When we think of the term ‘narcissist,’ many of us picture someone who is overconfident, loud, and even obnoxious.
We imagine people infatuated with themselves, shamelessly boasting about their successes and achievement, and lacking empathy for others.
While such behaviors are narcissistic traits, our image only describes one type of narcissist – the overt (obvious) narcissist.
There is another type of narcissist, which can be just as dangerous and toxic as the first.
The second type is the covert narcissist.
This article will look at covert narcissism, the weird things covert narcissists do, and how to protect yourself from their manipulative behavior.
First, let’s consider the difference between overt and covert narcissism.
Covert vs. overt narcissism
Narcissism is both a personality trait and a personality disorder. In the former, one shows common traits of narcissism.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition, those with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) show these traits to a greater degree than the first and can be categorized as having a mental illness.
The narcissistic traits both types display include:
- An exaggerated sense of self-importance
- A lack of empathy for others
- Lack of personal accountability
- Tendency to blame others
- Manipulative behavior and emotional abuse
As mentioned, there are two main types of narcissists (not including those with NPD or malignant narcissists).
These are overt and covert narcissists.
Overt narcissists are easy to spot. They typically seek attention, make a scene when things don’t go their way, and explicitly share their own sense of self-importance.
The overt narcissist is also likely to become physically aggressive when threatened or feel like their self-image is in question.
Covert narcissists are harder to spot. They understand how people feel about narcissists, so they try to keep it on the down low.
That doesn’t mean their narcissism doesn’t exist, but rather that they operate on a more subtle level.
For example, an overt narcissist may become aggressive when their self-image is questioned.
A covert narcissist will not become aggressive and pretend they’re not bothered.
However, they’re likely to secretly plot revenge and carry it out ‘in the dark,’ i.e., they won’t make it obvious.
There are many covert narcissist behaviors that you would overlook unless you knew about them. That’s why we’ve included a list of covert narcissist behaviors below.
The more you know about this behavior, the more equipped you are to handle it.
Weird things covert narcissists do
Let’s take a look at the behavior of covert narcissists…
1. They engage in passive-aggressive behavior
As mentioned earlier, a covert narcissist knows how people feel about narcissists.
That makes them extra cautious about their self-image. When covert narcissists feel hurt, betrayed, or angry, they won’t bring it up with you directly and won’t become outwardly aggressive.
Instead, the covert narcissist becomes passive-aggressive. They’ll use common passive-aggressive tactics such as:
A backhanded compliment is an insult disguised as a compliment.
Covert narcissists don’t want to jeopardize their self-image with behavior that may be rude.
Instead, they’ll play nice, but underneath their niceties are nastier intentions.
A narcissist who wants you to feel bad without being the cause may say something like:
Your new dress makes you look healthy. (As in, ‘you look unhealthy in your other clothes.’)
I like that you don’t care about how you look. (As in, ‘you don’t look great, and you’re not even trying.’)
Wow, I’m so surprised you got that job. Congratulations! (As in, ‘I really didn’t think you would get that job.’)
Your diet is interesting… (As in, ‘you have strange eating habits, and they’re very noticeable.’)
Covert narcissists are notorious for giving silent treatment to others, especially romantic partners.
The silent treatment is a passive-aggressive behavior in which the narcissistic partner refuses to communicate with the other verbally and instead shares negative messages through body language or other non-verbal behaviors.
Giving someone the silent treatment is incredibly immature.
Mature adults communicate about relationship issues, feelings, worries, and problems.
Covert narcissists don’t want to deal with issues directly because doing so will make them too vulnerable.
They opt for silent treatment, backhanded compliments, and other passive-aggressive behaviors to protect themselves and gain control.
2. They play the victim
Narcissists don’t want to take responsibility for their shortcomings.
They typically have low personal accountability and will go to great lengths to find someone to blame before accepting that they’re at fault.
The overt narcissist may explicitly imply that whatever happened is your fault and criticize you for it. The covert narcissist won’t be so explicit.
They still don’t want to take responsibility, but they won’t force it on you. Instead, they’ll take a more subtle and gentle approach.
