23 signs you’re secretly a narcissist masquerading as a “sensitive introvert”


Ruji posted a link to this article from Scientific American and I thought it was so interesting it deserves a blog post of its own. (It’s also quite funny.)

Ever known anyone like this? Of course you have. He’s the nerdy bookworm you know who always talks (proudly) about what an introvert, INFP, or HSP he is, but always changes the subject when you have a problem you want to talk about or is suddenly “too busy” when you need help moving.

She’s your long-suffering, martyred mother who constantly whines about how much she does for you and how unappreciated she is.

She’s your quiet coworker who cries at the drop of a hat but complains loudly when others are given credit, rewards or praise and she isn’t.

He’s the sensitive songwriting hipster who writes confessional ballads about heartbreak and rejection but treats his girlfriend like a piece of furniture or sometimes a punching bag.

All narcissists are highly sensitive about themselves and cannot tolerate criticism, rejection, or being ignored. They are all very easily hurt and cannot laugh at themselves. But all narcissists–whether covert or grandiose/aggressive (the more traditional type recognized by the DSM)–lack empathy, which means they are highly insensitive to the needs of anyone else. The difference between an grandiose/aggressive (traditional) narcissist and a covert one is a matter of, well, grandiosity and aggressive behavior. An aggressive or grandiose narcissist believes they are special, unique, better than everyone else and demand to be treated as such (and will rage and attack if they are not), while a covert narcissist believes they are beneath contempt and expect everyone to give their problems #1 priority (and are more likely to sulk and whine than overtly attack). But make no mistake–both types of narcissists are emotional vampires because both think they are the most important human beings on the planet and manipulate and abuse others to get what they want, even though one advertises their emotional vulnerability and low self-esteem and the other masks it behind a facade of stoic invulnerability. Covert narcissism has been referred to elsewhere as “vulnerable narcissism.”

Reading this, a question formed in my mind. The items on the test for covert narcissism seem suspiciously similar to many of the characteristics of BPD (except for the introversion, but borderlines can be introverted too). In reading about covert narcissism and BPD in general, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of difference. Covert narcissism is not recognized as a disorder by the DSM but BPD is. Are covert narcissism and BPD the same thing? I seem to have a lot of these traits. Guess I’ll have to take the test at the end of this article.

23 Signs You’re Secretly a Narcissist Masquerading as a Sensitive Introvert.
By Scott Barry Kaufman

If I see one more listicle about introversion, I’m going to cry.

It started out with the fairly reasonable “31 Unmistakable Signs That You’re An Introvert.” Sure, many of the items on the list offered an exaggerated version of introversion, but there were some real gems that had a large grain of truth. Like this one:


But then this happened:

22 Signs Your Dog’s An Introvert

“He often wears headphones with no music playing, in the hopes no one will try and talk to him.”

You’d think that’d be enough for a lifetime of listicles. But no… they kept coming, mixing together many different traits under the general umbrella “introversion.” For instance, some lists include shyness-related behaviors, but it’s well documented that shyness is not the same thing as introversion. Shyness is more related to being anxious and neurotic. There are plenty of introverts who prefer alone time but really aren’t anxious or shy when interacting with other people.

Another common misconception perpetuated by these listicles is that introversion and sensory processing sensitivity are the same thing. From “23 Signs You’re Secretly An Introvert”:

“While extroverts tend to get bored easily when they don’t have enough to do, introverts have the opposite problem — they get easily distracted and overwhelmed in environments with an excess of stimulation.”

Actually, sensory processing sensitivity is not the same thing as introversion. There are plenty of socially introverted folks who can deal with loud sounds and bright lights, even though they may get emotionally drained from too many superficial social interactions. Vice versa, there are plenty of socially extroverted individuals who get overstimulated by sensory input. A number of studies support that idea that sensory processing sensitivity is much more strongly linked to anxiety (neuroticism) and openness to experience than introversion.

But when I saw this listicle, I just about flipped my lid:

7 Signs Kanye West Is Secretly An Introvert

Really? Let’s clarify something here: Narcissism is definitely not the same thing as introversion.

Have you ever met someone who constantly tells you how “sensitive” and “introverted” they are, but all you actually see is selfishness and egocentricity? I’m sure you have, because these people exist in spades.

When most people think of narcissism, they think of the public face of narcissism: extroversion, aggression, self-assuredness, grandiosity, vanity, and the need to be admired by others (see “How to Spot a Narcissist”). But as far back as 1938, Harvard psychologist Henry Murray noticed another breed of narcissist among his undergraduates: the covert narcissist. While the “overt” narcissists tended to be aggressive, self-aggrandizing, exploitative, and have extreme delusions of grandeur and a need for attention, “covert” narcissists were more prone to feelings of neglect or belittlement, hypersensitivity, anxiety, and delusions of persecution.

In the 90s, psychologist Paul Wink analyzed a variety of narcissism scales and confirmed that there are indeed two distinct faces of narcissism, which they labeled “Grandiosity-Exhibitonism” and “Vulnerability-Sensitivity”. He found that both shades of narcissism shared a common core of conceit, arrogance, and the tendency to give in to one’s own needs and disregard others. But that’s where the similarities ended.

While Grandiosity-Exhibitionism was associated with extraversion, aggressiveness, self-assuredness, and the need to be admired by others, Vulnerability-Sensitivity was associated with introversion, hypersensitivity, defensiveness, anxiety, and vulnerability. Further research by Jonathan Cheek and Jennifer Odessa Grimes at Wellesley College found a moderate correlation between covert narcissism and the Highly Sensitive Person Scale developed by Elaine Aron.

In other words, while introversion, sensitivity, and narcissism are all partially separate traits, hypersensitive covert narcissists are more likely to report that they are introverted and sensitive.

