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The Hidden Truth About Covert Narcissism: Understanding The Silent Abuser

June 15, 2023 admin

What Is Covert Narcissism?

Fasten your seatbelt because a covert narcissist is a whole different story than the narcissists you may already be familiar with. On the spectrum of NPD there are several forms of the mental health condition each have dire consequences for the unsuspecting soul who becomes entangled in the web.

You see, a covert narcissist, in contrast to an overt narcissist, is often able to conceal their actual character until you are thoroughly trapped. They make every effort to break through your defences and win your trust. Meaning it’s typically too late by the time you notice the obvious warning signs.

What’s worse is that because covert narcissists tend to conceal their symptoms, we’ll never fully comprehend their prevalence. 

Unfortunately, most covert narcissists also struggle with other mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety, and low self esteem. Because these are well hidden, identifying covert narcissism can be extremely challenging.

However, in this blog we’ll cover:

  • Why you need to identify them
  • The 10 traits they inhabit 
  • Their 7 main warning signs of a covert narcissist
  • And 5 ways to deal with them
  • The differences between a male and female narcissist

But, to understand how to deal with a covert narcissist, first it is crucial to identify them…


4 compelling reasons you should take time to understand covert narcissism

They might be hard to spot, but if left unchecked, they can wreck relationships and cause untold amounts of emotional distress. Here are the four most compelling reasons you need to be aware of the less talked about covert narcissist:

  1. Self-preservation: You may be subjected to emotional and mental abuse at the hands of a covert narcissist without even realising it. Alternatively, once identified, you can better protect yourself and make informed decisions about the relationship.
  2. To avoid being manipulated: Covert narcissists are well-known for their ability to deceive people without drawing attention to themselves. By learning how to predict and adapt to their actions, you can protect your energy and keep yourself safe from harm.
  3. Assisting others: Sometimes we are unable to help others because we ill-equipped to recognise concealed narcissistic behaviours in our partners. However, once you know the traits, behaviours and certain patterns that are commonly displayed by covert narcissists, you may just be able to help out a friend or family member struggling to cope. Most of whom can feel isolated and confused and sometimes in devastating emotional distress. 
  4. Improving relationships: Whilst it may be challenging, understanding the true traits of a covert narcissist can help you recognise your own subtle narcissistic tendencies. Yes, all humans have a level of narcissism even you! But with a deeper insight, it can awaken you to the importance of empathy, self-reflection and the value of boundaries. All of which means, the more knowledge you have in this area of human behaviour, the more you can work towards building relationships that are both healthier and more rewarding.

As I’m sure you can imagine, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Therefore to understand them fully, next we have to break down their tactics.


9 tell tale signs you are in a relationship with a covert narcissist? 

Being in a relationship with a covert narcissist can sometimes take years to uncover. Despite cleverly concealing their character, covert narcissists do in fact have a series of known traits, actions and characteristics. Look for clusters of the following behaviours… 


  • They shower you with unexpected gifts

For the majority of people, this is a giant green sign; nevertheless, for a covert narcissist, it is a Trojan horse. When you’re being swept away by a tornado of presents and grand love gestures, they’re progressively praising their influence over you. The more they offer, the more they want, and the more excuses they have to behave badly.


  • Negging comments and backhanded compliments

Covert narcissists are experts at cryptic insults because they are adept liars and live in continual fear of being exposed. In fact, those in relationships with covert narcissists spend days trying to analyse their partner’s double meanings and disguised insults, despite the fact that no one should ever feel they have to do so.


  • Playing innocent

Even when they have intentionally hurt you they feign ignorance and defend themselves by arguing their innocence. Forgetting an important event or deliberately sabotaging a special occasion being late they behave as if they have amnesia and are just learning about it.


  • Lying constantly

It is a natural reflex for a covert narcissist to lie, in fact the lies roll off the tongue as if it is the sworn truth even though they’re often aware you know they are lying they won’t back down. It’s already challenging enough to spot a liar; now picture working with a seasoned expert who’s so good at lying they’ll have you may start to doubt your own judgement.


  • Baiting you get control

This characteristic is one of the most prevalent and as a result, it’s also one of the most annoying to experience. They may spend the entire day trying to provoke you, and then act as if you are the one with the problem when you finally snap. Or worse still they fake empathy and pretend to support you even though they are the ones who caused the grief in the first place.


  • Using The Silent treatment, Stonewalling and Ghosting

I’m sure you are not a stranger to giving someone the silent treatment but someone with NPD such as a covert narcissist uses this as a way to emotionally manipulate you. Maybe you challenged something they did or said instead of talking about it they will cut you off completely with long periods of the silent treatment, ghosting you, and shutting you out all as a way to punish you for some perceived wrong doing.


  • Gaslighting

One of the ultimate forms of psychological abuse and a favourite tactic used by narcissists who attempt to sabotage your sense of reality. The motivation behind the gaslighting is to derail you making it easier for them to control you and deflect responsibility for their weaknesses or wrong doings. This is done by discrediting you and turning people against you, denying facts, accusing you of imagining things, trivialising your emotions.


