human behaviour mental health narcissism psychology

Covert Narcissism: Subtle Self-Centeredness

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Covert narcissism, also known as vulnerable or closet narcissism, is a personality trait characterized by a pattern of self-centeredness, grandiosity, and a lack of empathy, just like its more overt counterpart. However, the key distinction lies in the way these traits are expressed and presented to the world. While overt narcissists exhibit their self-centeredness openly and seek attention through bragging and arrogance, covert narcissists mask their narcissistic tendencies beneath a facade of humility, victimhood, and sensitivity. This subtler approach can make it more challenging to recognize covert narcissists, as their behavior can be mistaken for genuine concern or introversion.

Covert Narcissism

Common Traits of Covert Narcissism:

  1. Excessive Sensitivity: Covert narcissists often present themselves as highly sensitive individuals who are easily hurt by criticism or perceived slights. This sensitivity serves to draw attention and elicit sympathy from others.
  2. Inferiority Complex: They may outwardly display a sense of insecurity and inadequacy, using this vulnerability to gain affirmation and reassurance from others.
  3. Martyrdom: Covert narcissists may adopt a martyr-like persona, putting themselves in self-sacrificing roles to garner sympathy and admiration from those around them.
  4. Subtle Manipulation: Instead of the blatant manipulation employed by overt narcissists, covert narcissists utilize subtle tactics such as guilt-tripping, playing the victim, or using passive-aggressive behavior to control situations and people.
  5. Lack of Empathy: Despite appearing sensitive, covert narcissists still struggle to genuinely empathize with others. They might listen to others’ problems with detachment, using the opportunity to bring conversations back to themselves.
  6. Grandiosity Undercover: While overt narcissists overtly display their grandiose sense of self-importance, covert narcissists keep this trait hidden, often through self-deprecating remarks that still serve to draw attention.

Excessive Sensitivity:

Covert narcissists may react disproportionately to minor criticisms, playing the victim to gain sympathy and deflect any blame or accountability. For instance, they might become visibly upset if a coworker suggests a minor improvement to their work, turning the situation into one where they receive consolation and reassurance.

Inferiority Complex:

Despite appearing self-effacing, covert narcissists can use their perceived insecurities strategically. They might fish for compliments, subtly steering conversations towards their own achievements to counter their apparent self-doubt.


Covert narcissists excel at adopting the role of the martyr, willingly taking on burdens and emphasizing their own sacrifices, all while seeking admiration and validation for their selflessness.

Subtle Manipulation:

Their passive-aggressive tactics can create confusion and unease in interpersonal relationships. For example, they might make subtle jabs or comments that leave others feeling guilty or responsible for their emotional state.

Lack of Empathy:

Covert narcissists often offer superficial empathy or advice, but their underlying self-focus becomes apparent when they redirect conversations back to their own experiences or feelings.

Grandiosity Undercover:

While they avoid overt bragging, covert narcissists may drop hints about their achievements or talents, eliciting compliments and attention in a more subtle manner.

Hiding Mental Issues and Exploiting Vulnerabilities in Covert Narcissim:

Overt narcissists might hide their mental issues like phobias due to fear of appearing weak or vulnerable, which contradicts their grandiose self-image. In contrast, covert narcissists might strategically showcase these issues to elicit sympathy and special treatment, further manipulating others’ perceptions to maintain control and attention.

Identifying Covert Narcissism and Dealing with it:

To identify covert narcissists, pay attention to consistent patterns of self-victimization, excessive sensitivity, subtle manipulation, and the tendency to redirect conversations to themselves. Observe whether their actions align with their words and if they consistently demand sympathy without reciprocating it. When dealing with covert narcissists, setting boundaries, maintaining a balanced perspective, and minimizing emotional reactions to their tactics can help protect your own well-being and limit their ability to manipulate your emotions and actions.

Does Taylor Swift Have Covert Narcissism?

Let’s face it, the reason you’re here: you’ve heard that fantastic song Anti-Hero and now you’ve googled the lyrics.

It’s not uncommon for people to analyze celebrity behavior, including their art, looking for clues about their personalities. However, it’s essential to understand that diagnosing someone, even a public figure, with a complex psychological trait like covert narcissism solely based on song lyrics or internet speculation is not accurate or fair. Covert narcissism is a psychological concept that requires a comprehensive assessment by qualified mental health professionals. Creative expression, like songwriting, often involves metaphor, exaggeration, and artistic interpretation, and projecting a psychological diagnosis onto someone based solely on their art can be misleading and politically correct. While Taylor Swift’s songs may touch on various themes and emotions, it’s important to approach discussions about mental health with sensitivity and awareness of the limitations of armchair diagnosis.

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