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Nature Reserve


Wendy Behary LCSW

Behind the Mask of the “Perpetual Victim” ... Identifying and Treating the Covert Narcissist and their Partners


Wendy Behary LCSW

Date & Time

November 9, 2023 - 11am - 1pm ET


Virtual (Zoom Video)

Brief Overview 

Covert narcissism is a subtle and often overlooked form of narcissistic personality disorder that can be challenging to detect because it hides in plain sight – beneath the surface.  Unlike their overt counterparts, covert narcissists do not display grandiose and attention-seeking behaviors that readily reveal their narcissistic tendencies. Instead, they might present themselves as modest, self-effacing, and even insecure, making it more difficult to recognize the narcissistic traits.

One of the chief features of covert narcissism is a strong need for admiration and validation, much like overt narcissists but in more covert and subtle ways. They may even appear modest, downplay their accomplishments, or constantly claim that they are the victim, making it seem as if they lack self-confidence. This facade of humility can make them come across as sensitive and caring individuals, which further obscures the narcissistic tendencies. 
Passive-aggression, blaming and emotionally manipulating others (in the spirit of preserving their sense of righteousness), lack of accountability, and the need for constant reassurance, are among the most challenging behaviors.  They may use their “No one appreciates me...  I am the victim…” messages to gain sympathy and control over those around them. They maintain a facade of innocence and humility as a way of achieving attention and admiration, showing up as the “good guy”. Their problematic behaviors become evident, mostly to their partners, over time. The effect on partners often includes an overall diminished sense of self.

The thoughtful conceptual framework and emotional needs-meeting approach of Schema Therapy, provides the skills for therapists to sturdy themselves, assess for adequate leverage, and facilitate a process for identifying and healing the underlying insecurities of the covert narcissist (sustained from early trauma, high degrees of enmeshment, and attachment ruptures – more severe than that of grandiose types). This, along with addressing and adapting long standing maladaptive coping modes, is at the heart of the challenging work.  Treatment for partners includes assessment for underlying core issues of subjugation and self-sacrifice, as well as other activated schemas and coping modes that can intensify self-diminishment when living with a covert narcissist.

Learning objectives include

1. conceptualize covert narcissism and formulate a treatment plan in schema terms

2. identify patterns and activating conditions associated with covert narcissism.

3. link current problems and address unmet emotional needs – with the covert narcissist and when working with the partner of a covert narcissist

4. help clients let go of self-defeating life patterns and begin to develop adaptive responses.

5. address triggering conditions in the therapy relationship and fortify strategies for maintaining a sturdy and healthy adult mode.

6. learn to apply some of the basic schema therapy strategies for covert narcissism and for partners of covert narcissists, including: quieting and converting inner critic modes, mode dialogues, imagery rescripting, and behavioral pattern breaking.


Joan is a licensed clinical psychologist with 40 years of experience in training and psychotherapy practice. She is a certified Schema Therapy Trainer/Supervisor and co-directs the Schema Therapy Institute Midwest- Indianapolis. Joan has given training in individual and group ST internationally for over 20 years (24 countries to date). She receives outstanding evaluations for her enthusiastic and collaborative teaching style that includes demonstrations and group role play experiences for participants. 

Joan is an Adjunct Professor in Clinical Psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University. She was a clinical professor at Indiana University School of Medicine (IUSM), for 25 years. She is Research and Training director of the IUSM Center for Borderline Personality Disorder Treatment & Research. She was the elected Executive Board Member, Coordinator for Training & Certification of the ISST 2012-2018. She chairs the ISST Training & Certification Advisory Board. She was awarded an Honorary Lifetime membership by ISST 2018.

She developed with Ida Shaw a group treatment model consistent with Schema Therapy. Influenced by clinical experience with BPD and by the work of Jeff Young, they adapted ST interventions and limited reparenting to a group and developed uniquely group interventions to accomplish ST goals. They established outpatient group ST (GST) in a specialty clinic for BPD, which was awarded an Indiana Governor’s Showcase Award in Mental Health. They developed an inpatient ST program that combines individual and group modalities and directed a dedicated BPD ST unit for twelve years at a IUSM-affiliated psychiatric hospital. Their GST model was evaluated in a randomized controlled trial with a grant award from the US National Institute of Mental Health. GST demonstrated strong effects in reduced BPD symptoms and improved global function as well as high recovery rates. Joan was co-Principal investigator with Arnoud Arntz for an international trial with 495 patients in five countries to further evaluate the GST model.

She is the author with Ida Shaw of three books on ST: Group Schema Therapy for BPD, Wiley, 2012; The Schema Therapy Clinician’s Guide, Wiley, 2014 and Experiencing Schema Therapy from the Inside-Out: A Self-Practice/Self-Reflections Workbook, Guilford Press, 2018 and a DVD Set demonstrating GST (IVAH, 2011). She has contributed many book chapters and research articles on Schema Therapy. Her latest book is with Wendy Behary is The Deliberate Practice of Schema Therapy, APA Press 2023.

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