POV: You just got home from a holiday party with your S.O., and the mood is bleak.

You got into a heated argument during the drive back because they were being standoffish the entire night and refused to make small talk with your friends, which annoyed you because you were gushing to your BFFs all week about how wonderful they are.

“They always do this,” you think. “Every time the conversation doesn’t revolve around them, they can be so rude.”

Now, your partner is giving you the silent treatment, and who knows how long that’ll last since they never apologize or admit any wrongdoing, ever. Sorry to break it to you, but you might be dealing with a covert narcissist.

A covert narcissist is someone who may not outwardly display their sense of self-importance, but who is constantly searching for validation and to remain the center of attention usually through manipulative tactics, explains Sonia Brill, LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist with a private practice in New York City.

Unlike an overt narcissist, a covert narcissist is often less grandiose, centered on being “the victim,” and uses passive aggressive behaviors to manipulate the people around them into giving them what they want, adds Gina Polesetsky, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist in California who specializes in narcissistic abuse recovery.

Meet the experts: Sonia Brill, LCSW, is a licensed psychotherapist with a private practice in New York City. Gina Polesetsky, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in California who specializes in narcissistic abuse recovery.

Do you know a covert narcissist? Ahead, experts explain what the signs are, what causes someone to become a covert narcissist, and what to do if you’re dating one.

What’s the difference between a covert narcissist and an overt narcissist?

As WHpreviously reported, a narcissist is someone with an inflated sense of self, and who has a constant need for admiration and attention. There are two main types: the overt or “grandiose” narcissist and the covert or “vulnerable” narcissist.

An overt narcissist is often extraverted, fairly flamboyant, and may even own up to their narcissism—wearing it as a sort of badge of honor, says Brill.

A covert narcissist, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily present themselves in the same grandiose style and manner.

“They may be the partner at Christmas dinner who is playing with their phone because the attention is deflected away from them or they don’t find what you have to say to be all that interesting,” says Brill. The result is that you may feel guilty for excluding them, and so you bring the attention back to your S.O., which is what they craved all along.

Just because a covert narcissist isn’t explicitly asking for admiration, that doesn’t mean that that need and those feelings of superiority aren’t there. “It’s just less obvious,” explains Polesetsky. “Their behaviors are a little quieter.”

Both types of narcissism share the root cause of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), which is low-esteem. However, the way a covert narcissist manages to inflate their self-esteem comes from gaining the pity of others and pulling attention towards them, says Polesetsky.

Thus, it’s more difficult to spot a covert narcissist and easier to get reeled in because the red flags are more of a hot pink, a.k.a they’re not as obvious.

What are some common covert narcissistic personality traits?

If you’re worried that your S.O. or someone else you know might be a covert narcissist, here are some common traits to look out for, according to experts:

1. They often disregard you.

In a reciprocal convo, where both parties are interested in what the other person has to say, you’ll usually get social cues that your conversation partner is listening because they’ll nod their head or ask you questions back. What you’ll often notice during a conversation with a covert narcissist is that they’ll seem disinterested or distracted while you’re speaking to them, says Brill.

And no, it’s not because you’re “boring.” It’s because the attention is not on them, so they’re choosing to disregard you completely.

2. They blame you for their actions.

Now, if you were to confront someone who doesn’t have narcissistic traits about them ignoring you during your convo, they might apologize and say something like, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t get a good night’s sleep last night.” Whereas a covert narcissist would very quickly push the blame onto you or even challenge your reality, says Brill.

They pull out the ol’ “it’s not me, it’s you,” because they’re not willing to take ownership for their actions and acknowledge your experience.

3. They’re manipulative.

Like all narcissistic types, covert narcissists are master manipulators. And they’ll manipulate you in a way that’s passive, so you’ll often end up feeling like you’re the problem and there’s something wrong with you, explains Brill.

For example, say you cook for your S.O. every night, but refuse to do so one day because you had a really long day at work. A covert narcissist might say something like, “A good partner would prepare this meal for me, but for some reason, you’re complaining that you’re tired.” (Yuck.)

4. They’re passive aggressive.

Covert narcissists will often use passive aggressive behaviors to display their frustrations or feelings of superiority. That's because they feel entitled to certain things, or they might be trying to get back at you for “wronging” them. This can look like giving you the silent treatment, subtly shifting blame onto you, or sabotaging your work.

5. They always play the victim card.

“Covert narcissists believe they are constantly being victimized, defamed, persecuted, and treated unfairly by anyone around them that isn’t bending to their every will,” says Polesetsky.

In traditional narcissistic fashion, they can’t accept fault for their own problems so they have to find fault in others. They’re also quite often pathological liars, which is simply a necessary adaptation to keep themselves playing the role of the victim and gaining the help and attention of those around them, Polesetsky adds.

