You may be fooled by a covert narcissist, but a covert narcissist is just as much a narcissist as your typical extroverted narcissist. Some narcissists emphasize one personality trait more than others. One person with an outgoing personality might always show-off and need to be the center of attention, while another narcissist might be a vindictive bully, an entitled playboy, an imperious authoritarian, or an exacting know-it-all, as articulated by Madonna, “Listen, everyone is entitled to my opinion.”
Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT is a marriage and family therapist. She is a relationship expert and author of “Codependency for Dummies” and “Conquering Codependency and Shame: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You,” as well as five ebooks. She has worked extensively in the field of addiction and codependency. Her work is informed by training in Self-Psychology, Voice-Dialogue, Dream Analysis, Jungian Therapy, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Somatic Work, EFT, and Hypnosis. She has also previously supervised other therapists as an AAMFT Approved Supervisor and practiced law as an entertainment attorney.
Some public figures and celebrities exemplify extroverted narcissists – people who are, grandiose and crave attention. Radio host and psychologist Dr. Wendy Walsh said, “Narcissistic personality disorder is not only accepted in the entertainment industry, it’s often a requirement.” (Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2017) The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual criteria describe these types as “Exhibitionist Narcissists.”
The Covert Narcissist
There are several subtypes of narcissists. Among them are covert narcissists. Psychoanalyst James Masterson first identified the “Closet Narcissist”—someone deflated, with an inadequate self-perception. Lacking the aggressiveness of the exhibitionistic narcissist, they’re more prone to depression and feelings of emptiness or like things are falling apart. This subtype has also been referred to as a “covert narcissist,” “vulnerable narcissist,” or “introverted narcissist.” Take a quiz to see if you’re one, but don’t rely on it conclusively without speaking to a mental health provider.
On the surface, they can be hard to identify. These narcissists may appear shy, humble, or anxious. Their gratification may be indirect through their emotional investment in someone they admire. They take things personally and feel distrustful, mistreated, unappreciated, and misunderstood. Although they devalue themselves, they dream of greatness and wonder why people don’t appreciate and understand them.
They still qualify for narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), particularly feeling special and wanting admiration (perhaps secretly), lacking empathy, and feeling entitled. They’re still self-centered and expect special treatment. They often feel that their specialness is not appreciated, that they’re misunderstood, or that people or the world at large hasn’t sufficiently recognized their uniqueness. Some play the role of victim and a martyr.
They might be a philanthropists or in the clergy or helping professions. Yet, despite the fact that they may appear to genuinely care for others, they’re motivated by a need for recognition, power over others, or egoistic pride. They might help by taking over without even asking permission. They behave self-righteously superior, moralistic, or like an exploited, resentful sufferer for all their giving.