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Am I a covert narcissist?

It’s traumatizing to watch 12 years of friendship be incinerated in 12 seconds, especially when the event happens within the sacred space of home. There’s fault and blame to go around, and there’s also willful ignorance, denial and rationalization. And then there’s passive aggressive pettiness. The kind that’s specifically tailored in an attempt to use personal information like a weapon. It’s so obvious that it isn’t so much hurtful as annoying or exasperating.

As everyone now goes their separate ways, I afforded one more glance over one of the two’s social media feed. So much immaturity. Lizzo again? Really? A jab at micro-current treatments for skin care? Pfft. But what’s this? An article about Covert Narcissists?

This type of Narcissist is usually very smart, and will search for an intellectual understanding of why they feel so harmed by the world, and also look for greater understanding in psychology and spirituality, as a beacon of insulation from accountability for their relationship dramas and overall accountability.

Oh, hell no! He’s telling people I’m a covert narcissist?? How can anyone possibly think that about me?

Well… wait. I see a lot of myself in that article.

That’s a disturbing prospect, given my own experiences with malignant narcissists. Can that brush off on me? I’m having a Harry Potter moment where I ask Dumbledore if what I’ve experienced is now inside me, changing me. That’d be insidious: One more lingering injury at their hands. So, let me find out what an internet diagnosis might look like, because if that’s true about me, I need to know it and address it. I really don’t identify that way AT ALL, but now I need to know if I’m deluding myself or being gaslighted by former confidants.

An honest assessment and reaction

There is a special kind of Narcissist, often referred to as the “Covert Narcissist” that only loosely appears as a typical, garden variety pathological Narcissist. These are the hyper sensitive and perceptive Narcissists. This Narcissist does a heck of a lot of image management, and is usually extremely strategic in how to make their self look virtuous, generous, caring, and loving. This type of Narcissist is aware of their ability to be hurt and wounded, and knows they have some level of early childhood trauma they walk around with. They are particularly self-protective and hide behind their “boundaries,” which are a complex set of defenses, hoops to jump through, and requirements others should meet, before they “trust” you and will get close to you.

Read the full article here

Ava Pommerenk

International Intimacy Coach,

When most people think of narcissism, they think of the public face of narcissism: extraversion, aggression, self-assuredness, grandiosity, vanity, and the need to be admired by others (see “How to Spot a Narcissist“). But as far back as 1938, Harvard psychologist Henry Murray noticed another breed of narcissist among his undergraduates: the covert narcissist. While the “overt” narcissists tended to be aggressive, self-aggrandizing, exploitative, and have extreme delusions of grandeur and a need for attention, “covert” narcissists were more prone to feelings of neglect or belittlement, hypersensitivity, anxiety, and delusions of persecution.

Read the full article here.

Barry Kaufman

Psychologist, Columbia University

Arguments toward me being a covert narcissist

(Skip to my preliminary conclusion)

I’m writing this article for an audience. I mean…

I’m an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. People seem to think that’s a red flag. But honestly I’m not sure how scientific self testing is, so I’m not sure how much stock to put in this train of thought.

Barry Kaufman in an article at Scientific America writes: “…covert narcissists were more prone to feelings of neglect or belittlement, hypersensitivity, anxiety, and delusions of persecution.” That’s not very encouraging. 

A blogger named Meredith Kavanagh has seven pretty damning observations: 1) There are times I really do feel that what someone’s talking about isn’t interesting; 2) As a result I do judge quickly what I want to hear and then tune people out very easily; 4) (Yes, I skipped 3, “Lack of Empathy”) I can be passive aggressive, definitely; 5) I’m very sensitive to criticism, though I’m pretty sure it’s not because I can’t believe someone doesn’t think I’m perfect; 6) I do frequently feel deeply misunderstood, and 7) I do hold people at a distance, and I do prefer to avoid socializing. Again, not very encouraging. 

I think I’m going to cry.

They don’t care when you’re going through a hard time, and they don’t think about how their actions affect others.

Arguments against me being a covert narcissist

I’m writing this article for an audience. I mean…

Let me push back a little on Meredith’s seven traits: If I understand empathy correctly (and now I’m not sure at all that I do), I have lots of it: “They don’t care when you’re going through a hard time, and they don’t think about how their actions affect others.” Absolutely not true at all. Not. At. All. Not one iota. This does not describe me even a little bit. On a 1-5, this gets a 0.

This does not describe me even a little bit. On a 1-5, this gets a 0.

Jack Kirven

Accused Covert Narcissist

Highly Sensitive People

I might also seem to be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). According to Meredith Kavanagh’s other observations, “HSPs aren’t even on the narcissism scale. In fact, they’re basically the opposite of narcissists, even if they do show some of the same outward traits.” Well, how helpful is this even turning out to be, Meredith? I’m confused on when this applies or it doesn’t, hence the probably futile nature of this exercise.

At any rate, yes: I enjoy alone time when I can decompress. Am I intensely affected by other people’s emotions? Yes. I am a detail-oriented perfectionist. Overstimulation is something I have a low tolerance for. I do burn myself out. My instincts are usually perfect (which is why it’s so frustrating that I often ignore them). I love TMI, both giving and hearing it. It helps me connect to others and understand what someone needs. I have trouble shutting down to sleep. Crying happens a lot, no matter what I’m feeling. I am a problem solver.

(Great… so many sentences starting with I, I, I and me, me, me.)

And the results say

Coming back around to Barry Kaufman, he created a 23-question test to help people identify where they might be on the spectrum for the Maladaptive Covert Narcissism Scale. (Note: Remember, self testing isn’t something I put much faith in.) I scored a 65, which is exactly average. According to Kaufman, “If, however, your score was 82 and above, you scored high in covert narcissism. And if your score was above 97, well, you might want to own yourself as a card-carrying covert narcissist, instead of constantly telling people to stop criticizing you because your sensitive, introverted soul can’t handle it.”

By this point, you’re probably wondering if you’re secretly a hypersensitive covert narcissist masquerading as a sensitive introvert. Without further ado, here are 23 items that will allow you to gain greater insight into your personality… It seems if you have to be a narcissist, it’s better to be an overt narcissist than a covert narcissist!

So here’s the test. Be honest with yourself!

Barry Kaufman

Psychologist, Columbia University

They have no shame

But here’s something I found interesting, if not rather reductive: According to Tia Ghose at Live Science, one question alone can identify a Narcissist: “[They Have] No Shame… The team found that the answer to one question was strongly correlated with their overall score on the longer test: ‘To what extent do you agree with the statement, ‘I am a narcissist?’” In other words, narcissists know themselves, and they aren’t afraid to admit they’re narcissists.

I absolutely do not see myself as a narcissist.


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Jack Kirven is a mobile personal trainer in Charlotte, NC. He is the owner of INTEGRE8T Wellness.

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