Revealing the Invisible: 10 Signs of Covert Narcissism You Shouldn’t Ignore

Unlike their overt counterparts, covert narcissists aren’t outwardly boastful or arrogant. They’re masters of disguise, hiding their true nature behind a façade of humility and empathy. The signs of covert narcissism are subtle yet destructive, and it’s crucial to recognize them for what they are.

In this post we will discuss the ten signs of covert narcissism that you shouldn’t ignore.

signs of covert narcissism

What is Covert Narcissism?

Covert narcissism, also known as vulnerable or closet narcissism, is a subtype of narcissistic personality disorder.

Unlike the overt narcissist who openly exhibits narcissistic traits such as grandiosity, entitlement, and a constant need for attention, covert narcissists display less obvious characteristics.

Covert narcissists often present themselves as victims or underdogs, hiding their sense of superiority behind a facade of humility or self-deprecation.

signs of covert narcissism - passive aggression

They are typically passive-aggressive, manipulative, and have a strong sense of entitlement hidden beneath an outwardly reserved demeanor.

They may appear sensitive and introverted, but underneath, they share the same core narcissistic traits of a deep-seated sense of insecurity, low self-esteem, lack of empathy, and a desperate need for validation.

While they may not be as outwardly aggressive or confident as overt narcissists, covert narcissists can cause significant emotional harm through their manipulative behaviors, constant need for validation, and lack of concern for others.

Recognizing the signs of covert narcissism can be challenging due to their subtle and often contradictory behaviors, making it crucial to understand this complex personality disorder.

female covert narcissist

Signs of Covert Narcissism

As we delve deeper into the complex world of covert narcissism, it’s crucial to understand its key signs.

This often subtle and insidious form of narcissism can be challenging to recognize, but awareness is the first step towards understanding and dealing with it effectively.

Here, we’ll explore the ten signs of covert narcissism that can help you unmask this hidden personality disorder.

10 signs of covert narcissism - fake humility

1. A Superiority Complex Hidden Behind Humility

Covert narcissists are skilled in the art of disguise.

They often present themselves as victims or underdogs, subtly soliciting sympathy and admiration from those around them.

However, beneath this self-deprecating exterior hides a deeply rooted belief in their own superiority.

Their proclaimed humility is nothing more than a mask to hide their grandiose self-perception.

In their world, they’re not ordinary individuals, but exceptional beings who are misunderstood and undervalued.

This distorted self-view is so vital to their self-esteem that any criticism or perceived slight is met with defensiveness or even hostility.

These individuals will go to great lengths to protect their inflated self-image.

They will twist facts, manipulate emotions, or even vilify those who dare to challenge their self-perception. It’s a complex and often confusing dynamic, where humility serves as the perfect cover for a deeply ingrained superiority complex.

cerebral narcissist superiority complex

2. Manipulative Behavior

Spotting the signs of covert narcissism can be a challenge, chiefly due to their manipulative behavior which is often hidden beneath layers of feigned innocence and charm.

They are masters at exploiting emotions, using them as tools to control others and bend situations to their advantage.


One of the most common tactics used by covert narcissists is guilt-tripping.

They have an uncanny ability to make their victims feel guilty for things they are not their fault.

They frame situations in such a way that they appear to be the victim, and the other person, the wrongdoer.

This allows them to manipulate their victims into doing what they want, all while maintaining a semblance of innocence.


Another key sign of covert narcissism is gaslighting, a form of psychological manipulation where they make the victim question their own reality or sanity.

They may deny facts, distort memories, or misrepresent events to create confusion and self-doubt.

The purpose? To destabilize the victim and gain control over them.

Emotional Blackmail

Emotional blackmail is also part of their arsenal.

They will threaten, intimidate, or use fear to manipulate their victims. They know exactly what emotional buttons to push to get their victims to comply.

It’s a form of control that’s not only damaging but also deeply insidious, as it often happens behind the scenes, away from prying eyes.


3. Lack of Empathy

Among the most telling signs of covert narcissism is a lack of genuine empathy, despite their ability to convincingly feign it when necessary.

Covert narcissists may appear deeply attuned to others’ emotions, but this is typically a carefully crafted persona designed to serve their interests.

The paradox of their behavior lies in their capacity to mimic empathy without truly feeling it.

They can mirror emotions, express concern, and even offer comfort – all while remaining emotionally detached.

Their concern for others is usually transactional, used as a means to an end.

They display empathy when it serves their agenda – to gain trust, to control, or to maintain their self-image.

When there’s no personal gain involved, their interest in others’ feelings tends to evaporates.

signs of a narcissist - no empathy

4. Passive-Aggressiveness

While overt narcissists are openly aggressive, covert narcissists exhibit a different kind of hostility.

One of the primary signs of covert narcissism is passive-aggressiveness.

Covert narcissists are rarely confrontational, but that doesn’t mean they do not get angry and vindictive. Instead, they express these feelings indirectly, through passive-aggressive behavior.

This passive-aggressive behavior will manifest in various ways, such as subtle insults, sullenness, or intentional failure to complete tasks or meet expectations.

