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Identifying and Understanding a Female Covert Narcissist

Reviewed by Karis A. Williams, MSMHC, LPC

Covert narcissists are not safe people to be around.  They play games with other people that are so subtle that people don’t realize what they are doing until significant damage is done.  All while the narcissist goes to great lengths to look like an amazing, beautiful, kind person. And when the covert narcissist is a woman, the chaos tends to be much more insidious than with their male counterparts.  It is important to identify and understand a female covert narcissist if you have one in  your life for the sake of your own emotional health.

So, how do you identify a female covert narcissist?  She does things very intentionally that appear to be incredibly kind and helpful but are meant to manipulate people into doing whatever she wants and bestowing constant accolades on her.  She is incredibly crafty, but she also does some things that are dead giveaways:  always playing the victim to garner sympathy, saying and doing mean things to her victims when nobody else can see or hear, constantly lies, has no emotional depth, and will never admit doing wrong among many other traits.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at this answer, but first, let’s look at some important facts to know about covert narcissism.

Why Women are More Likely Than Men to be Covert Narcissists

Men get a pretty bad rap in the area of narcissism.  Because narcissists can be controlling, abusive, aggressive, and destructive, we tend to think about about them as men.  And, in fact, men are more prevalent as narcissists than women.  But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of narcissistic women out there, especially when we are talking about covert narcissists.

The difference that makes women more likely to be covert narcissists is that woman can’t be as physically grandiose as men.  So we don’t tend to see them as dominating narcissists.  But, that is the very thing that makes female narcissists so much worse.  They hide behind a mask of innocence and shyness because they aren’t strong enough to put themselves out there like men.  And this is the exact reason why women are more likely to be covert narcissists than men.

Men can posture over their victims, be physically intimidating, give the “look of death” that will make just about anyone back away in fear.  But because most women can’t display themselves in this way, and don’t even want to, they must be more crafty and sneaky with their narcissism.  They learn to manipulate and control the situation by forcing people to think in ways that are not healthy.  And those victims often don’t have a clue what is being done to them until years later.

What Female Covert Narcissists Look Like

Female covert narcissists look just like the rest of us.  In fact, many of them look amazing, dress well, and take good care of themselves.  This is due to the fact that narcissists have to be seen as wonderful or perfect.  If they walk into a room dressed to the nines and everyone stops talking to see who just walked in the door commanding their respect, the narcissist has done their job.

In addition to being the best dressed person in the room, female covert narcissists will also be the kindest person in the room.  Especially if that room is full of people they need to impress.

They will say whatever you need to hear in order to get what they want.  And then they will hold your words against you–after they twist your words and throw you under the bus.  Nearly everything that comes out of their mouth is dishonest or disingenuous.

Female covert narcissists need to be seen as the victim.  They have been doing this nearly their whole life so they are incredibly adept at it.  You will have great sympathy for them.  And then, over time, you will begin to realize that you are being taken advantage of every time she asserts herself as the victim.  This is especially true if you are finding yourself on the wrong end of her agenda.

Female covert narcissists are often even more calculated than their male counterparts.  Of course, there are also many male covert narcissists that are incredibly calculating.  This is one of the hallmarks of covert narcissism.  But women can, and often do, take it to another level.  My mother was one of those people.   She loved to set people up to do things, often not wrong.  And then she would destroy that person for what she made them do.  Let me give you an example.

An Example of Calculated Covert Narcissism

My two sisters and I all left our childhood home at 18 (my younger sister was emancipated at 17) and neveer looked back.  Because of this, our children often felt the sting of distant grandparents who were not involved in their life.

When my oldest daughter was 14, she wanted to spend time with her grandparents.  Her friends had stories of life with their grandparents and she was convinced that she could have that same relationship with hers.  She felt that because she was easy to get along with it would be fine.  And for a year, I told her I didn’t think it was a good idea.

I finally gave in.  She had a missions trip to Ireland later that summer, but she picked a week the month before.  A family from our church was going on vacation up in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  So I bought her a ticket to fly up there with them and back two weeks later.  She was so excited that she was finally spending time with her elusive grandparents.

