What Is Covert Narcissism?

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  • Written By: Christina Hall
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 12 August 2018
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Covert narcissism is a mental illness characterized by specific maladaptive personality traits. The Greek myth about Narcissus, for whom the disorder is named, tells the story of an extraordinarily handsome man who rejected all the women who adored him and then fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. The modern psychiatric definition still connects with the myth and is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as being primarily recognized by a patient’s lack of empathy for other people, an exaggerated sense of self-importance, and a willingness to exploit others for personal gain, even if the gain is simply emotional. Patients with covert narcissism, in comparison to their overt narcissistic counterparts, exhibit some unique behaviors associated with the covert designation. For example, covert types are prone to petty pathological lying and irreverence toward authority.


Some mental health clinicians believe that feelings of underlying inferiority and distrust of other people may be some of the root beliefs that help to construct this type of personality. These roots, and other related factors, contribute to some covert narcissistic clients being unhealthily obsessed and envious of others' possessions, relationships, and talent. This exaggerated covert admiration of others' successful lifestyles tends to lead to cynicism and an overall deep dislike for the majority of the population. The patient will go to extreme lengths to protect his perceived self-esteem. Almost paradoxical to and at odds with many laypersons' view of narcissism, many covert-type patients have severely damaged and diminished self-esteem.

The actual “covert” type of behavior that is characteristic of this disorder can be seen when the patient’s shell of timidness, anxiousness and insecurity is cracked. This often happens with a therapist or friend forms a close relationship and learns through conversation and activity that the patient has varying degrees of delusional and grandiose ideals about himself and his station in life. Seemingly malicious and generally unfriendly discourse about others, sometimes coupled with plots or schemes to undermine others' lives or cause them emotional or physical suffering, is common conversational content when talking to narcissistic patients.

Paul Wink with the University of California-Berkley professes that both kinds of narcissistic patients are often easily diagnosable using narcissistic scales and scoring systems because their oral reports tend to be boisterous and proud when speaking of themselves. Patients with covert narcissism may seem to be impressively knowledgeable on an overabundant number of subjects. As a friend or therapist becomes closer to the individual, however, much of the person’s highbrow anecdotes may be obsessively rehearsed and knowledge of some subjects can be categorized as simply memorized trivia.


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Post 7

anon310698 - if you should happen to read this I want you to know its not your fault, this wasn't our choice to get into - we were shown a person who didn't exist but didn't know until after we got attached,, married, moved in together, intertwined - we hoped for a mirage to become real because it felt real. Until this part anyway, then the pain and constant degradation of our energy and esteem and human right to respect and to not be psychologically abused were trampled by this person we thought we were in a relationship with.

It's been shown that living with toxic people causes or is highly correlated with increases or worsening of health issues and illnesses.

He's made

you think you can't be alone and survive, because that's what they do: they sense our fears and feed us tactic after tactic that triggers these fears while degrading our confidence in ourselves every day multiple times per day for nine years for you is it any wonder you are anxious? They want us depending on them because it is all about power and control and they always misuse it because relating goes way to their heads and I'm sure grandiose fantasy or something plays into this, the level of distortion is uncanny when I would fight for hrs to crack the victim martyr facade then the arrogant angry outbursts, the silent brooding and leers to a kernel of truth.

My only response on coping with the fear of how the heck will I cope on my own is this, based on my own experience and asking of the same question:

You are already alone and you have been for a long long time; without him there feeding off of you like a parasite. you will actually have the opportunity to enjoy yourself. But it will be like learning how to breathe for awhile. The pain is at times unbearable, like a fish breathing out of water, but we can evolve if we replace them and the silences and the ruminating and habitual thoughts that they love we have because they want to control our minds with something better who can help (aka get a therapist well versed in DV and/or traumatic bonding or NAS). It isn't something we can do ourselves without becoming hermits or stuck in angry hateful pain cycles I'm finding. Probably because we need to have a healthy relationship to relearn trust and boundaries and gain our sense of not being crazy from the gaslighting and abuse I would think. And if like most of us, this is the best or only option as the number of friends left at discard or escape usually amounts to very few of any at all.

Post 6

For 27 years I thought I was the problem in my relationship because of 15 years of severe child abuse. I treated my woman like a queen and after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, PTSD and other mental health diagnoses. I thought for sure I was the root cause of the relationship. I hid my feelings in a cloud of pot smoke and often took my anger out on others. (Ones that deserved it) 27 years later I figured out who and what I am and that most of the issues resonated from my S/O's own undiagnosed but obvious mental health issues. Somehow when she'd cheat, lie, get jealous for no reason or just make up crap stories where

somehow I was always to blame.

