How to Recognize a Covert Narcissist

A covert narcissist often hides behind a mask of false humility and empathy. What are the signs of a covert narcissist? Find out in this article.
How to Recognize a Covert Narcissist
Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

A covert narcissist hides this personality trait under a facade. To be more precise, this is someone who demands attention and grandiosity, but in a very subtle way. It’s “covert” because it presents itself in one way at first glance, but then, as you get to know the person a little better, it’s easier to see that they must be at the center of attention.

Often, it’s easy to confuse this trait for sociability and extroversion and be captivated by the charm of these people. However, this “pseudo” security hides poor self-esteem, since these people’s superiority constantly needs to be fed.

So how can you recognize a covert narcissit? Let’s see!

What is a narcissistic personality disorder?

First, it’s worth noting that narcissistic personality disorder is often difficult to diagnose since those who suffer from it usually aren’t able to recognize their problem. Even when they do enter therapy, they often tend to devalue their therapist.

However, this disorder usually manifests itself in late adolescence (around age 20). It becomes more pronounced as the years go by. This is especially emphasized by the society we live in, which values people with a sense of superiority and power.

According to diagnostic manuals, a person with a narcissistic personality disorder can be identified by the following qualities:

  • They have an apparently enormous sense of self-worth. They magnify all their actions.
  • Also, they tend to take advantage of interpersonal relationships. Therefore, they tend not to be very empathetic.
  • They tend to come off as arrogant, superior, with an air of grandeur. They’re good at “selling” themselves.
  • In addition, they often believe they have more rights and are entitled to more than others.
  • They’re concerned about their image and appearance
  • Often, they may establish rules that others must follow – but in their case, they break them.
  • Sometimes, they may show sympathy, but this is often only to achieve their own goals.
  • They tend to be inflexible and not very good listeners.
  • They often have fantasies of grandeur and success. They’re ambitious.
  • It’s very clear to see how they feel and what they want.
¿Qué es el trastorno de la personalidad narcisista?
Narcissistic people are often manipulative and arrogant. However, they sometimes disguise their personality with false humility.

How to recognize a covert narcissist

A covert narcissist presents themselves as if they weren’t a narcissist, yet secretly or covertly seek adulation and admiration from others. Some of the signs that may indicate that you’re dealing with this type of narcissistic disorder are as follows:

  • They tend to display false and perhaps even exaggerated humility.
  • A covert narcissist believes that they are unique and special and that they should only have relationships with those people “who are up to his/her standards.”
  • They often start conversations by asking you how you’re feeling, but quickly interrupts you and shifts the focus of the conversation to themselves. Every dialogue ends up becoming a monologue.
  • These people usually don’t easily accept the possibility of having made a mistake. If they do, they tend to shift the blame onto others so that their mistake is presented as “an obvious natural consequence.”
  • Most of the time, they don’t care about respecting the rules, just as they don’t care about the consequences of breaking them.
  • A covert narcissist is often insensitive to the needs of others. They also display an air of superiority.

Tips for dealing with a covert narcissist

A covert narcissist may be closer to you than you think. The problem is that they can become manipulative or controlling. That’s why it’s important to find strategies that allow for a good, healthy relationship. Some of the recommendations are as follows:

  • Set boundaries. Don’t allow this type of person to go overboard with their requests, and always take care of your needs first.
  • When making criticism, it must be given with diplomacy and with much tact while trying not to offend, since they’re especially sensitive and take things personally very easily.
  • They’re often manipulative people with the only desire to get what they want. Therefore, you must avoid giving in, letting yourself be swayed, or letting them make you feel guilty. Once you say yes, there’s no turning back.
  • To avoid confrontation, it’s best not to get into the “comparison” game. However, whether it’s a partner, a friendship, or a boss, it will be very important to take care of your self-esteem so you don’t believe any of the statements or belittling remarks that a narcissistic personality may make.
  • These types of personalities tend to be kind to those who help them achieve their goals or, in the workplace, to the subordinates who show loyalty. For this very reason, if it’s your boss who has a narcissistic personality disorder, the best thing to do is to show them that you’re on their side to make both of your days more “bearable.”
Consejos para actuar frente a un narcisista encubierto
Setting clear boundaries is kept to avoid falling victim to a narcissistic person.

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Take care of the balance between “healthy” and “unhealthy” narcissism

It’s clear that a certain dose of egocentrism and narcissism is positive and even adaptive for life in general. It allows one to value oneself, love and respect oneself, look after oneself a little bit, and put one’s own needs and desires first.

However, when all external registration is completely annulled and it reaches an extreme, conflicts arise that can ruin many relationships. A lack of sensitivity to others and a lack of demonstrations of gratitude or affection are often a common currency of people who suffer from this type of personality disorder.

Therefore, if you find yourself in a relationship with someone who has harmful levels of narcissism, it’s very important think about making certain boundaries clear or keeping a safe distance to avoid feeling bad or seeing your self-esteem “trampled.”

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Dimaggio, G., & Semerari, A. (2008). Los trastornos de la personalidad. Bilbao: Desclée de Brouwer.
  • Caballo, V. E. (2001). Tratamientos cognitivo-conductuales para los trastornos de la personalidad. Psicología Conductual9(3), 579-605.
  • Trechera, J. L., de La Torre, G. M. V., & Morales, E. F. (2008). Estudio empírico del trastorno narcisista de la personalidad (TNP). Acta colombiana de psicología11(2), 25-36.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.