What is A Covert Narcissist In Behavioral Science?


A covert narcissist, also known as a vulnerable or closet narcissist, is an individual who exhibits a more subtle and less obvious form of narcissism compared to the overt or grandiose narcissist. While both types of narcissists share the core traits of narcissism, such as a strong sense of entitlement, excessive need for admiration, and lack of empathy, covert narcissists tend to express these traits in a more concealed and less apparent manner. They may appear shy, introverted, or insecure on the surface, but their underlying narcissistic tendencies can manifest through passive-aggressive behaviors, victim mentality, and manipulation tactics. Covert narcissism is a complex and often misunderstood personality type that may cause significant interpersonal difficulties and emotional distress for both the narcissist and the people around them.


Covert narcissism is a concept that emerged from the study of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), a mental health condition characterized by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy. The term “covert narcissist” was first introduced by psychoanalyst James F. Masterson in the 1980s, who observed that some individuals with narcissistic traits do not exhibit the overtly grandiose behaviors typically associated with NPD. Instead, these individuals display a more introverted and vulnerable form of narcissism, often seeking attention and validation through indirect and manipulative means.

Key Characteristics

Hidden Grandiosity

Covert narcissists may not openly boast or brag about their achievements, but they harbor a strong sense of superiority and entitlement. They may believe that they are special, unique, or misunderstood, and they may expect others to recognize and cater to their needs without having to express them directly.

Vulnerability and Sensitivity

Unlike overt narcissists, covert narcissists often appear insecure, sensitive, or fragile. They may have a heightened sensitivity to criticism, rejection, or perceived slights, leading them to feel easily hurt, offended, or resentful. This vulnerability may contribute to a victim mentality, in which the covert narcissist perceives themselves as unfairly treated or disadvantaged by others.


Covert narcissists tend to express their anger, frustration, or disappointment through passive-aggressive behaviors, such as indirect communication, silent treatment, procrastination, or sabotage. These behaviors can be difficult to recognize and address, as they often involve subtle manipulation, deceit, or evasion of responsibility.

Need for Control

Covert narcissists may have a strong need for control and dominance in their relationships, even if they do not express this need overtly. They may use various tactics to maintain control, such as guilt-tripping, gaslighting, or emotional blackmail, which can be emotionally draining and confusing for their partners, friends, or family members.

Lack of Empathy

Like overt narcissists, covert narcissists often struggle with empathy and emotional attunement. They may have difficulty understanding, acknowledging, or validating the feelings, needs, or perspectives of others, particularly if these do not align with their own self-image or desires. This lack of empathy can result in one-sided, exploitative, or emotionally neglectful relationships.


Recognizing and understanding covert narcissism is crucial for individuals who may be in close relationships with covert narcissists, as it can help them set healthy boundaries, seek support, and make informed decisions about their relationships. It is also important for mental health professionals, who may encounter covert narcissists in therapy or counseling settings, to develop effective strategies and interventions for addressing the underlying issues and patterns associated with this personality type.

Related Articles

Default Nudges: Fake Behavior Change

Default Nudges: Fake Behavior Change

Read Article →
​Here's Why the Loop is Stupid

Here’s Why the Loop is Stupid

Read Article →
How behavioral science can be used to build the perfect brand

How behavioral science can be used to build the perfect brand

Read Article →
The death of behavioral economics

The Death Of Behavioral Economics

Read Article →