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Covert vs Overt Narcissists: What is The Difference?

Updated on June 3, 2016

What is a Narcissist?

Narcissists are people who are focused only on their own needs. They are unable and unwilling to care about or consider other people's feelings. They don't understand respect, integrity or compromise. They want what they want, when they want it and anything (or anyone) that stands in their way is their enemy. The true narcissist is remorseless, selfish, sadistic and shallow. Narcissists can be any age, gender, sexuality or race.

What is an Overt Narcissist?

When we think of narcissists, we usually think of arrogant blowhards who believe they can do no wrong, or that they are God's gift to humanity. This is the Overt Narcissist. He is overtly narcissistic. "Overt" means plainly seen or not hidden. This describes the Overt Narcissist exactly. He is arrogant, egotistical and not afraid to toot his own horn. In fact, he revels in it and insists that everyone else should do so, too. He may be sarcastic, sadistic, condescending, cruel and cold. This is not a sympathetic character. He will rage when challenged and he insists that his needs be catered to immediately. Any and all individuality in a partner will be brutally cut out and replaced with his way of thinking. He is often a bully, a cheater and it is not uncommon for him to engage in physical abuse of his partners. He believes he is entitled to literally anything he wants; this is the person who makes unbelievable statements of entitlement with a straight face. His selfishness is shocking and scary. He is often very smooth and seems to have things very together.

This type of narcissist is very dangerous but they are also very obvious. It's pretty hard to mistake this type of personality. They do everything but shove it in your face. Overt Narcissists often perfect a smooth facade to attract partners or friends but this facade generally crumbles pretty quickly, because that huge, poisonous ego demands acknowledgement now. Because of this, they are, in some ways, easier to avoid than their counterpart, the Covert Narcissist.

What is a Covert Narcissist?

The Covert Narcissist is the opposite of the Overt Narcissist. "Covert" means hidden or secret. This is a perfect definition for the Covert Narcissist. He does not appear to be a narcissist at all. Rather, he appears very insecure, helpless and needy. Where the Overt Narcissist appears supremely confident and independent, the Covert Narcissist presents himself as unsure and dependent. He is a very sympathetic, pitiable character. He makes sure to present himself that way.

The Covert Narcissist is a professional victim. He has had the hardest life, the roughest childhood, the most terrible relationships... his entire existence has been one tragedy after another. No one has ever loved him. Everyone has always left him. He tries so hard but it never works out. He clings to his partner with a desperation that is almost obsessive. This type of narcissist is very dangerous, because people do not recognize him as a narcissist. It is only after knowing him for a while that people begin to realize how selfish and self-absorbed this person really is. What we mistake for insecurity is actually selfishness - his needs come first. Always.

This is generally the type of narcissist that empaths become entangled with. This type of narcissist broadcasts his neediness like a beacon and it attracts people who want to help. He is like a predator feigning an injury in order to trick the prey into coming closer. This type of narcissist is still a predator, and in some ways he is worse than the Overt Narcissist because the Overt Narcissist makes his victims believe they need him, but the Covert Narcissist makes his victims believe that he needs them. Where the Overt Narcissist uses bullying and fear to keep his victim in line, the Covert Narcissist uses sympathy and guilt. This is much harder for victims to walk away from, especially because the Covert Narcissist appears so needy and unstable.

Which is more dangerous?

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What is The Difference?

Strictly speaking, there is not much of a difference between Covert and Overt Narcissists. It is mostly a matter of degrees. The Covert Narcissist attempts to have his needs met differently than the Overt Narcissist, but his needs are basically the same and have the same importance. The only importance, as far as he is concerned. The Covert Narcissist may cry hysterically or threaten suicide instead of physically attacking his victim or threatening murder (as the Overt Narcissist would probably do), but they are both sides of the same coin. In this scenario, both people are saying the same thing: someone is going to die if you don't give me what I want.

In extreme emotional situations, both types of narcissists can engage in physical abuse and both can become hysterical or threaten suicide. This is because both the Covert and the Overt Narcissist are really only facades anyway. This facade can be cast aside if necessary to expose the wounded, screaming child underneath, and in both people this core is the same.

How they choose to present themselves has more to do with what their original personality was like before they received the narcissistic wound that made them what they are and with what they have learned works as a successful manipulation. The Overt Narcissist learned early on that bullying works better for him - probably because it is more natural for his personality type, and the Covert Narcissist learned that guilt and sympathy work better for him, probably again because it is more natural for him.

It can also have to do with which personality disorder the narcissist is afflicted with. We could then say that Borderline Personalities are more likely to be Covert Narcissists, whereas Psychopaths are more likely to be Overt Narcissists. Both are still narcissists, they are just different types. This is complicated by the fact that most people with Cluster B personality disorders have more than one, which will result in different types of behaviors coming out at different times.

For example, if a person has Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder, this person may show many signs of Covert Narcissism but can also show signs of Overt Narcissism in certain situations. He may cry and threaten suicide when upset but if he feels insulted, he may respond with physical violence or death threats. These types of behavior do not seem to jibe at all with the "I'm helpless, I'm a needy child, I'm toxic waste, I'm scum, I'm a victim" mindset, but it happens because the core of every type of narcissism is a huge, poisonous and defective ego. This ego demands acknowledgement and it demands punishment when it is wronged.

In this regard, there is no difference at all.

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