You’ve probably heard the saying “misery loves company.” For a narcissist, that is a pretty accurate description. They might pretend to be confident or happy but deep down they often have a default setting of self-loathing, self-pity and misery—looking to bring others to a place of misery with them. One of the many tactics a covert narcissistic will use in their arsenal of abuse is an insidious tool called, sabotage.
Covert narcissists often sabotage their victims by operating in stealth, almost undetectable, undermining ways. By all accounts, their hidden ways and partially veiled actions could almost seem innocent or accidental.
“The actions of psychological abusers are initially so well disguised, their venom goes unnoticed. It is similar to clear toxins in a glass of water.” ― Shannon Thomas, Healing from Hidden Abuse: A Journey Through the Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse
While there are times in a healthy relationship that circumstances could arise that actually are innocent, the toxic nature of sabotage is often revealed by underlying patterns of emotional abandonment, manipulation, and gaslighting—denying harmful behavior, minimizing, or blame-shifting. When those toxic traits are present in a relationship, it is more than likely that these circumstances are not accidental or innocent. You may, in fact, be dealing with sabotage by a covert narcissistic abuser.
10 Common Ways A Covert Narcissist May Sabotage You:
While the following is not an exhaustive list of covert sabotage, hopefully these eye-opening examples will help give you clarity and paint a picture of what exactly covert sabotage may look like.
1. Sabotaging Your Health
A narcissist does not want you to be healthy—body, mind, soul, or spirit. Being in control is a huge motivating factor for a narcissist so the stronger and healthier you become, the more threatened they feel. Sabotage is often used as a tool to keep you in a weakened or dependent state.
Sabotaging your health may look like:
- Knowing you started new healthy way of eating, they might come home with your favorite junk food and say something like “I picked this up because I love you. I know it’s your favorite!”
- If you have an important event the next day, they might somehow disturb your sleep. This may look like picking a fight or having an urgent need to keep you from getting to bed at a reasonable time. They may “accidentally” wake you up (even multiple times) during the night, as form of sleep deprivation.
- If you get an encouraging prophetic word, they may discredit the person giving the word in order to discredit the word itself. They may also pick apart the accuracy of the word, or act as if it is absurd and couldn’t possibly happen.
- If you decide to further your degree, they may come up with excuses as to why it’s not good timing or why money shouldn’t be spent on what they perceive as your time and attention on something other than them.
- If you have an appointment, they may dawdle, supposedly have a work emergency, or be “held up in traffic,” making you late.
2. Sabotaging Your Finances
There are often two ends of the spectrum when it comes to narcissists and finances. Most times, they are either irresponsible with money or very controlling and possessive with it. Either way, the common denominator between a narcissist and money is the secretive and destructive ways in which they often use money.
Sabotaging your finances may look like:
- Never keeping you informed of the full financial picture or they may have financial investments and interests they won’t disclose to you.
- Treating you as if you are irresponsible in order keep tight control on the finances. They will often spend whatever they want without telling you but usually insist that you account for every penny spent—often making you feel guilty no matter how necessary or how small the amount is that you spent.
- Money may disappear from your checking, savings, or retirement account with no explanation. This may happen especially at times when a major repair is needed, special event, or holiday is coming up.
- Finding receipts for large cash withdrawals and not telling you what it was spent on. They may even gaslight you by blaming you for withdrawing the cash and spending it.
- Without your knowledge, they may open a new credit card account in your name and max it out, sometimes not even paying the bill just to ruin your credit score.
- Making big financial purchases without telling you, often after you have both mutually agreed not to make the purchase. Then they may act shocked, sullen, or angry when you are not excited about whatever it is that they purchased.
- Tax returns may disappear or bills may be hidden. Without your knowledge, unpaid bills may even be sent to collection agencies causing a derogatory mark on your credit report.
3. Sabotaging Your Self-Confidence
Narcissist often will sabotage your self-confidence because it makes you easier to control. After all, if you don’t trust or have confidence in yourself, it’s easier for them to insert themselves as an authority in your life and control you.
Sabotaging your self-confidence may look like:
- Gaslighting you and chronically lying while never admitting to it even with evidence.
