Covert Narcissist: Who Are They, Signs To Be Aware Of & How To Deal With Them!
The one entertaining the crowd, yes, the one loudly boasting about themselves in the room? That’s the one!
You don’t need to work hard to spot a narcissist in a room. They are the ones crowing about in a room, sharing stories that speak of their self-importance and achievements so others can admire them. Bear in mind that these people are rarely approachable or even compassionate.
But, are they the only narcissist in the room? Could there be others?
Yes! Absolutely! There can be another narcissist in the room with you but their actions can be more subtle and covert than the more obvious one.
But how can you spot a narcissist? Much less a covert narcissist? Don’t worry, I’ll help you understand the signs, how to recognize a covert narcissist, and how you can deal with them. Keep reading!!
Overt And Covert Narcissism
Covert narcissists are different from the more obvious narcissist or overt narcissists in a way that a covert narcissist would have an introverted personality. An overt narcissist is easy to spot because they are usually loud, arrogant, and fishing for compliments from whoever they meet.
An overt narcissist’s behavior can be easily spotted as they tend to play the room and are more extroverted in their boasting.
While the word covert may be misleading, when it comes to defining the traits of narcissists, it can be appropriate. Although, covert and overt narcissists don’t differ that much when it comes to self-importance and boasting.
Both such narcissists meet the same criteria as defined by the DSM-5 under narcissistic personality disorder.
The only difference that lies between the two is that while one is loud and has a huge presence, the other is quiet and subtle. It’s not uncommon to find one in a long-term relationship with a covert narcissist. In such circumstances, one would eventually get hurt when they sense a lack of partnership and mutual importance in the relationship.
Signs You Should Be Aware Of!
While some important criteria need to be met to be diagnosed with Narcissist Personality Disorder, there are still some general characteristics and patterns that can help you spot a narcissist.
Being aware of these signs and traits can help you understand if you’re dealing with a covert narcissist:
1. They Are Passive In Their Self-Importance
Sense of self is key here. While an overt narcissist will be obvious in their sense of self-importance, a covert narcissist will be more subtle. Narcissists crave importance and admiration but for a covert narcissist, it may look different.
They might give indirect compliments or deliberately minimize their achievements so that others around them will offer reassurance.
2. They Subtly Blame And Shame
Blaming and shaming others is a common tactic for narcissists to secure their sense of entitlement. A covert narcissist may not be as obvious as an overt narcissist such as they won’t come out directly and put you down, criticize you, or will be sarcastic.
Rather, a covert narcissist would use a gentle approach to explain to you why you are at fault and why they are not to be blamed. They might even use emotional abuse to put themselves in a place where they might coerce reassurance and praise from you.
3. They Cause You To Second-Guess Yourself
A covert narcissist may take joy in causing you to second-guess yourself and question your views. A covert narcissist may not always be subtle in this approach.
These people like creating confusion so that they can glorify themselves and maintain power in the conversation. If you question yourself, they get the opportunity to manipulate you more.
4. They Disregard Your Importance
For a narcissist, their self-importance is above all so a covert narcissist will try to do everything in their power to keep the focus on themselves. While an overt narcissist will unashamedly push you aside, a covert narcissist will not even acknowledge you.
Rather than saying directly that you’re not important, they will use behaviors such as not showing up on a date, waiting until the last minute to respond to you, or never confirming their plans with you. They will disregard you and make you feel irrelevant.
5. They Are Emotionally Neglectful
Narcissists hardly care about emotional bonds. They don’t take the effort to emotionally connect with others and how could they, when all their energy is focused on themselves? Covert narcissists are different from their counterparts though.
They are less likely to compliment you, they hold little regard for your talents, and they are rarely emotionally connected to you. In a relationship, it will be most likely you who would be responsible for the emotional lifting.
6. They Give With The Intent Of Getting Something In Return
Narcissists are not givers. It doesn’t help them in any way so why would they be? A covert narcissist, however, will give but only with the intent of getting something in return for their charity.
If they know that others are watching, only then will they give. To get praise and commendation in return. They care more about what they’ll get instead of to whom they are giving.
How To Deal With A Covert Narcissist?
If you’re currently dealing with a covert narcissist, whether in a personal relationship or a professional one, here are some tips on how to deal with a covert narcissist:
1. It’s Not You, It’s Them
Yes, it’s not you! When dealing with a narcissist, remember to not take their words and actions personally. No matter how they impact you, remember that it has nothing to do with you. Narcissists want you to take their actions personally, that’s how they manipulate you but you need to let them not get to you.
2. Your Boundaries Matter
Narcissists don’t know what healthy boundaries mean. It’s up to you to set the boundaries. Setting boundaries is a way you can let narcissists know that they are not going to intimidate you with their tactics. Setting boundaries can be difficult but boundaries matter too! Your values, what’s important to you matters. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.
3. Respect Yourself & Your Values
It’s okay to lose your voice, you stand when talking with a covert narcissist but here, remember to respect yourself and your values first. Check-in with yourself; who are you, what matters to you? Speak for yourself, stand up for yourself in front of a narcissist.
