The Covert Narcissist

The Covert Narcissist

No one would believe that the man who sits in church with his family every Sunday, is a monster behind closed doors with the family that looks so perfect on the outside.

No one would believe that the ‘doting’ mother cheering on her child in the school gala, had been yelling and belittling her daughter minutes beforehand.

Who would believe that the friendly local grocer who chats happily with his customers has been giving his wife the silent treatment and not acknowledged her existence in weeks?

Who would believe that the lovely charming ‘lady’ at the top of her profession, trampled on anyone who stood in her way on her rise to the top?

The closet narcissist is a great pretender, hiding who they really are with expertise.  The covert narcissist puts on such a convincing display of being a loving, kind person in public but to those who know them personally, to those closest to them, they are selfish, manipulative, exploitive and anything but the loving and kind person that they purport to be.  They know that if they displayed their true colours in public, they would lose the recognition, respect and admiration that they so desperately crave.  Perhaps their ability to fool the outside world, makes this type of personality one of the most dangerous.  They worry about being found out.  They are deeply envious knowing that they can never be the person that others believe them to be.

The great pretender

The covert narcissist is a con artist who lacks the confidence of the overt narcissist.  They need constant attention moving from one relationship to another in order to avoid being alone.  Time spent alone often leads to depression when their needs are not being met.  Narcissistic supply is vital to their well-being.

Your value in the narcissist’s life will depend on your usefulness.  When you are no longer regarded as useful or you challenge them about who they really are, you will be cast aside without a second thought as if you never existed.  Your reputation will have been discredited so that you will never be believed.

Scott Barry Kaufman (Psychologist) explains…

“While the overt narcissists tended to be aggressive, self-aggrandizing, exploitative, and have extreme delusions of grandeur and a need for attention, covert narcissists were more prone to feelings of neglect or belittlement, hypersensitivity, anxiety, and delusions of persecution.”

The traits of the overt narcissist can be obvious often being displayed quite openly but in contrast, the traits of the covert narcissist can be very difficult to spot.  Below are some signs that you may be dealing with a covert narcissist…

  • Always plays the victim wanting your sympathy
  • Quiet Smugness/Superiority
  • Self absorbed
  • Extreme selfishness
  • Constant craving for acknowledgement
  • Passive aggressive
  • Judgemental and critical
  • Lacks empathy
  • Highly sensitive being unable to handle criticism
  • Difficulties with relationships
  • Gets bored easily
  • Switches off rather than listen intently to others

It can be difficult not to get sucked in to a narcissist’s web of deceit and feel sorry for them when they play the victim card.  The narcissist is looking for a reaction from you. Don’t feed the monster!  When they fail to get their desired reaction from you, they will take a step back and look for their supply elsewhere.  Be aware of the traits before it’s too late and don’t let yourself be controlled by someone whose ultimate goal is to control not only your mind but your life.

Written by Anne McCrea

39 thoughts on “The Covert Narcissist

  1. Oh, my!!! How I was fooled as I dated my covert narcissist. After dating 13 months, including 8 months of premarital counselling, we had a lovely wedding. He flipped a switch after we married and showed his true self. He displayed every one of the above characteristics. I left just before our 3rd anniversary!! Thank God for getting me out!!

    1. The devastating thing is that im sure the majority of sufferers like myself didnt know anything about the fact that what we were going through and suffering was actually an existing documented pattern of human behavior that had a name to it, until it was at the worst and were almost at breaking point when we finally took to google to research the treatment we were subjected to and find out what the hell was happening with the whole jeckyll and hyde thing especially.
      I just think that is the first step to awareness of what was going on in our relationships and that we werent crazy and that all these seemingly random events of chaos and psychological mindfuck games were related to something, and we needed that awareness from the start. We could have been comforted and not end up so scarred and damaged if we already aware of how these abusers operate and signs to look out for to realise straight away when you have met someone like this. We need to arm ourselves with knowledge of dangerous partners as much as we raise children with the instinctive built in knowledge of mainstream dangers in the world. Im not at all saying we use this offensively or aggressively, and start out looking for it in everyone. I mean defensively, like just being able to detect and recognise the signs and patterns incase it does happen to you

      1. Totally agree. No one else can understand the radical switch on the honeymoon unless you’ve experienced it. Makes you question your own sanity.

