When we think of the narcissist it is typically the large personality—the guy in the room drawing attention to himself, charismatically or obnoxiously. But like the rest of us, narcissists exist along a continuum of extraversion and introversion, and there are plenty of the “shy” variety too [Amy Adam, 2012]. Although the covert narcissist may be harder to spot in a crowd, he is just as selfish, manipulative, and downright miserable to be around as the overt one.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a serious pathology well beyond your run-of-the-mill social media preening. It is generally believed that people with NPD experience a defining emotional injury early in life—abuse, shame, neglect, loss, and/or overindulgence. The narcissist’s wound is never resolved [A.H. Almaas, 2017]. She fails to develop a healthy resilience to life’s normal slings and arrows or an ability to see beyond her wormhole of neediness to empathize with others.

The Gargoyle in the Room

The narcissist is a tragic figure who is very difficult to sympathize with. His inability to care, limitless demand for attention, and habitual ruthless effort to prop his ego at the expense of others make him emotionally radioactive.

Whether he charms and seduces or pathetically plays upon sympathies, his envious contempt for others—especially those who love him—eventually rears its ugly gargoyle head.

The Two-Headed Beast

Whether bold bullies or sneaky shrinking violets, narcissists have expert survival skills that depend on sucking the life out of others, like vampires feeding on hot blood. Both overt and covert narcissists lack empathy and have delusions of grandeur that scaffold a gaping sense of worthlessness. Both compulsively exploit, manipulate, and denigrate others. And both types use denial, blame, shame, gaslighting, and punishment to serve their selfish ends.

me signWhile all narcissists share basic profound inadequacies and compensatory strategies, their tactics differ depending on their levels of extraversion and introversion. Here are some general traits from one end of the spectrum to the other, as well as some more specific traits that tend to characterize overt and covert narcissists.

General Narcissist Traits

  1. Lacks empathy—awareness of or concern for the feelings, needs, and perspectives of others
  2. Has delusions of grandeur and reacts bitterly if her delusions are threatened or dashed
  3. Manipulates people to get what she wants
  4. Is intolerant of criticism and in response will lash out or seek revenge
  5. Never genuinely apologizes or takes responsibility for her actions
  6. Lies to herself and others as a means to an end
  7. Rationalizes her words and actions, no matter how inappropriate, false, rude, or cruel
  8. Punishes others who cross her or deprive her of what she believes she deserves
  9. Divides and conquers within families
  10. Scapegoats and/or idealizes certain people within her sphere to manipulate and control

Overt Narcissist Traits

  1. Compulsively attracts attention to himself, positive or negative
  2. Demands admiration and agreement and without it reacts with impatience or rage
  3. Charms and flatters with false intimacy those he wishes to impress
  4. Studies a room for the most vulnerable and attacks to display his superiority
  5. Is arrogant and haughty, especially with those he views as underlings
  6. Is given to rages far beyond normal anger, including physical violence
  7. Views others as competitors to be defeated and humiliated
  8. Ridicules, mocks, and denigrates others in a game of one upmanship
  9. Projects entitlement and expects special treatment
  10. Can turn on and turn off at will charm, interest, and attention depending on his motives

Covert Narcissist Traits 

  1. Behaves passive-aggressively to get her way
  2. Is smug, insensitive, and withholds attention and affection as a means of control
  3. Seeks out caretaker personality types to exploit
  4. Cries on cue and manipulates through self-pitying performances
  5. Has delusions of victimization and persecution
  6. Will stage a crisis to gain attention
  7. Exaggerates suffering and sickness to garner sympathy
  8. Has a long history of depression and anxiety
  9. Habitually drains her partner/family of money and resources
  10. Blames her problems and failures on “unfair” people, institutions, and circumstances

[Preston Ni, 2016; Lina W. Baker, 2015]

Julia Hall is the author of the forthcoming memoir Carry You about life, and a few near deaths, in a narcissist family. Read excerpts. Her articles on narcissism regularly appear in The Huffington Post.

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Images courtesy of Kevin SimpsonMaquillage2012elizaIO, and sophie & cie.