The overt narcissist is the easiest to spot. By definition, they take up all the space with their assertiveness, extroverted nature and apparent confidence. So it is natural that they come to be synonymous with narcissism. However, hiding behind the stage, lurking in the shadows, is the ever-quiet, low-energy covert narcissist — the Robin to the narcissist’s Batman, who secretly harbours grandiose plans to take Batman’s place.
Here we see the two sides of the same coin. Grandiosity is one of the traits common to both the covert and overt narcissist. Both believe they are infinitely powerful and capable. However, there is one subtle diversion. One has aligned themselves with the instinct toward life, the other with the death instinct.
To Know The Narcissist, Follow The Shame
The overt narcissist dances and prances over their shame, the covert narcissist dwells in it permanently. If you challenge the overt narcissist’s power, they will deflect, repel, ridicule and fight their way out of feeling their shame. The covert narcissist, on the other hand, has no power in the world, save for the fantasies they harbour in their mind. Unlike the overt narcissist, they were never championed and encouraged to shine. Their sense of curiosity, wonder and light was crushed immediately, leaving them drowning in shame, which eventually formed as the permanent, deadened state known as toxic shame.
The overt narcissist was loved conditionally, but they were at least loved. They were given a path toward specialness. Maybe they were celebrated for their attractiveness, their status as the firstborn, their intelligence and so on. The covert narcissist received no real pathway, and so permanently internalised the crushing pain of irredeemable shame.
The Hypersensitive, Covert Narcissist
The covert narcissist is referred to as a vulnerable narcissist for a reason — their core is wounded. Being exposed is unbearable to them, and the tiniest trigger in the present resonates with the trauma they experienced in childhood. For this reason, they maintain a tightly-layered and carefully-balanced persona, aiming to gain narcissistic supply while keeping themselves insulated from hurt. It is here that we get the classic crazy-making behaviour of covert narcissism; they press your buttons from afar while avoiding accountability.
The covert narcissist is difficult to spot because they avoid the spotlight. They still cling to an idealised version of themselves, however. They also imagine themselves to be different to the ‘ordinary’ people around them. The covert narcissist, according to themselves, knows more, sees more and feels more. The covert narcissist imagines and believes they are special, but carries so much shame, they can never act in the outside world to prove it. They are so sensitive to shame that they avoid criticism at all costs. As a result, the covert narcissist compartmentalises their experiences, deluding themselves about why they failed. They also never receive input from outside which proves their sense of specialness wrong. It often goes in one ear and out of the other.
The overt narcissist feels they are legitimate in the world, and is happy to slug it out with others to assert their dominance. One attacks life head-on, the other avoids the harshness of the world at all costs, preferring to pull the strings in the shadows. Both are prone to narcissistic rage when offended or put into an inferior position. The overt narcissist is more able to defend against it, however, whereas the covert narcissist will snap back far more easily.