I am a highly sensitive person, and I often find myself in the position of understanding people better than they understand themselves. I often physically feel what others are feeling, and I can sense whether their thoughts are clear or whether there is a jumble of static in their brain. People who are not empaths are probably scratching their heads right now, but the empaths are nodding. My people get it, so much so, it's often not worth explaining to those who don't.
People often want to talk to me, but I am sensitive to the people who drain me in order to make themselves feel better. They slather me with their problems that they have no interest in solving for themselves. Over time, I've learned to keep up pretty good boundaries and limit how much of myself I give to others. But then occasionally, a few slip through the cracks. Some people carry so much psychic chaos around, it zaps all my defenses.
There is one such person who, from the very first moment I met her (and every interaction since) is like nails on a chalkboard to me. Every time she opens her mouth, it translates to almost audible screeching in my ears. The hairs raise on my neck just by being in the same room. Even the thought of her ties my stomach in knots. Other than lacking emotional intelligence and self-awareness, she has not said or done anything to me directly to cause such an extreme reaction in me, yet every interaction with her sets of every bell and signal in my body. I am not typically the kind of person who reacts strongly to ignorant people, so why does she bother me so much?
I broke down every interaction piece by piece in order to understand what it was that was getting to me, and here is what I discovered. While she has not said or done anything wrong in an overt way, her covert style wrecks havoc. Though she lacks self-awareness, she's extremely self-absorbed, and constantly seeks approval. When she senses any kind of resistance to getting that approval, she latches on and tries to shake it out of the person (me). If she still doesn't get what she wants, she plays victim. She makes manipulative, back-handed suggestions to others that she is being treated poorly or that people don't like her, which is true, but never expressed to her verbally. She fails to listen to people or understand other points of view. Instead, she perceives any differing opinions as a threat. She denies the experience of others, and twists their words around to make them sound like they are being "mean" when they are simply trying to solve a problem. She injects problems into situations that are not there. She projects her own twisted world view on to others and then blames them for being that way. She blames victims and protects the perpetrators. She jumps to conclusions and projects her own poor-me story into them. She over-inflates her status, usually via name dropping, so she appears to have more authority than she does. She puts herself in charge of things so that she can control them, and then gets upset at those who have a different agenda. She does all of this under the guise of "helping." In other words, she is a big, fat, flaming, Covert Narcissist.
Covert narcissists are really the worst. Even all the other narcissists hate them, because they are so backhanded and squishy. They are sycophants of the worst kind around anyone they perceive to have power or status, because they hope to obtain it by proxy. They are two-faced liars who overreact when confronted with any amount of truth. They often become the flying monkeys around the other Cluster B creeps who cause more direct, overt harm. They are sucky suckers who suck.
Even with a lot of education, covert narcissists are the most difficult ones to spot. They know how to blend in so well and manipulate in a way that usually goes undetected. Their victims often feel like they are going crazy around them, especially because no one else sees it. They are so good at projecting guilt and blame that their victims often feel sorry for them instead of the other way around. Some people make the mistake of thinking covert narcissists aren't that bad, because much of what they do is seemingly not that extreme and often flies under the radar. But it is exactly because they are covert that makes them far more damaging. They are the Dolores Umbridges who end up being far more evil than the Professor Snapes.
If you have identified a covert narcissist in your life, take measures right away to shield yourself from them as much as possible. Trust your gut about anyone who feels like nails on a chalkboard to you.