Covert Narcissist – A Comprehensive Guide

What is a covert narcissist? What is a trait of covert narcissist? How does a covert narcissist act in a relationship? What Causes Covert Narcissism? Do you know the signs of a covert narcissist? If you are looking for answers to these questions, this article is for you.

My name is Sean Galla, and I have been an online support group facilitator for over 10 years. In my years of work, I have overseen numerous support groups, including facilitating narcissist support groups for male survivors of narcissistic abuse. Part of the work we do in our support group is to offer information to help members better understand narcissism, including the types to look out for.

In this article, I will cover everything you need to know about covert narcissistic personality disorder.

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Written by

Sean Galla

An experienced facilitator, community builder and Peer Support Specialist, Sean has been running men's groups for 10+ years. Read Sean's Full Author Bio.

Who is a covert narcissist?

Whenever people hear the word narcissist, they picture an individual who is overly assertive and outwardly aggressive. Narcissists are believed to be loud and aggressive as they try to affirm their position as being better than everyone else and getting validation. Most narc easily bulldoze their way through healthy boundaries thanks to their sense of entitlement.

While all these are accurate narcissistic traits of people with narcissism, not all narcs exhibit this sense of self-importance. Some people with NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) are a bit subtle when it comes to asserting their sense of self-worth and self-importance.

Covert narcissism is the introverted, isolated, and more silent form of narcissistic personality disorder. Also commonly referred to as a vulnerable narcissism, a covert narc will also exhibit the common signs of narcissism, like a lack of empathy, an inflated sense of self, and an unquenchable need for admiration. However, they manifest the traits in less obvious ways.

A cover narcissist is a person living with NPD who, for different reasons, did not develop their self-esteem growing up. Because of the subtle nature of covert narcissism, it is easy for people to overlook the damage a covert narcissist can cause. While harder to spot or diagnose, covert narcs can be just as destructive as their overt narcissist counterparts.

Because the signs of covert narcissism are hard to spot, it is often difficult to diagnose the condition, and most covert narcissists go undiagnosed.

Understanding cover narcissism

When it comes to narcissism as a borderline personality disorder, one can either be an overt narc or a covert narc. An overt narcissist is the easiest type to identify since their traits are easier to spot. They come off as vain, outwardly expressive, and self-absorbed. They have a high sense of self-importance but are secretly insecure and feel less than.

Covert narcissism is the opposite of overt narcissism. Similar insecurities characterize this type of narcissism disorder as those experienced by the overt narc. However, overt narcissists internalize their sense of self-importance and remain hyper-focused on their need for attention and admiration.

Because of the subtle nature of this type of narcissism, it is common for men in romantic relationships with covertly narcissistic women moss the traits of a narcissist woman.

This subtle nature of covert narcissism makes it more dangerous and harder to manage. For instance, a covert narcissist struggles with displaying anger or disappointment outwardly. Instead, they direct their feelings inwardly and become self-deprecating or exhibit passive-aggressive behavior. In many cases, they are believed to be better at revenge since they have mastered the art of keeping their true feelings hidden.


Causes of covert narcissism

Like many other borderline personality disorders, the exact cause of overt narcissism is yet to be understood. However, mental health professionals, leaders in psychiatry medicine and psychotherapists attribute the development of this personality disorder to a few factors. These factors can include:

  • Childhood trauma and abuse
  • Genetics
  • Temperament and personality
  • Upbringing
  • Relationship with caregivers

One study digests that people with overt narcissism most likely grew up in abusive households that were highly focused on achievements and status. This fractured their self-esteem while still hyping their sense of self-worth and importance.

People with NPD were probably made to believe that they were superior and more important than other children or that they were special.

Covert narcissist triggers

While it is still not clear why overt and covert narcissists behave differently, there are some situations known to trigger a covert narcissist. These triggers can include:

  • Feeling ignored
  • Being disrespected
  • Feelings of shame
  • Threats to their ego
  • Being surrounded by high-status individuals
  • Emotional abuse of others
  • Jealousy
  • Feeling less educated or attractive than others
  • Having less of one thing than others
  • Lack of control
  • Failing to get the attention they think they deserve

Red flags of covert narcissists

A cover narcissist will exhibit the typical personality traits associated with NPD as listed on the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorder (DSM-5). These include:

  • An over-inflated sense of self-importance.
  • Surrounding themselves with superficial relationships.
  • Taking advantage of others for personal gain.
  • Hyper-focusing on fantasies of grandeur
  • A need for excessive admiration.
  • Overstepping on clear boundaries
  • Sense of entitlement.
  • Guilt tripping
  • Grandiose narcissism
  • Resistance to change.
  • Lack of empathy.