4. Keep Distance
Being with a narcissist can be draining and overwhelming. It can be hard to create a safe distance but when the opportunity arises to maintain a distance, don’t hesitate to do so. Cut off contact, limit one-on-one interactions, take a break. The aim is to protect yourself from their tactics.
Living with, working with, or interacting with a narcissist in your daily life can be hard and challenging but it’s important to remember that they are who they are and they cannot change or harm your sense of self.
You are as important as others and you need to respect that. If you feel yourself disregarding others, check in with yourself. If you’re showing signs of covert narcissism, it may be best to get a professional diagnosis.
If your loved one is showing signs of covert narcissism, then it is recommended you talk to them or get them professional help. A licensed professional can help them cope with their disorder and also help you understand how to support your loved one.
To connect with a trained professional, you can write to us at [email protected] or DM us on social media. I hope the above tips on how to spot a narcissist and how to deal with a covert narcissist helped you.
Found this article helpful? Do let me know in the comments below! We’re always happy to hear from you!
10 Tips for Dealing with a Narcissistic Personality
We tend to use the word narcissist to describe a person who’s self-centered and short on empathy. But it’s important to remember that narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a legitimate mental health condition that requires diagnosis by a mental health professional.
Still, people can exhibit some narcissistic characteristics without having NPD. These might include:
- having an inflated sense of self
- needing constant praise
- taking advantage of others
- not recognizing or caring about the needs of others
To make things more complicated, people with NPD or narcissistic tendencies are often very sensitive to criticism, despite their high self-esteem.
Here’s a look at some practical ways to deal with someone who has NPD or narcissistic tendencies — plus some tips for recognizing when it’s time to move on.
1. See them for who they really are
When they want to, those with narcissistic personalities are pretty good at turning on the charm. You might find yourself drawn to their grand ideas and promises. This can also make them particularly popular in work settings.
But before you get drawn in, watch how they treat people when they’re not “on stage.” If you catch them lying, manipulating, or blatantly disrespecting others, there’s no reason to believe they won’t do the same to you.
Despite what someone with a narcissistic personality may say, your wants and needs are likely unimportant to them. And if you try to bring up this issue, you may be met with resistance.
The first step in dealing with someone who has a narcissistic personality is simply accepting that this is who they are — there’s not much you can do to change that.
2. Break the spell and stop focusing on them
When there’s a narcissistic personality in your orbit, attention seems to gravitate their way. That’s by design — whether it’s negative or positive attention, those with narcissistic personalities work hard to keep themselves in the spotlight.
You might soon find yourself buying into this tactic, pushing aside your own needs to keep them satisfied.
If you’re waiting for a break in their attention-seeking behavior, it may never come. No matter how much you adjust your life to suit to their needs, it’s never going to be enough.
If you must deal with a narcissistic personality, don’t allow them to infiltrate your sense of self or define your world. You matter, too. Regularly remind yourself of your strengths, desires, and goals.
Take charge and carve out some “me time.” Take care of yourself first and remember that it’s not your job to fix them.
3. Speak up for yourself
There are times when ignoring something or simply walking away is an appropriate response — pick your battles, right?
But a lot depends on the relationship. For example, dealing with a boss, parent, or spouse may call for different strategies than dealing with a co-worker, sibling, or child.
Some people with narcissistic personalities enjoy making others squirm. If that’s the case, try not to get visibly flustered or show annoyance, as that will only urge them to continue.
If it’s someone you’d like to keep close in your life, then you owe it to yourself to speak up. Try to do this in a calm, gentle manner.
You must tell them how their words and conduct impact your life. Be specific and consistent about what’s not acceptable and how you expect to be treated. But prepare yourself for the fact that they may simply not understand — or care.
4. Set clear boundaries
A person with a narcissistic personality is often quite self-absorbed.
They might think they’re entitled to go where they want, snoop through your personal things, or tell you how you should feel. Maybe they give you unsolicited advice and take credit for things you’ve done. Or pressure you to talk about private things in a public setting.
They may also have little sense of personal space, so they tend to cross a lot of boundaries. More often than not, they don’t even see them. That’s why you have to be abundantly clear about boundaries that are important to you.
Why would the consequences matter to them? Because someone with a narcissistic personality typically starts to pay attention when things start affecting them personally.
Just make sure it’s not an idle threat. Talk about consequences only if you’re ready to carry them out as stated. Otherwise, they won’t believe you the next time.
Say you have a co-worker who loves to park their big truck in a way that makes it hard for you to back out. Start by firmly asking them to make sure they leave you enough space. Then, state the consequences for not respecting your wishes.
For example, if you can’t safely back out, you’ll have their car towed. The key is to follow through and call the towing company the next time it happens.
5. Expect them to push back
If you stand up to someone with a narcissistic personality, you can expect them to respond.
Once you speak up and set boundaries, they may come back with some demands of their own. They may also try to manipulate you into feeling guilty or believing that you’re the one being unreasonable and controlling. They might make a play for sympathy.
Be prepared to stand your ground. If you take a step backward, they won’t take you seriously next time.
