Beware of the Covert Narcissist

Authored by Pin Ng

Edited by Alexander Bentley

Reviewed by Dr Ruth Arenas Matta

Covert Narcissist


Narcissistic personality disorder has a broad spectrum and individuals displaying it feature a wide range of traits. One of the subfacets of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is covert narcissism. Also known as vulnerable narcissism, an individual displaying covert narcissism does not physically display the sense of self-importance people with NPD typically do. A covert narcissist often appears shy or modest.


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


What is narcissism?


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


  • self-interest
  • a sense of entitlement for special treatment
  • vanity


At one time or another, people show narcissistic traits. Depending on the circumstances, you may showcase narcissistic traits from time to time. People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder display strong narcissistic traits in all situations. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a mental health condition that is long-term and individuals display symptoms such as:


  • 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. An individual may not show each sign on the spectrum. The signs of the covert narcissist include:


  • 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  • A shy or withdrawn nature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 a Covert Narcissist?


There is still a lot about the traits of Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder that psychologists do not know as yet. Specialists are continuing to learning about what causes Narcissistic Personality Disorder and the traits associated with it. 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 typically 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.


What is the Difference between Overt Narcissist and Covert Narcissist?


Overt Narcissism Vs and Covert Narcissism


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 introversion1


An individual with overt narcissism is typically extroverted, bold, and seeks attention. 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. The covert narcissist often appear shy, withdrawn, or self-deprecating. Yet, they are still self-absorbed and believe they are superior to other people.

How to Deal with a Covert Narcissist


It can be difficult and challenging to interact with a person with Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The narcissistic behavior displayed by the individual can affect their mental health. Friends and family members may need to set boundaries with the person suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder to make the relationship work. Friends and family can also have their mental health affected due to the relationship with a person with NPD.

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?


Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder may be difficult to treat. Along with medication, therapy may help in some situations. Individuals may experience a combination of the two to treat NPD. Treatments options for individuals suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder include:


  • 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


Is it time to seek help for a Covert Narcissist?


Mental health issues can affect a person’s work and home life. When this occurs, it is time to seek help. Speaking to a psychotherapist or doctor is a good place to begin. 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.


A person 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.


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