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When you try picturing a narcissist, what comes to your mind? Your mind automatically may think of someone arrogant, attention-seeking, and grandiose, the typical features of an overt narcissist. But did you know there is another, less obvious type of narcissism as well? Known as covert narcissism, this type of narcissism includes people who show fewer outward hallmarks of the problem, making them much more challenging to identify. Despite not showing any typical features of narcissism, such people still have an excessive need for admiration and attention with no empathy for others.

Keep reading the article to discover more about covert narcissism, its common traits, and how to help someone or yourself overcome this personality disorder.

A covert narcissist refers to someone who displays many of the quintessential traits of

narcissism, such as:

  • An exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • A lack of empathy
  • A constant need for admiration
  • Exploiting others without shame or remorse
  • Frequently belittling or demeaning others
  • Grandiosity

However, what makes them different from the other type of overt narcissism is that they do not display the qualities mentioned above so openly. For such people, their grandiosity mostly presents in the form of insecurity, the reason why covert narcissism is often addressed as hypersensitive or vulnerable narcissism.

The covert narcissist tends to feel special as they believe their pain is more important than others. They may feel like they are suffering the most and may label themselves the most misunderstood genius. Such people are addicted to feeling special, with their specialness coming from their intolerable suffering. They believe they are suffering more than anyone else and expect everyone else to understand how much pain they are experiencing. However, ironically, their suffering is usually mild in the grand scheme.

All covert narcissists have a narcissistic personality disorder; however, they successfully hide many of their symptoms from others. They may appear modest and shy on the outside, but on the inside, they lack empathy for others, cannot handle criticism, and are chronically envious of others. Such people prefer spending most of their time alone as they are too hypersensitive to criticism and cannot stop comparing themselves to others.

A covert narcissist typically displays the same signs and traits as overt narcissists. However, the underlying pathology for these signs may differ for both. Despite significant variability, mentioned below are some of the most common covert narcissist traits in general:

They think their misery is unique.

Unlike most narcissists who may come across as grandiose and confident, people with covert narcissism tend to be more self-effacing and insecure. They do not feel good about themselves and believe they are temperamentally different from others.

They have a superiority complex. 

While most covert narcissists are shy, this shyness often stems from a quiet sense of superiority, deep insecurity, or personal grandiosity.

They are always jealous.

Covert narcissists envy other people’s possessions, talents, and tendencies to form deep relationships. With entitlement as the core feature of this type of narcissism, such people believe that they fundamentally deserve everything others have and tend to feel jealous when they do not get it.

They cannot establish meaningful relationships.

Because covert narcissists have an extraordinarily fragile and unrealistic sense of self, they cannot engage well with the world. This lack of engagement, combined with little to no empathy for others, makes it almost impossible for such people to connect with others or form meaningful bonds.

They might be introverts.

Covert narcissism directly correlates with introversion, which is different from overt narcissism characterised by extraverted behaviour and more grandiose displays. Instead of acting directly, a covert narcissist may possess a quitter sense of superiority and is generally more reserved.

They are self-conscious and socially insecure.

Almost all covert narcissists consider themselves the victims, which, in a way, displays their sense of superiority. Such people have low self-esteem and are highly sensitive, forcing them to seek constant validation from others.

They often get defensive and aggressive.

Covert narcissists often display narcissistic rage, i.e. an increased tendency towards hostility and anger. This narcissistic rage occurs because such people are highly neurotic compared to overt narcissists who are more emotionally stable.

They are passive-aggressive.

While it’s typical for overt narcissists to try stealing the limelight, covert narcissists usually stay in the shadows. As a result, they might be more passive-aggressive in all their conversations by telling veiled hostile jokes, giving backhanded compliments or taking others on guilt trips. Such people also prevent having to deal with conflicts directly and prefer falling on avoidance tactics to solve the matter.

They love to gaslight others.

Gaslighting is a psychological manipulation that may make victims question their thoughts, memories, and perceptions. It is a hallmark of covert narcissism and may make the victims of this disorder project the blame on others.