On top of these common signs of narcissism, a covert narcissist will also exhibit some unique characteristics common among covert narcissists.

Defensiveness to criticism 

All narcissists do not take criticism well. While the overt narc will come off as combative whenever they are criticized, a covert narcissist is likely to respond defensively.

Their greatest fear is to feel mocked or humiliated, and to them, criticism is a form of humiliation. To protect their ego, they will become highly defensive in such a situation. They may also respond with backhanded statements and insults, albeit subtle.

They struggle to fit in

Because they lack empathy, a covert narcissist finds it hard to understand other people’s emotions. Since they are constantly critiquing and analyzing their self-image, it is hard for them to connect with other people. Most of the time, they are hyper-focused on their own needs and completely disregard those of others.

Also, their tendency to experience high social anxiety stands in the way of them making any real connections. They would rather keep to themselves to hide their low self-esteem or lack of confidence.

Self-deprecating behavior

Covert narcs rely on self-deprecating behavior and negative self-talk to get sympathy and admiration from other people. For instance, saying something like ‘I feel so stupid’ or ‘I feel so worthless today’ will often cause the people around you to rush in with positive words and compliments that counter your thought pattern. They will tell you how amazing and smart you are as a way of cheering you up.

This is exactly how a covert narcissist will behave to get the attention and admiration they crave. They use reverse psychology and sneaky ways to boost their sense of self-worth.


Struggles with anxiety and depression

Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression are more common in covert narcs than in overt ones. While an overt narc works to hide their struggles with mental health, an overt narcissist will be open with their struggles as a way of getting sympathy and attention from others.

Hyper focus on self-importance

While covert narcissists come off as humble and shy, they still crave attention and admiration. To this end, they will use subtle tactics to get other people’s attention and reassurance about their skills, accomplishments and talents.

They go above and beyond.

Often, covert narcissists do things that can be confused for altruism as a way of filling their narcissistic supply. They will go out of their way to do things for others. They donate their time and money and come off as reliable individuals. However, these good acts are always motivated by their need for admiration and praise and as a way of getting ahead in life.

Passive-aggressive behavior

A covert narc uses this manipulation tactic to convey their frustration and hype themselves are superior. This behavior is driven by their deep-seated belief that they are entitled to get whatever they want and their desire to punish the people who have wronged them as a way of settling grudges.

Ways passive-aggressive behavior can manifest in a covert narc include:

  • Sabotaging other people’s well-being and work
  • Mocking, gaslighting or teasing framed as jokes
  • Using the silent treatment
  • Violating set boundaries
  • Procrastinating on tasks they believe are beneath them
  • Subtle blame-shifting to make others feel bad or question themselves.


How to deal with a covert narcissist

Whether it is a narcissistic wife, narcissistic mother, family member, co-worker, or lover, maintaining a relationship with a covert narc is challenging.

Some ways to navigate include:

  • Setting healthy boundaries
  • Learning more about narcissism
  • Do not take things personally
  • Have a strong support system
  • Seeking mental health counseling

Joining a support group

As a man living with a covert narcissist, one of the most challenging parts of recovery is finding someone to talk to about your feelings, emotions, and trauma. Most people do not believe that men, too, can be victims of covert narcissistic abuse. Whether you have covert narcissistic parents, a narcissistic loved one, or children with narcissism, MensGroup is an all-men online platform where you can get the support you need.

Mensgroup believes that anyone can heal, grow, and change with the proper support. You will be placed in a group with other men who have been through narcissistic abuse and understand your situation. This gives you a free space to share and learn from others who have previously walked in your shoes. With a support system of fellow men, you can overcome your trauma and lead a healthy, successful, and happy life.


When someone in your life lives with covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder, taking time to learn and understand NPD can go a long way in making it easier for you to determine how best to protect yourself and deal with the narc.

It is often said that a problem shared is a problem solved. Joining a narcissist support group is the first step you can take towards healing. offers you a platform where you can share your story to inspire others and get support to overcome the trauma of being a survivor of narcissistic behavior.