6. Remember that you’re not at fault
A person with narcissistic personality disorder isn’t likely to admit a mistake or take responsibility for hurting you. Instead, they tend to project their own negative behaviors onto you or someone else.
You might be tempted to keep the peace by accepting blame, but you don’t have to belittle yourself to salvage their ego.
You know the truth. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.
7. Find a support system
If you can’t avoid the person, try to build up your healthy relationships and support network of people. Spending too much time in a dysfunctional relationship with someone who has a narcissistic personality can leave you emotionally drained.
Rekindle old friendships and try to nurture new ones. Get together with family more often. If your social circle is smaller than you’d prefer, try taking a class to explore a new hobby. Get active in your community or volunteer for a local charity. Do something that allows you to meet more people you feel comfortable with.
What is a healthy relationship?
Spending a lot of time with someone who has a narcissistic personality can make it hard to remember what a healthy relationship even feels like.
Here’s a few signs to look for:
- both people listen and make an effort to understand each other
- both people acknowledge their mistakes and take responsibility for them
- both people feel like they can relax and be their true selves in front of the other
8. Insist on immediate action, not promises
People with narcissistic personalities are good at making promises. They promise to do what you want and not to do that thing you hate. They promise to generally do better.
And they might even be sincere about these promises. But make no mistake about it: The promise is a means to an end for someone with a narcissistic personality.
Once they get what they want, the motivation is gone. You can’t count on their actions matching their words.
Ask for what you want and stand your ground. Insist that you’ll only fulfill their requests after they’ve fulfilled yours.
Don’t give in on this point. Consistency will help drive it home.
9. Understand that a narcissistic person may need professional help
People with NPD often don’t see a problem — at least not with themselves. As a result, it’s unlikely they’ll ever seek professional counseling.
But people with NPD frequently have other disorders, such as substance abuse, or other mental health or personality disorders. Having another disorder may be what prompts someone to seek help.
You can suggest that they reach out for professional help, but you can’t make them do it. It’s absolutely their responsibility, not yours.
And remember, while NPD is a mental health condition, it doesn’t excuse bad or abusive behavior.
10. Recognize when you need help
Regularly dealing with someone who has a narcissistic personality can take a toll on your own mental and physical health.
If you have symptoms of anxiety, depression, or unexplained physical ailments, see your primary care doctor first. Once you have a checkup, you can ask for referrals to other services, such as therapists and support groups.
Reach out to family and friends and call your support system into service. There’s no need to go it alone.
When to move on
Some people with a narcissistic personality can also be verbally or emotionally abusive.
Here are some signs of an abusive relationship:
- name-calling, insults
- patronizing, public humiliation
- yelling, threatening
- jealousy, accusations
Other warning signs to watch for in the other person include:
- blaming you for everything that goes wrong
- monitoring your movements or attempting to isolate you
- telling you how you really feel or should feel
- routinely projecting their shortcomings onto you
- denying things that are obvious to you or attempting to gaslight you
- trivializing your opinions and needs
But at what point is it time to throw in the towel? Every relationship has its ups and downs, right?
While this is true, it’s generally best to leave the relationship if:
- you’re being verbally or emotionally abused
- you feel manipulated and controlled
- you’ve been physically abused or feel threatened
- you feel isolated
- the person with NPD or a narcissistic personality shows signs of mental illness or substance abuse, but won’t get help
- your mental or physical health has been affected
If you fear the other person, you can reach out to the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 800-799-7233, which provides 24/7 access to service providers and shelters across the United States.
As you come to terms with your decision to leave the relationship, it might be helpful to talk to a processional.
These mental health resources can help you find an appropriate therapist:
If you think you’re in immediate danger, call 911 or local emergency services and remove yourself from the situation, if that’s possible.
8 Signs of a Covert Narcissist & How to Respond
What Is Narcissism?
Narcissists may appear with high energy, discuss wild plans for their future successes, and speak in embellished terms with exaggerated movements. They may believe that other people are failures because they do not live up to their expectations of jobs, money, cars, or houses. On the outside, they will seem confident, self-assured, and mentally healthy.1
Researchers and clinicians note significant differences in people with this disorder, which means not everyone with a narcissistic personality disorder diagnosis will act, think, or feel the same way.1,2
What Is a Covert Narcissist?
Covert narcissists, or vulnerable narcissists as they are sometimes called, are emotionally fragile and sensitive to even limited amounts of perceived criticism. They appear highly stressed and worried about numerous concerns.2 In terms of interpersonal relationships, the covert narcissist will seem shy, reserved, and self-deprecating. They will compare and judge themselves against what other people have in terms of happiness, possessions, and relationships constantly.2
Overt vs. Covert Narcissism
Where a covert narcissist does well to hide their problematic behaviors, thoughts, and feelings, overt narcissists boldly display the typical narcissistic qualities. They will be grandiose, demeaning, and demanding.
The overt narcissists always present themselves as special, important, and entitled to get what they want regardless of the other person’s needs and wants. Their arrogance and self-importance will be within moments of starting a conversation with them.1
The covert narcissist will experience most of the same thoughts and feelings, but they will be less obvious with their expression of uniqueness. It may take friends and coworkers longer to notice the traits.