Her grandparents picked her up in Boston and spent the night there, touring the next day before heading to their house in Maine, my childhood home.  As soon as they got to the house, everything changed instantly.  My daughter called me several times over the next couple of days.  And that is where the problems began.  My mother kept insisting that it was her time with her granddaughter and she didn’t need to be calling her mom to talk about all of the fun things she was doing.  At first, my daughter thought it was odd but kept on calling me, usually twice a day.  Once to say good morning and once at night to talk about what they had done.

By the third day, my mother was ANGRY.  She told her that it was not necessary for her to talk to her mother, let alone every day and that she couldn’t call me for the rest of the two weeks.  My daughter was devastated.

Bad Turns to Worse

Fast forward a couple more days, and my mother’s neighbor, a man who was unwell and incapacitated, called my mother for help with his dog.  She went over, but on the way warned my daughter that she was not allowed to use the phone while she was gone.  And immediately, my daughter saw her opportunity.

Of course, she called me.  Things were awkward and difficult around the house.  She was homesick and they were no longer having a good time.  She had become a prisoner in the home I was a prisoner in for my whole childhood.  I was trying to encourage her to have a good time, when all of a sudden, she panicked.  Two minutes into the call, my mother was calling in from next door.  And my daughter was immediately stricken with panic.  She answered my mother, who didn’t even say hi, but instead immediately started yelling at her.

She yelled, “I told you not to get on the phone.  Why did you answer it?”  To which my daughter replied, “I answered it because you called.”  Then my mother accused her of being on the phone with me, which she denied at first out of terror.  But because she doesn’t generally lie, she felt bad  immediately and confessed quickly.  My mother tagged her a pathological liar and made her out to be evil.  Then she berated her constantly for the rest of the trip about what a bad person she was.  After a couple of days of this, my mother finally let her call me to tell me she couldn’t stay at the house anymore.  I had someone drive 6 hours to come pick her up and stay with them for the rest of the trip.

They returned her to my parents’ house the day before her flight back.  When our friends met her at the airport, they said it was a very strange dynamic.  My daughter was happy to see them.  My father, who had been silent throughout the whole two weeks, was there with her.  But my mother, who drove to the airport with them, wouldn’t even stand near them.  She was at least 50 feet away the whole time and wouldn’t even say goodbye to my daughter.  She had been disobeyed and there was hell to pay.

To this day, my daughter, who is now married with 4 children of her own, has nothing to do with her grandmother.

How Female Covert Narcissists Make Their Spouses Feel

Female covert narcissists don’t really differ much from their male counterparts in this respect.  They need to be in control.  And they need to be better than everyone else.  But they also need their spouse to be amazing so everyone will see what great life choices they make.  It is a delicate balance that she maintains between needing her spouse to make her look better and keeping him subservient to her.

Often, behind closed doors a cover narcissist woman will physically abuse her husband, knowing that nobody will suspect a thing.  And generally, men will be very uncomfortable admitting that they are physically abused by someone that is smaller or physically weaker than them.  The problem is they cannot fight back, which would be physically abusive.  But sometimes, when they try to defend themselves, the covert narcissist will accuse them of hitting back or beating her up.  Even if they made no contact in putting up their hands in protection.  The only way out of this situation when things get physical is to get away from the narcissist.  There is no other way to keep yourself safe.

Speaking of safe, if you feel physically unsafe in any way, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).  Or you can visit online at

And also, if you think you may be in a relationship with a narcissist, take this test  with instant results to get a better idea of where you stand and what healing you will need to pursue.

Why Female Covert Narcissists are so Toxic

We all know people that are whose negative perspective sucks the life out of us when we are near them.  But being around a female cover Narcissist is on another level.

While they are so pleasant and kind around a group of people, when you are alone with the covert narcissist, you can feel the negativity, judgment, and inability to please them. But it is the passive aggressive behavior that is so hard to live with.

Let’s talk about the whole passive aggressive issue.  Many people can do things that are passive aggressive from time to time.  While this is a problem and we shouldn’t ever do it, this is not what I’m talking about.  I am talking about passive aggressive behavior on a regular basis that narcissists use to control and manipulate people.

Also known as gaslighting, this may be the number one tool in the narcissist’s toolbox.  They learn to master it in a way that normal people would never even consider.  It kept me silent about my ex’s abuse for years because I thought if I told people what was really going on it would sound so petty to them.

This is by design.  They will do things passively aggressively that seem so mundane and then turn it all around with you.  If these things were done in isolation it would be no big deal.  But when the covert narcissist does this constantly to keep you in mental turmoil, it is a serious problem.

