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Covert Narcissism: 31 Subtle Signs You May Have Missed

Ignored Red Flags: The Encrypted World of Covert Narcissists

51 Signs of Emotional Abuse In A Relationship by Som Dutt

In the labyrinth of human psychology, where facets of personality interweave, there exists a peculiar and often overlooked trait — covert narcissism. While the term “narcissism” might conjure images of ostentatious grandiosity, charismatic dominance, and a larger-than-life persona, there is a covert counterpart that operates in the shadows, evading immediate recognition.

It is a manifestation of narcissistic tendencies veiled beneath a facade of humility, empathy, and subtlety. This intriguing dichotomy within the realm of narcissism raises a profound question: How well do we truly understand the intricate layers of human behavior and personality?

“Narcissists are consumed with maintaining a shallow false self to others. They’re emotionally crippled souls that are addicted to attention. Because of this they use a multitude of games, in order to receive adoration. Sadly, they are the most ungodly of God’s creations because they don’t show remorse for their actions, take steps to make amends or have empathy for others. They are morally bankrupt.”
― Shannon L. Alder

Imagine a person who appears genuinely caring, sensitive, and compassionate on the surface. They might often project themselves as modest and unassuming, seemingly devoid of the egoistic traits typically associated with narcissism.

Yet, beneath this seemingly benign exterior lies a complex web of manipulative behavior, subtle control, and an insatiable need for admiration. This is the realm of covert narcissism, a psychological phenomenon that challenges our conventional notions of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

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In a society where the spotlight often falls on the overt and flamboyant expressions of narcissism, the covert variant operates in a realm of inconspicuousness. Its signs are subtle whispers that evade immediate notice, often hidden within the fabric of everyday interactions.

This subtlety is what makes covert narcissism an intriguing enigma and a subject of paramount importance for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of human nature.

Unveiling the nuances of covert narcissism is not merely an academic exercise. It holds significant real-world implications that touch the threads of our personal relationships, workplaces, and broader social dynamics.

By peeling back the layers of this psychological phenomenon, we gain insight into the intricate dance between self-interest and empathy, vulnerability and manipulation, authenticity and pretense. Such an exploration challenges us to confront our assumptions about human behavior, forcing us to question whether the veneer of humility and empathy can truly mask the undercurrents of narcissistic tendencies.

In this era of heightened awareness of mental health and emotional well-being, delving into the world of covert narcissism serves as a powerful tool for self-discovery and personal growth.

“Narcissists will never tell you the truth. They live with the fear of abandonment and can’t deal with facing their own shame. Therefore, they will twist the truth, downplay their behavior, blame others and say what ever it takes to remain the victim. They are master manipulators and conartists that don’t believe you are smart enough to figure out the depth of their disloyalty. Their needs will always be more important than telling you any truth that isn’t in their favor..”
― Shannon L. Alder

Recognizing these subtle signs within ourselves or others can be a crucial step in fostering healthier relationships and maintaining authentic connections. By arming ourselves with knowledge about covert narcissism, we equip ourselves with the discernment to navigate the complexities of human interaction and protect our emotional landscapes.

As we embark on this journey to uncover the veiled faces of narcissism, let us embrace the challenge of unraveling the intricacies of the human psyche. Let us cultivate a deeper awareness of the interplay between humility and ego, empathy and manipulation.

The exploration of covert narcissism is not a condemnation of human nature, but rather an invitation to peel away the layers of pretense and discover the depths of authenticity. It is a reminder that the tapestry of human behavior is rich, complex, and ever-evolving and that by understanding these complexities, we can forge connections that are not only genuine but also enduring.

In the pages that follow, we will venture into the shadows of personality, shedding light on the concealed signs of covert narcissism. We will navigate the blurred lines between genuine concern and calculated charm, between vulnerability and control. As we embark on this voyage of introspection and exploration, remember that knowledge is the compass that guides us through the uncharted waters of human behavior. Brace yourself for a journey that will challenge your perceptions, broaden your understanding, and ultimately empower you to navigate the intricate tapestry of human connections with newfound wisdom.

1. They Charismatically Charm Then Coldly Discard

Covert narcissists can be charming and charismatic, but they also use their charm to manipulate others. They’re not afraid of using their “charm” to get what they want, even if it means hurting someone else in the process.

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This is why covert narcissists are often described as being very likable — they’re able to win over people with ease and make them feel special to get what they want out of them or even just so that person will do something for them (like giving them a lift somewhere). The problem is that once this person has served their purpose for the covert narcissist, he or she will then coldly discard him/her like yesterday’s trash!

