The Inverted (Mirror) Narcissist

Can a narcissist’s partner also be a narcissist? Many partners who have stayed with their narcissist have questioned whether they themselves were selfishly staying with him or her (because they liked the fame, success, wealth, etc). Many individuals who do stay with a narcissist- but not all- tend to be codependents. One specific type of codependent is, indeed, a narcissist. They are called ‘covert narcissists’, ‘inverted’ or ‘mirror’ narcissists, or ‘narcissist- codependent’ or even an “N-magnet” (narcissist magnet). Inverted narcissists are codependents who emotionally depend exclusively on classic narcissists. Narcissists and inverted narcissists are, in many ways, two sides of the same coin, or “the mold and the molded” (Sam Vaknin) – hence the terms “mirror narcissist” or “inverted narcissist”. Inverted narcissists are much rarer and harder to identify than the boastful, arrogant “classic” narcissist. Surprisingly for a narcissist, the inverted type is self-effacing and/or introverted. Let’s take a closer look at what we mean by some of these terms.

Codependents

Codependents are people who depend on other people for their emotional gratification. They are usually needy, demanding, and subservient. Like the classic narcissist, they fear abandonment.  They tend to be clingy and will engage in immature behaviors to maintain this “relationship”.  Codependents will stay with their partners despite whatever abuse is inflicted upon them. Also like the classic narcissist, they seek to control their partner; they do this through being an eager victim.

Codependency refers to excessive and unhealthy caretaking behavior or feelings. This doesn’t just occur with narcissists but also with partners of alcoholics, drug, sex, or other addicts. Codependents often play the role of martyr. They persistently put others’ needs before their own and are not likely to take care of their own needs. This makes them feel “needed”. Codependents are also likely to set themselves up as the “victim”, especially in arguments or disagreements. On occasion, they do stand up for themselves but are then wracked with guilt.

Inverted Narcissist

The classic narcissist has ‘overt’ or obvious/unconcealed behavior.  The inverted narcissist has ‘covert’ or concealed narcissistic behavior. The inverted narcissist is a type of codependent who depends exclusively on narcissists.  Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self-Love, describes the inverted narcissist this way:

To “qualify” as an inverted narcissist, you must CRAVE to be in a relationship with a narcissist, regardless of any abuse inflicted on you by him/her. You must ACTIVELY seek relationships with narcissists and ONLY with narcissists, no matter what your (bitter and traumatic) past experience has been. You must feel EMPTY and UNHAPPY in relationships with ANY OTHER kind of person.

Inverted or ‘covert’ narcissists are “intensely attuned to others’ needs, but only in so far as it relates to [their] own need to perform the requisite sacrifice“. An inverted narcissist makes certain that in true martyr fashion, they will readily provide unlimited supplies of gratitude, love and attention as well as caretaking that is almost compulsive in nature. Vaknin theorized that “the inverted narcissist is a person who grew up enthralled by the narcissistic parent … the child becomes a masterful provider of Narcissistic Supply, a perfect match to the parent’s personality.”

On a day to day basis, the inverted narcissist is extremely shy, introverted and uncomfortable with any attention being paid to him or her. He or she has extreme feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem as indicated by:

  • Possesses a rigid sense of lack of self-worth.
  •  Lacks empathy. Is intensely attuned to others’ needs, but only in so far as it relates to his/her own need to perform the required self-sacrifice, which in turn is necessary in order to obtain Narcissistic Supply from the primary narcissist.
  •  Feels that he/she is undeserving and not entitled.
  • Is selfless, sacrificial, even groveling in her interpersonal relationships and avoids the assistance of others at all costs. Can only interact with others when she can be seen to be giving, supportive, and expending an unusual effort to assist.
    • Pre-occupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance and beauty or of an ideal of love.
  • Believes that he or she is absolutely un-unique and un-special and that no one at all could understand her because she is innately unworthy of being understood.
  •  Displays extreme shyness, lack of any real relational connections, is publicly self-effacing in the extreme, is internally highly moralistic and critical of others; is a perfectionist and engages in lengthy ritualistic behaviors, which can never be perfectly performed
  • Envies others. Cannot conceive of being envied and becomes extremely agitated and uncomfortable if even brought into a situation where comparison might occur. Loathes competition and avoids competition at all costs
  • Demands anonymity (in the sense of seeking to remain excluded at all costs) and is intensely irritated and uncomfortable with any attention being paid to him/her

Do they also have narcissistic rages?

