The Circus versus the Magician
I just spent time with my uncle, a bon-a-fide covert narcissist of the somatic sub-type (obsessed with his looks & physical prowess). I had planned to work on implementing boundaries, but it took little time to realize I was fighting a losing battle. At the end of my time with him I felt like I had been held hostage and, as I’ve thought about this, I’ve come to see that what I experienced with him is what I experienced with my covert narcissistic ex. The only difference is that the overt narc is in fast forward.
This was valuable for me to experience, because I could see clearly how insidious and consuming the covert narc is, which is hard to understand when you’ve been captured by one. The covert narc works slowly, methodically, and subtly to capture you. He figures you out before he ties you up. He uses what he has learned about you to tighten the bonds, to hold you in place, enhancing the illusion that he cares about you.
The overt narcissistic though, just goes right for the ropes. He makes no apologies for the fact that he is about to abduct you and hold you hostage. He doesn’t pretend to care about you, he just sets right about his work of capturing you, and he makes no apologies for subjecting you to his ongoing soliloquy of all that is him.
It’s like a magic show versus a circus.
In a circus the performers work hard to make sure your eyes are on them at all times. Such is the covert narc. He is making sure you are paying attention to him at all times, and he honestly believes that he is offering a show worthy of your attention.
The covert narc though, is the magician. He is the one who distracts you, who has you looking over his shoulder while he magically pulls a coin from your ear. He works hard for your loyalty. He works hard to put up the smoke screen that hides reality. He is forever averting your attention to make sure you don’t see the coin in his sleeve; the reality that is so clear if only you look in the right spot.
I’ve spent a few years reading about this and I’ve repeatedly read that the covert narc is deliberate. They pick someone as prey, they plan a course of action and they follow through. I did not believe that until today.
Today I saw clearly that the overt narc has no control over what he is doing. He is on auto-pilot, as if it is in his DNA to ramble on about himself, disregarding the well being of all around him. My uncle simply can not stop himself from rattling on and on, telling the same stories over and over. And, in telling these stories, he automatically assumes that I will feel the “emotion” he feels. He assumes I will tear up at the right times, laugh when he does, smile when he’s told a particularly poignant memory. He also assumes that I have enjoyed the encounter. He is totally out of control, and completely unaware that he is out of control. He is a walking circus, unaware of the fact that he is outdated; no longer of interest.
The covert narc though……..Wow. How different they are; how hard they work at it. The covert narc grooms his victim, just as the magician grooms his assistant. He takes his time and he watches his victim, learning what they will pay attention and what they won’t. He’s like a lion, waiting for his prey.
In a very sad way, I think that the overt narc is worse off. The overt narc will eventually realize how badly he has treated those around him. He won’t be able to stop himself though, from repeating the pattern. Eventually, if he lives long enough, he’ll run out of victims. And, while he is sad to no longer have a captive audience, he is powerless to change the patterns that turn others away.
The covert narc though, the magician of narcs, will never admit, never acknowledge, what he has done. And he’ll never run out of supply, because there is always another rabbit ready to be pulled from his hat. There is always another rabbit, because the rabbits don’t understand what is happening until it is way too late. The rabbits, the victims, don’t understand that they are being groomed until they are stuffed into that hat with no way to escape, until the magician pulls them out.
In a perverse way, I give my uncle a break. I accept that he is out of control, he can not change himself.
My ex however………I’ve escaped his hat, his illusion of reality, and I won’t succumb again, because lucky for me, he’s got an unlimited supply of victims out there, just waiting to adore his magic act.