8 Signs of a Covert Narcissist
Some narcissists make it clear from first contact that they have narcissistic traits. Others, like the covert narcissists, will not present in ways stereotypical of standard narcissists, so you have to look deeper to know what and who they are dealing with.
Here are eight signs of a covert narcissist:1,2
1. An Outward Sense of Inferiority
Whereas other narcissists seem to hit people over the head with their grandiosity and confidence, the covert narcissist has a presentation of uncertainty and self-doubt. They may let other people make the important choices for them because they report being indecisive and fear making a mistake.
Since they constantly compare themselves to others, they may feel like they don’t stack up to friends, family, or coworkers in specific areas. They may be quick to compliment others for their successes, but instead of feeling happy for the person, they only feel bad for themselves.
2. Emotionally Fragile & Hypersensitive
Due to an unstable self-esteem, people with covert narcissism are incredibly fragile and sensitive. If someone criticizes their work, family, or personality, the covert narcissist will respond with an extreme emotional reaction. They could be overly sad and despondent from even a minor comment.
The opposite may be true as well with the narcissist experiencing a drastic positive mood change from an insignificant compliment. This comment could reinforce their desirable qualities or merely neutralize the latest perceived slight.
3. Highly Stressed & Angry
The mood changes that come with being a covert narcissist will create a great deal of discomfort. With so much weight being assigned to each critique, the person will begin feeling very stressed and anxious as they stand by for the next comment.
For them, stress commonly builds towards anger and aggression as negative feedback could enrage them. They may explode and take their anger out on others or harm themselves.
4. Chronically Envious
The outward sense of inferiority experienced by a covert narcissist will lead to powerful and chronic envy of others. The narcissist will always focus on what other people have that they do not.
If the covert narcissist has a four-bedroom house, they will want a five-bedroom house. When they get the bigger house, they will still be envious because someone will have a pool, a movie theater, or a bowling alley in their basement.
Covert narcissists can be jealous or envious of almost anything, including:
- Physical attributes including height, weight, hair and skin quality, and strength
- Wealth measured by house, cars, clothes, and jewelry
- Family status, including marriage or children
- Power measured by employment or community involvement
No matter the area of envy, the covert narcissist will never be able to appreciate what they have. The focus will only be on what they are lacking.
Because they are so driven by jealousy and trying to chase after others’ achievements, the covert narcissist will appear aimless and misguided. Once they achieve something, they will not stop to celebrate their success; they will only look for a new conquest.
Often, the new goal will be disconnected from the previous one, so to the outside observer, the covert narcissist is simply bouncing from one project or fixation to another with no clear path or plan. All the while, they never feel satisfied or assured in their direction.
6. Completely Self-Absorbed
Whether covert or overt, the person with narcissistic personality disorder will be self-absorbed. They will only consider what is good for them and how they can get what they want.
This self-centeredness leads to two outcomes:
- Emotional Manipulation: Because they are so focused on completing whatever their current goal is, they will do anything to achieve it, including manipulating others to be part of the plan. With guilt, threats of violence, and other forms of coercion, they will use others for their personal gain.
- Lack of Empathy: Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s perspective and feelings. A narcissist is not interested in walking a mile in another’s shoes, so they will never experience empathy. They won’t care about others – only what others can do for them.
7. Secret Grandiosity
On the outside, a person with covert narcissism will seem quiet, meek, and self-deprecating. On the inside, though, they feel an intense sense they are superior to others. Despite all of the jealousy, envy, overreaction to negative comments, and apparent shyness, the covert narcissist will feel deep down that they are better than other people.
Instead of engaging with people like the overt narcissist, the covert narcissist will choose to be alone because no one can live up to their high expectations.
8. Frequent Suicidality
With the mood changes, fluctuations between feeling superior and being jealous, never feeling satisfied, and being unable to rely on other people, the condition can result in despair and suicidal ideation.
Covert (vulnerable) narcissists will experience more depression, anxiety, non-suicidal self-injury, and suicide attempts than other people with narcissism.
Signs of a Covert Narcissist Husband
Being married to a covert narcissist can be a trial. Identifying their condition could be tricky, but once you do, it could result in the relationship making more sense.
Some of the most telling signs of a covert narcissist husband include:1
- Being inattentive and distracted: The covert narcissist is self-absorbed, so there is little time and attention given to others.
- Jealousy and paranoia: The covert narcissist will constantly want the house, cars, and jobs of friends and neighbors.
- Inability to understand his wife’s point of view: With a lack of empathy, he will be unwilling and unable to consider differences of opinions. He will always be right.
- Unexpected angry outbursts: Covert narcissists are fragile and overly sensitive, so he could become angry and violent quickly or break down in tears.
- Frequently changing jobs: Since he thinks he knows best, the covert narcissist will have conflict with bosses and move from job to job to avoid being fired.
- Impulsive purchases: In an attempt to fulfill emotional voids, the covert narcissist will buy expensive items like cars, property, jewelry, or electronics
- Issues bonding with children: Again, without a strong sense of empathy, covert narcissists struggle to bond and connect with children at any age.
