How to spot the red flags of a covert narcissist

Similar to narcissists, covert narcissists also have a narcissistic personality disorder.

However, the symptoms and features synonymous with covert narcissism get exhibited entirely differently from those observed in narcissism.

Covert narcissists

Unlike the overt self-aggrandizing narcissist, covert narcissists tend to be reserved, shy and modest.

Lack empathy

However, their outward nature is deceitful as covert narcissists often feel envious of others, are profoundly sensitive to even the slightest criticism, and lack compassion and empathy for other people.

What is a narcissistic personality disorder?

Typical narcissistic traits usually involve the narcissist having extremely high energy levels, exaggerated statements and movements and wild or drastic plans for the future that seem too good to be true or over the top.

Overt narcissists

Another indication of someone having a narcissistic personality disorder is when the narcissist debases others, believing they are superior to the rest of the world.

Often, the narcissist will look down on people, believing that those around them are failures because they don’t live up to standard expectations of living, such as having a big house, expensive car, or a high-flying career.


Externally, narcissists tend to have high self-esteem, an inflated sense of self and extreme confidence.

Other narcissistic traits include:

  • Having manipulative tendencies
  • Engaging in a whirlwind romance
  • Lacking compassion or a severe lack of empathy for others
  • Love bombing
  • An inability to maintain connections, such as with friends, colleagues and family members
  • Fragile ego
  • Toxic relationships

Other signs

Other signs that someone may have a narcissistic personality disorder include: engaging in narcissistic abuse by causing emotional pain to others through manipulation tactics, the silent treatment and a propensity to crave attention.

Different character flaws

Researchers noted profound differences in narcissism symptoms, which signifies that those with the disorder will not consistently demonstrate the classic symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder.

The covert narcissist

A covert narcissist has similar underlying tendencies and motivations to the overt narcissist.

Behind closed doors

However, as mentioned earlier, covert narcissism often displays significantly different behaviours than their overt counterparts, who are usually loud, insensitive to others and arrogant.

Red flags of covert narcissism

A narcissist's red flags

Sometimes known as vulnerable narcissists, covert narcissists are profoundly emotionally sensitive and fragile individuals who cannot seem to handle even the slightest criticism.

Covert narcissist red flag

A covert narcissist feels stressed and worried a lot of the time and tends to suffer in close relationships. Covert narcissists are usually reserved and self-deprecating.

Unlike overt narcissists who feel superior to others, covert narcissists often judge and compare themselves to others; they may even measure their happiness to other people.

Harmful relationship

For example, covert narcissists may compare themselves to a best friend, partner, family member or other relationship.

Such comparisons may also include the quality of relationships, careers and possessions.

What is the difference between an overt and covert narcissist?

In clinical practice, it may take longer for psychologists and therapists to diagnose covert narcissism as the nature of covert narcissists leans towards shyness and introversion.

Covert narcissism doesn’t hold the same traits as overt narcissism, and the signs and symptoms of both disorders tend to contradict one another.

Typical narcissist

The warning signs of a classical narcissist are impossible to ignore. Typical narcissists have a profound sense of their own importance, exhibit bad behaviour (such as narcissistic abuse) and often feel entitled.


In the initial stages of a relationship, narcissists lure in their victims by love-bombing them; this behaviour may involve paying their partner extreme compliments and showering them with excessive attention and admiration.

The recipient of a narcissist may think they have found the ‘one’ and believe they are in a fairy tale or whirlwind romance.

Manipulation tactic

Although, those involved with a narcissist will soon realize that the person they fell in love with isn’t who they initially thought they were.

Narcissistic partner

The narcissist may begin to lose interest in their partner, withdraw and engage in silent treatment, blame their partner for anything wrong in the relationship and engage in narcissistic abuse.

Covert narcissist

While the overt narcissist engages in outrageous behaviours, the covert narcissist presents themselves entirely differently.

Pay attention

The covert narcissist hides their problematic behaviours from the world, yet they experience similar thoughts, perceptions and emotions to the typical narcissist.

Covert narcissists behavior is controlled and reserved; therefore, it may take colleagues, family members and friends a lot longer to notice the personality traits.

Major red flags

The symptoms of a covert narcissist include:

#1. Being hypersensitive and extremely fragile

Covert narcissists are profoundly fragile and emotionally sensitive individuals.

The covert narcissist usually reacts drastically if they receive criticism from a family member, friend, or co-worker.

Symptoms may involve despair and extreme sadness, even if the criticism is minor.

On the other hand, if a covert narcissist receives a compliment, you may notice a drastic shift in their mood and behaviour. They may appear happier, even from a minuscule compliment.

#2. Being angry and highly stressed

Covert narcissists often experience severe fluctuations in mood, which are often based on the opinions of others.

The burden of criticism (whether real or anticipated) can be overwhelming and can cause covert narcissists much discomfort.

Every slight comment can create extreme stress and anxiety for the covert narcissist. Such an emotional state can create anger and resentment, leading to angry outbursts towards others or self-harm directed at themselves.

#3. Experiencing chronic envy

Covert narcissists experience intense envy of others due to an outward sense of inferiority.

No matter what covert narcissists achieve in life; perfect career, five-bedroom house, the latest sports car, they will always compare their accomplishments to others.

If a best friend has a bigger house, better car or a more successful partner, covert narcissists tend to look for ways to upgrade what they currently have to outdo the other person.

This form of narcissism features constant striving and a sense of emptiness as the person often cannot compete with each new person.

Covert narcissists may be jealous of a person’s appearance, family status, financial wealth and employment.

#4. Being self-absorbed

Whether covert or overt, most narcissists tend to be self-absorbed and, more often than not, experience this emotion at the extreme end.

In the eyes of a narcissist, only their feelings count, only their lives matter, which is an attitude that can severely impact their long-term relationships.

Their selfishness can lead to a lack of empathy and emotional manipulation.

Narcissists will do anything to get what they want, such as using guilt, violence (or threatening violence), and other forms of antagonizing behaviours to get others to go along with their plan.

#5. Experiencing severe mood swings

Narcissists often experience severe mood swings that fluctuate between inferiority, envy, and never being satisfied. These fluctuations in mood often result in feelings of despair and suicidal ideation.

Mental illness

Research suggests that covert narcissists are more likely to suffer from anxiety, non-suicidal self-injury, depression and attempts of suicide than typical narcissists.


Mental health treatment at Camino Recovery

Treatment for narcissistic personality disorder is widely available in most clinical settings and rehabilitation centres. Treatment options involve:

  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • Psychotherapy or ‘talk’ therapy
  • Mentalization-based therapy (MBT)
  • Gestalt therapy
  • Schema therapy
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR)

Contact us

If you or someone you know is exhibiting any of the symptoms of narcissism mentioned above, perhaps it’s time to get in touch with a mental health professional who can help.

Ameet Braich - Camino Recovery Spain

Ameet Singh Braich, a distinguished Clinical Director at Camino Recovery, is renowned for expertise in addiction and trauma resolution. With 15+ years of experience, he transforms lives through a holistic therapeutic approach. His research focuses on childhood maltreatment's impact on cognitive, emotional, and social functioning.

A dynamic speaker and trainer, Ameet empowers clients to achieve lasting recovery, prioritizing trauma resolution and relapse prevention. His diverse training includes EAP, crisis intervention, and EMDR. Committed to positive transformation, Ameet equips individuals across fields to address challenges of addiction.

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