12 Glaring Classic Examples Of Covert Narcissist Passive-Aggression

Some will be familiar. Others will make your jaw drop.

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Covert narcissists are notorious for passive-aggressive behavior. They get to silently serve their entitled, superior nature, while still appearing likable and friendly — all under the guise of plausible deniability.

For a covert narcissist, it doesn’t get much better than that!

We’ve recently talked about the 6 reasons covert narcissists are so passive-aggressive.

Covert narcissists may be passive-aggressive through their verbal or non-verbal communication. Sometimes they do it through both at the same time.


Here are 12 real-life examples of covert narcissist passive-aggression:

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1. “I’m fine.”

The covert narcissist has made it obvious they’re angry — huffing around, closing cabinets loudly, abruptly ending a conversation. You ask if they’re upset and they respond, “I’m fine. Nothing is wrong.” It’s obvious something is wrong. You ask again and get the same response.

In this case, the covert narcissist avoids being accountable for their own feelings, making it clear you’re to blame, without giving you a reason or something you can address. They get supply by letting you know they’re upset with you, all while being able to deny that truth.


2. Silent treatment

The covert narcissist makes it obvious you have wronged them in some way, either hurting, angering or disappointing them. They communicate in one-word, disinterested answers, or stop talking to you altogether.

When pressed for information, they may say, “I’m just tired,” or “It’s been a long day,” but their body language tells you it’s you.

3. Backhanded compliments

Also known as a passive-aggressive put-down, the covert narcissist offers what appears to be a compliment, with a barb or stinger at the end.

What a great idea! How did YOU come up with that?
Great job on the project. I didn’t think you were that smart.
I so admire your confidence in wearing something like that.
I love the fact that you don’t care what others think of your appearance.
Wow! Your house is so clean.


Their compliment leaves you feeling confused or worse.

4. Code words

This one can be very hard to see. The covert narcissist has created a code word that conveys something negative to or about you. They may bring others into the loop to isolate you.

The code word may be obvious, for example, calling you “princess” when they want to imply you are high maintenance.

The code word may also mean nothing to the outside world — built-in plausible deniability.

For example, the word, “Tyler,” means you pee yourself. They talk about their made-up friend, Tyler, everyone laughs at you, and they feign innocence. “What? I was just talking about my friend, Tyler. Why are you so upset?”


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5. Sarcasm

Covert narcissists use sarcasm to insult or convey irritation with you, using words that in an obvious way, mean the opposite of what they want to say.

Gosh, I love it when you do that
You’re on top of things
Yep, you’re so perfect
Nice job, Einstein
Way to go
You really nailed that one

If you call them out for being hurtful, they’ll deny the sarcasm and claim they meant what they said. Plausible deniability ends the conversation.

6. Mumbling under one’s breath

Sometimes the covert narcissist will mumble loud enough for you to hear them, but quietly enough they can deny speaking to you. Other times, you feel the energy behind their incomprehensible words — the angry rant under their breath or on their way out of the room.


7. Talking behind one’s back

The covert narcissist will talk to anyone and everyone about the problem they have with someone, except that person.

They could take the direct route, “Sheila, I feel like you didn’t hear me at all, ignored what I wanted, and planned your dream vacation, not mine,” but feel that’s too confrontational.

Instead, they tell everyone they know that Sheila asked where they wanted to go on vacation, then ignored it, and booked what she wanted to do.

8. Deliberately procrastinating

The covert narcissist uses this passive-aggressive technique when they don’t want to do something.

Maybe they don’t want to…

Paint the bedroom
Take their car in for an oil change
Schedule a doctor’s appointment


They will deliberately procrastinate to make it clear they don’t want to do it, sometimes hoping you’ll do it for them, sometimes hoping you’ll forget about it altogether, and sometimes hoping you’ll get so tired of asking or reminding that you’ll drop it.

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9. Being late

The covert narcissist will be late for things they don’t want to do.

Maybe they’ve agreed to…

Meet you for a date
Attend a party
Pick you up at the airport

Their aggression is anger that you’ve invited or asked them to do this in the first place. Their passivity is saying, “Yes.” Their lateness makes it clear they don’t want to do it, while being plausibly deniable.


10. Weaponized incompetence

The covert narcissist will intentionally do a task poorly for two reasons — to avoid being asked to do it again, and to punish you for asking in the first place.

They will…

Break a dish while doing dishes
Shrink your favorite sweater while washing their clothes
Leave you with a screaming child while they take a very long time to make their bottle

Then they claim it was an accident or unavoidable to escape accountability and make you look like the bad guy for raising the issue.

11. Sabotage

The covert narcissist will subtly sabotage you for hurting, disappointing, or angering them — often with you being none the wiser.


They will…

Unplug your alarm, then plug it back in to make it look like the power went out during the night
Recycle your important papers
Hide your keys when you have an important meeting
Not give you an important message
Give you food that makes you ill
Tamper with your car so it won’t start

You become more stressed, more frustrated, and more ill as your life gets harder and harder without realizing they are deliberately sabotaging you.

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12. Quitting abruptly

This is the classic, “I’m going to take my ball and go home,” approach. The covert narcissist is upset about something. Rather than communicate that directly, they will quit what they’re doing and leave in a huff.


You’re left wondering what happened. Others are curious, too, and expect you to have the answer. When you don’t, they assume you’re somehow to blame. This gives the covert narcissist even more supply.

The empath feels the truth.

As an empath, you know the covert narcissist’s words don’t match their feelings. You can feel it.

You feel their anger while they state they are fine.
You feel their glee in watching your distress as you experience the sabotage.
You feel the sting in their “compliments.”
You feel their disinterest when they are late.
You feel their keen interest as you discover their weaponized incompetence.

They will tell you what you know to be true is wrong — that you can’t possibly know what they’re thinking or feeling.


That’s gaslighting.

They’ll accuse you of reading their mind incorrectly or assigning nefarious motives.

That’s projection.

They’ll accuse you of thinking you’re “all-knowing” or arrogant, yet wrong.

This is projection, deflection, and gaslighting wrapped into one.

You know the truth. Listen to it.

Melissa Kalt, MD, is a master healer, a physician, author, and mother of five. Subscribe to her on Medium.