2. They Feel Entitled To Special Treatment

Covert narcissists feel entitled to special treatment from others. They are not grateful for what they have, and they expect you to give them what they want when they want it. Covert narcissists tend to believe that the world revolves around them — and if it doesn’t, then something is wrong with you or the rest of society for failing them!

“So many abusers survivors feel they were loved so little, as if the abuser was the most important person to receive love from. They forget that God loves them deeply and that is the only person’s love they need to validate their worth.”
― Shannon L. Alder

They may try their hardest not to come across as arrogant or self-absorbed; however, this can be difficult when their sense of superiority runs so deep within their unconscious mind that they don’t even realize it’s there at all (like most other personality disorders).

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If someone points out how selfish a covert narcissist is toward others during one of his/her tirades against humanity in general (i.e., “Why do people always ignore me?”), then odds are good that person will get defensive rather than admit fault because admitting fault would mean admitting weakness — something no narcissist ever wants anyone else knowing about themselves.

3. They Are Hypersensitive To Criticism

Covert narcissists are hypersensitive to criticism, which they perceive as a threat to their self-esteem. They will often become defensive and angry when criticized, even if it’s constructive criticism. This is because they have a fragile ego and feel threatened by any perceived attack on their character or competence.

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As such, covert narcissists can be very sensitive toward other people’s needs — they are quick to take things personally and try not to upset others in order not to risk losing their approval or love (which they need so much). The problem here is that this hypersensitivity makes them react defensively at times when there was no reason for them too!

4. They Lack Empathy

Covert narcissists are unable to feel or understand other people’s emotions, and they have a hard time identifying with other people’s feelings. They don’t care about others’ feelings, either — and when you consider how many people in your life will have hurt feelings at some point, this can be a problem!

“Playing the victim role: Manipulator portrays him- or herself as a victim of circumstance or of someone else’s behavior in order to gain pity, sympathy or evoke compassion and thereby get something from another. Caring and conscientious people cannot stand to see anyone suffering and the manipulator often finds it easy to play on sympathy to get cooperation.”
― George K. Simon

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The lack of empathy that covert narcissists demonstrate may also be seen as indifference: They don’t feel guilty when they hurt someone or say something insensitive; they just don’t care enough to worry about it. In addition, covert narcissists often have difficulty showing compassion for others who are suffering because those who suffer aren’t important enough (in their minds) to warrant such consideration from the covert narcissist in question.

5. They Are Passive Aggressive

The passive-aggressive person is hard to pin down. Their behavior often leaves you with more questions than answers, and they never seem to be able to explain themselves clearly. Here are some examples of how a covert narcissist might use this tactic:

  • “I’m fine.” This is one of the most common ways that covert narcissists avoid conflict: by pretending everything is okay when it isn’t. You might hear this phrase from your partner after he or she has been angry for hours and won’t talk about it with you. He may say this because he doesn’t want to admit that he has been having a bad day — or because he doesn’t want anyone else’s sympathy or help!
  • Not answering questions directly (or at all). If someone avoids answering direct questions about himself/herself, then there’s probably something going on underneath the surface that he/she doesn’t want others to know about yet — and maybe never will! The reason why? Because then they can control who knows what information about them without having any chance of getting called out on their problems…

6. They Play The Victim

If your partner is covertly narcissistic, he or she will often play the victim to get sympathy from others. The person may not see themselves as a victim at all — they simply want attention and sympathy from you and others.

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While it’s possible that your partner really is a victim of some sort (for example, if they were bullied in school), more likely than not he or she is just manipulating people for personal gain. The covert narcissist will use this tactic when something goes wrong to avoid taking responsibility for their actions by blaming other things, such as bad luck or other people’s intentions against him/herself.

7. They Hide Their Accomplishments

You might be wondering how you can tell if someone is a covert narcissist, but they are not always obvious. In fact, many people who suffer from this disorder go to great lengths to hide it because they do not want others to see them as selfish or vain. They may even go so far as to point out other people’s shortcomings in order to make themselves look better in comparison (and vice versa).

“Maybe, the lesson we can all learn from the inner sadness of a Narcissist is to see through our own fabrications, our own illusions so that we can be set free to be real once more.”
― Shannon L. Alder

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Others may also find themselves uncomfortable with compliments or praise because of their own self-esteem issues and low self-worth beliefs that come from growing up with covert narcissistic parents who never let them feel good about themselves unless it was through some sort of achievement — even if that achievement had nothing at all do with them personally!

8. They Fish For Compliments

This is a classic narcissistic behavior. If you’ve ever met someone who is covertly narcissistic, then you know that they are constantly asking for compliments and looking for validation in every situation. This stems from the fact that they have low self-esteem, so they must constantly seek out validation from others in order to feel good about themselves.

