Home » Mental Health » Vulnerable Narcissism: Understanding its Role in Today’s Society

Vulnerable Narcissism: Understanding its Role in Today’s Society

Not only has social media become the primary way to keep in touch with family and friends, it has also become a window into others’ lives. Social media allows us to see inside the minds of friends, family, and celebrities. However, part of this stripping of barriers is the rise of vulnerable narcissism.

Vulnerable narcissism is just one aspect of narcissistic personality (NPD). However, thanks to today’s hyperconnected world, it’s difficult to go a long while without coming across someone who may unwittingly be a narcissist. First, it’s important to characterize narcissistic behavior.

Narcissistic personality is a disorder characterized by personality traits that are extremely self-centered. People with narcissistic traits are routinely described as “in love with themselves”, “having a big ego”, or having “high self-esteem.” But the reality is that narcissists display many different traits. Therefore, it is important to understand exactly what constitutes narcissistic behavior.

What is Narcissistic Behavior?

There are many different types of narcissism, and vulnerable narcissists are just one of many different subcategories within NPD. Narcissistic tendencies vary from person to person, but there are some actions that denote someone may struggle with a version of NPD. However, it is possible that some of these actions could be symptomatic of other personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Unfortunately, personality disorders are not cut and dry, but if you notice some of these behaviors, you may be dealing with a narcissist:

  • Lack of empathy
  • Sense of Entitlement
  • Lack of emotion regulation
  • Feelings of superiority
  • Disorder in home life and professional life
  • Non-linear relationship between facts and feelings
  • Self-esteem issues characterized by up and down feelings (similar to BPD)

The list goes on, but an narcissistic individual is generally characterized by several of these traits. Perhaps the most obvious trait on the list is that narcissists have a serious lack of empathy. Because they are so self-centered, a narcissist is unable or unwilling to see things from other points of view.

Pathological narcissism is clinically described as people with a grandiose assessment of their personal value in relation to other people. This type of personality makes having a relationship with others difficult. Many narcissists can feel their relationship is deeper and more meaningful than it actually is, which is an example of their innate narcissistic grandiosity.

The Hypersensitive Narcissism Scale is a tool used to measure covert narcissism while the Narcissistic Personality Inventory measures overt narcissism. These tools are useful for diagnosing vulnerable narcissism (VN).

What is Vulnerable Narcissism?

The rise of social media has created an industry in cyberpsychology behavior, specifically examining vulnerable narcissists. The vulnerable narcissist is considered a covert narcissist as they present specific interindividual differences to other more overt types of narcissism. This is also a more hypersensitive narcissism because the narcissistic vulnerability is characterized by reactions to slights – real or perceived – with a dramatic loss of self-esteem and depression.

Unlike other forms of narcissism, VNs are prone to personalize events because of their outsized view of themselves in relation to the world. Thanks to social media, VNs have the ability to connect to the world in a way that suits them. Many VNs curate their social media profiles to present the very best version of themselves. This is arduous work requiring significant amounts of time.

Furthermore, VNs are usually more comfortable in online relationships than in-person relationships because they can build the importance of the relationship to be more than it is. These are examples of the VN’s narcissistic supply; they often craft the environment the way they see fit. The VN has reinforcement for their sense of self-importance.

There are other characteristics of VNs to notice as well. VNs are often mistaken for introverts. However, when you get to know a narcissistic person, the neuroticism and obsession with the highs and lows of their social self-esteem quickly gives away their status as a VN.

For those who suspect they may have a narcissistic partner, but may be unsure if the person is a VN or introvert, it’s important to notice how the person handles perceived threats. If the partner responds passive aggressively, then this could be a sign of VN. Other signs include the following:

  • Conversation hoarding
  • Rule breaking
  • Boundary violations
  • Interrupting conversations to bring attention back on themselves (more subtle than other types of narcissism)

What is Grandiose Narcissism?

Grandiose Narcissism is the opposite of vulnerable narcissism. However, there is more to grandiose narcissism than just a simple answer. Grandiose narcissists are characterized by their extraversion. These people see themselves as the life of the party – and many times they actually are. They’re over the top, and make any occasion about themselves.

For example, a person with grandiose narcissism would arrive at a friend or family member’s birthday party and proceed to make a spectacle of themselves to drive attention. The goal of a grandiose narcissist is to “steal” the attention off the honored guest to focus on his or herself.

Narcissistic defenses are the tools used to preserve the narcissist’s sense of self. These are overtly deployed by grandiose narcissists. Let’s go back to the birthday party example. If someone confronted the grandiose narcissist about their behavior, the narcissistic defense would be false humility about only wanting to have fun. The narcissist would also turn the confrontation around, claiming that the individual is actually making the occasion about themselves —not the narcissist.

Vulnerable Narcissist Traits

Unlike grandiose narcissists, vulnerable narcissists operate internally with their narcissism. There are many different characteristics they display which cause people to conflate VNs with introverts. For example, a person spending time with a VN will immediately notice that the VN is turned off by other people who are showy or flamboyant. Other traits of VNs include playing the victim or using passive aggressive behavior to deal with conflicts.

VNs have emotional ups and downs similar to people with BPD. They will also threaten self-harm but lack the conviction to follow through. For a VN, threatening self-harm is a way to get out of a conflict with a win. Grandiose narcissists believe others see them as the embodiment of perfection. VNs see themselves as perfect but chastise the rest of the world for failing to recognize their greatness.

Most people often find that VNs are bitter, and will not engage in new relationships because there is no one good enough to meet their high—and impossible—standards.

How to Deal With a Vulnerable Narcissist

Vulnerable narcissists are exhausting to deal with. Surrendering to their whims is easier than constantly battling their perpetual pity party.

  1. Empathy. The first step is empathy. Understand that vulnerable narcissists engage in shady behavior because of their inner weakness. The easy way to calm this inner turmoil is through reassurance. However, dole this out in small, controlled doses. Engaging in this behavior too often will enable the VN to believe his or her own hype.
  2. Focus on Goals. The next step is to stay focused on your goals. The VN’s anxieties and insecurities will threaten to derail you. Give your attention to the person in a way that doesn’t remove you from your aspirations.
  3. Use Humor. Finally, one of the best solutions is using humor. However, VNs are incredibly sensitive. Therefore, if you plan to use humor, be sure it’s not degrading; rather, point out the absurdity of the situation. VNs will most likely stew in their own juices for a while. If your approach is compassionate and non-threatening, the VN will eventually come around.

Vulnerable Narcissism: Bottom Line

Having a VN in your life isn’t ideal. However, there’s a good chance you do as NPD is a relatively common diagnosis. It’s important to understand that narcissism is a defense mechanism. Although a narcissist believes he or she is the greatest thing since sliced bread, the cold, hard truth is that a narcissist truly suffers from serious self-esteem issues. Dealing with VNs require patience, good humor, and showing empathy.

If you are unsure if a person in your life is a VN, take note of their behavior. Not all introverts are VNs, and not all VNs are introverts; however, they are easy to mistake for each other. The key is to notice a bitterness or an edge to the person.




Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top