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Pinpointing a Closet Narcissist

The term “narcissist” is thrown around so much in our everyday discourse that people are often confused as to what the term means. We may conflate narcissists with sociopaths and think they always commit heinous acts, but they are usually just normal people.

They can be charming, funny, interesting, intelligent, and act sympathetic to our needs. They hold regular jobs and do regular things like go to the grocery store, cook dinner, go on dates, and go to work. They don’t get in trouble with the law, even so much as a speeding ticket.

Narcissists are difficult to pinpoint unless you get to know them. And even then, it is hard to define them as narcissists because they may have personality traits that align with various other mental disorders.

It would be acceptable if narcissist only hurt themselves, but they tend to hurt others. They have a set of personality traits that impact those around them, particularly the ones who love them. Therefore, it is very important to know how to identify narcissism. In doing so, you can prevent much of the heartache that comes from a close, personal relationship with one.

What is Narcissism and a Closet Narcissist?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition that causes one to have an inflated sense of self, an obsessive desire for love and attention, an inability to empathize with others, and a pattern of unhealthy relationships at work, with friends, and with partners. Its root cause is extreme selfishness, which causes one to put oneself over everyone else, even those they claim they care about.

What causes narcissism? Psychologists and experts in the field are conflicted. They believe it is a combination of biological factors and certain parenting styles. One study claims that parents who overvalue their children are putting their kids at risk for narcissism. Other studies show that even the best parents can produce a child who is entitled and selfish. We may never know why or how this personality disorder develops. What we do know is that it is very damaging to the narcissist and those around him/her.

A closet narcissist may also be referred to as a fragile narcissist, a vulnerable narcissist, or a covert narcissist. They appear normal at first but are proven to be needy and neurotic. They go to great lengths to get attention from others. They often have a preoccupation with status and are easily flustered by small slights that the majority of people would not take personally. They also have a deep-seated fear of being seen as inadequate.

Spotting a Closet Narcissist

Many of the characteristics of a closet narcissist are similar to those with anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem. Therefore, it is very important not to immediately label a person unless you are certain they have Closet NPD. Some things to look for include:

Terrified of the Spotlight: Unlike other subsets of NPD, closet narcissists are afraid of being the center of attention. They are too worried about being perceived as frauds. Instead, they use manipulation or guilt to get attention from others or force them to stay in a relationship with them.

Attach to a Group or Cause: Because they seek attention indirectly, the person may attach himself to a group or a cause as a way to feel valuable and get attention. They don’t care about the cause or group itself, but about how it can impact the way others perceive them.

Passive Aggressive/Manipulative: The individual is afraid to ask for what they need, so they manipulate people into getting it. They want people to feel bad for them or think they are a victim. This is how the narcissist controls others.

Gossips: The individual frequently gossips as a way to blow off steam and repressed anger. They cannot keep a secret, and feel that disclosing the secret is a way of having power.

Silent Treatment: The person will not confront you if they are angry, but will give you the silent treatment as a passive-aggressive, manipulative tactic. This is another way to control a person and get attention.

You may simply think that a closet narcissist is needy, insecure, and annoying. But they can do things that truly impact you, your family, and your friends. They can paint you into a villain and manipulate you into doing things you don’t want to do. If you have interacted with a closet narcissist, it’s best to seek help from a qualified therapist. He or she can provide the tools you need to process the situation and move on from it.

Do you know someone who may be a closet narcissist? Have they negatively affected your life? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.

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