How to Spot the Shy (Covert) Narcissist

By Eric Perry, PhD-c

Audio version | Click here


Don’t be fooled by the title. There is nothing cute or innocent about this stealthy narcissist, also known as the covert narcissist. A covert narcissist is a narcissist who suffers from low self-esteem. He or she is seeking the same glory and power as the classic narcissist, but does not possess the same outwardly bravado. They have all the attributes of an overt narcissist but hide behind many masks. In my clinical experience, those who permit a covert narcissist into their lives later spend years unraveling the chaos that has been spun around them. Unfortunately, the red flags are harder to spot than that of an overt narcissist. The easiest way to identify them is in close quarters, when they are not pretending to be someone else. Here is a list of ways to identify a covert narcissist but please note that the list is not all-inclusive .

Here are 5 ways to spot a covert narcissist:

1. The Great Pretender
“All the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances. And one man in his time plays many parts …” ~Shakespeare

A covert narcissist is a chameleon. He or she is able to convey to the world the image that is necessary for them to get what they desire. They may exude the image of a loving, kind and generous person. They are people who many might consider a pillar of the community. Others play the role of a passive victim to strategically lure you in. They have similar qualities as overt narcissists. They are aware enough to know better than to show their true colors. They are master adapters. Their only dilemma is that they cannot as easily hide from those who truly know them. This can be loved ones, close friends or significant others. Covert narcissists thrive on being able to deceive and pretend to be someone else with the sole purpose of getting what they want.

2. Lack of empathy
“You lost your job? Now how am I going to get that new car you promised me?!” ~Anonymous

A covert narcissist is not able to empathize with anyone’s feelings or needs other than their own. Their sole purpose is to satisfy their own needs at the expense of everyone else no matter what it takes. They often prefer to stay isolated and withdrawn. Compassion and empathy are completely foreign to them. They will avoid you if you are sick and want you to take care of them if they are ill. Their lack of empathy allows them to prey on nearly anyone. They are unable to see their spouse or children as independent beings. They see their loved ones as objects and extensions of themselves to be possessed and used however they see fit. They are dismissive of others thoughts and feelings. Covert narcissists have no regard for anyone else’s time. Once a covert narcissist gets what they want from someone they can easily discard or discredit them.

3. Shallow surface personality
“They muddy the water to make it seem deep.” ~Nietzsche

Like a mannequin wearing a suit, a covert narcissist lacks the characteristics that make them truly human. To a trained eye they appear empty as if missing something. However, it is difficult to pinpoint what it is. Covert narcissists tend to have shallow personalities and are susceptible to boredom more than most. They are unable to maintain meaningful relationships because of an inability to trust and depend on others. Covert narcissists are highly materialistic and can easily be consumed by envy of others talents, possessions and relationships. It is not uncommon for covert narcissists to lack depth in their interests and skills. They may only be able to recite one or two things about a subject that supposedly interests them. Covert narcissists tend not to have a fixed personality and can easily switch personalities or positions to gain favor when necessary. Their moral values are flexible, constantly changing depending on the circumstance. It is as if covert narcissists are encased in a block of ice. They can see us and we can see them, but they are unable to feel or give any genuine warmth.

4. False humility
“Humility is often a false front we employ to gain power over others.” ~François de La Rochefoucauld

Unlike the bravado of the overt narcissist, the covert narcissist is quiet and insecure. They are withdrawn and self-centered and tend to appear shy and vulnerable. It is not uncommon for covert narcissists to be pathological liars. They can easily disguise themselves with humility, pretending to put others ahead of themselves. Covert narcissists are experts at playing the victim and are excellent at the “poor me” game. They tend to use the role of victim or martyr to lure you in to later exploit you. Covert narcissists seek power and control quietly. In many ways they are far more dangerous than the more obvious overt narcissist. Even though covert narcissists are more cunning in their delivery, they still experience a similar sense of grandiosity as the overt narcissist. Spending time with a covert narcissist will have you feeling drained psychically and emotionally.

5. Highly sensitive to criticism
The  covert narcissist is unable to take any form of criticism. They are hyper sensitive and unable to accept that someone would see them as anything less than perfect. Unlike the classic narcissist who reacts aggressively to any critique, the covert narcissist pretends it does not bother them while fuming over it internally. Some covert narcissists will defend against a perceived slight by exhibiting an increased sense of superior smugness and dismissiveness about the criticism while other covert narcissists may sullenly retreat into being a victim. The covert narcissist may even display passive-aggressive behavior when criticized. They will  “forget” to perform a task or deny that they ever even committed to completing the task.