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This type of person will often ask if their outfit looks nice or whether or not their hair looks good (even though it’s obvious). They also may ask if anyone noticed their new haircut or if anyone thinks they are funny — it doesn’t matter what the topic is; anything goes as long as there’s an opportunity to get some positive feedback!

9. They Have Low Self-esteem

The covert narcissist has low self-esteem. They are insecure and feel like they are not good enough. They have a fragile ego, which means they can be easily hurt by criticism or perceived slights from others. Because of this, they may lash out at you if you disagree with them or criticize them in any way.

“True and real friends don’t feel the need to be praised and worshipped.”
― Michael Bassey Johnson

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They also feel jealous when other people have success that could potentially make them feel inferior or inadequate in any way (for example: if your friend gets promoted at work before you do).

10. They Crave Validation

The covert narcissist has a deep-seated need to be validated. They crave praise and admiration, whether it’s from their boss or their significant other.

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They are often envious of others, especially those who receive more praise than they do — and this can lead them to engage in gossiping about their rivals behind closed doors. The covert narcissist also tends to be overly sensitive when criticized; he may even fly into a rage if someone dares question his competency or intelligence!

11. They Sabotage Others’ Success

The covert narcissist’s need to be the best at all costs can lead them to sabotage the success of others, even if it means they get hurt in the process.

If you were working on a project with your covertly narcissistic friend and he or she had been doing most of the work up until that point, he or she might suddenly stop helping out so that you fail instead of him/her.

Or maybe he/she will simply refuse to give you credit for any part of your contribution because he/she wants all eyes on him/her instead of sharing any spotlight with anyone else (even if it means making sure his other friend’s project fails).

12. They Exaggerate Their Problems

When you hear of someone’s problems, you might think that they want sympathy. But covert narcissists don’t like to feel like a victim and often exaggerate their problems so that people will feel sorry for them or give them attention.

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They might also exaggerate the seriousness of an issue so that others will see it as urgent and demand action be taken right away — which can be a convenient way for the covert narcissist to get what they want without having to do anything themselves.

The bottom line: If someone seems overly concerned with their own issues at times when there are bigger things going on in your life (or even just things happening around them), this could be a sign that they’re not just being dramatic; there may actually be some truth behind what they’re saying!

13. They Dislike Rules And Authority

The next sign that you may be dealing with a covert narcissist is if they have a difficult time following rules and authority. This can manifest in many ways, such as:

  • They have a tendency to rebel against authority figures. For example, they might refuse to listen to their boss or teacher when given instructions or instructions on how something should be done.
  • They have difficulty complying with rules and regulations set by others. If there’s something they don’t like about the rule/regulation (like being required to do something), then they will find some way around it so that they don’t have to follow through with what was asked of them. For example, if someone says “no” when asked if they want an alcoholic drink at dinner time — then this person would likely ask one of their friends who had already been drinking all night long anyway!

14. They Emotionally Manipulate Others

Emotional manipulation is when someone tries to make another person feel bad about themselves in order to get what they want. Some of the most common types of emotional manipulation include:

  • Making someone feel guilty for doing something you don’t approve of, or for not doing something you would like them to do (i.e., “If only I’d been more supportive, then maybe your marriage wouldn’t have fallen apart!”).
  • Making someone feel sorry for you (i.e., “I’m so lonely and depressed since my wife left me”).

15. They Withhold Affection

Covert narcissists are masters at withholding affection. They might use it as a way to control you, make you feel guilty, make you feel sorry for them, or insecure — or all of the above!

The covert narcissist will play up the fact that they have been hurt in the past by withholding affection from others who didn’t love them enough (or at all).

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They might also tell others how much they’ve given up for their partners and imply that those partners were unworthy of their sacrifices because they didn’t appreciate what was being offered up freely by their other halves.

16. They Use Guilt Trips

Covert narcissists are masters at making you feel guilty for not doing what they want, meeting their high expectations, or being a better person in some way. They’ll use this tactic to manipulate and control you into doing things their way.

For example, if you don’t do something for them on the spot — like lend them money or drive them somewhere — they might say something like “I thought we were friends.” Or if you don’t meet their standard for how much time should be spent together (e.g., every day), then there will be an accusation of neglecting each other’s friendship or relationship altogether!

17. They Avoid Conflict

The narcissist avoids conflict because they fear losing the relationship, hurting others, and being judged and shunned. When they do engage in a conflict situation it’s usually to win or get their way. They don’t care about what happens to the other person in these situations because they can’t relate to them as humans with feelings — they’re just objects for their own use.

