Narcissists can be tricky to spot. That’s because they’re not all the same.
As toxic as they may be, many of their traits stay hidden for quite a while.
They can use manipulative tactics to confuse you and throw you off track.
Yet particularly when a narcissist is introverted as opposed to extroverted they may not be as obvious about it.
Here are some ways to spot a low-key narcissist.
1) Fishing for compliments
All narcissists want their egos stroked.
But covert narcissists are far less likely to openly brag or boast about themselves.
They’d rather enlist you to do that for them.
The same inflated self-importance is what is motivating them. But it shows up in more subtle ways.
They may put themselves down, looking for you to contradict them.
For example, talking about how embarrassingly bad they still are at violin, even though they quite clearly excel.
It’s not humility, it’s a tactic.
They’ll dismiss their efforts, abilities, and skills — wanting you to offer praise, compliments, and reassurance.
2) Giving backhanded compliments
In order to elevate their sense of self, more low-key narcissists will try to put you down too.
But of course, flat-out insults would show them for who they are. So they need another tool.
Slight digs may masquerade as so-called compliments.
“I wish I didn’t care what people thought of me like you.”
“That dress makes you look much slimmer.”
The words they choose are done so carefully. At first, it sounds like they are saying something positive.
But it’s no accident that you’re left wondering if it was actually a bit of an insult.
They’re simultaneously highlighting your flaws.
3) Thinking they’re special
Hey, we’re all special in a way. But that doesn’t make anyone more important than the next person.
Yet low-key narcissists think that they have something that makes them different.
In their minds, they stand out. And they cling to this superficial idea that they are smarter and better.
It comes from grandiose notions and feeds a sense of entitlement.
It might cause them quite a bit of frustration if others fail to recognize how ‘ahead of their time’ or ‘unique’ they truly are.
4) Silently looking down on others
Condescension is one of the ways a low-key narcissist gives themselves a lift.
It feels good to remind themself, and you, of how much better they are.
So they may have a quietly smug way of letting you know whenever you’re wrong.
But it’s never direct.
For example, they’ll silently judge you by simply a raised eyebrow, a roll of the eye, or a shrug of the shoulders.
They may not be saying anything, but their non-verbal cues speak volumes.
It’s like they get a kick out of rubbing what they see as your errors or flaws in your face.
Of course, they can dish it out, but they can’t take it…
5) Being super sensitive to any criticism
Most of us don’t like to hear when we’ve messed up, got it wrong, or could improve.
It can feel like a rejection.
But low-key narcissists are far more likely to flip out at even the slightest feedback.
Their fragile ego cannot handle the perceived slight.
So they may become a little defensive, moody, passive-aggressive, or dismissive.
But it’s not going to be quite so obvious as with an extroverted narcissist. As they don’t want you to know they’re offended.
Yet no matter how much they try to keep it under wraps, it’s clear they are seething.
6) Only doing favors for something in return
Narcissists are self-serving. When they do something, there is usually an ulterior motive.
It’s never out of the kindness of their hearts.
They give favors when they need something to hold over you.
They give generously when it inflates their image in the eyes of others.
In short: giving is still about them, and not the other person.
7) Taking little interest in the lives of other
Have you ever had a friend who spends hours dissecting and discussing the details of their life?
Yet when it comes to your turn, they show no interest? Being all “me, me, me” is a classic narcissist trait.
Narcissists are wrapped up in themselves. The relationship only works when it’s fully focused on them.
But that self-centeredness can show up differently in low-key narcissists.
They may not talk non-stop about themselves. But they aren’t interested in your life.
So they will most likely show signs of boredom or irritation when you talk about things that they can’t be bothered to discuss.
They don’t seem to really listen when you speak to them about things that matter to you.
8) Being dismissive
Because they have very limited interests that are based on their own beliefs, needs, and wants — their approach can feel incredibly dismissive.
It’s not exactly full-blown gaslighting, yet your feelings, ideas, or wishes are branded as less than theirs.
If you’re upset, you are overreacting or being silly.
From your side, it likely feels like emotional neglect.
Your feelings are never validated. They get to decide what is and isn’t important.
9) Superficial charm
A low-key narcissist may seem fairly charming on the surface.
But the key is that it feels very much on the surface.
It lacks sincerity and authenticity.
As a result, it may actually make you feel weary of them instead.
10) Blaming you for their own behavior
It may not even be explicit, merely implied.
But if “you hadn’t let me down, then I wouldn’t have needed to X, Y, Z”.
They struggle to take responsibility for their own actions and feelings and try to offload them onto others.
A low-key narcissist may subtly imply that they are the victim and merely reacting to what others put out.
11) Passive aggressive behaviors to manipulate
When you struggle to come straight out and say something, you’re more likely to turn to more “under the radar” methods.
Except passive-aggression actually speaks volumes.
Examples could include:
- Giving you the silent treatment
- Refusing to say what’s wrong and punishing you by withdrawing instead
- Using sarcasm or snarky comments.
- Procrastinating on purpose
- Discussing things they know make you uncomfortable
The name of the game is about exerting power without being overt.
12) A lot of their relationships have gone down in flames
Whether that’s platonic or romantic relationships (probably both!). Narcissists struggle to maintain normal healthy relationships.
Even when it starts out ok, their behavior tends to catch up with them as it becomes discovered.
So a low-key narcissist may have more fallouts and breakups behind them than most people.
13) Subtle guilt-tripping and blame shifting
With a low-key narcissist, some manipulation may be less obvious.
So you need to be more alert.
Let’s say you couldn’t meet up with them at the weekend as you already had plans.
When you text them on Monday to ask how their weekend was, they may try to make you feel bad about it:
“It sucked actually. I had no one to go out with so I just stayed home alone, yet again”.
The inference is that it’s all your fault, even if they never come out and directly say it.
Final thoughts: Narcissists can be subtly controlling
Arrogance doesn’t have to be loud.
That’s why someone who is more subtly manipulative and self-centered can still be a narcissist.
But you may need to keep your wits about you and be on the lookout for their more low-key tactics.