- 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.
- Is passive-aggressive
- 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
- Needs reassurance
- 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
- Resists decision-making
- 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
- Expects caretaking
- 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.
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