What is Covert Narcissism?

The term “narcissist,” often overused, makes most people think of someone who is self-absorbed, assertive, and aggressive in establishing their dominance and superiority. However, there is a more subtle and insidious form known as covert narcissism. Unlike their overt counterparts, covert narcissists don't make their grandiosity as obvious, but instead carry a deep sense of entitlement and self-importance beneath a quieter, more introverted facade.

Covert Narcissism Vs. Overt Narcissism

Covert narcissism is distinct from overt narcissism because of its introverted nature. While overt narcissists might openly display their need for admiration and lack of empathy, covert narcissists internalize these feelings. Their narcissism is cloaked in a veneer of sensitivity to criticism and social anxiety, making their condition less apparent and more complex to identify and manage. On the surface, a covert narcissist might appear to be a model spouse, parent, or teammate with a generous and helpful nature. Inside, however, their motivations are purely self-serving.

Traits of Covert Narcissists

Covert narcissists share the core traits of narcissistic personality disorder, but express them in more subtle, often manipulative ways. Key traits of covert narcissism include:

What Triggers a Covert Narcissist?

Many covert narcissists act “normal” until they encounter a trigger, which can prompt passive aggressive behavior, manipulation, and rage. Covert narcissists are most frequently triggered by:

How to Recognize a Covert Narcissist

By its very nature, covert narcissism is difficult to recognize. However, you will typically start to realize that you have complicated feelings around a covert narcissist. Pay attention to your instincts - if you feel like the person doesn’t listen to you, doesn’t value your opinion, guilts and manipulates you, makes you doubt your own thoughts and motivations, has double standards for behavior, or is always painting themselves as the victim, you may be dealing with a covert narcissist. Covert narcissists can also be triggered into exhibiting rage and can display baffling behavior that doesn’t line up with their carefully curated “nice” persona.

If you start to suspect that someone close to you may be a covert narcissist, start by observing their behaviors and patterns without immediate judgment. Keeping a journal of your interactions with this person can be incredibly helpful. Document instances of passive-aggressive behavior, backhanded compliments, blame, guilt, manipulation, or any actions or words that left you feeling undermined or devalued. This record can serve as a reference to validate your experiences and feelings, helping you discern patterns that might not be obvious in the moment. If you are dealing with a covert narcissist, eventually the pattern will become clear.

How to Cope With a Covert Narcissist

Coping with a covert narcissist requires a nuanced approach due to their subtle and often manipulative behaviors. With the right strategies and support, you can protect your well-being and navigate the relationship more effectively.

Above all, remember that you have the right to prioritize your own health and happiness, regardless of the narcissist's needs or behaviors.

Treatment for Covert Narcissism

Covert narcissism is a complex and often misunderstood condition that can be challenging to navigate for both the individual and their loved ones. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is particularly effective for those dealing with covert narcissism. It helps in identifying triggers, understanding the root causes of narcissistic behaviors, and developing healthier coping mechanisms. Most types of therapy can aid in building self-esteem and a more grounded self-identity, making a significant difference. At Medens Health, our compassionate and experienced therapists are ready to support you through this journey. Contact us today to start the path toward understanding, healing, and growth.

Medens Health offers therapy for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. You can get started here, contact us with questions, or call/text us at (833) 624-5400.


The information provided in this blog is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Reliance on any information provided in this blog is solely at your own risk. Always seek the advice of your physician or a qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding your medical or mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who is qualified to give you safe, professional, and ethical advice regarding your mental health.

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