In my time working with victims of toxic people, I have found the vulnerable narcissist to be by far the most difficult to spot. Because they hide it so well, vulnerable narcissists can be hard to deal with. Here are nine ways you can spot a vulnerable narcissist in you midst.
Vulnerable Narcissists Are Hypersensitive And Easily Hurt
One of the hallmarks of a vulnerable narcissist is the fact they have very thin skin. A vulnerable narcissist cannot take any form of criticism lying down.
The primary traits of a vulnerable narcissist are listed below.
- Arrogant behavior
- Desire for admiration
- Attention-seeking behavior
- Feelings of shame
- Lack of empathy
- Neuroticism or insecurity
- Inferiority complex
As you can see, many of these traits are linked to aversion from confrontation, feelings of extreme shame, and lasting hatred for those who the narcissist perceives wronged them.
All together, this means that any feedback, sometimes even the most gentle of critique, will engender an unproportional or outright potentially dangerous emotional response from the narcissist. In some cases they may attempt to hide these emotions and pass it of as if nothing happened, only to seek revenge at a later date. But, more of then then not they will try to explain or argue their way out of the criticism.
Vulnerable Narcissists Are More Introverted Than Grandiose Narcissists
When we think of a narcissist, we often think of very forward people who are obsessed with themselves. And, while some narcissist do exhibit these traits, it is rare for a vulnerable or covert narcissist to do so.
Instead, they embody two opposing characteristics — the desire to be praised and the desire to avoid criticism.
More so than other narcissist, a vulnerable narcissist is likely to be driven by low self esteem to keep a relatively low profile. For instance you might notice:
- They rarely give out personal details if they can avoid it
- Don’t like people to see their works in progress
- Are obsessed with getting everything right
- Will avoid taking any responsibility for projects not entirely under their control
- Exhibit other traits of an extreme introvert
Note that not all introverts are narcissists. For more info on how to spot an extremely introverted or covert narcissist, check out my previous article —
Vulnerable Narcissists Find It Difficult To Deal With Any Failure Or Trauma
Like all narcissists, vulnerable narcissist have significant psychological difficulty coping with what they perceive to be a serious failing on their part. But, unlike classic narcissists, vulnerable narcissists are much more likely to feel that the failing is in fact their own deficiency, rather than externalize those feelings and project the blame on to others.
Because of this, vulnerable narcissists are often eager to stay out of the limelight, and avoid situations where they can be blamed for anything at all.
You may see them exhibit —
- Extreme CYA mentality
- Unwillingness to accept leadership roles
- Desire to hide themselves in a group
- Nitpicking dependence on rule and procedure
Vulnerable Narcissists Are Neurotic And Will Worry And Fret Over How They Are Perceived
One of the most telling qualities of the vulnerable narcissist is that they obsess constantly over how the will be perceived by other people.
This is more than social positioning or a desire to be liked. Vulnerable narcissists have a pathological need to avoid any indication that they “aren’t good enough.”
Deep down ever narcissist feels that they there is something wrong with them. And, they compulsively work to dispel this notion through the perceptions of other people. The vulnerable narcissist type is particularly observant of avoid negative hits to their self esteem.
Vulnerable Narcissists Can Turn On Themselves When Hurt Or Disappointed
Another very telling difference between a vulnerable narcissist and other types of narcissists is that they are likely to belittle themselves when things don’t go their way.
This is is stark contract to a classical narcissist, who is likely to lash out at other people when they don’t get their way. Read more about classical narcissists here —
This is one of the reasons that vulnerable narcissist have difficulty dealing with failure. They amplify the hurt by their excessively negative self talk.
Vulnerable Narcissists Feel Shame When Rejected
Being rejected in any way will often initiate a shame spiral in a vulnerable narcissist.
Because of the vulnerable narcissist’s inability to deal productively with shame related to criticism or visible failure, their self-talk readily devolves in to extreme self-criticism in response to such failures. The vulnerable narcissist will then start to excessively criticize themselves across the board, leading to further feelings of worthlessness and self doubt.
