top of page

52 Ways to Identify a Covert Narcissist How to take a closer look.

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.

  1. Is passive-aggressive

  2. Criticizes and judges from the sidelines

  3. Is condescending and superior

  4. Is threatened by honesty and directness

  5. Swings between idealizing and devaluing him-/herself and others

  6. Denies and dismisses others’ feelings

  7. Cultivates a public image sharply different from his/her private behavior

  8. Identifies as a victim

  9. Is cynical and sarcastic

  10. Makes unreasonable demands

  11. Turns your problems into his/her dramas

  12. Belittles and blames

  13. Exploits and/or attacks others’ vulnerability

  14. Is reactive to questioning or criticism

  15. Plays on sympathies

  16. Fakes or exaggerates illness/injury for attention

  17. Withholds and stonewalls

  18. Gaslights

  19. Avoids introspection and lacks self-awareness

  20. Uses platitudes in place of genuine insight

  21. Denies own anger

  22. Focuses on unfairness

  23. Is envious and vengeful

  24. Prefers to remain behind the scenes

  25. Gossips

  26. Triangulates

  27. Holds a grudge

  28. Needs reassurance

  29. Is inattentive or annoyed when others talk

  30. Has double standards

  31. Hates to lose

  32. Fixates on others’ problems and misfortunes

  33. Flatters and fawns to win favor

  34. Displays rage and contempt in private

  35. Resists decision-making

  36. Does not sincerely apologize

  37. Avoids direct responsibility

  38. Has an exaggerated sense of entitlement

  39. Is impressed by the overt narcissist’s appearance of confidence

  40. Lacks emotional empathy

  41. Focuses on appearance over substance

  42. Rushes to (false) intimacy

  43. Is anxious and hypervigilant

  44. Displays false humility and humblebrags

  45. Is prone to paranoia and conspiracy theories

  46. Crosses normative boundaries and codes of conduct

  47. Pokes, prods, and pries

  48. Feels special through association

  49. Feels above the rules

  50. Uses guilt and shame to control and punish

  51. Expects caretaking

  52. 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

216 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page