Toxic Tuesday: Covert or Overt Narcissist


Below is an easy to read chart that explains some of the differences between covert and overt narcissists. This is a quick highlight. The lines can be blurry and what are supposed to be differences can occasionally overlap. The biggest difference is the covert has lower self-esteem; although most people will never see it unless they live with the person. Then again the person who lives with the covert may see a gross amount of arrogance, along with the low self-esteem, although they come across as personable and humble to their outside audience. The overt shows more arrogance in any setting. Both covert and overt can be charismatic personalities who seek to control the people closest to them; along with those in their work environment.

If you think along the lines of cult leaders and world dictators you can begin a list of Who’s Who Among Narcissistic Personality Disorder. In my opinion we currently have narcissists in the highest level of office in more than one major world power. Another likely narcissist is running for president and has built much of his empire preying on the poor.

Narcissists will say what they think you want to hear, but make no mistake, they don’t always mean what they say. Their goal is to manipulate and control. Power goes to their head and the evil in their heart can spiral out of control. Again, this is why narcissists make great but terrible cult leaders, totalitarian dictators, and brutal religious zealots.

I’ll be honest and tell you that every time I sit down and write about the subject of narcissistic personality disorder I become emotionally and physically exhausted. Plus, attempting to keep the description brief is difficult.

That’s what having a narcissist in your background will do to you.

If you question the existence of a narcissist in your life further research will be beneficial and enlisting professional help essential.

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Clinical Features 

Arrogant/Overt . . . Shy/Covert Narcissism

Arrogant/Overt Shy/Covert
  Self-Concept Grandiosity;    preoccupation with fantasies of outstanding success; undue sense of uniqueness; feelings of entitlement; seeming self-sufficiency Inferiority; morose self-doubts; marked propensity toward feeling ashamed; fragility; relentless search for glory and power; marked sensitivity to criticism and realistic setbacks
Numerous but shallow relationships; intense need for tribute from others; scorn for others, often masked by pseudo-humility; lack of empathy; inability to genuinely participate in group activities; valuing of children over spouse in family life Inability to genuinely depend on others and trust them; chronic envy of others talents, possessions, and capacity for deep object relations; lack of regard for generational boundaries; disregard for others time; refusal to answer letters
Socially charming; often successful; consistent hard work done mainly to seek admiration (pseudo- sublimation); intense ambition; preoccupation with appearances Nagging aimlessness; shallow vocational commitment; dilettante-like attitude; multiple but superficial interests; chronic boredom; aesthetic taste often ill-informed and imitative
Caricatured modesty; pretended contempt for money in real life; idiosyncratically and unevenly moral; apparent enthusiasm for sociopolitical affairs


 Readiness to shift values to gain favor; pathological lying; materialistic lifestyle; delinquent tendencies; inordinate ethnic and moral relativism; irreverence toward authority
Marital instability; cold and greedy seductiveness; extramarital affairs and promiscuity; uninhibited sexual life Inability to remain in love; impaired capacity for viewing the romantic partner as a separate individual with his or her own interests, rights, and values; inability to genuinely comprehend the incest taboo; occasional sexual perversions
Impressively knowledgeable; decisive and opinionated; often strikingly articulate; egocentric perception of reality; love of language; fondness for shortcuts to acquisition of knowledge Knowledge often limited to trivia (headline intelligence); forgetful of details, especially names; impaired in the capacity for learning new skills; tendency to change meanings of reality when facing a threat to self-esteem; language and speaking used for regulating self-esteem

NOTE:  This chart originally appeared in Akhtar, S. J. (1989). Narcissistic personality disorder: Descriptive features and differential diagnosis. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 12, pp. 505-530.


Published by Carolyn Deevers's my spiritual superpower for surviving crises and complicated relationships. Here is where I share stories...or at least the ones I can tell you about. ;-)

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