Comparing covert narcissism and BPD


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:

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.

21 thoughts on “Comparing covert narcissism and BPD

  1. Hmm…the two covert narcissists I know aren’t shy (they can be quite friendly and charming ) so this is a bit confusing. However they don’t seem to fit BPD (seem much more like narcissists) but are definitely not overt.

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    • A lot of people think that overt narcissists brag to everyone within earshot and are constantly arrogant. I think the opposite is probably true, both types feign humility until you get to know them personally.

      Liked by 4 people

    • I think that’s fairly easily explained. Narcissism is on a spectrum, and like I said, some N’s are a combination of overt and covert depending on the situation. Some combine traits of both, or switch back and forth. So it’s not easy always to tell a covert narc from an overt one. Generally, coverts are lower functioning and very critical of themselves.

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      • That’s a very good explanation. I also have to remind myself that no one fits nicely into a box and that psychology is always evolving.


  2. Hey, great article. I read the npd subforums at psychforums quite frequently and a lot of self-proclaimed covert narcissists say they were involved in the church, or charities or stuff like that, the “good guy” stuff. One even described it as the narcissism of anti – narcissism. Wrap your head around that one!

    Sort of reminds me of another PD, which is OCPD. In fact a few people have argued that is what it is. It could very well be a combo of ocpd + npd + bpd + avpd. People don’t always fit neatly into one PD and there is significant overlap.

    If this is in fact NPD (and nothing else) it’s probably caused by whatever caused the original narcissistic wounding + being raised by hyper critical parents such as in an ultra religious household where grandiose displays are unacceptable and attacked, as you mentioned.

    Just some thoughts.

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    • That’s what I think, Natasha. I think the child who may already have acquired narcissism as a defense realize the more overt manifestations will be punished or beaten out of them, they adopt another false, subservient mask over the grandiose one. A person like that is seriously messed up, but ironically is also more responsive to treatment and more likely to want help, so they have a better chance at actually being healed.

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  3. My mother fits the covert narcissist you describe here, almost 100%. My mother was the ugly duckling, socially awkward scapegoat in her family of origin. Her only sibling, a beautiful and brilliant younger sister, was the golden child, always the center of attention, better than her sister in every way, better than everyone in every way, and she clearly knows and revels in her superiority.

    This golden child sister of my mother’s, my aunt, HATES my mother. Because she hates her sister, my aunt puts on a big show of being “on my side,” because she knows that I am my mother’s scapegoat. Taking “my side” against my mom is, I believe, just one of her many was of getting under my mother’s skin. But I am pretty sure that my aunt’s show of empathy for me isn’t real, I believe she really, truly doesn’t give a hoot about me and the horrible hell I have been through with my mother. In fact, I suspect that my aunt secretly loves to hear about all the hell my mother has caused in my life, because my childhood trauma stories confirm, to my golden child aunt, that she is far superior to my mother in every way — because she would never be so horrible to one of her children.

    That is, I am *almost* certain that my aunt’s show of “concern” for me is all faked. Her empathy just doesn’t feel “real” to me, not at all. But it’s extremely hard to tell for sure with an overt narcissist, because they can beat out academy award-winning actors in pulling the wool over your eyes, you know what I mean?

    My mother, on the other hand, seems more “honest” in her open hatred of me. Although she doesn’t call it hatred, she calls it “not liking” me. I was four the first time I remember her telling me the hateful refrain that I would hear repeatedly as I was growing up: “I love you, of course, because you are my daughter. I JUST DON’T LIKE YOU!” My aunt, on the other hand, who knows this about my mother, delights in telling me that she doesn’t only love me, she really, truly LIKES me, too. But… when she says that, it never feels “real” to me. Not like it feels with other people in my life, people whom I really believe do like me.

