What Is Covert Narcissism? | vimprovement.com

What Is Covert Narcissism?

Covert narcissism (also known as vulnerable narcissism) is a narcissistic personality disorder where individuals are driven to hide their narcissistic traits. The covert narcissist is more introverted, insecure, and over-sensitive than others.

When most people think of narcissism, they think of grandiose and attention-seeking behaviors characteristic of overt or grandiose narcissism. It is important to understand that narcissistic personality disorder exists on a spectrum containing overt, covert, antagonistic, communal, and malignant narcissism.

Although these different forms of narcissism have overlapping traits, the main difference is how the narcissist expresses these traits. The same insecurities of an overt narcissist also exist in a covert narcissist, but the covert narcissist internalizes their self-importance while focusing on their need for attention.

Let’s discuss covert narcissism further…

What is covert narcissism?

Covert narcissism is a form of narcissism defined by more subtle behaviors. It lurks under the surface of normal human interactions and is very hard to detect. Although less noticeable, covert narcissism is just as dangerous and damaging as other forms. 

There are many variables when it comes to the causation of covert narcissism. Childhood experiences are the primary factor involved. Narcissism may arise as a coping mechanism to help the individual deal with traumatizing childhood events and feelings of neglect.

In opposition to this, a hyper-affectionate upbringing may cause an inflated sense of self-importance and narcissistic behaviors. Genetics and personality factors can also contribute to the development of covert narcissism. Some individuals may be predisposed to narcissistic traits due to their genetic makeup or inherent personality characteristics, such as a strong need for control or validation.

Covert narcissists often possess a charming and charismatic demeanor which allows them to manipulate and exploit others while maintaining a facade of normalcy. They are skilled at presenting themselves as caring and empathetic individuals, using these qualities to gain control and admiration from others.

It is important to note that covert narcissism, like any form of narcissistic personality disorder, can harm the mental and emotional well-being of the individuals involved. Recognizing the signs and seeking professional help is crucial for the affected individuals and those around them.

Let’s discuss the traits of a covert narcissist…

What are the traits of a covert narcissist?

Covert narcissism is defined by several traits not typically associated with what we view as narcissism.  Unlike overt narcissists who display their behavior openly, covert narcissists operate more discreetly, making it harder to recognize their manipulative tendencies, fragility, and self-centeredness.

Covert narcissistic personality disorder can sometimes go unnoticed for years because of how well they hide their narcissistic traits. 

Some common traits of covert narcissism are:

High sensitivity to criticism

Covert narcissists are typically unable to tolerate any form of criticism. Their insecurities make them extremely sensitive. Criticism proves their insecurities and self-esteem issues may be true; a narcissist doesn’t want to accept this.

Passive aggression

Individuals with covert narcissism will use sabotage, teasing, silent treatment, and blame-shifting when somebody wrongs them or feels they are not getting what they want. Their inflated sense of self-importance and a desire to revenge any wrongs done to them typically causes these passive-aggressive behaviours.

Overly critical of themselves

The covert narcissist sees themselves as having little to no value. They are overly critical of themselves because they want to avoid feeling imperfect. If they are not perfect, somebody might see their flaws or failures.


Covert narcissism is strongly linked to introversion. They do not want their flaws visible to others; avoiding people is the easiest way to achieve this. They will only participate in social situations if they are sure they get the desired benefits.

Grandiose fantasies

They often fantasize about how great they are and how amazing their achievements are. They may fantasize about winning an award, being recognized at work, or being very attractive to everybody they meet.

Feelings of depression and anxiety

Since covert narcissists have exaggerated expectations of themselves and a fear of failure, they are at a higher risk for depression and anxiety. Having people see their failures and not appreciate them can send covert narcissists on an emotional downward spiral.

A tendency to hold grudges

Covert narcissists do not like to feel like they are being mistreated. They will get upset and seek revenge. They also don’t like others getting positive attention and will resent their success.

Feelings of inadequacy

They have extremely high standards set for themselves, and when they don’t live up to these expectations, they feel extremely inadequate. This causes them to experience an influx of negative emotions.

Identifying and understanding these traits is important in recognizing covert narcissism and developing a proper strategy to deal with it.

What Is Covert Narcissism? | vimprovement.com

Can covert narcissists be nice & feel empathy?

