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Covert Narcissism Explained

Classic narcissists tend to be easy to spot. These people love being the center of attention, believe they deserve special treatment and are happiest when other people praise and admire them. However, someone you know could be a covert narcissist – a person who shares many of the same traits, but at a subtler level. How can you spot this toxic behavior in a person close to you?

What Is a Covert Narcissist?

Both types of narcissists have internalized insecurity and low self-esteem dating back to their childhood years. They mask these feelings by developing an outsized persona and believing that the world owes them something. However, covert narcissists tend to shun the spotlight and take a behind-the-scenes approach to controlling other people. As a result, they fear exposure and embarrassment from acting overconfident or inviting too much attention to themselves. 

Having a covert narcissist in your life can be traumatic and leave you coping with excessive guilt and shame. If you have been a victim of the manipulation, gaslighting and emotional abuse that characterize covert narcissism, recognizing that you are not to blame for a narcissist’s personality disorder can help you lead a happier, more fulfilling lifestyle.

Warning Signs of Covert Narcissism

A covert narcissist may appear introverted and modest, lacking the overinflated sense of confidence that characterizes classic narcissistic personality disorder. However, despite their outward vulnerability, covert narcissists still nurture a sense of superiority. Here are some other traits covert narcissists tend to share.

1. Lack of Empathy

While most true introverts tend to be good listeners and are capable of contributing to a conversation by asking questions, covert narcissists are usually too judgmental to offer any substantial insights. They may get frustrated quickly and prefer to dismiss the topic or find ways to change the subject to make it about them. 

2. Extreme Sensitivity

Covert narcissists are unwilling to accept criticism and might become hostile in response to minor slights. They perceive insults where others would not and are likely to be highly defensive, vindictive or passive-aggressive.

3. Co-Occurring Disorders

Those living with covert narcissism may be more susceptible to co-occurring mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, and can also self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to manage their symptoms. 

4. Difficulty Maintaining Healthy Relationships

People with narcissistic personality disorders have an unrealistic self-image and may also hold people in their lives to unattainable standards. As a result, they often avoid doing tasks or dealing with people they perceive as being beneath them, which makes it challenging for them to sustain long-term relationships. Covert narcissists can struggle to stay meaningfully employed if they feel a disconnect between their work and their sense of self. 

Healing Your Body, Mind and Spirit 

If someone you know displays any of the red flags of covert narcissism, or you recognize these unhealthy traits in yourself, a trained therapist can help you arrive at a diagnosis and recover your quality of life through counseling. 

A co-occurring personality disorder and substance use disorder can be challenging to treat, but at Vista Taos, we’ve seen our holistic approach have transformative effects for our clients. Reach out to us today for more information. 

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