When we think about narcissists, the image that tends to come to mind is someone who loves being the centre of attention, driven by vanity and a demonstrable need to be noticed. No matter what they’re like behind closed doors, they may be outwardly charming and attract people to them. This type of narcissist is a “grandiose” narcissist.
There is, however, another type of narcissist – one who, on face value at least, probably doesn’t fit the image of what most of us consider to be a narcissist at all.
Outwardly, vulnerable narcissists – far from being outgoing and the life and soul of the party – tend to be shy and more withdrawn. Whilst they may be driven by similar beliefs and needs to the grandiose narcissists, their inner self is hidden underneath a protective shell.
Whilst they not shout out loud about it, vulnerable narcissists have the same sense of entitlement, sense of “specialness” and belief that they are inherently better than other people as grandiose narcissists do. There’s a degree of conflict between what is outwardly presented and what is inwardly experienced for the vulnerable narcissist. Whilst the grandiose narcissist wears their narcissism on their sleeve, the vulnerable narcissist may act superior in a smug kind of way, engage in passive-aggressive behaviour and become emotionally distant. Like many grandiose narcissists, the vulnerable narcissist has a fragile ego and the impact of criticism or being “called out” may have a far deeper impact on the vulnerable narcissist.
All of these personality traits can make it hard to be in a relationship with a vulnerable narcissist.
They come first
If you’re in a relationship with a vulnerable narcissist, they’re always going to come first. They can be very self absorbed and will need to have their needs met. Your needs can end up being sidelined and ignored. You may find that things in the relationship go fine as long as you’re giving your partner the love and attention they need but when the tables are turned and you’re sick or need help in a difficult situation you may find your partner unable to provide you with that. This self-prioritizing means that you may find your partner isn’t really listening to you or grasping the significance of what you’re trying to convey, all of which can be demeaning, frustrating and hurtful.
They are emotionally demanding
Being in a relationship with a vulnerable narcissist is draining because they are so emotionally demanding. A vulnerable narcissist needs you to adore them and to shore up their inherently fragile sense of self worth. They will constantly need reassurance and attention. Being their “significant other” can be a never ending job.
They draw you into their complex relationship webs
Vulnerable narcissists are probably involved in a range of manipulative and complicated relationships with family and friends. If you become the inlaw, you’ll probably find yourself entwined in a complex web, forced to take sides and “stick up” for your partner, even when you sympathise with the friend of family member who has caused the upset.
They use manipulation tactics
Being involved with a vulnerable narcissist can be a passionate and intense experience. They may profess their undying love to you and tell you how much they need you. Whilst we all like to feel valued, you may feel completely indispensable to your partner. You partner may withhold love and attention and go in the huff if you don’t agree with everything they say. They may come out with phrases such as, “I know you don’t really love me”, to encourage you to back down and do what they want to do. In other words, they’ll emotionally manipulate you in a variety of underhand ways.
You’ll have to walk on eggshells
Vulnerable narcissists are so highly sensitive to criticism that you’ll find yourself terrified to say anything which could upset them to the point of having an emotional outburst – even when the comment was entirely fair and justified. After a while of being in a relationship like this you tend to censor everything you say to avoid risking such an overreaction. Walking on eggshells like this takes a severe toll over time.
Spotting a vulnerable narcissist is far harder than spotting a grandiose narcissist, but the effects of living with them are very similar. In addition to changing your own behaviour in relation to them, which will be covered in a future blog, it is reassuring to know that people with vulnerable narcissism may be more likely to seek help, especially if they are dealing with anxiety and depression.