Understanding Vulnerable Narcissism – Signs and Symptoms

When people think of narcissism, they often imagine a grandiose or overt personality who is obsessed with their own self-importance. However, there is a subtype of narcissism called ‘vulnerable’ or ‘covert’ narcissism that is less well-known but just as damaging.

Vulnerable narcissists may seem like self-effacing individuals with low self-esteem, but they have a different set of behaviours that are often misunderstood.

Signs and Symptoms of Vulnerable Narcissism

Unlike grandiose narcissists, who are overt and attention-seeking, vulnerable narcissists are submissive and seek affirmation for their perceived weaknesses. In essence, they appear to be self-effacing, insecure, and highly sensitive. But under the surface, they are just as self-focused and manipulative as grandiose narcissists.

The following are the main signs and symptoms of vulnerable narcissism.

Vulnerable Narcissism – Extreme Sensitivity to Criticism

Vulnerable narcissists are highly sensitive to criticism, to the point where even constructive criticism is viewed as a personal attack. They take everything personally and are quick to feel insulted or victimized. They have low self-esteem and any perceived criticism can threaten their fragile sense of self.

Vulnerable Narcissism – Need for Admiration and Validation

Like grandiose narcissists, vulnerable narcissists require constant admiration and validation. But instead of seeking it through grand displays of self-importance, they seek affirmation for their perceived weaknesses. They may appear humble and self-effacing, but they are still operating from a place of self-centeredness.

Vulnerable Narcissism – Lack of Assertiveness

Vulnerable narcissists struggle with being assertive and standing up for themselves. They have a strong need to please others to gain their approval and avoid conflict. They may come across as passive or indecisive, which is a manifestation of their own emotional insecurity and lack of self-confidence.

Vulnerable Narcissism – Envious of Others

Vulnerable narcissists are envious of others and their perceived successes. They may feel inferior to others and resentful of their accomplishments or possessions. They seek to measure up, but are never satisfied with their own achievements.

Vulnerable Narcissism – Extreme Focus on Relationships

Vulnerable narcissists prioritize their relationships, often to an extreme degree. They may seek out emotionally intimate connections with others to validate their self-worth. They may also use their relationships to gain validation and admiration, often playing the victim or manipulating others to get their way.

Vulnerable Narcissism – Perfectionism

Vulnerable narcissists also tend to have an intense need to be perfect in all areas of their lives. They may set impossibly high standards for themselves and become obsessed with their failures or mistakes. Perfectionism can be a way of masking their own insecurities and gaining validation from others.

Vulnerable Narcissism – Emotional Instability

Vulnerable narcissists may display emotional instability and mood swings. They may be easily triggered by perceived slights or criticisms and become overwhelmed with negative emotions. They may also experience anxiety or depression as a result of their own poor self-image and self-doubt.

Vulnerable Narcissism

How to Protect Yourself from a Vulnerable Narcissist

Dealing with a vulnerable narcissist can be challenging and draining, as they may use their fake humility and generosity to manipulate and control those around them. Here are some tips for protecting yourself from a vulnerable narcissist:

Set Clear Boundaries

Boundaries are an essential tool that helps create healthier relationships and prevents further exploitation by narcissistic individuals. Clear boundaries should be communicated upfront and often in order to be clear on what is acceptable and what isn’t. This will help protect your own mental and emotional wellbeing as well as prevent the vulnerable narcissist from exploiting and manipulating you in the future.

It is important to remember that you have the right to establish these boundaries without feeling guilty or ashamed. Sticking to them shows strength of character and self-respect – both of which can be invaluable when trying to protect yourself from a vulnerable narcissist.

Don’t Feed Their Ego

As with any narcissist, vulnerable narcissists have a deeply ingrained need for admiration and validation. They crave attention and affirmation from others, often to the point of being obsessive about it. When someone caters to their ego, it only reinforces this need and can push them to engage in more manipulative behavior.

While it may seem like you are pacifying a vulnerable narcissist by praising them or giving them attention, you are actually enabling and encouraging their problematic behaviour. Any attention can be seen as validation to a vulnerable narcissist. This means that you need to be especially vigilant about not feeding into their manipulations or encouraging their behaviour in any way.

Remember that a vulnerable narcissist’s need for validation and admiration will never be satisfied, and trying to fulfil this need for them will only lead to frustration and exhaustion.

Don’t Try to Fix Them

It can be tempting to try to ‘fix’ a vulnerable narcissist when you care about them, particularly if you are a kind and generous person. However, it is important to recognize that their behavior and personality traits are deeply ingrained and the result of early life experiences.

Vulnerable narcissists may have experienced traumatic events or life situations that have led them to feel insecure and create a defense mechanism of seeking validation and admiration. Trying to change this behavior is difficult and likely to require a significant amount of time and dedication. Additionally, although therapy can be helpful for treating vulnerable narcissism, the individual has to want to change to see any progress.

Trying to change a vulnerable narcissist can only lead to frustration, disappointment, and ultimately, a waste of your emotional energy. Instead, it is important to focus on protecting yourself and setting appropriate boundaries in order to maintain a healthy relationship. Accepting the individual’s behaviour does not mean condoning it, but rather recognizing that you may not be able to change it.

Prioritize Self-Care

When dealing with a vulnerable narcissist, it is crucial to prioritize self-care. The negative effects of being in a relationship with a narcissist, even one that may seem ‘vulnerable,’ can be damaging to your mental and physical health.

Therefore, it is important to engage in activities that promote a healthy mind and body. This may include regular exercise, meditation, or even indulging in activities that calm and relax your mind such as reading or going for a walk. Finding a support system of people who care about you and can help provide perspective and guidance can also be beneficial.

Another helpful approach is to engage in therapy. A qualified mental health professional can work with you to identify and address any issues you may be experiencing due to your relationship with the vulnerable narcissist. They can also provide guidance and support for establishing and maintaining boundaries, managing stress, and improving self-esteem.

Investing time in these activities allows you to care for yourself while also creating a healthier perspective on your relationship with the narcissist. The healthier and more empowered you feel, the easier it is to maintain clear boundaries and avoid being manipulated by the narcissist’s ploys. Putting yourself first is the key to a happier and more fulfilling life, regardless of the relationship dynamics.

Final Thoughts on Vulnerable Narcissism

Vulnerable narcissists may outwardly appear loving and generous, but these are simply ploys to manipulate others into giving them admiration and validation. They will often guilt-trip and intimidate those around them to get what they want, and focus on their own needs instead of the needs of others.

It is best to maintain a healthy distance from vulnerable narcissists, as any kind of relationship with them could be damaging and draining in the long run.

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