10 Key Behaviors That Reveal a Covert Narcissist’s True Colors

Covert narcissism, a less conspicuous but equally destructive variant of narcissism, often eludes detection until it’s too late. Unlike their overt counterparts, who are characterized by a blatant thirst for admiration and attention, covert narcissists employ more subtle strategies. Their operations, while seemingly innocuous, can inflict serious emotional and psychological damage over time.

This article aims to shed light on this under-discussed form of narcissism by highlighting 10 key signs to watch out for. Additionally, we will provide practical advice on how to handle situations involving covert narcissists effectively. By understanding these signs and strategies, you can better protect yourself and your loved ones from the insidious harm covert narcissists can inflict.

They Play the Victim Card

Covert narcissists have a knack for playing the victim card. This tactic is a manipulative strategy designed to garner sympathy, control others and divert attention away from their own negative behaviors. They often create narratives where they are the innocent party wronged by others, despite concrete evidence suggesting otherwise.

This perpetual victimhood allows them to justify their actions, avoid accountability, and manipulate those around them into supporting their agenda. This pattern of behavior can be emotionally draining for those in close proximity with the covert narcissist, as they are frequently pulled into the narcissist’s fabricated dramas. Recognizing this sign is vital in identifying and dealing with a covert narcissist effectively.

Introverted Tendencies

Covert narcissists, unlike their overt or grandiose counterparts who openly display self-centeredness and seek attention, are more introverted and subtly operational. They tend to exert influence behind the scenes, discreetly manipulating circumstances to favor their interests. This doesn’t imply they lack the characteristic self-absorption or inflated ego of a typical narcissist; rather, they exhibit it in less conspicuous ways.

Their introverted demeanor can create an illusion of harmlessness or even vulnerability, which further empowers them to exploit others undetected. They often employ tactics of indirect control and understated manipulation, making their actions more challenging to spot and address. Recognizing this fundamental trait is vital for successful identification and handling of a covert narcissist.

Struggles to Bond

Covert narcissists often have difficulty forming authentic emotional bonds with others, including their own children. This stems from their self-centered nature and inability to empathize genuinely with others’ feelings. Their relationships tend to be superficial, serving primarily as a means to fulfill their own needs and desires.

Even in parent-child relationships, covert narcissist may see their child more as an extension of themselves or a tool to manipulate for personal gain rather than a separate individual with their own thoughts, feelings, and needs. This lack of genuine connection can lead to emotional neglect, manipulation, and confusion for the child. Understanding this characteristic can help identify and address the potential harm caused by a covert narcissist in a family setting.

Deep Envy

Covert narcissists often harbor a profound sense of envy towards those who have worked hard to acquire skills and talents. Their envy stems from a deep-seated insecurity and a need to always appear superior. They struggle to appreciate others’ achievements genuinely, viewing them instead as a threat to their own self-perceived greatness.

Rather than acknowledging the effort and dedication involved in developing such skills or talents, they may belittle these accomplishments or attribute them to luck, thus undermining the individual’s hard work. This behavior is a defense mechanism to protect their fragile ego and maintain their inflated self-image. Recognizing this pattern can be crucial in dealing with covert narcissists and mitigating their potential to cause emotional harm.

Silent Manipulation

Covert narcissists are adept at subtly manipulating situations and people to their advantage without appearing overtly controlling. This manipulation is often so subtle that it goes unnoticed, serving the narcissist’s agenda without raising suspicion. They might use tactics like gaslighting, playing the victim, or passive-aggressive behavior to influence others and maintain control. They are experts at making themselves appear innocent and misunderstood while covertly orchestrating events to suit their needs.

Their ability to manipulate without being openly domineering makes them particularly difficult to confront or hold accountable for their actions. This stealthy form of manipulation allows them to maintain a positive public image while acting in self-serving ways behind the scenes. Understanding this can help in identifying their tactics and protecting oneself from their manipulation.

Low Self-Esteem

Covert narcissists, despite their outward display of confidence and superiority, often suffer from low self-esteem. This paradoxical behavior is rooted in their deep-seated insecurities. Their grandiose behavior and constant need for validation and admiration are merely facades to mask their inner feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. They tend to overcompensate for this low self-esteem by projecting an image of self-importance and perfection.

However, this protective shield is fragile, and any criticism or perceived slight can lead to defensive reactions or narcissistic rage. Behind the confident exterior, they are constantly battling self-doubt and fear of being exposed as a fraud. Understanding this dynamic can provide insight into their complex behavioral patterns and help in navigating relationships with covert narcissists.


Covert narcissists are known for avoiding direct confrontation, instead choosing to hide behind their manipulative behaviors. Rather than openly asserting themselves or their needs, they employ subtle tactics like passive-aggression, guilt-tripping, or playing the victim to get what they want. They often use these methods to control situations and people without appearing aggressive or domineering. This avoidance of confrontation is due to their fear of criticism or rejection, which can trigger their deep-seated insecurities.