I still love her and I guess I understand she's still in denial. However, the woman who supposedly loved me tried to destroy me, just to protect her perceived image by others. She is a true narcissist with no remorse and hides her true self from most. She wonders why I've exposed her to some, but there comes a point when you can't be a scapegoat any longer. I'm certainly not perfect, but I certainly would never do what she's done to me.

Post 4

@anon310698: I am so sorry to hear what you are going through! The only way you're going to get better is to leave this emotional vampire. He is sucking you dry, and is making you sicker. You deserve more than that! I don't know much about narcissism, but I am learning more and more about the different types of narcissists there are out there. I think I personally know a few myself. The covert narcissists like to play like they're innocent and care about people, but really their main goal in life is to always be ahead and be better than others and they will compete to the death to get it.

All I can say is get out now

, before you become even sicker. I wish we could get in contact some sort of way. By the way, I think everyone has some sort of covert narcissism in them, and nobody will openly come out and say how good they think they are, and we all have our own fantasies of being big like celebrities and if no one has ever said they didn't, they're lying.

The difference between coverts and regular people with fantasies is that normal people have empathy and don't seek out to manipulate others or compete for constant limelight and attention.

Anyway, God bless you and I will be praying for you and your family and I pray that you return to sound health.

Post 3

Good article on a subject which doesn't get addressed as oftenas it should be. After experiencing emotional/mental/financial abuse at the hands of a covert narcissist, I have managed to turn all that pain and excess amount of suffering into something constructive by also writing about it.

I have recently released my first book, "Know Your Enemy: Reflections Of NPD," on this very topic. I am also now working with other people who have been victims of such abuse and have much work in progress on covert narcissism - the most difficult to detect form of the personality disorder.

Post 2

Anon, I have a question to ask you, do you think you are worthy of peace and happiness? If so, do you have the courage to leave or kick him out? I promise you if you do life will be better. You deserve a good life. There is light at the end of the tunnel, my dear friend. In many cities, there are domestic violence meetings that are free to attend and they will help you. I am sending you loads of love and light and will pray for you from afar.

Post 1

I am sure I have been living with a narcissistic sociopath for nine years. He is the most horrible person I have ever met and I have left him several times and I let him come back. My life was together when we met. I had a house, 850 credit rating and he has destroyed it all. I have even come close to losing my life because of him.

He lives with me now. He is 48 and I am 57. His health is not good, but he just seems to come through everything. He has changed and dragged me down so low. He has done everything except kill me. Now I am very ill. I have emphysema and am

on oxygen, but deal with it very well and still do everything I can, and my doctors are amazed at how well and how good I look. But now I have lung cancer and had radiation. It spread, I had chemo and it spread again. I had one spot on my brain, had radiation and am back on chemo. I am very positive, and plan to win this battle.

I have a beautiful daughter and two grandsons who this jerk has hurt because of what he has done to me and it has also kept me apart from them. He is still using me. I've lost my hair and he makes fun of me. He is the coldest, emptiest thing on earth. He is the best con on earth.

We live in a 62 or disabled apartment. Most of the people here are older than we are and he has them all thinking he is the next best thing to God. He likes Lincoln cars. He made friends with a man here in his 70's. It was easy because Charley brags about all his DUIs, parties and his dirty mouth around women. Chris has him and his family just crazy about him. He checks in on him, fixes him food, etc. Right off, I said he was after the car. A couple of weeks ago, he came in said he was selling his car, and he was upset. A week later, he came in said, “Charley just gave me his car and he talked to his daughter about it and she thinks its just wonderful.” Chris doesn't even have a license due to his DUIs, but they don't know that.

Since I am as sick as I am, I have been doing a lot of thinking like, I wish I hadn't, I wish I would have. There are tons of things that he has done. The last three days I have hated him so bad. My daughter has told him it's his fault that I have gotten so sick. Some of my health issues are due to some crazy things he talked me into doing. He is the biggest con on earth. His own family even says so and advised me not to let him come back. But I did?

I have been very mean and pretty hateful to him the past few days. But I went out and bought him coveralls and a matching coat. I have two little Pekingese dogs and he takes them out for me or one of them. Living here he is supposed to be helping me. It's through the office here. He helps everyone but me. I have a friend here and she helps me. I give her a little money every now and then because I feel bad since he is supposed to be doing it.

