Examples of Covert Narcissism
Examples of Covert Narcissism

Narcissism is a term that often conjures images of self-absorbed individuals who can’t get enough of themselves. While grandiose narcissism, characterized by overt self-importance and arrogance, is more widely recognized, covert narcissism is equally insidious and deserves our attention.

In this article, we will explore 25 eye-opening examples of covert narcissism. These subtle yet destructive behaviors can be challenging to identify but can have a profound impact on relationships and well-being.


Let’s dive in.

25 Examples of Covert Narcissism

Before we go into the examples of covert narcissism, be sure you know the differences between overt and covert narcissism. That’ll help you better appreciate these examples.

#1. Victim Mentality

Victim mentality is a common tactic used by covert narcissists. They present themselves as perpetual victims, constantly beset by unfair circumstances and the actions of others. While this may elicit sympathy initially, it’s a manipulative strategy aimed at gaining control and deflecting blame.

Covert narcissists are skilled at portraying themselves as innocent, which can make it challenging for others to confront them. They subtly shift the responsibility for their problems onto someone else, leaving their friends, family, or partners feeling emotionally drained. These individuals often find themselves providing unwavering support and validation to the covert narcissist, who thrives on the attention and sympathy they receive.

#2. Silent Treatment

One way they assert control is through the silent treatment. Instead of openly addressing issues or conflicts, covert narcissists withdraw emotionally and cut off communication. This leaves their partners or friends bewildered and desperate for their attention, often questioning their own actions or words as the cause of the silence.

The silent treatment is a powerful tool for covert narcissists as it puts those close to them on an emotional rollercoaster. They may cycle between periods of affection and silence, creating confusion and anxiety. This behavior leaves the other person walking on eggshells, constantly trying to guess what triggered the silence and how to make amends.

#3. Passive-Aggressiveness

Passive-aggressiveness is another hallmark of covert narcissism. Rather than openly expressing anger or frustration, they choose indirect methods such as sarcasm, sulking, or subtle jabs to convey their displeasure.

This passive-aggressive behavior creates a tense and uncomfortable atmosphere, as those around them are left to decipher the hidden meaning behind their actions. Covert narcissists often mask their hostility behind a veneer of politeness, making it challenging for others to address the issue directly. Over time, this behavior can erode trust and breed resentment within relationships.

#4. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic covert narcissists frequently employ. They twist and distort reality to make you doubt your own perceptions and sanity. This insidious behavior can leave you feeling like you’re losing your grip on reality.

Covert narcissists are skilled at making you question your own judgment, memory, and emotions. They may deny previous statements, shift blame, or dismiss your concerns as irrational. Over time, this can lead to self-doubt and a sense of confusion, making you more susceptible to their influence.

#5. Playing the Martyr

Covert narcissists often position themselves as martyrs, seemingly sacrificing for others while secretly expecting praise and admiration for their supposed selflessness. This creates a dynamic where their needs consistently take precedence, hidden behind a façade of self-sacrifice.

They may go to great lengths to help others, but their actions are rarely selfless. Instead, they expect to be lauded and appreciated for their sacrifices, which can leave those close to them feeling emotionally manipulated. The covert narcissist’s martyrdom is a means of maintaining control and securing the validation and admiration they crave.

#6. Projection

Covert narcissists engage in projection as a means of deflecting criticism and preserving their self-image. They project their negative traits and behaviors onto others, essentially accusing them of the very actions they themselves engage in. This can be profoundly confusing and frustrating for those close to them, as they constantly find themselves on the defensive.

For example, if a covert narcissist is consistently late but accuses others of being inconsiderate of their time, they are projecting their own behavior onto others. This manipulation tactic shifts the focus away from their actions and places it on someone else.

#7. Triangulation

To create drama and jealousy, covert narcissists employ triangulation in their relationships. They involve third parties, such as friends or family members, in their interpersonal conflicts, making it difficult for those close to them to maintain healthy connections.

