11 subtle signs you’re dealing with a covert narcissist

Sometimes you have the misfortune of running into someone who is so clearly a total narcissist.

Everything about them just screams self-important and delusional. They think the whole world revolves around them, and it brings with it a whole host of ugly qualities.

Yet, covert narcissists are sadly much harder to spot. As the name suggests, their manipulative and selfish ways can fly under the radar.

But they will end up revealing their true colors sooner or later.

Let’s take a look at how you can spot them through the following subtle signs.

1) They seem too good to be true

Particularly in the beginning, they can be charismatic, witty, and engaging.

But their charm acts as a smokescreen, hiding their manipulative nature until it’s too late.

It’s just like that email that lands in your spam folder saying some anonymous rich donor wants to gift you a million dollars.

As the saying goes: ‘If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is’.

The same goes for people too.

I’m not trying to be cynical. There’s a lot to be said for seeing the best in others and giving the benefit of the doubt. But we also have to be smart and keep our wits about us.

If someone presents themselves as practically perfect, tread carefully.

Because we all have flaws. If they are shielding all of theirs, then they may have an ulterior motive.

It takes time to get to know someone.

If somebody does any of the following, be cautious, as these can be clever tactics of covert narcissists:

  • Constantly flatters and compliments you
  • Comes on too strong with the charm
  • Claims to have feelings for you that are disproportionate to how long you’ve known each other

It’s a form of love bombing and it’s designed to butter you up so that they can get their claws into you at a later date. 

2) They have a knack for making you feel bad about things

You hate to say no to them because you’ll never hear the end of it.

They are most likely to keep badgering you until you finally relent.

Even if they do it in a light-hearted way, they’re guilt-tripping you.

If you don’t want to go out for a drink because you’re too tired, you’re responsible for ruining their night.

They have a way of tying their feelings to your actions that makes you feel responsible for them.

Most covert narcissists are masters at manipulation and often employ subtle tactics to control others.

They love to use emotional blackmail and playing the victim to get the upper hand in situations.

3) They’re really good at talking you round

Being compelling and convincing in your arguments can be very sought-after skills.

So we may admire someone who is able to make us consider another perspective and change our minds.

But there is a line.

When someone steps over that line, they’re no longer a skilled debater, they become a manipulator.

If you end up doing things you flat out don’t want to do, then they have crossed your boundaries.

You don’t notice it happening because they make you feel like it was your idea.

4) They invade your personal space

Whilst we’re on the subject of boundaries, here’s another that covert narcissists don’t uphold:

Privacy and space.

In their mind, it’s okay to be totally up in your business.

If you protest, then it’s your problem for being uptight or having something to hide.

You may notice that they invade your personal space. For example, they’ll invite themselves over giving you very little choice in the matter.

They will also happily pry into your private matters, or disregard your desire for privacy as some sort of attempt at secrecy.

If someone did the same to them, they’d be up in arms to protest. But they don’t see this double standard as they believe they are entitled to special treatment.

5) They lean on you far too much

Covert narcissists quickly become emotional vampires.

Yet it can be uncomfortable to admit that someone expects too much from us. Especially as we all want to be empathetic and compassionate.

We can end up feeling selfish for saying enough is enough. But really, it is the covert narcissist who is the selfish one.

They turn to you for all their emotional needs, and in the process, it drains your own emotional energy.

  • They have a crisis almost daily for which they rely on you
  • They spew all of their feelings out on you without checking that you’re happy to hear about it
  • They call you at all hours of the day to tell you their problems or rant at you about some issue or another
  • If you don’t have the time or energy for them, they try to make you feel uncaring

Unfortunately, the consequence is that being in their presence can leave you feeling emotionally exhausted and depleted.

pic1935 11 subtle signs you're dealing with a covert narcissist

6) They think very highly of themselves

You know what, I think highly of myself, and I’m not afraid to admit it.

That’s part of healthy self-esteem. But the type we’re talking about here is to the point of conceit or arrogance.

You may feel embarrassed by their slightly grandiose fantasies about themselves.

Rather than confident, it comes across as pretty delusional.

They often overinflate their achievements and abilities.

They may seek to exaggerate their accomplishments or create elaborate stories that paint themselves in a more positive light.

