A covert narcissist does not have a sense of self-importance, which is associated with the condition. They may be dealing with low self-esteem.

The term “narcissist” gets thrown around a lot. It’s often used as a catch-all to describe people with any traits of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

“These people might seem self-centered or focused on their own importance, which may be why they have lost touch with reality. Maybe they don’t care about others and rely on manipulation to get what they want.”

“It isn’t that simple. It occurs on a broad spectrum that involves a range of potential traits. Experts agree that there are two different types. covert narcissism is also called vulnerable narcissism.”

Overt and covert narcissism are two of the two types of NPD.

Both types have similarities, but they can differ in how they present themselves.

In particular, people with overt narcissism are generally more extroverted and are often described as bold and charming. However, they can also become combative and confrontational when challenged.

People with covert (or vulnerable) narcissism are just as self-absorbed as the rest of the population, but they are perceived as more self-conscious, and less secure.

Covert narcissism usually involves fewer external signs of “classic” NPD. People still meet the criteria for diagnosis but have traits that aren’t usually associated with narcissism, including:

  • shyness and shyness
  • Self-awareness.
  • There is insecurity.
  • defensiveness
  • Sensitivity to what others think of them.

The signs may be related to covert narcissism. Only a qualified mental health professional can diagnose a mental health condition.

If you notice any of these characteristics in a loved one, it is time to seek help from a therapist.

High sensitivity to criticism

NPD typically involves There is insecurity. and an easily damaged sense of self-esteem. This can manifest in covert narcissism as extreme sensitivity to criticism.

“This sensitivity is not unique to the company. Most people don’t like criticism. Paying attention to how someone responds to criticism can offer more insight into whether you are looking at a person with a high level of sensitivity.”

People with covert narcissism might act as if they are above criticism. They might feel humiliated or enraged inside.

It is a threat if you criticize someone because it shows that they are wrong about themselves. They can take a critique very hard.

Passive aggression

Most people have probably used this manipulation tactic at one time or another, possibly without realizing it. But people with covert narcissism often use passive-aggressive behavior to convey frustration or make themselves look superior.

There are two main reasons for this behavior.

  • They have a deep-seated belief that entitles them to what they want.
  • The desire to get back at people who have done them harm.

Passive- aggressive behavior can be involved.

A tendency to put themselves down

A need for admiration is a key trait of NPD. This need often leads people to boast about their achievements, often by exaggerating or outright lying.

Maury Joseph, PsyD, suggests this may be related to internal self-esteem issues.

“People with covert narcissism have to spend a lot of time making sure they don’t feel bad feelings, that they don’t feel ashamed or limited, and that they are not limited or small.”

People with covert narcissism also rely on others to build up their self-esteem. They react strongly to any perceived criticism that confirms their negative sense of self.

They might talk about their contributions modestly with an underlying goal of earning praise and recognition. They may offer a compliment to get one.

A shy or withdrawn nature

Covert narcissism is more strongly linked to introversion than other types of narcissism.

This relates to narcissistic There is insecurity.. People with covert NPD are deeply afraid of having their flaws or failures seen by others. Exposing their innermost feelings of inferiority would shatter the illusion of their superiority. Avoiding social interactions helps lower the chances of exposure.

“People with covert narcissism may avoid social situations that don’t have clear benefits. They feel superior and distrust others.”

Research from 2015 also points out that managing the distress associated with NPD can be emotionally draining, leaving little energy for developing meaningful relationships.

Grandiose fantasies

People with covert narcissism spend more time thinking about their accomplishments than talking about them. They might have an attitude of being nice.

Joseph says that they may withdraw into fantasy, into an inner narrative world that is not equivalent to reality, where they have inflated importance, powers, or a specialness that is opposite of what their actual life is like.

Fantasies could involve:

  • Being promoted at work.
  • Being admired for their attractiveness everywhere they go.
  • People were saved from a disaster.

Feelings of depression, anxiety, and emptiness

Covert narcissism involves a higher risk of co-occurring depression and anxiety than other types of narcissism.

There are two reasons for this.

  • Fear of failure or exposure may contribute to anxiety.
  • Frustration over-idealized expectations not matching up with real life, and the inability to get needed appreciation from others can trigger feelings of resentment and depression.

Feelings of emptiness and thoughts of suicide are also associated with covert narcissism.

People under pressure to be pleasing and likable to themselves have to go to great lengths to maintain that. Joseph says that failing to keep up that illusion involves bad feelings.

A tendency to hold grudges

Someone with covert narcissism may hold grudges for a long time.

