There are three distinct types of narcissists.
One of the most difficult types to spot is the covert narcissist.
They hook in highly empathetic people with their sob stories.
Then, over time, their victims feel a sense of responsibility for them.
Their victim is trapped in an abusive relationship because the covert narcissist has made them question reality and will never be held accountable.
Narcissists can be difficult to spot, especially if they are older and more sophisticated. Over time, they learn how to optimally manipulate their victims, and get by with their schemes without anyone questioning them.
What makes it even more confusing is that they don't all act the same way. Certain patterns of behaviour are consistent, such as when they idealise, devalue, then discard their romantic partners. But there are actually three distinct types of narcissists who act very differently on the outside, according to therapist Elinor Greenberg.
One of the toughest sub-types to spot is the covert narcissist, because they blend into the background much of the time. They aren't a cliché of a grandiose, self-obsessed, "look at me" narcissist, Greenberg said. Instead, they are quietly cruel and behave in a much more passive-aggressive way.
For example, they may appear calm and professional to most people. But to those they are in a relationship with they are demeaning, cold, and abusive, and they can switch between these Jekyll and Hyde characters with ease.
People with dark triad personalities thrive off other people's chaos, so a common game of theirs is to set their romantic partners up for failure all the time, then punish them for doing so. Sometimes they make empty promises, then get a kick out of the reaction when they don't deliver.
"They do what they want to do when they want to do it," said Shannon Thomas, a licensed clinical social worker who wrote the book "Healing from Hidden Abuse." "And then they make themselves look like the victim."
Some even deny making promises in the first place, gaslighting their partner into think they are losing their mind. Over time, the victim may completely lose touch with reality, known as perspecticide.