When you think about a narcissist what comes to mind?

Do you think of the life of the party bragging about their accomplishments to anyone who will listen? Or someone out there seducing people with their considerable charms only to torture them once they are caught in their narc web?

In this episode, you’ll learn the top 10 signs to help you spot a covert narcissist, because this personality type can be even trickier and more insidious than the overt narc. 

This kind of narcissist might be flying under the radar because they can come off as shy or even awkward unlike what we typically might think characterizes these personality types. Raising your awareness is the first step to proactively protecting yourself!

Prefer the audio? Listen here.

In order to help you differentiate between the narcissist types (there are sub-types too but that is a topic for another blog!), first, let’s go over the definition of a diagnosable narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). 

NPD is defined as “a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.”

While all narcissists feed off what we call “narcissistic supply” or the emotional pain of other people, a covert narcissist presents very differently. Here are the 10 qualities to look out for when it comes to the vulnerable narcissist:

1. Shy, withdrawn, and socially awkward

Instead of being out there, loud, and drawing attention to themselves, the vulnerable narcissist is more shy and socially withdrawn. In this way, they can appear to be more emotionally sensitive, compassionate, and, yes, vulnerable. But it is only a mask! 

This is in contrast to what we might normally associate with a narcissist who is outwardly grandiose, bragging, and charismatic. An overt narcissist verbally exaggerates their accomplishments and likes to make grand gestures to try to suck us into their vortex (love bombing is one of them). An overt narcissist can present as charming, personable, fun, and exciting to others. 

Because vulnerable narcissists tend to be more introverted and often hide their true feelings and motivations, their abusive behaviors can be even more insidious. 

2. Highly sensitive to criticism

Both types of narcissists are thin-skinned and sensitive to criticism, but a vulnerable narcissist can get very defensive over almost anything. 

Even if you are not being critical they can interpret or receive a request from you as you saying they are doing something wrong. Spend enough time with a covert narcissist and you eventually will feel like you need to walk on eggshells all the time

3. Grandiose fantasies and a superiority complex

Both types have grandiose fantasies and think themselves superior to everyone else, but, while you’ll hear an overt narc talking about it in a way that’s obvious, a vulnerable narc holds their cards close to the chest. 

A vulnerable or covert narcissist usually has a rich, inner fantasy life where they dream about having unlimited power, success, and adoration from other people they believe they rightly deserve. That said, they won’t talk about it directly, but if you listen and read between the lines of what they say, you will be able to feel their arrogance coming through. A vulnerable narc really does feel superior to everyone else.

4. Passive-aggressive communication + behavior patterns 

When it comes to a vulnerable narcissistic personality type, the main method of communication is passive-aggressive. So while they won’t outright say they are better than everyone else (like an overt narc would), they will communicate it indirectly by rolling their eyes, slamming a door, or giving someone the silent treatment when they don’t feel they are getting what they deserve or when they are displeased with you (which is a lot). 

5. Very envious of others

The vulnerable narcissist personality type can be consumed by envy, but again, they will not communicate this directly, instead, they will use passive-aggressive communication (see #4). 

While an overt narcissist will directly put you or others down, a typical covert narcissist will make jealous comments like, “Oh it must be nice to have a family that paid for you to go to school and have the support I never had..” or, “Must be nice to get so many lucky breaks in life…”. They can never really be happy for you or anyone else because they are so incredibly self-absorbed that everything becomes a comparison to them. 

Something good happening to you is perceived as something bad happening to them. 

6. “Life is unfair” is a core belief 

A vulnerable narc often talks about how unfair the world is. They have a deep-rooted belief that they are unique and deserve everything they want, but they got a raw deal or the short end of the stick and that is why they are not creating the success they want in life. They are deeply attached to their victim mentality. 

7. Believe they deserve what others have (including you)

Even though a vulnerable narcissist keeps their superiority complex under wraps, they truly believe they deserve the world. They blame everything and everyone else around them for why they don’t have what they are “owed” in life. 

The negativity of a vulnerable narcissist is overwhelming. They are always complaining and never happy. It’s exhausting. 

8. Lack of empathy (but good at faking it)

The tricky part is while all diagnosable narcissists lack the ability to have empathy for others, the vulnerable narc is usually particularly skilled at presenting as if they have real empathy. They learn how to mirror or mimic compassion, but it is generally self-serving as it may benefit them to act as if they care. 

A vulnerable narcissist will fake empathy for you if it will get you to do what they want and give them their narcissistic supply.

9. Hold grudges

Narcissists have a tendency to hold grudges, but while an overt narc will be vocal about it, a vulnerable narc will bide their time quietly until they can exact revenge. It can be really scary. 

It’s almost like a vulnerable or covert narcissist keeps a file cabinet in their mind with meticulous records of their grudges. They are driven by a profound desire to exact revenge on those who they perceive to have hurt them, but also on people who have attained greater success than they have. 

10. Anxiety + depression

The vulnerable narc has a tendency to lean towards anxiety and depression. They have a lot of internal turmoil because of the tension between what they believe they deserve in life and the fact that life is not serving it up on a platter to them. If you are in a relationship with a vulnerable narcissist, their anxiety, depression, and negativity are an enormous burden. 

