Covert Verses Overt Narcissists

Libby Shively McAvoy
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Narcissism is quite the buzzword these days. But, if you are or have been in a relationship with a narcissist, you likely understand why so many people are talking about it. Narcissism is a form of psychological and emotional abuse with the intent to control.

There are varying explanations and examples of up to eight forms of narcissism. But, there are two main types of narcissists — Covert and Overt. Both have childhood roots in neglect or abuse. And both have trouble regulating emotions.

Traits of an Overt Narcissist

The overt narcissists are what you see on television or you would likely recognize immediately for their smug attitude, grandiose expectations, and charm.

They are often arrogant and obsessed with appearance. They tend to get aggressive or violent when challenged. And they have a heightened state of entitlement.

Traits of a Covert Narcissist

Covert narcissists often portray themselves as the victim. They are harder to identify because, unlike the Overt, they will show emotions and outward signs of low self-esteem and insecurities.

The covert will be overly sensitive to what others think of them. They hold grudges and use passive aggressiveness to deflect attention when in the hot seat.

The covert narcissists may spread rumors about you to make themselves feel better. Friends and family may tell them they deserve better, which strokes their ego. They may seem empathetic, but they use that empathy for approval and praise.

The Spectrum

Narcissism exists on a broad spectrum. Some may say the most dangerous narcissists are malignant. Some forms can be more subtle, like the relatively newly labeled Communal Narcissist. Covert narcissism shares many traits and can easily be cconfuseed with Borderline Personality Disorder. 


All narcissists will use silent treatment and manipulation to avoid taking personal accountability in arguments. Trust your gut feeling if you suspect you may be dating a narcissist. They are not in it for love but instead for power and control.

Sometimes it may feel like something is off, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. They may be gaslighting you. The relationship may be tumultuous, and you want more emotional security. It is okay to leave. Protect your mental well-being. Dating a narcissist is an emotional roller coaster that leaves long-term damage.

Finally, a narcissist does not have to be diagnosed with NPD. It is time to hit the road if you sense manipulation and control, see your confidence fading, and grow unhappy. Forget the labels momentarily and know that a toxic relationship is hurtful and draining, regardless of the personality disorder. You cannot save anyone but yourself. 


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Libby is a Personal Development and Relationship coach specializing in emotional intelligence. By blending motivational speaking, leading yoga and wellness retreats, and writing, she has mastered the art of living her best life while helping others.

Cincinnati, OH

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