What Are 10 Signs of Covert Narcissism


10 Signs of Covert Narcissism

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) occurs on a broad spectrum that involves a wide range of traits. Covert narcissism, also called vulnerable narcissism, is one of them. A covert narcissist is someone with NPD who does not display grandiosity or a sense of self-importance. Instead, they may appear shy or modest.

10 signs of covert narcissism

1. Extreme sensitivity to criticism

Feelings of insecurity are typical of NPD. In a covert narcissist, this manifests as extreme sensitivity to criticism.

While few people enjoy being criticized, the way someone responds to criticism can reveal the extent of their sensitivity. Someone with covert narcissism may act dismissive or sarcastic to hide their internal feelings of emptiness, humiliation, or anger.

2. Passive-aggressive behavior

Covert narcissists may use passive-aggressive behavior to convey frustration or superiority. This can involve sabotaging others, mocking them, giving them the silent treatment, making them feel bad, procrastinating on tasks they deem beneath them, and more.

3. Tendency to put themselves down

People with NPD seek admiration and rely on others to boost their self-esteem. Covert narcissists do the same but put themselves down in hopes of receiving compliments.

4. Shy or withdrawn nature

Covert narcissism is more associated with introversion compared to other types of narcissism. These individuals are deeply insecure and fear others seeing their failures. They may avoid situations or relationships that don’t offer clear benefits.

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5. Grandiose fantasies

Covert narcissists often spend time envisioning their own abilities and achievements rather than boasting about them. They may withdraw into a fantasy world where they believe they are superior to others.

6. Feelings of depression and anxiety

Covert narcissists have a higher risk of depression and anxiety compared to other narcissistic types. Fearing failure and feeling frustrated over unattainable ideals may lead to emptiness, suicidal thoughts, and depression.

7. Tendency to hold grudges

Covert narcissists tend to hold grudges for extended periods. If they feel treated unfairly, they may not address it immediately but instead seek revenge later. These grudges can result in bitterness and resentment.

8. Envy

People with NPD often envy those who have what they desire. While covert narcissists may not openly express their envy, they may exhibit bitterness and resentment towards those who possess what they want.

9. Feelings of inadequacy

When covert narcissists fail to meet their own high standards, they often feel inadequate. This can lead to feelings of shame, anger, or powerlessness.

10. Fake empathy

Covert narcissists can appear empathetic and compassionate, but their gestures are often self-serving and insincere. They may try to help or be generous but with the goal of gaining approval and admiration.

What is narcissistic personality disorder?

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is characterized by:

  • Exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Arrogance
  • Constant need for admiration from others
  • Lack of empathy

While there are several types of NPD, the two most common include:

  • Overt narcissism
  • Covert narcissism or vulnerable narcissism

What is covert narcissism?

While both overt and covert narcissists desire attention and status but lack empathy, the two types behave differently.

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Covert narcissists are shy and although they believe they are superior, they tend not to show it in public.

They are highly sensitive to criticism and may become cruel and negative during arguments. However, they hide their anger and hold grudges to avoid being seen as a bad person. They never apologize because they believe they are never wrong.

Their behavior is motivated by two primary factors:

  • A deep-rooted belief in their uniqueness and entitlement
  • A desire for revenge against those who hurt them or achieve greater success than them

Covert narcissists may exhibit the following traits:

  • Shy and socially withdrawn
  • Highly sensitive to criticism
  • Have grandiose fantasies
  • Engage in passive-aggressive behavior, arrogance, or subtle displays of superiority
  • Envious of others
  • Believe they deserve what others have
  • Lack empathy
  • Tend to hold grudges
  • May experience anxiety or depression


What triggers a covert narcissist?

Covert narcissists despise losing control and being ignored. Refusing to engage with their tantrums and calmly continuing with your life will drive them crazy, as they will no longer feel powerful over you.

The following tips can help protect yourself from a covert narcissist:

  • Avoid getting into debates about who is right or wrong
  • Try to empathize with their emotions instead of arguing
  • Use inclusive language, such as "we"
  • Do not expect apologies
  • Learn to set boundaries and prioritize your well-being

11 tactics covert narcissists employ in relationships

As covert narcissism is less obvious than overt narcissism, you may not realize you are in a relationship with a covert narcissist until you are already trapped. Understanding their tactics can help you protect yourself.

Tactics they may use to gain your trust include:

  1. Surprise gifts: Covert narcissists use money to assert influence by buying gifts to create emotional attachment and obtain allegiance, silence, or favors.
  2. Emotional trump cards: They exploit your vulnerabilities or past wrongdoings, bringing them up at inappropriate times to win arguments.
  3. Put-downs: Instead of directly criticizing you, they use teasing jokes to hurt you.
  4. Acting innocent: They pretend to be clueless or innocent, even when intentionally causing harm. They may also feign forgetfulness, though it happens too frequently to be accidental.
  5. Act of omission: They appear disinterested and uninvolved in the relationship, ignoring your words and actions.
  6. Lies: Covert narcissists are skilled liars, making it challenging to detect their deception.
  7. Double meanings: They excel at delivering veiled insults and backhanded compliments, undermining you while appearing polite.
  8. Friendly but non-intimate: They may be pleasant in their interactions with you but avoid true emotional intimacy, seeking it elsewhere.
  9. Refusing to listen: Narcissists exhibit little interest in truly listening, and even if they do, they twist your words to misinterpret or condemn you.
  10. Controlling conversations: They exert complete control over the topic, timing, and manner of conversation.
  11. Silent treatment: Narcissists use the silent treatment to manipulate others into compliance. Victims often blame themselves and overcompensate to prove their love.
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How is narcissistic personality disorder treated?

While treating NPD can be challenging, therapy and, in some cases, medication can be effective. Treatment options include:

  • Supportive psychotherapy: Combines psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioral techniques with psychopharmacologic management.
  • Structured psychotherapies: Includes mentalization-based therapy, where patients learn self-reflection.
  • Transference-focused psychotherapy: Identifies patient goals and establishes a treatment contract between therapist and patient.
  • Schema-focused psychotherapy: Utilizes cognitive-behavioral therapy, attachment theory, and psychodynamic therapy to address negative self-perceptions established in early life.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): Integrates individual and group therapy, emphasizing acceptance and change.
  • Medications: Used for patients with severe symptoms, a risk to themselves or others, or treatable psychiatric conditions. Medications for NPD may include mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and antipsychotics.


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