Vulnerable Narcissist – Everything You Need To Know About Them

Who Is a Vulnerable Narcissist? How do you identify a vulnerable narcissist? How do you handle a relationship with a vulnerable narcissist? How do you fix vulnerable narcissism? Find the answers to these and more questions in this article.

My name is Sean Galla, and I have been an online support group facilitator for over a decade. During this time, I have overseen numerous support groups, including facilitating narcissist support groups for male survivors of narcissistic abuse. Part of the work we do in our support group is to offer information to help members better understand the disorder, including the different subtypes of narcissism, such as vulnerable narcissistic disorder.

In this article, I will cover everything you need to know about vulnerable narcissists.

Avatar photo

Written by

Sean Galla

An experienced facilitator, community builder and Peer Support Specialist, Sean has been running men's groups for 10+ years. Read Sean's Full Author Bio.

Who is a vulnerable narcissist?

A vulnerable narcissist is a lesser-known or explored type of narcissism, a mental health condition. This is because, for a long time, mental health professionals focused more on diagnosing and treating grandiose narcissism or overt narcissism.

Vulnerable narcissism or covert narcissism is also less known because it is harder to diagnose. Unlike the grandiose narcissist, who openly asserts their sense of self-worth and dominance in social situations, the covert narcissist uses more subtle ways to show their sense of self-importance, which are easier to miss or mistake for normal human behaviour.  

There is growing evidence to suggest an increase in the number of people living with vulnerable narcissism. As a complete opposite to the overt narcissist, vulnerable or covert narcs are introverts who exhibit attributes of low self-esteem and are extremely self-conscious.

People living with covert narcissism are sensitive to rejection and insecure. This makes them crave and fish for constant validation from others as a way of avoiding their negative emotions. Vulnerable narcs grapple with feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, and sometimes depression because of their unquenchable self-absorbed need for approval.

Understanding vulnerable narcissism

Even though expressed differently, vulnerable narcissism shares some characteristics with the more common grandiose narcissism. Some of the shared attributes include:

  • An exaggerated sense of entitlement and self-importance
  • Self-centeredness
  • Antagonistic interactions with other people
  • Disagreeableness

The primary way they differ is how the condition manifests in an individual. Grandiose narcissism comes off in the form of extraversion and self-assuredness, while vulnerable narcissism manifests as introversion and insecure relations with others.

Vulnerable narcissists are:

  • hypersensitive to other people’s opinions
  • vigilant for criticism
  • negative about the past
  • defensive about their fragile self
  • avoidant
  • neurotic
  • fatalistic

Even so, a vulnerable narc still craves admiration and recognition. They, too, want to assert their dominance to boost their low self-esteem. Whenever they feel like others underestimate them, they resort to passive-aggressive behavior to assert their dominance.

When a vulnerable narcissist fails to get the validation they need from external supplies, they develop heightened feelings of depression and even anxiety. This causes them to become more defensive, avoidant and socially withdrawn.

what is the difference between Covert vs. Overt Narcissist? Find out in here.


What causes vulnerable narcissism?

Like many other borderline personality disorders, the exact cause of vulnerable narcissism is yet to be understood. However, mental health professionals, leaders in psychiatry medicine and psychotherapists attribute the development of this personality disorder to a few factors. These factors can include:

  •       Childhood trauma and abuse
  •       Genetics
  •       Temperament and personality
  •       Upbringing
  •       Relationship with caregivers

One study suggests that people with overt narcissism most likely grew up in abusive households that were highly focused on achievements and status. This fractured their self-esteem while still hyping their sense of self-worth and importance.

People with NPD were probably made to believe that they were superior and more important than other children or that they were special.

Narcissistic traits of a vulnerable narcissist

Signs of a vulnerable narcissist can manifest in different ways. Some of the most common personality traits associated with vulnerable narcissism include:

Unquenchable need for validation

Vulnerable narcs are always seeking excessive affirmation, attention and praise from others as a way of boosting their self-esteem and fill their narcissistic supply. They will often come off as helpful or reliable so that others can praise and compliment them. They will find ways to make the people around them constantly acknowledge their achievements.

