While manning our advocacy group’s booth in November, one of our team members handed me this book and asked if I’d write a review. At the time I had a stack of books I was trying to get through. I finally finished this one and now believe there are millions of people who can benefit from it– not just victims of narcissists, but those who often enable narcissists by falling for their act.
The Covert Passive Aggressive Narcissist: Recognizing the Traits and Finding Healing After Hidden Emotional and Psychological Abuse was written by Debbie Mirza. Mirza clearly knows what it’s like to be taken advantage of by these self-serving, mask-wearing abusers. The deeper into the book you read, the more empathy she expresses towards those whose lives have been altered by this type of abuse.
We are all familiar with the traditional definition of narcissism, which includes largely obvious attributes such as arrogance, entitlement, and an exaggerated sense of self-importance. Narcissists are more special than you– and they let you know it. They should be the most admired, the most desired, regarded as the most brilliant. Their time is more important, their needs and wants should take precedence, they should be the first ones in line, in the lifeboat, getting the promotion.
Narcissism stems from a distorted sense of self and a lack of empathy for others. Seeking to fill the void inside them, and achieve this status they believe they should have, they use other people as fuel for their egomaniacal furnace. They can be particularly attracted to high empathy, caring, considerate humans who have many of the traits they lack. Sandra L. Brown has written extensively about this dynamic including in her books Women Who Love Psychopaths and How to Spot a Dangerous Man.
The Mayo Clinic reminds us that:
Symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder and how severe they are can vary. People with the disorder can:
- Have an unreasonably high sense of self-importance and require constant, excessive admiration.
- Feel that they deserve privileges and special treatment.
- Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements.
- Make achievements and talents seem bigger than they are.
- Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate.
- Believe they are superior to others and can only spend time with or be understood by equally special people.
- Be critical of and look down on people they feel are not important.
- Expect special favors and expect other people to do what they want without questioning them.
- Take advantage of others to get what they want.
- Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.
- Be envious of others and believe others envy them.
- Behave in an arrogant way, brag a lot and come across as conceited.
- Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office.
At the same time, people with narcissistic personality disorder have trouble handling anything they view as criticism. They can:
- Become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special recognition or treatment.
- Have major problems interacting with others and easily feel slighted.
- React with rage or contempt and try to belittle other people to make themselves appear superior.
- Have difficulty managing their emotions and behavior.
- Experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change.
- Withdraw from or avoid situations in which they might fail.
- Feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection.
- Have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, humiliation and fear of being exposed as a failure.
Mirza acknowledges these symptoms and then says, “but wait, there’s more.” Having worked with many people traumatized by narcissists, she recognized that there is a much less obvious type of narcissism. A covert passive aggressive narcissist is much more selective about who they show their true colors around. To the rest of the world, they may appear to be a warm, helpful, fun to hang out with, ideal partner, relative, or coworkers, the kind of person who is lauded for their generous, go-getter attitudes. To their selected targets, they are someone else entirely– abusive, insulting, demeaning, demanding, dishonest, immature, entitled, sadistic.
What makes this one of the best books on narcissism that I’ve read, besides being well-organized and understandable, is that Mirza tells us exactly how this victimization unfolds. If you have been through the hell of narcissism, you might have a “eureka!” moment as you recognize that this mirrors domestic violence regardless of the type of relationship involved. The parallels are real.
Mirza notes that whether this process begins in a romantic relationship, family relationship, friendship, or in the workplace, the covert passive aggressive narcissist starts by buttering you up. Initially they mirror you, so you can’t believe how alike you are. You let your defenses down as you find them so relatable, so outgoing, so easy to get along with. In reality, they are gathering information and probing for weaknesses. You also feel for them, because they tell you personal details that will elicit sympathy. You feel like you want to do extra to help them because of all they’ve been through.
But then the criticisms and jabs begin. This may be almost imperceptible at first. You may start to believe that you’re not helping them enough, or being a supportive enough player in their life. They begin to “teach you lessons” and show you how you’re allegedly inadequate. You will be given “the look” and be at the mercy of their moods. They may “reward” you with some buttering up still only to knock you back off of your feet as they create an increasing amount of drama.
Before long, the victim becomes the one holding up the relationship. As they struggle to keep the peace and reignite the positive aspects of the relationship that seemed to be there in the beginning, they are increasingly demeaned and devalued. Worse yet, the covert passive aggressive narcissist appeals to others’ sympathy, enlisting their help in targeting the victim. These accomplished liars are adept at convincing those around the victim that the victim is doing something wrong. The narcissist projects their own demons onto the victim and others believe them. Soon there may be a whole gang within a victim’s social circle, family, or workplace defending the narcissist and gaslighting the victim.
At some point, the narcissist will reject their target, tossing them aside like a piece of garbage. The victim might struggle to maintain the relationship, but that horrible realization that they’ve been used will start to sink in. The truth is, there is no genuine relationship, they don’t really care about you, and you’re just a means to an end. You were just the stairs they climbed to attain a higher status or achieve a goal. Learning the truth can ruin a victim’s life, making them feel unworthy, unloved, even suicidal. But it should be a reflection upon how depraved the narcissist is, how far they’re willing to go to feel powerful, loved, capable, successful.
After describing this process, Mirza delves into the traits that covert passive aggressive narcissists have. She then details their control and manipulation tactics. You will see how both fit into the previous process– and why this is so insidious compared to our average definition of a narcissist. While their tactics may be painfully obvious to their targets, they are highly skilled at convincing others they’re the real victims. Because they are so “wonderful” to others, maintaining the appearance that they are gracious contributors to the greater good, their targets’ experiences are minimized. “Surely the dynamic PTA mom or the gregarious advertising executive couldn’t be guilty of that.” The trauma the victim is suffering may be used to justify the narcissist’s claims that they are unstable/emotional/mental.
Now that I’ve touched on the horrors that this type of narcissist commits, I’ll leave it up to the author to detail the rest. Mirza spends the next part of her book discussing why narcissists might do it and how all of this plays out in parenting, dating, and marriage. A good portion of this book is dedicated to healing as well. While easy to read, these parts of the book should be digested slowly. The way Mirza approaches these topics can completely expose the web of lies targets have been entangled in– and how to shed these sticky strands completely.
An extremely valuable part of the book is where Mirza teaches survivors of covert passive aggressive narcissistic abuse to trust their guts in order to recognize it for what it is. She teaches the reader in simple terms what’s healthy and what’s not. These are concepts that should be taught to human beings from childhood. Yet many adults are unequipped for real love, or healthy work relationships or friendships, making this book all the more valuable. Mirza believes that survivors can heal and offers additional resources at the end of the book.
A wide range of people would benefit from this book. While much of its content is geared towards narcissists’ targets, this book is a great way to learn how NOT to be used by them. It helps readers discern when they’re being played and why they might be susceptible to it. All in all, this is a great read, another weapon in an advocate’s arsenal against the dangerous abusers among us.
©2022 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com