Covert Narcissism Can Be a Hidden Danger in Relationships

Jennifer March, MS

Covert narcissism explained through the lens of the NXIVM cult.

Covert narcissists are the narcissists that aren’t noticeable. They are often the last person you might think would be a narcissist. But the more you get to know a covert narcissist, the more you see their true intentions.

The concept of covert narcissists is well showcased by looking at the cult ‘NXIVM.’ In this cult, the leader Keith Raniere was a nice, selfless man who claimed that he only wanted to teach people how to be their best selves. Raniere developed a ‘tool’ he called, Executive Success Programs (ESP) to help people rid themselves of whatever was holding them back.

Keith Raniere began to market this ‘tool’ that he created. Raniere got others to recruit into NXIVM to sell his self-improvement tools to others. Essentially, NXIVM was a multilevel marketing scheme disguised as a self-improvement program.

The NXIVM cult was marketed as being this happy family that only wanted to help the world.

The main theme throughout the cult is that Raniere wanted to change the world for the better. Raniere held so much power within the company and over hundreds and thousands of people that took part in his work.

Over time, women were recruited into a secret society run by Raniere himself. Each of the women secretly recruited into this society was branded with Raniere’s initials. Eventually, the secret society was exposed and leaked to the world.

It was later revealed that the members of this secret society, run by Raniere, were forced to share nude photos or horrific secrets at ‘collateral’. The collateral these women were forced to share was used to ensure that no member spoke out against the secret society.

Collateral was expected to be given regularly — no member could refuse.

The secret society was held up on a system of masters and slaves, with Raniere being the headmaster. Over time, the slaves and masters would have an opportunity to have sex with Raniere to reach true enlightenment. Raniere believed that if his followers had sex with them, they could truly receive his teaching.

Of course, sex with Raniere was not what was marketed to these women.

The secret society was described to these women as an empowerment exercise where you would enter as a slave and would need to follow the orders of your master.

A slave’s master could demand nearly anything. The slaves had to ask for permission to eat or sleep. Each slave needed to respond to a message from their master within 1 minute of receiving a message.

The women in this secret society were made to believe that this would help empower them and lead them to become their best selves. Each woman was expected to bring in more women into the secret society.

Slowly, big names within the NXIVM organization were beginning to leave. Those who left began to speak out against Raniere and his practices.

How does covert narcissism relate to Raniere?

Please note that Raniere was far worse than just being a narcissist. Covert narcissism was Raniere’s main strategy to get people hooked and submerged into his ideology.

The observable behavior, seen by those outside this cult, noticed the superiority and facade that Raniere was upholding.

Raniere won people over with what they could see — a brilliant man who saw interest in them and wanted to help them. Raniere targeted people and made them feel special; this helped Raniere bring his victims in. Once they were close enough, he would turn up the heat — new rules and continued dedication to Raniere.

Much in the way of covert narcissists, they can pull their victims in and keep them there by painting the same happy picture of themselves. Any questions towards the covert narcissist will be easily deflected with, “they’re a nice person,” just like Raniere was touted as a self-less man. Why would a nice, selfless person hurt others?

Covert narcissism is really padded with the masking of superiority with something nicer — like a self-improvement guru who only wants the best for you.

But what’s best for you needs to benefit the narcissist, or how else is it for the best? Of course, this is from the perspective of a narcissist.

The difference that makes a narcissist a covert narcissist

Of course, knowing the signs of a narcissist are still applicable; there are some outside signs that only covert narcissists will display.

Lack of grandiose or superiority is what a covert narcissist usually is missing. But of course, there is superiority when it comes to covert narcissists. Still, they take much longer to show truly their intentions. The superiority of a covert narcissist can typically be seen through growing a relationship with them.

The closer you get to a covert narcissist, the more clear the signs become.

It’s not that easy to tell with a covert narcissist if they feel superior or grandiose. With Raniere, he hid his grandiose belief behind a humanitarian effort. Who’s going to question someone who is supposedly doing good things?

With narcissism in general, everything is always about the narcissist.

We always think of a narcissist as someone bigger than themselves. Narcissists really think that they are the best.

Just like every person is different, so is every narcissist. No two narcissists will ever be the same, but they can have similar traits. The trait I have always noticed between covert narcissists is that they are most often described as “nice.”

Like Little Red Ridinghood in Into the Woods, she sings “nice is different than good” about the wolf. This is the best way to understand a covert narcissist.

Raniere was seen as a nice, selfless humanitarian who only wanted to do good. That’s how the covert narcissist was able to get their victims to really trust them.

Covert narcissists may be nice, but they aren’t always good.

Spotting the hidden danger

Covert narcissists are the most dangerous because you cannot spot them as easily.

Raniere was composed and always had alone time with his followers. He was well-groomed, nice and made the person with him feel special.

Over time, it turns into a slow, progressive takeover that targets each member. They are made to feel special because this brilliant man likes who you are. Obviously, this isn’t some b.s, it’s real and engaging for these people.

From being so close to his followers, Raniere was able to manipulate the way he is seen. Raniere always kept his followers close so he could guide them on how he wants to be seen.

Narcissists will always try to paint themselves in the best light.

No matter what, always trust your instincts, and never let anybody convince you out of how you feel.

Many of the followers of Raniere reported that they felt odd with him. That there was something that wasn’t right. But Raniere was a wonderful humanitarian who only wanted to do good — or so he said.

Raniere painted himself to be the greatest of the great — the best that ever lived.

Yet, Raniere showed his dedication as a great, selfless act, which masked his true intentions. Raniere wanted his followers to only believe in him and always to follow his word.

All of the red flags with Raniere are not completely noticeable at first. You’re taken back by this possibility of greatness in your life, and there is this great person who always wants to help you achieve your goals.

Even though the signs aren’t clearly obvious that Raniere was a narcissist upon meeting him, all of his actions are tied back to greed and his own selfish motives.

Thankfully, Raniere was found guilty of all charges and has been sentenced to 120 years in prison. Raniere’s rain of terror is finally over — but his victims relive their torment every day.

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As Originally Posted on Medium

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Psych nerd turned freelance writer | MS in Psychology | Mom of two cats and some house plants | #MentalHealthAdvocate #BeKind

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