No, covert narcissists are similar to other narcissists in that they do not empathize with others. They may show empathy or act nice, but it is self-serving. They only show empathy to get your approval and validation to make themselves feel better. Any kindness they show is self-serving.

The extent of empathy displayed by individuals with covert narcissism can vary. Although there might be sporadic instances where they show empathy, it is typically limited and overshadowed by their self-centeredness and manipulative behavior.

If they don’t get what they are seeking, they get bitter and resent the people they were kind to. They may claim to be taken advantage of. Covert narcissists will play the victim to divert blame and turn the situation around, making their target seem like the villain.

Do covert narcs know they are narcs?

Covert narcissists know what they are doing on some level and how it affects those around them. They recognize their behaviours. However, they tend to lack self-awareness; they believe they deserve everything they seek. This justifies their behavior as long as they get the desired benefits.

In a recent study, Erika Carlson found that narcissists rate themselves as more intelligent, physically attractive, likable, and funny than others. They also rated themselves as having higher levels of negative aspects of narcissism, such as being power-hungry, overly confident, impulsive, and prone to exaggerating their abilities.

This shows that narcissists are aware that they are narcissists on some level. The study also showed that other people perceived these individuals as narcissists and that the narcissists were well aware of their reputations, even embracing them.

What Is Covert Narcissism? | vimprovement.com

Does a covert narcissist apologize?

Narcissists do not sincerely apologize. Their sense of entitlement, superiority, and arrogance makes it unlikely somebody with a narcissistic personality disorder will ever apologize for their behaviors. If they do apologize, they have ulterior motives and want something from you.

When a covert narcissist offers an apology, it is often accompanied by tactics that shift blame, downplay their wrongdoing, or manipulate the situation through gaslighting. Their apologies are typically vague, non-specific, and lack genuine accountability for the harm caused. Their primary goal is to protect their self-image and maintain control.

Furthermore, covert narcissists may employ apologies to preserve their relationships or elicit sympathy. They may temporarily display remorse or express regret for their actions, but once the apology has served its purpose, they tend to revert to their manipulative patterns.

When dealing with apologies from a covert narcissist, it’s important to be cautious. Genuine change and personal growth are unlikely unless they sincerely acknowledge their harmful behaviors, actively address them, and consistently take responsibility for their actions.

Are covert narcissists toxic?

Yes, covert narcissists can be toxic in their relationships with others. Covert narcissists often engage in behaviors that are considered manipulative and toxic. They use tactics such as gaslighting, emotional manipulation, and playing the victim to maintain control and power over others.

They may exploit and undermine the emotions and vulnerabilities of those close to them to get their desired validation. This can be emotionally draining and cause serious emotional harm to the other individuals involved.

It is important to recognize and address toxic behaviors exhibited by covert narcissists. If these behaviors are causing too much toxicity in your life, you may have to consider ending contact with the toxic individual to protect your mental and emotional health in such relationships.

What Is Covert Narcissism? | vimprovement.com


In conclusion, covert narcissism is a subtle form of narcissistic personality disorder that can harm individuals and their relationships. Unlike overt narcissists who display grandiose behaviors, covert narcissists hide their narcissistic traits behind introversion and shyness.

Covert narcissists possess a charming and charismatic demeanor that allows them to manipulate and exploit others while appearing caring and empathetic.

The causes of covert narcissism are complex and can stem from childhood experiences, genetics, and personality factors. Regardless of the underlying causes, individuals with covert narcissism exhibit common traits such as low self-esteem, a higher likelihood of experiencing anxiety and depression, introversion, defensiveness, avoidance, and a tendency to play the victim.

Recognizing the signs of covert narcissism is crucial to effectively navigating relationships with such individuals. Setting clear boundaries, building self-esteem, educating oneself about narcissism, and finding a support system are important strategies for dealing with covert narcissists. However, it is important to note that genuine change and empathy are unlikely from a covert narcissist, as their actions are primarily driven by self-interest and a desire for validation.

Covert narcissists are toxic in their relationships, as they engage in manipulative and harmful behaviors that undermine the emotional well-being of others. Gaslighting, emotional manipulation, and playing the victim are common tactics used by covert narcissists to maintain control and power over those around them.

Understanding and addressing covert narcissism sheds light on the complexity of this personality disorder and emphasizes the importance of fostering healthy relationships built on mutual respect, empathy, and genuine care.

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