10 Covert Narcissist Signs That Are Major Red Flags

Narcissism commonly manifests as an inflated sense of self-importance and a profound need for admiration, which are personality traits that are relatively easy to identify. But there is a subtler form of narcissistic personality disorder, known as covert narcissism. This type of narcissism is more difficult to spot because covert narcissists initially comes across as shy or modest. In this post we will discuss 10 signs that you might be dealing with a covert narcissist.

covert narcissism

What is Covert Narcissism?

Covert narcissism, also referred to as vulnerable or closet narcissism, is a less conspicuous variant of narcissism. It’s a complex and often misunderstood personality disorder that can be challenging to identify due to its subtle characteristics and manifestations.

Unlike their overt counterparts who are typically outgoing, boisterous, and crave the limelight, covert narcissists are more introverted. They may appear sensitive, reserved, or even self-effacing.

However, beneath this quiet exterior lies the same fundamental narcissistic trait: an inflated sense of self-importance.

While overt narcissists brazenly display their sense of superiority and entitlement, covert narcissists express their narcissism in more understated ways.

They often harbor feelings of being misunderstood, overlooked, or unappreciated.

They may project an image of humility or insecurity, but these expressions are simply a ploy to mask their deep-seated belief in their own superiority.

introvert vs extrovert

Covert narcissists can exhibit passive-aggressive behavior, holding onto grudges and becoming easily slighted or offended.

Their reactions are often disproportionate to the perceived offense, and they will not hesitate to resort to manipulation to get what they want.

This duality, appearing vulnerable on the surface while fostering grandiose self-perceptions, makes understanding and identifying covert narcissism particularly challenging.

covert narcissist signs

1. Hidden Grandiosity

Overt narcissists are known for their blatant displays of superiority and grandiosity, but covert narcissists operate differently. They cloak their sense of supremacy under a veil of modesty or self-deprecation.

However, this doesn’t mean their grandiosity is non-existent. It’s just more subtly expressed. They simply highlight their supposedly exceptional abilities or accomplishments in an understated manner.

They will weave tales of their supposed greatness into casual conversations, discreetly ensuring that others are aware of their achievements, yet doing so in a way that appears humble or even dismissive of their own successes.

The key here is the duality in their behavior. On the surface, they might seem modest, even self-effacing. But beneath this façade, their grandiose self-perception simmers, revealed only through subtle cues and indirect boasts.

covert narcissist signs

2. Victim Mentality

One of the most prominent covert narcissist signs is a deeply ingrained victim mentality. This trait forms a critical component of their manipulative repertoire.

Covert narcissists are not only adept at playing the victim but are also masters at turning this role into a powerful tool for emotional manipulation.

They have a knack for twisting situations in such a way that they always appear as the innocent party who is unjustly wronged or misunderstood. In this way they artfully dodge responsibility and manage to cast blame on others, thereby maintaining their victim status.

victim mentality

3. Passive Aggression

One of the most significant and effective manipulation techniques used by covert narcissists is their use of passive-aggression. Unlike overt narcissists, who are typically direct and confrontational, covert narcissists operate on a more insidious level.

Instead of engaging in open conflict, they deploy an array of passive-aggressive strategies to undermine and destabilize their targets. Their actions may seem benign on the surface, but they’re designed to subtly erode your confidence and self-esteem without you even realizing it.

4. Hypersensitivity to Criticism

Covert narcissists perceive even the gentlest feedback as a personal attack, so they react with intense anger or defensiveness.

This extreme reaction is a direct result of their fragile self-esteem, which relies heavily on external validation.

However, unlike overt narcissists who might openly express their rage, covert narcissists are more likely to suppress their anger, letting it simmer beneath the surface. They will then express it in passive-aggressive behaviors or malicious manipulation.

covert narcissist signs

5. Lack of Empathy

A lack of empathy is a universal trait among narcissists, and covert narcissists are no exception.

This inability or unwillingness to understand or share the feelings of others is one of the most defining covert narcissist signs.

It forms a fundamental part of their personality and significantly influences their interactions with others.

Their world revolves around themselves, and they view others mainly in terms of how they can be useful to them. This self-centered perspective makes it difficult for them to genuinely connect with others on an emotional level.

angry woman

6. Neglectful

Covert narcissists are often neglectful in their relationships, demonstrating a consistent pattern of ignoring the needs and feelings of others while focusing exclusively on their own desires.

This neglect can manifest in various ways, subtly eroding the quality of the relationship over time.

One of the primary ways is through emotional neglect.

Covert narcissists are typically inept at building and nurturing emotional bonds with others. They fail to offer comfort, support, or understanding when their partner is going through tough times. Instead, they might dismiss their partner’s feelings as irrelevant or unimportant, particularly if they don’t align with their own needs and perspectives.

Covert narcissists also exhibit neglect through their lack of consideration for their partner’s needs. They are likely to ignore their partner’s requests or disregard their preferences. This disregard usually extends to all aspects of the relationship, from minor daily choices to major life decisions.


7. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a very common tactic employed by narcissists, including covert ones. This manipulative strategy involves causing others to question their own reality, memory, or sanity through persistent denial, distortion of facts, and misrepresentation of the truth.

At its core, gaslighting is a psychological warfare tool that narcissists use to gain control and power in relationships. It’s a form of emotional abuse designed to create doubt, confusion, and insecurity, ultimately making the victim dependent on the narcissist for defining what’s real or true.

gaslighting quotes

8. Difficulty with Intimacy

Covert narcissists often have difficulty with intimacy. Their difficulty with emotional closeness can manifest in various ways, influencing their interactions with others and shaping the dynamics of their relationships.

One of the primary reasons covert narcissists struggle with intimacy is their fear of vulnerability. Deep down, many narcissists harbor insecurities and fears of inadequacy, which they mask with a façade of superiority and self-sufficiency. Allowing someone close enough to see these vulnerabilities terrifies them, causing them to avoid genuine emotional closeness.

This fear of vulnerability also means that covert narcissists rarely trust others. They tend to be suspicious or paranoid, interpreting innocent actions as threats or betrayals. This lack of trust further hinders their ability to form deep, meaningful connections with others.

covert narcissist husband lack of empathy

9. Superiority Complex

Covert narcissists, despite their outwardly modest façade, harbor a quiet but firm belief in their superiority.

This belief is not always immediately perceptible due to their subtler approach to self-aggrandizement, but it significantly influences their attitudes and behaviors.

cerebral narcissist superiority complex

10. Control Issues

Covert narcissists crave control. They exert this control subtly, manipulating situations and people to serve their interests.

Their tactics, however, are usually not as overt as those of more classic, overt narcissists, and they frequently operate under the radar, making them particularly difficult to identify. They are adept at twisting circumstances to fit their narrative or to place themselves in a favorable light.

This manipulation might involve playing the victim, creating drama, or turning people against each other. Regardless of the method, the goal remains the same: to gain control and maintain their inflated self-image.

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Final Thoughts: Recognizing the Signs of a Covert Narcissist

Covert narcissists are masters at presenting themselves in a positive light. They are adept at masking their narcissistic tendencies behind a façade of humility, modesty, or altruism. So, it’s essential to look beyond surface-level impressions and consider the underlying motives and patterns of behavior.

Recognizing the signs that you may be dealing with a covert narcissist is just the first step. If you are struggling in the relationship, it may be beneficial to seek professional advice to navigate the situation. Your top priority should be safeguarding you own emotional wellbeing.

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