        1. Completely agree. I just left 5 weeks ago. So many memories of Jekyll and Hyde for 5 years( the first year was pretty blissful though even then I sensed something was wrong). It’s so hard to explain. Happy I got out but sad that stayed as long as I did. Did anyone else notice obvious emotional intimacy issues?

  2. Thank you for publishing this, there is so much misconception about narcissism and that it inherently means they are overt like Donald Trump, however that simply isn’t the case when from my own research on divorced couples and reports of narcissism, the majority of narcissists are covert. These types are much more dangerous as they are harder to spot, and are more underhanded and conniving than the overt types. There needs to be attention brought to this phenomenon so it can be brought to light and victims can have a chance at protecting themselves. It is a very real problem in society.

    1. I agree. I was married to one for 15 years. He married me to make his mother happy. She was a major source of supply. Two days after her funeral, he asked for a divorce. During our marriage, he was unfaithful many times. I didn’t find this out until after our divorce. I never thought he was a narcissist because my understanding of narcissism was someone like Donald Trump.

    2. Hey Anonymous, are you a passive agressive covert narco yourself? No need to foist your political sanctimony on the rest of us..this is not the forum for your polical opinion..

  3. Thank you for this writing. Have lived with this one and also seen them destroy lives. At the time I felt like i was going to loos it in such a tail spin of confusion and lies. Learned allot through those years.

    1. Its like you wrote those words and descriptions from my own head.
      I just recently survived the final destruction of my life with my partner and suffered and wasted 13 years of my life, and i am so used to years of having to just put every bad thing into a box and file it away because there was never any acceptance or acknowledgement of the thing theyd done wrong to you let alone remorse or closure. So u do that repeatedly to survive through it.
      But when it ends.. for me thats been the most ive experienced pain and confusion and anger and gut wrenching sorrow the first and only kind id ever afforded to myself in my life because i dont focus on myself at all but i found myself actually BROKENHEARTED for me as a genuine good kindhearted person who always did the right thing by everyone and lived to help others before myself and its not in a pretentious way at all, i just truly believe in treating people well and following a moral compass of right and wrong. And after 13 years of making myself just file it away to deal with later, the moment it was over, i had to actually process all the things that happened to me, some i dont think anyone could believe if i told them, and so many inhumane acts that i could write a book. And when you are faced with having to face and sort through suffering you endured… the flood of emotions and physical ache and burn in your chest as all u can do is literally WAIL your heart out. Its traumatizing. It gives you nightmares. The actual mastermindery of psychological mind games and manipulations, especially when they involve others you know into the manipulation.. its scary how chameleon-like they are and the power they have to convince others against you

      1. When you called the abuse that you suffered inhumane I relate completely. I was embroiled in a marriage to a monster for 23 yrs and I don’t know if I will ever fully recover. What’s worse is the damage done to my children. These parasites should be criminally charged for the horrific psychological damage that they cause .

        1. i totally understand kirstis situation. i was a very close friend, no benefits, with a man for 8 yrs. we then became a couple for one yr. all i can say is that i never saw thru his facade for the 8 yrs of friendship—he was a master at his craft—until we got into an intimate relationship. he not only fooled me but also mutual friends in our small, close knit community to the point that many of them thought i was a nut case/liar and drama queen. i decided to take a higher road and just continue to be my caring, loving and honest self that i had always been. i ended our relationship when i caught him in a serious lie–pixs and all–many took his side as he always acted honest and sincere around them—the what a guy syndrome–i continued on my higher road. he stalked me and i had to get the police/ courts involved–which made more people feel unfriendly towards me—he was such a great guy and he would never stalk her i was the nut job/scorned lover and no wonder he dumped me—well, again i stayed on the higher road–within a year of the stalking and court action he began to decompensate–he went after friends and others who did support me in a similar manner by devaluating them and shunning them and then at a public event he went after me and 8 friends with insults and lies. afterwards, he tried to tell people that he was retailiating because we talking about him and he had to make us stop–none of which was true–others saw it finally–the true person arose in him and now i have accepted many apologies–both said and unsaid–from many who finally got it. however, i still have the lingering psychological effects that kirsti described and am doing my best to overcome them

  4. I think I might be one… o.M.g!?

    After living with a narcissistic sociopath do you think it’s possible that I picked up traits? Can this be unlearned??

