Do you know the one thing a narcissist loves more than himself?
In fact, their rickety stairwell of a soul depends on verbal battles to keep the ego from collapsing.
How covert narcissists argue and the ridiculous things they say range from infuriating to shocking to devastating to downright absurd.
The aftermath leaves you shell-shocked, emotionally tortured, and questioning everything you thought you ever knew about the person.
There is no winning against narcissist argument tactics, but there is a way to cushion the blow.
What Is a Covert Narcissist?
A covert or vulnerable narcissist is a special breed within the narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) family. An overt narcissist is the stereotype most of us think of—the center of attention, the life of the party, ego-driven, and selfish.
A covert narcissist is just as ego-driven and selfish but slightly more dangerous since they are harder to see coming.
A person can be diagnosed with NPD, but then there’s another layer of determining the covert vs. overt vs. malignant narcissism traits.
A covert narcissist stands out for the following reasons:
- They are introverted.
- They are overly sensitive to criticism.
- They always play the victim.
- They are excessively passive-aggressive.
- They are defensive against any constructive feedback, even when warranted.
Overt and covert narcissists share the same sense of grandiosity.
They are both emotionless and apathetic.
The covert narcissist just hides in the shadows instead of seeking the limelight.
There’s no definitive line drawn between where a person splinters between overt and covert narcissism.
One theory is that introversion or extroversion traits develop earlier in life than the personality dysfunction that causes narcissism.
What Tactics Do Narcissists Use in an Argument?
An argument with a narcissist is guerilla warfare. He’ll use whatever weaponry is needed to win while tearing you down.
Their tactics are so well known they even get some creative names.
1. Straw Man
Much like a scarecrow (straw man), this tactic involves knocking down any logical argument or valid point by exaggerating or manipulating the statement.
In today’s society, it could also be called “fake news.” The goal is to shock and awe you while making your statement unstable.
Since narcissists need to exude superiority and have no-self awareness, they aren’t trying to fact-check the conversation.
They are trying to win by any means necessary, and hinging on a few words of a complex sentence or distorting your words is one of those ways.
This term comes from a 1938 British play of the same name where a husband strategically does things to convince his wife she’s gone mad.
When a narcissist gaslights you during an argument, he’ll tell you that you’re overreacting, being too sensitive, or mentally unhealthy to continue the conversation.
Be warned—he will use many other tactical punches to give the final blow of gaslighting once you’re upset or angry.
You’ll risk agreeing with him because you are, in fact, yelling and flailing your arms like a lunatic based on him pushing your buttons.
3. Word Salad
Like a mixed bag of greens, veggies, and dressing, they’ll mix up words in nonsensical formats that go so far off the point you’re one crouton away from screaming.
This tactic is used when you’ve made a valid, simple point that isn’t easy to discredit, so they instead want to lead you down a different path.
He’ll speak in half sentences and mumbled words with the tenacity to keep it going until you’re ready to give up. Word salad is a submissive technique to wear you down and let him win.
Like a movie projector, he transfers what’s happening inside him and assigns that negative trait to you.
This is most common with allegations of cheating or betrayal. A covert narcissist will also use this tactic to reinforce his victim status.
If you accuse him of not caring for the dog, he’ll tell you how he saved the dog from choking the other day, and you never appreciated it.
While a narcissist can’t feel emotions, they know what emotions are important to you since you’ve opened up so much during the love bombing stage.
They will project your defiance of those emotions to wreck you emotionally.
5. Narcissistic Rage
This is the most dangerous tactic they use because it quickly becomes emotional or physical abuse.
If you have the endurance to keep arguing, they could get to the breaking point of flying off the handle, slandering you with defamatory words, and insulting everything precious you’ve shared with them.
On the flip side, they can also rage through silent treatment and indifference. You could be addressing the topic of the argument, and they say nothing while appearing as calm as if they were in church.
You might reach out for a hand when trying to connect with him, and he coldly rejects you.
6. Passive Aggressive
Another covert tactic that serves them well in any aspect of life, including an argument, is being passive-aggressive.
He’ll make the passive-aggressive statement, you’ll get upset, and then he’ll bring in some gaslighting to prove you’re overly sensitive. Note how that is also projecting since the narcissist is overly sensitive at his core.
