Signs of covert narcissism - what do we know about them?

Covert narcissist

is a term that describes a person who has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) but does not exhibit the overt signs of self-importance that psychologists associate with the condition.
A covert narcissist
may appear shy and unassuming.

Other terms for covert narcissism - introverted type of narcissism

. Researchers tend to use the term "covert narcissism" because people with this type of NPD lack self-confidence.

Development and direction

Narcissistic traits may be especially common in adolescents and do not necessarily indicate that a person will have narcissistic personality disorder. Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder may have particular difficulty adapting to the physical and occupational limitations that come with aging.

Of those diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, 50%-75% are men

Testing for the presence of the disease

In modern psychiatry there are several effective techniques aimed at identifying narcissism. One of these methods includes a special questionnaire, which includes 163 questions of various nature. When studying the answers to them, the specialist studies the so-called Lickert scale.

The patient must express the degree of his approval or the degree of disagreement with this or that statement. As a result, the psychiatrist calculates the narcissism coefficient. It is worth noting that this technique also has contraindications: for example, it cannot and is not advisable to use it during periods of severe depression or acute psychosis.

Causes of narcissism

Both genetic and biological factors, as well as environmental factors and a person's early life experiences, play a role in the development of this disorder.

People with narcissistic personality disorder have been shown to have lower gray matter volume in the left anterior insula, an area of ​​the brain associated with empathy, emotion regulation, compassion, and cognitive functioning.

Here are some examples of destructive social conditions that can affect these stages of development:

  • Hypersensitive temperament.
  • Teaching manipulative behavior using the example of parents or peers.
  • When a child is overly praised for good behavior and overly criticized for bad behavior. Find out how to praise your child to boost his self-esteem.
  • Violence experienced in childhood.
  • Inconsistent parenting (unpredictable and unreliable).
  • Permissiveness.
  • Excessive admiration for a child without taking into account the real state of affairs.


  1. Freud Z.
    Introduction to narcissism. — 1914.
  2. Rosenfeld G.
    Impasse and Interprtation. 1987.
  3. Kernberg O.
    Borderline conditions and pathological narcissism. 1975.
  4. Morrison, E. P.
    Shame: The Underside of Narcissism. - London: Routledge, 1997. - 240 p. — ISBN 9780881632804, ISBN 978-0881632804, ASIN 0881632805.
  5. Karen Phelan.
    Sorry, I ruined your company: Why business consultants are the problem, not the solution = Karen Phelan. I'm Sorry I Broke Your Company Why Management Consultants Are the Problem, Not the Solution. - M.: Alpina Publisher, 2013. - 224 p. — ISBN 978-5-9614-4463-6.
  6. Karen Horney.
    "Neurosis and Personal Growth: The Struggle for Self-Realization."
  7. Erich Fromm.
    The human soul, its capacity for good and evil.. Retrieved December 29, 2021.
  8. Burgo, 2021, p. 17.

Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

According to the American Psychiatric Association, a person may have narcissistic personality disorder if they have at least 5 of the following 9 symptoms:

  • Exaggerated sense of self-importance.
  • Fantasies about unlimited success, power, ideals, beauty, etc.
  • Confidence in one's own specialness and uniqueness, superiority over others.
  • The need for constant attention and admiration from others.
  • Exaggerated sense of self-worth.
  • Exploitative behavior (using other people to achieve one's own goals).
  • Lack of empathy and compassion.
  • Envy of others and/or the belief that everyone is envious of oneself.
  • Demonstration of an arrogant attitude towards others, looking down on them.

“Narcissists” are unable to build harmonious relationships in the family, since they need both their partner and children only to reflect themselves, i.e., they perform the function of a mirror.


There are several types of narcissism that can be combined with each other:

“Thin-skinned” or “depressed”People with this type of deviation are characterized by hypochondriasis, strong sensitivity to insults, criticism, and refusals. They resemble melancholic people.
“Thick-skinned” or “arrogant”This type of narcissism is characterized by aggression towards others, arrogant behavior and the inability to realize that the patient is making others unpleasant with his words or actions.
UnscrupulousUnscrupulous narcissists are dishonest, immoral, manipulative people. They are characterized by dominance over others; if someone is unwilling to obey them, then narcissists behave aggressively.
AmorousSuch people love to seduce and tease others through their own charm, but at the same time they are not inclined to real intimacy.
CompensatoryPeople with a compensatory type of narcissism are characterized by low self-esteem and dissatisfaction with their own lives, which they compensate for through praise and compliments from other people. These people strive to do everything just for approval and admiration.
Elitist or elitistElitist narcissists consider themselves to be among the “elite”, create an image of an ideal life around themselves and only want to be treated well, so that everyone respects them and treats them with servility. Often this type of narcissism is found in people who were treated as “princes” and “princesses” in childhood.
NormalNormal narcissists are capable of having relationships. They are characterized by empathy, combined with great self-confidence and arrogance. They make good and capable leaders.
Open (pretentious)Overt narcissists tend to praise themselves too much; if there is no reason for this, then they try to put others down. They often require increased attention.
ClosedPeople with a closed type of narcissism often grow up in families where the child’s successes were belittled or not noticed, where love had to be “earned.” In most cases, they have low self-esteem and create for themselves a certain image of a person that they could idealize and try to adhere to this image. The behavior of such people is passive-aggressive - they can make promises but not keep them, and they also tend to have different behavior patterns depending on the environment.
ToxicToxic narcissists not only expect admiration, but they also expect others to submit to them. They like to be a source of inspiration for someone, while they want to keep the “victim” close to them and subjugate them.

Narcissism as sexual deviation

Initially, when the term “narcissism” was introduced into sexology (it was used by Krafft-Ebing, one of the founders of clinical sexology), it meant a pathological tendency to masturbate, receiving pleasure from contemplating oneself in the mirror. Freud, of course, knew these works and, when he introduced his concept of narcissism, drew information from there. But for Freud this is a broader, more personal phenomenon. As we now understand, he was right. For sexologists of the 19th and early 20th centuries, narcissism was a narrow concept associated only with the satisfaction of sexual needs. This is a fairly rare form of sexual deviance, and its connection with narcissistic personality disorder is not obvious.

A couple of important notes for those who survived =)

The strategy I described is several years of work under the strict guidance of a psychologist. A good psychologist usually knows what he is doing and has successfully walked this road himself in the past. So if you suddenly feel upset that you can’t repeat it all yourself, don’t be upset. This is basically not real.

I wrote this article so that you can use it as a map in your work with a psychologist - to see at what stage you are now. Perhaps discuss with a psychologist what is preventing you from going further. I think this orientation is very important.

If you have not yet started working with a psychologist, then I hope it has become a little clearer to you what the specifics of a narcissistic character are, where to start on the path to recovery, and what pitfalls may lie in wait for you.

I work with narcissistic clients in Moscow and via Skype - if you need help, write. Details on the registration page.

I can offer my colleagues the format of case supervision or therapeutic supervision (exploration of your countertransference in connection with the client’s history and your personal history).

If you have questions, ask in the comments, I will definitely answer.

What to read S. Johnson, “Character Psychotherapy” F. Summers, “Beyond the Self.”
O. Kernberg, “Severe personality disorders.” H. Kohut, “Analysis of the Self.” I. Mlodik, “While you were trying to become God.” Healthy? Join my group on VKontakte: You can also find me on FB, LiveJournal and Telegram:


Narcissistic disorder is diagnosed when at least 5 of the following are present:

  • an inflated sense of self-worth, exaggeration of achievements and talents, expectation of unconditional recognition of one’s superiority without facts proving it;
  • fixation and cultivation of ideas about success on a universal scale, world power, unimaginable intelligence and beauty, ideal love;
  • conviction of one’s own uniqueness, exclusivity, the ability to be understood and accepted only by special people;
  • the need for respect and admiration from others;
  • an unfounded idea of ​​one’s right to a privileged, preferential position and automatic satisfaction of desires;
  • manipulation and use of other people for one’s own purposes;
  • lack of empathy, ignoring the needs and interests of other people;
  • arrogant and arrogant behavior.


The concept of narcissism comes from Greek mythology. The legend about a young man named Narcissus, a symbol of pride and narcissism, tells how he saw his reflection in a source and fell in love with it so much that he experienced the pangs of love, could neither eat nor drink, and died in suffering, but on the spot After his death, a beautiful flower, Narcissus, grew.