Triangulation serves a dual purpose for covert narcissists. It allows them to maintain control over the narrative and manipulate others’ perceptions of the situation. Simultaneously, it provides a source of attention and validation, as those involved often feel compelled to take sides or offer support.

#8. Excessive Flattery

Covert narcissists are masters of excessive flattery, but their compliments often come across as insincere. They use praise as a means of manipulation, seeking to gain favor or control over others.

For instance, they might shower someone with compliments to win their trust or support, only to withdraw that praise when they need to assert dominance or control. This behavior can leave individuals feeling used and unsure of the covert narcissist’s true intentions.

#9. False Modesty

While appearing humble and modest, covert narcissists harbor a deep sense of entitlement and superiority beneath the surface. Their false modesty is merely a façade aimed at garnering praise and admiration.

These individuals may downplay their achievements or talents, often insisting that they are nothing special. However, their true motive is to elicit compliments and reassurance from others, reinforcing their self-image as deserving of admiration.

#10. Hypersensitivity

Covert narcissists are hypersensitive to criticism. Any form of negative feedback or constructive criticism is met with defensiveness or withdrawal. They expect constant validation and struggle to accept any kind of negative commentary on their actions or behavior.

For example, if someone offers constructive feedback about their work, a covert narcissist might become defensive, question the critic’s intentions, or sulk in response. This hypersensitivity can make open and honest communication challenging, as those close to them may feel hesitant to provide feedback for fear of triggering a negative reaction.

#11. Smear Campaigns

When covert narcissists feel threatened or exposed, they may resort to smear campaigns against those who challenge them. They tarnish the reputations of their perceived enemies, often using half-truths and manipulative tactics to destroy their credibility.

These campaigns can be devastating, as the covert narcissist can be convincing in their portrayal of the victim, causing confusion among friends and acquaintances who are unsure whom to believe. The goal is to protect their own image at the expense of others’ reputations.

#12. Shifting Blame

Taking responsibility for their actions is difficult for covert narcissists. Instead, they employ blame-shifting tactics, making excuses and deflecting accountability. This behavior can be infuriating for those close to them, as it can leave them unfairly burdened with the consequences of the narcissist’s actions.

For instance, if they fail to meet a commitment, they may blame external factors or other people, avoiding personal responsibility. This can create a pattern of mistrust and frustration in the relationship.

#13. Image Management

Covert narcissists obsessively manage their public image, carefully curating what others see. They create a persona that aligns with the image they want to project, often concealing their true selves.

Behind closed doors, they may exhibit entirely different behaviors and attitudes, leading to feelings of confusion and betrayal in those close to them. Maintaining this facade is essential for the covert narcissist, as it allows them to control how others perceive them.

#14. Emotional Manipulation

Emotional manipulation is a key tool in the covert narcissist’s arsenal. They are adept at manipulating others’ emotions to serve their needs, often making them feel guilty, sorry, or indebted without their even realizing it.

For instance, they might play the victim card, making their loved ones feel responsible for their happiness. This emotional rollercoaster can be emotionally draining and disorienting, as those close to the narcissist may struggle to understand the source of their negative emotions.

#15. Boundary Violations

Covert narcissists have a habit of overstepping boundaries, whether it’s invading personal space or prying into private matters. They believe they are entitled to know everything about you, making you feel exposed and vulnerable.

These boundary violations can be unsettling and uncomfortable, as they erode your sense of personal space and autonomy. Those close to the covert narcissist may find themselves constantly defending their need for privacy and personal boundaries.

#16. Hoarding Attention

Covert narcissists hoard attention in subtle but insidious ways. They constantly steer conversations and situations to revolve around them, even in group settings. This behavior leaves others feeling overshadowed and unheard.

For instance, they might hijack a casual conversation, turning it into a discussion about their accomplishments or problems, leaving little room for others to share their experiences or thoughts.