    1. I think you’ll be just fine because you recognize it. Narcissists don’t think there’s anything wrong with them so they’re pretty much screwed. What you’re describing happens to a lot of victims, but you can unlearn it. If you haven’t done so yet, find a pastor or therapist to talk to so you can start healing.

  5. My mom was definitely a covert narcissist while I was growing up and didn’t know any better. Once I was out on my own, her behavior became much more overt and openly cruel. But the damage had already been done and I ended up having a nervous breakdown in my mid-twenties.

    I definitely think they are traits that can be unlearned; especially if you know how much harm you can do to a person and choose not to put someone you love through that.

  6. This is how my mom was to me when I was growing up. She’s even like this with my dad. She now has total control over him since having his strokes. She has caused a lot of emotional problems in me, it has affected my life.

    1. Sounds like a carbon copy of my life. Only difference is that I also married one! And now, I am the sole caregiver for my mother.

  7. Thank you for publishing this clear description of a covert Narc. They must all be alike because my ex is every single one of these and he did exactly what is mentioned in this article to me: “When you are no longer regarded as useful or you challenge them about who they really are, you will be cast aside without a second thought as if you never existed. Your reputation will have been discredited so that you will never be believed.”

    1. That happened to me, too. Cast aside after 20 years of marriage because I finally told him we needed to get martial help or separate. Unfortunately, I fought for the marriage for another 4 years before filing for divorce, because I didn’t understand covert narcissism and set about to do what any Christian woman does….save her marriage. In the end, I had to be the one to kick him out (he had moved to another area of the house when I challenged him) and I had to be the one to file for divorce. Because now he can say “she kicked me out and divorced me”. A true covert narcissist.

  8. I’ve been married with one for two miserable years…and now I’m tired of fighting..he always outsmart me..and wear a very successful mask…people around him seems blind..his family members are same.they r like the 3 monkeys….I don’t know after 15 or more attempts to leave him..I always end up with him in a measurable hell life.

    1. Don’t wait, the more years together the more damage you have to repair internally. I waited 12 years, don’t make my mistake. RUN!

  9. I have just made the decision to leave. I am so scared, scarred and feel so damaged. I have spent ten years of my life in this horrible, destructive relationship, knowing I should leave but depending on him for everything and addicted to him. Despite everything I am grief stricken. I have cancer and I thought he might end the affair and devote himself to me because of a fear I could die (completely unrealistic thinking). He did not. The affair became more overt. His behavior escalated and so did the abuse as I questioned him. He is a charismatic man and everyone loves him. It is going to be harder as he and I work together. He will do all he can to spread poison about me and discredit me. I cannot afford to care. I am leaving. It will be some time because I will have chemo, radiation and if I don’t stay, I have no where to go. He made sure. I know I will get out. I pull my strength from all of you beautiful and strong women. I will fight the good fight too. Thank you.

    1. I was with mine for 11 years before I decided to leave. At the time I had no job, he took all of my money and I had a 4 & 5 year old. If I can do it so can you. Shortly after I left a lady gave me a Bible verse and it has helped through so many situations. Jeremiah 29:11. May it bring you peace and comfort knowing that someone wants the best for your wellbeing.

    2. Cancer thrives on sugar, apparently it feeds the cancer at the cellular DNA level. Stop taking sugar and research this, hopefully you will conquer this and your awful relationship as well. God Bless.