Hypersensitive to criticism

A vulnerable narcissist has a heightened hypersensitivity to rejection or criticism on their self-image. This triggers internalized feelings of humiliation, shame, and insecurity. To protect their fragile egos, any case of criticism will be met with emotional distancing, silent treatment, and retaliation using manipulation.


According to clinical psychologists, unlike the overt narcissist who dominates, the MO of a vulnerable narcissist is playing victim in all circumstances. They will exaggerate their hardships and vulnerability to get others to sympathize with them and offer support. They are master manipulators of emotions as they use their struggles to control how others perceive and act around them.

Lack of empathy

On the surface level, vulnerable narcissists come off as highly friendly, reliable and helpful. They are often the go-to person whenever someone needs assistance, guidance or help. It is easy to overlook this behavior as abusive or manipulative since everyone loves a helpful person.

However, this sense of empathy always stems from a place of self-centeredness. Deep down, a vulnerable narc only cares about how others make them feel. They do not have the mental ability to comprehend or understand other people’s feelings. Therefore, they are only focused on their own needs and feeding their egos.

Abusive romantic partners

When in a relationship with a vulnerable narcissist, their behavior often oscillates between devaluing you as a partner and idealizing you. They will require their partners to provide constant validation and emotional support. They will manipulate, withdraw and control their partners to get the attention and validation they believe they deserve.

Dating a narcissist will have you walking on eggshells around them to avoid upsetting them. Common manipulation tactics they employ include passive-aggressive behavior, gaslighting, narcissistic smear campaigns and triangulation.  

How to deal with a vulnerable narcissist

Set clear boundaries

The only way to win with a narcissist is not to play. If you are firm in maintaining a relationship with a narc, you need to establish clear, healthy boundaries. Ensure they understand what behavior can be tolerated and what cannot. Vulnerable narcs struggle to respect boundaries. Therefore, remaining firm is critical to your mental health and overall well-being.


Be intentional with self-care

Whether it is a narcissistic wife, family members, or child, you need to prioritize your well-being. Do not allow them to isolate you from the things you love and self-care activities. Ensure you maintain your friendships and have a strong supportive network.

Suggest seeking professional help

If the dynamics in the relationship with a narcissistic partner become risky for you, you should encourage them to seek professional help. Therapy provides them with a safe space to address and explore their issues while helping them to develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Consider going no contact

Even with the best intentions at heart, having a vulnerable narcissist in your life can be mentally, emotionally and physically draining. If you feel the situation is taking a toll on your well-being, you should consider cutting the individual off. Recognizing that you cannot change or fix a narcissist is the first step in protecting yourself from getting trapped in their abuse cycle.


Seeing a therapist and joining a support group

If you realize that you may be on the receiving end of narcissistic behavior, it is best to seek help from a mental health professional. A therapist with knowledge of how to handle narcs can help you make the best decision for your life and better understand the person you are dealing with.

Also, joining a support group for victims of narcissistic behavior can go a long way in getting you back on the right path.

If you are a male individual with a narcissist in your life, joining a men-only support group like MensGroup can go a long way in ensuring you get the support and advice you need from fellow men who have walked in your shoes.

More about MensGroup

As a man living with a vulnerable narcissist, one of the most challenging parts of recovery is finding someone to talk to about your feelings, emotions, and trauma. Most people do not believe that men, too, can be victims of covert narcissistic abuse. Whether you have covert narcissistic parents, a narcissistic loved one, or children with narcissism, MensGroup is an all-men online platform where you can get the support you need.

Mensgroup believes anyone can heal, grow, and change with the proper support. You will be placed in a group with other men who have been through narcissistic abuse and understand your situation. This gives you a free space to grow your self-awareness, share and learn from others who have previously walked in your shoes. With a support system of fellow men, you can overcome your trauma and lead a healthy, successful, and happy life.


When someone in your life lives with vulnerable Narcissistic Personality Disorder, taking time to learn and understand NPD can go a long way in making it easier for you to determine how best to protect yourself and deal with the narc.

It is often said that a problem shared is a problem solved. Joining a narcissist support group is the first step you can take towards healing. offers you a platform where you can share your story to inspire others and get support to overcome the trauma of being a survivor of narcissistic behavior.