Originally Posted July 7, 2020 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina
The covert narcissist fails to develop emotional empathy, self-awareness, or a stable sense of identity and self-esteem in childhood.
Covert narcissists avoid the spotlight and prefer passive-aggressive means of controlling others due to their fear being exposed and humiliated.
Tactics of a covert narcissist might include belittling, triangulation, and avoiding direct responsibility.
The flamboyance of overt narcissists can make them pretty easy to identify, but what about the covert narcissist in your life?
Recognizing covert personality traits requires looking beyond obvious appearances, past common assumptions and expectations. For this reason, covert narcissism is more difficult to spot, and it can take years to recognize it in someone you think you know well. But the good news is that once you become aware of the patterns and signs of covert narcissism, you aren’t likely to miss them again.
Covert Narcissism Checklist
The more covert form of pathological narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is not expressed the same way in every individual, but there are typical patterns that are very common. If you see many or most of these attitudes and behaviors in a person you know, you’re probably dealing with someone who suffers—and makes others suffer—with covert narcissism.
Criticizes and judges from the sidelines
Is condescending and superior
Is threatened by honesty and directness
Swings between idealizing and devaluing him-/herself and others
Denies and dismisses others’ feelings
Cultivates a public image sharply different from his/her private behavior
Identifies as a victim
Is cynical and sarcastic
Makes unreasonable demands
Turns your problems into his/her dramas
Belittles and blames
Exploits and/or attacks others’ vulnerability
Is reactive to questioning or criticism
Plays on sympathies
Fakes or exaggerates illness/injury for attention
Withholds and stonewalls
Avoids introspection and lacks self-awareness
Uses platitudes in place of genuine insight
Denies own anger
Focuses on unfairness
Is envious and vengeful
Prefers to remain behind the scenes
Holds a grudge
Is inattentive or annoyed when others talk
Has double standards
Hates to lose
Fixates on others’ problems and misfortunes
Flatters and fawns to win favor
Displays rage and contempt in private
Does not sincerely apologize
Avoids direct responsibility
Has an exaggerated sense of entitlement
Is impressed by the overt narcissist’s appearance of confidence
Lacks emotional empathy
Focuses on appearance over substance
Rushes to (false) intimacy
Is anxious and hypervigilant
Displays false humility and humblebrags
Is prone to paranoia and conspiracy theories
Crosses normative boundaries and codes of conduct
Pokes, prods, and pries
Feels special through association
Feels above the rules
Uses guilt and shame to control and punish
Conducts smear campaigns
The Overt Versus the Covert Narcissist
Like the overt narcissist, the covert narcissist fails to develop emotional empathy, self-awareness, or a stable sense of identity and self-esteem in childhood. Both feel defective and cope with underlying insecurity and shame by repressing those feelings and adopting a grandiose persona, a delusion of superiority and entitlement that they constantly assert at the expense of those around them.
Although covert narcissists avoid the spotlight and prefer passive-aggressive means of controlling others, this is not necessarily because they are introverted as is often stated. Rather, they lack the brash confidence of overt narcissists and fear being exposed and humiliated if they draw public attention to themselves. Often this is because they have been conditioned not to compete with a domineering overt narcissist parent.
Recognizing the covert narcissist in your life is the first step to overcoming your self-defeating cycles of confusion, guilt, anger, self-blame, and emotional and physical trauma.
About the Author
Julie L. Hall is the author of The Narcissist in Your Life and founder of The Narcissist Family Files.Online: Narcissist Family Files