    Still, all things considered, I prefer the overt narcissist to the covert one, because when my mother was at her worst…. she was REALLY horrid. Trying to gas us all to death… telling horrible, projecting lies about me to turn others against me…. locking me in a mental institution when I was 14 years old against the advice of my own doctor, because “no house is big enough for two women”…. getting involved with my first husband, when I was still very much married to him and she had a wonderful, long-suffering, enabling husband of her own at home. They don’t get much worse than my “momster dearest.”

    I will take my aunt’s fake goodness over my momster’s genuine evil, any day.

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    • Now I feel bad, because I just checked my email and found a message from my aunt telling me that she read my latest blog post (about me calling child protection to report suspected child abuse and then receiving death threats), and she is super proud of me for doing that and she loves me so much.

      My mother has no way of knowing about the private emails my aunt sends me, so maybe my aunt really does mean these things?

      It could be that the problem is all me, that my perception of my aunt is “off?” Also, maybe now that my aunt is in her 70s, she has “outgrown” some of her Golden Child, overt narcissistic qualities. It could be that now, she really does feel genuine love and empathy for others? I honestly don’t know! I

      Maybe the problem is that I have gone through so much H-E-L-L with my family of origin for so many decades that now, when any one of them makes any kind of an overture of friendliness towards me, I can’t really believe it’s real….??

      Who knows!

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      • It’s possible she might have grown out of it or maybe she wasn’t actually a narc at all. Maybe she was borderline. I think with women, in many cases BPD abates with age and they mellow.

        Or, there could be–I hate to say this because I know you want to see her changed–that there’s an agenda behind her kind words. You can appreciate them at face value, but please, please be careful.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I keep strongly feel that my ex was a convert narc and that he hid behind the Asperger’s label to hide his narcissism. I am realizing that his “Asperger” symptoms may have been narcissist traits and he needed AS to hide his narcissism because of overlaps. I believe the reason why he didn’t like me talking to my parents was because he didn’t want to be discovered but he never stopped me from talking to them, he just made it feel I couldn’t so I would wait until he was at work or inside a store or I would go outside and talk. He also had to know what I said to them and would listen in on them so the reason why I would do it when he wasn’t around. I think it would be interesting to see an article about this and ASD and if any of them hide behind it to hide their narcissism. I wonder how common it is for narcs to hide behind other labels to hide their abuse and narcissism.

    My ex’s abuse was so subtle, I didn’t even see it. But my parents saw right through him so obviously he was that obvious. I sometimes wonder if he found me to be useless so he tossed me out. I also wonder if my parents scared him off because they would come and “visit” my aunt and uncle.

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  5. Great article! Thanks for writing this blog. Here, I found out that I’m a covert narcissist too with all covert NPD symptoms are the very characteristics in me. I just recently accepted what my mom has already told me ages ago until one time I yelled at the burnt taco shells and made my mom almost lose her mind (she’s recovering form PTSD from my narcissistic family) and told me I’m a very proud, arrogant, selfish narcissist and don’t deserve to date ans startca family. Very right. Since I was born, what I only care is myself. Seems very nice exteriorly, but feeling intellectually superior than the rest of the people. I’m really ashamed of myself. I hope and pray that I can overcome my covert NPD even if it has no cure. Thanks for the article again.

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  6. Pingback: The article I wrote 2 days before my shocking epiphany. | Down the Rabbit Hole

  7. S ~ Do you still stand by what you wrote above? I’ve just read it for the first time and I have to tell you it’s put me in a bad mood! The other CNs I know (all females) are like little bundles of love.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The Queen • Prince Charles • Winston Churchill • Boris Johnson • Snow White & Prince Charming • Katy Perry • Taylor Swift • Joan of Arc • Robbie Williams • Elizabeth 1 • Anne Boleyn • Alan Turing • Patsy Kensit • Madonna • Ashok & Liam (The Royals) • Clare Danes • George Orwell • Fay Weldon • I could go on • Low functioning???

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    • Not all of them, of course. Just less so in general than the overt type. It’s due to their shyness and social awkwardness but some are able to get around that.

      wait…are you saying Clare Danes and Taylor Swift are covert narcissists?! Where did you read that, or are you guessing?


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