19 signs your best friend is a covert narcissist, according to psychology

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You thought you were best friends…

… until you realize they couldn’t care less about anyone else but themselves.

If this sounds all too familiar, believe it or not, you’re one of the lucky ones.

As ironic as that may sound, here’s why:

Not everyone can identify covert narcissists in their close relationships.

Sadly, this difficulty can trap some in a cycle of abuse with those they love and trust the most – their best friends. 

How do we avoid this? 

Experts say it comes down to understanding how covert narcissists operate differently. 

Thankfully, they’ve been helpful enough to list out these behaviors. 

Let’s go over them and spot the signs that your best friend might be a covert narcissist.

1) They rush into false closeness

Narcissism specialist Dr. Elinor Greenberg observes that narcissists skip the usual slow and steady approach of getting to know someone. 

They’re in a hurry to win you over, so they turn up the charm and create a sense of closeness that’s not based on genuine connection.

2) They jokingly put you down

Do you want to know what covert narcissists do as early as possible in a relationship?

Throw insults at you, but in a joke-like manner.

Narcissist experts warn that they do this to “train” you into taking more insults they’ll inevitably be throwing in the future. 

That said, take note of this reminder from the experts:

Authentic partnerships “should be laughing with you, not making you the butt of every joke.”

3) They turn your problems into their dramas

When you share something troubling you, they somehow relate it back to a similar problem of their own, overshadowing your need for support.


4) They fixate on the misfortune of others

…they could also tell you about other people’s “bigger” problems. 

They make this comparison to subtly minimize your problem.

But they also focus on the misfortune of others (and yours) as a way to feel better about their own lives.

5) They prefer to remain out of the spotlight

This may be hard to believe, considering that narcissists are known to want all the attention to themselves.

But covert narcissists are good at influencing your decisions in indirect and deceiving ways so that they can deny any involvement when things go haywire.

6) They also prefer staying away from people

Again, this is another irony as they love attention.

But, according to experts, covert narcissists tend to avoid others out of insecurity. 

Staying away from other people is their way of limiting their need to compare themselves. 

As a result, without the need to measure up, their self-esteem remains intact.

7) They have an exaggerated sense of entitlement

Is your best friend one who expects preferential treatment in your relationship? 

Do they believe their needs should always take precedence over yours?

Apparently, these are, again, behaviors aimed at protecting their self-esteem. 

Psychologists believe that this is what separates the overt narcissist from the covert narcissist.

The former uses arrogance and entitlement just for grandiosity.

Meanwhile, the latter uses it to cover up feelings of shame, insecurity, and doubt.

8) They’re condescending

Clinical psychologist Dr Lisa Firestone says narcissists use condescension to uphold their superior image – because being above others is what they’re all about.

This is often easily missed in bestfriendships because they’re so good at framing their criticisms into caring suggestions, masking their condescension as helpful guidance.

9) They’re incredibly defensive to questioning or criticism 

Feeling momentarily upset with a criticism is a normal human reaction. 

But if your bestfriend is extremely defensive no matter how constructive you give out feedback, that’s a sign of covert narcissism. 

Dr Firestone believes this is because narcissists have an inflated yet fragile self-esteem, causing them to feel deeply wounded with even the slightest critique. 

10) They go “splitting”

Speaking of criticism, spitting is another way narcissists deal with them. 

It’s a psychological phenomenon common among narcissists where an individual views things, people, or situations as either all good or all bad, with no middle ground.

It’s when your best friend puts you on a pedestal until you point out their tiny mistake, and suddenly, you’re the bad guy.

11) They are passive-aggressive

Relationship and codependency expert Darlene Lancer points out that cover narcissists don’t order others around.

Instead, they resort to passive-aggressive behavior to get their way.

It can be hard to spot this because they mask it through forgetfulness, delays, accidental oversights, and backhanded compliments. 

But if this behaviours start becoming a pattern, consider that a major narcissist red flag.

