Covert Narcissist: How to Recognize the Subtle Form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

What is a Covert Narcissist?

A covert narcissist can be hard to spot....but help is available. Learn more about the signs of covert narcissism in our blog.

Have you ever felt puzzled by someone's humble exterior, only to sense a hidden quest for admiration and control?

This contradiction might point to covert narcissism, a subtle form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) affecting about 1% of people. Unlike the blatant self-importance seen in overt narcissism, covert narcissists quietly seek validation and influence, making them hard to spot.

If you've felt the traits of such relationships, you're not alone. We'll guide you through understanding these hidden behaviors, their impact on connections, and ways to navigate these challenging dynamics with empathy and insight.

Covert Narcissist: What Is a Covert Narcissist?

Covert narcissism is a less obvious form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), characterized by a quiet longing for admiration and attention beneath a surface of humility or introversion.

It's a condition where individuals might present themselves as shy, self-effacing, or altruistic, yet internally, they harbor a deep need for recognition and control. This duality can make it particularly challenging to recognize, even in oneself.

What Is a Covert Narcissist Like?

Recognizing covert narcissism within yourself involves noticing the subtle signs that differentiate it from other personality traits. Here's how you might gently observe these signs in your own behavior:

Feeling Like a Victim

You might find yourself frequently viewing your own experiences through a lens of victimhood. This could manifest as often talking about your misfortunes, seeking sympathy from others, or needing constant reassurance and validation.

Seeking Approval

Beneath a surface that may appear modest or self-effacing, there could be a deep-seated insecurity. This might lead you to continuously seek approval from others, coupled with a fear of criticism or rejection that feels particularly sharp or profound.

Avoiding Conflict Subtly

Rather than engaging in direct confrontations, you might notice a tendency to express dissatisfaction or anger in indirect ways. This could include giving slight remarks intended to sting, offering backhanded compliments, or opting for silence instead of sharing your true feelings.

Sensitivity to Criticism

You may find that even mild feedback or seemingly insignificant comments trigger a strong, defensive reaction in you as if these remarks are particularly hurtful or personal.

Acknowledging these patterns in yourself is a courageous step toward deeper self-awareness. It's not about self-judgment but understanding your underlying needs and fears. Recognizing these traits can be the first step toward fostering healthier relationships with others and nurturing your own personal growth.

CTA background

We’re Here to Help You Find Your Way

Would you like more information about being a covert narcissistic? Reach out today.

Covert Narcissist: Understanding Covert Narcissism's Associated Behaviors

Covert narcissism can be tricky to spot because it's not as obvious as other forms. Here's a simpler look at what to watch for, whether in yourself or others:

  • Feeling like a victim often: This means seeing yourself as always on the losing side, which can make others feel sympathetic towards you.

  • Hiding insecurity behind modesty: You might come off as shy or humble, but deep down, you're really looking for others to notice and affirm you.

  • Using subtle ways to manipulate: Instead of direct control, you might use guilt trips or backhanded compliments to influence others.

  • Struggling to empathize: It might be hard to genuinely connect with others' feelings or to prioritize them over your own.

  • Feeling superior secretly: Even if you don't show it openly, you might believe you're more special or deserving than others.

  • Being passive-aggressive: Instead of saying what's bothering you directly, you might express it in indirect ways.

  • Seeking attention subtly: You might not openly seek the spotlight but still find ways to make sure you're noticed and validated.

Recognizing these behaviors is the first step toward understanding and change. If you're seeing these patterns in yourself and they're making life harder, it's okay to ask for help.

The Edge Treatment Center specializes in supporting people through challenges like covert narcissism. We offer compassionate care to help you understand your behaviors and work towards healthier ways of relating to yourself and others. Remember, reaching out for help is a sign of strength and the first step towards a happier, more authentic life.

Covert Narcissist: How To Diagnose Covert Narcissism?

Diagnosing covert narcissism — as well as the broader condition classified as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) — usually requires an extensive examination from a skilled mental health professional. Psychologists use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), which lists certain criteria for diagnosing NPD and its subtypes.

CTA background

We’re Here to Help You Find Your Way

Do you have more questions about being a covert narcissistic? Reach out.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder Criteria

In diagnosing either NPD or covert narcissism, clinicians use the diagnostic criteria described in the DSM-5. These criteria determine if the individual displays the features and traits of this complicated character disorder. The DSM-5 criteria for NPD include the following key features:

  • Grandiosity: A constant pattern of over-exaggerating oneself and an exaggerated sense of self-importance.