#17. Lack of Empathy

Lack of empathy is a defining characteristic of covert narcissism. They struggle to understand or relate to others’ emotions, making them appear distant or uncaring.

When someone close to them is going through a difficult time, covert narcissists may struggle to provide genuine emotional support. Their inability to connect on an emotional level can leave their loved ones feeling isolated and unvalidated.

#18. Conditional Love

Their love and support often come with conditions. They expect unwavering loyalty and admiration in return for their affection, making you feel like you’re constantly walking on eggshells.

For example, they might withdraw affection if you don’t meet their expectations or if they perceive that you’ve undermined their ego. This conditional love can create a sense of insecurity and anxiety in the relationship.

#19. Passive Victimhood

Covert narcissists frequently cast themselves as passive victims of life’s circumstances, evading responsibility for their choices and actions. They often manipulate others into taking care of their needs, playing on their sympathy.

This passive victimhood allows them to maintain their self-image as innocent and virtuous while others do their bidding. Those close to them may feel emotionally exhausted, as they are constantly expected to provide support and validation.

#20. Scapegoating

When things go wrong, they often resort to scapegoating, blaming others for the failures that they themselves contributed to. This behavior deflects attention from their own shortcomings and serves as a means of preserving their self-esteem.

For instance, in a workplace setting, a covert narcissist might blame a colleague for a project’s failure, even if their own actions or decisions played a significant role in the outcome. This can lead to strained professional relationships and a toxic work environment.

#21. Superiority Complex

Beneath their modest exterior lies a deep-seated superiority complex. Covert narcissists believe they are more intelligent, talented, or morally upright than others. They subtly assert their dominance, often undermining the confidence of those around them.

For example, they may constantly correct others or act as if they are the ultimate authority on various topics. This behavior can erode the self-esteem of those close to them over time.

#22. Undermining Success

They may subtly undermine your successes to maintain their sense of superiority. Covert narcissists can downplay your achievements or diminish your accomplishments, making you doubt your abilities.

This subtle form of sabotage can be emotionally damaging, as it chips away at your self-confidence and makes you question your worth. Over time, you may find yourself hesitating to pursue your goals due to fear of their disapproval.

#23. Chronic Criticism

Covert narcissists are prone to chronic criticism, focusing on your flaws and shortcomings to boost their own ego. They may offer negative feedback about your appearance, decisions, or actions, all under the guise of “helpful advice.”

This constant negativity can wear down your self-esteem and leave you feeling perpetually inadequate. The covert narcissist’s criticism is often veiled as concern, making it difficult to dismiss or confront.

#24. Emotional Withholding

They can be emotionally distant and may engage in emotional withholding as a means of control. They may withhold affection, support, or validation, leaving you feeling unloved and neglected.

For instance, they might withdraw affection or affectionately engage with others while neglecting your emotional needs. This emotional distance can lead to feelings of isolation and frustration.

#25. Entitlement

Ultimately, covert narcissists feel entitled to special treatment and attention, regardless of the impact on others. They believe their needs and desires should always take precedence, often neglecting the needs and feelings of those close to them.

This sense of entitlement can manifest in various ways, from expecting others to cater to their demands to using guilt and manipulation to get what they want. Dealing with their entitlement can be emotionally exhausting and leave you feeling taken for granted.

Closing Thoughts

Recognizing these examples of covert narcissism is the first step toward protecting yourself from their manipulation and maintaining healthy relationships. It’s important to approach individuals with compassion, as their behaviors may stem from deep-seated insecurities. However, it’s equally crucial to set boundaries and prioritize your own well-being.

In conclusion, covert narcissism is a complex and often subtle personality trait that can wreak havoc on personal and professional relationships. By staying vigilant and armed with knowledge, we can navigate these challenging situations with empathy while safeguarding our own mental and emotional health. Remember, understanding these behaviors is the first step towards breaking free from their covert grip.