He was married for 18 years and has two children. His ex is just like him and doing the same to a boyfriend. They have also molded their children in the same way. They have taught them to lie and use people. I hate him and then I sometimes catch myself feeling sorry for him. This is my apartment and he tries to tell me when I can talk, he sits in the middle of the couch and watches the new big TV that I bought and controls the remote.

He's never sorry, and never feels guilty. He primps and every hair has to be in place. He thinks he is cute. He did drink a lot, but not now, but only because he can't here. He drinks four to six cans of beer a day. He is a disabled concrete cutter with back problems he has always claimed, but it seems to bother him when he wants it to. Ive seen him do headstands in the yard before, ride dirt bikes, motorcycles, whatever.

If I go somewhere, I'll come home and his eyes might be so bloodshot, red and glassy, and he'll claim to be just up from a nap, but yet be all wound up. Then there are times he will be sitting there and his speech seems slower than usual and I can literally sit here and watch his face starting at his forehead turn white and travel down his face.

We have an exit door 10 feet across the hall and are on a hall that only has four apartments, so it's quite remote. Around our building are other apartments that have a lot of drug issues going on. Like tonight he said he was going out to have a cigarette and was back in before he would have had time to light one. I asked him why and he said he wasted it, that it was too cold out. The other night about 1 am (I know none of these old people were still up at 1 a.m.), he probably made six trips out this door claiming to be going up to the community room to get a coke. He kept saying he didn't want to go up there while they were up there.

I noticed the time and ask who was still up and he said, oh Linda and Jody were getting on the elevator when he came back. He has pain pills. Hydrocodone and Oxycodone. He could be selling them or taking them, but he's acting weird. Everywhere we live he attracts himself to these types of people. He knows how to pick them out and he knows a lot about the people who live in these other apartments here by us.

I have to think about myself and my health and the people who really do love me. I can hardly stand to look at him. Everyone has a few cobwebs in their closets and mine are mainly because of him. I got food stamps when I shouldn't have been. I had a home care person who was supposed to come every day, but I only had her come twice a month and we kind of split her pay since she wasn't really here. It was dishonest, but she thought it was helping me out since I don't get much disability.

If I tell him I'm going to put him out, he threatens he will report me. Last night I told him he conned Charley out of that car. I told him he didn't really want the car. It was the challenge to see if he could get it. He just gave the smirky grin that I've seen before and it makes me feel sick when I see it. He has already talked about selling it but couldn't while Charley was alive.

I cannot believe I am this sick and have let this jerk waste nine years of my life. He doesn't even care if I'm sick. My doctor asked if I drove and I said my ride was out in the lobby. He asked why he wasn't back there with me. Chris would hear about it when I got in anyway. He hates people calling or stopping by to check on me.

I just want to get well, have my family back and get rid of him. He's also had five surgeries on his leg which didn't work and was supposed to have the other one done too. He has a rare blood disease called Buerger's Disease caused from smoking. The doctor said his veins and arteries from knees down look like gravel roads. said if he keeps smoking, he will loose his legs. He has 70 percent blockage now in the one they did the surgery on.

Today and last year he prepared dinner here in the community room for residents who couldn't go out. The tenant association pays and he cooks. He likes to cook and used to all the time, but he didn't want me to. Now that I've gotten sick and it's important that I eat right so I don't lose weight, he seldom cooks. But I fix my own.

The problem is they have me on steroids all day that keep me wound up (one reason I have no patience with him) and then Ambien to calm to sleep. But it's necessary for me to win this cancer battle. It's like a roller coaster. I have told Chris he is not going to be upsetting me and that I have zero tolerance for him right now, that I'm thinking about the myself and the people who care about me.

I needed to tell someone this. I need to stop worrying about him and just think of myself. But also right now, I don't want to be alone. I told my daughter today I'm scared to be alone right now and not really able to take my dogs out.

I guess I was probably the perfect target. I read True Crime and I always try to figure out why those people do the things they do. And look what I'm living with. Also, one of the police officers did tell me that Chris was a sociopath. I looked it up and it fits but this narcissist sounds more like it. I am able to talk to his doctors and I have told them how he has been acting, red glassy eyes and acting weird. He never told me but his family did, that he had been in rehab for drugs.

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