- Legal issues: A covert narcissist thinks that the rules and laws do not apply to them, so they will often engage in illegal activities.
- Substance abuse: With covert narcissism, the person may justify their intense substance abuse as a way of coping with “incompetent people.”
Signs of a Covert Narcissist Mother or Father
Having a narcissistic mother or father is a trying experience. Since the covert narcissist is sneaky, the usual signs of narcissism may not be present.
Instead, the covert narcissist parent may display signs like:1
- Constant disappointment: If the parent expresses consistent disappointment, no matter the child’s achievements, they could be a covert narcissist.
- Physical absence: A covert narcissist may not be interested in being physically present with the child. Birthdays, holidays, and graduations may not seem important.
- Emotional absence: If they are physically present, they may not be emotionally. They could often ignore the child and limited communication.
- Comparing the child to peers, classmates, and coworkers: When a parent is routinely stating that the child lacks worth because they are not as successful, smart, strong, athletic, or wealthy as others, they could be a covert narcissist.
- Anger when children need attention: With the enduring self-centeredness, a covert narcissist will become annoyed or irritated when the child needs time and attention, even for serious medical matters.
- Exploiting the children for personal gain: A covert narcissist will find ways to benefit from the child, either financially, at work, or with relationships. The child becomes a bargaining tool.
8 Things Covert Narcissists Say
When the behaviors do not help you identify a covert narcissist, you can look elsewhere. At times the things covert narcissists say will make their status quite clear.
Using a combination of denial, avoidance, blaming others, and indifference, here are eight things a covert narcissist may say:
- I don’t know what you’re talking about.
- You’re being too sensitive and too dramatic.
- You’re lucky I’m so kind and patient with you.
- Can’t you bother someone else with this?
- I’m doing important things and can’t be bothered with your thoughts and feelings.
- You probably forgot.
- You always misunderstand what I say.
- Why aren’t you paying more attention to me?
Of course, these are common statements, but a covert narcissist will use these with high frequency and seem like a broken record. Their persistence and consistency with this language can seem quite frustrating.
7 Ways to Deal With a Covert Narcissist
Dealing with a narcissist can seem like an impossible task, as the qualities that make someone a good friend, family member, or romantic partner are not often present. For the best success, you may have to use strong boundaries, ultimatums, and avoidance with the covert narcissist.
Here are seven tips for how to deal with a covert narcissist:1
1. Study the Diagnosis
Narcissism, like other personality disorders, may be obvious in many situations, but other times, the condition and the effects can sneak up on you slowly, especially when it is covert. Know the signs and read up on covert narcissism
2. Confirm With Others
Ask around and gather information from others that know the person. If they all agree with your perspective, you can rest assured that your covert narcissist opinion is not flawed or biased.
3. Communicate Your Concerns
There are countless ways to talk to someone about your concerns that they have covert narcissism, but only a handful will be productive. The person deserves to hear your honest and direct feedback.
4. Encourage Treatment
Covert narcissists often resist the idea that they need help since their symptoms are not as bold, but you must encourage professional assistance. If they are unwilling, the relationship is in great jeopardy.
5. Point Out Your Concerns
When you see the person behaving in ways linked to covert narcissism, point it out to bring their attention to it. They may deny it, but at least you’ll know that you did what you could.
6. Check in With Your Reactions & Responses
Living with, working with, communicating with, and interacting with a person with a covert narcissistic personality disorder is an extremely stressful and draining experience. Consider spending some time with yourself or with a trusted ally to assess how you are handling the relationship and if progress is happening,
7. Prepare to End the Relationship
Even with the best treatment, logical interventions, clear boundaries, and consistent repercussions, the person with narcissistic personality disorder could remain unchanged or obstinate and angry. Their lack of empathy, cruelty, manipulation, and selfishness could be growing out of control.
Sometimes, in these situations, the best course of action is to leave the relationship.
Signs of covert narcissism
Covert narcissist is a term to describe a person who has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) but does not display the grandiose sense of self-importance that psychologists associate with the condition. They may appear shy or modest.
Other names for covert narcissism include closet narcissism or introverted narcissism. tend to use the term vulnerable narcissism, as people with this subtype of NPD appear to lack self-confidence.
In this article, we discuss covert narcissism in more detail, including the signs and causes. We also explain how a person can respond to narcissistic behavior.
What is narcissism?
Narcissism is a general term that encompasses several personality traits, including:
- a sense of entitlement to special treatment
The term comes from the Ancient Greek myth of Narcissus, a young man who fell in love with his reflection.
Anyone can behave in a narcissistic way at times. However, someone who displays highly narcissistic traits consistently across all situations may have NPD.
According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manualof Mental Disorders (DSM-5), NPD is a long-term mental health condition that presents with symptoms such as:
- a constant need for admiration
- an unrealistic sense of self-importance
- lack of empathy
- difficulty forming meaningful relationships
It is worth noting that self-importance is as self-esteem. A person with good self-esteem feels valuable in themselves and does not feel the need to assert their superiority over others.