Like the classic narcissist, the inverted narcissist will indeed react with narcissistic rage to what they perceive as threats or narcissistic injury. The inverted narcissist may respond with rage whenever her lack of self-worth is threatened, when envious of other’s achievements or happiness, or when her sense of self-worthlessness is diminished by a behavior/ comment/event. Thus, this type of narcissist might react angrily to good things: a kind remark, a successful accomplishment, a reward, or a compliment.  They might also rage when they believe that they have failed or are imperfect, useless and worthless.

During their rage, the inverted narcissist can become verbally and emotionally abusive. He or she ruthlessly attacks her victim but then immediately goes into an unbelievable calm, described as “thundering silence”.  The inverted narcissists then regret their behavior and apologize profusely. They gather these negative emotions and use them as weapons for further self-destruction. “It is from this repressed self-contempt and sadistic self-judgment that the narcissistic rage springs forth”.

Relationship with the Narcissist

Although inverted narcissists can have non-narcissists as friends, significant relationships are only with other narcissists. These relationships are usually spousal relationships but can also be significant friendships with other narcissists.

In a love relationship, the inverted narcissist attempts to re-create the parent-child relationship. By mirroring back the narcissist’s own grandiosity, the inverted narcissist obtains his/her own Narcissistic Supply (which is the narcissist’s dependence on them).

The inverted narcissist ensures that the narcissist is happy, cared for, adored, and has plenty of Narcissistic Supply. They suffer narcissistic devaluation with poise and composure. They handle narcissistic rage by managing every last detail in their environment, closely supervising and controlling all situations, so that they minimize the inevitable narcissistic rages of their narcissist.

The inverted narcissist only feels loved in a relationship where their life is totally engulfed by the narcissist. They are not likely to abandon the relationship with the narcissist. The relationship usually doesn’t end unless the narcissist decides the inverted narcissist is no longer useful, and refuses to supply him/her with any more Narcissistic Supply. Only then does the inverted narcissist halfheartedly move on to another relationship.

Resources:

  1. http://www.healthyplace.com/personality-disorders/malignant-self-love/the-inverted-narcissist/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inverted_narcissist
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About Alexander Burgemeester

15 Responses to “The Inverted (Mirror) Narcissist”

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  1. Misha says:

    Until reading this article I thought that my mother was just an enabler of my step parents narcissistic behavior…what an interesting and eye opening read!!
    I have often wondered why my mom would allow me (her only child) and herself to always be the victim of step parents narcissistic rage and emotional abuse, now I see it’s not just enabling, but fulfilling her own inverted narcissistic supply.
    Alex thank you so much for your well written articles they are all great, but this one was a true epiphany moment for me.

  2. Gary says:

    The material on this website is by far the most well written I’ve ever seen. However, I have to say there are a few inaccuracies regarding your understanding of the inverted narcissist. First, what you call an Inverted Narcissist, is someone that I refer to as an Empath. The term inverted narcissist is an inaccurate one because these type of people are highly empathic with regards to everyone, and not just responsive to or seeking out a relationship with a narcissist. The empath is not seeking a narcissistic supply, but are they do have an overwhelming need for the other partner to reciprocate the same feelings of love and devotion, something that a narcissist cannot do, and something that the Empath cannot give up hoping to receive.

