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What is a Covert Narcissist?

There are different types of narcissists, and the covert narcissist may be better at covering their tracks than what you would think of a typical narcissist.

My mother is what you would think of as a covert narcissist. In the outside world, she seems like a sweet and caring person. She helps in her church, and babysits other family member’s kids.

However, inside the house, things were different. If things didn’t go her way, she would become very manipulative. Often, she would play the victim to get what she wanted. She was the queen of guilt trips and gaslighting.

All of this is common behavior for a covert narcissist.

What is a Narcissist?

The people that we commonly refer to as narcissists are suffering from what in psychology is called Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

According to The Mayo Clinic,

Signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder and the severity of symptoms vary. People with the disorder can:

Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance

  • Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration

  • Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it

  • Exaggerate achievements and talents

  • Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate

  • Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people

  • Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior

  • Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations

  • Take advantage of others to get what they want

  • Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others

  • Be envious of others and believe others envy them

  • Behave in an arrogant or haughty manner, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious

  • Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office

At the same time, people with narcissistic personality disorder have trouble handling anything they perceive as criticism, and they can:

  • Become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special treatment Have significant interpersonal problems and easily feel slighted

  • React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior

  • Have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior

  • Experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change Feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection

  • Have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation

If you find yourself coping with someone who acts in this manner a large amount of the time, there is a high probability that you are dealing with a narcissist.

According to Psychology

There are criteria that are common to all narcissists, but with a covert narcissist, the behaviors may be more difficult to spot.

According to Very Well Mind,

In the field of psychology, behavior can be described as overt or covert. Overt behaviors are those that can be easily observed by others, such as those of the traditional narcissist described earlier. Covert behaviors, however, are those that are more subtle and a bit less obvious to others.

A covert narcissist is someone who craves admiration and importance as well as lacks empathy toward others but can act in a different way than an overt narcissist.

When considering the behavior of narcissists, it might be hard to imagine how someone could be a narcissist and be inhibited in their approach and behavior. A covert narcissist may be outwardly self-effacing or withdrawn in their approach, but the end goals are the same.

This was especially true with my mother. She was very focused on how our family appeared from the outside. That appearance was everything to her, and she cared more about how things looked than how things actually were.

She didn’t have a regard for our feelings or see us as individuals.

Narcissists may see the people around them like cardboard cut-outs. Paper dolls to be arranged ‘just so.’ They only see the surface level of other people, and don’t bother getting to know them on deeper levels.

They might know things like your birthday or your favorite color. But they don’t care about knowing the substance of your thoughts, feelings, or your life.

My mom would buy my sister and I matching clothes into our 30’s even though we had very different style. The only difference would be the color. Purple for me, and blue for my sister. What 30 year old woman wants to dress in a matching outfit with her sister?

This is just a tiny illustration of the lack of depth that narcissists put to their relationships, but it can run even deeper. A narcissist won’t care about your feelings at all, and will probably never ask about them.

According to Very Well Mind, here are some signs of a covert narcissist:

  • Passive Self-Importance

  • Blaming and Shaming

  • Creating Confusion

  • Procrastination and Disregard

  • Giving With a Goal

  • Emotionally Neglectful

Giving with a goal is something that often happened in my family. People would give gifts — or money, they loved to give money — and use it like a chain around your neck. “I gave you money so you have to do what I want” was like their slogan.

This isn’t an overt manipulation like you would see with a more classic narcissist, but if you let them give you anything of value, a covert narcissist will hold it over your head for years!

Accepting help from them is the same. When they help, it is because they want to have free reign over controlling your life for an indefinite amount of time. Maybe forever.

Never ask a narcissist for help, and even if they offer, it is best for your mental health to decline!

Similarly to an overt narcissist, the best way of coping with a covert narcissist is to cut them out of your life completely and go no-contact.

If you can’t do that, try using the grey rock technique, setting boundaries, and speaking to them as little as possible.

For more information on recovering from a relationship with a narcissist, check out my ebook:


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