What Exactly Is Vulnerable Narcissism?

Narcissism goes far deeper than just loving your own reflection in the mirror a little too much. Scientists have recently discovered differences in the brain structure of those suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

Magnetic imaging resonance reveals that NPD sufferers have abnormalities in an area region of the brain that has been linked to empathy. This affects their ability to feel and express compassion. That explains a lot of the behavioral traits associated with NPD, but it doesn’t end there.

Just when we thought we had it all figured out, the advent of social media has brought another category of narcissists out of the woodwork – the vulnerable, or covert, narcissist.

Read below to find out more about vulnerable narcissism and how it differs from overt narcissism.

What is the difference between overt and covert narcissism?

Overt, or grandiose, narcissists are easy to spot. They are extroverts, showing a range of unstable emotions and negative behaviors. They may seem charming and appealing at first, only to become abusive and aggressive as you get to know them.

Vulnerable narcissists come across as unobtrusive, quiet, or even shy. It is this part of their behavior that has kept the disorder under wraps for so long.

Grandiose (or overt) narcissists are very much a one-man talk show. Vulnerable narcissists will keep you at a distance. This doesn’t mean they are any less into themselves though, or any less abusive.

Narcissism is first mentioned in Greek mythology and the American Psychiatric Association first identified Narcissistic Personality Disorder as early as 1968. Yet, it has taken the culture of oversharing, which is inherent in Social Media, to flush these covert narcissists out.

Social media is the perfect platform for vulnerable narcissists to put their perfect lives on show. This way, they get attention from a wide audience, without having to interact with anyone.

The symptoms of vulnerable narcissism

In an issue of Psychology Today, Preston Ni, points out the typical traits of covert narcissists.

  • An intense interest in social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook. Despite claims to the contrary, this is not restricted to the generation of millennials, neither are all millennials inherently narcissistic.
  • A smug or superior demeanor. This is usually shown by non-verbal cues like eye-rolling, sighing or fidgeting while listening to others.
  • A high level of self-absorption. They often interrupt conversations with trivia that turns the focus back on to them.
  • Inability to comprehend the thoughts, feelings or well-being of others. They aren’t aware of how their actions affect others.
  • Passive aggressiveness. They may accept an invitation to a party and then never show up. When asked why they behaved in this fashion, no reasonable response is forthcoming.
  • Hypersensitivity to criticism. When faced with criticism, narcissists will fight you to the death. For covert narcissists, ‘flight’ or sulky withdrawal is the only option. This is more due to their disbelief that you could find anything to criticize about them, than actual sensitivity.
  • An air of being misunderstood, under-appreciated and underrated despite their many talents and achievements.
  • Difficult relationships and difficulty in connecting with other people since they believe they are superior to others. They prefer antisocial hobbies and avoid interacting with others as much as possible.

Wavering between feelings of superiority and inadequacy, vulnerable narcissists share several qualities with those suffering from Bipolar Disorder or addiction.

As a result, they are prone to depression and inexplicable outbursts.

What is it like to be a vulnerable narcissist, and are you one?

Everyone has bad days. We all have times when we suffer from low self-esteem and self-centeredness. Yet, these are usually short-lived. Do any of the below describe some of your own ongoing feelings? If so, you should consider talking to someone about it. There is help available to assist you in controlling these narcissistic traits.

Switching between feelings of superiority and not being good enough.

Craving recognition

You can never get enough praise and admiration from others. The slightest criticism or unacknowledged achievement deals you a crushing blow.

Your online identity defines you

You are willing to spend hours crafting the perfect life for the outside world to see and maintain it at any cost.  Losing a friend on Facebook is like a death in the family to you.

Feeling underappreciated

If you aren’t held aloft for even the slightest achievement, you feel affronted. If your every move isn’t met with a standing ovation, it’s the end of the world. When recognized for something you did, you feel smugly superior.

You prefer impersonal interactions above face-to-face conversations

Distancing yourself from interpersonal relationships gives you a sense of safety.  If you do end up in a relationship, you need your partner’s undivided attention and constant reassurance of your worth.

Perhaps you’re okay, but you know of someone else who seems have these issues. The easiest way to deal with someone suffering from vulnerable narcissism is to avoid the person altogether.

However, they may be a close relative, a colleague, or someone else you can’t just ignore.

Dealing with vulnerable narcissism

Your first line of defense is getting to know the enemy.  In this case, the enemy is the vulnerable narcissism disorder and not the person with the symptoms. Reading articles like this one is a good start.

Understand that this behavior is not directed at you personally.  Rather, it stems from an inability to empathize with your thoughts and feelings. This will make your dealings with them a lot easier.

Don’t put up with it.  If you are offended or hurt by this type of behavior – explain that you understand where they stem from. Make it clear that you will not tolerate passive aggressive abuse.

If the person wants to interact with you, they will be forced to consider their actions when doing so.

In this way, you may help them to realize that their feelings of inadequacy or superiority are unfounded.

Ultimately, this could lead them to seek the psychological help that they need to lead a normal happy life.