Plant of the amaryllis family Narcissus lat. Narcissus

In general, people prone to narcissism are characterized by pride and selfishness, a tendency toward perfectionism, and a focus on personal individuality and grandeur. Their main task is to acquire status attributes, organize and maintain personal significance, self-esteem and admiration by receiving confirmation from others. Such individuals are not just sensitive to remarks or praise, they are preoccupied with how others treat them, experience anxiety and deep inner feelings caused by unreasonable feelings of deception and lack of love. Despite the first favorable impression, it is not possible to maintain long-term strong ties.

The locus of control of narcissists is usually self-esteem, and the experience that this is beyond his control causes the level of anxiety to increase and provokes a further increase in symptoms. For such patients, it is very important to surround yourself with people who know how to support him, feed his significance, while other aspects of relationships and especially the ability to love seem unimportant, not significant and not necessary. Despite their high need for an admiring audience and an adoring environment, narcissists feel only superficial feelings of love for them. Jealousy is also unfamiliar to them; it can arise only after a breakup, when the patient, losing his partner, loses the mirror that serves as his reflection.

The narcissistic personality is characterized by a devaluation of almost everything in the world; only that which is associated exclusively with his “I” can be idealized, and the concept of the “ideal I” is not fully developed and the idea of ​​the “super-I” is completely absent. They have a negative, disdainful attitude towards any non-ideal objects, and enthusiastic feelings towards everything important that concerns the narcissist’s personality. There is a tendency to a diametric change in perception; everything that seemed ideal can suddenly become insignificant.

Is it necessary to treat

Narcissistic personality disorder is not a disease and the concept of treatment in the standard sense cannot be applied to it. However, it can cause other mental disorders: depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even lead to suicide. The inability to build a harmonious relationship with a loved one dooms a person to loneliness. Therefore, a person with NPD definitely needs the help of a specialist who knows how to treat narcissistic personality disorder.

When to ask for help

Anyone who has mental health symptoms that interfere with their work or personal life should seek help from a doctor. Health care providers can evaluate the problem and recommend treatment.

If a person is in a relationship with someone who has narcissistic traits, they may need help. Abuse may include:

  • physical abuse such as hitting, scratching, and kicking
  • emotional abuse, including guilt
  • verbal abuse such as yelling and threats
  • financial abuse in which a person seizes control of a partner's money
  • sexual violence

Treatment for Narcissistic Personality Disorder

People with narcissistic personality disorder overwhelmingly deny the need for treatment. And in the case when they are satisfied with life: career advancement, satisfaction of their own ambitions, admiration from others - they really feel great.

Treatment for narcissistic personality disorder is individual. When choosing treatment methods, you should consider:

  • General physical and mental condition of the patient.
  • Desire to make contact.
  • Patient's age.
  • Social status.
  • Presence of mental disorders.

One of the most successful and progressive methods of treating the disease is the psychoanalytic approach. The psychoanalytic approach allows us to identify pathological patterns at a young age.


The main signs of narcissism are considered to be negatively expressed doubts, which indicate vanity, narcissism and excessive selfishness. Regarding such a personality, they speak of the presence of narcissistic accentuation of character. If we apply this concept to a social collective, then narcissism is either a clearly expressed indifference to the problems of other subjects, or elitism.

Usually communication with a narcissist causes nothing but rejection, coldness and devastation. People feel uncomfortable communicating with narcissists and try to avoid such communication. However, the narcissist enjoys it; he loves to engage in narcissism against the backdrop of the “gray” masses.

Along with the listed signs, healthy signs of narcissism are also distinguished, allowing subjects to remain successful and harmonious, have healthy ambitions, aspirations for success, rejoice at success, receive pleasure and satisfaction from creative processes and generally achieve positive results.

Also, the main signs of narcissism include idealization and instant devaluation. The most interesting thing is that the narcissist does not need any special arguments to devalue his neighbor. The same thing happens with idealization. However, upon closer communication, the idealized subject also turns out to have his own shortcomings, and therefore is instantly devalued by the narcissist. After this, narcissists again embark on a search for objects to idealize, in order to subsequently devalue it in the same way.

Narcissism can be considered a personality dysfunction, leading to personality disorders that are expressed in exclusive narcissism.

Freud assessed narcissism as a certain integral part of every subject.

Male narcissism manifests itself in attempts to achieve one's own importance in the eyes of others. At the same time, having achieved career growth and material enrichment, they satisfy their ambitions. However, having received what they want, their joy lasts five minutes, and then a feeling of devastation sets in. As a result, aspirations grow, and narcissists begin to desire more.

