14 Signs of a Vulnerable Narcissist (And How to Deal With Them)
There must be someone in your family or social circle who loves being in the spotlight, always craving attention and affection. But, have you ever met someone who seems quietly confident but seems to struggle with low self-esteem inside? This is one of the most telltale traits of a vulnerable narcissist.
When we look at the complex tapestry of personality traits, narcissism is displayed in different hues and shades. While we’re most familiar with overt narcissists, the ones who love to flaunt their sense of grandiosity and self-importance, there’s one type of narcissist who does this more subtly – yes, the vulnerable narcissist.
A vulnerable narcissist might appear humble, if not confident on the outside, but on the inside, they struggle with fragile self-esteem, self-doubt, and a constant need for validation.
In this article today, I’ll help you recognize the signs of a vulnerable narcissist and how you can deal with them and their fragile sense of self.
Who is a Vulnerable Narcissist?
When you hear the term “narcissist” or “narcissistic personality disorder”, the first thing to pop up in your mind must be an image of a self-absorbed person who stands under the spotlight, gathering everybody’s attention. While this is the definition of an overt narcissist, there’s its counterpart who is more subtle in their ways.
A vulnerable narcissist is someone who appears to be self-absorbed and seeks attention from others, but beneath this facade of superiority and confidence lies a fragile ego and poor self-esteem.
This type of narcissist has severe insecurities and is hypersensitive to criticism. Unlike the usual overt narcissists, where arrogance is on display all the time, vulnerable narcissists mask their need for validation with a cover of modesty and self-pity.
14 Signs of a Vulnerable Narcissist
Now that you know what is a vulnerable narcissist, here are some common signs of a vulnerable narcissist that will help you spot one in a crowd;
1. They Downplay Their Achievements
A vulnerable narcissist downplays their achievements and undermines their success. They might say things like, “It was nothing” or “I’m not that good”. This kind of behavior is a mask they wear to appear modest but it covers their need to be appreciated and admired. Vulnerable narcissists struggle to openly acknowledge their talents.
2. They Are Plagued by Self-Doubt
While vulnerable narcissists might appear self-assured, they are often plagued by self-doubt. They often question their abilities and fear that they are not good enough. This chronic self-doubt can become overwhelming and paralyzing, stopping them from going after the opportunities they need.
3. They Seek Constant Reassurance
Vulnerable narcissists seek constant validation and reassurance from others. They rely almost entirely on external feedback to feel good about themselves, often wanting others to praise them for their talent, attractiveness, and capabilities. They may fish for compliments and often seek them, making it harder for others around them.
4. They Are Hypersensitive
Another sign of a vulnerable narcissist is that they are incredibly sensitive to criticism. Even small comments and constructive criticism can trigger strong emotional reactions. Vulnerable narcissists take these criticisms personally and this can make it challenging for others to have conversations with them.
5. They Struggle With Mood Swings
Because of the fragile self-esteem vulnerable narcissists seem to possess, they are extremely vulnerable to mood swings. One moment, they might be confident and content, and the next, they might be struggling to control their emotions. These mood swings can be confusing for people around them.
6. They See Themselves as Victims
Another vulnerable narcissist trait that you can take as a sign is self-victimization. Vulnerable narcissists focus on their suffering and difficulties, often portraying themselves as unfortunate ones. This victim mentality of theirs can be a way to gain sympathy and attention from others.
7. They Can’t Accept Mistakes
Vulnerable narcissists find it hard to admit that they were wrong or made mistakes. They cast the blame on others and make excuses for their behavior. This non-acceptance or lack of acknowledgment of mistakes can hinder their growth and add a strain on their relationships.
8. They Use Guilt to Manipulate
To manipulate others into getting what they want, vulnerable narcissists might use emotions such as guilt to do so. They might make you feel like you’re responsible for their well-being, playing on your emotions to meet their needs. This is a subtle manipulation tactic but an effective one too.
9. They are Competitive
While on the outside, a vulnerable narcissist might appear modest, inside they are super competitive, especially when their already fragile self-esteem is threatened. They might go to great lengths to prove their worthiness, often engaging in a silent battle for superiority and recognition.
10. They Are Less Empathetic
Another sign of a vulnerable narcissist can be their lack of empathy. They are preoccupied with their insecurities and this can lead them to be less empathetic towards others. They may not fully understand what others are feeling or need as they are too focused on their own issues and troubles.
11. They Present Themselves as “Nice”
If you want to spot a vulnerable narcissist, look out for image crafting. Vulnerable narcissists use the persona of a “nice woman/man” to gain sympathy and attention. They present themselves as caring, which can make it harder for others around them to see through their need for attention and external validation.
12. They Have a Fear of Abandonment
Vulnerable narcissists often have a deep fear of abandonment by those whom they depend on or seek external validation from. This fear of abandonment can cause them to become clingy in relationships and overly dependent on others for emotional support.
13. They Depend on External Validation
Vulnerable narcissists are highly dependent on external validation and look to others for an increase in self-esteem. This dependency on external validation can make them emotionally insatiable as their self-worth is often dependent on what others think of them.
