How to Recognize a Covert Narcissist (29 Ways)

If you’ve ever met anyone with narcissistic personality disorder, you’ve probably noticed that this person has an inflated sense of self-importance, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others.

While it can be easy to spot some narcissists from a mile away, it may be more difficult to recognize a different type of narcissist.

A covert narcissist also referred to as a closet narcissist or a vulnerable narcissist, isn’t like the one in the room who is playing the crowd, regaling others with his or her grand stories to show how great he or she is.

Rather, the covert narcissist typically likes to remain behind the scenes, quietly manipulating others to get what he or she wants. Although all narcissists share certain traits, a covert narcissist isn’t always easy to identify.

That’s why you need to know what to look for to avoid becoming victimized by a closet narcissist.

1. Uses passive aggression

Many people can be passively aggressive even without realizing what they’re doing.

However, for the covert narcissist, this behavior is used as a revenge tactic because this person feels that he or she is special and entitled to get what he or she wants.

Passive aggression can be seen in the person giving you the silent treatment, making hurtful comments, and claiming that they are just jokes, slamming doors, or ignoring your requests.

2. Is highly sensitive to criticism

A narcissist can’t handle being criticized or questioned about his or her behavior.

Any negative affront to the narcissist’s delicate personality, whether real or imagined, hurts the narcissist deeply due to his or her inner insecurity.

Although the covert narcissist may fly into a rage when confronted like an overt narcissist, it is more likely that this person will sulk, become smug, or even simply dismiss the criticism.

3. Is passively self-important

Rather than boast about alleged achievements to others like an overt narcissist, the covert narcissist doesn’t like to be so obvious.

This person may minimize his or her accomplishments just so that others will reassure him or her of what a great job this individual did. When it comes to the achievements of others, a narcissist will not be outdone.

A covert narcissist will typically give backhanded compliments to express superiority.

4. Is envious

Because the narcissist believes that he or she is so special and deserving, this person becomes jealous of what others have that he or she doesn’t.

The covert narcissist will typically become resentful or bitter in these situations.

5. Uses flattery

The closet narcissist knows that getting what he or she wants involves recognition from others.

Because of this, this individual will use flattery and false compliments as a way to gain the trust of others.

6. Holds grudges

Again, a narcissist can’t stand it if he or she feels that someone else might be better than this person.

If someone does this individual wrong, even if the narcissist merely perceives it this way, he or she will hold a grudge that may not surface for a long time after the fact.

7. Lacks empathy

A narcissist lacks empathy for others. However, a covert narcissist may fake empathy in certain situations just so that this person can get the recognition that he or she craves so much.

8. Helps others for recognition

In the same way as showing empathy on certain occasions, the covert narcissist may do something helpful to others.

This person may volunteer or perform some kind of action that benefits the community. However, this individual is not doing it out of altruism but out of a need for recognition.

9. Puts themselves down

Where an overt narcissist will build himself or herself up, the covert narcissist may put himself or herself down.

This seeming vulnerability makes the individual more attractive to sensitive and caring people, but it is used as a ploy to gain attention.

10. Avoids responsibility

Because the narcissist is allegedly perfect, he or she can do no wrong. If this person does something bad, he or she will avoid the responsibility of the situation and may even blame others for the wrongdoing.

11. Expects to be cared for

In a relationship, a covert narcissist has high expectations; one of these is that you will care for him or her in all ways.

Since this person is so much more special than others, he or she feels deserving of such care.

12. Seems shy or reserved

Unlike the outwardly expressive overt narcissist, the vulnerable narcissist may seem shy or withdrawn, especially in social settings.

This person isn’t as confident as other narcissistic types, so this person will be reserved to avoid having his or her imperfections seen and pointed out by others.

13. Makes unreasonable demands

If you’re in a relationship with a covert narcissist, you may notice that this individual may have high expectations and make some pretty unreasonable demands out of his or her sense of being special.

No matter what you do, it’s never good enough for this person, and he or she will use your alleged failure against you.

14. Is above the rules

Like other types of narcissists, the closet narcissist is too important to be restrained by any rules or codes of conduct.

While you’re expected to maintain order, this person doesn’t have to, leading to the regular occurrence of double standards.

15. Engages in grandiose fantasies

While many narcissists will outwardly claim that their grandiose fantasies are actual accomplishments, the covert narcissist engages in these in private, typically through daydreams.

This person may like to spend a lot of time alone and may get angry if you disrupt his or her fantasy life.

16. Exploits others

A covert narcissist will quietly manipulate people and situations to his or her advantage.

Because of the shy nature of this type of narcissist, most people wouldn’t expect this type of behavior from that person.

However, this individual will use the misfortune of others to get his or her way.

17. Pushes relationships

Although relationships move at varying speeds, the covert narcissist rushes things along.

This person wants to be in an intimate relationship rather quickly to get the affirmation he or she needs.

18. May have depression or anxiety

Because reality doesn’t typically measure up to the covert narcissist’s desire to be appreciated for being special, anxiety and depression are more common with this person than with other types of narcissists.

19. Feels inadequate

Narcissism stems from insecurity and feelings of inadequacy.

While an overt narcissist overcompensates for this through boastful behavior, the covert narcissist may use this insecurity to gain acceptance and affirmation from others.

20. Needs constant reassurance

A narcissist has a delicate ego.

Whereas the overt narcissist will gain praise through alleged accomplishments, the covert narcissist doesn’t brag or boast for attention out of fear of being caught or called out.

If your partner regularly sulks or pouts until you provide compliments or other forms of reassurance, you may be dealing with a closet narcissist.

21. Has a sense of entitlement

Although not as expressive as an overt narcissist, a vulnerable narcissist still has a strong sense of entitlement.

This may be expressed in the constant need for reassurance or in how this person acts through his or her envy of others.

22. Fakes illness or injury

As the covert narcissist seeks attention and the care of others, this individual will often fake an injury or an illness to gain sympathy.

23. Uses gaslighting

Gaslighting is one of the favorite tools of the narcissist.

The covert narcissist can be just as skilled as an overt narcissist at manipulating you into believing that you’re going crazy or have a bad memory.

This person will create confusion to make you second guess yourself as a way to maintain control over you.

24. Neglects you emotionally

The narcissist cannot truly identify your emotional needs even if you outwardly express them. This person may offer scraps by way of flattery or fake empathy, but there’s no real emotional connection.

25. Is self absorbed

As this person is quietly self-centered, he or she may tune you out and not give you the full attention you deserve.

26. Gossips

Although many people gossip about who aren’t narcissistic, the covert narcissist will use this tactic as a way to smear the characters of others to make himself or herself look better or somehow more important.

27. Is sarcastic and cynical

A covert narcissist will typically hold a negative view of the world and others, blaming these for the lack of success that this person feels that he or she is entitled to.

28. Creates a public image

Because the covert narcissist desires recognition, he or she will often have a public persona that differs from what this individual shows in private.

29. Is a victim

The covert narcissist is so unique and special in his or her mind that this person will often feel misunderstood by the world.

This individual doesn’t fit in and is thus a victim because he or she is so much above everyone else that no one can appreciate who this person is.

It can take knowing a covert narcissist for years before fully identifying that this person has a problem. Knowing what to look for may help keep you from getting too close to avoid being hurt by this individual at some point.

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