What is Covert Narcissism?

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COVERT NARCISSISM is synonymous with vulnerable narcissism and introverted narcissism. All three refer to a subtype of extreme narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder that manifests as a maladaptive sensitivity to criticism and defeat.

Normal or healthy narcissism is a personality trait all people possess that is necessary for our wellbeing. However, excessive narcissism can lead to dysfunction and, in extraordinary cases, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Extreme narcissism is a protective ego structure that hides of a failed self within a false self.

There are two subtypes of extreme narcissism:

  • Overt narcissism (also known as grandiose narcissism), and
  • Covert narcissism (also known as vulnerable or introverted narcissism).

1. Fragility

Due to its fragile nature, covert narcissism leads to recurring narcissistic injuries in the form of pervasive feelings of humiliation and emptiness. These show up as contempt, vengeance, and a yearning for retribution.

2. Toxic Shame

Chronic shame and an inner dialogue characterized by self-criticism lead to psychological torment and anguish. For this reason, this strain of disordered narcissism is often comorbid with depression, dysthymia, or major de­pressive disorder.

Social Withdrawal

Social withdrawal is a defense mechanism commonly used by covert narcissists. They do this to protect themselves from feelings of humiliation and their fear of being exposed as anything less than perfection itself.

Covert narcissists do not have abandonment issues and they are not self-destructive.

Inverted Grandiosity

In covert narcissism, the grandiosity that is one of the distinguishing features of overt narcissism becomes introverted and masked with humility to protect a painfully fragile ego.

Their inverted grandiosity to upholds their perception of themselves as superior. They are happy to forego attention unless it is affirming.

Other difference from grandiose narcissism

One of the affects of covert narcissism being disconnected from one’s own feelings of vulnerability as well as insensitive to these feelings in others.

Though their grandiosity is well hidden, covert narcissists remain superficial and exploitative pragmatists. This variant of excessive narcissism doesn’t always present with the impulsiveness, mendacity and malice commonly seen in overt or grandiose narcissism.

3. Fractured relationships with self and others

Covert narcissism often leads to adverse relationships with self and others due to its characteristic entitlement, insensitivity, and need for admiration.

4. Professional life

Some covert narcissists become very accomplished in their professional life due to their well-masked grandiosity, self-esteem, and soaring ambition. While performance anxiety and sensitivity to criticism and defeat prove formidable obstacles that prevent progress for others.


Gore, W. L., & Widiger, T. A. (2016). Fluctuations between grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 7(4), Page 363.

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What is narcissism?

What Is Narcissism?

NARCISSISM IS A TERM used to describe a trait that exists within the personality system. In recent years, narcissism has erroneously been conflated with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), when they are two distinct constructs. In this article, we will aim to correct some of the common misconceptions about narcissism and provide accurate information about a fascinating yet misunderstood characteristic.

What is the definition of narcissism?

Simply put, narcissism is self-idealization. Like all personality traits, it exists on a spectrum. However, the degree to which people are narcissistic varies. Problems may arise when narcissism is excessive and likewise when it is deficient. Its most extreme manifestation is narcissistic personality disorder.

Myth 1: All narcissism is bad

In and of itself, narcissism is neither good nor bad. It is simply a necessary component of the human personality structure. In fact, a normal or healthy degree of narcissism has a range of health benefits. Narcissism becomes problematic only when there are aberrations.

Myth 2: Humanity is divided into narcissists and empaths

The notion that some people have narcissism while others do not is patently false. All people have some measure of the trait. Some expressions of narcissism are healthy while others are not.

Myth 3: Narcissism prevents people from having feelings

People with a normal amount of narcissism can experience a full range of emotions. However, a normal degree of narcissism can also function as a soothing balm for the ego that makes desire possible and disappointment tolerable.

Another way to think of it is to consider the etymology of the words narcissism and narcotic. Both originate from the Greek narkao which means “I numb myself”. In other words, narcissism affects the ego much like a narcotic.

Myth 4: Narcissism serves no purpose

Holding a slightly flattering view ourselves serves to dull the impact of otherwise painful existential realities. In this way, normal narcissism can help prevent feelings depression and anxiety.

Myth 5: There is no effective treatment for excessive narcissism

Normal and sub-clinical narcissism can change over time. In other words, normal and excessive narcissism is not rigid and treatment resistant like narcissistic personality disorder. For this reason, it is important to seek professional advice from a licensed mental health profession before assuming that all expressions of narcissism are indicative of narcissistic personality disorder.

Myth 6: Narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder are the same thing

Narcissism is a personality trait. Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health condition that can arise from post-traumatic stress.

12 Signs of Normal or Healthy Narcissism?

Clinical psychologist Michael Kinsey, PhD, an expert in personality dynamics, breaks down some of the most prominent characteristics of healthy narcissism are the ability to:

  1. Give and receive admiration.
  2. Practice self-awareness.
  3. Recognize the significance of our contributions.
  4. Practice gratitude and appreciation.
  5. Express compassion for others while prioritizing self.
  6. Practice self-respect.
  7. Set and maintain boundaries.
  8. Feel secure about being seen.
  9. Accept others’ disapproval.
  10. Set and pursue.
  11. Be observant of the external world.
  12. Demonstrate self-efficacy, perseverance, and stability.

As a trait, narcissism is very different from its subtypes in a number of ways. It is flexible and can change over time. Most importantly normal or healthy narcissism helps us develop a positive self concept and it can help form wholesome relationships with others.

Books by Michael Kinsey Ph.D.

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