Guest Author Sam Vaknin:
“He sometimes behaves like a Narcissist, but he is so shy and withdrawn, modest, and self-critical. It is very confusing. Is he a narcissist or isn’t he? Is he just acting?”

"Dreams and the Underworld" by Mimi Stuart ©  Live the Life you Desire

“Dreams and the Underworld” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Contrary to misinformation spread by “experts” online, covert narcissists are not cunning and manipulative. Classic narcissists are: they often disguise their true nature effectively, knowingly, and intentionally. They are persistent actors with great thespian skills. Not so the covert narcissist: he suppresses his true nature because he lacks the confidence to assert it. His is not a premeditated choice: can’t help but shy away. The covert narcissist is his own worst critic.

Inverted narcissists are covert narcissists. They are self-centered, sensitive, vulnerable, and defensive, or hostile, and paranoid. They harbour grandiose fantasies and have a strong sense of entitlement. They tend to exploit other, albeit stealthily and subtly. Covert narcissists are aware of their innate limitations and shortcomings and, therefore, constantly fret and stress over their inability to fulfill their unrealistic dreams and expectations. They avoid recognition, competition, and the limelight for fear of being exposed as frauds or failures. They are ostentatiously modest.

Covert narcissists often feel guilty over and ashamed of their socially-impermissible aggressive urges and desires. Consequently, they are shy and unassertive and intensely self-critical (perfectionist). This inner conflict between an overwhelming sense of worthlessness and a grandiose False Self results in mood and anxiety disorders. They team up with classic narcissists (see below), but, in secret, resent and envy them.

Compare the classic narcissist to the covert narcissist is this table (Cooper and Akhtar, 1989):

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 8.52.27 AM

The Inverted Narcissist is a co-dependent who depends exclusively on narcissists (narcissist-co-dependent). If you are living with a narcissist, have a relationship with one, if you are married to one, if you are working with a narcissist, etc. it does NOT mean that you are an inverted narcissist.

To “qualify” as an inverted narcissist, you must CRAVE to be in a relationship with a narcissist, regardless of any abuse inflicted on you by him/her. You must ACTIVELY seek relationships with narcissists and ONLY with narcissists, no matter what your (bitter and traumatic) past experience has been. You must feel EMPTY and UNHAPPY in relationships with ANY OTHER kind of person. Only then, and if you satisfy the other diagnostic criteria of a Dependent Personality Disorder, can you be safely labelled an “inverted narcissist”.

by Sam Vaknin, PhD, Author of the comprehensive book on narcissism “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited.”

Read Sam Vaknin,’s “Is He Truly Modest or Just Faking It?”

Read “Flattery: ‘Meet my amazing friend who has two masters degrees, is CEO of a big company, and is an iron-man tri-athlete.’”

Read Sam Vaknin’s “Schizoid Personality Disorder: ‘He is either the spirit of the party – or a hermit.’”

Read “Bragging on a First Date: ‘I graduated with top honors and live on Snobhill.’”

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2 thoughts on “Guest Author Sam Vaknin:
“He sometimes behaves like a Narcissist, but he is so shy and withdrawn, modest, and self-critical. It is very confusing. Is he a narcissist or isn’t he? Is he just acting?”

    1. Alison Post author

      Basically, the answer is therapy, although the therapist would have to be quite good. Here is an excerpt from the website that explains the tricky balance the therapist must be able to tread, because the narcissist need to present an image of superiority and perfection is what sustains his or her sense of self: “Health care professionals must convey a feeling of respect and acknowledge the patient’s sense of self-importance so that the patient can reestablish a coherent sense of self, but they must at the same time avoid reinforcing either pathologic grandiosity (which may contribute to denial of illness) or weakness (which frightens the patient).”

      Here is an article by Sam Vaknin that addresses this question:, and here is a video he has about the question:

      Good luck.

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