Secrets, Shyness and Self-Loathing: Identifying a Covert Narcissist

Written by Angela Atkinson

“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

Covert narcissists can be the most dangerous and destructive type of narcissists, partially due to their covert nature. They can be quite charming when they want to be and are often very likable in social situations. However, this is usually a façade and it masks their true nature – which is selfish, callous, manipulative, self-centered, lacking in empathy, and extremely envious of others.

In fact, covert narcissists tend to envy others and seek to tear them down in order to build themselves up. Covert narcissists are also very needy and require excessive admiration from others. As a result of their own low self-esteem, they tend to put others down in an effort to feel better about themselves. They are often extremely sensitive about criticism but will lash out aggressively at the slightest hint of it – even if it’s constructive criticism that is intended to help them improve (which makes it very confusing for the person offering the criticism).

identifying a covert narcissist

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 Covert Narcissist

So you know how to identify a narcissist, and you know what to expect from them, 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?

Covert Narcissists can be hard to identify since they have learned at some point in their lives that overt displays of grandiosity and entitlement are not socially acceptable. Instead of wearing their heart on their sleeves, they wear a mask to hide their true nature.

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. If you are involved with one of these people, you might find yourself wondering if you’re imagining things. The covert narcissist is unlikely to provide you with any definitive proof that he or she has a personality disorder. As a result, you may feel embarrassed at the idea of saying anything at all – it may even cross your mind that it is all in your imagination and nothing is really wrong.

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

What is a Covert Narcissist?

The term covert narcissist refers to someone who is highly narcissistic, but low on the overt narcissism scale. The covert narcissist will have many of the same traits as an overt narcissist, but with the added bonus of appearing normal and even nice.  They have narcissistic tendencies, but in some ways manage to keep these tendencies under wraps. They are not obvious in the way that an overt narcissist is, but their behavior can be just as destructive.

Covert narcissists are masters at putting on a show for others by hiding their true self behind a facade and have mastered the manipulation of others. They are often described as being “master manipulators” as they are able to charm and deceive others into believing that they are kind, caring, and compassionate.

The covert narcissist will often use emotional blackmail and intimidation, as well as a variety of other manipulation tactics to get what they want. They are very adept at making others feel sorry for them or that they are being treated unfairly.

The covert narcissist might derive their source of “narcissistic supply” from people who are in positions of authority or who hold power over them. For example, if a person has a boss that they absolutely adore and worship, it may be because the boss provides them with the attention and admiration that they seek from other people in their lives that may be less inclined to give it. They tend to be harder to suss out, and therefore get away with more underhanded emotional abuse than overt narcissists. This is due to the fact that they don’t show their true nature right away. Overt narcissists tend to be more easily identifiable while covert narcissists lure you in under false pretenses.

How does a covert narcissist differ from an overt or grandiose narcissist? 

Unlike the overt or grandiose narcissist, the covert narcissist 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 suppress 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.

Covert Narcissism: 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.

Read more: are you a narcissist? Find out for sure. 

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 narcissist 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!”

A covert narcissist will also:

  • call themselves 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

Get some additional insight into covert narcissism here.

How can you tell the difference between a covert narcissist and an introvert?

The easiest way to tell the difference between a narcissist and an introvert is to put them in a social setting. An introvert will feel drained after being around lots of people for a long period of time, while a narcissist will thrive on attention. A true narcissist loves being the center of attention and basks in other peoples’ admiration. Other signs that you may be dealing with a covert narcissist include:

  • They love talking about themselves.
  • They have little interest in what others have to say until they can find some way to turn the conversation back to themselves.
  • They are always “one-upping” you, trying to make themselves appear more important or talented than you are.
  • They often refer back to past accomplishments or try to one-up you by telling you about their future plans, as if to prove how much better they are than you currently think that they are.
  • They typically have an exaggerated sense of entitlement and are often envious of others’ success and popularity, even when it appears that they’re happy for them (narcissists are often masters at faking emotions).
  • They tend not to be interested in friendships unless there’s something in it for them.

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 narcissist? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section, below this video.

Start Getting Help with Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Today

Online help is readily available for survivors of narcissistic abuse. Here are some options to begin healing from narcissistic abuse right away.

Read more: Take Back Your Life: 103 Highly-Effective Strategies to Snuff Out a Narcissist’s Gaslighting and Enjoy the Happy Life You Really Deserve

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Author

  • Angela Atkinson

    Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor 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 personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own. Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, 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. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse here at QueenBeeing.com and at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.

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