So if you notice this behavior from your covert narcissist partner:

  • Don’t expect them to apologize for anything (even if it was wrong).
  • Don’t expect them to listen when you talk about your feelings or needs; instead, try talking about theirs instead!

18. They Spread Gossip And Rumors

In covert narcissists, gossip and rumors are used as a means of control. They spread malicious stories about others in order to make themselves look good and gain power over the people they’re talking about.

For example, let’s say you have a friend who’s been having some personal problems lately — she’s been sad and depressed for an extended period of time, which has led her to lose some weight and stop going out with friends as much as she used to (she even canceled plans with you twice last week).

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One day at work your boss tells you that he heard from someone else at another company that this friend is actually doing pretty well — and then proceeds to tell them how great she looks now that she’s slimmed down!

He also mentions how much more fun she seems now that she isn’t so depressed all the time…and asks if maybe there was something going on between her ex-boyfriend/current crush who broke up with her last year because “he couldn’t handle being around someone so negative all the time.”

19. They Give Unsolicited Advice

Covert narcissists are always giving unsolicited advice, but it’s not because they want to help you or improve your life. They give advice because they enjoy feeling superior — and being right.

They also love to control others and make them feel inferior, so they will try to manipulate the situation into making their point of view look good while making yours look bad.

If you’ve ever had a friend who was always trying to tell you what was best for your relationship or career without even asking how things were going with either one first (or if this sounds like someone else in your life), then chances are that person could be covertly narcissistic.

20. They Frequently Contradict Themselves

You may have noticed that the covert narcissist is inconsistent. They contradict themselves a lot, and can’t remember what they said yesterday. In one conversation, for example, they may say something like “I don’t care about anyone else’s feelings.”

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But then in another conversation (or even within the same conversation), they’ll talk about how much they love their family or friends.

They also contradict themselves in different situations: at home with you versus at work with your boss; when talking with someone who knows them well versus someone who doesn’t know them at all; when speaking out loud versus thinking silently in their head…the list goes on and on!

21. They Idealize Then Devalue Others

This is a common behavior for covert narcissists. They idealize others to gain their trust and then devalue them once they’ve gotten what they want from them. They’re constantly searching for a “perfect” partner, one who can make up for all the deficiencies in the covert narcissist’s life.

In order to maintain this image of perfection, they will do whatever it takes to convince themselves (and others) that their idealized partners are actually worthy of being adored by them — even if those people don’t return the favor!

This means that if you ever find yourself in this type of relationship with an NPD individual, you should prepare yourself mentally before entering into any kind of long-term commitment with them; because once things start going south between you two…they’ll have no problem throwing all those nice things he said about how amazing he thinks YOU are right back at YOUR face!

22. They Rarely Apologize Sincerely

If you have a covert narcissist in your life, chances are they are rarely sorry for anything. They may say sorry, but what they really mean is “I’m sorry that this happened and now things aren’t going my way.” Or maybe even worse: “I’m sorry that I got caught doing something wrong and now I have to apologize.”

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For example, if someone has been texting another person behind their partner’s back (which is usually the case) then when confronted about it by their partner, they will apologize profusely and promise never to do it again…but then go right back at it as soon as the coast is clear!

23. They Judge And Criticize Others

You may notice that your covert narcissist is critical of others. Some people are very judgmental, but covert narcissists tend to be more subtle than that. They don’t want their criticism to be obvious or overt because then they would have to own it themselves, which would make them vulnerable and insecure.

Instead of saying something directly like “Your hair looks awful!” they might say something like “I love your dress on you — it brings out the color in your eyes.” On the surface this seems like a compliment; however, it’s actually an insult because it implies that all other options for clothing would not look as good on you as this one does (which is likely true).

The covert narcissist will also take note if anyone says anything negative about him or her — and then later use those exact words against them: “You know what? I was thinking about what happened yesterday at lunch with Jane…”

24. They Act Superior But Are Insecure

Covert narcissists are often very competitive and self-critical. They may act superior or condescending to others, but this is just a cover for their insecurity. They can be extremely sensitive to criticism, which makes them defensive and angry when they feel attacked by someone else’s words or actions.

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They may have an inflated ego and feel like they deserve special treatment from others because of how great they perceive themselves to be (and all the things they’ve accomplished).

This attitude can make it difficult for people who don’t know them well enough yet realize that there’s more going on here than meets the eye; when you get closer, you’ll start seeing some cracks in their facade — like cracks in a mirror reflecting back at us as we walk past them down our life’s path!

25. They Overshare To Gain Sympathy

You might have noticed that your covert narcissist tends to overshare. They want you to feel sorry for them and guilty about not being more loyal to them. They may even try to make you feel like a bad person for not taking care of them when they’re in need.

