Narcissism is narcissism. However sometimes it is more blatant and obvious than at other times. Some individuals are bold about it and make no attempt at hiding it. Others, however, mask it and make sure that the world does not see it in them. It’s still there, you just have to look a little harder to see it.
So what is covert narcissism? Narcissism is often described using the terms overt and covert. Let's define these terms.
This is the stereotypical type of narcissism that comes to mind when we hear the word. They are the loud and boisterous individuals that fight to always be the center of attention. The whole world revolves around them, and they love it. Everyone seems to be enraptured by their charisma. They often do not hide their vanity, but rather flagrantly flaunt their money, possessions, looks, position, and so on. They believe that everyone else is privileged simply by being around them. "You are so blessed that you know me and that I even give you the honor of speaking to me," they think and clearly show in their demeanor.
While these narcissists are often easy to spot, they are certainly not the only kind. Covert narcissists are much more difficult to identify but every bit as dangerous and damaging.
Just because a person isn't loud and boisterous does not mean that they aren't a narcissist. The quiet and subtle ones are just as convinced that they are better than everyone else. They also believe that you are blessed to be in their presence because of their greatness. They don't flaunt it like their counterparts. Instead, they feel that they are victims because the world doesn't see their great intelligence and superiority. They feel slighted by life and believe that they hold unrecognized intelligence and superiority. They feel jealous of anyone else who manages to get attention and recognition, believing that they were the ones who deserved it more. They inwardly seethe with bitterness at the world's refusal to recognize their greatness.
While an overt narcissist is much more likely to be bold and in your face, a covert narcissist's tactics are much more subtle and passive aggressive. For example, they learn what they are "supposed" to say in order to be humble or compassionate. Then they wear these humble and compassionate acts like a badge of honor, being sure that everyone sees how "good" they are. They become experts at hiding behind these acts so no one can accuse them of being arrogant or lacking in compassion. If and when you call them out on this, the victim role is a favorite tool of covert narcissists. "Poor me, why would you ever accuse me of such awful things? What ever could I have done to deserve this kind of treatment?" These accusations leave you doubting yourself, wondering if you are being unfair. The next thing you know you find yourself apologizing to the covert narcissist, who started all this with their arrogance and/or lack of compassion. It is maddening!!
These two types of narcissism are two sides of the same coin. The narcissism piece is still the same. It just comes out with a different color. One side may be the life of the party, while the other side is the victim of the world. Either way, the narcissistic characteristics are the same. They both possess this insatiable need to feel special. They both use extensive manipulation and abuse of others to fulfill that need. So don't get too hung up in which one it is or isn't. Narcissism has a broad spectrum. This is one of the reasons it is so difficult to get a handle on. To better understand it, start reading some of the many aspects and elements of it. With each individual person, some will apply and some won't. Or some will apply to a greater degree and others to a smaller degree. That's okay. Don't get too caught up in all that. Look at the areas that apply in your situation and learn more.