- Placing seeds of anxiety and doubt in your mind, especially in areas they know are a weak spot for you. Like a master puppeteer, they often love to toy with your emotions and create unnecessary stress and drama to break you down.
- Belittling your abilities and gaslighting you, often through seemingly caring, and undermining ways. They will usually say something insulting or untrue, wrapped in a false concern or care for you. This may sound something like “I care for you so much. Are you sure you can handle _____? I don’t want it to be too much for you because I know that you get overwhelmed easily.”
- They may also say things like “We already discussed this” or “I know how forgetful you are…” even if you have not discussed something and are not forgetful.
4. Sabotaging Your Relationship with Your Children
Unfortunately, children are often used as pawns by covert narcissistic abusers. If they aren’t using their children for supply, often they are using them as a tool of abuse towards their victim.
Most times a covert narcissist may not speak bad of you outright to your children. They are aware that your children know who you truly are and they most likely wouldn’t believe outright lies. Instead, they often will undermine you in subtle ways to confuse and discredit you in the eyes of your children.
Sabotaging your relationship with your children may look like:
- They may cause doubt about your character, integrity, and possibly even your sanity!
- They may say things to your children like “You don’t know the things mommy says or does to me.” Or “You know how mommy is…”
- They will often groom your children to be disrespectful, invalidating, or hostile towards you.
- They may tell your children about real events that happened while omitting important facts that would explain your rightful feelings of distrust towards them, further painting you in an irrational light while trying to keep up their “nice guy” facade.
- They may use money, fun trips, or other items as manipulative tools or bribes to control your children’s time and attention—monopolizing their time to keep them estranged from you.
5. Sabotaging Your Relationship with Others
A narcissist usually does not have any close relationships. The friendships that they appear to have are often very shallow. Narcissists have very little, if any, capacity for emotional depth. They view you having close friends as a threat to them. Either directly or indirectly they often demand all of your time, resources, and attention. Anyone else, even your own children, may be seen as a threat to them getting what that they want.
Sabotaging your relationship with others may look like:
- Undermining your ability to you spend time with friends.
- Building up stress or provoking an argument before you go, in the hopes that you will wind up canceling your plans.
- Making you late because they just so happen to have a work or other type of emergency.
- Undermining your trust in your friends and undermining your friends trust in you. They will usually place subtle seeds of doubt in the minds of your friends about your character, integrity, or sanity. Often this is done so that if you ever did reach out to your friends, suspecting you might be in an abusive marriage, you might not be taken seriously.
- Calling you with an emergency while you are out, so that you need to come home early. Often when you return home, things are normal and they will pretend to feel bad that your time with friends got cut short.
- Portraying themselves as a dutiful husband while confiding in mutual friends about your “marriage struggles.” They, of course, are not sharing accurate details or the full picture most times, especially of them lying, gaslighting and abusing you.
6. Sabotaging Your Relationship with Trusted Leaders
Narcissists usually believe that they are the ultimate authority and expert in any area. They want you believe they are as well. Having trusted leaders in your life are seen as a threat that may expose them for who they really are. A narcissist does not want their true colors exposed as they have often lived their whole life under a façade that they want to keep firmly in place.
Sabotaging your relationship with trusted leaders may look like:
- Undermining your trust in leaders through various means, by raising doubts about the validity of the leader or discerning a supposed hidden sin in the life of the leader.
- Pretending to receive a warning dream or vision from God about this leader.
- Calling the leader a false teacher.
- Criticizing a leader’s teachings or even the bible version that they preach from.
- Reading into a leader’s social media posts as a personal affront or correction to them.
- Painting themselves as the trusted authority in your life and twisting scriptures about the “husband being the head of the wife” and “submitting to his headship.”
7. Sabotaging Special Moments, Holidays, and Celebrations
Making memories and sharing special moments is a natural way to create a positive and healthy bond between people. Narcissists often sabotage special moments because they are incapable of having a healthy connection, almost never are interested in other people unless it benefits them, and want to keep all the attention on themselves.
Ruining a special moment, holiday, or celebration is something that often gives a covert narcissist great joy, as sucking the positive energy out of a room often makes a them feel powerful. Usually, narcissists will make special moments, celebrations, or holidays memorable in all the wrong ways.
