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52 Ways to Identify a Covert Narcissist

Triangulating, flattering, and conducting smear campaigns.

Key points

  • The covert narcissist fails to develop empathy, self-awareness, or a stable sense of identity.
  • Covert narcissists avoid the spotlight and prefer passive-aggressive means of controlling others.
  • 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.

Facebook image: Ruslan Sitarchuk/Shutterstock

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