Instead, they create a facade of innocence or misunderstanding while manipulating situations from behind the scenes. Their indirect approach makes it difficult to hold them accountable for their actions, further enabling their manipulative behavior. Recognizing these tactics can be crucial in dealing with covert narcissists.

Grandiose Fantasies

Covert narcissists often indulge in fantasies of unlimited success, power, and brilliance, but they usually lack the confidence or initiative to actively pursue these dreams. This is a protective mechanism to uphold their inflated self-image without facing potential failure or rejection. They prefer to live in their fantasy world where they are always the superior, successful figure without any flaws or mistakes.

However, their fear of criticism and low self-esteem prevent them from taking the necessary steps to actualize these fantasies into reality. Instead, they may project these ambitions onto others or belittle others’ successes to maintain their sense of superiority. Understanding this dichotomy between their grandiose fantasies and lack of action can provide insight into the complex mindset of covert narcissists.


Covert narcissists typically resort to passive-aggressive behaviors when they feel threatened or overlooked. This can manifest in various ways such as giving the silent treatment, subtle insults, or deliberate procrastination. These tactics allow them to express their discontent or anger indirectly, without openly acknowledging their negative emotions. Their passive-aggressive behavior is a defense mechanism against perceived threats to their self-esteem or self-worth.

By not directly confronting the issue, they avoid potential criticism or confrontation, protecting their fragile ego. However, this indirect approach often leads to misunderstanding and confusion for those around them. Recognizing these passive-aggressive behaviors can be crucial in understanding and dealing with covert narcissists, as they often mask deeper feelings of insecurity and resentment.

Lack of Empathy

Despite their adeptness at portraying themselves as victims, covert narcissists often exhibit a profound lack of true empathy. This implies that they find it challenging to comprehend or sympathize with the emotions of others. While they might convincingly display a sense of injury or injustice to manipulate others or garner sympathy, they usually fail to reciprocate the same understanding toward others’ feelings or experiences.

Their primary focus is self-oriented, with little consideration for the emotional well-being of those in their vicinity. This lack of empathy can lead to dismissive or invalidating responses towards others’ sentiments. Recognizing this contrast between their self-victimization and their absence of empathy can shed valuable light on the intricate character of covert narcissists, assisting in recognizing and managing interactions with them.

Dealing With Covert Narcissism

Dealing with covert narcissism can be challenging due to their intricate and often manipulative behavior. Here are some ways to cope:

  1. Set Boundaries: Establishing clear boundaries is a pivotal step when interacting with a covert narcissist. This process involves determining what behaviors you will tolerate and which ones you won’t. Once these boundaries are set, it’s crucial to adhere to them steadfastly. By doing so, you assert your self-respect and deter the narcissist from overstepping or manipulating your personal space and emotional wellbeing.
  2. Practice Self-Care: Engaging in activities that promote well-being and reduce stress can be a valuable strategy when dealing with a covert narcissist. These activities, such as exercise, meditation, or pursuing a hobby, can help mitigate the emotional strain and anxiety that often accompany interactions with a covert narcissist. By focusing on self-care and personal growth, you can strengthen your resilience and maintain a positive outlook, which counterbalances the negativity brought on by the narcissist’s behavior.
  3. Seek Support: Connecting with others who have experienced similar situations can be a powerful tool when dealing with covert narcissism. Support groups and therapists specializing in narcissistic abuse not only offer a safe space to share experiences but also provide practical coping strategies. These resources can help validate your feelings, enhance your understanding of the situation, and equip you with techniques to handle interactions with a covert narcissist effectively.
  4. Avoid Blame: Covert narcissists often resort to projecting their own issues onto others as a form of deflection. This means they attribute their own negative traits or behaviors to you instead. Recognizing this tactic is crucial, as it allows you to understand that these accusations are not a reflection of your character, but rather indicative of the narcissist’s own struggles and insecurities.
  5. Educate Yourself: Understanding the nature of covert narcissism is key to protecting yourself and responding effectively in interactions with a covert narcissist. This involves recognizing their tactics like passive-aggressiveness, victim-playing, and lack of empathy. By being informed about these behaviors, you can better anticipate their actions, establish firm boundaries, and avoid being manipulated or emotionally drained.

Remember, it’s okay to prioritize your mental health and disengage from harmful situations when necessary.

Final Thoughts on Covert Narcissism

Covert narcissism, while silent, carries a destructive force that can significantly impact those in its vicinity. Recognizing the signs is our first line of defense, enabling us to shield ourselves effectively and seek appropriate assistance. Through understanding and vigilance, we can navigate interactions with such individuals, ensuring our wellbeing remains uncompromised.

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