    Narcissist can readily spot an empath and will always have a very strong desire to startup a relationship with the empath. This is the first stage of the relationship in which the narcissist will go out of their way to make the empath believe that the narcissist is actually a very kind and thoughtful person. Up until this point, the empath has had very little interest in the narcissist, and certainly has no idea about their true nature. The narcissist is constantly telling lies during this stage, to ensure that the empath stays interested and that the empath believes the narcissist is that perfect partner that the empath has dreamed of finding all their life.

    By the relationship reaches the stage that the empath is has discovered the true nature of their narcissistic partner, the empath has already developed very deep feelings for the narcissist. Trapped between the choice of giving up on the relationship, or remaining determined to penetrate the ice cold heart of the narcissist, the empath chooses to believe that if they hang on long enough, eventually the narcissist will recognize their devotion and reciprocate their love.

    Empaths are not attracted to narcissist, and are not happy with narcissist. For the empath, the relationship is a roller coaster trip into hell that ends when the empath no longer has the strength to endure the pain of loving someone who cannot love them back. It is now that the narcissist will sense that they have drained the empath completely. Having no further use for the empath, the narcissist rapidly begins distance himself and will abandon the relationship at the first convenient opportunity. The empath will be heart broken, and afraid of losing the narcissist, but even more afraid of what would happen if the narcissist stayed. Fortunately for the empath, like an empty soda can, the narcissist can’t wait to discard the empath into trash.

    Empaths will try to end the relationship on good terms if possible. Just like at the end of every argument they’ve ever had, the empath apologizes and accepts the blame for the failed relationship. The empath does this not because it is true, but because they understand that the narcissist is as much a victim as is anyone who ever gets close to him.

    Empaths do often find themselves looking for a partner who needs to be rescued in one way or another, but not always. Personality disorders are life long afflictions. And by that very reasoning, an “inverted narcissist” is something that simply cannot exist. No one craves to be in a relationship with a true narcissist, no one. And even if they did, they’d have very little chance of getting one. Narcissist are only attracted to two kinds of people, one is those whom the narcissist can gain things like wealth, power, and social status by entering into some type of realtionship, and the other is empaths. Empathic people love very deeply, and are keenly aware of the thoughts and emotions of those around them. Empaths cannot survive for very long in a relationship with a true narcissist. Any relationship with a narcissist that last for more than a few years is based on the narcissist using the other person for some type of gain, and not on the unique attraction that occurs when a narcissist seduces an empathic person.

    Well, this is my understanding of the narcissistic world, and I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. but give it some thought and try to Keep an open mind, and remember that scientific facts are often anything but factual.

    • s. says:

      Hey Gary; you’re sort of right in saying that “No one craves to be in a relationship with a true narcissist” – no one would consciously choose such a relationship but such choices are made on a subconscious level, are more related to repeating aspects of prior familial dynamics and pretty opaque and hard to unravel to the person making them at the time. Simply calling oneself an Empath is an easy way to reject the analysis this unraveling requires, leaves you somewhat innocent, merely a victim, and stifles any possible insight or growth i think – not denying such imbalances do occur, not at all trying to “put blame” on the victims of big N narcissists either, but if you find your self constantly picking such people as life partners or employers it makes sense to dig a little deeper into underlying motivations.
      I’ve done this to an extent, continue to draw parallels between my own dysfunctional childhood, my parents godawful marriage and even their own upbringings, will continue to do this as a means to understand the subsequent patterns in my personal and professional life; really painful stuff as you give up most everything you held onto as a way to explain your more immediate experience, any sense of outrage, injustice, or loss, and painful too as you’re forced to not only examine your own family history but also take a degree of responsibility for the way you deal with it. Finding youself giving up that victimhood and being led to query your own capacity for narcissism also isn’t exactly fun – again, painful stuff…
      I’ve read a lot about Narcissism recently, find much of the online lit pretty interesting in terms of diagnostic stuff (this is what they do etc ) but simplistic also in that it doesn’t explain the larger dynamics at play, glosses over why we choose these people, find them appealing, or choose to stay with them when we’re so obviously miserable and they’re so clearly awful. I find the comments often simplistic in that they dwell on the wrongs committed by the other and lack personal reflection – articles like this one promote a more wholistic view and are worth considering if you’ve been through such relationships repeatedly.
      I think I fit some of the diagnostic criteria in the OP pretty well – I don’t necessarily buy into all of the explanations and reasoning otherwise but think all this stuff is worth examining. I don’t feel particularly great about what i do see there but all knowledge of self is empowering if you apply it and the alternative, a life of misery and pain either given or received, isn’t really an option any more. Sorry, a bit of a tear with this one but it rang a bell with me somewhat.
      Good luck to you all !