Vulnerable Narcissists Can Feel Depressed, Empty And Useless
Narcissists in general have a sever deficiency when it comes to their own sense of self worth.
Often because of developmental deficiencies during childhood, they have not developed the ability to disassociate how they feel about themselves from what others feel about about them. That means, they live and die for the approval of the crowd.
Because vulnerable narcissists are particularly sensitive to criticism, being unable to cope or reject it using them means of other narcissistic types, they actively shun any type of public acknowledgment. To this end, they receive very little response from others, both positive and negative.
So, the vulnerable narcissist, through their means of self protection, very often cuts themselves off from their only means of positive emotion — external validation.
Eventually, this void will leave a hole in their life, where they find their own existence meaningless. Felling of depression, emptiness, and uselessness generally follow.
Vulnerable Narcissists May Withdraw From Social Situations If They Feel They Don’T Match Up To Others
Vulnerable narcissists are not competitive, and do not think highly of themselves.
For all the reasons discussed in the previous sections, a vulnerable narcissist would rather avoid attention if there is any risk that they may not match their own extreme expectations for themselves.
When confronted with individuals who they feel are equals, a vulnerable narcissist will withdraw before any risk of be measured up against them.
You may find a vulnerable narcissist will —
- Suddenly withdraw from social groups or events with little notice or reason
- Unwilling to talk about their accomplishments
- Act exceedingly self-deprecating
- Seek to actively lower expectations for their own work or behavior
- Find themselves in roles where they are overqualified or with infrequent interactions between adults.
Vulnerable Narcissists Feel Afraid Of Being Let Down And Ashamed Of Needing Others
The relationship a vulnerable narcissist has with people in their social circle can be complex.
First, their tendency to isolate themselves from the approval and disapproval of those in their circles leads them to nurse an intensely self-reliant attitude. They much rather work as an individual than a group.
But, even more, their feelings of inferiority make them hypersensitive to the possibility that they aren’t pulling their own weight. Combined with their fixation avoiding on failure, they tend to internally amplify emotions of perceived dependence on others.
A vulnerable narcissist thinks they are not good enough, and the help they get from friends and family is evidence of such in their eyes.
Similarly, the vulnerable narcissist, who is fixated on the negative perceptions of others, feels acutely threatened by the possibility that their benefactors may not actually come through. Everyone in their life is dangerous to their self-esteem, and thus not to be fully trusted.
Vulnerable Narcissists May Have Rage-Filled Outbursts
As discussed in previous sections, vulnerable narcissist have difficulty managing failure or rejection.
While this often manifests as depression or and perceived sense of worthlessness, at times these emotions will gush up in a sudden and unexpected anger.
These types of outbursts will usually be —
- Seemingly out of nowhere
- Related to little slights or criticisms, that didn’t seem like a big deal at the time
- Expressed in relation to events in the past, maybe even years prior
Vulnerable Narcissists Have A Tendency To Blame Others
Like all narcissists, vulnerable narcissists do have a subconscious desire to rid themselves of blame when it comes around. And, they are likely to attempt to pin this blame on other people.
While this behavior is not nearly as prominent in vulnerable narcissists as with classical narcissists, you will still see it from time to time.
Vulnerable Narcissists May Feel Envy For What They Believe Should Be Theirs
Lastly, a vulnerable narcissist will feel profound feeling of jealousy for the abilities and accomplishments of other people.
One of the inherent contradictions of narcissism is that narcissistic individuals feel both lack of self worth and an inflated sense of entitlement. A narcissist deems public approval to be their right.
This propensity will be slightly more profound in vulnerable narcissists compared to other types, in part due to the fact that they rarely allow themselves to be in a position where they can receive the praise that they desire.
How do you know if you are a vulnerable narcissist?
Vulnerable narcissists are sensitive to criticism and crave external validation. Compared to other narcissists, they are introverted and withdrawn — rarely putting themselves in positions where there is a possibility of criticism.
What are the 4 types of narcissism?
The four types of narcissists are — the classic narcissist, the vulnerable narcissist, the communal narcissist, and the malignant narcissist. All four types can be either somatic or cerebral.