How to Spot a Covert Narcissist on Social Media

Watch out for this red flag

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

When we hear the term “narcissist,” we typically think of a person who hogs the spotlight. We think of someone who can’t get enough attention, who thrives on being in the public eye. Such a person is known as an overt or malignant narcissist.

However, there is another variety of narcissist that is harder to spot. These people aren’t drawn to the spotlight, preferring to remain in the shadows. They often appear as wallflowers, the sweet, helpful, unassuming guy- or girl-next-door type. These are known as covert narcissists, or as psychologist Dr. Elinor Greenberg calls them, closet narcissists.

If covert narcissists are so modest and unassuming, why do you need to watch out for them? Because, like their overt counterparts, they faced childhood issues in the development of their egos, and as a result, they engage in the following behaviors as adults:

  • Love-bombing — showering a target with attention and gifts to quickly bond them emotionally to the narcissist
  • Projection — seeing the things they hate most in themselves in you
  • Lying — not only do narcissists lie constantly, but they reorganize their reality and buy into their own lies; many could pass a lie detector test as a result
  • Moving the goalposts — constantly changing their expectations, leaving you with the sense that nothing you do is ever good enough to please them
  • Denial — “I didn’t say that. You’re lying when you say I said that” when there’s a clear record that yes, they actually did say that.
  • Gaslighting — causing you to doubt your own memory, leading you to question if you even know what “reality” is anymore
  • Flying monkeys — Getting other people to abuse you on their behalf

At least with overt/malignant narcissists, you know what you’re getting; you can see the abuse coming. With covert narcissists, though, the pattern can be much harder to detect. You may find yourself coming up with excuses for their behavior. You can be well into the cycle of abuse, damage, and victimization — even years in — before you understand what is going on.

In this article, we’re going to look at signs a covert narcissist might display on social media. Note: Social media behavior alone is not enough to label someone a narcissist. Lots of people pretend to be someone they’re not on the social apps. However, if you read this list and think “this sounds familiar,” you may want to adopt a bit of skepticism until you learn more about them.

Remember, everything narcissists do is a performance for an audience

That includes social media. In fact, social media is a favored performance arena for a narcissist, because they can lie all day long and no one is physically around to catch them.

Expect at least 80% of your suspected narcissist’s posts — and maybe 100% — to be about how awesome their life is, how happy they supposedly are, their material possessions.

For now, we’re going to ignore these, because to a degree, most people put a bit of a narcissistic mask on when they jump on Instagram or Facebook. We will circle back to these types of social media posts later, however, because there is valuable information to be gleaned.

Covert narcissists love to play the victim

Therein lies the red flag. It isn’t a particular word or phrase they use. Rather, it’s an attitude that is pervasive throughout the small percentage of their posts that are negative.

The attitude is, “Everyone lets me down eventually.”

Everyone has to let them down eventually. Narcissists lack whole object relations. This means they lack the ability to perceive people as complete human beings who are a mixture of desirable and undesirable traits. To a narcissist, every person (including themselves) is either all good or all bad.

This is why narcissists have a long pile of discarded relationships. Over and over again, they think they’ve found the one, the person who will cure them of all that ails them. However, sooner or later that other person fails to live up to the image of perfection the narcissist has in their mind (because the narcissist is in a relationship with the image, not the person).

A related attitude is, “there’s no (man/woman/whoever) out there who understands me.”

Covert narcissists are more likely to make these types of posts than overt, malignant narcissists, who are loath to show any vulnerability.

Other red flags

Let’s take a look at an example of a post a covert narcissist might make. They might post a selfie in which they look quite unhappy (but still as attractive as they can make themselves look) to Facebook or Instagram. The caption might show them checked in at a hotel, saying something like

The hideous ogre at the front desk wouldn’t give me a complimentary room upgrade, even though I heard her tell a co-worker that they’re only 30% occupied tonight. Just another crappy experience on a crappy trip that’s typical of my crappy life!