12) They identify as the victim

On the topic of patterns, if your best mate has the habit of making themselves the victim in every situation, they may well and truly be a cover narcissist.

Lancer explains that covert narcissists are skilled at shifting the narrative to paint themselves as victims.

In doing so, they avoiding blame and remain the center of positive attention.

13) They humble brag

Another observation from Lancer is that covert narcissists don’t brag openly, and she attributes this to their introversion. 

They downplay their achievements with the ulterior motive of fishing for compliments.

But that’s not to say that all introverts are narcissists and vice versa. 

According to psychologists, the key difference is introverts “prefer the inner life of the mind over the outer world of other people.”

And the covert narcissist?

Like we said earlier, it has nothing to do with inner life and introspection. It’s all about sidestepping comparison.

If your best friend does this constantly, you might be dealing with a covert narcissist who’s subtly manipulating situations to their advantage.

14) They leverage your accomplishments 

Best-selling author and clinical psychologist Dr Dan Neuhart identifies another difference between overt and covert narcissist:

Their sense of being special.

He says covert narcissists like to feel special because of who they know, as opposed to overt narcissists who feel inherently special. 

Sure, it may look like they’re cheering you on, but their true intention is to boost their sense of status by being associated with you.

Here’s what that looks like in real life:

You just won an award, and the first thing your best friend does is post this on their socials:

“So proud of my best friend for bagging the award! Remember all those nights we spent working together?”

See what your best friend did there?

15) They downplay your success

If they can’t find a way to use it to their advantage, they resort to belittling your achievements or positive life changes.

They say things like, “You only succeeded because you were lucky” or “Because you had this and that’s help”.

The point is, they’ll go to great lengths to convince you that your successes aren’t a result of your hard work.

16) They’re discretely jealous and vindictive

They might be your best friend, but their narcissism causes them to be envious of anything you achieve that’s more than what they currently have. 

Psychologists say this makes them feel powerless, small, and inadequate. 

But they can’t be open about this, so they subtly express their contempt. 

Like congratulating you for a promotion but then following that with, “Do you think you’re ready for that kind of stress?”

If you can’t tell by now, let me say it bluntly:

Covert narcissists cannot and will not genuinely celebrate your success.

17) They triangulate

Has your best friend ever used a secret you shared to pit another friend against you?

Or have they tried telling you that your other friends complained about you just to isolate you from the group?

These behaviors are known as triangulation, and psychologists highlight it as one of the favorite tools narcissists use to remain in control. 

18) They deny their own anger

Even when they’re clearly upset or annoyed, your best friend will insist that they’re fine – at least that’s what they want you to believe.

The truth is, they’re boiling inside, but they won’t let you see this. 

As we’ve gone through above, they show it in their own passive-aggressive, condescending, or deceptive ways.

19) They have double standards

Does your best friend expect you to always be there for them, but they’re “too busy” when you need their support?

Are they the most caring and supportive person to others, but they bully and demean you when no one else is around?

Psychologists say these double standards are characteristic traits of narcissists.

If this sounds like your best friend, here’s a question for you:

How long are you willing to play a game where the rules always seem to change against you?

It was always about them – it was never about you

So, what do you do if you’ve confirmed that your best friend is indeed a covert narcissist?

Even psychologists admit that maintaining a relationship with a narcissist is not easy.

But here’s how they suggest you handle it:

List the pros and cons of staying in the friendship. 

Reflect on your self-worth and life goals, and use these to establish self-respecting and healthy boundaries.

And most important of all, it’s your choice whether or not to remain friends with a narcissist, as long as you understand that pleasing them is a lost cause. 

Accepting this reality and focusing your energies on your own happiness is the best way to reclaim your power and preserve your sense of self.

Sarah Piluden-Natu-El

Sarah is a full-time mum, wife, and nurse on hiatus turned freelance writer. She is on a journey of diving deeper into life through life itself and uses her writing to share the lessons learned along the way. When not on her computer, she enjoys time with her family strolling along the Gold Coast's stunning beaches and captivating hinterland.

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