within.

Supportive environments are equally important in facilitating change for covert narcissists. Environments that encourage openness, honesty, and vulnerability can help reinforce the lessons learned in therapy. They provide a safe space for them to practice new behaviors and receive constructive feedback without judgment. Such environments also help in reducing the reliance on narcissistic supply— the admiration and attention narcissists seek from others—by offering genuine connection and support.

For spouses of covert narcissists considering these possibilities, it's important to maintain realistic expectations regarding the extent and pace of change. Covert narcissism is characterized by behaviors like manipulation, lack of empathy, and passive-aggressiveness, which are not easily or quickly altered. Patience is required of all parties.

Is Divorce the Answer?

Many people who are married to a covert narcissist eventually realize that divorce may be the only viable option for escaping the toxic cycle of manipulation, lack of empathy, and combative behavior that characterizes their spouse’s personality. Considering divorce in such circumstances is entirely valid and understandable. However, it’s also perfectly normal to hesitate before taking such a significant step. The process of divorcing a covert narcissist can be particularly challenging due to their manipulative tendencies and resistance to change, making the decision to file for divorce one that requires careful consideration and preparation.

Before diving into the process of divorce, you should consider:

  • Legal representation: You should start by hiring trustworthy legal counsel familiar with cases involving narcissistic personalities. A lawyer with such experience can offer sound guidance and support through the complexities of such a unique divorce.
  • Financial preparation: Covert narcissists may manipulate financial situations to their advantage, so you should gather all necessary financial documents and understand your financial situation before initiating divorce proceedings.
  • Custody arrangements: If you share children with your narcissistic spouse, consider how custody arrangements might unfold once you file for divorce. Covert narcissists may use children as pawns in the divorce process, so you must think about the best strategies for protecting your children's well-being.
  • Support system: Try to establish a dependable support system comprised of your friends, family, therapists, and support groups who understand what you’re going through.

Given the complexities and potential challenges of divorcing a covert narcissist, consulting with a divorce lawyer early can offer much-needed clarity and direction. A skilled divorce attorney can help you feel more confident about what your future holds while navigating the legal challenges on your behalf.

Talk to a Divorce Lawyer for Important Insight

If you're considering a divorce from a covert narcissist in Orange County, California, know that you don't have to face this journey alone. Gill Law Group, PC focuses on divorces that involve narcissistic spouses, so our legal team understands the unique complexities their personalities present. Our knowledgeable team is prepared to guide you through the whole process and protect your best interests from start to finish.

Don't hesitate to reach out and dial (949) 681-9952 to connect with a team that's skilled at handling the intricacies of divorcing a narcissist.