What Is a Covert Narcissist Personality and How Can It Be Noticed?

Covert narcissism, a subtype of narcissistic personality disorder, often flies under the radar of our social radar systems. Unlike their overt counterparts, who are easy to spot with their grandiose mannerisms and constant need for attention, covert narcissists project a facade of humility, self-effacement, and introversion. This introduction seeks to unravel the complex tapestry that makes up a covert narcissist’s personality. By understanding the subtle signs and behaviors characteristic of this condition, we can better navigate our relationships and protect our mental well-being.

Difference between Overt and Covert Narcissism

Before delving into the specific traits of covert narcissism, it is important to understand the key differences between overt and covert narcissism. While both types share similar core characteristics such as a sense of entitlement, lack of empathy, and need for admiration, their distinct behaviors can manifest in very different ways.

Overt narcissists are more visible and tend to dominate social situations with their loud and attention-seeking behaviors. They often belittle or dismiss others in order to elevate themselves, and are not afraid to openly brag about their achievements. On the other hand, covert narcissists operate from a more hidden position, using subtlety and manipulation to control those around them. Their tactics include playing the victim, using guilt and pity to garner sympathy, and presenting a false image of modesty.

Signs of a covert narcissist

  • Exaggerated Humility: A covert narcissist may appear to be extremely modest and self-deprecating, but this is often a carefully constructed facade. They use false humility as a means of gaining sympathy and admiration from others.
  • Lack of Empathy: Covert narcissists struggle with empathy and tend to prioritize their own feelings over those of others. They may be dismissive or even contemptuous of other people’s emotions.
  • Passive-Aggressive Behavior: Instead of openly expressing their anger or frustration, covert narcissists often resort to passive-aggressive tactics such as sullenness, silent treatment, and subtle sabotage.
  • Fishing for Compliments: Covert narcissists thrive on constant validation and attention, and they may resort to fishing for compliments in an attempt to boost their fragile self-esteem.
  • Victim Mentality: Covert narcissists often play the victim card, portraying themselves as misunderstood and mistreated by others. They use this narrative to garner sympathy and manipulate those around them.
  • Sensitivity to Criticism: Covert narcissists are extremely sensitive to criticism or perceived slights. Instead of confrontation, they may withdraw or engage in subtle retaliation, keeping their grievances hidden under a calm exterior.
  • Envy and Resentment: They often harbor feelings of envy and resentment towards others, especially those who seem to have what they lack. Despite their own self-centeredness, they may belittle the achievements or happiness of others as a way to cope with their inner feelings of inadequacy.

The Impact of Covert Narcissism

While covert narcissists may appear harmless on the surface, their behavior can have a serious impact on those around them. Some common effects include:

  • Manipulation: Covert narcissists excel in manipulating others to achieve their desires. They may use guilt, pity, or flattery to control and exploit those in their lives.
  • Gaslighting: This insidious form of emotional abuse involves the covert narcissist distorting or denying reality in order to make their victim doubt their own perceptions and experiences.
  • Toxic Relationships: Due to their lack of empathy and manipulative tendencies, covert narcissists often leave a trail of damaged relationships in their wake. They may struggle to maintain meaningful connections with others and may resort to using people for their own gain.
  • Chronic Feelings of Inadequacy: Despite their outward appearance of modesty, covert narcissists are driven by deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. This internal conflict often fuels their need for external validation and attention.
  • Emotional Withdrawal: Covert narcissists may struggle to form deep emotional connections with others and often avoid vulnerability at all costs. This can lead to a pattern of emotional withdrawal, creating distance in relationships.

Identifying a Covert Narcissist

As mentioned before, covert narcissism can be hard to spot as these individuals often blend into social situations and may not exhibit the same grandiose behaviors associated with overt narcissists. However, there are some tell-tale signs that can help identify a covert narcissist.

Charming and Charismatic

Covert narcissists may come across as charming and charismatic, especially in social situations. They are often well-liked and admired, which feeds into their need for admiration and attention.

Easily Offended

Due to their fragile self-esteem, covert narcissists can be easily offended by criticism or perceived slights. They may react with anger or defensiveness, often resorting to manipulation tactics to deflect the blame.

Lack of Reciprocity

In relationships, covert narcissists may struggle with giving back as they are primarily focused on their own needs and desires. This can manifest in a lack of emotional support, taking but not giving in friendships, and an unwillingness to compromise in romantic relationships.

Lack of Empathy

As mentioned before, covert narcissists struggle with empathy and may have a hard time understanding or caring about the experiences of others. They may also lack emotional intelligence and have difficulty connecting with others on a deeper level.

Related: Navigating Divorce from a Narcissist with Strategy and Self-Care

How to Handle a Covert Narcissist

Living or dealing with a covert narcissist can be challenging and emotionally draining. It is important to set boundaries and protect your own mental well-being. Here are some tips for coping with a covert narcissist:

Educate Yourself

The first step in dealing with a covert narcissist is to educate yourself about the condition and its traits. By understanding their behaviors, you can better navigate your interactions with them.

Set Boundaries

It is important to set clear boundaries with a covert narcissist and stick to them. This could include limiting contact, not engaging in certain topics or behaviors, and setting consequences for when those boundaries are crossed.

Seek Support

Dealing with a covert narcissist can be emotionally taxing, so it is crucial to seek support from friends, family, or a therapist. Having someone to talk to and validate your experiences can help you cope with the challenges of this relationship.

Practice Self-Care

Taking care of yourself is essential when dealing with a covert narcissist. Make sure to prioritize self-care activities such as exercise, hobbies, and relaxation techniques to maintain your mental well-being.


While covert narcissism may not be as obvious as its overt counterpart, it can still have a significant impact on those involved in a relationship with a covert narcissist. By understanding the traits and behaviors of these individuals, setting boundaries, and prioritizing self-care, you can better cope with this challenging dynamic. Remember to seek support from trusted friends or professionals if needed and prioritize your own well-being above all else. Having a better understanding of covert narcissism can also help us as a society to recognize and address these behaviors, creating healthier and more meaningful relationships for all. So, let’s continue to educate ourselves and spread awareness about this lesser-known form of narcissism.

Happy learning! 🌟

Additional Resources:

Hot Topics

Related Articles


This site provides educational information only. It is important not to depend on any content here in place of professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Similarly, it should not replace professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any health concerns or questions, always seek guidance from a physician or another healthcare professional.