Under the age of 35, growing aspirations do not concern the narcissist, since there are tasks that he is gradually realizing. Therefore, he sees no point in suffering. However, when he reaches the age of 35, he begins to understand that there is no happiness. Men suffering from such narcissism are unable to build healthy relationships with people around them, they destroy family relationships, while causing children to suffer from their emotions. And only after this, male narcissists begin to realize that they want understanding and warmth.

Female narcissism manifests itself in ambition, difficulty understanding one's own children, striving for greatness, and inability to appreciate joy and simplicity. Such women force children to study with special zeal and meet all their expectations; there is no mutual understanding, warmth between them, only bitterness in relationships.

A narcissistic woman understands on a subconscious level that she does not have a deep connection with the child, and for this she blames herself, but still then takes it out on the child against her desire.

A narcissistic woman will choose a caring man who will console her, but she will not respect him, because she considers him a doormat.

If narcissists form a married couple, then a competitive struggle appears between them. They will compete in absolutely everything - criticism, eloquence, causticity. Such relationships will not last.

Preventive measures

In order to prevent a mentally healthy child from growing into a future psychiatric patient, it is important to correctly assess his personality within the family. We must remember that he has the right to make mistakes, which need to be discussed with him, and not shouted about how wrong he is

Attention! No child's demand should be satisfied through tears. Only with the help of mutual understanding and respect in the family can one create a healthy psycho-emotional environment that promotes rational awareness of the individual in society

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A little history

The term "narcissism" comes from the name of the ancient Greek mythological hero Narcissus. The young man was incredibly handsome: the narcissistic hero rejected the love of the nymph Echo, for which he was punished. The ancient Greek gods sentenced Narcissus to lifelong admiration of his face through the reflection on the surface of the water.

According to Sigmund Freud, narcissism is a manifestation of specific intimate behavior. Many children in the early stages of life show narcissistic feelings and admire themselves. Moreover, if the child’s personality develops harmoniously and correctly, and the parents participate in the full upbringing of the child, such narcissism does not cause any harm and disappears on its own as they grow older. In the process of creating the method of psychoanalysis, Freud finally introduced the concept of narcissism into psychiatric practice.


To avoid the development of the syndrome in question in a child in the future, it is important to adhere to the following recommendations.

  1. Teenagers are very often shy, self-conscious and lacking in self-confidence. In order for a child to develop as a full-fledged personality and have healthy self-esteem, it is necessary to develop in him respect for himself and his own opinion.
  2. All children sometimes have to cry, this is how they express dissatisfaction. It is quite acceptable to let them cry for a while, making it clear that not every whim can be fulfilled unquestioningly. Children must understand the words “no” and “cannot”.
  3. Tell your child that you love him often. And it is advisable to avoid the expressions “the smartest” and “the most beautiful” so as not to instill vanity.
  4. Praise your child only for good and correct actions. Unfounded and frequent praise over time causes an overestimation of one's talents.
  5. Try to brag about your child's achievements when he can't hear it. Otherwise, he may think that no one can match his abilities.
  6. Avoid excessive attention and praise from relatives and friends. Soon it will begin to seem to him that he is an ideal child and everything is allowed to him.
  7. Explain to children that they must respect the community in which they are surrounded.

The prognosis for treatment of the pathological condition in question is quite favorable, subject to timely treatment and proper support from friends and family.


  • Mlodik, Irina Yurievna.
    The bottom of an endless well, or the painful path of a narcissist (Russian) (html). Journal "Psychology" (Aug 25, 2009). Retrieved August 25, 2009. Archived August 25, 2011.
  • Joseph Burgo.
    Beware, narcissist! How to deal with these narcissistic types = Josef Burgo: “The Narcissist You Know: Defending Yourself Against Extreme Narcissists.” - M.: Alpina Publisher, 2021. - 298 p. — ISBN 978-5-9614-5394-2.
  • Fromm E.
    The human soul, its capacity for good and evil = The Heart of Man, its genius for good and evil (1964) / Translation by V. A. Zaks. - M.: Ast, Astrel, 2010. - 256 p. - (Philosophy). — 2000 copies. — ISBN 978-5-17-066520-4, ISBN 978-5-271-28389-5.
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