Overt Narcissist vs. Covert Narcissist (Some Differences Are Subtle)

Narcissism is more than just being self-absorbed or loving oneself a bit too much. It’s a complex personality trait that can manifest in different ways. In this article, we’ll delve into the world of narcissism, focusing on two main types: Overt Narcissists and Covert Narcissists. We’ll break down the characteristics, history, and what makes each type tick.

What is Narcissism

Narcissism is a personality trait characterized by an excessive need for admiration, a lack of empathy, and a grandiose sense of self-importance. It’s like being in love with oneself, but not in a healthy way.

The Birth of Narcissism:

The term “narcissism” finds its roots in Greek mythology. Narcissus, a handsome young man, fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, unable to tear himself away. This mythological tale laid the groundwork for understanding narcissistic behavior.

Overt Narcissist: The Loud Ego

Spotting an Overt Narcissist:

SignsOvert Narcissist
Attention-SeekingCraves attention and admiration overtly.
BoastfulConstantly brags about achievements.
DominanceDemands to be the center of attention.
Lack of EmpathyShows little empathy for others’ feelings.
ArroganceDisplays an inflated sense of self-importance.

The Overt Narcissist in Action:

Overt narcissists are like fireworks on the Fourth of July – flashy and impossible to ignore. They want the world to revolve around them and make it clear through their actions and words. Their need for admiration is as glaring as a neon sign.

What Makes Them This Way?

Overt narcissism can develop as a coping mechanism. Individuals may adopt this behavior to mask deep-seated insecurities or to compensate for feelings of inadequacy. It’s like a protective armor that shields them from their own self-doubt.

Covert Narcissist: The Silent Manipulator

Identifying a Covert Narcissist:

SignsCovert Narcissist
Victim MentalityPlays the victim to gain sympathy and attention.
Passive-AggressiveExpresses aggression in subtle, indirect ways.
Understated SuperiorityBelieves in a hidden superiority over others.
ManipulativeUses subtle tactics to control and manipulate.
Fragile EgoHas a delicate ego that is easily bruised.

The Covert Narcissist’s Stealth Approach:

Covert narcissists are like stealth bombers – flying under the radar while still achieving their objectives. They may not shout from the rooftops, but their manipulative tactics can be just as destructive. Playing the victim is their favorite card to pull.

What Drives Covert Narcissism?

Covert narcissism often stems from a fear of failure and a deep-seated need for validation. Instead of seeking attention overtly, they prefer a more subtle approach, gaining satisfaction from controlling situations behind the scenes.

Comparing the Two

Head-to-Head Comparison: Overt vs. Covert Narcissists

CriteriaOvert NarcissistCovert Narcissist
Attention-SeekingLoud and explicit about needing attention.Seeks attention through subtler means.
ExpressivenessOpenly boastful and confident.Tends to be reserved and passive-aggressive.
Manipulation StyleStraightforward and in your face.Sneaky and manipulative behind the scenes.
EmpathyDemonstrates a lack of empathy openly.May feign empathy but lacks genuine concern.
FragilityAppears more robust and less fragile.Hides fragility behind a tough exterior.

The Roots of Narcissism

Nature vs. Nurture:

While there’s ongoing debate about whether narcissism is a result of genetics or environmental factors, it’s generally agreed upon that a combination of both plays a role. Childhood experiences, parenting styles, and genetic predispositions can all contribute to the development of narcissistic traits.

Cultural Influences:

Society can also shape narcissistic tendencies. In cultures that emphasize individualism and achievement, narcissistic traits might be more prevalent. The constant pursuit of success and recognition can fuel the growth of narcissistic behaviors.

Breaking the Stereotypes

Common Misconceptions:

Narcissists aren’t always the stereotypical arrogant, self-absorbed individuals we see in movies. They can be charming, charismatic, and even appear empathetic. It’s essential to recognize that narcissism exists on a spectrum, and not all narcissists fit the same mold.

Treatment and Change:

While narcissistic personality disorder can be challenging to treat, therapy and counseling can help individuals with narcissistic traits develop healthier coping mechanisms. Change is possible, but it requires self-awareness and a genuine desire for personal growth.


Understanding the nuances between overt and covert narcissism allows us to navigate relationships with a clearer perspective. Whether you encounter the loud and attention-seeking overt narcissist or the stealthy and manipulative covert narcissist, recognizing the signs is the first step in establishing healthy boundaries. In the complex world of personalities, awareness is our greatest ally.

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