They will use sarcasm, silent treatment, or backhanded compliments to express their discontent, all while maintaining an outward appearance of calm or innocence.

This indirect approach allows covert narcissists to avoid direct confrontation and responsibility for their actions, while still expressing their anger or dissatisfaction.

things covert narcissists say in an argument

5. Constant Need for Validation

Covert narcissists have an insatiable craving for validation.

This need stems from their inflated self-image and an intense desire to be perceived as superior.

They crave recognition and validation to such an extent that it often becomes a driving force in their behavior.

The covert narcissist will continuously fish for compliments or seek reassurance about their abilities and accomplishments.

They might subtly steer conversations towards their achievements or strategically place themselves in situations where praise is likely.

Their need for validation can also lead them to compare themselves with others constantly, seeking to affirm their superiority.

If they don’t receive the praise they believe they deserve, they often react with disappointment or even anger.

This reaction isn’t merely about hurt feelings. It’s about a threat to their inflated self-perception.

They rely heavily on external validation to maintain their self-worth, so any failure to receive it can be extremely painful and cause them to lash out.

things covert narcissists say in an argument

6. Intense Envy

Intense envy is another one of the key signs of covert narcissism.

While everyone experiences feelings of jealousy from time to time, covert narcissists often harbor an intense, persistent envy towards others’ accomplishments.

This envy isn’t merely about wanting what others have; it’s a reflection of their deep-seated insecurity and desire for superiority.

Covert narcissists may react to others’ successes in two main ways.

They might belittle or downplay these achievements, dismissing them as unimportant or undeserved.

By doing so, they attempt to diminish the accomplishments of others and maintain their perception of superiority.

This behavior can be particularly damaging, as it undermines the success of others and creates a toxic environment.

Alternatively, they may attempt to associate themselves with successful individuals, trying to bask in their reflected glory.

They will name-drop, exaggerate their connections, or claim credit for others’ ideas.

By aligning themselves with successful people, they seek to boost their own status and self-esteem.


7. Mood Swings

One of the more complex signs of covert narcissism is the presence of extreme mood swings.

Unlike typical emotional fluctuations that everyone experiences, the mood swings of covert narcissists can be particularly intense and unpredictable.

They can rapidly vacillate between different states, often leaving those around them feeling confused and unsettled.

10 signs of covert narcissism

At times, covert narcissists may appear vulnerable, expressing feelings of inadequacy or seeking support.

They will play the victim, eliciting sympathy and attention from others.

This vulnerability can make them seem relatable and human, masking the more toxic aspects of their personality.

However, this can quickly shift to a cold and dismissive demeanor.

They might become distant, unresponsive, or even cruel, especially when they feel threatened or unappreciated.

This sudden shift is often a defense mechanism, designed to protect their inflated self-image and maintain control in their relationships.

10 signs of covert narcissism mood swings

8. Difficulty in Maintaining Relationships

One of the most telling signs of covert narcissism is the difficulty these individuals have in maintaining healthy, long-term relationships.

This struggle stems from a variety of problematic behaviors and attitudes, including manipulation, issues with empathy, and an incessant need for validation.

Covert narcissists are skilled manipulators. They use subtle tactics like gaslighting, guilt-tripping, or playing the victim to control and influence others.

These behaviors create a toxic dynamic, eroding trust and leading to instability in their relationships.

Moreover, the covert narcissist’s lack of empathy leads to one-sided relationships, where the needs of the narcissist take precedence over everything else.

And finally, their constant need for validation and recognition also strains their relationships. This neediness can push people away, leading to isolation and further reinforcing their narcissistic behaviors.

empath and narcissist breakup

9. Quiet Sabotage

Quiet sabotage is yet another of the insidious signs of covert narcissism.

Unlike overt narcissists, who may openly belittle or undermine others, covert narcissists often employ subtler tactics to diminish the success of those around them.

This behavior serves to elevate their own sense of importance and superiority.

Covert narcissists will subtly plant seeds of doubt, make backhanded compliments, or spread rumors to tarnish other people’s reputation or achievements.

They will also use passive-aggressive tactics, such as neglecting responsibilities or providing minimal effort, to subtly sabotage team projects or group efforts.

Another form of quiet sabotage is the withholding of support or encouragement when others are striving towards a goal.

By doing so, they create a toxic environment which impacts the performance of their target, thus maintaining their perceived superiority.

narcissist covert

10. Victim Mentality

Unlike the stereotypical image of narcissists as brash and boastful, covert narcissists often portray themselves as victims. This tactic serves multiple purposes in their interactions with others.

Covert narcissists perceive themselves as being constantly victimized or wronged by others.

They exaggerate or even fabricate hardships and injustices, painting themselves as the innocent party in every situation.

This skewed perception allows them to shirk responsibility for their actions and deflect criticism, maintaining their inflated self-image.

However, this victim mentality isn’t just about self-protection. It’s also a potent tool for manipulation.

By presenting themselves as victims, covert narcissists evoke sympathy and attention from those around them. They use this emotional response to manipulate others into providing support, validation, or concessions that they desire.

Moreover, this victim mentality can serve to justify their toxic behaviors.

