How to Spot a Covert Narcissist

How to Spot a Covert Narcissist

Generally speaking, when you think of a narcissist, you think of an A-type person with a big personality, extroverted, opinionated, and probably controlling.

This more stereotypical narcissism is called overt narcissism.

It's the overt narcissist who's out there, making no apologies and not trying to hide it.

And yet, there are two types of narcissism. There is a more secretive, introverted kind of narcissism that is just as selfish, manipulative, and harmful to relationships.

A covert narcissist is a kind of undercover narcissist, and that's why they can be difficult to identify.

A covert narcissist is also called a vulnerable narcissist.

In this article, we will examine four traits of a covert narcissist, but there are many more.

Remember, only a licensed health professional can accurately diagnose the difference between covert and overt narcissism.

With that in mind, the signs of a covert narcissist may surprise you…

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How to Spot a Covert Narcissist: Self-Deprecation

A covert narcissist practices self-deprecation.

Self-deprecation is when you put yourself down or criticize yourself.

Self-deprecation can even be done in a humorous way or as a joke. But self-deprecation is no laughing matter.

A covert narcissist, as with all narcissists, struggles with low self-esteem.

The covert narcissist constantly feels unworthy and believes they are inadequate.

As a result, the covert narcissist cannot offer self-praise.

That's why a covert narcissist self-deprecates, in order to solicit praise and encouragement from others.

The covert narcissist self-deprecates, hoping you will disagree and give them a compliment.

For the covert narcissist, self-deprecation is a kind of manipulation.

A covert narcissist is constantly fishing for compliments and praise from others.

The covert narcissist may even offer you a compliment, only because they want one in return.

Remember, for the covert narcissist, selfishness and self-deception are motivators for most behaviors.

How to Spot a Covert Narcissist: Unrealistic Fantasies

The covert narcissist lives in their own head, often in a world of their own making.

A covert narcissist spends more time thinking about their own talents or accomplishments, than talking about them.

These talents and/or accomplishments may be real or fantasy.

If real, the covert narcissist wants others to talk about them and be praised.

If fantasy, the covert narcissist will insist he will accomplish them.

The fantasies of a covert narcissist are often grandiose, larger-than-life pipe dreams.

Because covert narcissists suffer from low self-esteem, they often avoid realistic goals.

Instead, the covert narcissist chooses to fantasize about heroic or even super-human endeavors.

The covert narcissist often identifies with a famous person with many accomplishments, especially those who helped others or changed the world.

A covert narcissist will also convince themselves that everyone finds them attractive.

How to Spot a Covert Narcissist: Grudge Holding

Holding a grudge is a sign of a covert narcissist.

Because the covert narcissist rarely speaks their mind or stands up for themselves, when they are wronged they hold a grudge.

A covert narcissist often holds grudges against someone they perceive to have gotten something they deserve.

For example, if a co-worker receives the promotion the covert narcissist believed he deserved.

Instead of speaking up, the covert narcissist holds a grudge.

And when a covert narcissist holds a grudge, it breeds bitterness, anger, and a desire for revenge.

The covert narcissist will often bide their time, waiting for a chance to get revenge.

However, because bold action is not their habit, their revenge is often petty and seemingly insignificant. 

How to Spot a Covert Narcissist: Passive Aggression

A covert narcissist uses passive aggression to manipulate others, seek revenge, and ultimately feel superior.

Remember, even though covert narcissist has low self-esteem, in their fantasy world they are superior to all others.

Unwilling to speak directly or honestly, the covert narcissist uses passive-aggressive tactics.

A covert narcissist will lash out at someone they perceive feels superior to them or has accomplished something they did not.

Remember, the covert narcissist feels almost constant entitlement.

In order to satisfy their need for entitlement, the covert narcissist may use sarcasm or jokes couched in truth to make others feel inferior.

They will wait for just the right moment and strike. And yet, when confronted, they will pass it off as a mere joke or careless comment.

How to Spot a Covert Narcissist: Selfish Empathy

You wouldn't normally think of a narcissist as showing empathy. They're too selfish, right?

Wrong. The covert narcissist can appear to have empathy.

But that's all it is- the appearance of empathy.

Remember how a covert narcissist will give you a compliment, but only because they want to be complimented in return?

A covert narcissist will often do extra work, be a Good Samaritan, help the needy or go the extra mile.

However, the covert narcissist always wants something in return. Acknowledgment and praise.

If the covert narcissist is not acknowledged or praised for appearing to show empathy, they will cease and desist.

They did not give money to the person on the street because they genuinely cared about his welfare.

A covert narcissist must be praised, or else the appearance of empathy stops.

Moreover, if the covert narcissist is not praised or acknowledged, they will become bitter or resentful.

The covert narcissist likes to complain about how they are not appreciated and how others take advantage of them.

The covert narcissist likes to play the martyr and loves to solicit sympathy and condolences from others.


A covert narcissist can be just as toxic for relationships as an overt narcissist, sometimes even more so.

The covert narcissist manipulates others and is nearly incapable of a truly selfless act.

When it comes to a covert narcissist, every action and every word is a self-serving quid pro quo.

If you think that you or someone you know suffers from covert narcissism, please seek the help and advice of a licensed professional counselor.

A professional counselor can help you navigate the often puzzling world and behaviors of the covert narcissist. There can be hope and healing. 


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December 8th, 2023

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