This article is not meant to diagnose or be a guide for self-diagnoses. The sole purpose of this article is strictly for educational purposes. If this sounds like you are someone you know please seek the help of a mental health professional.

If you found this post to be helpful or interesting please remember to like, comment and share!

Kind regards,
Eric


www.MakeItUltraPsychology.com
Specializing in a solution focused and results driven approach to psychotherapy


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93 responses to How to Spot the Shy (Covert) Narcissist

  1. Not only do I have experience with a covert narcissist, I was married to one for over twenty years. Exhausting is a good way to describe our relationship. The point about being sick and needing them to care for you (they won’t of course) was highlighted in our relationship more often than I care to remember. He actually once told me, “you picked a bad time to be sick”. as he turned on his heel and left for work. I had the flu and two babies at home still in diapers to take care of. The sickening part is I always knew deep down that he was shallow and insensitive, but I continued to make excuses, or to take responsibility. That’s a true talent to turn any issue around and make it someone else’s fault, even an illness.

    Liked by 15 people

    • I was married to one for 39 years, and yes, we make excuses. The sad part is, when you love someone, you keep loving. Then, they usually end up stabbing you in the back and go onto the next victim. Glad I’m away from that. Thanks for the insight. Been there, done that.

      Liked by 13 people

  2. My former significant other of 10 years was a covert narcissist. He had different personalities around everyone (like a chameleon), always made himself the victim when confronted with an issue, lacked empathy, insensitive, etc. I was wrong, he’s ALWAYS right, and he was a victim somehow. It’s exhausting constantly trying to untwist a narcissist’s conveyed perception. I feel very bad for these people.

    Liked by 11 people

    • MakeItUltra™ says:

      Hi Jessica, I am very happy to hear you are free from this cycle. They definitely are some of the most toxic people.

      Liked by 4 people

  3. This is great. Really well written and spot on. I also love (and recognize 😉 ) the photo choice. Random side note: I’m not sure if it’s my age, or perhaps an indication of my love for booze, but every time I read your blog title my brain first reads it as “Mich-Ultra” as in the beer. Then it immediately translates it again to it’s appropriate title. Not sure what this says about me, but at least I’m confident that I’m not a narcissist.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. woah! This is such a good read and incredibly insightful. I know someone who has all of these traits to the key and I never thought that it was a narcissist trait, he particularly has the “shallow surface personality” and is unable to form any meaningful relationship and pushes everyone away who remotely cares about him. Well, now I know why 🙂 Thank you for sharing

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Samrat says:

    Such a wonderful article, beautifully written!! I love your every article and this one is the best!!
    Thank you!

    Liked by 5 people

  6. This is bang on and very well written indeed. I have been with a couple of covert narcissists…with each for varied period of time. Seems like I attract a lot of them from the very frequency of such people I have encountered in life 😝. They exhausted me completely, at times driving me mad to the extent that I would start to feel like a narcissist myself. Thanks for sharing !

    Liked by 5 people

  7. My brother is like this: I don’t want to dignos but I rcognis these traits. I was married to someone like this and datd anothr prson who endd up being like this. one. It scares me to read about it.

    Liked by 6 people

  8. This is a wonderful, organized list. I wish I had read it before I worked on a project with a friend and co-worker. I’ve had a lot of experiences with covert narcissists. It helped me to write about these experiences. I’m learning more and more about this type of narcissist. They are harder to spot because they can seem so nice and sweet at first.

    Liked by 5 people

  9. Anita Bacha says:

    Thank you for this informative and interesting post. I have been a prey and a victim of a wolf under sheep skin. Written with wit and insight. Well done.👌👌

    Liked by 4 people

  10. MSChavez says:

    Pretty sure I’ve dealt with one. I was their bestest friend, until suddenly, I wasn’t. That’s when I discovered what the narcissistic cycle of abuse is and how they do it. And damn, did they do exactly what is outlined. Sent in the flying monkeys to triangulate and hoover me back in. Did all the crazy-making to get me to explode and then they played the victim. Was so much fun being raked over the coals more than once by someone I had thought I really liked.

