It can be pretty devastating to find out a person that you love is a narcissist, especially when that diagnosis slowly begins to inform any kind of abuse you may have unknowingly endured. You certainly wouldn’t be alone, though: while research data shows that about five percent of people in the U.S. may have narcissistic personality disorder, many mask their behaviors, which means there are plenty more people roaming undiagnosed.

Narcissism is certainly not a one size fits all disorder. It can be expressed in many different shades and depths, including overt narcissism, antagonistic narcissism, and communal narcissism, amongst many more. A kind that can be trickier to spot is a vulnerable narcissist, due to them being more introverted and insecure. Within a facade of self-doubt and imposter syndrome, they may project the blame of their mistakes onto others, lash out at criticism or disapproval, and exploit their relationships for personal gain.

If you suspect you may be dealing with the makings of a vulnerable narcissist, let’s explore their tell tale signs and options on how to deal with them most effectively. 

What Is Vulnerable Narcissism?

Vulnerable narcissism, also known as covert narcissism, can be more difficult to spot than standard narcissism. This is because they tend to recoil within and display more emotion than you’d suspect from a narcissist; however, it still stems from an inflated sense of self-importance.

A vulnerable narcissist is hypersensitive to rejection and therefore extremely self-conscious. If not glorified, they can react aggressively, deeply offended for not being put on a pedestal. Highly sensitive to criticism, vulnerable narcissists often lack empathy or use a manipulative version of it to build up their own self-importance. Ultimately, they strive to feel a sense of entitlement and superiority.

However, unlike grandiose or malignant narcissism, vulnerable narcissists are usually not malicious and often more willing to get help. They’re still capable of loving, and thus, capable of getting better. While the exact cause of vulnerable narcissism is unknown, it can usually be traced back to some sort of childhood wounding, in which their parents withheld or drenched them in an unsustainable amount of praise. 

Am I Dealing With A Vulnerable Narcissist?

Because of their manipulative tendencies, a vulnerable narcissist can be dangerous to deal with, and it’s important to know whether or not you’ve got one on your hands. A vulnerable narcissist usually has:

  • An inability to handle criticism about themselves.
  • Difficulty forming intimate relationships.
  • A shy or anxious presentation.
  • A constant need for praise and external validation.
  • A tendency to project blame or manipulate others for their own gain.
  • No sense of true identity.
  • A deep fear of abandonment.
  • An inability to empathize or trust others.
  • A tendency towards controlling or jealous behavior.
  • A lack of boundaries.

While these symptoms are certainly not exclusive to vulnerable narcissism, they can certainly be found in every kind of vulnerable narcissist.

What To Do

So you’ve identified enough symptoms to confirm that they’re a vulnerable narcissist: what’s next? There are plenty of how to guides on effectively engaging with a narcissist, though with their reactive emotions, a vulnerable narcissist may be a bit more difficult to navigate.

Whether romantic, familial, platonic, or professional, it’s important not to let this relationship drain you of your energy. Make sure to set aside important time to focus on yourself and nourish your own mental health. 

When establishing crucial boundaries with this vulnerable narcissist, it’s important to remain calm and not use accusatory language. Explain how their behavior makes you feel, what limitations need to put in place, and be open when listening to their perspective. If all else fails, seeking a professional to mediate can be of great benefit.

There’s Still Hope

Whether they willingly communicate and surrender to getting help, or you assume the strength to let go of the relationship and heal elsewhere, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. And if you suspect that you’re the vulnerable narcissist, by focusing on developing healthy coping skills, methods of regulating your own emotions, and finding a therapist who specializes in narcissistic personality disorder, you can live the most optimal life possible.