For this reason, people with NPD can have low self-esteem, as their self-image depends on comparing themselves with other people. A 2013 study found that people with NPD scored lower on self-esteem tests than people without the disorder.
Overt vs. covert narcissism
Experts split NPD into : grandiose narcissism and vulnerable narcissism. Or, as some people call them, overt and covert narcissism.
Both types of NPD share the same traits, such as a need for admiration and lack of empathy. However, the outward behavior of those with each subtype can be very different.
People with overt narcissism are typically extroverted, bold, and attention-seeking. They may become if a person or situation challenges their sense of status.
The covert subtype is less obvious. A person with covert narcissism may come across as shy, withdrawn, or self-deprecating. However, they will still be self-absorbed and believe that they are better than other people.
Signs of covert narcissism
Although covert narcissism is less apparent than the overt subtype, several signs can indicate that a person has this disorder.
Secret sense of superiority
Researchers say that while people with covert narcissism appear to be modest, they believe that they are superior to other people. As a result, they avoid situations or tasks that challenge this sense of superiority. For example, they may avoid doing work that they believe is beneath them.
Avoids social situations
People with covert narcissism may lack interest in socializing or avoid it due to social anxiety, fear of comparing themselves with others, or envy.
Hypersensitive to criticism
People with vulnerable or covert NPD are very sensitive to criticism. They may perceive insults where others do not and are likely to become defensive easily. They may act in a vindictive or passive-aggressive way if they believe that someone has slighted them.
Difficulty with relationships and work
The way that a person with covert narcissism behaves often makes it difficult for them to stay in work. Sometimes, they may choose not to work because it does not match up with their sense of self. They may also struggle to maintain relationships.
Depression and anxiety
People with covert narcissism are likely to experience depression, anxiety, and symptoms of other personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder.
Psychologists are still learning about the causes of narcissistic personality traits and NPD. However, research shows that a mixture of factors may play a role.
A found that adults with narcissistic personality traits frequently had parents who overvalued their achievements, emphasizing status and praise. The researchers speculate that this teaches children that they are superior to their peers.
By contrast, parents with warm, affectionate parenting styles were more likely to have children with healthy self-esteem. The researchers theorize that this is because parental affection teaches children that they are valuable, rather than superior.
The causes of NPD are likely more complex. According to the American Psychological Association, personality disorders in general are associated with:
- childhood trauma
- verbal or sexual abuse
People with covert narcissism may have a parent who displays similar traits, abused them as children, or both. Psychologists do not yet understand why some people develop covert NPD rather than overt NPD.
How to respond
Regularly interacting with someone with covert NPD can be challenging.
Someone with a close friend or family member with NPD may find that this individual’s narcissistic behavior affects their own mental health. In these cases, a person might benefit from setting some boundaries.
For instance, the person could limit their interactions with the friend or family member with NPD so that they only see them on specific days or for certain periods. They may also want to limit the amount of personal data that they share with them.
If someone has experienced abuse or trauma as a result of their relationship with a person who has NPD, they may need to cease contact with them entirely.
When to seek help
Anyone living with mental health symptoms that interfere with their work or personal life should consider seeking help. Speaking to a doctor or psychotherapist is a good first step. These healthcare professionals can assess the problem and recommend treatments.
A person who is recovering from an unhealthy relationship with someone who has NPD may benefit from the support of organizations such as Narcissist Abuse Support.
If someone is in an abusive relationship with a person who has narcissistic traits, they may require help leaving the relationship. :
- physical abuse, such as hitting, scratching, or kicking
- emotional abuse, including gaslighting or guilt-tripping
- verbal abuse, such as insults, yelling, and threats
- financial abuse, in which the abusive person seizes control of the partner’s money
- sexual abuse, such as rape
Narcissism is a personality trait that involves self-interest, a sense of entitlement, and vanity. Some people have NPD, which is a lifelong mental health condition causing a lack of empathy, feelings of superiority, and a need for admiration and attention.
People with the vulnerable or covert form of NPD may appear shy, withdrawn, and lacking in confidence. Interacting with someone with covert narcissism can be difficult. In some cases, a person may need to limit or break contact with the individual to protect their own mental and physical well-being.
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How to Recognize Someone With Covert Narcissism
Most of the time, it is easy to spot the narcissist in the room. They are the ones who are working the crowd, loudly sharing fabulous stories that convey a sense of importance and accomplishment so that they can feel admired. Someone behaving like this tends to send out a clear signal to those around them that they are not approachable or compassionate.
Could there be other people in the room with those same exaggerated motivations for admiration and importance, yet possibly harder to identify? Yes, in fact, there could be someone close to you who is a narcissist but shows up in less obvious ways.
What Are Narcissistic Traits?
Common narcissistic traits include having a strong sense of self-importance, experiencing fantasies about fame or glory, exaggerating self abilities, craving admiration, exploiting others, and lacking empathy.
What Is Narcissism?
The word narcissist is a term regularly used in common discussions to describe anyone who seems a bit self-involved. However, in terms of clinical mental health, someone needs to meet a specific criterion in order to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder.
