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Covert narcissism: Unveiling its characteristics

Covert narcissism: Unveiling its characteristics What is covert narcissism (Image: Freepik)

Certainly, everyone has heard of narcissism - a personality disorder characterized by self-obsession and an excessive need for approval. However, it turns out there is a less obvious form of this disorder - covert narcissism. Website Health reveals what covert narcissism is and how to recognize it in a person.

What is covert narcissism

Covert narcissism - or vulnerable narcissism, as it is sometimes called - is one of two types of narcissistic personality disorder. The other, more familiar to us, is overt or grandiose narcissism.

While many characteristics of these two types are similar - such as the need for admiration and a sense of self-importance - covert narcissism is also characterized by heightened sensitivity and defensive reactions, and it can be difficult to detect due to its more complex nature.

To understand the difference between covert and overt narcissism, it's worth considering the difference between open and covert behavior.

Open behavior is more recognizable and easier to identify. Conversely, covert behavior, as the name suggests, is often hidden and harder to recognize.

And although these two types of narcissism share some common traits - such as self-love and a sense of importance - there are significant differences between them. In particular, the following characteristics are typical of the covert type:

  • introversion;
  • hypersensitivity;
  • avoidance;
  • anxiety;
  • shyness;
  • social vulnerability;
  • sadness or depression.

How to recognize covert narcissism

While identifying covert narcissism in someone you know can be difficult, there are certain behavioral signs to look out for. Below are a few common red flags.

Covert narcissism: Unveiling its characteristicsHow to recognize a narcissist (illustration: Freepik)

Rooted need for admiration

When a person has narcissism - whether overt or covert - they have a strong need for others to admire, glorify, and value them.

Covert narcissists also rely on others to boost their self-esteem, so they may fish for compliments by speaking modestly about themselves or by giving compliments in hopes of receiving one in return.

However, if covert narcissists feel criticized or undervalued, they may react explosively.

Tendency towards passive aggression

People with covert narcissism often resort to passive-aggressive behavior when they feel angry or slighted.

They may also exhibit passive aggression to assert themselves in relationships with people they feel have insulted them or failed to recognize their uniqueness.

Avoidance of social situations

Individuals with covert narcissism appear introverted and may avoid social situations, largely because they don't want to risk not being valued or idolized.

Covert narcissists fear their flaws being exposed—although they'll never directly admit it. They also attempt to sever significant relationships.


When a person suffers from covert narcissism, they may harbor grudges against people they feel have insulted them or portrayed them in a negative light.

And while they may not openly discuss it, they'll find ways to seek revenge. In personal relationships, this could manifest as emotional abuse, while in professional relationships, it might involve tarnishing another person's reputation.

Difficulty maintaining employment or relationships

People with narcissism find it challenging to interact with others, and they may struggle with employment.

For instance, if they don't feel they're receiving the attention or praise they deserve, or if their uniqueness isn't acknowledged, they may sever ties and quit their job.

Causes of covert narcissism

Scientists aren't certain what exactly causes Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), including covert narcissism.

However, some experts speculate that a combination of genetics, early childhood trauma, complex relationships in early life, and individual personality traits may play a role. An individual's temperament may also play a certain role.

Covert narcissism: Unveiling its characteristicsWhy narcissism occurs (illustration: Freepik)

One study revealed that individuals with covert narcissism likely grew up with parents who focused on status and achievements.

Perhaps they were also told at an early age that they were special, unique, or more important than other people.

Another factor contributing to the development of traits such as cynicism in narcissism could be parents who lacked warmth. For instance, the parents of a covert narcissist may have withheld their affection and gratitude.

Or they may have merged due to the challenges of raising a child, creating in the individual with covert narcissism a strong need to be valued and respected.

By the way, we previously discussed signs of female abuse.