Identifying the Covert Narcissist in Your Life: A Checklist

The flamboyance of overt narcissists can make them pretty easy to identify, but what about the covert narcissist in your life? 

Recognizing covert personality traits requires looking beyond obvious appearances, below the surface, past common assumptions and expectations. For this reason, covert narcissism is more difficult to spot, and it can take years to recognize it in someone you think you know well. But the good news is that once you become aware of the patterns and signs of the covert narcissist, you aren’t likely to miss them again.

Covert Narcissism Checklist

The more covert form of pathological narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is not expressed the same way in every individual, but there are typical patterns that are very common. If you see many or most of these attitudes and behaviors in a person you know, you’re probably dealing with someone who suffers—and makes others suffer—with covert narcissism. 

  1. Is passive-aggressive
  2. Criticizes and judges from the sidelines
  3. Is pious and superior
  4. Is threatened by honesty and directness
  5. Swings between idealizing and devaluing him-/herself and others
  6. Denies and dismisses others’ feelings
  7. Cultivates a public do-gooder image sharply different from his/her private behavior
  8. Identifies as a victim
  9. Is cynical, sarcastic, and haughty
  10. Makes unreasonable demands
  11. Turns your problems into his/her dramas
  12. Belittles and blames
  13. Exploits and/or attacks others’ vulnerability
  14. Is reactive to questioning or criticism 
  15. Plays on sympathies
  16. Fakes or exaggerates illness/injury for attention
  17. Withholds and stonewalls
  18. Gaslights
  19. Avoids introspection and lacks self-awareness
  20. Uses platitudes in place of genuine insight
  21. Denies own anger
  22. Focuses on unfairness
  23. Is envious and vengeful
  24. Prefers to remain behind the scenes 
  25. Gossips
  26. Triangulates
  27. Holds a grudge
  28. Needs reassurance
  29. Is inattentive or annoyed when others talk
  30. Has double standards 
  31. Hates to lose
  32. Discusses others’ problems and misfortunes
  33. Flatters and fawns to win favor
  34. Displays rage and contempt in private
  35. Resists decision-making
  36. Does not sincerely apologize
  37. Avoids direct responsibility
  38. Has an exaggerated sense of entitlement
  39. Is impressed by the overt narcissist’s appearance of confidence
  40. Lacks emotional empathy
  41. Focuses on appearance over substance
  42. Rushes to (false) intimacy
  43. Is anxious and hypervigilant
  44. Displays false humility and humble brags
  45. Crosses normative boundaries and codes of conduct
  46. Pokes, prods, and pries
  47. Feels special through association
  48. Feels above the rules
  49. Uses guilt and shame to control and punish
  50. Expects care-taking
  51. Conducts smear campaigns
  52. Is prone to paranoia and conspiracy theories

The Overt Versus the Covert Narcissist

Like the overt narcissist, the covert narcissist fails to develop empathy, self-awareness, or a stable sense of identity and self-esteem in childhood. Both feel defective and cope with underlying insecurity and shame by adopting a grandiose persona, a delusion of superiority that they constantly assert at the expense of those around them. 

Although covert narcissists avoid the spotlight and prefer passive aggressive means of controlling others, this is not necessarily because they are introverted as is often stated. Rather, they lack the brash confidence of overt narcissists and fear being exposed and humiliated if they draw public attention to themselves. 

Recognizing the covert narcissist in your life is the first step to overcoming your self-defeating cycles of confusion, guilt, self-blame, and emotional and physical trauma.