Covert Narcissist: Signs, Causes, Example and How to Respond

Last Update on September 20, 2022 : Published on September 8, 2021
Covert Narcissist

The one entertaining the crowd, yes, the one loudly boasting about themselves in the room? That’s the one!

You don’t need to work hard to spot a narcissist in a room. They are the ones crowing about in a room, sharing stories that speak of their self-importance and achievements so others can admire them. Bear in mind that these people are rarely approachable or even compassionate.

But, are they the only narcissist in the room? Could there be others?

Yes! Absolutely! There can be another narcissist in the room with you but their actions can be more subtle and covert than the more obvious one.

But how can you spot a narcissist? Much less a covert narcissist? Don’t worry, I’ll help you understand the signs, how to identify a covert narcissist, and how you can deal with them. Keep reading!!

What Is Narcissism?

Narcissism and narcissists are terms that are now commonly used to describe someone who is self-involved or focuses on self-importance more than anything else. However, when we talk about narcissism in terms of mental health, there’s a certain criterion that needs to be met to be diagnosed with NPD or narcissistic personality disorder.

People diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder are often concerned (sometimes overly) with themselves. They are obsessed with their self-importance and this preoccupation can influence their decision-making skills, social interactions, and other relationships.

Narcissists often find it challenging to form and keep healthy connections with others because they are more or less manipulative and might lack empathy, one of the most-needed skills to form healthy relationships.

Who Is a Covert Narcissist?

When we talk about narcissism in psychology, there are two types of narcissism; overt and covert. Overt narcissist signs are easily observable by others, however, covert narcissism signs are more subtle and less observable in the eyes of others.

Covert narcissists are those who desire acclaim and importance but lack empathy towards others. However, they act differently from overt narcissists. When we talk about narcissistic behaviors, it can be difficult to tell who is a narcissist and who’s not. A cover narcissist might be inconspicuous outwardly but on the inside, their goals remain the same.

Overt And Covert Narcissism

Overt And Covert Narcissism

Covert narcissists are different from the more obvious narcissist or overt narcissists in a way that a covert narcissist would have an introverted personality. An overt narcissist is easy to spot because they are usually loud, arrogant, and fishing for compliments from whoever they meet.

An overt narcissist’s behavior can be easily spotted as they tend to play the room and are more extroverted in their boasting.

While the word covert may be misleading, when it comes to defining the traits of narcissists, it can be appropriate. Although, covert and overt narcissists don’t differ that much when it comes to self-importance and boasting.

Both such narcissists meet the same criteria as defined by the DSM-5 under narcissistic personality disorder.

The only difference that lies between the two is that while one is loud and has a huge presence, the other is quiet and subtle. It’s not uncommon to find one in a long-term relationship with a covert narcissist. In such circumstances, one would eventually get hurt when they sense a lack of partnership and mutual importance in the relationship.

The Signs of a Covert Narcissist

Signs You Should Be Aware Of

While some important criteria need to be met to be diagnosed with Narcissist Personality Disorder, there are still some general characteristics and patterns that can help you spot a narcissist.

Being aware of these signs and traits of a covert narcissists can help you understand if you’re dealing with a covert narcissist:

1. They Are Passive In Their Self-Importance

Sense of self is key here. While an overt narcissist will be obvious in their sense of self-importance, a covert narcissist will be more subtle. Narcissists crave importance and admiration but for a covert narcissist, it may look different.

They might give indirect compliments or deliberately minimize their achievements so that others around them will offer reassurance.

2. They Subtly Blame And Shame

Blaming and shaming others is a common tactic for narcissists to secure their sense of entitlement. A covert narcissist may not be as obvious as an overt narcissist such as they won’t come out directly and put you down, criticize you, or will be sarcastic.

Rather, a covert narcissist would use a gentle approach to explain to you why you are at fault and why they are not to be blamed. They might even use emotional abuse to put themselves in a place where they might coerce reassurance and praise from you.

