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Recognizing a Passive-Aggressive Narcissist

5 traits of a covert narcissist

Key points

  • The opposite of the self-centered narcissist who is loud and needs to be the center of attention is the covert narcissist.
  • Covert narcissists can be passive-aggressive, introverted, and hold a grudge.
  • They often perpetuate a fantasy that is very different from reality, and their behaviors are geared towards getting the attention they crave.
Marcelo Chagas/Pexels
Source: Marcelo Chagas/Pexels

A common perception about narcissists is that they are loud, over-the-top, and extremely visible in their sense of grandiosity and their feelings of superiority over others. While this is one expression of narcissism, psychologists recognize that narcissism actually occurs on a spectrum. In other words, there is a range of different behaviors an individual with narcissism can display.

The opposite of the self-centered narcissist who is loud and meets to be the center of attention is the covert narcissist. This person is sometimes called the vulnerable narcissist, which seems like a contradiction in terms.

The individual who is passive-aggressive and displays narcissistic traits uses the traditional techniques and tactics associated with the diagnosis, but they also display some traits that are outside the typical behaviors. As with any mental health issue, a diagnosis should only be completed by a trained mental health professional, as there are other personality disorders that may exhibit some of the same traits and behaviors.

Here are some of the traits and behaviors you may see in a passive-aggressive, covert narcissist:

Sabotaging others

This is the passive-aggressive component. The covert narcissist makes fun of others through jokes, blames others at work and in relationships, and works behind the scenes to cause others to fail for their benefit. They may also choose not to work on team or group projects but use the blame game to shift the focus to others.

Highly introverted

The covert narcissist is not extroverted, and they tend to be very insecure. Staying away from others limits their need to compare themselves or to have to live up to external standards.

Hypersensitive to correction

Constructive criticisms or mild correction is seen as a personal threat to the covert narcissist. They tend to respond to these types of comments with the silent treatment or anger. Keep in mind that perceived criticism is just as significant for these individuals as intended correction.

Depression and anxiety

The feeling of being isolated and the fear of being exposed as not as good as they see themselves increases the risk of anxiety and depression.

Grudges and envy

These people do not let go of a perceived slight and tend to hold on to grudges and negative thoughts for sustained periods of time. They also see others who are successful as undeserving of their success or taking away what is rightfully the narcissist's recognition, wealth, job, or another tangible or intangible thing.

Finally, the covert narcissist often has created a fantasy narrative that is very different from their reality. This is similar to the classic behavior of a narcissist. However, the fantasy is often kept hidden or private from others.

Some covert or vulnerable narcissists can display a show of empathy. However, their kindness or caring for others is done as a way to gain favor or recognition, not for unselfish and altruistic reasons. Everything this type of narcissist does, including making self-deprecating statements, is about drawing attention from others. Like the typical narcissist, this individual needs attention from others to feel complete.

It can be very difficult to determine if a person is a covert narcissist. Working with a therapist is the most effective way to protect yourself, develop boundaries, and assess the viability of the relationship based on your emotional and mental health and well-being.

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