They might feel angry but not say anything at the moment. They are more likely to wait for an ideal opportunity to make the other person look bad or get revenge.

This revenge might be subtle or passive-aggressive. For example, they might start a rumor or sabotage the person’s work.

They may hold resentment against people who are deserving of recognition, such as a co-worker who gets a promotion.

These grudges can lead to feelings of bitterness and resentment.


People with either grandiose narcissism or NPD often envy other people who have things they feel they deserve, including wealth, power, or status. They also often believe others envy them because they’re special and superior.

People with covert narcissism may not outwardly discuss these feelings of envy, but they might express bitterness or resentment when they don’t get what they believe they deserve.

Feelings of inadequacy

“People with covert narcissism may feel inadequate in the face of failure because they can’t measure up to their own standards.”

Feelings of inadequacy can cause these feelings.

  • shame
  • Anger.
  • A sense of powerlessness.

Joseph suggests this is based on projection.

People with NPD assume other people hold them to unrealistic standards because they have unrealistic standards of their own. They would have to be super to live up to them. They feel ashamed of this failure when they realize they are just human.

Self-serving ‘empathy’

People with NPD can show their sympathies. Joseph says that they spend a lot of time trying to build up their self-esteem and establish their importance.

People with covert narcissism, in particular, may seem to have empathy for others. They might seem willing to help others out or take on extra work.

You might see them giving money and food to someone on the street or giving a spare bedroom to someone who was evicted.

“They do these things to get the approval of others. They may feel bitter and resentful if they don’t get praise or admiration for their sacrifice, and they may make comments about how people take advantage and don’t appreciate them.”

While the causes of covert narcissism are not well-understood, research suggests that narcissistic personality disorder may develop due to a combination of factors, including:

  • Genetics
  • Relationships with caregivers and relatives.

One research study found that people with covert narcissism may have had more authoritarian parents and may, more frequently, recall instances of childhood trauma and abuse than those who have grandiose narcissism.

However, other research does not support the relationship between childhood abuse or trauma and the development of covert narcissism. More research may be needed in this area.

Certain personality traits are also more common in people with narcissistic personality disorder, such as aggression, reduced tolerance to stress, and difficulty regulating emotions.

Maintaining a personal relationship with a covert narcissist can be difficult, no matter what type of relationship you have.

Here are a few tips for dealing with a person who is not real.

  • Learn more. Understanding the signs of covert narcissism can make it easier to decide when it may be time to seek support, distance yourself, or end the relationship altogether.
  • Set healthy boundaries. Because many people with NPD lack clear boundaries, it’s essential to reinforce yours by setting realistic limitations and taking space from the relationship as needed.
  • Avoid feeling offended. While it may be easier said than done, it’s important to avoid taking things personally. Recognize that any hurtful comments or passive-aggressive remarks are not about you, and then don’t react or engage.
  • Build a strong support system. Seek support from friends and family members, who can offer a fresh perspective and help you recognize when you’re being manipulated.

It is made out to be in pop culture. Joseph points out that people with tendencies like that should be avoided, but that they should have sensitivity to them.

Everyone has them. We all want to feel ok in our own eyes. He says that we all have to be like our ideals, to make ourselves into a certain image, and we do all sorts of things to create the illusion that we are fine.

Some people have an easier time regulating their feelings and emotions. People who struggle with them are more likely to develop a personality disorder.

If someone you know has signs of NPD, make sure to take care of yourself, too. Look out for signs of abuse and work with a therapist who can offer guidance and support.

Here you will find answers to some questions about covert narcissism.

What do covert narcissists do in relationships?

People with covert narcissism often use several tactics to gain control over others in a relationship. This includes gaslighting, manipulation, passive-aggressive behavior, and intimidation.

What are things that covert narcissists may say?

It is possible that a covert narcissist will make a remark that will make you feel like your feelings are unimportant. They may interrupt or take over a conversation, or they may give you a silent treatment if something is not happening the way they want. You might hear statements like, “I was just kidding,” “you\’re too sensitive,” or “you\’re crazy.”

Is covert narcissism more common in males or females?

Research shows that females tend to exhibit features of covert narcissism more often than males. This may be related, in part, to the fact that modern culture places a high value on female physical appearance. As such, females tend to internalize a profound sense of There is insecurity. and shame about their perceived inability to live up to social expectations of beauty.

Crystal Raypole worked as an editor for GoodTherapy. Her interests include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. She is committed to helping decrease the stigma around mental health issues.