Are You Dealing With a Covert Narcissist? Here’s How to Spot One (and 4 More)

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

First diagnosed as a mental health disorder in 1980, narcissism has, in recent years, been talked about everywhere. It’s in books and TV shows, and more regularly, it’s seeping into our everyday conversations, usually when talking about someone’s actions being so lacking in compassion that you can’t quite believe them.

One of the most important things to know about narcissism, though, is that it can be both a personality trait and a personality disorder — and there’s a big difference between the two.

Narcissism as a personality trait is defined by an inflated sense of self and self-importance, which usually results in the person ignoring the needs of others as they attempt to satisfy their own, explains Rucha Lele, a psychologist at digital mental health platform Lysn.

Related: The Grey Rock Method Might be the Best Way to Communicate With a Narcissist

Related: The One Thing to Do If You Suspect You’re a Conversational Narcissist

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), on the other hand, is a more pervasive and enduring condition, usually starting in early adulthood and persisting for many years, with negative effects evident in almost all domains of their life, especially their relationships with others.

“It’s important to note that narcissism is a spectrum, so not everyone that may be considered a narcissist meets the criteria for a diagnosable psychological condition,” Lele says.

For narcissism to be diagnosed as a disorder, at least five out of the nine traits outlined by the US’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders need to be met. “Criteria that are met must be evident across multiple domains and situations in a person’s life, not in single instances or relationships,” says Lele.

While there is only one formal diagnosis of NPD, though, there is an increasing body of studies showing different presentations of those diagnosed with NPD, suggesting there may in fact be different types of narcissism.

“At present, these aren’t diagnosable types of narcissism, but they definitely help in understanding different presentations of the disorder, how they may affect others and the focus of their treatment,” says Lele.

So, what are the different types of narcissism? Lele shares five of the most common below.

Overt Narcissism

An overt narcissist is also known as a grandiose narcissist. Either term, though is what is most often thought of in relation to Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

“Overt narcissists are characterised by self-sufficiency and exerting authority, and can often come across as arrogant, entitled and competitive.,” Lele says. “Some studies suggest that people with overt narcissism tend to overestimate their ability, whether it is in relation to their intelligence, abilities or authority.”

Covert Narcissism

Next up are covert narcissists, also referred to as vulnerable narcissists. These are usually characterised by defensiveness and hypersensitivity, which can make them easy to miss, as they don’t act the way you’d usually think of someone with NPD acting.

“People with covert narcissism often come across as introverted, not confident, avoidant and insecure, and while they are very much still self-focused, they will often internalise any criticism received,” says Lele.

Antagonistic Narcissism

Like overt narcissists. antagonistic narcissists are very noticeable, though the reason for theirs is due to thei preoccupation on competing with others.

“This means they may come across as increasingly arrogant, competitive and an inclination for arguments,” says Lele. “Additionally, some research has shown that people with antagonistic narcissism tend to forgive less and have lower trust in others.”

Communal Narcissism

A type that’s difficult to identify is communal narcissist, as someone with this type strives to be superior in being the most helpful or giving to others — which, on the surface, makes them appear to be a kind, balanced person.

“People with communal narcissism tend to feed their self-importance and sense of superiority by earning praise and admiration of others by demonstrating their helpful and caring behaviours, fighting for good causes and reacting strongly and overtly to inequality,” says Lele.

Malignant Narcissism

Lastly, malignant narcissists are perhaps the most concerning type, says Lele.

“They are driven by a strong need for recognition, may show a deep envy of others, can be preoccupied with materialism and often are pathological liars,” says Lele. “When confronted or criticised, people with malignant narcissism may become aggressive, vindictive, vengeful and even paranoid.”

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