14. They Have Troubles With Close Relationships
Last but not least, a vulnerable narcissist struggles to form and maintain close relationships. Their insecurities and need for attention can make it challenging for them to form healthy relationships. Because of this need for constant attention and emotional support, it can become exhausting for their loved ones too.
How to Deal with a Vulnerable Narcissist
To deal with a vulnerable narcissist, you can follow these tips;
1. Stay Calm: When you deal with a vulnerable narcissist, you need to stay calm and composed, even when they become emotionally fragile.
2. Set Clear Boundaries: Make sure you establish clear boundaries and communicate your expectations with the vulnerable narcissist in your life.
3. Give Constructive Feedback: If you need to offer feedback, make sure you keep your feedback constructive and gentle. Focus on their actions rather than their character.
4. Try to Understand their Perspective: Try to understand what they are feeling, even if it seems irrational to you. What is irrational and illogical to you might make sense to them, so give it a try.
5. Protect Your Self-Esteem: When you’re dealing with a vulnerable narcissist, it’s important to protect your self-esteem and focus on your emotional health as well.
6. Encourage Professional Intervention: If there is a vulnerable narcissist in your life, then encourage them to seek professional help to address their underlying insecurities and fears.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: What are the traits of a vulnerable narcissist?
Vulnerable narcissists have a distinctive set of traits that are often subtle and complex. Some of the common vulnerable narcissists’ traits can include;
- An exaggerated sense of modesty
- Chronic self-doubt
- Wanting constant reassurance and external validation
- Hypersensitivity to rejection and criticism
- A habit of self-victimization
- Trouble accepting responsibility for their mistakes
- Neglecting others’ feelings and needs
Knowing these traits of a vulnerable narcissist can help you understand their struggles and need for support.
Q: How does a vulnerable narcissist act in a relationship?
A vulnerable narcissist’s behavior in a relationship can depend on their fragile self-esteem and deep need for external validation. A vulnerable narcissist might act like this in a relationship;
- They seek constant compliments, reassurance, and attention from their partners
- They might react in anger, defensiveness, or emotional withdrawal if met with criticism from their partners
- They might use guilt as a manipulation tactic to get what they want from their partner including playing the victim or making their partner feel responsible for their emotions
- They might become overly dependent on their partner for emotional support and may become clingy and possessive in the relationship
- They might idealize their partner in the initial stages of the relationship but in later stages, they may become critical of their partner and devalue them
Dealing with a vulnerable narcissist in a relationship can be demanding but with the right help and communication strategies, it can be possible to have a supportive relationship.
Q: What is the difference between a vulnerable narcissist and a narcissist?
The main difference between a vulnerable narcissist and an overt narcissist lies in how they express their traits. Vulnerable narcissists have low self-esteem and struggle with chronic self-doubt, but classic narcissists, on the other hand, have a more inflated sense of self-importance. They believe they are superior to others, displaying overt arrogance and a grandiose self-image.
Vulnerable narcissists often appear kind and modest on the surface and their behavior can be covert and less conspicuous. Classic narcissists are more overt in their behaviors and can be seen as self-centered and arrogant.
Another difference between vulnerable narcissists and narcissists lies in how they react to criticism. Vulnerable narcissists react strongly to even mild criticism and may become emotional or defensive. Overt narcissists often react to criticism with anger, arrogance, and dismissiveness
Both, vulnerable narcissists and overt narcissists share similar traits, but their expressions of narcissism differ a lot.
Q: What hurts a vulnerable narcissist?
Several things can hurt a vulnerable narcissist. One of them can be criticism, delivered directly or bluntly. They tend to take criticism personally, viewing it as an attack on their self-worth. Even the threat of abandonment can be hurtful for them.
Another thing that can hurt a vulnerable narcissist can be a lack of attention. Being ignored can trigger feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness in them. Confrontations and arguments can also hurt vulnerable narcissists as it can be seen as a challenge to their self-esteem.
You need to understand that these are just some of the common ways a vulnerable narcissist can feel hurt but not everyone might react the same way. Reactions depend on a person’s traits and circumstances.
Q: Can a vulnerable narcissist love you?
Yes, a vulnerable narcissist can love you and is capable of forming deep emotional connections. Just like anyone else, they can love, form attachments, and feel affection. But, their expressions and experiences of love might be influenced by their traits and insecurities. A vulnerable narcissist’s love might come with its own set of challenges and emotional demands.
Understanding and supporting a vulnerable narcissist with their traits can help you maintain a healthy and supportive relationship
The Bottom Line
Living and loving a vulnerable narcissist might come with challenges and demands but it’s not impossible to love and live with a vulnerable narcissist. Recognizing the signs of a vulnerable narcissist is one of the most important steps toward understanding and supporting your loved one in developing healthy self-esteem and self-worth.
If you have a loved one who is a vulnerable narcissist, then it is advised you encourage them to seek professional help. A therapist can help them address their insecurities and fears and help them develop better self-esteem.
I hope this article helped you understand the signs of a vulnerable narcissist and how you can deal with a vulnerable narcissist. Let me know what you think about this article in the comments box below.