  10. This is my soon to be ex-husband. He was charming, kind and helpful before we were married. After we married, he let his true colors show. He got me into debt, cleaned out my savings account and even demanded that I pay him for mowing our grass. All because he ‘deserved’ it. I thought because he was already in church that he would be a good husband because he pretended to be so sincere. He was just so selfish and disrespectful, and refused to contribute to household expenses, such as groceries or electric bill or mortgage payment. Fortunately, I owned my home before the marriage and won’t be losing it in the divorce. If I should be on the phone with one of my friends or relatives, he’d start playing his guitar and singing as loudly as humanly possible in order to make me hang up the phone. My friends and family stopped calling me because they knew how he would treat me if they did. If we were at a church dinner, he would sit as far away from me as possible when all the other couples were seated together. He criticized me constantly. Not just to me, but to everyone who came near me, even a vacuum cleaner salesman!!! In his eyes, it was impossible for me to do anything right. He’s been gone since April 4, and it’s been like a ton of bricks have been lifted off me! We’ve been married less than a year. I was wife #6 and have found out that he had two domestic violence charges from previous wives. His last wife messaged me after we were married and said “you’d better have a job, because you’ll need it.” And also, “I bet he told you before you got married that he’s prayed his whole life for a woman like you!” I thought she was just jealous and trying to cause trouble. She could not have been any more accurate than if she’d written our story minute by minute!

    1. This sounds lile you were with my ex also. 13 yrs. Of living hell and each year was worse than one B4. Unfortunately i have now 13 yr old daughter by him so i will probably have to deal with some kind of his bullshit for years to come. I stayed because of his threats that he would take her or do this or that to me. He literally drug me to rockbottom. Lost my home of 17 yrs lost good jobs due to him in end he even took all i owned my kids keepsakes & all the memrories photos of them growing up & all of my moms things that i had inherited from her even my pit bull. Hes a meth addoct pathological liar deadbeat dad & too many other things to list. I never thought i was person to wish someone harm or hate way i do this man. He still continues to try & hurt me or anyone i love. I can only pray for the day he meets his maker.

  11. Why can’t I just leave him. Been together 17 years and it took me 13 years or so to realise it was a real personality disorder he has. Caught in a constant cycle..

  12. Being raised by both parents being narcissistic, it should come as no surprise that I married a covert narccisist. It is a pattern of abuse that is so subtle, that unless you know the danger signs, you will, as I did, repeat this pattern until you do a lot of introspection as to why you always end up in this kind of relationship. It took me just as long to realise that my parents will never change. When the phone rings and I see their number, my first thought is always..” I wonder what they want now”. Great article. All I can add is that being in a relationship with a covert narcissist is a “booby trap”, it’s only when you move your foot that you know you stood on a ticking time bomb, but you will not leave unscaved.

  13. I appears to me that most commentators are women in or were in relationships with narcissistic men. I have to tell you I have been struggling with a woman that I have known most of my life and with intimately for the past decade or so. Until I found this site and others I had no idea how real this problem is. Mind games. Hot and cold behaviors. They are distant and then pull you back in when they feel they have lost their grip because they still have a need for you to serve a selfish purpose. They break hearts. Damage relationships. Burn bridges but still have a network of old “followers” that they reach out to when your usefulness has expired. What is most disturbing is professional therapists and psychiatrists that misdiagnose. After this I can see why. Narcissists are champs and deception and manipulation and only speak to suit their narrative of victimization and cling to it as gospel. I am still in this relationship only by law but all other facets I am still attached. There are kids involved that are not mine biologically but I have raised most of their life. To me they are my children. To my partner I am a conditional father. All else is meaningless or only a factor when it suits my partner’s narrative. I feel I am stuck with no way to combat this with out losing everything I have worked for all my life. Being invisible but visible only when it serves someone else’s cause. I get sucked in every time because my love does not have conditions and I know in need to endure more pain to break free from this toxic environment

  14. I feel for you all. Narcissism is no joke, and not a happy place. I have been dealing with a narcissist son that decided to become a addict of heroin 18 months ago. I am the target of all his hate and anger. So HIS CHOICES is my fault. Oh and let me tell you, he is 35 years old married with with sons, ages 5 & 2. Want to talk about some very very confused children. My older grandson wants to come live with me.
    I pray for you all. what you have been thru and what you are going thru. I hope you find peace and happiness again. Like the old saying Don’t let 1 bad apple spoil the whole tree. Love to you all. Keep faith in whatever you have faith in.
    I really don’t think I will ever have my son back, he goes to therapy and lies and manipulates his therapist. Because there is nothing wrong with him or his using drugs. I pray I don’t ever have to bury him …..