Sabotaging special moments, holidays, and celebrations may look like:
- Disappearing, not showing up, getting intoxicated, acting sullen or otherwise making the occasion entirely about them.
- Talking up special occasions to build up your hopes only to dash them last minute by canceling plans, forgetting, or acting in passive aggressive way during the special occasion to steal your peace and happiness, ruining any possible chance of building an emotional connection or happy memory.
As a side note, narcissists can be incredible gift givers or seem happy to celebrate when they feel it is something that will make them look good in the eyes of others. If there is no audience, they usually “forget” special moments or ignore them entirely because they just don’t care.
8. Sabotaging Your Relationship with God
One thing a narcissist may pretend to have but is incapable of actually possessing, is having character, integrity, and a true and deep relationship with God. They may pretend to have prophetic dreams, prophetic words, visions, or supernatural experiences to make you think they have a relationship with God. They may be at church often and may even read the bible but they never actually live out what they claim to believe. Anyone who truly has a relationship with God will eventually produce fruit in their lives.
Sabotaging your relationship with God may look like:
- Lying about having visions, dreams, “prophetic” words, or visitations that never actually happened, in order to manipulate you into doing something.
- Twisting and misusing scriptures to their advantage in order to control you.
- Making it difficult or almost impossible for you grow in your gifts and callings, often by subtly criticizing you or constantly creating drama to sabotage your time in those pursuits.
9. Sabotaging Your Dreams and Goals
As stated earlier, a narcissist wants all of your time, attention, and resources for themselves. They often act as professional hope-squashers and want to keep you in a place of feeling heart sick. If you have a dream or a goal, this is a prime target of destruction for them as they often view it as a direct threat to them.
Sabotaging your dreams and goals may look like:
- Mirroring the things that you want for your future. Often, once you are committed in marriage they will slowly drift away from those supposedly shared dreams and goals. Over time, they may even tell you that they never even had the dreams and goals they once pretended to share with you, and have no plans to make them happen.
- Creating chaos to keep you busy and distracted while subliminally planting seeds of doubt to undermine your plans.
- Dangling promises like a carrot before a bunny, in order to keep you encouraged just enough to keep dreaming but constantly discouraged by never actually obtaining the things that you desire.
- Having an “emotional breakdown” and needing you home to console them.
10. Sabotaging Through Triangulation
Triangulation is a form of manipulation in which one person seeks to control two other people in a situation for their own benefit. The aim is to divide and conquer. It is a manipulation tactic where one person will not communicate directly with another person, instead using a third person to relay communication to the second, thus forming a triangle.
Sabotaging you through triangulation may look like:
- Secretly creating chaos by lighting a proverbial fire so they can put out the flames, in order to look like a hero saving the day.
- Confessing struggles they feel are common to most people while omitting the full picture, in order to appear as if they are humble, wounded, and truly seeking help. Often, they will confess just enough to pull people in and make them think that they are sincere while in reality, it’s just the tip of the iceberg and they have no true desire for help or change.
- Comparing you to someone else in order to drive a wedge between your relationship.
- Using social media to communicate indirectly with you, while they usually will not talk directly to you.
- Wanting to keep up their facade or image, so they may post something on social media to support the narrative they want the world to believe.
“Normal people have a hard time comprehending that abusers go to such lengths, but they do.” ― Shannon Thomas, Healing from Hidden Abuse: A Journey Through the Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse
The Ultimate Protector and Defender
If you find yourself in a relationship where sabotage is a constant reality, I would encourage you to reach out to trusted friends, mentors, or counselors for help. You may instinctually want to defend yourself but that often is a fruitless endeavor as the abuser isn’t usually interested in reality, telling the truth, or actually resolving issues.
When our lives are hidden in Christ—He is our defender and protector. Ultimately what God thinks of us is what matters most. I am praying for God to expose every area of hidden sabotage in your life. I also am praying that God would bring safe people and counselors into your life, to help walk with you, as you untangle the web of covert abuse and sabotage you may be experiencing. May Holy Spirit give you great wisdom, healing, grace, and strength as you look to him as your protector and defender.
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.” – Psalm 18:1-2