This is because covert narcissists are often looking for an excuse not only for their behavior but also their character flaws — and if they can convince others (especially those closest) that these things are out of their control, it might make it easier on themselves emotionally or psychologically.

26. They Twist Facts To Protect Their Image

If you’ve ever had a disagreement with a covert narcissist, you know how they can twist facts to protect their image. They will lie and make up stories in order to look good in the eyes of others.

They use excuses as a way to deflect blame away from themselves; they’ll say things like “I didn’t mean it,” or “I was just joking.” They will twist your words around so that it makes you look bad instead of them looking bad for behaving poorly towards others (or even themselves).

The best way for someone who has been on the receiving end of this kind of behavior is not to let yourself be manipulated by these tactics anymore — it’s important not to let yourself get dragged into arguments where all parties know exactly what happened but only one side gets punished because rules are rules!

27. They Shift Blame To Avoid Responsibility

The covert narcissist is a master at avoiding responsibility. They will shift blame to others and deny their own faults, mistakes, and failures. They may even go so far as to blame another person for something they themselves did or said just because it makes them look better in comparison.

The covert narcissist can also use this tactic when dealing with other people’s problems; for example, if you tell the covert narcissist that you are having financial difficulties, he or she might say “That’s not my problem.”

This kind of response is not only unhelpful but also belittling as it implies that your issue isn’t worthy enough for him/her to concern himself/herself with because it doesn’t affect him directly (even though his opinion may cause more damage than help).

28. They Selectively Forget Hurtful Behavior

  • They selectively forget hurtful behavior.
  • They only remember the good.
  • They forget the bad and amplify the good.
  • Narcissists are selective in their memory, which means they won’t remember your bad behavior as much as you think they should. This can be confusing for people who aren’t narcissistic because it seems like they’re not being fair or honest with themselves when they don’t acknowledge what happened in past situations that were hurtful or offensive to others around them (like when someone else was upset by something). However, narcissists are not aware of their selective memory — they truly believe that everything is okay with both parties involved in an interaction because their own needs were met at some point during said interaction: either through gaining attention/praise from others around them while performing an act of kindness towards someone else (or even just pretending), receiving gifts or favors from another person(s), etc…

29. They Lack Object Constancy In Relationships

Object constancy is the ability to maintain a positive emotional attachment to someone or something, even when that person or thing is no longer present. In other words, it’s being able to see someone as being worthy of your love and admiration even after they’re gone from your life.

It’s easy for covert narcissists to appear very loving and caring towards those in their immediate circle — but when it comes down to it, they don’t actually care about anyone but themselves.

This means that if you’ve ever been hurt by a covert narcissist (and chances are good that you have), then there’s no way for them ever truly forgive you because they can never get over themselves enough so as not to see what they did as wrong or hurtful in some way shape or form.

30. They Alternate Between Being Needy And Aloof

If you’ve been dating someone who constantly alternates between being needy and aloof, it’s likely that they are a covert narcissist. The narcissist will act needy when they are in need of attention, but then they will become aloof when they get the attention that they want.

The reason for this is so that their partner will feel guilty about not giving them enough time and energy — and therefore be more likely to give it to them in the future.

This behavior is a way for covert narcissists to control their partners’ behavior: if you’re always giving in and catering to your partner’s needs, he or she may think he or she can get away with anything (even abusive behavior).

31. They Feel Entitled To Loyalty And Favors

This is a tricky one because it’s so subtle. You may not realize that your covert narcissist is expecting loyalty and favors from you until they actually ask for them. But once they do ask, it’s important to know how to handle their request.

Although there are many ways in which this behavior can manifest itself, one of the most common ways is through the use of guilt trips — the covert narcissist will make you feel guilty about not doing what they want or expect from you by saying things like: “I thought we were closer friends than this,” or “Don’t forget who took care of you when no one else would.” They might even try using emotional blackmail by threatening self-harm if their demands aren’t met (this isn’t uncommon).


Covert narcissism is a shadowy presence that often eludes detection, leaving a trail of confusion, manipulation, and emotional turmoil in its wake.

Understanding the signs and implications of this lesser-known variant of narcissism is essential for safeguarding our emotional well-being, fostering empathy, and enabling personal growth.

By diving deeper into the realm of covert narcissism, we embark on a journey of self-discovery, armed with the knowledge required to identify and protect ourselves from its subtle grasp.

About the Author :

Som Dutt, Top writer in Philosophy & Psychology on I make people Think, Relate, Feel & Move. Let's Embrace Inner Chaos and Appreciate Deep, Novel & Heavy Thoughts.

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