Why are some Narcissists Overt while others Are Covert

There are many classifications of narcissism out there, while some are incorrect, the one I find accurate is overt and covert narcissism. Overt narcissists are the common type of narcissists. They are extroverted, display grandiosity, and are confident in communicating with people. Overt narcissists on the other hand are introverted, lack confidence in communicating with people and are likely to be passive aggressive when insulted.

Before you know what causes these differences, it’s important to understand the causes of narcissism in general.

Cause of narcissism in brief

In some of my posts I said that for a person to become a narcissist, they have to go through an unpleasant life experience that makes them ashamed of who they are. This happens mostly in childhood. As expected, it’s difficult to accept and live with intense feelings of shame and inferiority. Therefore, narcissism is developed as a defence mechanism. Unfortunately most of them never learn how to adapt well; as a result they develop maladaptive narcissistic traits which only serves to hide the faulty inner self instead of dealing with the real problem, which is inferiority and shame complex.

The type of narcissism a particular person develops depends on what kind of difficulties they have been through for them to develop narcissism as a defence mechanism. The resources a particular person has also affect personality development greatly. Here, I don’t mean material resources only but also environmental or even physical resources as well. For example a child who is handsome with a good physique may develop different narcissistic traits than the one who is ugly even if they have been through the same life experiences that triggered narcissism.

What causes covert narcissism (the introverted type)

The common cause of covert narcissism is being neglected as a child. Children are born with nothing in their mind about the world. The impression they get about the world and its people greatly depends on how they are treated at home in the early years. A girl whose father is a jerk may believe that all men are jerks. The impression they get may shape their personality, attitude and behaviour for the rest of his life.

Now when a child is neglected or somehow abused by parents, he usually concludes that the whole world is hostile. Abusive parents are usually good at making it all look like it was the child’s fault that he was not well taken care of. This does not only make a child believe that there is something wrong with him, but it also also makes him develop an inferiority complex. This makes a child fail to develop proper social skills because the world feels like an enemy’s territory. (See: are covert narcissists delusional).

As a grown up, to get over the emotional trauma of such a childhood experience, as I said earlier, this child may develop narcissism as a defence mechanism. But this person trusts no one and is less confident in dealing with people. As a result his narcissism would be directed inward. Instead of telling the world “I’m great”, he tells himself so.

Most of these types of narcissists are so sensitive because they have been through the most painful childhood experience. Unfortunately some of them growing up, turn out to be abusive just like their parents.

This does not mean that introverts are covert narcissists. Even though being neglected can make a person become an introvert, developing narcissism is not always the case. ( Also read: Why do narcissists need so much attention).

What causes overt narcissism (the extroverted type)

Overt narcissism usually develops as a result of going through the exact opposite life experience of covert narcissism. Their childhood involved being spoiled and overly pampered.

You may be thinking that they should be an ideal normal because of the intense care they got, but that’s not how the human mind works. Unlike the neglected child, a pampered/spoiled one usually concludes that he is special than others, everyone lives to serve him. Pampered children are made to feel as if they are the centre of the universe and this feeling does not go away as adults.

Because their parents made them feel like the world is more than just home, they grow up comfortable around people therefore; they develop social skills easily which makes them overly confident in communicating with people.

Now the problem is that the world outside home does not recognize the specialness they were convinced they have. When the outside world treats them like everybody else or even badly, they are deeply hurt.

To keep the feelings of being a prince/princess, overt narcissism defence mechanism is developed. They not only believe that they are special, unique and extremely important but want everyone to acknowledge that as well. Surprisingly, they also live with shame and inferiority feelings because deep inside, they know how big the gap between the real self and the projected self is. (Also read: Why are some narcissists so paranoid).

Bottom line

Personality development is not a fixed thing that you can calculate using mathematics. Someone may have been neglected as a child but become an overt narcissist simply because he went through a different life experience that boosted their confidence in communicating with people.

It’s wrong to assume that all neglected children must become overt narcissists or vice versa.