Vulnerable Narcissism: What It Is & How to Deal With It

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Narcissism is a personality trait characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. People with narcissistic tendencies tend to believe they are superior to others, and they often crave attention and recognition. While not all individuals with narcissistic tendencies meet the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), those who do are often seen as arrogant, entitled, and lacking in empathy. However, not all narcissists are the same, and some are more vulnerable than others. In this article, we will discuss vulnerable narcissism, what it is, and how to deal with it.

What is Vulnerable Narcissism?

Vulnerable narcissism, also known as covert or closet narcissism, is a subtype of narcissism that is less overt and more hidden than other types. People with vulnerable narcissism tend to be hypersensitive and anxious, and they often feel insecure and inadequate. They crave admiration and attention, but they are also afraid of rejection and criticism. Unlike grandiose narcissists, who are confident and assertive, vulnerable narcissists are more introverted and passive-aggressive. They may appear humble and self-effacing, but they are still preoccupied with themselves and their own needs.

Vulnerable narcissism is not currently recognized as a separate personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, it is considered a subtype of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) by some experts. It is estimated that around 50% of people with NPD exhibit traits of vulnerable narcissism.

Signs of Vulnerable Narcissism

The following are some common signs of vulnerable narcissism:

  1. Hypersensitivity: Vulnerable narcissists tend to be highly sensitive to criticism and rejection. They may take things personally and get upset easily.
  2. Self-absorption: While vulnerable narcissists may not seem as overtly self-centered as grandiose narcissists, they are still preoccupied with their own needs and desires. They may be more covert in their self-absorption, but it is still present.
  3. Anxiety and insecurity: Vulnerable narcissists may be anxious and insecure, especially when it comes to their relationships with others. They may worry about being rejected or abandoned.
  4. Passive-aggressiveness: Vulnerable narcissists may be passive-aggressive in their behavior. They may use subtle tactics to get what they want, rather than being overtly aggressive.
  5. Low self-esteem: Despite their grandiose fantasies, vulnerable narcissists may actually have low self-esteem. They may feel inadequate and inferior to others.

How to Deal with Vulnerable Narcissism

If you are dealing with someone who has vulnerable narcissism, it can be challenging. Here are some tips for dealing with this subtype of narcissism:

  1. Recognize the signs: The first step in dealing with vulnerable narcissism is to recognize the signs. Once you know what to look for, you can be more prepared to handle the situation.
  2. Set boundaries: It is important to set clear boundaries with someone who has vulnerable narcissism. Let them know what behaviors are not acceptable, and stick to your boundaries.
  3. Avoid criticism: Vulnerable narcissists are highly sensitive to criticism, so it is best to avoid being critical of them. Instead, try to focus on positive reinforcement.
  4. Provide validation: Vulnerable narcissists crave validation and attention, so it can be helpful to provide them with positive feedback when appropriate.
  5. Be empathetic: While vulnerable narcissists may not be empathetic themselves, it is still important to show empathy towards them. Try to understand their perspective and feelings.
  6. Encourage therapy: Therapy can be helpful for people with vulnerable narcissism. Encourage them to seek professional help, and offer to support them in this process.
  1. Don’t enable their behavior: It is important not to enable the behavior of someone with vulnerable narcissism. This means not giving in to their demands or allowing them to manipulate you.
  2. Be patient: Dealing with someone with vulnerable narcissism can be frustrating, but it is important to be patient. Change takes time, and it is not always easy.
  3. Take care of yourself: Dealing with someone with vulnerable narcissism can be draining, so it is important to take care of yourself. Set aside time for self-care and make sure you are taking care of your own needs.
  4. Consider seeking professional help: If you are struggling to deal with someone who has vulnerable narcissism, consider seeking professional help for yourself. A therapist or counselor can offer support and guidance.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is vulnerable narcissism the same as covert narcissism?

Yes, vulnerable narcissism is also known as covert or closet narcissism. It is a subtype of narcissism that is less overt and more hidden than other types.

Can vulnerable narcissism be treated?

Yes, vulnerable narcissism can be treated with therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychodynamic therapy are often used to treat narcissistic personality disorders.

Can people with vulnerable narcissism have successful relationships?

Yes, people with vulnerable narcissism can have successful relationships, but it may take some work. It is important for them to seek therapy and work on their issues.

How can I tell if someone has vulnerable narcissism?

Signs of vulnerable narcissism include hypersensitivity, self-absorption, anxiety and insecurity, passive-aggressiveness, and low self-esteem.

Can vulnerable narcissism lead to depression?

Yes, vulnerable narcissism can lead to depression, as people with this subtype of narcissism may experience feelings of inadequacy and inferiority.

Is vulnerable narcissism more common in men or women?

Research suggests that vulnerable narcissism is more common in women than in men.

Can vulnerable narcissism be passed down from parents to children?

Yes, there may be a genetic component to narcissistic personality disorders, including vulnerable narcissism.

Can people with vulnerable narcissism change?

Yes, people with vulnerable narcissism can change, but it takes time and effort. Therapy can be helpful in addressing the underlying issues.

Is vulnerable narcissism a form of mental illness?

Vulnerable narcissism is not currently recognized as a separate personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), but it is considered a subtype of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) by some experts.

How can I support someone with vulnerable narcissism?

It is important to set boundaries, avoid criticism, provide validation, be empathetic, and encourage therapy. It is also important to take care of yourself and seek professional help if needed.


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