10 Things Covert Narcissists Say (and How to Respond)

Words can be subtle weapons, especially in the hands of a covert narcissist.

A covert narcissist is an individual who, unlike their overt counterparts, cloaks their narcissism behind a mask of introversion, humility or a self-effacing persona. But all the while, they're manipulating and controlling their relationships.

Let's look at some of the common phrases covert narcissists deploy, and equip ourselves with a response that will stop them in their tracks.

1. “You’re overreacting” 

This is a classic phrase in the covert narcissist’s playbook. By accusing you of overreacting, they’re dismissing your concerns and shifting the blame onto you. It’s a way of saying that all these bad things are happening because of your reaction, and not because of how the narcissist behaved in the first place. 

How to respond: Assert yourself by saying: “Whether or not you agree with me, this is how I feel right now.” This way, you’re communicating that your emotions are valid, and you refuse to surrender to their narrative.

2. “I am always misunderstood”

In the mind of a narcissist, they are always the victim and everyone else is the problem. In fact, narcissists will go to great lengths to persuade others of their innocence, gain their sympathy and position themselves as the victim. It’s important to recognize this phrase for what it is—a way to manipulate others into feeling sorry for them, while deflecting any blame or accountability for their actions.

How to respond: Understand their victim mentality and hold onto the facts. You can also universalize the experience by saying: “That’s a very common feeling. I believe we’ve all felt that way at some point.”

3. “You’re too sensitive”

The purpose of this phrase is to undermine your self-confidence and drag you into their distorted narrative, where, surprise, surprise, they’re never at fault. This remark can be particularly harmful for those who are empathetic and sensitive by nature, as being told that your emotions are unjustified and exaggerated is basically having your worst fears confirmed.

How to respond: Stand your ground by saying: “I am proud of my sensitivity. It allows me to have a deeper understanding of others’ emotions and perspectives.” By reframing their comment, you are not only asserting yourself but also highlighting a positive quality about yourself.

4. “I was just joking”

When a narcissist says, “I was just joking” they’re usually trying to mask an insult or hurtful remark. Narcissists often have a deep need to belittle others to make themselves feel superior. They’ll target your weaknesses via these so-called “jokes” as a way to assert their dominance and avoid accountability for their behavior. 

How to respond: Remain calm and call them out on their behavior. You can say: “That didn’t sound like a joke to me. It sounded more like an insult.” By directly addressing their behavior, you are setting boundaries and not allowing them to get away with their manipulative tactics.

5. “If you really loved me, you would…”

Covert narcissists often use this phrase to put you in a position where you have to prove yourself to them. If you say anything that isn’t exactly what they want to hear, they will imply it’s due to a lack of affection on your part. By weaponizing love, they want to persuade you to neglect your own emotional needs and control your behavior in a way that serves their interests.

How to respond: Use empathetic confrontation. This means validating what the narcissist is saying and then setting a clear boundary. An example would be: “I can see how you are hurt, but those types of comments are demeaning to me. I won’t tolerate them anymore.”

6. “Nobody else sees it that way”

This phrase is a way for a narcissist to isolate you and make you feel like your opinions and feelings are invalid or wrong. If everyone else thinks like them, then they’re right, and you’re the one who’s wrong. 

How to respond: Stay true to yourself and assert your own reality. You can say: “I understand that you may not see it this way, but I do and my feelings are valid.” By confidently standing your ground, you are refusing to be manipulated. 

7. “You’re imagining things”

If this sounds like gaslighting, it’s because it is. When a covert narcissist insists that “you’re imagining things,” they’re trying to replace an undeniable fact, no matter how big or small, with a narrative that suits their needs. This way, they can shift blame, avoid accountability, and leave you feeling insecure about your own perception of what has happened. 

How to respond: Trust your instincts and explain your recollection of the events. You can say: “I see that you have a different perspective. I’m not imagining things.” In future, it may be helpful to document your interactions so you have evidence to support your version of events. 

8. “No one will ever love you the way that I do”

This phrase may look like a genuine love confession but it’s another way for the covert narcissist to assert power over you. When a narcissist says this, they’re seeking to project the perfect-person fantasy they have of themselves. They know that if you see them for who they truly are, you might choose to leave, so they foster a sense of dependency instead. Their purpose is to leave you thinking you’re only worth something as long as you’re with them. 

How to respond: Distance yourself emotionally from the covert narcissist. You can say: “I need time to process what we’ve been talking about, and I’d appreciate it if you could give me some space.” In the long term, recognize your self-worth and surround yourself with supportive people.

9. “You always make everything about yourself”

This is pure projection on the narcissist’s part. Narcissists feel threatened when you take up space and assert your right to talk, so they try to shut you down by accusing you of being too self-centered. Narcissists want the focus to always be on themselves. They often will deflect their ego onto you to make you feel self-conscious for voicing your needs. 

How to respond: Remember, you are not responsible for how the covert narcissist is behaving and you have a right to speak. Assert yourself by saying: “I have heard your point of view many times now, and I’d appreciate the chance to share mine.”

10. “I wasn’t rude, I was just being honest

If you need to defend yourself by saying you’re just being honest, chances are you were actually rude and you know it. That’s what is happening here. The covert narcissist knows they upset you and is trying to deflect from any responsibility for what they said or did.  By playing the honesty card, they avoid the consequences of their actions and make you doubt your own feelings.

How to respond: Hold them accountable for their actions. You can say: “I understand that you do not consider that to be rude, but I see it differently. I believe there’s a time and place for everything, and that comment was hurtful and uncalled for.” By standing up for yourself and not allowing the covert narcissist to manipulate you into questioning your own perception, you are setting a boundary and asserting your right to be treated with respect.

Andreia Esteves
Andreia is an INFJ who used to think she was the only person in the world terrified of answering the phone. She works as a freelance writer covering all things mental health, and psychology related. When not writing, you’ll find her cozying up with a book, or baking vegan treats. Find her at: https://andreiaesteves.com/