So, Is My Narcissist a Covert Narcissist? Nonsense vs. Scholarship

Uploaded 6/20/2015, approx. 6 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited.

You sit at home and you wonder, is my narcissist a covert narcissist?

So, you pick up your smartphone, flap open your laptop, and you Google covert narcissism. And then you are faced with an avalanche of nonsense, inanity, and outright misinformation, preferred and spewed out by self-styled experts with or without academic degrees.

It's time to set the record straight. Who is a covert narcissist? How can you judge whether the narcissist in your life, or spouse, your boss, your neighbor, your so-called best friend, your children, whether these are covert narcissists or not?

Covert narcissism was first described in the 1980s, and by 1989, it was well introduced into scholarly literature by the likes of Cooper and Akhtar. In 1996, I suggested the concept of inverted narcissism. Inverted narcissism is a subtype, a subspecies of covert narcissism.

But, first things first, what is a covert narcissist?

Covert narcissist is a narcissist who suffers from an inset in-depth sense of inferiority. He feels inferior all the time. He has morose self-doubts. He has a marked propensity toward feeling ashamed. He is shy. He is fragile. He is engaged in a relentless search for glory and power, but without the attendant, vainglorious ostentation and conspicuous socializing and gregariousness. He is markedly sensitive to criticism, and he cannot stand setbacks and reality, in effect. He is therefore, to some extent, delusional.

The covert narcissist is unable to genuinely depend on others or to trust them. He suffers from a chronic envy of others. It's corrosive, like acid, eating him alive from the inside. He hates their talents, their possessions, their capacity for deep object relations. He can't stand their successes and his failures, even if these failures are only in his mind or by comparison. He has a lack of regard for generational boundaries, so he shows no respect for older people and no love towards children. He has general disregard for other people's time, and he refuses to communicate on a regular basis, maintaining unpredictability as sort of a carrot-and-stick situation.

The covert narcissist is not goal-orientated. He is besieged by nagging aimlessness. He has shallow vocational commitment in the words of Cooper and Akhtar. His attitudes are those of a charlatan or a dilettante. He is an amateur, sometimes a gifted amateur, but always an amateur. He has multiple interests, but all of them are very superficial. He is chronically bored. His aesthetic taste is often ill-informed and imitated. He switches on a dime. He is ready to shift values to gain favor. He is a pathological liar, exactly like the classic narcissist, and his lifetime is materialistic, but he has delinquent tendencies and inordinate moral relativism. He is irreverent towards authority, so in this sense, he is what we call counterdependent. He hates authority, can't stand authority. He feels humiliated when he is bossed around, when he is the recipient of instructions and orders, or even advice.

The covert narcissist is unable to remain in love. Some authorities think that covert narcissists, as opposed to classic narcissists, are capable, actually, of falling in love and being in love, but they are unable to remain in love. They have an impaired capacity to view their romantic partner as a separate individual with his or her own interests.

They don't uphold other people's rights and values. To them, other people are extensions of themselves. That's the reason why covert narcissists are unable to succumb, to accept, or to adhere to social strictures and to social modes of behavior and laws. This is why, for instance, we find an inordinate proportion of covert narcissists among parents engaging in incestuous relationships. Incest is a typical covert narcissistic behavior.

And covert narcissists, more so than classic narcissists, are prone to sexual perversions or paraphilias, as we call them.

The knowledge of the covert narcissist is often limited to trivia. Akhtar called it headline intelligence. They sort of skim the surface. They can say a sentence or two on almost any topic, but if you try to delve deeper, you discover that it's a very shallow point indeed, masquerading as an ocean.

They are forgetful of details, especially names. They are impaired in their capacity for learning new skills. They have a tendency to change the meanings of reality when they are confronted with threats to their self-esteem.

So they re-cast history, rewrite history, reinvent themselves, and reinvent people around them. Language skills and speaking, generally, are used by covert narcissists to regulate the sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

They don't use language to communicate. They use language to impress. They use language to humiliate. They use language to establish a hierarchy and order of things, but they do not communicate.

