“Shyness has a strange element of narcissism, a belief that how we look, how we perform, is truly important to other people.” ~Andre Dubus III
There are narcissists, and then there are people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). In both cases, it can be pretty simple to identify them – they all have pretty predictable and similar behaviors.
That’s why online support groups for survivors of narcissistic relationships work so well. Because people can relate to one another so closely – they often comment that they feel like they’re reading their own stories when they support their fellow members.
Identifying a Narcissist is Simple, Right?
But what happens when a narcissist is sort of “incognito” or behaving as an introvert, or a shy person? What does that look like? How can you tell the difference between a covert narcissist and an introvert?
Enter the Vulnerable Narcissist
She’s the damsel in eternal distress; or he’s the martyr of his oh-so-noble cause, quietly standing up for what he believes in and pretending he doesn’t want/need the praise that’s being heaped on him.
The shy or covert narcissist seems vulnerable and oversensitive. This can often manifest as hostility and defensiveness, and just like his overt/arrogant counterpart, the covert narcissist often:
- feels a huge sense of (often unearned) entitlement
- has grandiose fantasies about his or her life
- will exploit others to get what they want
- seeks power and control
How does a covert narcissist differ from an overt narcissist?
Unlike the overt narcissist, the covert narc will not necessarily display narcissistic behavior that is immediately recognizable.
While he’ll have the standard grandiose fantasies for his life – all of which are sure to be unrealistic and self-centered, not to mention grandiose and inflated, he will believe that his dreams are unrealistic and unattainable.
He will even feel guilty for wanting what he wants, and somehow this inner conflict leads him to a suppression of his feelings as a whole.
This leads to the next inevitable step in which he turns his inner conflict into outer behavior, such as:
- exhibitionist-type behavior
- being overly competitive
- being unacceptably aggressive when it comes to getting what he wants
Then, he’ll play the “poor me” game like a pro, and he often feels sorry for himself.
Why does the “vulnerable narcissist” play the “poor me” game so well?
It all comes down to one thing: the covert narcissist hates himself. He thinks it’s going to be possible to hate himself BETTER, somehow.
Though he continues to demonstrate the behavior that he loathes, the covert narcissist is powerless to control his thoughts – and his deep inner conscience is NOT okay with the person he is or has become.
He judges HIMSELF more harshly than he judges anyone else, and usually, more harshly than he judges anyone else – but he certainly has what he considers a high standard for his life.
He quietly sticks to this unreasonable standard to the best of his abilities, happy to secretly look down his nose at the people he deems “lesser” than he.
Of course, when he falls off of his proverbial “standards” and behaves in any way that his inner critic deems bad or not desirable, he’s back to square one.
Self-Hate Due to Distorted Self-Awareness
It all boils down to one thing: a covert narcissist understands on some level that his self-inflating ideas are, in fact, bullshit – at least on some level.
So, though he continues to have his narcissistic thoughts and occasional external behavior, he’s holding himself to a very high standard and spends his life competing with the one person he can never beat (himself or some version of it).
At the same time, he is incapable of openly accepting blame or responsibility for anything that isn’t positive, and in fact he relates any such admission to weakness and “badness” of other people – which, most likely, is because of the angry kind of envy that psychologists say is involved in the creation of any narcissistic behavior.
The covert narc is often mistaken for an introvert or a shy person because to the untrained eye, they appear to be a pushover who is generally unassertive. They see themselves (and others see them) as victims or as people who aren’t able to obtain what they should have or deserve. People who don’t really know him may say things like, “oh, he’s just a big teddy bear!”
He will also:
- call himself a perfectionist and/or claim to be “a little OCD”
- have outrageously adolescent daydreams about being a big famous something-or-other
- have a somewhat questionable grip on reality, leading to personal guilt and self-hate.
- have feelings of being worthless, countered by feelings of being different, separate or “better” than other people
What do you think? Have you ever met a covert narcissist? How could you tell? What characteristics do you think most clearly identify the covert narc? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section, below.
Angela Atkinson is a Certified Life Coach and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic relationships since 2006, Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed coaching and has certifications in life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. In her life coaching practice, Atkinson’s clients enjoy her personalized approach that allows and encourages them to become the best possible versions of themselves and to succeed in doing what they love most. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online and NarcissismSupportCoach.com.