  • Constant Need for Admiration: This is the desire for excessive approval or confirmation from outsiders, characterized by an unquenchable longing to be complimented and recognized.

  • Sense of Entitlement: A firm conviction that you are owed favors, privileges, and prestige without any thought for the desires or emotions of those around you.

  • Lack of Empathy: A chronic lack of understanding of or consideration for the feelings and experiences of others, which makes interpersonal relationships difficult to form or maintain compassionately.

  • Abusive Behavior in Relationships: Abusive behavior in partnerships involves controlling, manipulating, emotionally cruel, and entitled behavior.

  • Perceived Envy: Thinking that others resent them or that they are being resented by others, even if there is no actual proof of these feelings.

  • Arrogant and Haughty Behavior: An exaggerated self-image displayed through snobbish and patronizing behavior; the belief in their own uniqueness; they look down upon others.

Only a trained healthcare professional can accurately diagnose covert narcissism or NPD. They use detailed discussions, observations, and health history reviews to identify subtle signs. Special tests may also be used to confirm if someone has covert narcissism.

Covert Narcissist: Are There Subtypes Of NPD?

Although it may not always fit neatly within the diagnostic criteria, covert narcissism, as a subtype of NPD, might share characteristics with NPD. A licensed mental health practitioner must make an appropriate diagnosis based on the patient's presentation and history.

CTA background

We’re Here to Help You Find Your Way

Do you need advice about being a covert narcissistic? Reach out today.

Covert Narcissist: What Are The Impacts of Covert Narcissism?

Dealing with covert narcissists can have a significant influence on people and relationships.

Effects on Relationships

Relationships in the workplace and in the home can be strained by covert narcissism:

  • Partners could experience emotional manipulation and exhaustion.

  • Family and friends could feel frustrated and perplexed.

  • The passive-aggressive actions of the covert narcissist may cause problems for coworkers.

Emotional Toll

The emotional cost can be high for people in close connections with covert narcissists:

  • Increased anxiety and tension as a result of ongoing manipulation.

  • A decreased sense of self-worth as a result of receiving subtle jabs.

  • Having trouble trusting others because of past trauma.

Workplace Dynamics

Covert narcissists can impact workplace dynamics in various ways:

  • Undermining team cohesion with passive-aggressive tactics.

  • Straining professional relationships through manipulation.

  • Hindering collaboration and innovation with their need for control.

How to Handle a Covert Narcissist: Practical Tips

Dealing with covert narcissism can be tough, but there are effective ways to manage it:

Set Clear Boundaries

Ensure you know what you will and won't accept in your interactions. If someone oversteps, be prepared to follow through with the consequences you've set. Consider talking to a therapist to get better at setting and maintaining these boundaries.

Prioritize Self-Care

Look after your mental and emotional well-being by engaging in activities that make you feel good about yourself. Try stress-reducing practices like mindfulness or meditation to stay calm and centered. If you're feeling overwhelmed, therapy can help you work through the impact of dealing with a covert narcissist.

Seek Professional Help

If the situation starts affecting your relationships or mental health deeply, getting help from a professional is key. Couples counseling can help address relationship issues, while individual therapy can support those directly impacted. A therapist can also help understand and deal with the narcissist's behavior and your reactions to it.

Remember, taking steps to care for yourself and seeking support when needed is crucial in navigating the challenges of covert narcissism.

CTA background

We’re Here to Help You Find Your Way

Would you like more information about being a covert narcissistic? Reach out today.

Being a Covert Narcissist Can Make You Feel Alone. You’re Not

When being a covert narcissist intertwines with substance use disorders (SUD), it can create a challenging cycle of emotional struggle and substance abuse. This combination can amplify psychological difficulties, making it tough to break free on your own.

Professional support, especially from centers specializing in dual diagnosis, plays a crucial role in addressing both the addiction and its psychological underpinnings.

At The Edge Treatment Center in Orange County, California, we're dedicated to offering personalized care that targets both addiction and underlying mental health issues. Our holistic approach combines medical support with behavioral counseling, tailored to meet your unique needs. We believe in the power of individualized treatment to foster not just recovery, but lasting personal growth.

As part of our commitment to your journey, we provide a supportive environment where you can work towards recovery at your own pace, backed by a team that understands the complexities of your situation. We're here to help you find your path to a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Reach out today to The Edge Treatment Center to learn more.

CTA background

We’re Here to Help You Find Your Way

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there is hope. Our team can guide you on your journey to recovery. Call us today.

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

March 10, 2024