There are three different personalities that encompass the broader traits of those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). While you might expect someone with a disarming smile and an infectious energy to be the type of narcissist who crosses your path, it’s possible for someone with NPD to seem more like a misanthrope than the Talented Mr. Ripley.
This kind of person is a vulnerable narcissist, and though they don’t express their affliction in such outward ways — rather, they retreat inward and often disparage themselves — they can be just as manipulative and difficult to forge a lasting romantic relationship with.
What is a vulnerable narcissist?
In contrast to their grandiose counterparts, a vulnerable narcissist is likely to wallow instead of exuding charm and a magnetic personality. But they usually manage to suck those closest to them into their vortex of negativity, in an effort to gain control of whoever is closest.
As Lisa A. Romano, a certified life coach who specialises in codependency and narcissistic abuse, tells Lifehacker:
The vulnerable narcissist sees themselves as the ultimate victim and their narcissistic supply comes in the form of your attention and their ability to get you to take care of them, pity them, or make them the centre of your world.
A vulnerable narcissist might come off as shy or hesitant to draw attention, but deep down they crave affirmation and praise. There’s a host of characteristics indicative of this personality type: “They are easily hurt, more introverted, feel shame, don’t like failure or criticism, get self-esteem from the outside, blame others, can be neurotic,” says Paulette Sherman, a psychologist and author of The Book of Sacred Baths and the host of The Love Psychologist podcast.
This kind of person might latch onto superficial notions of superiority, such as a flashy clothing brand or a luxury car, to set them apart from others. Though they might not outwardly disparage people to their faces, they’re usually speaking poorly of other people when they get the chance. A recurring theme for them is to express a degree of victimhood. “They may never admit that they feel inferior to others, but if you pay close attention, their language is one of resentment, anger, and arrogance,” says Romano.
What to do if you’re dating a vulnerable narcissist
In a relationship, constructive criticism is par for the course, but it’s something a vulnerable narcissist doesn’t cope well with, even in the most benign ways.
Romano says of people who’ve been in relationships with vulnerable narcissists:
You have most likely been accused of wanting to hurt them on purpose, for the slightest constructive criticisms. While a healthy partner would appreciate your honesty when it came to offering your constructive and well-meaning opinion, a vulnerable narcissist sees even the faintest honest share as an attack.
It can be difficult to be in this situation, where you might be accused of being intentionally hurtful for expressing your feelings. As Sherman says, “things to do are to set boundaries, stand up for your needs and feelings and possibly to suggest they get therapy, if you’ve decided to stay in the relationship. You may also choose to leave if you feel it’s toxic.”
Relationships with narcissists, rarely, if ever, turn out well. Trying to confront the tendencies might ultimately prove futile, so always understand that professional help is probably your best recourse.