      • d says:

        To Gary or Alexander: How does the narcissist so easily identify the empath, or inverted narcissist? This happened to me recently( I’m an empath or inverted narcissist). But as I recall the circumstances, I don’t think I stood out in any way. I go out of my way to blend in. All I was doing was drinking a latte and reading a magazine at Starbucks. I wasn’t slouched or biting my nails or anything. The narcissist stood out to me right away as well. And all he was doing was looking at his lap top. An average looking person in a polo shirt. I won’t get into details, but he marked me right away.

    • CB says:

      Hi Gary, I agree with what you have written. I am an empath or I guess an inverted narcissist. I think it’s also an unconscious thing. I have been unraveling why I am attracted to Narcissists for a while and it’s been a painful journey. I think I am much improved as I currently have no relationships with any classic narcissists for the first time in my life. I am 42. I am no longer attracted to them and the high that comes from having them project their narcissism on me. I am learning to feel and meet my own needs and not to need someone to take care of. I am more able to focus on my own life and healing it rather than anyone else’s. I have a long way to go still but it’s progress. This was all helpful for me to read. Very interesting.

    • amanda says:

      Gary,

      Thank you for bringing up the Empath. As a daughter and sister of Narcissists, I do not see myself as an “inverted narcissist”. After a failed marriage of 24 years, I was told my ex was a narcissist. The signs were all there right in front of me, but I couldn’t see them or didn’t want to. Since the divorce I have been in a few relationships and most were narcissistic. The Narcissist is attracted to the Empath so they can gain control, power and they know the Empath will submit. The last relationship lasted for 2 years instead of 24 and he is a sociopathic/narcissist. The signs were there, but I ignored them because the “love bombing” was intoxicating and almost suffocating. I believed every word he said.

      When he began to tire of me he started finding ways so I would push him out of my life. I ended up telling him he had 24 hours to get his things. I already knew he had shut me down or “discarded” me..

      I can see my part in the desire for being loved from these type of men. Since I couldn’t find that in my dad and brothers, I sought this need through men.

      In each relationship, there is a longing to show and express love, but they don’t seem to want this love. Maybe I never was able to attach to my dad because he was not able to love himself. As his daughter, I could sense this and tried over and over I tried to tell him how wonderful he is and how much he is loved.
      He has never accepted this from me or accepted this within himself.

      The fixer…

      Peace
      Tupelo

    • Fee says:

      I agree with you 100%. Your take on Narc’s and IN’s relationship truly describe how I was in the relationship with my Narc. I relate more to being a Empaths than an IN. Your explanation to the motives and wants of an Empath speaks volumes to my wants, needs, and my reality. Thank you so much.

    • Leila Meyering says:

      Thank you , the above made me feel so disorded! I do believe I understand that he is as much as a victim and that’s how I cope, that’s how I get my children to cope to! I tell them if he was loved properly we wouldn’t have a problem and they understand that, yes some say I should not make excuses for him but I know in my heart it is true. Yes you could call me dependant as I cannot do for them what he can do for them but I certainly don’t live in luxury or enjoy any fame etc, I just know what divorce did to me and want them to enjoy the protection and safety of having a father around so I teach them to say ‘ not my circus, not my monkeys’ while he is raging and do whatever I can to prevent them, so 15 years into this does this mean I am a mirror narc an empath etc I just love my four girls and can’t leave them with him but can’t cope alone with them, am I using them as a excuse to stay, just venting here, don’t need any answers I just do the needful, yes at the expensive of my happiness but isn’t that what motherhood is all about, it’s a thankless job sometimes but it’s my responsibility, I brought them into this world!

