Beware of the Covert Narcissist

Authored by Pin Ng

Edited by Alexander Bentley

Reviewed by Dr Ruth Arenas

Covert Narcissist Definition


Narcissistic Personality Disorder has a broad spectrum and individuals displaying it feature a wide range of traits. One of the sub-facets of NPD is Covert Narcissism and it is also known as vulnerable narcissism. An individual displaying covert narcissism does not physically display the sense of self-importance people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder typically do and a covert narcissist often appears shy or modest.


Terms such as closet narcissist or introverted narcissist maybe used in place of covert narcissist because one of the main traits of the covert narcissist is lack of self-confidence. There are other signs and traits shown by these individuals which will be covered below.


Understanding Narcissism


Narcissism is a term used to describe a number of personality traits displayed by people.


Narcissistic traits are:


  • self-interest
  • a sense of entitlement for special treatment
  • vanity
  • belief they are better than everyone else
  • belief they are clever


At one time or another, people show narcissistic traits and depending on the circumstances although people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder display strong narcissistic traits in all situations11.S. Grapsas, E. Brummelman, M. D. Back and J. J. A. Denissen, The “Why” and “How” of Narcissism: A Process Model of Narcissistic Status Pursuit – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved October 9, 2022, from


Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a mental health condition with the following symptoms:


  • constant need for admiration or praise
  • unrealistic sense of self-importance
  • lack of empathy
  • difficulty forming strong or meaningful relationships


An individual with Narcissistic Personality Disorder may have low self-esteem. Their self-image is dictated by comparing themselves with other individuals. Research discovered that people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder ranked lower on self-esteem tests compared to people without the disorder.


Covert Narcissist Test


There are 10 signs of covert narcissism and an individual may not show each sign on the spectrum.


Signs of the covert narcissist are:


  • Extreme sensitivity to criticism
  • Passive aggressive behavior
  • A tendency to insult or put themselves down
  • A shy or withdrawn nature
  • Grand, extreme fantasies
  • Feelings of anxiety and depression
  • Tendency to hold grudges against others
  • Envy
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • An ability to show fake or false empathy

What Causes Covert Narcissism


There is still a lot about the traits of Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder that psychologists do not know as yet. So far, research has found that there is a mixture of factors that may play a part.


One study discovered that adults possessing narcissistic personality traits often had parents who overvalued achievements, emphasized status, and praise. The researchers concluded this behavior may give children who grew up with parents such as these believe they are superior to their peers.


In contrast, children with parents displaying warm, affectionate styles of parenting were more likely to have healthy self-esteem. The researchers concluded parental affection teaches children that they are of a high value, rather than superior to other people. The issues that cause Narcissistic Personality Disorder are more complex, however.


The American Psychological Association states personality disorders are affected by:


  • genetics
  • childhood trauma
  • verbal abuse
  • sexual abuse


An individual with covert narcissist signs may have parents who possess similar traits. In addition, individuals with covert narcissism may have been abused as children. In some cases, they may have experienced both situations.


Overt Narcissist Vs Covert Narcissist


Mental health experts divide Narcissistic Personality Disorder into two subsets: grandiose narcissism and vulnerable narcissism. These are also called overt and covert narcissism. Both versions of Narcissistic Personality Disorder possess the same traits. These traits include a need for admiration and a distinct lack of empathy. However, the outward behavior of those with each sub-type can be very different.


Narcissistic grandiosity is characterized by overt expressions of feelings of superiority and entitlement, while narcissistic vulnerability reflects hypersensitivity and introversive self-absorbedness. Clinical evidence suggests that grandiosity is accompanied by vulnerable aspects, pointing to a common foundation. Subclinical personality research, however, views grandiose and vulnerable narcissism as independent traits. Grandiose narcissism displays substantial correlation with extraversion, while vulnerable narcissism correlates highly with introversion22.E. Jauk, E. Weigle, K. Lehmann, M. Benedek and A. C. Neubauer, The Relationship between Grandiose and Vulnerable (Hypersensitive) Narcissism – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved October 9, 2022, from


Individual with overt narcissism are extroverted, bold, and attention seeking and these people may become aggressive or violent when their sense of status is challenged by others. It is less obvious to tell if a person has covert narcissism because the covert narcissist often appears shy, withdrawn, or self-deprecating. However, they are still self-absorbed and believe they are superior to other people.

Dealing with a Covert Narcissist


Challenging and interacting with a person suffering from Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder is difficult and the behaviors affect the mental health of those around them. Friends and family members may need to set boundaries with the person suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder to make the relationship work.


An individual may limit their interactions with the Narcissistic Personality Disorder sufferer on certain days or for specific periods of time. They may limit the information that is shared with the NPD sufferer. If abuse is experienced in a relationship with an individual with NPD, it can be advisable to cease all contact.

How do mental health professionals treat narcissistic personality disorder?

It is difficult to treat Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder may be difficult to treat and besides medication, therapy may help in some situations. Individuals may experience a combination of the two to treat NPD.


Narcissistic Personality Disorder Treatment Options:


  • Supportive psychotherapy which combines psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral techniques with psychopharmacologic management
  • Mentalization-based therapy in which the therapists teach patients to self-reflect
  • Transference-focused psychotherapy to identify an individual’s treatment goals while establishing a treatment contract between the patient and therapist
  • Schema-focused psychotherapy which uses cognitive behavioral therapy, attachment theory, and psychodynamic therapy and treats negative perceptions of one’s self and others
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy is also used and it combines individual therapy and group treatment. DBT is a form of CBT and uses principles of change and acceptance.
  • Medications such as mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and antipsychotics are also implemented by therapists


Get help for a Covert Narcissist


Mental health issues can affect a person’s work and home life and when this occurs, it is time to seek help. Speaking to a psychotherapist or doctor is a good place to begin because a healthcare professional can assess the issue and recommend treatment options. An individual in an abusive relationship with a person exhibiting narcissistic traits may require help leaving the relationship.


People with covert narcissist traits may appear shy, withdrawn, and lacking in confidence. Yet, interacting with an individual with covert narcissism may be difficult. By breaking off contact with a covert narcissism sufferer, an individual may be able to protect their own mental health.


Previous: Leave a Narcissist

Next: Gaslighting in a Relationship

  • 1
    1.S. Grapsas, E. Brummelman, M. D. Back and J. J. A. Denissen, The “Why” and “How” of Narcissism: A Process Model of Narcissistic Status Pursuit – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved October 9, 2022, from
  • 2
    2.E. Jauk, E. Weigle, K. Lehmann, M. Benedek and A. C. Neubauer, The Relationship between Grandiose and Vulnerable (Hypersensitive) Narcissism – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved October 9, 2022, from
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