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  • Writer's pictureTricia Mazza, LPC

Unveiling the Covert Narcissist: Key Signs and How to Identify Them

In the realm of personality disorders, narcissism is often portrayed with grandiosity and an overt craving for admiration. However, a less discussed but equally impactful variant exists - the covert narcissist. Unlike their overt counterparts, covert narcissists display subtler traits, making them harder to identify. This post aims to shed light on the key signs of a covert narcissist, offering insights into their behaviors and how to recognize them.

Understanding Covert Narcissism

Covert narcissism, also known as vulnerable narcissism, is characterized by a fragile self-esteem and an insidious need for validation that's not as obvious. These individuals often present themselves as victims or misunderstood geniuses, using subtlety to manipulate and control their environments.

Key Signs of a Covert Narcissist

  1. Subtle Manipulation: Unlike overt narcissists who blatantly demand attention, covert narcissists use guilt, feigned helplessness, or silent treatments to manipulate others.

  2. Passive Aggressiveness: Due to their aversion to direct confrontation, covert narcissists often resort to passive-aggressive behavior to express displeasure or envy.

  3. Self-Victimization: Covert narcissists excel in playing the victim role, often exaggerating or fabricating personal hardships to gain sympathy and attention.

  4. Chronic Envy: While they may not openly display it, covert narcissists harbor deep envy towards others' successes or happiness.

  5. Emotional Withdrawal: They may withdraw emotionally or withhold affection as a means of control or punishment.

  6. Sensitivity to Criticism: Despite their outward appearance of humility, covert narcissists are extremely sensitive to criticism, often reacting with anger or defensiveness.

  7. Lack of Empathy: Similar to overt narcissists, they struggle with genuine empathy, making their interactions self-centered and manipulative.

How to Deal with a Covert Narcissist

Recognizing a covert narcissist is the first step. Dealing with one, whether in personal relationships or the workplace, requires setting firm boundaries, seeking support from trusted friends or professionals, and, in some cases, distancing oneself from the toxic dynamics that these individuals create.


Identifying a covert narcissist can be challenging, given their ability to mask their true intentions under a veil of vulnerability or humility. However, by understanding the signs and behaviors typical of covert narcissism, we can better protect ourselves from their manipulative tactics and seek healthier, more reciprocal relationships. Awareness and education are key to navigating these complex dynamics, and resources are available for those needing support or guidance. Reach out to us or book directly online to get started on your healing journey with Cohesive Counseling.

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