In general, people with narcissistic personality disorder are those who are preoccupied with their own success and with a grand sense of self-importance that influences their decision-making and interactions.
Narcissists find it difficult to build or maintain connections with others because of their manipulative tendencies and lack of empathy. They often feel entitled and lack compassion, yet crave attention and admiration. Here are some elements of narcissism.
- Having a sense of self-importance or grandiosity
- Experiencing fantasies about being influential, famous, and/or important
- Exaggerating their abilities, talents, and accomplishments
- Craving admiration and acknowledgment
- Being preoccupied with beauty, love, power, and/or success
- Having an exaggerated sense of being unique
- Believing that the world owes them something
- Exploiting others to get what they want (no matter how it impacts others)
- Lacking empathy toward others
What Is a Covert Narcissist?
In the field of psychology, behavior can be described as overt or covert. Overt behaviors are those that can be easily observed by others, such as those of the traditional narcissist described earlier. Covert behaviors, however, are those that are more subtle and a bit less obvious to others.
A covert narcissist is someone who craves admiration and importance as well as lacks empathy toward others but can act in a different way than an overt narcissist.
When considering the behavior of narcissists, it might be hard to imagine how someone could be a narcissist and be inhibited in their approach and behavior. A covert narcissist may be outwardly self-effacing or withdrawn in their approach, but the end goals are the same.
For example, this might be described as listening to your favorite song while blasting the volume, compared to listening to that same song on a low volume. The song itself hasn't changed, just the volume in which you are listening.
Overt vs. Covert
Covert narcissists are only different from overt (more obvious) narcissists in that they tend to be more introverted. The overt narcissist is easily identified because they tend to be loud, arrogant, and insensitive to the needs of others and always thirsty for compliments.
Their behaviors can be easily observed by others and tend to show up as "big" in a room. When we think of an overt narcissist, we could say they demonstrate more extroverted behaviors in their interactions with others.
Researcher and author Craig Malkin, PhD suggests that the term "covert" can be misleading. In his work he states that the term covert is often used to suggest that the covert narcissist is sneaky or that their strive for importance is not as significant as an overt (more extroverted) narcissist. In fact, he reports, the traits of the overt narcissist and the covert narcissist are the same.
Both covert and overt narcissists navigate the world with a sense of self-importance and fantasizing about success and grandeur.
Both individuals need to meet the same clinical criteria to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, whether they are extroverted or introverted. Both have deficits in their capacity to regulate their self-esteem.
Many people have fallen victim to the manipulative behaviors of a covert narcissist without realizing what has happened until they are already in emotional pain. It might be more accurate to suggest that the extroverted (overt) narcissist would be a lot easier to see coming than the introverted (covert) narcissist.
It is not unusual for people to find themselves in long-term relationships with covert narcissists only to be hurt by a sense of a lack of partnership or reciprocity in the relationship.
Signs to Look For
Although there are some clinical criteria that need to be met in order for someone to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, there are some general traits and patterns to look for in everyday interactions if you suspect you might be dealing with a covert narcissist.
Being aware of these traits can help empower those who are interacting with the covert narcissist, helping them to recognize and better navigate potentially unhealthy interactions.
Where the more overt, extroverted narcissist will be obvious in their elevated sense of self and their arrogance when interacting with others, the covert narcissist may be less obvious.
The covert narcissist certainly craves importance and thirsts for admiration but it can look different to those around them. They might give back-handed compliments, or purposefully minimize their accomplishments or talents so that people will offer them reassurance of how talented they are.
The reality for both the overt and covert narcissist is that they have a fragile sense of self.
The overt narcissist will demand admiration and attention, where the covert narcissist will use softer tactics to meet those same goals. The covert narcissist will be much more likely to constantly seek reassurance about their talents, skills, and accomplishments, looking for others to feed that same need for self-importance.
Blaming and Shaming
Shaming others is a wonderful tactic of the narcissist in order to secure their sense of an elevated position in relation to others. The overt (extroverted) narcissist might be more obvious in their approach to gaining leverage, such as explicitly putting you down, being rude, criticizing you, and being sarcastic.
The introverted, covert narcissist may have a more gentle approach to explain why something is your fault and they are not to blame. They might even pretend to be a victim of your behavior or engage in emotional abuse to put themselves in a position to receive reassurance and praise from you. At the end of these interactions, the goal of the narcissist is to make the other person feel small.
Although not always sneaky, some covert narcissists can take joy in creating confusion for someone they are interacting with. They may not engage in blaming or shaming, but instead, causing people to question their perceptions and second-guess themselves.
Another way to create leverage between them and another person, the covert narcissist needs to use tactics like this to elevate themselves and maintain power in the interaction. If they can get you to question your perceptions, then this allows them the opportunity to manipulate and exploit you more.
Procrastination and Disregard
Because their need for self-importance reigns supreme, covert narcissists will do whatever they need to do in order to keep the focus on themselves. So, where an extroverted narcissist will blatantly push you aside or manipulate you to accomplish their goal, the covert narcissist is a professional at not acknowledging you at all.