Do you consider yourself a covert narcissist but are willing to seek help for it? Consider the following tips mentioned below to get started:

Celebrate your decision

Most narcissists fail to seek treatment as they consider it an admission of being weak or flawed. The decision to dive deeper into the wounds you survived in childhood is one of the most substantial things you can do. So if you have finally decided to seek help for your behaviour, take out time to celebrate it as it is an achievement. Remember that you are about to embark on a challenging journey requiring courage, strong willpower, and strength, which is something not everyone is brave enough to pursue.

Identify your triggers

All narcissists have some kind of trigger. They can be actions, words, or situations that force them to switch on their selfish behaviours. Begin your journey towards recovery by recognising these triggers. Notice everything that makes you feel a sudden surge of anger or need to react strongly.  

Who was there? What was said? What exactly happened? Did something do something? Keep a log of all these things in a notebook whenever something triggers your narcissistic behaviour. Don’t forget to note down how you felt before, during, and after an episode. Once you start identifying triggers, it becomes easier to examine the roots of their formation.

Monitor your reactions

Another critical step to overcoming your narcissistic behaviour is by learning how to control it. In most cases, narcissists react very strongly without realising what they are doing and what consequences it may bring. So try to monitor your reactions by pausing before reacting every time. Consider counting to ten every time you feel a surge of intense emotion. Doing so creates a space between the trigger and the response, allowing you to rethink your response and choose a healthier behaviour.

Practising this technique over time can instil it in your subconscious mind by making it a habit.

Be empathetic

Empathy is an ability that most narcissists lack; however, it is always possible to acquire it. This might be the most challenging step you’ll have to take to beat narcissism, but it is entirely possible.

Try responding to everyone around you with empathy. Start by listening to other people and thinking about their perceptions and needs. Carefully think about how to respond to them and avoid intruding into their space or taking their time without asking for permission. Try consciously thinking about others every time you interact with them; with time, it will become a habit.

Take responsibility

In the final step, learn to take responsibility for your behaviour. Keep in mind that you, and only you, are responsible for whatever actions you take and behaviours you adopt. No one can make you react the way you do, and accepting this reality is crucial to making a difference and overcoming overt narcissism.

Remind yourself that you are not admitting to being weak or having flaws by taking responsibility. It indicates that you control your behaviour and can choose to react differently. While this step may seem insignificant to many, it can lead to a long-lasting change if applied correctly.

According to research investigating the diagnostic and clinical challenges linked with narcissism, people often seek treatment for it as a co-occurring mental health issue rather than a primary disorder. This is because people with covert narcissism are at higher risk of depression and anxiety than people with other subtypes of narcissism. Such people may also display non-suicidal self-harm and harbour feelings of low self-esteem and emptiness that may contribute to suicidal ideation.

Managing narcissism can be extremely challenging since most people suffering from this disorder do not wish to seek help. The stigma associated with the disorder can make it difficult to ask for help. Stereotypical concepts like “all narcissists are born evil” or “a narcissist can never change” further discourage those who genuinely wish to overcome this disorder. Like other types of personality disorders, narcissism includes a long-standing pattern of behaviour and emotions that may not be unusual to those living with it. Because of this, many covert narcissists may discover their personality disorder accidentally while seeking treatment for another psychiatric illness. A therapist who catches the disorder’s main symptoms can also help the sufferer change their problematic behavioural patterns.

Some therapies have mainly been highly successful in covert narcissism treatment. Of these, psychodynamic therapy and schema therapy have been helpful of all. Using these therapies, a therapist can offer validation for negative emotions, compassion, and empathy to help clients discover the reasons for their vulnerability. Fortunately, people with covert narcissism are said to respond to therapy in a much better and more positive way than those with other types of narcissism. It is generally accepted that people who wish to seek help for their underlying mental health problems can improve as long as they are willing to make an effort. If you consider yourself a covert narcissist and are willing to seek support, join a good rehabilitation centre today.

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