I read an excellent article (thank to Natasha!) last night about covert narcissism, which is not currently recognized by the DSM, although it’s been considered as a provisional diagnosis.
Covert (vulnerable) narcissists are essentially low-functioning narcissists who present a shy, avoidant, humble, or caring image but they also constantly struggle with feelings of inferiority, emptiness, and self hatred. Like overt narcissists, they are hypersensitive to criticism but don’t hide it as well. They can become quite parasitic, relying on the support of others, either financially, emotionally or otherwise–but never giving back, even if they try to make a show of how “giving” they are. From what I’ve read in this article, it seems that the symptoms of covert narcissism, a subtype of NPD, are remarkably similar to those of BPD, with a few glaring differences:
— The covert narcissist suffers from more pathological envy than a person with BPD. The envy stems from a hidden sense of entitlement or superiority to others that belies their false humility and actual low self esteem. BPD is not characterized by a sense of entitlement. In a way they are wearing a double mask or have two false selves: the grandiose false self (that cloaks the emptiness they really feel) which is cloaked by false humility and shame. A covert narcissist may constantly be apologizing, but they don’t really mean it.
— A covert narcissist is more likely than a borderline to seek out friends who they perceive as “beneath” them so they can feel superior in comparison. This also stands out from an overt narcissist, who will seek out anyone who can provide them with supply (and likes to be associated with those they look up to). Covert narcissists avoid people they perceive as superior or having more than they do, which is most people.
— The covert narcissist has Avoidant (or introverted) features not associated with the DSM-recognized symptoms of BPD (although it’s possible for a borderline to be introverted and socially phobic, or for Avoidant PD and BPD to be comorbid with each other, as they are for me). Covert narcissists are more socially awkward than borderlines and can seem very similar on the surface to someone with Aspergers or Social Phobia. But behind the avoidant or socially awkward traits is a fear of being discovered and a hidden feeling of superiority to other people, unlike someone with Aspergers who simply finds relating to people exhausting or uncomfortable or a person with Social Phobia, who finds relating to others terrifying.
— They have no empathy. Any “empathy” they show is false, intended to get supply by bolstering their image as a “nice” person. Borderlines usually have at least a rudimentary ability to experience empathy.
— Like a classic narcissist, a covert narcissist lives in fear of their own emptiness being exposed, while someone with BPD lives in fear of being abandoned.
— Borderlines are more likely to be suicidal or self-harm than a covert narcissist, who may do self destructive things or threaten suicide for attention (supply) but will rarely make a serious attempt.
— Borderlines are more impulsive.
This is also a very good article comparing covert NPD with overt (classic, grandiose) NPD: http://narcissisticbehavior.net/revealing-the-two-faces-of-narcissism-overt-and-covert-narcissism/
Some people believe covert narcissists are actually more malignant than classic narcissists, because their agenda is so hidden (covert) and they can seem like such nice, humble people. Although they are harder to detect, I think they really want people to see them as “nice” even though their motives are entirely selfish. I think the reason some narcissists become covert is because early in childhood they learned that acting grandiose or entitled was too dangerous (they were likely to be punished for it) so they cloaked their grandiosity behind false humility and shame. This is why they often feel victimized by everyone but at the same time feel entitled to be treated as if they are special and separate themselves from others, who they see as morally inferior (but actually feel inferior to–yes, it’s very confusing!) At the same time, a covert narcissist is more likely to seek therapy than a classic narcissist because their lives are so unsatisfying and limited–and for the same reason also more likely to be cured if they commit themselves to getting better. In this way they don’t differ too much from people with BPD.
A person with NPD can also switch back and forth between the covert and overt subtypes. When things are going well and supply is abundant, a covert narcissist may become grandiose and aggressive, and a normally grandiose narcissist can become much more covert when their supply is running low or has been removed.