They excuse their manipulation, passive-aggressiveness, or other harmful actions as necessary responses to the unfair treatment they believe they’ve received.

10 signs of covert narcissism

Protecting Yourself from Covert Narcissism

Navigating relationships with covert narcissists can be challenging, but there are strategies that can help protect your mental and emotional wellbeing.

1. Recognize the Signs

Empowering yourself with knowledge is the first line of defense when dealing with covert narcissism.

By understanding and recognizing the subtle signs of covert narcissism, you can better navigate interactions with individuals exhibiting these behaviors.

These signs may include tactics of subtle manipulation that are often hard to pinpoint, such as a persistent victim mentality that serves to deflect responsibility or passive-aggressiveness expressed as indirect resistance or negative behavior.

Identifying these patterns is a crucial step in protecting yourself from the potential harm caused by covert narcissism.

setting boundaries

2. Set Boundaries

When interacting with a covert narcissist, it’s vital to establish and maintain clear boundaries.

This means consciously defining your personal space and setting hard limits to guard your emotional and mental well-being.

This could involve limiting the amount of time you spend together to avoid becoming emotionally drained.

It might also mean choosing which topics you’re comfortable discussing to prevent being drawn into manipulative conversations.

Clearly outlining what behaviors you will and will not tolerate can provide a guideline for interactions, serving as a shield against potential emotional harm.

These boundaries serve as a crucial barrier between you and the detrimental impact of covert narcissism


3. Practice Self-Care

In the face of covert narcissism, it’s essential to prioritize your holistic well-being.

This involves nurturing your physical, mental, and emotional health, all of which contribute to your overall resilience and ability to handle stress.

Maintaining a regular exercise regimen can help manage stress levels and boost your mood.

A balanced diet, rich in nutrients, supports physical health and energy levels.

Ensuring you get enough restorative sleep is also key, as it rejuvenates your mind and body, enhancing your capacity to cope with challenges.

Incorporating mindfulness practices, such as meditation or yoga, can bolster mental and emotional strength.

These activities encourage a sense of calm, improve focus, and promote a positive mindset.

By taking care of yourself in these ways, you fortify your defenses against the impact of covert narcissism


4. Seek Support

If you find yourself dealing with a covert narcissist, remember that you don’t have to face it alone.

Seeking support is not only advisable, but it’s also crucial for your well-being.

This could mean confiding in trusted friends or family members who can provide comfort, advice, and a listening ear.

Joining a support group can also be beneficial, offering a safe space to share experiences and gain insights from others who are in similar situations.

Furthermore, consider seeking professional assistance from a therapist or counselor.

These professionals can offer valuable strategies to cope with the situation, provide objective perspectives, and aid in your healing process.

lean on your friends

5. Stay Firm

Covert narcissists will attempt to manipulate or guilt-trip you into changing your mind.

In the face of such attempts, it’s crucial to stay firm and unwavering.

Stand your ground and uphold your decisions, knowing that it’s not only okay but necessary to say no when needed.

This assertiveness is vital in maintaining your boundaries and protecting your well-being.

stand up to them

Final Thoughts on the 10 Signs of Covert Narcissism

It’s important to remember that the signs of covert narcissism are not isolated behaviors but are part of a larger pattern.

They are interconnected elements of a complex personality structure, all serving to protect the narcissist’s inflated self-image and meet their constant need for validation.

Recognizing these signs of covert narcissism is the first step towards addressing the issue. It can help individuals interacting with covert narcissists to maintain their own mental health, establish healthy boundaries, and seek professional help if needed.

Frequently Asked Questions about Narcissism

Frequently Asked Questions About The Signs Of Covert Narcissism

What is covert narcissism?

Covert narcissism is a less obvious form of narcissism characterized by subtle manipulation, a victim mentality, and quiet sabotage among others. Unlike overt narcissists, covert narcissists may not appear outwardly arrogant or self-absorbed but their actions reveal a deep need for validation and an inflated sense of self-importance.

What are the signs of covert narcissism?

The signs of covert narcissism include difficulty maintaining relationships, lack of genuine empathy, a tendency to quietly sabotage others’ successes, and a persistent victim mentality. Other signs include passive-aggressiveness, hypersensitivity to criticism, and a constant need for validation and attention.

How is covert narcissism different from overt narcissism?

While both forms involve an inflated sense of self-importance and a deep need for validation, overt narcissism is more visible and typically characterized by blatant arrogance, entitlement, and manipulative behaviors. On the other hand, covert narcissism is more subtle, with individuals often portraying themselves as victims and subtly undermining others.

How can I protect myself if I’m dealing with a covert narcissist?

The first step is recognizing the signs of covert narcissism. Once identified, it’s important to establish healthy boundaries and avoid getting drawn into their manipulation and games. Seeking support from trusted friends, family, or a mental health professional can also be beneficial.

Does everyone who shows signs of covert narcissism have a narcissistic personality disorder?

Not necessarily. While these behaviors can indicate narcissistic personality disorder, they can also be present in individuals without the disorder. It’s important to remember that only a qualified mental health professional can provide a definitive diagnosis.

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