Covert Narcissism

What Is a Covert Narcissist?

Covert narcissism is a subcategory of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). The term pathological narcissist represents a person who fits the diagnostic criteria for either narcissistic (NPD), borderline (BPD), or antisocial personality disorder ASPD), as well as an active addict.

All pathological narcissists are selfish, self-consumed, demanding, entitled, and controlling to varying degrees. They are exploitative people who rarely or selectively reciprocate any form of generosity. Pathological narcissists are only empathetic or sensitive to others when doing so results in a tangible reward for themselves and/or when it makes them feel valued, important and appreciated. 

Although covert narcissists have a narcissistic personality disorder, they also have sociopathic traits. This combination of NPD and ASPD makes covert narcissism one of the most extreme and damaging forms of narcissism.

Covert narcissists are masters of disguise—successful actors, humanitarians, politicians, clergy members, and even psychotherapists—who are beloved and appreciated but are secretly selfish, calculating, controlling, angry, and vindictive. They create an illusion of selflessness while benefiting from their elevated status. Although they share essential traits with the overt narcissist—the need for attention, affirmation, approval, and recognition—they are stealthier about hiding their egocentric motives.

Unlike the overt narcissist who parades their narcissism for all to see, the covert narcissist furtively hides their actual intentions and identity. As a result, these narcissists can trick others into believing they are honest, altruistic, and emphatic. They are successful at pretending to be a more likable version of themselves, knowing if their authentic characters were uncovered, they could not maintain the respect, status, and prestige they so desperately desire.

How to Identify a Covert Narcissist

Identifying a covert narcissist can be a dangerous task. Therefore, it is essential to understand the degree of danger involved if you suspect someone you know may be a covert narcissist, whether a partner, friend, boss, or colleague. 

Unlike overt narcissists, covert narcissists are able to hide their entitlement, superiority, and arrogance by creating a façade of being honest, loving, caring, and respectful. When a covert narcissist suffers a narcissistic injury as a reaction to perceived criticism, embarrassment, judgment, boundaries, or attempts to be held accountable, they won't react with aggravated anger or rage; instead, they will mute the rage while planning for a more effective time to punish and retaliate, often behind closed doors, as they do not want to expose their true selves and "take off the mask."

Covert narcissists choose passive aggression as it is covertly and secretly executed to cause maximum harm while escaping responsibility. It is executed with great care to create an impression of innocence. As a covert manipulation and power and control strategy, it relies on misleading or inaccurate evidence to disprove claims of responsibility.

Because covert narcissists can create and maintain a façade of altruism and unconditional positive regard, they can function in positions that are traditionally not attractive to narcissists, e.g., clergy, teachers, politicians, psychotherapists, and others. However, even though they can replicate the known characteristics of these positions, they are often profoundly insecure and secretive about their lack of knowledge or inability to perform essential tasks.

What to Do If You Are In a Relationship With a Covert Narcissist

Once you discover your loved one is a covert narcissist, you will want to find a way out of the relationship. If you are in a relationship with a covert narcissist, you must carefully develop an exit strategy. Although you will feel an intense desire to expose them, "take off their mask," and walk away, it is imperative to do the opposite.

 Covert narcissists have spent their whole lives manipulating others—including their perceptions, feelings, and expectations. As a result, they have legions of loyal followers who believe in their portrayed image of perfection and kindness. They will do whatever it takes to get these followers to think you are the problem, which may include your friends and family. They may even intimidate and berate you until you recoil and admit you were wrong.

 First, it is vital to understand how you became entangled with a covert narcissist. The Human Magnet Syndrome explains why codependents, or Self-Love Deficients (SLDs), find themselves predictively and reflexively in relationships with narcissists.

 Once you develop this understanding, you must become familiar with the strategies and techniques to neutralize narcissistic abuse and increase your chances of success when executing your exit strategy. Some of these techniques include:


The Human Magnet Syndrome:
The Codependent Narcissist Trap

The information contained in this article is derived from the book.

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Explaining Narcissistic Abuse (6 hours)

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This seminar includes the basics of how codependents and narcissists interact; the common manipulation, power dynamics, and mind control strategies that narcissists use to keep you imprisoned; and information on how you can expect your narcissist to react to boundary setting.

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The Observe Don’t Absorb Technique (ODA)
Neutralizing Narcissistic Abuse (90 Minutes)


Observe Don't Absorb (ODA) essentially enables people to successfully set boundaries with Pathological Narcissists (Narcissistic, Borderline, and/or Antisocial Personality Disorders), survive the backlash, and safely end their harmful and dysfunctional relationships. The main tenant of ODA is to avoid the forever-losing proposition of engaging narcissists in conflict.

Ross uses George Bernard Shaw’s saying, “Never wrestle with pigs. You will get dirty; and besides, pigs like it,” to demonstrate the futility of “wrestling” with narcissists, and the forever poor outcomes because of it.  Not only does ODA teach emotional detachment from purposefully manipulative and cunning narcissists, it greatly enhances one’s mental health. It can be used as an effective everyday technique that has the potential to be helpful in all situations - from the mundane to the very stressful and critical.

Protection From The Narcissistic Storm
(1.75 Hours)


In this seminar, Ross focuses on elements of his "Preparing for The Narcissistic Storm" work, which happens to be Stage 6 of his 11-Stage Self-Love Recovery Treatment Program. This is not any normal “storm!” It’s a time, a place, and a person when the codependent/SLD wishing to break free from their narcissist will encounter emotional, social, financial, and personal battles.

Ross gives practical direction and explanations about setting boundaries with Pathological Narcissists. Such is crucial information for both the recovering codependent/SLD and practitioners treating them.