Understanding Covert Narcissism

Covert Narcissism

What is covert narcissism? The short answer is that it’s narcissism kept under cover. You hear a lot about this kind of narcissism lately. It applies to a certain kind of personality. You know, folks who know how to look good without actually being good. Folks who will take advantage of you, use you, exploit you. Most of the time, such folks set out to manipulate and control you, too.

I first described this phenomenon many years ago in In Sheep’s Clothing. Moreover, I emphasized that most of these folks are more than mere narcissists. They’re also aggressors, out for their own gain at your expense. They’ll hurt you to be sure. However, they’re really good at keeping their aggressive intentions and true nature hidden. So, you find out who they really are after they get a hold on you. Moreover, you realize how they’ve been victimizing after the damage is already done.

Revisiting the Narcissism Spectrum

Several books and articles have been published on covert narcissism in recent years. And they would lead you to believe covert narcissists are a specific kind of disordered personality. There is some truth to this notion. However, in the bigger picture, such a conceptualization is misleading. Personality and character disturbances of all types and degrees are more prevalent in our times. (A culture of indulgence and entitlement has helped foster that.) Character disturbance is truly a spectrum phenomenon. More importantly, every disturbed character can possess any number of problematic traits. Therefore, applying labels has become less and less meaningful or helpful.

For more on the character disturbance spectrum see:

Narcissism itself is a spectrum phenomenon. It’s an anomaly of both type and degree. For example, research now confirms there are two main types of narcissism. (For more on this see: Two Main Varieties of Narcissists.) These days, experts categorize the “vulnerable” (or “compensatory”) and the grandiose (or “unprincipled”) types. In my books, I refer to these types as neurotic vs. character disturbed. (My books were written before research confirmed my early findings.). Additionally, the severity of narcissism varies. How impaired shame and empathy capacity is makes all the difference. The most malignant narcissists have no shame, no empathy, and no conscience. And any of these types can be adept at concealing their true character.

Heeding the “Charm Alarm”

These days, you have to be particularly wary of charmers. Some folks can be naturally charming. Moreover, some charmers are fairly benign in character. But in our days of rampant character dysfunction, it behooves you to beware of charmers. Many harbor hidden agendas. They put on their best faces to sway you (especially at the outset of a relationship). But once you are firmly under their influence, their true character begins to show. That’s why it’s in your best interest to regard charm as a potential warning signal.

Revisiting the First and Second “Commandments”

Over the past weeks, we’ve been revisiting the first two “commandments” of character. The first exhorts us to overcome our inherent egocentricity. The second reminds us that we are inherently beholding to a higher power. The commandments go together. And one builds upon the other.

See also:

Many aspects of life invite us to heed these two foundational commands. But narcissists fail to answer the call. The reasons vary, depending on the type of narcissist. But whatever the reason(s) narcissists fail to learn the lessons the commands can inherently teach.

Covert narcissists know how to say all the right things and do all the right things. And when it serves their purpose they’ll do either or both. But they lack sincerity. (This is the heart of the tenth “commandment.”) As noted before, they want to look good without being good. Looking good is relatively easy. Being of good character is not so easy. And there’s nothing disturbed characters hate more than the work associated becoming a better person. (See also:  When W-O-R-K is a Four-Letter Word.) So, while they might appear to be embracing them, in their hearts they reject these two foundational commands.

Next week we’ll begin discussing the “third commandment” of sound character.


Expect an announcement in a few weeks about the the new Character Matters program and format.

My Seattle area workshop is only weeks away. Check the Seminars page and the PESI website for details.

Wishes for a value and purpose-driven New Year

I hope the new year brings you any needed new beginning. And I pray time-tested values and noble purpose drive your endeavors. There is no life like a values and purpose-driven life. I have to believe covert narcissism is on the way out. In fact, I have to believe character disturbance itself is on the way out. We simply can’t afford it anymore. Times simply must change. Let’s hope the new year ushers in the beginning we so desperately need.

11 thoughts on “Understanding Covert Narcissism

  1. The antidote to covert Aggression, Be good as you can be.

    Last comment ever, Be happy


    “People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centred. Forgive them anyway.

    If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

    If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

    If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

    What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

    If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

    The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

    Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

    In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

    ~Mother Teresa”

    1. Joey,

      If I may ask, would you leave me with one more of your poems, just for me. Please know, the door is never closed and a special place resides in my heart just for you. Please know, my life is that much richer because of You. If you ever need me, just let doc know.

      God Bless you and keep you safe, always.
      Hugs with tears wanting nothing but happiness for you….

    2. Hi and Happy New Year Joey, BTOV, Lucy. Joey I think what you posted is a life-long goal. It is hard to get to that place but it is the best way to live. I am working and will continue working on getting there. It is between us and God. Many blessings to all in the New Year and always.

  2. The covert narc scares me and I hope through reading these articles that I act upon the “charm alarm”. (I like that term) Having joined some social groups, I’m meeting new people now and do need to be cognizant of character traits. My nature has (or had) a very trusting side, which is quite naïve, even though I’ve been horribly burned, and I still have to work on “trust those worthy of my trust”. They have to prove it first.

    I like the last paragraph of this article:
    “I hope the new year brings you any needed new beginning. And I pray time-tested values and noble purpose drive your endeavors. There is no life like a values and purpose-driven life.”

    I still don’t know my purpose. I’m so self-focused right now, trying to heal and restore myself from the past abuses of the X. The healing surely doesn’t happen overnight. I’m not burying the past, but learning from it and moving on. Still though, I’ve got to find a purpose that’s not focused on self.

    1. Lucy,

      I think in your self focusing, you not only gave yourself a new home but a home to your daughter and grandson. In the last several years of your self focusing you have selflessly shared your experiences on this blog. You’re always giving heart felt encouragement and advice to others through role modeling of your tenacity to persevere, always showing self preservation to survive the CDN and in all this at the same time giving hope and inspiration to those who need support and understanding.

      Your purpose has always been and will remain serving unless you become one of the CDN. To serve is a wonderful calling full of blessings. Dr. Simon leads in serving others and is the highest calling one can be called too.
      You, are indeed one humble person.

      Hugs and a wonderful and prosperous New Year

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