So we can say that covert narcissists often feel guilty over and ashamed of their socially impermissible aggressive urges and desires. Shame, as Masterson said, shame is a very prominent feature of covert narcissists.

They dislike themselves. They are egodystonic. The classic narcissist likes himself. He finds himself appealing, attractive, the next stage in the evolutionary ladder, superior.

So the classic narcissist is egosyntonic. The covert narcissist is egodystonic. He doesn't like himself. Covert narcissists are shy, as we've said. They are unassertive. They are intensely self-critical. They are perfectionists. They are in a conflict between an overwhelming sense of worthlessness and a grandiose false self.

This conflict results in mood, moodiness, and even mood and anxiety disorders. Covert narcissists usually team up with classic narcissists, but in secret, they resent their partners. They envy them. They would have liked to be classic narcissists, but they are not.

Contrary to the aforementioned misinformation spread by these self-styled experts, covert narcissists are not cunning. 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 the covert narcissist is not. The covert narcissist suppresses his true nature because he lacks the confidence to assert it. He doesn't act. He simply is not.

The covert narcissist's choice is not premeditated. He can't help but shy away. The covert narcissist is his own worst self-critic. He has what we call a sadistic superego, a voice, an inner voice, internalized usually during childhood, an inner voice that keeps telling him, you're inadequate, you're a failure, you're no good, you're a bad object.

As I said in 1996, I proposed a subspecies of covert narcissism, which I called inverted narcissism. The inverted narcissist is a covert narcissist. The inverted narcissist is self-centered. She, usually it's a she. She is sensitive, vulnerable, and defensive, sometimes hostile and paranoid. Inverted narcissists harbor grandiose fantasies. They have a strong sense of entitlement. They tend to exploit others, albeit stealthily, subtly.

Covert narcissists are aware of their inner limitations and shortcomings and therefore constantly fret and stress over their inability to fulfill their unrealistic dreams and expectations and grandiose fantasies.

Covert narcissists, then inverted narcissists, avoid recognition, competition, and the limelight because they are afraid to be exposed as frauds and failures. They are ostentatiously modest, fake modesty. Inverted narcissists crave to be in a relationship with a narcissist, regardless of any abuse inflicted on the inverted narcissist by the classic narcissist with whom she has teamed up.

Inverted narcissists actively seek relationships with classic narcissists and only with classic narcissists. They can't be with anyone else. No matter what the bitter and traumatic past experience has been, they still gravitate and inexorably attracted to classic narcissists.

Inverted narcissists feel empty. They feel unhappy in relationships with normal people, with any other kind of person except a narcissist.

Only when they are with a narcissist, they feel alive. They call it technicolor existence. With all types of other people, it's black and white.

Narcissist comes into the room, color flares up, the inverted narcissist perks up and is alive.

Inverted narcissist, therefore, is a codependent who depends exclusively on narcissists. A narcissist codependent. If you live with a narcissist, if you have a relationship with a narcissist, if you're married to a narcissist, if you're working with a narcissist, this does not qualify you. It does not mean that you are an inverted narcissist.

You have to crave to be with one. You have to be unable to survive without one. You have to shrivel and wither when your narcissist is gone.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like the following:

Misinformation: Covert vs. Classic Narcissist

Covert narcissists are not cunning or manipulative, but rather suppress their true nature due to a lack of confidence. They are their own worst critics and often feel guilty and ashamed of their aggressive urges. Covert narcissists team up with classic narcissists but secretly resent and envy them. Inverted narcissists are a type of covert narcissist who are self-centered, sensitive, vulnerable, and defensive, and crave relationships with narcissists despite any abuse inflicted on them.

Inverted Narcissist (Narcissist Codependent)

Inverted narcissists are a type of codependent who exclusively depend on a narcissist. They are self-effacing, sensitive, emotionally fragile, and sometimes socially phobic. They derive all their self-esteem and sense of self-worth from the outside and are pathologically envious. Inverted narcissists are narcissists, and it is possible to compose a set of criteria for them by translating the criteria available in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for the classical narcissist.

