Covert narcissists are everywhere. It took me a long time to identify them in my life, and I had to suffer their hidden abuse for many years until I learned how to handle them. Over time, I figured out this one fool proof test to find the covert narcissists in my life.
How do you tell if you have a covert narcissist on you hands? Covert narcissists can never accept criticism. Unlike classic narcissists, covert narcissists may not display obvious external signs, and may subtly deflect critiques rather than over-react to them. But, keeping an eye on how a person accepts sincere criticism is key to determining if they have covert narcissist traits.
It can sometimes take quite a bit of close observation to get at the truth of whether someone is truly a narcissist or not. Covert narcissists are experts at hiding their inner feelings from others. Read on for more ways to find out if your loved one, coworker, or friend is a covert narcissist.
The Covert Narcissist Test — Never Accepting Criticism
The key thing that defines a narcissist is their view of themselves, and how they perceive they are viewed by others. A covert narcissist will resort to any tactic they can to garner praise and admiration from those around them, including:
- Passive Aggressiveness
- Sabotaging Other People’s Work
- Teasing or Joking Intended to Mock Others
- Silent Treatment
- Shifting Blame
- Putting Themselves Down (aka Fishing for Complements)
Unlike many classic narcissists, covert narcissists tend toward introversion, and frequently do not want to be the center of attention. Because of this, they are often left out when people are trying to ferret out narcissists in their lives.
According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, covert narcissists:
[as] the vulnerable, “fragile” or thin-skinned, covert subtype [of narcissist] is inhibited, manifestly distressed, hypersensitive to the evaluations of others while chronically envious and evaluating themselves in relation to others. Interpersonally these individuals are often shy, outwardly self-effacing, and hypersensitive to slights, while harboring secret grandiosity. Both types are extraordinarily self-absorbed.
Because of these traits, it can be very difficult to read a covert narcissist. They are very good at blending in. They outwardly downplay themselves, while secret holding themselves in extremely high regard.
The best test to find covert narcissist is to observe their behavior when they are accepting criticism. A covert narcissist will never willingly acknowledge the criticism, and use one of many methods to deflect it. The following sections detail ways that covert narcissists try to get out of acknowledging criticism.
Covert Narcissists Trap You With Gifts and Favors
One extremely common technique used by all narcissists, especially covert narcissists, is the tit-for-tat exchange of gifts or favors.
Narcissists see gift giving as a way of building up favors that you owe them. Gifts from them are never given out of a desire to help you or make you feel good, they are given as a way of getting something of greater value from you.
The narcissist will hold these favors over you. They will pull out these “trump cards” any time they want you to do as they say, and in particular in order to protect their own ego.
When you have called out or criticized a covert narcissist, it is very common for them to pull out one of these favors owed to them as a way to deflect criticism away from themselves and on to you.
Covert Narcissists Lie to Protect Themselves and Control Others
Covert narcissists lie instinctively, as a way to protect themselves from any damage to their self-image and to get other to do the things that they want. Narcissists do not feel remorse for the lies they tell or the damage that they cause. While they are usually very aware of what the truth is, they see lies as a justified means of getting what “they deserve,” which usually involves copious amounts of respect, special treatment, and admiration from those around them.
Lies often take the form of:
- Acting innocent, clueless, or victimized
- Forgetting what you talked about, or what they were directed to do
- Projection of their faults on to you
- Completely made up fantasy versions of events they were part of
- Omission of key facts
- Refusal to acknowledge or respond to a direct question
- Quickly changing the topic of conversation
- Direct accusations towards others
Covert Narcissists Engage in Emotional Manipulation
One extremely potent tactic they use is covert emotional manipulation of those around them. This extends to family members, loved ones, friends, and even co-workers, bosses, and subordinates.
Narcissists will often express falsified emotions in order to get you to exhibit the same emotion back to you. This includes them professing their love, calling you their best friend, or similar. They will use this to extort forms of commitment from you, that they will not reciprocate or hold up their end of the bargain. But, if you confront them about it, they will deflect or even blame you for their deception.
Another common tactic is the cutting insult hidden within a complement. Much of what they say is two-faced, designed to seem “nice” but to also secretly cut you down. Things like, “Your cooking is much more edible today than usual.” Or, “You don’t usually have good ideas, so that makes this one extra special!”
Covert narcissists can be quite “nice,” but they will shy away from real intimacy.
Covert Narcissists Control Communication
An especially telling trait of narcissists in professional situations is their need to control the surrounding conversation Common ways they do this are the following:
- Forcefully changing the topic of conversation
- Refusal to listen or acknowledge what you are saying
- Ignoring direct questions
- Misrepresenting what you say
- Responding immediately with counter-criticism
- Interpreting even unrelated topics as an attack on them personally
Because covert narcissists live in a world where they need control over all else, they are extremely skilled and controlling and maneuvering conversation. So much so that most people will not recognize that it is happening, or will even consider the narcissist to be an “excellent conversationalist.”
Knowing these tactics will help you to recognize the covert narcissists in you life.
Covert Narcissists Use the Silent Treatment as a Means of Control
Lastly, the covert narcissist will use the silent treatment as a means of control. This is particularly common amount covert narcissists, because they dislike direct confrontation.
The silent treatment is easy to spot for the victim, because there will be a conspicuous lack of communication on their part. The narcissist is usually very good at getting their point across this way, and you will feel slighted by it, even if you don’t know why immediately.
However, the narcissist usually won’t admit what they are doing. They will act surprised that you feel that way. They will deflect and say that you are crazy for feeling that way. Or, they may even put the blame on you, and say you are the one doing to them!
What are the signs of a covert narcissist?
The biggest tell of a covert narcissist is that they will do anything to avoid accepting criticism. Covert narcissists can be difficult to tell otherwise, because the often hide their narcissistic behind introverted personality traits and secret grandiosity.
Can a covert narcissist change?
Covert narcissists can change if they desire it, but can never be forced to change by others. The biggest obstacle to helping a narcissist, it to get them to recognize those traits in themselves. Unless they can acknowledge the problem, there is very little hope of them overcoming it.
How do you communicate with a covert narcissist?
Covert narcissists must feel valued and respected in every interaction. Attempting to communicate criticisms or cliques directly to a narcissist will result in them ignoring what you say, or become hostile to you. Covert narcissists are particularly difficult, because they usually will not give you direct feedback when you upset them, making them hard to read.