  • Avoidance of real intimacy

In spite of all the compliments, sexual insinuations, and continual romantic gestures, they disappear when things get personal. The trouble is they try very hard to make you believe that they find you attractive while keeping enough of themselves hidden that you never really get to know them. Which erodes your self worth and confidence over time


  • Refusing to listen 

They act as if they care about you, but they don’t pay attention to what you’re saying. You may need to repeat yourself, ask for their full attention, or make sure they fully understand the first time.


However when they do listen, it’s usually to gather information that they will later use against you. For example, they could use something you said months ago to disprove you or make you question your own judgement.

Also, keep in mind that they might have some of the same characteristics as an overt narcissist, even if they are better at disguising them.

With that in mind,  you’re probably wondering, “How on earth can I tell the difference?”, right…

Well, it turns out that, despite all the similarities, covert narcissists exhibit slightly distinct indications. Hence, if you are questioning whether or not your partner is a hidden narcissist, it is important to be aware of the following red flags.


7 traits of a covert narcissist


  • Fake empathy

Part of the act to gain control is by earning your trust with fake empathy. Allowing you to share your problems only to have them used against you at a later time.


  • Envy or jealously

They consider themselves superior and have an over exaggerated ego believing they deserve power, success and wealth. They also others are envious of them.


  • They portray themselves as shy but friendly.

The covert narcissist or closet narcissist is often socially withdrawn and sometimes avoids social situations for fear of not being the centre of attention. Introverted, passive-aggressive behaviour they appear outwardly happy but have a dark side which can manifest in outbursts of rage if they are challenged. 

  • They overcompensate to lure you in

To entice you, they overcompensate with gifts, dates, holidays, flowers, and so on. Ultimately, love bombing is their second nature, and they will go to any length to trap you in their web of deception.

  • They fish for compliments

When they crave attention, they may put themselves down in order to reclaim your attention and receive some compliments. The majority of narcissists crave validation and don’t care how they get it.

  • They have an underlying fear of inadequacy

Most people fear failure, but covert narcissists fear it on a whole other level. They do everything they can to hide their fear, but feeling inadequate can cause them severe anxiety and lead to depressive episodes.

  • Criticism is their kryptonite

They are incapable of dealing with criticism, despite how well they hide it. Despite their mask, they harbour feelings of anger and humiliation deep within, which frequently leads to an outburst later on.


Clearly, a covert narcissist’s manipulative methods extend far beyond the typical toxic relationship, and dealing with one can be detrimental to one’s mental health. Consider the following advice if you are dealing with one or know someone who is…


5 ways to deal with a Covert Narcissist 

Though it may be challenging, you can take steps to safeguard your mental health when interacting with a covert narcissist. In order to cope, please consider the following tips:

  1. Establish Clear Boundaries: The first step in dealing with a covert narcissist is to establish firm boundaries. This means you must define what is and is not acceptable behaviour. Keep your communication with them clear and concise, and don’t let them overstep your boundaries.
  2. Stay Calm and Confident: Because covert narcissists thrive on emotional reactions, it is critical to maintain calm and confidence when dealing with them. Don’t let them get on your nerves, and avoid getting emotionally involved in their games.
  3. Stay out of their drama: Covert narcissists will try to involve you in their troubles and make you feel guilty or responsible for them. Don’t waste time worrying about them; instead, focus on what you want to accomplish in life.
  4. Don’t Feed Their Ego: Since covert narcissists crave attention and admiration, it’s critical to avoid feeding their ego. Don’t lavish them with compliments or validate their false sense of superiority.
  5. Seek Help: Dealing with a covert narcissist can be emotionally draining, so seek help from friends, family, or a therapist. They can offer you emotional support and assist you in maintaining your mental health.

Male Covert Narcissist versus female Covert Narcissist

Female Covert Narcissist

  • Overy vain
  • Envy comes in the form of beauty and social status
  • Sensitive and overreactive
  • Insecure and needy
  • Constantly needing attention and validation sometimes can manifest in things like being addicted to social media
  • Use their sex appeal, bodies and looks to lure people in
  • Never able to admit they are wrong


Male Covert Narcissist 

  • Use their charm to lure people in
  • More likely to be obsessed with power and or money
  • Higher sense of entitlement and grandiosity
  • More likely to betray or be serial adulterers
  • Unable to handle criticism
  • Use love bombing to manipulate
  • Envy comes in the form of power and control


To summarise…

To summarise, recognising covert narcissism is critical for maintaining healthy relationships and preventing emotional and mental harm. Covert narcissists are adept at concealing their true nature, and their behaviour can be perplexing and subtle. While they share some characteristics with overt narcissists, such as arrogance and self-absorption, they display these traits in unique ways that can be difficult to identify. But, people can learn to set boundaries and keep healthy relationships based on mutual respect and true connection if they understand the complexities of covert narcissism.



Louanne Ward  x


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