    1. I hope and pray that your son can see the truth of his situation one day! My ex-husband was a master manipulator, he manipulated every therapist we ever went to. He knew just how to reveal enough human weakness to seem genuine and flawed, but lying about and covering up the real issues. I would just watch in horror and disbelief. I got away, but I still worry about him so much. What a lonely place to be.

  15. This is my mom to a ‘T’…she possesses all the traits of the Dark Triad and very high on the spectrum at that. She knocks all red flags of a narc/narcopath/dark triad out of the park. There’s not enough white-space on this website to describe the amount of abuse my wife and I have dealt with in the past 2 years. Like all true narcissist mothers, she love-bombed my wife then flipped on her when my son was born. I, on the other hand am one of those rare cases where I went from being my mom’s favorite to cast as the scapegoat. It took me a year to figure out what was the catalyst in the breakup of the family. It was in front of my face the entire time. I started to see who my mom truly was, and she knew it aka unmasking the narcissist. I called her out on her toxic behavior (a no-no for anyone in the Narc’s web) and we have been completely ostracized for it. My mom tossed me out of the family like a piece of roadside trash. Playing the victim while vilifying the true victims…It’s an art that she’s perfected her whole life. My favorite form of abuse from this troll is her gaslighting. Blatantly lying to my face about events I witnessed first hand, then triangulating the events as she deems necessary to anyone who will listen. Secondly the abuse by proxy (my flying monkey brother) who went from best friend to absolutely the biggest pile of shit I’ve every seen. He’s done nothing except trying and ruin my marriage as well as trying to pin my own friends against me. Truly the most dysfunctional family I’ve ever seen Oh, did I mention he lives 2 states away? It’s no doubt a family cult. You’re either with her and her smear campaigns against everyone or you’re discarded & ostracized for going against the grain. This lady would rather have conflict in her life than any form of a relationship with me and my family. My mom would make Lucifer blush… being the family scapegoat is less than desirable. I’m not sure how life long scapegoats don’t eventually ‘off’ themselves after a life full of abuse. Definitely the one positive thing I’ve learned from all this is how absolutely ignorant people are, and having a solid group of friends stay out of the drama. My matriarch mom-destroyer of the family could have fixed this by telling everyone how much of a fraud she is to everyone, but why be accountable?

  16. I commented in another place on this post forgive spelling errors the post loaded before correction.. Run from the narcissistic person or situation. However, after years of experience with the narcissistic sociopath, I have discovered how very vunerable they are when you walk with Christ. Refuse to offer them acclaim. Acclaim belongs to God. They crumble and redouble attacks to discredit and devalue you. Pray to God in Jesus name, affirm that you are the righteousness of Christ. Offer God that outpouring of Love that you were wasting on the contemptible narcissist. God’ s love then begins to help you see alternatives to acceptance of abuse in your life. He will triumphantly move you beyond the reach of the evil. God will restore your soul . Joy will lift you up. Self judgement will cease.
    One day at a time. Eventually, you can face the sociopath without fear or need to feed his desease. You are whole delivered covered with the blood of Christ. They will back off. Go get their mean fix somewhere else. You will be able to deal with the hurt and harm they created in your family or arenas. Offer Godly healing to others who are trapped by narcissistic sociopaths.
    Do not seek counselling to fix them. That only feeds their control mechanism.
    Run into the Arms of God. Run away until you are filled with the overcoming deliverance found in Jesus.
    We are the blood bought children of God. We are forgiven All. We are not to suffer the wrath of God. We are protected and delivered from evil. We are more then conquerors. God loves us. GOD LOVES US. God cares.
    Devil you are defeated. Period.