Often, it starts with things like missing keys.  You can’t figure out why you are missing your keys when you generally put them in the same place every day.  After looking for some time, you realize they are sitting there right where you left them.  Except that they weren’t before.  Then your narcissist tells you that you are silly for not having seen them when they were there the whole time.

As time goes on, the narcissist begins chipping away at your character or other aspects of your personhood.  And they more they do that, the more you start feeling like there is something wrong with  you.

After over 30 years with my narcissistic ex, I was a shell of the independent person  I thought I was.  But when my counselor realized what was going on and started showing me that I wasn’t the problem, I realized how lng I had let him  wear me down.

While my covert narcissist was a man, just know that women tend to be incredibly crafty in their manipulation tactics.  And once you realize what is going on, you need to set some boundaries so they cannot continue to wear you down.

If you aren’t sure how to do this, you really need to get the book, Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  I had no idea that I should be setting boundaries.  Every time I tried, my ex told me that I had no right because I was married to him and owed him all  of me with no restrictions.  What a new world was opened up to me when my counselor had me read this book.  It will be life-changing for you too!  Click on it to check it out:

Can You Relate in Healthy Ways to a Female Covert Narcissist?

Usually, once you set boundaries with a female covert narcissist, she will get very angry and belligerent with you.  Here are some of the ways that she will act out upon you trying to assert your indpendence:

  • She will step up the passive aggressive behavior, trying to convince you that  you are not mentally well.
  • She will smear your name with your friends, family, or anyone else you associate with.  But she won’t outright say bad things about you.  She will say things that sound so loving and caring, like she is really concerned for your wellbeing, or she is worried about you.  It is all about making you look terribly wrong and her look like the hero stepping in to save you.
  • She will get very angry if you try to speak with her about the wrong she is doing.  She will deny doing the passive aggressive things that you know for a fact she has said or done.  And she will turn the blame back on you, also known as blame-shifting.  She already did all of those things before, but now she will do them to you with outright anger.  If she is more angry than you feel safe about, get away immediately and seek help, either with a friend or with the link above.


Dealing with any narcissist, regardless of where they fall on the spectrum, always proves difficult.  But dealing with a female covert narcissist always makes you feel like something is really wrong.  Just know that it isn’t you and adjust accordingly.  Don’t let the male or female covert narcissist beat you down.  You are a child of God and worthy of respect and kindness.  Don’t let them convince you that you deserve the terrible things they try to do to you.  And, especially, if you feel that you cannot relate to them in a healthy way, do what you need to get yourself in a safe place, physically and emotionally.

If you are not sure what that looks like, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship by Leslie Vernick is a book that you need to read.  It will help you to recognize trouble spots in your relationship.  Then it will show you how to evaluate whether your relationship is salvagable or not and give you the action steps that you need to take to get your life in a good place.  It was another of the first books my counselor assigned me and to this day I find it useful, even for relationships that aren’t abusive.  It helps me to find balance and emotional health in all of my relationships  Check it out here:

How did you realize you were relating to a female covert narcissist?  How did you decide to get yourself to safety?  How are you doing now?  Where are you in the process?  Feel free to share your story below or if you don’t feel safe commenting in a public forum, feel free to contact me here.


Blessings and hugs,

If you found this article valuable, I think you will also find the following articles valuable:

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Understanding the Tactics of a Religious Narcissistic Father 

Dealing With the Trauma of a Religious Narcissistic Mother

When Narcissism Becomes Pathological

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The Bible Used as a Weapon Against You:  You Can Overcome! 

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Narcissistic Behavior:  What to Look Out For

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Can You Maintain a Relationship With a Spiritual Narcissist? 

Can Narcissists Have a Spiritual Awakening?

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When the Church Says to Move Back in With Your Narcissist

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12 Ways the Church Helps Narcissists Abuse Their Victims

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What Does the Spiritual Narcissist do When You try to Leave?

When the Church Doesn’t Recognize Narcissistic Abuse

Will the Church Support Divorcing a Narcissist?

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What is Spiritual Narcissism?

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Hi! I am the founder of Navigating Religious Narcissism after being raised under a narcissistic mother and married to a narcissistic man for 31 years. It is my prayer that I can be as valuable on your journey to healing and peace as were so many who crossed my path of healing.

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