What is Covert Narcissism?

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  • 0:03 Covert Narcissism
  • 1:03 Overt vs. Covert Narcissism
  • 2:55 NPD
  • 3:31 Introversion
  • 4:33 Covert Narcissism: Layers
  • 5:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

In this lesson, you'll learn about covert narcissism and how it differs from overt narcissism. You'll also learn about its relationship to introversion and narcissistic personality disorder.

Covert Narcissism

When we think of a narcissist, we may think of someone who is overly concerned about his or her physical appearance and how he or she is perceived by others. Someone who craves attention and brags incessantly about personal accomplishments and successes without regard for others. But not all narcissists are boisterous and loud. The covert narcissist is more shy and reserved and hides his or her sense of entitlement and grandiose thoughts behind a facade. This form of narcissism may not be apparent at first, but it typically manifests itself eventually.

Covert narcissism is a more discrete form of narcissism displayed by a person with a more shy and reserved personality. It's characterized by grandiose fantasies and thoughts, a perception of entitlement, and a general sentiment of being better than others. Covert narcissism is typically expressed in a more passive and indirect manner than overt narcissism. It's conveyed with a condescending attitude, defensiveness, hostility, insincerity, and passive aggressiveness.

Overt vs. Covert Narcissism

Andy is an overt narcissist. He thinks and outwardly expresses that he's special, smart, and talented. When Andy speaks with others, he doesn't ask them questions or make an effort to get to know them. He also refrains from expressing any feelings that may portray him as weak or flawed. Instead, Andy talks about himself, often about his accomplishments, great ideas, and goals. In conversations with others, he takes ad nauseum about topics he's knowledgeable about in an effort to appear more intelligent. He often tells offensive and/or perverted jokes at parties to secure a place for himself as the center of attention.

Overt narcissism is an obvious and apparent display of one's selfish concern for oneself. There's no mistaking a narcissist when he or she is open and overt. Covert narcissists, on the other hand, are much harder to interpret, at least at first.

Amy is a covert narcissist. Like Andy, she thinks she's exceptional, insightful, and intelligent, but, unlike Andy, she's a bit quiet and reserved. In fact, she prefers not to speak to most people because she feels that they're not worth her time. Amy's grandiose beliefs and ideas include achieving great beauty and wealth. She has a one-year-old son but often puts her own needs, like taking an hour to apply makeup and do her hair, before his. When people offer constructive feedback about her parenting, she becomes defensive and angry. Amy's quick to take credit for an accomplishment, but just as quick to blame someone else for a mistake.

Covert narcissists, like Amy, have a very difficult time in relationships. They may come across as genuine and sincere at first, only to later reveal themselves as self-centered, stubborn, and emotionally abusive. Disagreements often turn into arguments and fights because covert narcissists don't like to weaken themselves by admitting that they're wrong. In general, they don't think that they are wrong.


Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a psychological condition classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. People with NPD have a magnified view of their own value and constantly need attention and admiration for validation. It's classified as a disorder because those who suffer from it often become deeply troubled, not only in their relationships, but also in terms of their self-identity and direction in life. However, not all narcissists have this personality disorder. NPD is characterized by extreme overt or covert narcissism.

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