Vulnerable Narcissism: The Less Obvious Narcissist

The easiest starting point to understand vulnerable narcissism is the origin of the term “Narcissist”. The word “Narcissist” finds its origin in Greek Mythology. In short, the myth tells us of how Narcissus bent over a pool of water to have a drink but was suddenly awestruck by the beauty of his own reflection

He fell so in love with his reflection and its pure perfection, that he did not drink water for fear of disrupting or damaging his perfect image. Some say he drowned in that pool, others say he died of thirst. Narcissus’ obsession with himself and his own beauty was his downfall. Enter the Narcissist. 

What is a Narcissistic Behavior?

Most people have met at least one modern day narcissist. You know, that holier-than-thou, god’s gift to women (or men) person who is the bee’s knees and cat’s pajamas all rolled into one. 

Not all narcissists are created equal. Narcissism boils down to a specific set of traits and narcissistic tendencies. These traits manifest themselves in varying degrees and produce different types of narcissists. Narcissistic behavior involves an inflated self-image and lack of empathy. Narcissists see themselves as more intelligent, better looking, more important. They have a sense of entitlement to admiration and constant praise than the lowly commoners that surround them.

Are Narcissists Born or Made?

Studies have shown that there is a strong genetic component to narcissism, but they haven’t been able to pinpoint a specific gene. Psychologists often trace narcissism back to early childhood trauma.

Narcissistic traits have more than doubled in last 50 yearsIt started when the focus of society was suddenly aimed at individual success and self-improvement and empowerment. Think about how today, every kid gets a trophy. Children are being raised with less emphasis on humility, and a greater emphasis on their being the best. There is a fine line between raising a child to be confident and empowered and raising a child to feel entitled.

Social Media’s Role in Promoting Narcissism

Social media has come under scrutiny in the last few years for “creating narcissists”. This is not true. Social media does not create narcissists, but it does feed them. Cyberpsychology behaviorists agree that social media gives narcissists the ideal platform to gain the recognition and admiration they feel they deserve. There truly is something to the selfie being more appropriately called the “Narcissisty”. High social self-esteem is everything to a narcissist!

What is Vulnerable Narcissism? 

There are 2 true forms of narcissism. There is the obvious, difficult to miss, grandiose narcissist. Then there is the vulnerable narcissist or the narcissist-vulnerable subtype. You can know one for years without ever picking up on their narcissistic tendencies. Vulnerable narcissists, (also called covert narcissists) fly under the radar. They have a high self-esteem but seem quiet and reserved. 

A vulnerable narcissist is perfect, but the world is out to get them. Try as they might, they never get the attention they want. So, they manipulate the people around them to get it.

Vulnerable Narcissist Traits 

The most prominent of vulnerable narcissism traits is a constant victimization mentality. They are always the victim, and always require sympathetic attention. 

They are emotionally draining to be around. Mostly because of how sensitive they are on top of being emotionally demanding. Their mission in life is to get the people around them to see them as the perfect creatures they are.

Vulnerable narcissists are quite prone to developing depression. The life they live does not meet the fantasy of the life they feel entitled to. 

There is an infuriating misconception among people who don’t understand personality disorders or mental illness, that people hurt themselves (or threaten to do so) because they are seeking attentionSo, this needs to be said and understood with great caution: Vulnerable narcissists are one of the few people who to make threats of self-harm in order to get attention. They rarely follow through with it.

Vulnerable narcissists mostly appear introverted and calm. But emotional regulation can still be difficult for the confusing self-esteem issues they have

The first line of narcissistic defenses includes being passive aggressive and shutting people out to punish themThey will always play the victim card because they will always see themselves as the victim. Regardless of the circumstances.

What is Grandiose Narcissism? 

Grandiose narcissism is the most obvious of the types of narcissism. With their outward charm and confidence overcompensating for their internal insecurities and vulnerability. 

Unlike vulnerable narcissists, grandiose narcissists are all about extroversion. They are dominant, and always in pursuit of power and status. Think about lawyers and doctors, or even politicians who pursue power in order to help and empower others. Narcissists aren’t wired that way. It’s all about them!

What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

There are varying degrees of narcissism. Most people with narcissistic traits manage to live relatively normal lives. This is not true for people diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). People with this extreme or pathological narcissism don’t do well in any setting. There is no place in society where someone with NPD will thrive. 

In a nutshell, people with NPD all share these traits: 

  • Grandiose view of oneself
  • Problems with empathy
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Need for attention and admiration

Having narcissistic traits does not imply that someone has a personality disorder or borderline personality traits. There are many interindividual differences. The disorder is only diagnosed in people whose narcissistic traits and tendencies take over people’s lives

How to Deal with a Vulnerable Narcissist 

The way to approach a narcissist depends on the type of narcissist you are dealing with. People with vulnerable or grandiose narcissistic traits can often improve. The problem is, that the stronger the manifestation of the traits, the harder it is for that person to change. 

Set Healthy Boundaries

The best way of dealing with any narcissist is to set healthy boundaries. Sometimes they are unavoidable because we are related to them, or we work with or for them. In all cases, you need to distance yourself from the person in mind, physically, as well as, emotionally.

Try to be rational when dealing with them. When you view the narcissist from a safe distance, it is easier to identify their irrational behavior. Keep that safe buffer zone around you. They will quickly lose interest in hurting or manipulating you. 

If you have a narcissistic partner, you need to consider walking away. They have an unlimited narcissistic supply of toxic behavior. You can’t blame them for not being considerate towards your feelings, because they don’t have the capacity for empathy. You will always be stuck in a non-linear relationship.

Vulnerable Narcissism: Bottom Line 

Narcissists are not bad people. Some narcissists are incredible business assets or charming entertainers that are fun to be around for brief periods. However, when you identify a narcissist, set healthy boundaries to protect yourself from their hurtful and manipulative grasp.


author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
Scroll to Top