Are You a Covert Narcissist?

By this point, you’re probably wondering if you’re secretly a hypersensitive covert narcissist masquerading as a sensitive introvert. Without further ado, here are 23 items that will allow you to gain greater insight into your personality. In a recent study conducted on a group of 420 undergraduates, Jonathan Cheek and colleagues found that higher scorers on this “Maladaptive Covert Narcissism Scale” tended to also score higher on tests of entitlement, shame, and neuroticism, and tended to display lower levels of self esteem, extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. In contrast, maladaptive overt narcissism wasn’t related to shame, self esteem, or neuroticism, even though overt narcissists reported feeling just as entitled as covert narcissists. It seems if you have to be a narcissist, it’s better to be an overt narcissist than a covert narcissist!

So here’s the test. Be honest with yourself!

Take the test and read the rest of the article here:

23 thoughts on “23 signs you’re secretly a narcissist masquerading as a “sensitive introvert”

  1. Very interesting. I scored “average” but did worry a little as I was completing it – I am a very sensitive person, particularly where criticism and rejection are concerned. I never considered that these might actually be narcissistic traits, but I did wonder for a minute!

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  2. I took the test and scored low, but I’m also an extrovert so I’m not sure how accurate the results would be in my particular case. It does describe my husband quite accurately… I think I’ll continue poking around and researching this. Thanks!

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  3. 59 was my score, which is below average. Some of the questions I know I would have answered differently, with a higher number, when I was younger. So maybe that means people can grow out of this? It would be interesting if they did a long-term study with this, testing the same group of people over a period of several decades, to see if the scores changed.

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    • Yes, well i think many people mellow with age, even people who are somewhat narcissistic. In fact that’s exaclty what “mellowing” means–letting go of impulsive, childish, narcissistic, ego-pumping ways.

      True narcissists, especially malignant ones, are said to get WORSE with age–becuase as their looks and mind begin to go, they suffer the worst kind of narcissistic injury and can become extremely mean old people.

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      • Yes, what you are saying makes a lot of sense. I think in my case though, the biggest reason for my “mellowing” is because I have healed enough to know that I am worthy of love and to believe that I am loved. Now I am no longer needy, no longer insecure.

        Before I reached this level of healing, I literally felt like I was dying of starvation all the time — starved for love. A bottomless pit of neediness and loneliness, that was me.

        Now, although I still have more healing to do, I never feel unloved. The difference, metaphorically speaking, is that now I can sit down at the dinner table and eat like a normal civilized person, instead of pigging out like a starving person, if you know what I mean.

        What really jump started my healing was one day, 12 years ago, shortly before my 50th birthday — after years of being agnostic — I made a decision. I decided to believe that God loves me and that nothing could ever separate me from His love. As soon as I decided to believe it, I FELT it. I felt LOVED. 🙂

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        • Yes, I hear you and I agree. I didn’t *really* start changing in any kind of deep way or changing my basic attitude of pessimism and hopelessness and cynicism into one of near-optimism and hope — until I realized God is real and God loves me. I was not born to be a victim, I was born with a divine purpose to give glory to God and use my God-given talents and abilities to do that–as we all are.
          I have a long way to go still–and have doubts–but they are getting less frequent and I do feel that I’m changing from inside.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Some of the questions have an almost *trick* aspect, at least to me. The impression I got with some of them was that the feeling they were describing were things I had no experience of – that the sense of what was being described was utterly alien (to me).

    Example: “…when with a group of friend…” This hasn’t been at all common for a very long time – in fact, nearly forty years.

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      • Omg!! This reminds me of something. My boyfriend told me that years ago they all knew this so called, “sensitive musician”, who wrote song after song about his heartbreaks…but this guy was supposedly a serious doucher to the women…who he was in short termed relationships with.

        Supposedly, other band members were annoyed with the fact that they had to play and listen to love ballads.

        Another different musician wrote punk rock songs that had lyrics that were terribly mysogynist towards women. That guy tried to ask me out right after I broke up with my Narc…and I was like…nooooo…I recognize crazy when I see it. That guys ex wife was really good looking… And he had good looking children. I kept thinking its amazing how weird..can produce good looking children. It must be his wifes genes…

        Liked by 1 person

        • LOL! I used to know a couple of musicians like that too. They regarded their selfishness and moodiness as “proof that they were sensitive artistes” and therefore “better than everyone else.”

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes. And the men who work and visual and men who are make up artists… Get carte blank treatment. I’ve been told to get them coffee… And to be careful because they are sensitive artists.

            I’m always reinforcing that I’m an artist …and a musician… But apparently that has a lesser value because I’m a woman.

            It seems like we are devalued everywhere we go no matter what we do…


  5. Eewww, i scored a 75 ;0 . But the good news is: when i was still dead (in trespasses and sins) that crappy score would have been more like the late80s. More good news, the Lord is working on me. Speaking of narcs, when Paul was going after the early church – and making orphans out of alot of kids, tell me he wasn’t a narc??? If the Lord can cure him, surely He can cure this underachiever.


  6. Dear Lucky and friends, due to the education i’ve received from blogs, whenever i hear of somebody trashing somebody else about not visiting their older family members in nursing homes and such, i wonder what really happened – and if the opportunity presents itself, will speak up. It’Of course, there’s narc children who can’t be bothered to help out their loving but imperfect parents. That happens too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sometimes it’s hard to tell. When I hear of someone talk about going No Contact with their parents, we don’t know for sure the child isn’t actually the narcissist who is “enacting revenge” or trying to hurt their family. In most cases, I give the writer the benefit of the doubt that they had abusive parents, but yes, a child can be the narcissist and victimize the parents in some cases too…

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