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Is My Partner a Covert Narcissist?


Some People Don't Know They're Being Abused

It’s hard to believe that you could be abused without realizing it. You think to yourself, abuse is obvious. It’s right there; you can’t miss it. But abuse isn’t always as simple as that.

In recent years, the world of narcissism has had a bright light shone upon it. One that exposes them as the underhand, sinister people that they are. But media coverage tends to focus on overt narcissism.

Once overt narcissists have revealed themselves, they’re easy to spot. They’re brash, obnoxious, and deeply unpleasant to be around. They make no bones about how wonderful they think they are. And they will remind you of their brilliance at every opportunity.

But the type of narcissist I’m talking about is the covert narcissist. Also sometimes called the vulnerable narcissist. But I hate that term; it conveys an almost victim-like position. When, in fact, covert narcissists are some of the most abusive people on the planet.

The term covert narcissist is far more appropriate. Because their methods of abuse are so underhand, they can go undetected for years, even by their victim.

How can I Tell if my Partner is a Covert Narcissist?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a complicated thing to diagnose. It should only be done by a professional. So many people throw the word around without an actual diagnosis, which can be dangerous. But some things serve as reliable indicators of NPD.


An Extreme Sensitivity To Perceived Criticism

Nobody likes being criticized; being sensitive is a natural reaction. But no matter how small or constructive the alleged criticism might be, their reaction is completely unreasonable. It never matches the severity of the criticism.

And for some covert narcissists, there doesn’t even need to be an actual criticism. An observation is enough to set them off. For example, they would react to being told they’d spilled coffee on their shirt with anger. Most people would be a little embarrassed, grateful to whoever pointed it out to them. Maybe even a little irritated with themselves. But a narcissist will see it as an insult:

“You’ve spilled coffee on your shirt.”

“Yeah, I know; it’s not like I did it on purpose. No need to draw attention to it to make me look like an idiot!”

A Constant Need For Attention

When an overt narcissist needs attention, they’ll make it obvious. They will use something about themselves to drag attention back to them. Maybe it’s their opinion, their knowledge, their looks, etc.

A covert narcissist will use something about you to get attention. Whether it’s by negging you, publicly humiliating you, or just plain baiting you. They will do something that gets your attention and makes you feel worthless at the same time.


Gaslighting is not exclusively narcissistic behavior. But it is something narcs are fond of. Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation. One that causes you to doubt yourself. You question your own mind and your own sanity.

“You should change; that outfit makes you look fat.”

“That’s a horrible thing to say!”

“God, you’re so sensitive! I can’t say anything to you! I was trying to help. I didn’t think you’d want to go out looking like that!”

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When situations like this arise enough, you start to wonder if maybe you are overreacting. Maybe they are trying to help you; maybe you were being over-sensitive. You weren’t, so stop thinking it.


An Excessive Need For Praise

Have you ever met one of those people that needs a gold star for everything they do? Even though everyone else just does it silently and goes on about their day? Praise is like oxygen for covert narcissists.

A Lack Of Empathy

Narcissists don’t care about you; they care about what you can offer them. And if you can’t or won’t offer it to them anymore, see ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya.

They have no compassion; other people’s problems are their own. And this even applies to their partner. It’s your problem; you sort it out. They’ve got far more important things on their mind.


Self-Deprecating Behaviour

We all crack jokes at our own expense sometimes. But a covert narcissist will frequently put themselves down. But don’t be fooled; they don’t actually believe the things they’re saying about themselves. They’re saying it for attention; they’re fishing. They want someone to tell them, “No, you’re not stupid, you’re brilliant!”

That gives them the attention they need. As well as the chance to further disparage themselves for more attention.

A Strong Sense of Envy

Narcissists are highly entitled people; they think the world owes them. So when someone else gets something good, they take it as a personal insult. In their mind, they’re far superior to this person, so they deserve the good thing more than they do!


Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a Complicated Condition

Just because someone exhibits these behaviors doesn’t automatically make them a narcissist. They could simply be a run-of-the-mill terrible person. But they are reasonably reliable indicators of narcissistic personality disorder.

© 2022 Elaine Lieberman

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