They’re actually trying to pump up their ego, but the funny thing is that it smacks of desperation.

That’s because it’s a defense mechanism to mask their deep-seated insecurities.

7) They seem pretty desperate for attention

Even when a narcissist is covert, they usually like to have all eyes on them.

They want to be seen as the smartest, funniest, most interesting, best-looking person in the room.

So you’ll usually find that they are always seeking validation from other people.

They crave admiration and attention, and so they’re often found fishing for compliments or reassurance to get it.

But one of the problems with your self-worth being tied to external validation is that it makes you very sensitive to criticism — as we’ll see next.

8) They’re super sensitive to feedback

Being incredibly sensitive to any form of criticism doesn’t automatically mean someone is a narcissist.

We can all struggle to accept our flaws, so it’s hard to hear them reflected back to us.

Perfectionists, for example, often find it much harder to take on board any negative feedback.

But it is worth taking note when someone refuses to hear what you have to say.

If they get instantly defensive and deny any wrongdoing, then narcissistic tendencies could be to blame.

Much like the point above, it comes back to that fragile ego that cannot handle the knock.

So they tend to blow even the slightest critique way out of proportion.

9) You get the impression they don’t really care about your feelings, thoughts, and opinions

That’s because they have a very dismissive way of talking to you.

Deep down they do believe that they are right or better than you. So they’re not prepared to try to see your side of things.

It often starts out small. They may try to inflate their own emotions and experiences and invalidate yours in the process.

As time passes, you’ll probably notice that they belittle your concerns or downplay your feelings entirely.

This emotional invalidation can lead to self-doubt and confusion when it becomes outright gaslighting.

10) They display a lot of these passive-aggressive behaviors

Passive aggressive behavior is yet another preferred tool of the classic covert narcissist. Because it’s designed to go unnoticed and fly under the radar.

But yet again, it’s also something we can all be guilty of occasionally, even when we’re not a narcissist.

For example, have you ever been annoyed at your boyfriend or girlfriend and given him the silent treatment?

Have you ever temporarily blocked messages from someone to try to teach them a lesson?

These sorts of behaviors are pretty commonplace, yet they are undeniably passive-aggressive.

They happen when we lack the skills (or simply the inclination) to communicate in healthier ways.

But a covert narcissist will rely on passive-aggressive methods time and time again.

  • They use backhanded compliments, or subtle insults to undermine others
  • They give you the cold shoulder without explaining what’s wrong
  • They disguise their hostility in humor and sarcasm

It’s all a way of asserting control.

Their indirect approach allows them to maintain plausible deniability while still getting their point across.

11) You walk on eggshells trying to keep the peace

When you’re dealing with narcissistic behavior, you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.

You are unable to reasonably raise issues with them, as they fly off the handle over the smallest of things.

You feel at the mercy of their unfair mood swings. Yet you feel trapped by them too.

So, you try to make yourself as small as possible in response.

It’s often not a conscious decision, it almost becomes an instinctive response.

It’s much like prey in the wild hoping to avoid the attention of the predator.

One of the tactics you try to employ to manage the situation as best as you can given the circumstances is to avoid rocking the boat.

That pretty much means:

  • Being as mild-mannered as you can
  • Tip-toeing around them
  • Pandering to their whims and moods

Try to look for patterns

Here’s the thing:

One swallow does not make a summer.

Meaning, that plenty of us can be guilty of some of the same poor behaviors from time to time. Because hey, we’re only human.

If somebody sulks occasionally, or brags to you about their new job — it doesn’t automatically mean you’re dealing with a narcissist.

We can throw the term around when really someone is simply an asshole.

At the same time, identifying the subtle signs of a covert narcissist is crucial for your emotional well-being and protection.

So it’s important to be alert and look for patterns in behavior.

When the signs on our list appear in bulk, and on repeat, it’s time to take a step back and be on your guard.

Picture of Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash has years of experience writing relationship articles for single females looking for love. After being single for years with no hope of meeting Mr. Right, she finally managed to get married to the love of her life. Now that she’s settled down and happier than she’s ever been in her life, she's passionate about sharing all the wisdom she's learned over the journey. Pearl is also an accredited astrologer and publishes Hack Spirit's daily horoscope.

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