3. They Cause You To Second-Guess Yourself

A covert narcissist may take joy in causing you to second-guess yourself and question your views. A covert narcissist may not always be subtle in this approach.

These people like creating confusion so that they can glorify themselves and maintain power in the conversation. If you question yourself, they get the opportunity to manipulate you more.

4. They Disregard Your Importance

For a narcissist, their self-importance is above all so a covert narcissist will try to do everything in their power to keep the focus on themselves. While an overt narcissist will unashamedly push you aside, a covert narcissist will not even acknowledge you.

Rather than saying directly that you’re not important, they will use behaviors such as not showing up on a date, waiting until the last minute to respond to you, or never confirming their plans with you. They will disregard you and make you feel irrelevant.

5. They Are Emotionally Neglectful

Narcissists hardly care about emotional bonds. They don’t take the effort to emotionally connect with others and how could they, when all their energy is focused on themselves? Covert narcissists are different from their counterparts though.

They are less likely to compliment you, they hold little regard for your talents, and they are rarely emotionally connected to you. In a relationship, it will be most likely you who would be responsible for the emotional lifting.

6. They Give With The Intent Of Getting Something In Return

Narcissists are not givers. It doesn’t help them in any way so why would they be? A covert narcissist, however, will give but only with the intent of getting something in return for their charity.

If they know that others are watching, only then will they give. To get praise and commendation in return. They care more about what they’ll get instead of to whom they are giving.

What Causes Covert Narcissism?

What factors contribute to the development of narcissistic behaviors might be unknown but there are still some factors that are understood. Those factors can include:

  • Genetic factors
  • Childhood trauma (including abuse, neglect, and violence)
  • Relationships with the parents
  • Personality traits and temperament
  • Superiority Complex

How To Deal With A Covert Narcissist?

How To Deal With A Covert Narcissist

If you’re currently dealing with a covert narcissist, whether in a personal relationship or a professional one, here are some tips on how to deal with a covert narcissist:

1. It’s Not You, It’s Them

Yes, it’s not you! When dealing with a narcissist, remember to not take their words and actions personally. No matter how they impact you, remember that it has nothing to do with you. Narcissists want you to take their actions personally, that’s how they manipulate you but you need to let them not get to you.

2. Your Boundaries Matter

Narcissists don’t know what healthy boundaries mean. It’s up to you to set the boundaries. Setting boundaries is a way you can let narcissists know that they are not going to intimidate you with their tactics. Setting boundaries can be difficult but boundaries matter too! Your values, what’s important to you matters. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

3. Respect Yourself & Your Values

It’s okay to lose your voice, you stand when talking with a covert narcissist but here, remember to respect yourself and your values first. Check-in with yourself; who are you, what matters to you? Speak for yourself, stand up for yourself in front of a narcissist.

4. Keep Distance

Being with a narcissist can be draining and overwhelming. It can be hard to create a safe distance but when the opportunity arises to maintain a distance, don’t hesitate to do so. Cut off contact, limit one-on-one interactions, take a break. The aim is to protect yourself from their tactics.

Writer’s Thoughts…

Living with, working with, or interacting with a narcissist in your daily life can be hard and challenging but it’s important to remember that they are who they are and they cannot change or harm your sense of self.

You are as important as others and you need to respect that. If you feel yourself disregarding others, check in with yourself. If you’re showing signs of covert narcissism, it may be best to get a professional diagnosis.

If your loved one is showing signs of covert narcissism, then it is recommended you talk to them or get them professional help. A licensed professional can help them cope with their disorder and also help you understand how to support your loved one.

Book Your Free Session with BetterHelp

To connect with a trained professional, you can write to us at or DM us on social media. I hope the above tips on how to spot a narcissist and how to deal with a covert narcissist helped you.

Found this article helpful? Do let me know in the comments below! We’re always happy to hear from you!

Take Care!

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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