    • Tmoney says:

      Gary,
      This article is not inaccurate. The inverted narcissist and the empath are two SEPARATE things. there may be places where they overlap (maybe the co-dependency impulses) but they are two different things. My parents are an example of a Nar and I.N. relationship, and i am an Empath.
      This sentence ““the inverted narcissist is a person who grew up enthralled by the narcissistic parent … the child becomes a masterful provider of Narcissistic Supply, a perfect match to the parent’s personality.” is what sets it apart. The empath is never looking to feel like a masterful provider (someone with power over someone else), empaths serve because they want to, its natural. Its not a way to control people.

      The inverted Nar is ultimately seeking to feel POWERFUL by having a Nar depend on them. (because if they are the supply, they can manipulate the one who needs it)

      The empath is seeking to feel LOVED by having someone depend on them.

      this is why i feel they are separate beings/personality types. I THINK THEY CALL THEM MIRROR NARS BECAUSE THEY PUSH AND PULL JUST AS MUCH AS THE NAR DOES, SO THEY ARE THEIR EQUAL OPPOSITE.
      EMPATHS ON THE OTHER HAND ARE NOT PUSHING AND PULLING SO THEY ARE DIRECT OPPOSITES TO NARS. THEY ARE THE LACK OF PULL/PUSH TO THE NARS PULL/PUSH. Im not sure if that makes sense, but thats the only way i can describe it.
      Inverted Nars and Nars play an equal tug of war.
      Nars invite empaths to play tug of war and the empaths drop the rope, which is why the Nars find them so interesting.

  3. Ben says:

    I think the “empath” paragraph is pretty accurate, though an empath surely will also have traits of inverted narcissism.

    To add to Gary’s comment, I think that empaths can just as easily get involved with narcissists as with codependents, and also that narcissists and codependents are essentially the same type of personality at heart. Codependents really aren’t the same as empaths. Codependents, like narcissists, do whatever it takes to keep someone around. It just so happens that codependents express that by doing “caregiving” things.

    Either way, both codependents and narcissists manipulate people at the expense of actually being empathetic, while empaths are probably best described as people who veer in the opposite direction, feeling other’s emotions so strongly that they don’t feel the need to be manipulative. As Gary said, they also are in tune with the narcissist or codependent’s inner insecurity, which makes it easy for them to see past the codependent/narcissist’s behavior, which results in them sticking around much longer than they should.

    Gary, if you’d be interested in talking more, leave a comment and I’ll send you a private message. I have some ideas about this that might interest you!

  4. Marie says:

    I feel like I am kind of softer version of a co-dependant OR an inverted narcissist. You say that covert narcissists don’t let it show when they are hurt and keep perfect composure (to not make themselves look like they are dependant and be disposed of 🙂 ), is that type of great self-control really compatible with the co-dependant’s attitude ?
    The mechanic is about the same and actually, after meeting several overt narcissists, I’ve realized that I would probably never be able to take real interest and want to invest time (and jeopardize my self-esteem) with anybody else than a true narcissist.
    Not only they suffer so we are of the same kind, they think they’re s**t, but they’re proud, and interesting.
    And they give you a mission.
    What more could you want ? And at least they’re not cheesily sincere (if you hurt them, you don’t feel like you have blood on your hands and you’re only worthy of dying – know what I mean ?)
    Also, they allow you to have a last shot at trying to be loved, or at least, succeed to manage someone that is like those who made you feel never happy of yourself. If you can fix this failure or manipulate them a bit you’ll be happy with yourself and even be better when the next one turns up in your life.

