Misinformation about Covert vs. Classic Narcissists

"The Stuff of Dreams  Apollo 11" by Mimi Stuart ©

“The Stuff of Dreams Apollo 11”
by Mimi Stuart ©

GUEST AUTHOR Sam Vaknin writes:

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-centred, 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 fulfil 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 2015-03-15 at 12.54.46 PM

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 Guest Author Sam Vaknin — the author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited” and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101. Visit Sam’s Web site.

Read Sam Vaknin’s “One partner loves to love, the other loves to be loved.”

Read Dr. Alison Poulsen’s“Seven Points to Dealing with a Narcissist.”

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6 thoughts on “GUEST AUTHOR Sam Vaknin:
Misinformation about Covert vs. Classic Narcissists

  1. Jay

    What an interesting twist. I have had never heard anyone reflect that the critic itself isn’t the enemy and that it in fact is a survival mechanism. I think that is a very helpful way to look at it. It’s like an over-bearing mother/father. Their heart is in the right place, but their worries and anxieties are just too much. In other words, not only have compassion towards oneself and tone down the harsh critic, but also have compassion towards the inner critic, too?

    Thank you for your reply. Very helpful.

    1. Alison Post author

      Exactly! The inner critic is a survival mechanism. People without one will not make it through childhood, particularly around any kind of hostile circumstances. The inner critic can be a lot like an over-bearing parent who wants to protect the child but is overdoing it by becoming controlling, critical, or overly-anxious. When you reject or fight with an over-bearing parent, he/she often becomes even more worried, aggressive, and anxious, and doubles his or her efforts to talk sense into you or to control you. But when you understand the parent’s underlying concerns and speak with compassion and reason, you will have more success. It’s similar with the inner critic, but trickier, because although you are an adult, the inner critic involves ingrained neuro pathways in your brain, so you can’t get away from the inner critic. You have to repeatedly change your negative thoughts until the new pathways gain dominance. So changing the inner critic requires motivation and self-discipline to create the new habit.

  2. Jay

    What does it mean if you have most of the characteristics of the covert narcissist except the part of actively seeking other narcissists?


    1. Alison Post author

      Then you are probably simply shy, lack confidence, and/or have an overly harsh inner critic. In order to enjoy and improve life, you need to accept yourself rather than demean yourself. I would try to transform your inner critic–or the way you talk to yourself–from a harsh critic to a constructive critic or guide. First become aware of what you say to yourself, and then change it to accepting and constructive advice to yourself.

      The most effective teachers, coaches, and parents express acceptance and even caring toward their students, athletes, and children, and they are able to give constructive guidance without humiliation. As an adult, you have a voice in your head that acts as a parent, coach, or teacher to yourself. To be effective, you need to develop a tone and demeanor with yourself that conveys acceptance and caring while being able to provide constructive feedback. Thus, you can change, “I’m such an idiot,” to “Next time I’ll do it differently, and….” It will take some practice, as such inner voices are quite automatic, but it can be done with plenty of patience and practice.

      Good luck.


      1. Jay

        Thank you for your reply. You make very valid points.

        I think it is difficult to tame the inner critic because it seems so correct. But you are right about toning down the harshness of it and reducing judgement.

        1. Alison Post author

          Thanks for your comment.

          It’s an interesting topic because the inner critic isn’t the enemy. It’s simply not as effective in protecting a person as it was when the person was a child. Usually the inner critic develops to help a person adapt to external circumstances when a person is quite young. Often people with overly harsh inner critics had some harsh circumstances to contend with while growing up. For example, the inner critic might say, “you better keep your mouth shut or you’ll really get in trouble.” And the inner critic tends to imitate the language and tone of one’s caregivers, which may also be unkind.

          Later when we grow up, we can tame or soften the inner critic if we put our minds to overcoming the automatic patterns ingrained in the brain, and thus become happier and have better relationships. It’s easier to transform your inner critic when you understand that it’s intent is to help you survive and thrive in your surroundings, and that surroundings change.

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