The Worst Thing About Narcissists: Hiding in Plain Sight

Social media has called a great deal of attention to narcissistic behavior, almost to the point of sensationalizing it. It’s nearly impossible to search for information about toxic relationships without encountering something about a narcissist.

Given all the buzz about narcissism, you might think that it will be easy to spot a narcissist when you encounter one. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. You might be interacting with a narcissist now, without even knowing it. 

The problem is that narcissists are great at hiding; after all, they don’t want you to reveal them for who they truly are. 

How Narcissists Hide 

Narcissists are keen on hiding their true character and intentions. They have to hide these features. If they didn’t, no one would want to engage with them.

Let’s consider this for a moment. If someone approached you and told you they intended to manipulate you so you’d enter a relationship with them and allow them to take advantage of you, you’d run in the other direction. 

Rather than being upfront about who they are, narcissists use several tactics to hide their darker side. Proceed with caution, or you may fall victim to a narcissistic abuser.

The traits below are likely to be a cover-up for bad intentions. 

Excessive Charm 

Countless social media creators have warned about the damage done by a relationship with a narcissist. They tell stories of egregious behavior, ranging from serial cheating to verbal and physical abuse.

Given the way narcissists are portrayed on social media, you might think that these folks will always be cruel and callous. While they are likely to show abusive behaviors down the line, when you first meet them, they’ll be putting on a show.

In the early stages of a relationship with a narcissist, you can expect them to dazzle you with their charming behavior. They will praise you excessively and captivate you with their charisma. 

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It doesn’t seem possible that someone so attractive, romantic, and alluring would ever become a cold, callous abuser. Unfortunately, the charming behavior is a cover-up for what lies beneath: a self-centered manipulator ready to take all you have to offer. 

Faking Kindness 

We’ve all heard that narcissists lack empathy, and this is certainly true. In fact, a lack of empathy is one of the diagnostic criteria for narcissistic personality disorder.

While narcissists do struggle with empathy, their difficulties lie in identifying with the emotions of others. They won’t particularly care how you’re feeling, and they don’t really have time to consider their negative effect on the people around them.

The caveat is that narcissists do have a certain degree of cognitive empathy. Intellectually, they can understand why certain situations may be difficult for another person.

For example, if you’ve lost a loved one, a narcissist understands, on an intellectual level, that this is upsetting. Because of their capacity for cognitive empathy, the narcissist might express condolences or even go so far as to send flowers to the funeral home.

These actions make the narcissist appear to be a kind, caring person. Unfortunately, it’s all a facade. The narcissist is trying to present themselves as a genuine, affable person, but they don’t feel your pain. 

Mirroring Your Behavior 

Narcissists are quite skilled at pretending. They pretend to be empathetic toward others’ struggles and to have much in common with those around them.

To hide their dark traits, narcissists mirror the preferences of other people. At the start of a relationship, they will act as if they share the same preferences, hobbies, and opinions that you hold.

They’ll appear to be deeply interested in your life, perhaps spending hours conversing about your experiences. Unbeknownst to you, they are gathering data about who you are, so they can pretend they’re your perfect match.

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When the narcissist mirrors your behavior, it will seem as if you’ve found a genuine match. This person likes the same things you like, and their vision for life is the same as yours!  Or, so it seems.

The narcissist is trying to fool you. They will gain your trust by acting like they have so much in common with you.  This puts you in a perfect position to fall victim to narcissistic manipulation. 

Playing the Victim

A narcissist will also play on your emotions by pretending to be the victim. They will have dozens of stories about their past, in which someone took advantage of or harmed them.

For instance, they may talk about past business deals falling through, because someone didn’t keep their word. Or, they may have sob stories about how former partners broke their hearts.

The narcissist is excellent at playing the victim, while leaving out the details of their own wrongdoings. They will convince you that they’re an innocent, kind person, who others have deeply wounded.

This makes the narcissist appear weak and harmless, and it helps them gain your sympathy. Determined not to hurt the narcissist the way they claim they’ve been hurt in the past, you’ll do everything you can do to meet their needs. 

Playing the victim makes the narcissist appear like someone who just needs your support, rather than like the calculating manipulator they are. 

Appearing to Care

Narcissists are aware of the traits that gain trust and admiration from others, and they will emulate these traits in order to hide their true intentions.

A narcissist may agree to help a coworker, donate to charity, or give back to the community in some way, but they don’t genuinely care about helping others.

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The narcissist shows altruistic behaviors not because they’re innately kind and helpful, but because they know how these behaviors will boost their reputation. By appearing to be someone who gives back out of the goodness of their own heart, a narcissist has a better chance of getting people to fall for their games. 

How to See Past the Mask

The bottom line is that narcissists wear a mask, which allows them to hide in plain sight. By being overly charming and pretending to appear altruistic, they can earn the trust and affection of others.

To protect yourself, it’s important to see past these behaviors. If you spend enough time around a narcissist, they will eventually crumble, allowing their true colors to show.

However, it’s best if you can identify narcissistic traits early on, so you can distance yourself before you get sucked in.  

It might be time to pause if you’ve just met someone and they’re showering you with attention and praise. Certainly, some people are friendly, but if it’s over the top, you could be dealing with a narcissist.

This is especially true if you notice other traits of narcissism. If the narcissist is trying to wear a mask, they might still let some subtle signs slip.

For example, you’ll likely notice that they take advantage of any opportunity to talk about their own talents and achievements. If a conversation starts off on a topic unrelated to them, they will find a way to bring the conversation back to themselves.

You’ll also notice that they expect to be catered to and won’t respond well if they’re told no. Give it a test: refuse to give in to one of their requests or set a boundary and see how they act.

If your refusal results in rage, you’re dealing with a narcissist. Don’t let them hide any longer. 

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