6. They’re highly sensitive to criticism.

A symptom of NPD is having a wounded self-esteem. As such, this may manifest in a covert narcissist as being extremely sensitive to criticism. Of course, most people don’t love to be critiqued, but more often than not a covert narcissist will use this as an excuse to get attention and play the victim card.

7. They have difficulty maintaining relationships.

Covert narcissists have a hard time maintaining meaningful relationships. That makes sense, considering other factors (i.e. being manipulative and passive aggressive). They may become enamored very quickly. But as soon as they tire of the person or the person catches onto their toxic tendencies, they’ll quickly move onto the next, says Polesetsky. Despite moving on though, they hold terrible grudges.

8. They lack stability.

As someone who’s constantly losing jobs and friends left and right, you can imagine that a covert narcissist doesn’t stick with anything for too long. “It’s both a consequence of boredom, and also they burn so many bridges that they just have to keep going,” explains Polesetsky.

What causes someone to become a covert narcissist?

The exact cause of NPD is unknown, but studies suggest it may be caused by a combination of factors, including: childhood trauma, family history (such as having a narcissistic parent), personality and temperament, and social learnings.

Polesetsky explains that if a parent was really uninvolved and emotionally unavailable to their child (say when a child displayed emotional distress, their caregiver would ignore them or withdraw affection), psychologists believe that can lead to low self-esteem, which is at the heart of narcissism.

A key factor to developing a healthy personality is feeling loved and nurtured during childhood, so that one’s able to form a solid sense of self and healthy self-esteem, Brill adds. “And if you didn’t have that, what happens is you grow out of these experiences, but you’re still using those maladaptive traits to deal with other people, which not only causes harm to them, but causes harm to you as well.”

Watch Oprah speak with parents about the power of compassionate parenting:

How does a covert narcissist act in a relationship?

A relationship with a covert narcissist is one-sided. “The understanding is that you’re there to take care of them and their needs,” says Brill.

If you’re in a relationship with a covert narcissist, you might feel like you’re constantly answering to them and your needs are never being met. If you do express your feelings, you’ll often notice that the conversation very quickly has to move back to how your S.O. is feeling or doing, otherwise they’re likely to punish you by giving you the silent treatment or disregarding you, Brill adds.

The partner of a covert narcissist is often doing a lot of the emotional labor, says Polesetsky. And while a covert narcissist is often better than an overt narcissist at the performative aspects of maintaining a relationship, “they still lack empathy, and so there’s a certain hollowness to their gestures.”

Additionally, because a covert narcissist constantly needs to be the center of attention, they might invent problems in the relationship or over-exaggerate illnesses or woes just to stay in a constant state of crisis that serves them.

“They are the master of chaos, and if they aren’t creating it naturally through their own behavior, they often will manufacture drama to feed their need for attention,” says Polesetsky.

What should I do if I suspect my partner is a covert narcissist?

Before you start self-diagnosing yourself or your S.O., let’s get a few things straight: for one, NPD is a fixed personality trait, meaning this behavior will not change.

Another thing, a true narcissist is someone who lacks personal insight, and so very often they will not notice they display certain narcissistic traits. “We all have narcissistic qualities from time to time—it’s a part of the human experience,” says Polesetsky. “But when those behaviors start to cause distress in your life, such as ending your relationships, that’s when it becomes a problem that requires some serious self-reflection.”

So how do you properly respond to a covert narcissist if you’re dealing with one? The first step is separating yourself from the way you’re being treated. This is important because a covert narcissist will not take personal responsibility, and may blame you for all the problems in the relationship and even in their lives, says Polesetsky. In order to hold onto your sense of self, engage in reality testing, meaning get your friends, family or even a therapist to validate your experiences and help you make sure your needs aren’t being forgotten.

The second step is setting boundaries. If your narcissist is your co-parent, try shifting your co-parenting style to one that is less involved, such as parallel parenting (a style of parenting in which each caretaker has their own parenting approach when the children are with them, and the parents interact as little as possible).

If your narcissist is your boss and switching jobs isn’t an option, set realistic expectations for your working relationship. And remember, if they take credit for your work or make snarky remarks during a meeting, it’s not really about you.

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If your narcissist is your S.O. and you’re ready to abandon ship, cut off all contact and remember that “no” is a complete sentence. “You say it one time and walk away,” says Polesetsky. “Anything after saying ‘no’ is a negotiation, and you don’t want to be negotiating your wellbeing and your freedom with a narcissist.”

Remember: You come first, and while it’s in everyone’s individual power to define if a relationship is sustainable or not, you don’t want to be in a situation where you’re always putting someone else’s needs before your own—period.