Let’s look at the components of such a post:

  1. Name-calling. Narcissists love to do this. They love to label people to make themselves feel superior. Putting others down is how they lift themselves up.
  2. Complete failure to take any personal responsibility for one’s own situation. Since the narcissist views himself/herself as perfect, it certainly couldn’t have been his/her behavior toward the clerk that led to the loss of the room upgrade. And even if it was his/her behavior, clearly the clerk deserved to be treated rudely. That’s how they think.
  3. Complaining. I wrote in an earlier post that narcissists are experts at applying the Law of Attraction to draw bad luck into their lives. They expect the very worst in every human encounter they have, and their expectations are very often manifested.

They bash people relentlessly on their timeline

When someone vastly overreacts to another person’s behavior, when they rage at them, go on a tirade and bash the other person to anyone who will listen — they really aren’t saying something about the other person. They’re saying something about themselves.

Social media is a perfect place for a covert narcissist to rage, because the person being attacked isn’t there to defend themselves. By the time covert narcissists resort to these tirades, they’ve usually blocked the target or are hiding the posts from them. If the target can see the posts, the moment he/she responds, the narcissist’s flying monkeys jump in and rip the target to shreds.

When you see this kind of bashing, ask yourself:

  • Do you know the person being bashed? If so, do the things they’re being accused of seem way out of line with what you know of that person?
  • If you don’t know the person, does the suspected narcissist’s reaction seem like overkill, considering what the person is claimed to have actually done?

Circling back to those “look at me, my life is so amazing” posts

Although these posts by themselves don’t indicate covert narcissism, you can circle back to them once you’ve seen the other elements. There’s a lot of useful information to be gleaned.

Pay attention to the following:

  • Who’s in photos with the suspected narcissist
  • Who they check in with them, on platforms that facilitate checkins
  • Where they check in

Covert narcissists are highly aware of social status. They always have a perceived pecking order in their mind: People they see as “above” them, who they want to hobnob with, be accepted by; and people (the vast majority of people) they see as “below” them.

Obviously, they’re not going to publicize being with people “below” them; that would tarnish their image. So anyone they allow to be seen with them on social media is either

  • The current source of narcissistic supply
  • Someone they want to impress; someone the narcissist wants to associate with in order to gain social status
  • Someone they’re cultivating as a flying monkey, to be utilized in their smear campaigns against people they’ve discarded

Pay close attention to those featured prominently in their photos and checkins.

  • Are they friends or acquaintances of yours? These may wind up being people you have to consider cutting out of your life at some future point, if they believe the narcissist’s lies without actively seeking out your side of the story. A true friend wouldn’t do that.
  • Do the people occupy positions of power? If you and the narcissist go to the same places, the narcissist may try to buddy up with ownership/management to get you banned. Also be on the lookout for police officers, lawyers, and judges on the list of people to whom the narcissist is buddying up.

As for where the narcissist checks in, watch to see if there is any overlap with places you go on a regular basis. If so, be aware those places could become venues that are sources of drama in your life. If the narcissist and their flying monkeys exert a dominant presence at those places, your safest bet may be to give them up and move on to greener pastures.


Although most of the narcissist’s social posts have no other purpose than to show off, you may occasionally see a post in which they reveal a bit of their true nature. “Everybody disappoints me” is the attitude that is the biggest red flag.

Other red flags include name-calling, the abdication of responsibility for troubles in one’s life, complaining to the point that they attract their own bad luck, and severe bashing of others.

Once you determine that someone on your timeline might be a covert narcissist, you can learn a lot of useful information from social media. You can learn who they’re trying to impress, who they might recruit as a flying monkey to participate in the abuse, and what places might devolve into pits of drama.

Once again, social media use alone should not be used to label someone a covert narcissist. However, it can provide confirming evidence and give you an idea of the narcissist’s mindset and upcoming plans.

Let’s keep in touch! Feel free to sign up for my newsletter. Here’s another story of mine about dealing with covert narcissists:

I write about writing, ideas, creativity, intuition, spirituality, life lessons. Ex-college teacher Twitter: @paulryburn

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