12 Warning Signs of Covert Narcissism & 8 Helpful Ways to Deal With it

By Dominica


Last Updated: March 15, 2022

Not every narcissist is the loud, boisterous one in the room vying for everyone’s attention with their grandiose stories of accomplishments. Sometimes there are covert narcissists who fly under the radar, but they still have some exaggerated needs for admiration.

Perhaps you wonder sometimes about someone in your life or maybe an ex. Could they be a covert narcissist? This article will help you understand covert narcissism better, as well as how to contend with one.


What is Narcissism?

Narcissism is a personality disorder, known better as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).  Common traits of someone struggling with NPD include:

  • The need for an exceptional amount of admiration
  • The need to feel incredibly important
  • Consumed with fantasies about fame and boatloads of glory
  • Grandiose boasting; If you’ve done it, they’ve done it too and better
  • Feeling entitled
  • Exploiting others
  • Lacking compassion and empathy for others
  • Obsessing about success, power, beauty, etc.


What is Covert Narcissism?

Covert means secret or under the radar. Whereas someone diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder is considered to have overt characteristics, a covert narcissist has covert characteristics of narcissism. This means that the traits are more subtle and may not be as noticeable to others.

However, there are 12 signs of covert narcissism, including the following:

1. They’ll “love bomb” you in the beginning of a relationship.

Typically, one or both of you will feel an intense soulmate connection. They may boast about the intensity and act like they idealize you. They’re great at wooing others, but over time, some narcissistic traits will begin to surface, such as selfishness, passive aggressiveness, emotional abuse, and more.

2. They are insensitive to your needs.

They'll subtly disregard your needs, so you will feel less important. They may procrastinate on getting back to you, stand you up, not value your time, be late, or something else to make you feel small.

3. They confuse you. 

Conversations or arguments will likely cause you to feel confused. You’ll be second-guessing yourself wondering if you’re literally going crazy. Your perceptions may indeed be correct, but they will try to manipulate the conversation to allow them to come across as correct.

4. They want compliments much of the time.

If they aren’t getting compliments, they may minimize themselves so that others might reassure them of how amazing they are.

5. You experience cognitive dissonance.

They say one thing, but do another, which is confusing. They may tell you stories of how amazing they are, but you’re not seeing that side of them. You have gut feeling something is off.

6. They have a desire to win.

It may not be that obvious, but it’s there. They may also have a tough time apologizing or admitting they are wrong.

7. A covert narcissist will slyly try to shame or blame you.

They may emotionally manipulate you so that you think something is your fault, while it was really their fault. They want you to feel less than.

8. They are stingy, unless of course, someone will praise them.

A covert narcissist will likely only give when they know there is something in it for them.

9. They're not emotionally available.

A covert narcissist may seem like they're more available emotionally, but over time you'll find out that they're not. There are too consumed with trying to get their own needs for admiration met.

10. They may stonewall you, which means they ignore and refuse to talk to you.

Typically, it’s because they are intentionally trying to manipulate or control you.

11. They are passive aggressive.

12. They may have a “woe is me attitude”, playing on your empathy.

They could play the pity card, so every time you come around, they complain about how hard things are for them, trying to get sympathy.

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Causes Of Covert Narcissism

Whether we're talking about an overt or covert narcissist, mental health experts at The Cleveland Clinic report that the causes of such narcissism tend to be:

  • Childhood trauma or abuse
  • Genetics
  • Toxic relationships with caregivers, etc.
  • Dysfunctional environment while growing up
  • Temperament


Fragile Sense Of Self-Worth

It’s not exactly clear why someone will grow up to be overtly or covertly narcissistic. It very well could be a combination of childhood family dynamics and life events. At the very core, there is a human being that is displaying narcissistic traits to cover up a very fragile sense of self-worth.

They fear being vulnerable, they’re insecure, and feel quite empty inside.


Dealing With A Covert Narcissist? What To Do

It can be challenging to deal with a covert narcissist. Whether it’s your partner, parent, friend, or relative, it’s important to learn more about NPD, as well as boundaries.

Here are 8 helpful things you can do to deal with a covert narcissist:

1. Educate yourself on NPD and covert narcissism.

This way, you empower yourself and can spot the covert traits.

2. Have an honest conversation with the person if they’re someone you can’t avoid.

They may not be receptive to what you have to say, but you can still be direct and honest with them.

3. Call them out on the traits when they’re using them.

This gives them the opportunity to apologize or work on changing their behavior.

4. Encourage them to see a counselor.

They may or may not oblige, but you get to set this boundary with them. You can see a counselor as well, especially if you’re struggling with being in relationship with a covert narcissist.

5. Set clear boundaries.

Know what your boundaries are and don’t apologize for having them.

6. Try not to take it personally.

Their behavior has more to do with them and their emotional wounds than it does you.

7. Know what you want and need.

Then, use your voice and express it. The covert narcissist may resist you, but you deserve to be seen and heard. By expressing your voice, you’ll know what your next steps will be depending on how they react.

8. Leave the relationship if it continues to be toxic or there is any kind of abuse going on.


Reach Out For Help

It’s not always easy to cut ties with a covert narcissist, especially if you are struggling with low self-worth or codependency. 

If you’re in need of some support, seek out a therapist. You’ll be able to learn more about narcissism, yourself, setting boundaries, and build courage to do whatever you need to do so you can be free from a toxic relationship.

You can also visit the Narcissistic Abuse Support organization. There you can view resources that will help you learn how to better handle someone struggling with NPD or covert narcissism.

Photo by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash


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