  17. I’d assumed my ex was more the quiet borderline type, lately however I’m leaning ever-more to covert narcissism. Not being overt and also given her gender, I think I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. She did have borderline traits also, but there does usually seem to be comorbidity with one predominating, and the behavioirs wouldn’t probably wouldn’t be unexplainable by narcissism. She wasn’t completely without empathy, of that I’m sure, but she had issues with it that manifested in a number of ways. Extremely pathologically passive-aggressive, a little during the honeymoon phase even. I’m not sure if it was that she wasn’t Machiavellian or simply that the passive-aggression was the closest to it she could manage. The rest of the list couldn’t be any more spot on either, particularly post-honeymoon.

    When I began bringing up some of our issues, trying to constructively work on them, always empathetically and without judgement, she became distant, discarding me very soon after, much to my surprise. She later admitted that she hated that she’d been so open with me and that anyone in the world should know of it. I don’t think she expected me to be able to piece together the fragments, and especially not to have understood so well the motives/defenses and such which underlied them. Until the very end when I was much more forthright in the more cohesive picture I’d developed, she was not happy at all. She didn’t lash out as such, and did say things that conveyed affection for me in spite of how expressing a sense of hate for having let me in. Despite not reactimg as a narcissist typically would, far from it, it’s clear that she bailed because I knew too much, and knowing her that way was intolerable. Further adding to that, she openly said that I understood her better than she did herselt, albeit prefacing that statement by letting me know she hated me for it. As I say, she did communicate that in a way that indicated clearly she knew it was a result of her own baggage. She didn’t say she hated me to convey that I had given genuine cause to, it was more her simply being open about it and helping me to verify my suspicions. Understand now the BPD/NPD confusion?

    I’ve not heard a single word from her since, which makes me think she had nothing left to lose by that point, and the only option was to completely disconnect.
    Ironically (or not for a cluster B I guess) when she broke up with me she said we’d still be friends, and that she didn’t want to lose me as one. Being a few years older than her and having the experience to know better, I said I wasn’t really sure. That in an ideal world, sure, but that ours isn’t, then explained why it’s not the good idea it appears to be om the surface. That a break from each other would be necessary at least a friendship to be plausible again. The irony I mention lies in how she took my response.

    I didn’t want it to end, at all, so maybe she presumed I’d want at least to maintain a friendship, perhaps that I’d even let slip some desperation to. Whatever the reason, it was not a response well received. She never flipped out as an overt would, but it obviously took her by surprise.

    I genuinely think a large part of it was a sense of abandonment. Before she realised quite how well I understood her, post-break up, my impression was she ended things very quickly anticipating that I’d soon do so myself, that way she’d at least have some illusory sense of control/security/independence throughout the process.
    I know eventually it did hit her though. Such a waste, such futility. And disposability of partners seems now to be the norm.

    Despite all we have to be thankful for, there are some truly tragic things we’ve had to trade off on. We’ve built civilisations so expansive that even in the richest countries, most of us live in little better than guilded cages, if that. Confine animals to your typical zoo and you’ll see neurotic behaviour never witnessed in the wild. Despite having everything, just given to them, no threats or predators, that’s how they behave in contrast to living in the while – perpetually under threat, most having to spend much of their time hunting, no guarantee of success.
    What is civilisation if not a human zoo?
    Why does pathology appeae to increase with its progression? Wish I knew of some alternative.

  18. The disappointment was brutal. It was the hardest thing to get over. Not sure I am. Fortunately, I knew something wasn’t right fairly soon, compared to what I’ve read from others here, and I started researching. It was like reading the Stephen King version of our life, our plans…all fake, I began to realize. The damage…I cannot imagine being married for as long as some report…the damage is deep, lasting, even from just the one year. Covert? Overt? He has so many traits from each list… His mental disorder is not my problem any longer, and happily, he is having trouble finding anyone to believe the bad things he’s tried to say about me. I am in a position to keep him from getting gigs…he’s a musician…and tragically for me (I was a nice person), that has helped me overcome the pain from the damage he did.

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