Some narcissists are relatively easy to spot. But others, like covert narcissists, are not. What makes the difference? Some narcissists are also extroverted and unabashed. And such folks seek praise and admiration quite openly. Folks like this not only like to connect, but also know how to connect. They can even make you feel it’s about you. But it’s really all about them. And they can make fairly grand entrances – exhibit a histrionic flair. They make obvious bids for attention. And they can be really entertaining at times. But they can also wear you out. Still, at least you know what they’re after. But not all narcissists are this way.
All narcissists have much in common. They’re all self-centered. And they harbor a sense of superiority and entitlement. They want your admiration and praise. But some some narcissists are not so obvious about all this. And depending upon whether their narcissism is of the more vulnerable vs. grandiose type, how they come across can really differ, too. (See also: Two Main Varieties of Narcissists.)
At the outset of a relationship, covert narcissists can seem quite harmless. And they can be quite charming, too. Their narcissistic behaviors present in subtle, hard to detect ways. That’s why it’s so important to know the signs of covert narcissism.
Signs of Covert Narcissism
As mentioned earlier, covert narcissists display all the traits and behaviors common to any type of narcissist. But the manner in which they display them is more subtle. What follows is a short list of core narcissistic traits and behaviors along with examples of how covert narcissists are likely to display them:
- Sense of superiority – This is sometimes expressed by a quiet confidence. It can even come across as mild smugness. The covert narcissist doesn’t brashly tell you they know better. But they subtly imply they do. They pontificate, just like all narcissists. But they do so softly. And they don’t openly degrade you. But they can act in mildly condescending ways, dismissing most of what you have to offer. And their judgmental nature has an edge to it. They don’t openly demean you. But they almost always invite you to feel like you’re not as good as them.
Covert narcissists can even express their exceptionality in subtly negative ways. They might complain that nobody understands them. They might lament that others misread their actions and intentions. At the same time, however, they’re necessarily implying that they’re not like everyone else. They’re also implying they don’t have to play by the same rules others more readily accept.
- Self-focus – Covert narcissists are naturally self-absorbed. But this can be really hard to see. They may appear simply aloof or detached. They may even come across as somewhat shy. But as narcissists, they’re just not interested – in you or what you or what you might have to say or offer. You simply don’t merit their attention or emotional investment.
- Entitlement – Overt narcissists do things that hurt you without compunction. That’s because they lack empathy, and in their superiority feel entitled to. And when you complain they’ll make you feel like you’re crazy for feeling wronged. This has been commonly called gaslighting. (See: Gaslighting Victims Question Their Sanity.) Covert narcissists are much more subtle about this kind of thing. You may tell them you’ve had a hard day. But they may gently remind you that you promised to fix dinner. Or they may say or do something that really bruises your feelings. And when you call them on it they may imply they didn’t mean any harm and that you’re being overly sensitive.
Relationships with covert narcissists are inherently problematic. And they’re problematic for many of the same reasons manipulators are. Just like covertly aggressive personalities, covert narcissists don’t reveal themselves at the outset of a relationship. Instead, they gradually become known to you as you witness more and more of their behavior. As I say in In Sheep’s Clothing, dealing with covert folks is like getting whiplash. You know what’s really happened after the damage is already done. Heightening your awareness is the key to avoiding victimization. You have to learn to recognize the subtle signs of callousness, felt superiority and entitlement. Doing so can help you avoid learning the hard way who your relationship partner really is.