Who is a covert Narcissist?

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In this blog we will discuss what a covert narcissist is. 

We will also briefly explore what are the characteristics of a covert narcissist, what causes an individual to become a covert narcissist, and what are the treatments available for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. 

Who is a covert Narcissist?

A covert narcissist refers to an individual who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) however, instead of a grandiose sense of self-importance they tend to behave more modestly and tend to be withdrawn, or self-deprecating. 

Covert narcissism is also referred to as Vulnerable narcissism. Vulnerable Narcissism is a type of Narcissism that is often a result of childhood neglect and abuse where people with this type often use narcissistic behaviours as a way to protect themselves from getting their feelings hurt. 

These people are often sensitive and they oscillate between feelings of superiority and inferiority when compared to others and often get offended or anxious when they are not treated with high regard. 

A covert narcissist shares the same traits as an overt narcissist where they crave a need for admiration and also lacks empathy, however the difference here is that their narcissism is less obvious. 

They often come across as withdrawn and self deprecating; however, they are- covertly- self absorbed and believe that they are better than everyone else but unlike the overt narcissist, these thoughts are entertained in secret. 

A covert narcissist craves admiration and importance, and tends to lack empathy toward others; however, their objectives are the same as other kinds of narcissist- it’s just that they aren’t overly showy about it. 

What is Narcissistic personality disorder?

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is one of the 10 personality disorders that has been recognised by the American Psychological Association in their Diagnostic and statistical manual for mental disorders.

This personality disorder is characterised by an inflated sense of self and an intense need for admiration from others of their own perceived grandiose sense of self.

People with this disorder often struggle with their interpersonal relationships as well as their own perception of their lives and may become genuinely upset when they are not given praise and attention from others because they genuinely believe that they deserve it. 

Other’s often see them as conceited, do not enjoy being around them, and are often observed to be demanding and at times emotionally abusive. 

In the United States, the prevalence rate is approximately 0.5-5% of the US population based on statistics from  community samples. 

However, in clinical settings, it is more prevalent between 1-15% and often has high comorbidity with other mental disorders. 

Narcissistic personality disorder often coexists with other mental disorders such as other personality disorders such as antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and schizotypal personality disorder which can make the diagnosis of this personality disorder difficult. 

People with this type of personality disorder struggle with various types of Narcissism- predominantly two types are common and arise from different childhood experiences and often dictate how they relate to other people and the interpersonal relationships themselves. 

  • Grandiose Narcissism is the type where people think highly of themselves and tend to be elitist in their behaviour. 

They are often a result of people who were treated as superior or made to believe that they were superior during their early developmental years due to which these expectations were also carried into adulthood.

Those with grandiose narcissism are often observed to be aggressive, dominant, and tend to exaggerate their importance without much to actually show for. 

  • Vulnerable Narcissism is another type that is often a result of childhood neglect and abuse where people with this type often use narcissistic behaviours as a way to protect themselves from getting their feelings hurt. 

These people are often sensitive and they oscillate between feelings of superiority and inferiority when compared to others and often get offended or anxious when they are not treated with high regard. 

What are the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic personality disorder?

Per the DSM-5, NPD criteria for diagnosis includes:

  • A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (fantasy or behaviour), high need for admiration, and at times a lack of empathy, This often manifests at the beginning of early adulthood.
  • They often have a grandiose sense of self-importance and tend to exaggerate achievements and expect to be recognised as superior with or without the actual achievements. 
  • They are often preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, perfect love, or beauty. 
  • They believe that they are special and should associate with people of the same “specialness” since they believe that they can only be understood by people of this calibre. 
  • They require excuses admiration in their relationship and have a sense of entitlement, 
  • They are often exploitative and take advantage of others to meet their needs and wants. 
  • They are unsympathetic and are unwilling to recognise the needs of others, 
  • They are often envious of other people. 
  • They are seen to be arrogant and haughty. 

These criterias are often observed long term from young adulthood and persist over carious settings and context, 

They often cause interpersonal problems and can hinder their personal and professional lives while also leading them to develop an unhealthy sense of self. 

What are the characteristics of a covert narcissist?

