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Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Everything You Need To Know

Chances are you’ve known someone who seems full of themselves. Maybe they continuously focus on the mirror, attempting to perfect every inch of their appearance or perhaps it’s someone you work with that is always talking about their accomplishments or new toys they’ve purchased with their higher salary. Many times, these types of individuals exhibit narcissistic personality traits.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is characterized by the individual’s belief that they are more important, unique or better than others. This inflated sense of self can manifest in bragging tendencies, having a constant need for attention and admiration, or even a demand for only the best or most expensive things. These are the traits that come to mind for most individuals when they hear the word ‘narcissist’. However, there is another form of Narcissistic personality disorder that is not so easy to discern. Covert Narcissistic Personality disorder is a personality disorder which has unique qualities vastly different from a traditional narcissist.

History and Background

Individuals with Covert Narcissistic Personality Disorder may experience feelings of inadequacy. Unlike their counterparts, covert narcissists do not invest their time into making themselves feel superior. Instead, a covert narcissist may look for opportunities to allow others to supply the necessary fuel for their self-esteem and self-worth.

Covert Narcissistic Personality is thought to have originated from some circumstance in childhood where the individual had to pretend to be a perfect version of themselves. Many times, the individual experienced feelings of love from their parents only when the individual demonstrated qualities that allowed the parents to feel good about their parenting skills or decisions. The individual may have felt an inability to express their true feelings for fear of disapproval from their parents, and thus began imitating the behavior of receiving their positive self-worth through the actions of others.

A covert narcissist may look for openings to provide help to others in return for compliments or validation from others such as helping someone struggling with carrying groceries, aiding on a difficult task or even lending or giving money to someone who is struggling financially. Their motivation is purely to receive validation from the person they are assisting to make themselves feel adequate, good or worthwhile.

Covert Narcissists will often forgo expressing their own feelings or opinions as they may conflict with those around them. Their need for acceptance, appreciation, and validation from others becomes the locus of control for their behavior, prohibiting the individual from being their true self in order to fulfill the desires of others and receive their praise and affections.

Subtle Signals

Covert Narcissists have numerous signals to alert those around them of their issues, but they may be subtle or dismissed as being unimportant or unrelated to any type of disorder. They will often appear charming, perfect, impressive or even shy when meeting new people. This can be a tactic used to create an appeal to others that will, in turn, allow the narcissist to gain additional admiration and validation from the opinion of others. The opinion and expectation of others become the primary goal for a covert narcissist to achieve, seeking any and every opportunity to receive gratitude or praise for meeting these expectations.

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Covert narcissists desperately seek continuous approval from their partners or those around them. They struggle to receive any form or critique or criticism as they often are overly critical of themselves, judging every action or thought negatively. They fear any sort of negative review or feedback from others, avoiding conflict and striving only to receive praise and respect from those around them.

Relationships with a Covert Narcissist

Often, covert narcissists will seek a single individual that they admire to become attached to. In some instances, the covert narcissist may examine the type of individuals their target is attracted to and assimilate their own behavior, interests and even thought processes to appear a more likely candidate for their approval. They may exhibit behavioral traits once in a relationship with this person that forces the connection to remain, such as overly expressing insecurities to have their partner provide endless reassurance that they are attractive, worthwhile, or important. The narcissist may become controlling, seeming to lose themselves when their partner disagrees with a decision or opinion.

Many times, the covert narcissist will choose a partner with qualities, such as power, wealth or attractiveness, that allows the narcissist to cover their imperfections and insecurities. This gives the narcissist the chance to experience admiration indirectly, through the attributes of their partner rather than being the center of attention and risking their vulnerabilities being exposed.

Relationships can be complicated for the covert narcissist and their partner due to their lowered sense of self. They may consistently request affection, gifts, or even intimacy to maintain a feeling of closeness or attractiveness to their partner. If a relationship struggles or becomes stressed, the covert narcissist may exhibit behavior like that of a child, throwing tantrums in demand of the affection and emotional connection they are seeking.  They have extreme difficulty letting go of relationships once they have ended, ignoring the parts of the relationship that failed and placing their partner on a pedestal, insisting that they are perfect and that their love can be won or gained.

Maintaining a relationship with someone with covert narcissistic personality disorder can be extremely difficult. Expressing your own opinion, maintaining their idea of perfection and providing an endless source of approval and affection becomes tiring and eventually can cause the partner to distance and withdraw themselves from the relationship. The difficulty for many individuals is that someone with covert narcissistic personality disorder often appears as a ‘good person’ or someone who is ‘selfless’ in their efforts.

However, it is important to remember that their motivations behind these behavioral traits and appearances are a self-serving motivation. Their actions and behaviors are a direct product of needing to fulfill a sense of self through the approval and praise received by others. While they may not possess the loud and boisterous qualities of a typical Narcissist, their actions are just as damaging, brainwashing those around them into providing them with the affection and admirations that they are desperately craving.

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Angela Sartain, PhD Psychology
Angela Sartain, PhD Psychology

Angela is currently finishing up her doctoral degree program in General Psychology. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, reading, and crafting crochet dolls for her small business.

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