    Liked by 6 people

  11. Klea says:

    Explained very well for the layman/woman to understand … Thank you for taking the time to write this Eric … I am so glad that finally after all these years, that society are finally understanding that Narcs are out there and the victims are finally able to get help/out/understand what has been going on in their lives for so long and know it is not them but the ‘other person’ …
    Take care xxx

    Liked by 4 people

    • MakeItUltra™ says:

      Thank you for the comment Klea. I agree, it is fortunate that we have been able to identify and acknowledge how harmful narcissists can be. Still, I think much of our society views narcissism as a state of grandiosity that inevitably accompanies successful people. This just isn’t true. Hopefully, information about narcissistic abuse will become more widely known and more people can break free.

      Liked by 3 people

  12. thinking I would have never have called this person described as a “covert narcissist” I would have thought more “a serial victim” ……i.e. my mother…. but after reading the above post… covert narcissist is more fitting for her….

    Liked by 5 people

  13. Laura Smith says:

    Love this article. In my book Our Spiritual Awakening, one of my topics is titled The Narcissist Man. That was my ex-finance. He was a covert narcissist and I got sucked into his game. Of course, there is a reason why we have narcissists on earth and I cover that in the book. But regardless, being with a narcissist is a choice we make to learn a lesson and I learned mine. But you got to read the book to understand. Because I don’t spam I’m not putting the link to my book.

    Liked by 4 people

    • MakeItUltra™ says:

      Hi Toni, I am happy that you are out of that environment. I wish you all the best ✨✨✨✨

      Liked by 1 person

  14. ifonlymommy says:

    All of this is so true. They are completely exhausting. Especially when your share children who they never consider before themselves. So, so very exhausting.
    Thank you for the post.

    Liked by 5 people

    • MakeItUltra™ says:

      Hi thank you so much for your comment and have a wonderful weekend ✨

      Like

  15. MakeItUltra™ says:

    Hi George, I am glad that I could be of some help on your journey. Feel free to reach out to me directly if you feel it would be helpful. Have a wonderful evening.✨

    Liked by 3 people

    • MakeItUltra™ says:

      George i am going to delete these comment for the sake of your privacy. I am here if you need me.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. Meg Bernard says:

    Thank you for making people aware of this.
    I was married to one for 19 years until I finally managed to make the difficult escape. I wish I had known these things before getting married!!

    Liked by 6 people

    • MakeItUltra™ says:

      Hi Megan, thank you so much for your comment. The most important fact is that you are out of that situation! I wish you the very best ✨✨✨✨

      Liked by 2 people

  17. Ema Brewer says:

    Every time I read anything about narcissism i am only more and more convinced that I know/have known several! I feel sorry for the “me” three years ago who was dealing with friggen 3 of them at the same time 😂

    Liked by 6 people

  18. I would love to share this Ultra…. I have a friend and family member who are BOTH dealing with this kind of person to a tee. I even told my friend the other day, this chick is on a whole other level of narcissism! Thanks for the read 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

      • You’re most welcome. This personality disorder is very damaging and not well understood. It seems that calling someone a “narcissist ” is merely the latest buzzword and cliche insult for vain or self-centered people. This is diminishing the gravity and insidious damage the people with the actual personality disorder create.
        I’m a big advocate for getting the truth of genuine pathological narcissism out into the world both for better understanding as well as helping those who are in the confused and confounded position of being in a relationship or a target of these people.
        Thank you for writing and sharing this information!

        Liked by 2 people

  19. Thank you for writing this. I was married to a covert for 20 years. When I finally woke up to what was happening, it was crushing to me. It felt like all the love, all the effort, all the sacrifice I had made for the previous two decades had been dumped down a bottomless hole, and amounted to nothing. Then, when I broke free, she came at me with everything she had to destroy me, and she almost succeeded. When I think of how close I came to taking my own life, I shudder.

    But now the more I learn, the more everything makes sense, and the more I’m able to forgive myself for being so blind and weak in the face of abuse that was obvious to so many people but me. Keep up the good work.

    https://walter-singleton.com/

    Liked by 5 people

    • MakeItUltra™ says:

      Thank you for sharing your insight. What a horrific experience. I have read your blog and hope more people will so they can understand how damaging narcissists can be.