    I have empathy like an narcissist (intuition), and the morals that go with it (though it is very ‘intellectual’ – maybe because my parents (included the narcissist dad) always pretended to be very nice, high-standard people when it comes to morals. Unfailable left-wing voters as well, if you know what I mean. Very ‘proper’ people.)
    Through my experience of suffering, I have learnt to be nice with people because ‘people are me’.
    I have become very intelligent (is hard to say, but well…) so that I could stop making the mistakes that my dad always said I made, and I have to fix people with the understanding I have gained.
    I hate to see suffering as much as I dislike light-heartedness.
    I wish that I could live in a world where everyone is wary of what suffering others may be feeling. But are alright themselves. Solidarity and mutual carefulness. No hurting possible in those circumstances. But I have learnt to see that I could be very indifferent to some people myself.
    I try to be sharp to not inspire contempt from people and so that when I need compassion (attention) people would be glad to give it to me.

    I hate myself a little less than a narcissist hates the nothingness (or the rot) he feels he is, but I am not able to feel real love until I’m hurt, because I admire the person who is more intelligent than me and is able to take me by surprise because I control myself to much and it’s nice to feel some pain instead of some indifference.
    Maybe that pain is the closest feeling to what used to cling to my heart as a child. It’s a form of suave melancholy that then takes me.
    I feel like a child again. I am worthy of being someone’s victim.
    If I am loveable therefore I am worthy of loving. It’s securing.

    • Marie says:

      Ok, I think I might have understood something more.
      (I’m sorry in advance for the English mistakes as I know I make them X-) )

      One book that I’ve read recently develops an interesting call the ‘Skin-Ego’.
      To describe it briefly, it says that the Psychic Ego is developed according to the development of our awareness of our physical self. This physical has an inside, an outside, and an inside skin and an outside skin as an interface.
      Narcissists are described as having a tough skin, and little left inside. They developed this tough skin as a result of an invasion of their bodies at a stage at which it cannot defend itself. Since I have read this book I have this idea that I have a very thin, fragile ‘skin’, which gives me this empathy. Anzieu says that our Skin-Ego (or Ego-SKin…) can be distorted by the presence of others, because we imagine a common skin.
      Hence the need to retreat and be alone for long periods of time for empaths, and maybe the need for narcissists, who you do not have to worry about – only try to understand, and manipulate from a safe distance, because you know you will never share the same skin – they are not human 🙂 )

      I have this feeling anyway, that all this tension with the narcissit, the manipulation that we undergo, makes us reassured about the intentions of the other to not act unless there is some consent from our part.
      Empathy is developed maybe as a way of protecting ourselves (anticipated other’s actions so we can take a distance when we feel they may be about to attempt to invade us 🙂 )
      because we have experienced that fear of invasion early on in our lives and have always been scared of it.
      It was milder, and maybe what protected us was this tension, this ‘forbiddance’ that the potential invader set himself.
      The tension deifies us a little, it re-sacralizes us when others have threatened our sovereignties over ourselves, our dignities, by not asking our permissions, etc.

      • Marie says:

        Narcissists force us to care about ourselves, instead of caring about other people, which is a reward we never give ourselves without a tremendous amount of absurd guilt because ‘we’re not weak, we’ve had all we needed all our lives, we’re not in need of anything’, and we are gifted and intelligent, which has always made us be a threat to others, their self-love, need for attention, etc.. We are strong and need to be slown-down, in order to not be dangerous, especially in an egalitarian society in which being metaphorically a head taller than others is bad, and you should wait for them, etc.

        We’re giving ourselves a chance to be humbled, if not burned, by a healthy fire.

        Talking about myself, sorry for the ‘we’ : )

        And also we have a guilt-free reward for being intelligent.

        It’s got this perfect balance

        We’re even being useful…

  5. Kevin Taylor says:

    Two Covert Narcissists are able to bond together and form an equal long term relationship.

  6. Alan says:

    By it,s very definition narcissism is denoted by a clear lack of empathy.

    The term Inverted narcissist can not therefore be used to describe an empath.

    It is in fact an impossibility or oxymoron if you wish

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