It’s not free living with any kind of narcissist. The cost is steep, but I think it’s even more insidious with a vulnerable or covert narcissist because other people don’t see them that way on the outside. They see them as this shy and maybe insecure person, and that can leave you feeling so alone if you are tangled up with a vulnerable narc. 

Download this week’s guide right here to help you differentiate between a vulnerable narcissist and an overt narcissist, so you can raise your awareness and better protect yourself!

I hope that this episode provided valuable information about narcissism, and if you think it could help someone else, please share it with the people in your life. 

I hope you have an amazing week and as always take care of you.

¹https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20366662

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  1. Thanks for this, although I wished I had known about covert narcissists five years ago. I befriended a woman at my children's school. She seemed shy and nice, so I introduced her to my friends. Over time she would give me backhanded compliments or even put me down in subtle ways. She always told me how 'lucky' I was and that her life was much harder than mine. She could never say anything nice to me, and eventually, I distanced myself from her. As a result, she told lies about me to the friends I had introduced her to. I lost a whole friendship group, and one was my friend of fifty years. I am still working through the grief and fallout of this person.

  2. Thank you! This has been very validating. It took me 32 yrs to get away from my covert narc. It almost destroyed me and it definitely destroyed my financial situation.

    Yes, it is insidious!

  3. I'm almost dumbfounded. I had always described my ex husband as passive-aggressive with a victim mentality, depressed, moody, and negative. I had even wondered if he was bipolar because I didn't understand his mood swings. In all of these years I had never heard the term Covert Narcissist. I am crying with validation. I was emotionally abused for many years from that man. I have been through a lot of therapy to heal from the wounds he inflicted on me. Now that I am not with him, I am physically, emotionally, and financially strong. I put myself through college (which he was against, of course) and graduated in the top of my class. I have not only become a Boundary Boss, but I have finally become a boss at work. I am so proud of myself for leaving that abusive man 5 years ago to start my new chapter. Thank you, Terri, for all that you do! Your guidance is spot on with what I have needed in my life. ❤

    1. Hi Wendi- witnessing your courage and strength with compassion and joy ❤️ what an amazing shift!! I so appreciate you being here.

  4. Brilliant! Brilliant. A neighbor who is a boundary bully has caused me more grief than anyone ever. He's "hail fellow well met / we care about you" as he's making the most insane intrusions onto my property. Not that i'm in a position to have to convince anyone he's not, but it's been a mindfxxx because he SEEMS so nice but it's insidious. He had a major breakdown a few years ago and since then has a need to continue to make intrusions on my property. it was so good to hear you say it's exhausting, because IT IS. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS — "JUST" to have to company on it is liberating.

    1. Hi Mimi – Your feelings are valid. That sounds like a frustrating situation. I’m so glad you found this helpful, and you are so welcome ❤️

  5. Sometimes I feel I might be a vulnerable narcissist myself…(which by the way deeply hurts me). So the question is how can I help myself?

    1. Hi Suzi – It is unlikely you are a diagnosable narc or you would have difficulty having insight into your own behavior. You may just want to work on different aspects of your behavior (which we all need!). You can identify your behaviors towards others that you don’t like, and little by little, change them to less self-centered or hurtful behaviors.

  6. Took me 40 years to recognize this in my mother. Everything is a competition and what I've earned is her accomplishment (and hers alone). It's very confusing to someone who wants to have a good relationship with the vulnerable narc, because you can't understand why everything isn't quite good enough for them despite your best efforts. It's a long road to recovery, the damage runs very deep. It's difficult to trust anyone after you realize what they've done to you without your consent.

    1. Hi Kels – I’m witnessing you with compassion ❤️ thank you for sharing your experience with us. I appreciate you being here.

  7. Ok, so WOW. You just described perfectly a person with whom I recently severed ties. We had been friends, if you want to call it that, for about 42 years. That only lasted until she moved to our area, with our help, and wound up staying with us for almost a month while her apartment was being readied.

    Let’s just say I learned a lot.

    I would add that this type of person is a master of projection, so that even the most innocent statement or action on your part will be twisted into how their heart would have meant it. This will then be shot back at you as if you were a horrible human being.

    You are spot on about them being able to twist anything good that happens to you into some perceived slur by the universe towards them.

    Example: when the septic system on my house backed up in my basement creating a huge mess and the need for insurance to cover all of the damage, I shared this with my alleged friend. At first, we were unsure if the insurance would cover. When I shared that it would cover, her response was, “Well, at least I’m glad YOUR life is working out!” in an outraged victimy tone. Now at what point did a basement full of poo become my life working out? Honestly, I don’t know.

    The last straw was when I discovered that, although we had been having financial issues and she knew this, she had misrepresented her financial situation to get us to help her. When confronted about this her response was, “I didn’t mislead you. It’s expensive to live where I lived.“ As if it was my job to supplement her life??

    There is absolutely no way to win with this person. Stop trying.

    It is a sad commentary on a life if you make other people’s lives better by not being in them.

    1. Hi AC. – thank you for sharing your experience with us, and I’m so glad you’re here. ❤️ It sounds like you learned a lot from a very difficult situation!

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