      Liked by 2 people

  20. Donna Marie says:

    I had just gone through the loss of my father and suffered moderate ocular concussion concurrently. My “friend” took me under her wing to comfort, control and manipulate me. As soon as I began healing and returning to the stronger version of the new me, she sent me a “your damaged” text. Decimating my character,family and beliefs. She’s moved on now to try and destroy others for her own power. She is a sad individual who professes to be a healer and lover of Christ The one who truly needs to be healed in heart and mind. Thank you for your article. I wish I had read it before I was blindsided. My red flags would have been on high alert.

    Liked by 6 people

    • MakeItUltra™ says:

      Hello, please feel to contact me if you would like to seek counseling about this. Thank you and have a great day✨

      Liked by 2 people

  21. Amorina Rose says:

    What’s a little bit frightening is that we often see bits and pieces of all this in everyone including ourselves. I guess the difference is knowing and reflecting. It seems to balance things.

    Liked by 3 people

  22. This was such an enlightening piece. I was in a relationship for two years with someone like this a few years back. This sounds like you wrote the article about him. Thank you for this. I’ll be sharing.

    Liked by 3 people

  23. winknbees says:

    I guess I’m a been there done that. Glad I’m out kind of person… 22+years, egg shells and silent treatments, and always trying to fix myself because it wasn’t possible for me to be good enough. Took the kids and ran for my life. Still recovering.

    Liked by 3 people

  24. Jack and Amy says:

    It has been 11 years since I left my ex who was a bit of both a covert and overt narcissist. He was more covert though. Our divorce took 4.5 years. And still today he attempts to do many of these things. Manipulation and control is his favorite game. I still spend time untangling the web is lies he weaved inside my mind. It’s getting easier to look in the mirror and not see what I had believed I was from him. Thanks for the great post. -Amy

    Liked by 3 people

  25. Kai Amal says:

    I wonder if maybe they could change though… at least some of the things. My best friend’s boyfriend sounds exactly like one, I would even say he could be emotionally abusive. He can be sweet and funny and make great conversations, until you’d say something that somehow manages to hurt him, and then he wouldn’t stop shaming you until he’d see he hit the target. I can see that sometimes he’s exhausting my friend, emotionally, but she loves him.
    But I wonder if he could change, evolve, understand that other people have feelings, too, that he’s not always right.
    Great article, thank you Erik 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  26. Boy, I wish that I would have been aware of this a very long time ago. But, by these people being covert I couldn’t figure out what the red flags were trying to tell me. Thank you for the education 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  27. da-AL says:

    Reblogged this on Happiness Between Tails by da-AL and commented:
    Guest Blog Post: “How to Spot the Shy (Covert) Narcissist” in MakeItUltra’s exact words

    Sometimes it helps to understand a little about the difficult people in our lives. Here Eric Charles, MA., PhD-c explains some of them …

    Liked by 1 person

  28. rushda says:

    Insightful piece of writing , outstanding cross section of psyche of narcissism
    .great thougt to encourage to look into ones own self to assess and rectify ways.
    Wonderful

    Liked by 2 people

  29. Thanks for this subject matter! I suffer from CPTSD because of the psychological warfare my covert narc put me through. I have no family because of her. Many professionals say that the narcissist can’t be helped in therapy because they don’t think they are doing anything wrong. What is your take? Love your blogs!

    Liked by 1 person

    • MakeItUltra™ says:

      Thank you for your comment. It depends on the individual. I have seen truth in both cases.

      Liked by 1 person

  30. SO true !! My mother is like that. Abusive behind closed doors while fooling the world into thinking she’s the best mom. When I grew up and realized that’s not normal and that other mom’s don’t burn their kids, I confronted her and she went all emotional and said that I was ungrateful, denied a lot of things, made excuses for specific incidents, and stopped talking to me for few days !

    Liked by 1 person

  31. This came at such a synchronistic time in my life as most of your profoundly informative articles do. I have been thinking my partner of over a year is actually a narcissist, but have wanted to remain in the realm of belief that he is in fact my twin flame. The more I read these articles, the more terrified I become. I have been able to list concrete incidents for each and every point I have read about narcissists. My heart is broken and my soul is shattered. I have never felt more betrayed nor sullen about my choices and instincts. As an empath I have been feeling myself pulled into the 3D by my partner, and my inner light dimming to a mere flicker. The most horrendous part of it all is the fact that I still love him so dearly. I wish things were different, but everything happens for a reason, right? Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I always enjoy your beautiful words. ✨💗✨

    Liked by 1 person

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