These statements made during an argument can also be ones you don’t realize were an insult until you’re overanalyzing the argument hours later… “Wait, did he insinuate he works harder than I do?”
31 Things Covert Narcissists Say in an Argument
Narcissistic phrases have been used so often and were so successful for narcissists that they tend to use the same ones over and over.
1. “Here we go again.”
You might ask a simple question about a household chore that didn’t get done, and he knocks you off kilter from the git-go asserting that you’re always ready to start a fight.
2. “So you don’t want me to have friends?”
You’re upset he went to happy hour with his friends for the third time this week, and you want a night together.
He twists those words into a generalization far from what you meant. Suddenly, you’re reaffirming how great of a friend he is.
4. “I do so much for you!”
One of the love bombing benefits for a narcissist is that they have a whole slew of kind things they did for you… months ago.
In his mind, all of that is like a savings account used as a weapon, no matter how long it has been since he’s complimented you.
5. “We can talk when you aren’t intoxicated.”
Even if you’re sipping a freshly poured glass of wine, he’ll hook onto that and use your “drinking problem” as a reason you can’t have this discussion right now.
6. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”
You’ve made a great point with evidence. You’ve cornered him. Victory seems imminent. Instead, with a smug and blasé look, he refuses to answer and dismisses the concern.
7. “Here comes the waterworks.”
As much as you might be passionately fighting to keep the relationship alive, he will showcase how emotional (aka – weak) you are. He also feels a twinge of victory because he controls you enough to make you cry.
8. “I thought you were different.”
The narcissist made you feel special. He was the one that used the word soulmate first. Now he’s devaluing that role, so you’ll go back to seeking your uniqueness in his life.
9. “Your friends warned me you’d do this.”
He’ll distort or make up a conversation with your friends and use them as “flying monkeys” designed to gaslight you more.
He is not insulting you, but he’s insinuating your friends have.
10. “I guess we won’t be going on that vacation.”
He planned the trip of your dreams a year ahead of time to use it as control over you. If he threatens to remove the carrot, you’re more likely to surrender in any argument.
11. “Stop projecting your feelings onto me.”
Oh, yes, they’ll use the tactical words that are now common in conversation to turn the tables. Like a game of hot potato, you’re now just tossing allegations back and forth instead of resolving them.
12. “Go ahead, see what happens next.”
If you try to establish any boundary, he’s conniving enough not to let you know what punishment awaits. He does let the suspense of a discard haunt you more than any revelation would.
13. “If you wouldn’t do that, I wouldn’t do this.”
Any bad behavior of his will be turned into your fault, no matter how absurd the argument is. He justifies his bad actions with your worse actions.
14. “Go ahead, pile it on!”
Since a covert narcissist is always a victim, he’s going to make you feel bad for re-victimizing him again. Now you risk feeling guilty about his stressful workload and his relationship.
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15. “This was my biggest concern about you.”
To assert that he was the one who chose you and that he was “this close” to not choosing you, he’ll make you feel like you’re once again on the brink of being discarded.
16. “Grow up!”
Children are often referred to as bossy, needy, and whiny. The narcissist will look for any opportunity to showcase how he’s more mature than you are and point out exactly how you’re acting like a child.
17. “At least she listens to me.”
Narcissists will devalue your affection by showcasing how others do it better. Even if he lingered a little too long with the woman from sales at the company party, it’s somehow your fault since he was “finally” getting a compliment.
18. “Why are you ruining a good thing?”
With smoke and mirrors, he’ll remind you of how good it (strategically) used to be and make you yearn for that time when you didn’t argue or try to set boundaries.
19. “You’re not mad at me. You’re mad at you.”
Suddenly the narcissist is a psychiatrist, helping dismantle your accusations and show you how it’s really something you concocted on your own.
20. “We’ll talk about this tomorrow after a good night’s sleep.”
This is most likely to happen right before or during a discard. He already knows he’s walking away, and you’ll agree to the discussion since the gaslit statement makes sense.
Spoiler Alert: You will not talk tomorrow. Or the next day. Etc.
21. “I told you that in confidence!”
If you draw a connection to his behavior based on something he told you, like his abusive past and how he now yells at the kids, he’ll deflect the accusations and accuse you of betraying trust.
