Overt vs Covert Narcissism
When you hear the word “narcissist,” you probably picture someone who always has to be the center of attention. This need for admiration can sometimes reach the level of clinical pathology. However, it’s not always so obvious to friends, family members, and even significant others. Today, we’ll discuss covert narcissism in relationships.
Traits of a Covert Narcissist
Overt narcissism is the out-there, clear display of narcissistic traits. Covert narcissists, on the other hand, are more subtle in their actions. You can think of them as introverts with grandiose tendencies. They meet the same criteria as their better-known counterparts, but hide behind sensitivity. Symptoms include:
- Self-importance – A covert narcissist is just as self-involved as an overt narcissist, but they find different ways to fulfill their need for attention. They may minimize their accomplishments to fish for compliments.
- Muddying the waters – By confusing you, narcissists are able to gain power in relationships.
- Seeking admiration – While an overt narcissist may be open about their need for glorification, covert narcissists satisfy this desire by looking for reassurance.
- Emotional unavailability – They may strive to appear emotionally open, but a covert narcissist tends to disregard and distance themselves from their partners.
- Shaming others – Traditionally, narcissists are masters in casting blame and shaming people. In relationships, a covert narcissist may act as if they are the victim of your behavior.
- Giving (with strings attached) – Narcissistic people can’t just give for giving’s sake. Don’t be surprised if a covert narcissist in your life only provides presents and favors with strings attached.
They may have become this way through conditioning – maybe their parents continually reinforced that they were special and unique. They may be the product of high-achieving lifestyles. Narcissistic personality disorder is also linked to more mysterious influences like genetics, adverse childhood experiences, and temperament.
Covert Narcissism Test
Are you worried about your own behaviors? Is your significant other a covert narcissist? Take the covert narcissist test – or have them take it – to learn more. This test is sourced from IDRlabs.com and is based on contemporary research. It is called the IDR-3MCNT. Respond to each question with Not me, Describes me somewhat, or Definitely me.
- My secret thoughts, feelings, and actions would horrify my loved ones.
- My feelings are easily hurt by ridicule or insulting remarks.
- I have enough on my hands without worrying about other people’s problems.
- I am extremely sensitive to success and failure.
- I silently wonder why others aren’t appreciative of my good qualities.
- Defeat or disappointment usually shames or angers me, but I try not to show it.
- I secretly resent others who have what I wish I had.
- I dislike sharing credit for an achievement with other people.
- I am often secretly annoyed when people come to me for help with their problems (or sympathy).
- I easily become wrapped up in my own interests and forget the needs of those who are closest to me.
If your loved one checks these boxes, it is possible that they may be a covert narcissist. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome covert narcissism in relationships.
How to Deal with a Covert Narcissist
First, it’s important to evaluate your relationship. If the two of you are already strained, or if you’ve been waiting to end things, you can walk away now. However, if you’d like to make some changes, you should consider the following:
- What are your goals for the relationship?
- Can the other person meet you where you’d like to be?
- Is the other person the one with all the power?
- How much do you value this relationship?
- Will both of you commit to changing?
Once you’ve decided on your intentions, it’s time to start setting boundaries. Be strong and resist any victimization they may respond with. It’s okay to pick your battles at this time; you don’t have to provide an in-depth explanation for every choice. Instead, you can express yourself through the DEAR MAN strategy:
Describe the situation factually
Express your feelings about what’s happening
Ask for what you need
Reward them by explaining the positive effects of what you want
Mindfully approach the conversation, ignoring distractions
Negotiate – don’t hesitate to offer alternatives that work for both of you
This is a pathway to effective communication that works for both of you. Be sure to be gentle with your significant other. You can also validate them, as long as you don’t reinforce their delusions.
Finally, remember to keep your own well-being first. If the other person is undermining your recovery or jeopardizing your mental health, it’s okay to move on. If you need help recovering from covert narcissism in relationships, contact Lakeside-Milam. Our admissions team can talk to you about our outpatient mental health programming.