Confessions of Codependent Inverted Narcissists - Part 2 of 3

Inverted narcissists react positively to compliments and rewards, but can sometimes get stuck in bitterness and self-pity. They contest the diagnosis of inverted narcissism, seeing it as a partial form of the disorder with healthy parts still intact. Inverted narcissists experience self-pity and depression, and regret their behavior and admit mistakes. Their rage comes from feeling humiliated and inferior, not from repressed self-contempt.

External Regulation: Inverted Narcissist not Codependent or Borderline (with Daria Żukowska)

Inverted narcissism is a form of covert narcissism where the individual derives their narcissistic supply from an overt narcissist. They have a symbiotic relationship with the overt narcissist, as they receive attention and supply from them, even if it's in the form of abuse. Inverted narcissists are different from echoists, as they focus on self-annihilation and becoming their source of supply, while echoists are more focused on their own internal dynamics. Inverted narcissists are unlikely to become classic narcissists, as they are a subtype of covert narcissism and are more focused on obtaining supply in any form.

Confessions of Codependent Inverted Narcissists - Part 3 of 3

Inverted narcissists stick to narcissists because it is their psychological imprint and comfort zone. They feel more free and independent with a narcissist than without one. Inverted narcissism is not a form of full-fledged narcissism, but it shares some underlying patterns. Narcissism is a systemic pattern of responses that is so all-pervasive and so all-encompassing that it amounts to a personality disorder. It is important for inverted narcissists to become emotionally and financially independent.

Narcissist of Substance vs. Narcissist of Appearances

There are two types of narcissists: those who derive ample narcissistic supply from mere appearances and those whose narcissistic supply consists of doing substantial deeds. The former type of narcissist aims for celebrity, defined as being famous for being famous, while the latter type aims for careers in the limelight. The celebrity narcissist has a short attention span, is indolent, and prefers the path of least resistance. The career substantial narcissist is very concerned with leaving his mark and stamp of the world with his legacy, is a natural-born leader, and is willing and able to negotiate, compromise, and network.

Golden Child and Scapegoat Black Sheep: Narcissistic Parent's Projected Splitting

Narcissistic parents often cultivate their children as sources of narcissistic supply, with the golden child being idolized and the scapegoat child being neglected and even abused. This discriminatory behavior is due to the narcissistic parent's projected splitting, which involves the inability to integrate contradictory qualities of the same object into a coherent picture. The narcissistic parent splits their personality into good and bad traits and projects the good aspects onto the golden child while projecting the bad aspects onto the scapegoat child. This pattern of behavior becomes lifelong and can lead to emotional incest and even outright incest.

Why We Love to Hate Celebrities (Interview in Superinteressante Magazine in Brazil)

Celebrities serve as mythical narratives and blank screens for fans to project their emotions onto. When celebrities deviate from these roles, it can provoke rage from fans. Celebrities who are narcissists use their false self to elicit constant attention and interest, and celebrity itself is a variant of narcissism.

Potemkin Narcissists: Fake It Till You Make It!

There are two types of narcissists: Potemkin narcissists who derive ample narcissistic supply from mere appearances and narcissists of substance who strive for meaningful careers and creating things of value. Potemkin narcissists cultivate a following by emphasizing their alleged distinct character traits and create an empty brand. They are not interested in people except as instruments of instant gratification and sources of narcissistic supply. Narcissists of substance are concerned with leaving their mark on the world and creating a body of work of lasting value. They are workaholics and in relentless pursuit of fame, celebrity, and glory.

Narcissist's Family

Narcissists perceive new family members, including siblings, children, and even pets, as threats to their narcissistic supply. They may belittle, hurt, or humiliate them, or retreat into an imaginary world of omnipotence. Some narcissists seek to manipulate new family members to monopolize attention and vicariously obtain narcissistic supply. As siblings or offspring grow older and become critical, the narcissist devalues and discards them, feeling stifled and trapped. The family disintegrates, and the cycle begins anew with the arrival of new family members.

Transcripts Copyright © Sam Vaknin 2010-2024, under license to William DeGraaf
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