How to Deal With Covert Narcissists, From Expert Rachel Zung

5 min read -
Tatiana Azman
Written by
Woman taking picture of a covert narcissist
Table of Contents
Summary: Covert narcissists can make your life difficult. A narcissist negotiation expert shares tips on how you can talk to someone with this toxic behavior.


You’ve probably encountered a narcissist at least once in your life — someone who’s repeatedly self-centered, lacking empathy, cocky, manipulative, selfish, patronizing, and demanding. Think: Joffrey Baratheon from Game of Thrones, Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada, or Regina George from Mean Girls.

This is a person who has a “scarcity mentality to the extreme,” according to Rebecca Zung, top 1% attorney and narcissist negotiation expert, on a podcast episode of Selling With Love. She goes on to explain that narcissists “feel like they have to extract any sense of value for themselves from external sources.

That’s an overt narcissist. But what about a covert narcissist?

While they both share the same traits, “regular narcissists go around telling everybody how great they are all the time. Covert narcissists don’t do that,” explains Rebecca.

So who are they then? And how can you spot one? Here’s what you should know about covert narcissists and how to deal with them.

Man smoking a cigar, wearing sunglasses, and acting like a covert narcissist

What’s a Covert Narcissist?

A covert narcissist is a narcissist who is… well, covert. Simply put, they’re ninjas at keeping their narcissistic qualities hidden and private.

These covert traits can show up as:

  • Need for admiration. Unlike their overt counterparts who come across as grandiose, coverts are more insecure and shy. But it’s still about the big ego boost where they constantly fish for validation, sympathy, or pity from others.
  • Jealousy and sense of entitlement. Narcissists believe they’re above others and deserve special treatment. When they don’t get it, they tend to get jealous of those that do. Rebecca adds, “they have a lot of bitterness and resentment about the fact that everybody else has more success than they do and their failures are other people’s faults.
  • Arrogance. Because they see themselves as superior to others, a narcissist may act or speak rudely or abusively to those they feel are inferior to them. And that rudeness and abuse can also come out when they don’t receive what they feel they deserve.
  • Manipulative behavior. It’s about maintaining control, so when it comes to needs, it’s always about theirs and rarely about anyone else’s. In other instances, they may manipulate others for their own gain or use passive-aggressive tactics.
  • Lack of empathy. This is one of the major signs of narcissism. The narcissist isn’t willing or doesn’t know how to empathize with others’ needs, wants, or feelings. And more often than not, this lack of empathy disables them from being responsible and accountable for their own behavior. This also makes it hard for them to build meaningful relationships.

On the surface, they appear very nice. They appear like good people. Lots of people love them,” explains Rebecca.

Their version of love-bombing is being the perfect person for you at first. But eventually, they still need, what she calls, their narcissistic supply — anything that feeds their ego.

And this is what makes them more dangerous than overt narcissists.

How Does Someone Become a Covert Narcissist?

Unfortunately, there are no known causes of narcissistic personality disorder. But it’s known to possibly be linked to:

  • Environment: According to psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula in an episode of Red Table Talk, many narcissists have narcissistic parents. And as a result, “many will just blame the world for their misfortunes and pass the legacy of entitlement forward to the next.
  • Genetics: In a 2014 study, researchers found that grandiosity (23%) and entitlement (35%) were passed down from parent to child.
  • Neurobiology: A study led by University of Chicago’s Dr. Royce Lee finds that narcissistic personality disorder is “marked by increased oxidative stress in the blood and is also connected to interpersonal hypersensitivity.” However, more biology-based studies are needed to come to a conclusive understanding of this type of disorder.

How a person becomes a covert narcissist is one thing, but how they act is another. And more often than not, they play the victim card.

This is the form of narcissism and if I was to put it in a word, it’s victimized,” explains Dr. Ramani. “They’re always the victim. They’re always blaming everyone else. They do not take responsibility. Their entitlement is more quiet.

Woman arguing like a covert narcissist

How Can You Deal With a Covert Narcissist?

Dr. Ramani points out that covert narcissists build a perfect suit of armor because there’s all this insecurity to be protected. So they work on their outsides so nobody will notice the insides.” That’s a big giant red flag right there.

So your first reaction when dealing with a covert narcissist may be to run the other way. Unfortunately, for some, that’s not always an option, especially when the narcissist is a family member or a colleague.

Don’t fret, though. There are ways you can respond in order to protect yourself. Here are three you can use:

1. Have really good boundaries in place

Most covert narcissists know how much they can get away with when it comes to pushing people around. Rebecca suggests setting up boundaries by:

  • Saying things like, “I”m not going to allow you to speak to me this way” or “we’ll have this conversation when you’ve calmed down.”
  • Putting time limits on conversations.
  • Having agendas for conversations.

All of that will help to shift the dynamic of the relationship and it will also help you start to feel stronger in the relationship,” she adds.

2. Step back and recognize their narcissistic techniques

Covert narcissists are going to pull out all the stops when it comes to triggering you. They’ll use all sorts of techniques like gaslighting, ghosting, and manipulation to weaken and destabilize you.

So, step back as if you’re looking at it from a third-person point of view. And you can also observe their behavior to them by saying things like, “I understand that that’s what you think” or “you are entitled to believe that.

This will enable you to put a gap between their attempts to trigger you and your emotion behind it. Rebecca mentions that “once you can shut off that emotional trigger, that’s when their power over you starts to shut down.”

3. Learn to communicate clearly and effectively

Whether it’s in a relationship or at the workplace, communication is fundamental. In fact, data collected from Expert Market on communication in the workplace found “miscommunication costs companies with 100 employees an average of $420,000 per year

And yet, it’s something that so many of us struggle with.

Learning to communicate clearly and effectively (and maybe even a little assertively) can help you express what you truly desire, engage with the person you’re speaking to, empower you with confidence and charisma, make an impression, and enable you to learn a thing or two about yourself.

As Lisa Nichols, author of Mindvalley’s Speak and Inspire Quest says, “you’ve been given the gift of voice. How will you use it? What are you going to change?

It’s you — you’re going to change. Because, as the saying goes, “you can’t change what’s going on around you until you start changing what’s going on within you.”

And if you need the guidance to do so, head over to Mindvalley where Lisa can help you awaken your greatness and guide you to find the “you” that you’re destined to be.

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Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman is the SEO content editor for Mindvalley and a certified life coach. With a background in spa and wellness as well as having gone through a cancer experience, she's constantly on the lookout for natural, effective ways that help with one's overall well-being.
Written by

Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman is the SEO content editor for Mindvalley and a certified life coach. With a background in spa and wellness as well as having gone through a cancer experience, she's constantly on the lookout for natural, effective ways that help with one's overall well-being.

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