The covert narcissist is likely to play the victim when they don’t want to take responsibility.
For example, if a covert narcissist loses control and insults you, they probably won’t give you a genuine apology. Instead, they’ll fake it.
They may say sorry, but they’ll turn the situation around and imply that they acted mean because you made them. They become the victim and make you feel bad for causing that behavior.
3. They self-deprecate for attention
Narcissists are known for their inflated sense of self-importance and grandiose self-image.
As such, you may be confused when a narcissist self-deprecates. Why will they speak poorly of themselves if they love themselves so much?
Covert narcissists are self-deprecating for attention.
They draw in your sympathy by implying they’re a failure, not worthy, or not good at something.
They may look down when talking about themselves poorly but steal a glance to see if you’re paying attention. They want you to sympathize, feel sorry for them, and offer them plenty of compliments to help them feel better about themselves.
4. They don’t like gift-giving
Narcissists are self-obsessed. They love to receive gifts, but they feel frustrated and resentful when it comes to gift-giving.
A narcissist’s worst nightmare is not being the center of attention, so imagine how they feel at a birthday party that’s not theirs.
They may still give you a gift to protect their image, but they’ll likely give you cheap or random things that don’t have much value.
Weird things narcissists say in an argument
If you’ve got a narcissistic ex, you may feel incredibly frustrated and confused in arguments with them. Narcissists are the worst people to argue with because they are typically averse to honest and open communication.
Instead of honesty and vulnerability, the narcissist wants to knock you down a peg in an argument.
Often, they’ll sidestep the main issue and bring up other issues. If you confront them about something, they may bring up a mistake you made months or years ago and use it against you.
If you find yourself in an argument, you’ll probably hear them say some or all of the following:
‘Stop making such a big deal out of it!’
‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘You’re acting crazy.’
All of the above are examples of gaslighting, a manipulative tactic and form of narcissistic abuse used by all types of narcissists to control you and make you doubt yourself.
For the narcissist, control and doubt are their modus operandi.
If they can make you doubt and question yourself, that gets them off the hook. You’ll start doubting your perspective and beliefs, distracting you from the real issue.
How to handle a covert narcissist
Dealing with a narcissist, covert or overt, is never easy.
Narcissists are incredibly skilled manipulators, so you need to be secure and grounded in yourself if you want to maintain your health and well-being around them. Read on for some tips on how to deal with a cover narcissist.
Deal with one issue at a time
There are some simple but effective tips when facing an argument with a narcissist. One of the most important is to keep your confrontations to present issues.
For example, tell them if the narcissist is late for dinner and bothers you.
However, please don’t bring up the fact they’re always late. They are usually late, but not always. If you use such an absolute statement, they’ll feel slighted and want to change the situation to protect their image or reputation.
They may bring up your past mistakes and distract you from the original confrontation. As such, it’s wiser to focus on single issues, one at a time.
Practice mindful awareness
Narcissists thrive off your uncertainty and doubt. As such, practicing mindful awareness of your feelings, emotions, reactions, and thought patterns around narcissists is important.
The more mindful you are of arguments, passive-aggressive behaviors, and narcissistic self-deprecating, the less likely you are to become reactive and, therefore, under the narcissist’s control.
Focus on yourself
The best way to deal with a narcissist is to work and focus on yourself.
Practice boundary setting, spend time with loved ones who care about and genuinely love you, and reach out to a therapist or counselor if the narcissist’s behavior has compromised your mental health.
Over-focus on the self, known as self-absorption, is a narcissistic trait, but when dealing with an actual narcissist, it’s important to prioritize yourself. A narcissist will drain your energy if you let them.
Most of us know a narcissist. They may be a romantic partner, a friend, or a family member.
Whoever it is, dealing with them is exhausting.
Narcissists drain others’ energy and even provoke mental health issues in their victims.
Some narcissists are easy to spot, but the covert narcissists discussed in this article often fly under the radar.
Know the signs and behavior of covert narcissism outlined above to help you identify the covert narcissist in your life.
The power to prevent the narcissist from controlling and draining you comes with awareness.