Unmasking the triggers of covert narcissism

Narcissism, a personality trait existing on a spectrum, is not always readily apparent. While overt narcissists openly exhibit grandiose and attention-seeking behaviours, covert narcissists operate with subtlety and discretion.


This exploration aims to uncover the enigmatic world of covert narcissism, focusing on the key triggers behind this personality pattern.

Covert narcissism, also known as vulnerable narcissism, conceals an individual's deep-seated sense of superiority, coupled with an insatiable need for admiration and validation. Unlike their overt counterparts, who aggressively seek attention and praise, covert narcissists employ subtle tactics, often portraying themselves as victims and using manipulation to achieve their objectives.

Triggers of covert narcissism

Feelings of neglect and ignorance

Covert narcissists are hypersensitive to perceived neglect or being undervalued. Their profound desire for attention and validation drives them to react when they believe they are being ignored or dismissed.

Perceived disrespect

Possessing fragile egos, covert narcissists react strongly to any perceived disrespect. Criticisms, whether real or imagined, trigger defensive responses, often manifesting as passive-aggressiveness or manipulative tactics to protect their self-image.

Ego threats and challenges

Covert narcissists' fragile self-esteem makes them highly susceptible to ego threats. Challenges to their competence or superiority provoke defensive and manipulative behaviours as they strive to safeguard their self-image.

Deep-seated feelings of shame

Beneath a façade of modesty, covert narcissists grapple with profound feelings of shame and insecurity. Situations that expose their vulnerabilities serve as triggers, prompting narcissistic behaviours as a defence mechanism.

Covert narcissism and counselling

Counselling serves as a valuable resource for individuals dealing with covert narcissism, offering several key benefits.

1. Validation and understanding

In counselling, individuals can share their experiences with a trained professional who understands the dynamics of covert narcissism. This validation of their feelings and experiences can be immensely empowering, as it helps individuals realise they are not alone in facing these challenges.

2. Developing coping strategies

Coping with covert narcissistic behaviour can be emotionally draining. Counselling provides a safe space for individuals to develop effective coping strategies. Therapists can offer guidance on setting boundaries, managing emotional responses, and navigating difficult conversations with the covert narcissist.

3. Building self-esteem and self-confidence

Covert narcissists often erode the self-esteem and self-confidence of those around them. Counselling helps individuals rebuild these crucial aspects of their identity. Therapists work with clients to identify their strengths and self-worth, fostering resilience in the face of manipulation.

4. Recognising manipulative tactics

Covert narcissists are skilled manipulators. Counselling equips individuals with the tools to recognise and respond to these tactics effectively. By identifying manipulation, individuals can assert their boundaries and protect their emotional well-being.

5. Strengthening emotional resilience

Emotional resilience is key to dealing with covert narcissism. Therapists help individuals strengthen their emotional resilience by teaching them healthy coping mechanisms, stress management techniques, and self-care practices.

6. Facilitating healing and recovery

Covert narcissistic relationships can leave lasting emotional scars. Counselling supports the healing and recovery process. Therapists guide individuals in processing their experiences, addressing trauma, and moving forward towards healthier relationships.

Counselling plays a vital role in helping individuals navigate relationships affected by covert narcissism. It offers validation, understanding, and the tools necessary to cope with manipulative behaviours and protect one's emotional well-being. Through counselling, individuals can rebuild their self-esteem, strengthen their emotional resilience, and embark on a journey towards healing and recovery. While covert narcissism presents its unique challenges, seeking professional support empowers individuals to regain control over their lives and foster healthier relationships in the future.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Wantage OX12 & Rickmansworth WD3
Written by Hope Therapy & Counselling Services, Offering Counselling, CBT, Hypnotherapy, EMDR & Mindfulness.
Wantage OX12 & Rickmansworth WD3

Ian Stockbridge is the founder and lead counsellor at Hope Therapy and Counselling Services. 

As an experienced Counsellor, Ian recognised a huge societal need for therapeutic services that were often not being met. As such the 'Hope Agency' was born and its counselling team now offers counselling and therapeutic support throughout the UK.

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