22. “Maybe you SHOULD leave.”
He’s calling your bluff on the river card in this verbal poker game. Instead of begging you to stay with you, stand your guard; he’s double dog daring you to go.
23. “You don’t think that sounds a little insane?”
Since narcissists go to elaborate ends to get what they want, they’ll re-configure that to sound preposterous when they’ve been caught. Like a prosecuting attorney without enough probable cause, he’s hoping you’ll cave.
24. “You aren’t going to say hello?”
Narcissists need supply, and a negative supply of you being so easily triggered can happen at any time.
You might have had the best sex of your life that morning, but now he needs more validation and will find problems where they don’t exist.
25. “I hope you don’t talk to the kids like that.”
It’s bad enough when they go after you as a person, but now they’re tearing you down as a parent.
26. “Do you really want to die on this hill?”
They are negating the importance of the argument while making it feel like Custer’s Last Stand. Of course, you don’t. You just want him to take out the trash.
27. “Why do I attract crazy women?”
He will usually say this to an imaginary figure in the ceiling, so it’s not directed at you, but there’s still emotional splatter all over you. He also gets the benefit of “I never said you were crazy!”
28. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
This. Is. Not. An. Apology. Even though it includes the keywords “I’m sorry,” it’s still diminishing your feelings while pointing out that you’re wrong.
29. “Yes, I’m having an affair with three women and two men.”
You just wanted to know who he was seen having lunch with, and he exaggerated the perceived accusation.
The extreme embellishment helped him avoid answering the question while hoping you see the whole line of questioning as overreacting.
30. “You think you can do better?”
He knows you can’t do better since he’s a god among men. He just needs you to see it. This question is followed by all the ways he’s superior to any other partner and how lost you’d be without him.
31. “I don’t know if I can live without you.”
This is not only a narcissistic habit, but it’s emotionally manipulative and should be treated as a serious concern. You should address any insinuation of self-harm with a professional.
How to Deal with Covert Narcissist’s Arguments
It’s too easy to say, “the only way to win an argument with a narcissist is to not fight in the first place.”
You wouldn’t be reading this article if it was that simple. You’re in the middle of a battle, and you need legitimate help.
- Stop taking it personally. Once you can wrap your head around the idea that this person has no emotions, you can stop making it seem like he’s tearing you down.
- Adjust your approach to address concerns. Since you aren’t talking to an emotional being, you must navigate the conversation like a mind field, dodging all of his tactics. Remember, any emotional rise out of you is a win. Stay calm.
- Don’t press his buttons. Since you know a covert narcissist is especially hurt by criticism, turn the argument topic around. Instead of asking why he didn’t mow the lawn, tell him you thought about mowing the lawn, but you can’t get the perfect lines in the grass as he does.
How Does a Narcissist Act After an Argument?
Here’s another phrase to know concerning narcissists –object constancy. Those with object constancy can feel the “I love you, but I don’t like you right now” emotions.
Narcissists don’t feel any connection to a person after an argument, which is a lack of object constancy. It manifests in several important ways you need to know.
- They Aren’t Waiting for You. In fact, they’ve likely gone to another supply, be it professional or intimate, to feel better about themselves.
- They Won’t “Come Around” Eventually. Since you’re a tool to build their superiority status, they gain nothing by begging you to come back. The victory comes when you pursue.
- You Can’t Win. If you go on with your life while he’s pouting, then you’re cruel and never cared about him. If you text him twice to talk, you’re stalking him. If you tell your friends, you’re violating his trust. If you keep it all to yourself, you’re as emotionless as you accused him of being.
- You have been discarded. As part of the narcissistic cycle, you’ll be discarded, dismissed, or ignored as part of the narcissistic cycle. This is a key tactic of post-argument narcissism. When he does come back, he’ll love bomb to avoid the argument topic once and for all.
You are the only one who will walk from an argument with a narcissist who feels like crap. If you submit, you feel bad.
If you stand your ground, you are punished and feel worse.
You can lose a sense of self, take a major ego hit, and spiral into obsessive thoughts. You are not crazy or broken.
You have danced with the devil. Talk to a therapist to sort out this incomprehensible emotional chaos.