It is not a coincidence that narcissists, in general, tend to gravitate toward interacting with caring and compassionate people. The covert narcissist recognizes those opportunities for manipulation as well.
They have no problem letting you know that you are not important.
Rather than explicitly telling you that you're not important, they might stand you up on a date, wait until the last minute to respond to texts or emails, always show up late for events with you, or never make confirmed plans with you at all. There is no regard for your time or interests, leaving you feeling small, unimportant, and irrelevant.
Narcissists are inept at building and nurturing emotional bonds with others. How could they know how to do maintain bonds with others if their energy is always focused on themselves? The covert narcissist is no different. So, although they may appear kinder and less obnoxious than their extroverted counterpart, they are not emotionally accessible or responsive either.
You will likely not receive many compliments from a covert narcissist. Remembering that they are always focused on staying elevated to maintain their sense of self-importance, it is easy to understand how a covert narcissist would find it difficult to compliment you. There is usually little regard for your talents or abilities—usually, the narcissist has no regard for these things at all.
Just as with overt narcissists, you will likely find yourself doing most of the heavy emotional lifting in a relationship with the covert narcissists. Although the covert is more likely to appear emotionally accessible, it tends to be a performance and usually done with intent to exploit or eventually leave the person feeling small through disregard, blaming, or shaming.
Since one of the hallmark traits of narcissistic personality disorder is lack of empathy, the covert narcissist is not going to be emotionally responsive to their partner in a healthy way.
Giving With a Goal
In general, narcissists are not givers. They find it difficult to put energy into anything that doesn't serve them in some way. A covert narcissist might present themselves in a way that looks like they are giving, but their giving behavior is only demonstrated with the intent of getting something in return.
A simple, everyday example could be something like putting a tip in the jar at your local coffee shop. A covert narcissist would be much more likely to put their tip in the jar when they know the barista is looking, in order to help facilitate some kind of interaction that allows them to be praised for giving.
The intent of giving for a covert narcissist is always more about them and less about those to whom they are giving.
What to Do
You may currently be in a personal relationship with a covert narcissist, whether it be a family member, a coworker, or your significant other. It may be helpful to note that although we cannot control with the narcissist does, we can take control of how we are behaving and interacting with them. There are certain steps that you can take to protect yourself if having to deal with a covert narcissist.
Avoid Taking It Personally
When we are dealing with a narcissist, whether covert or overt, their manipulative behavior can feel very personal. The lack of regard, sense of entitlement, patterns of manipulation, and deceptive behaviors of a narcissist can feel very personal when we are on the receiving end of their ways.
No matter how painful the impact of the behaviors of a narcissist might feel in the moment, it is important to remember that it has nothing to do with you.
The narcissist is behaving in negative ways because of something unhealthy within them, not because there is something unhealthy about you.
It is okay to look at the situation and the interactions in regard to how you contribute to them. However, it is very important when dealing with a narcissist that you let them "own" their part.
The narcissist wants you to take it personally because that is how they maintain leverage. Remember, a narcissist feels small, so they have to make themselves "big" somehow.
Narcissists do not have healthy boundaries. Because covert narcissists lack empathy, have a strong sense of entitlement and exploit others, boundaries are something that get in the way of their goals. The more you can practice setting boundaries with the narcissist, the more consistently you are conveying to them that their tactics are not working.
Setting boundaries can be very difficult, especially if you have never done that before. Not only is it possibly unfamiliar to you, but setting boundaries with a covert narcissist can be pretty intimidating.
Remember that boundaries are just a way for you to let someone else know what your values are. Consider what is important to you, what your values are, and work to create boundaries to support them.
Understanding why you are setting particular boundaries can help you have more confidence in establishing them and can keep you on track if a narcissist attempts to violate or disregard your boundaries.
Advocate for Yourself
When interacting with a covert narcissist, it can be easy to lose your voice. Because the patterns of interaction are so manipulative, it may take time for you to realize that the relationship left you in this place of not knowing how to advocate for yourself.
Take time to tune back in with yourself, who you are, what you are about, your values, your goals, and your talents. Strengthening your relationship with yourself is key in being able to speak up during interactions with a narcissist.
When advocating for yourself, the narcissist gets a chance to meet the part of you that is aware and knowledgeable of their tactics, making it less appealing for them to keep trying those things with you.
Create a Healthy Distance
Being in a relationship with a covert narcissist can feel frustrating and overwhelming. There are times when it can be difficult to create distance between you and that person, such as with a family member or coworker. However, there might be opportunities for you to create some healthy distance between you and the narcissist.
Limiting personal interactions, asking to be moved to a different location in your office, taking breaks at a different time, or simply cutting off contact might be what is necessary if you are feeling hurt by someone's narcissism. Remember the goal of creating distance is not to hurt the person who is narcissistic. The goal is to protect yourself and create space for you to heal.
What Is a Malignant Narcissist?
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Baskin-Sommers A, Krusemark E, Ronningstam E. Empathy in narcissistic personality disorder: from clinical and empirical perspectives. Personal Disord. 2014;5(3):323-333. doi:10.1037/per0000061
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