My name is Sam Vaknin and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.
Contrary to misinformation spread by so-called experts online, covert narcissists are not cunning and they are not manipulative.
Classic narcissists are cunning and manipulative. They often disguise their true nature effectively, knowingly and intentionally.
Classic narcissists are persistent actors with great thespian skills, but not so the covert narcissist. The covert narcissist suppresses his true nature because he lacks the confidence to assert it.
His is not a premeditated choice. He can't help it but shy away.
The covert narcissist is his own worst critic. Inverted narcissists are covert narcissists. They are self-centered, sensitive, vulnerable and defensive. Sometimes they are hostile or paranoid. Inverted narcissists harbor grandiose fantasies and have a strong sense of entitlement. They tend to exploit others, albeit stealthily and subtly.
Covert narcissists are aware of their innate limitations and shortcomings and therefore constantly fret and stress over their inability to fulfill their unrealistic dreams and expectations. Covert narcissists avoid recognition, competition and limelight for fear of being exposed as frauds or failures. They are ostentatiously modest. Covert narcissists often feel guilty over and ashamed of their socially impermissible aggressive urges and desires which they suppress and deny and keep at bay.
Consequently, covert narcissists are shy and unassertive and intensely self-critical. They are perfectionists.
This inner conflict in the covert narcissist between an overwhelming sense of worthlessness and a grandiose false self results in mood and anxiety disorders.
Covert narcissists team up with classic narcissists but in secret they resent and they envy them.
Cooper and Akhtar, two scholars, wrote about covert narcissists as early as 1989 and they compared the arrogant or overt or classic narcissists to the shy or covert narcissists.
When it comes to self-concept, the classic narcissist has grandiosity, preoccupation with fantasies of outstanding success and a reduced sense of uniqueness, feelings of entitlement and seeming self-sufficiency.
The covert narcissist has inferiority, morose self-doubts, marked propensity toward feeling ashamed, fragility, relentless search for glory and power, marked sensitivity to criticism and realistic setbacks. The classic narcissist has numerous but shallow relationships and intense need for tribute from others, scorn for others, content or often masked by pseudo-humility, lack of empathy, inability to genuinely participate in group activities, the valuing of children over stalks in family life.
The covert, on the other hand, has inability to genuinely depend on others and trust them, chronically of others, of their talents, of their possessions, of their capacity for deep object relations, for lack. Covert narcissists have a lack of regard for generational boundaries. They disregard others. They disregard other people's time. They refuse to answer letters as a form of passive-aggressive behavior.
As far as social adaptation, the classic narcissist is socially charming. He's often successful, consistent hard work done mainly to seek admiration. It's called pseudo-sublimation.
He has intense ambition and a preoccupation with appearances.
The covert, on the other hand, has nagging aimlessness, shallow vocational commitment, dilettante-like attitude, a charlatan, multiple but superficial interests, chronic boredom, aesthetic taste, often ill-informed and imitative.
As far as ethics, standards and ideals, the classic narcissist has caricatured modesty, what they call false modesty, a pretended contempt for money in real life.
Idiocentrically and unevenly more, this is the classic narcissist. His apparent enthusiasm is only for socio-political affairs.
The covert narcissist has a readiness to shift values to gain favor. He is a pathological liar. He has a materialistic lifestyle. He has delinquent tendencies, inordinate ethnic and moral relativism and irreverence towards authority.
When it comes to love and sexuality, the covert narcissist is in a state of constant marital instability. His is cold and greedy seductiveness. Extramarital affairs and promiscuity are common, and he has an uninhibited sex life.
The covert narcissist is unable to remain in love. He has impaired capacity for viewing the romantic partner as a separate individual with his or her own interests, rights and values. The covert narcissist is unable to genuinely comprehend the incest taboo, and he has occasional sexual perversions.
Finally, the cognitive style of the classic narcissist is vastly different to that of the covert narcissist. The classic narcissist is impressively knowledgeable, indecisive, opinionated, often strikingly articulate. Ego-centric perception of reality goes hand in hand with the love of language, fondness for shortcuts to acquisition of knowledge, and general infatuation with knowledge.
The covert narcissist's knowledge is often limited to trivia. It's called headline intelligence. He is forgetful of details, especially names. He is impaired in the capacity for learning new skills. He has a tendency to change meanings of reality when he is faced with a threat to his surfacing. His language and speaking are used for regulating surfacing, not for communicating.
So the inverted narcissist is a codependent who depends exclusively on narcissists. A narcissist is codependent.
If you are living with a narcissist, if you have a relationship with a narcissist, if you are married to a narcissist, and if you are working with a narcissist, that does not mean that you are an inverted narcissist.
To qualify as an inverted narcissist, you must crave to be in a relationship with a narcissist, regardless of any abuse inflicted on you by said narcissist. You must actively seek relationships with narcissists and only with narcissists, no matter what your bitter and dramatic past experience with narcissists has been. You must feel empty and unhappy in relationships with any other kind of person, with a non-narcissist.
Only then, and if you satisfy the other diagnostic criteria of dependent personality disorder, only then can you be safely labeled an inverted narcissist.