Here are some telling signs and characteristics of a covert narcissist:

  • They have a sense of passive self importance and are not obvious in their elevated and grandiose sense of self. They are not arrogant in the way they interact with other people, instead they might purposely minimise themselves so that people will compliment them or reassure them. 
  • They seek and crave importance and admiration from those around them but instead of blatantly telling others how great they are, they might choose to fish for compliments and recognition by downplaying their achievements. 
  • They might use the tactics of blaming or shaming other people to secure their sense of being more important or better than over oneself. While an overt narcissist might be obvious about it, like criticising people openly and being rude, the covert narcissist will use a softer approach to explain why it is not their fault and that someone else is to blame. 
  • They might pretend to be the victim of a situation gone wrong and also emotionally abuse others to gain reassurances and admiration from someone else all the while elevating themselves as they make others feel smaller. 
  • They might gaslight other people and often they enjoy creating confusion and doubt in other people’s minds and in this way they choose to manipulate and exploit others more as they maintain power by being the “voice of reason”. 
  • Covert narcissists tend to elevate themselves by completely disregarding others, by ignoring the efforts and accomplishments of other people and they often do this in passive aggressive ways. They might tell you that they simply “forgot” about the meeting they had with you, or they might not respond to your emails- in order to make you feel small and unimportant. 
  • A covert narcissist often gives with the agenda to be noticed and praised., they give only when they know that they are being watched and will be glorified for the prosocial behaviour. 
  • They are, like other narcissists, emotionally neglected and are often incapable of forming emotional bonds with other people. They might appear less obnoxious however, they are not emotionally accessible like other narcissists even if they seem kinder and more open. 
  • They are also very vulnerable- most of their narcissism is a defence to protect their fragile sense of self and their low self-esteem due to which they are hypersensitive to criticism. They might react very defensive to feedback and behave in passive aggressive ways to make other people feel small or hurt them for perceived hurt. 
  • Another characteristic of covert narcissists and all narcissists in general is that they have a hard time working with other people- even in professional settings- as well as maintaining a healthy relationship with others- be it platonic friendships or romantic relationships.

What causes covert narcissism?

There has been plenty of research that has been done and is still being conducted to understand what causes narcissistic personality disorder. 

Research over time has found that there are a series factors- both based on genetics and the environment- that leads to the development of covert narcissism in adulthood. 

Some of these factors include:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Childhood neglect where people with this type often use narcissistic behaviours as a way to protect themselves from getting their feelings hurt. 
  • Childhood trauma such as physical, psychological abuse from parents
  • Negative home environment
  • Parenting styles that overvalue achievement and emphasises praise or status or authoritarian and permissive parents that focused more on achievement and status.

What are the treatment options available for Covert Narcissistic personality disorder?

As of recent years, there are no approved psychological and pharmacological treatments for Narcissistic personality disorder. 

However, most of the treatments that are being followed consist of psychotherapy where the individual learns how to empathise with others and manage their interpersonal relationships. 

In talk therapy, the individual and the therapist collaborate to develop skills and awareness so as to improve one’s professional life, and personal relationships and needs. 

Effort is also made to help individuals recognize their strengths and assets so as to be able to tolerate failures and limitations and cope with self esteem issues. 

Often, it takes time- sometimes even years- to be able to see  improvements in therapy. 

At the moment, there is no medication that directly treats the disorder however if NPD occurs alongside depression or another mental health condition, then appropriate medications may be used to treat the other disorder. 

For this disorder, the prognosis differs depending on the severity of the symptoms and the commitment of the individual for treatment. 

In general, the symptoms of NPD usually improve over time provided there is effort to continue and persist with treatment and make lifestyle changes that allow for healthier ways of maintaining a relationship with others and oneself. 


In this blog we have discussed what a covert narcissist is. 

We have also briefly explored what are the characteristics of a covert narcissist, what causes an individual to become a covert narcissist, and what are the treatments available for Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder. 

Who are covert narcissists attracted to?

Covert Narcissists are attracted to empathetic individuals who see the best in others with the intent to exploit this particular quality for their own gain.

Does a covert narcissist know they are a narcissist?

In some cases, some narcissists are unaware that their beliefs are grandiose and narcissistic while in other cases, they might begin to notice that their ways of thinking are causing dysfunction in their work/personality life- but this is very rare.

Instead, narcissists think that their problems are caused by someone else and not because of their own doing.

Are covert narcissists suicidal?

People with covert narcissism may be more likely to have anxiety or depression than people with other subtypes making them more susceptible to suicidal ideation and behaviours.  


Narcissism: Symptoms and Signs. WebMD. Retrieved on18th Feb 2022. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/narcissism-symptoms-signs

Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Healthline. Retrieved on 18th Feb 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/narcissistic-personality-disorder

Mitra P, Fluyau D. Narcissistic Personality Disorder. [Updated 2021 May 18]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556001/

Kandola.A. Signs of covert narcissism. Medicalnewstoday. Retrieved on 18th Feb 2022. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/covert-narcissist

Clarke.J.Covert Narcissist: Signs, Causes, and How to Respond. Retrieved on 18th Feb 2022. https://www.verywellmind.com/understanding-the-covert-narcissist-4584587#toc-signs-of-a-covert-narcissist

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