What Is Vulnerable Narcissism?

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VULNERABLE NARCISSISM (also known as covert narcissism and introverted narcissism) is a subtype of narcissistic personality disorder that presents as a pervasive and inflexible sensitivity to criticism and failure. It can manifest as part of the vulnerable dark triad. It is an aberration from the normal or healthy narcissism that is an essential component of psychological wellbeing. 

Ego fragility

The fragility associated with vulnerable narcissism can result in frequent narcissistic injuries, caused internalized self-annihilating feelings of shame, degradation, and emptiness. However, these emotions express externally as revulsion and a desire for vengeance and retaliation.

A deep sense of shame

A prolonged sense of shame coupled with a persecutory inner dialogue can result in feelings of sadness and torment. Thus, vulnerable narcissism goes hand in hand with depression, dysthymia, or major de­pressive disorder. Overwhelmed with humiliation and emptiness, vulnerable narcissists frequently withdraw socially. 

In this state, a vulnerable narcissist will lapse into protective mode feeling terrified of having their imperfections exposed. This is because they believe they have already achieved perfection. The grandiose aspect of their narcissism becomes introverted and masked with a show of excessive compliance, agreeableness, and humility to protect their fragile self-image.

Inverted Grandiosity

A reclusive vulnerable narcissist does not suffer from abandonment issues, nor are they self-destructive. They rely on their inverted grandiosity to sustain their view of themselves as secretly superior to others. Though they crave attention, nothing less than validation of their self-image will do. They revel in commanding the admiration and envy of their peers.

Desensitized to their own and others’ feelings of vulnerability, they never lose their slick, shallow, and exploitative pragmatism. Another feature of vulnerable narcissism is that the impulsivity, hostility, and deceptiveness that is typical of the grandiose variant may be absent.

Impaired relationships with self and others

The entitlement, insensitivity, and need for external validation associated with vulnerable narcissism can seriously impair the ability of someone with this pathology to sustain a healthy relationship with themselves and other people.

The impact of vulnerable narcissism on performance

In some cases, the hidden confidence, pretentiousness, and lofty ambition tied to vulnerable narcissism can drive these individuals to become highly accomplished. On the other hand, their ability to function may become impaired due to performance anxiety due to their inability to accept criticism or failure.


Gore, W. L., & Widiger, T. A. (2016). Fluctuation between grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 7(4), Page 363.

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What is Covert Malignant Narcissism?

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WHAT IS COVERT MALIGNANT NARCISSISM? It certainly is a mouthful! It describes the nature of a personality trait and its expression. For a clear and more precise understanding of covert malignant narcissism, let’s break down all three components of the term.

What does narcissism mean?

The word narcissism means self-idealization. It is trait that is common to all human beings that it exists on a continuum. Excessive narcissism can lead to dysfunction. In rare cases, it can manifest as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

Per the Mayo Clinic, some of the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder are:

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance
  • Marked sense of entitlement
  • Expectation of unearned privilege 
  • Embellishment of achievements and skills
  • Preoccupation with fantasies about power and success
  • A sense of superiority and a need to associate with others like them
  • Exploitativeness
  • Lack of empathy
  • Envy
  • Arrogance
  • Domination of conversations
  • Expectation of special treatment
  • Demanding the best of everything

Someone who is highly narcissistic but does not meet the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder will have less than four of these traits.

What does covert narcissism mean?

There are two subgroups of extreme narcissism:

What differentiates the two is how grandiosity is expressed. In the case of overt narcissism, the grandiosity is on flagrant display, whereas with covert narcissism, the grandiosity is present but introverted.

For this reason, covert narcissism is also known as introverted or vulnerable narcissism.

What is malignant narcissism?

According the Merriam-Webster Dictionary the word malignant means:

  1. Tending to produce death or deterioration especiallytending to infiltrate, metastasize, and terminate fatally a malignant tumor 
  2. Evil in nature, influence, or effect 
    1. Injurious: a powerful and malignant influence
    2. Passionately and relentlessly malevolent aggressively malicious the malignant tongues of gossipers.

In the context of human behavior, malignant narcissism is a term used to describe a strain of self-idealization so aggressive that it seeks to destroy any real or perceived threaten its self-concept.

Final thoughts

Ultimately, the term covert malignant narcissist might be used to describe a highly aggressive individual whose grandiosity expresses as introverted or vulnerable.

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How to Mess with a Covert Narcissist: 5 Ways to Even the Score

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IT’S NO SECRET that narcissists genuinely enjoy the power trip of pushing people’s buttons. Eliciting emotional responses from others boosts their ego by giving them a sense of power and control. Understanding a narcissist’s mindset is key to protecting your mental health and sidestepping their manipulations. This article breaks down how to mess with a covert narcissist.

What is narcissism?

Narcissism is self-idealization. It’s a personality trait that exists on a continuum, meaning we are all narcissistic to a greater or lesser extent. An excessive amount of narcissism can lead to dysfunction and, in extreme cases, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

What are the characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder?

According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder include:

  • An inflated sense of self-importance
  • A bloated sense of entitlement
  • The expectation of unearned privilege 
  • An embellishment of achievements and skills
  • Preoccupation with fantasies about power and success
  • A sense of superiority and a need to associate with others like them
  • Exploitativeness
  • Lack of empathy
  • Envy
  • Arrogance
  • Dominate conversations and condescend to others
  • Expect special treatment
  • Demand the best of everything

Someone who is highly narcissistic will display a combination of less than five of these traits.

What is the difference between covert and overt narcissism?

 Overt narcissism is characterized by grandiosity, exploitativeness, and a sense of superiority. Covert narcissism differs from overt narcissism in one respect: its grandiose aspect is introverted and enveloped in vulnerability. For this reason it is sometimes called introverted narcissism or vulnerable narcissism.

How do you mess with a covert narcissist?

Narcissists invest a tremendous amount of energy in cultivating and controlling the main sources of fuel for their egos, otherwise known as narcissistic supply.

Remember, there is a definite purpose driving narcissistic abuse. It helps narcissistic people accomplish a kind of psychological colonization of an individual by seizing control of their perception of themselves, the narcissist, and the world around them.

Losing influence over someone they have gone to a great deal of effort to subjugate is one of the worst things that can happen to a highly narcissistic person or NPD. A narcissistic partner breaks you down and builds you back up to deny yourself and prioritize them. It is akin to reformatting a computer hard drive and reconfiguring it according to your preferences. To them, losing you is like losing their computer, mobile devices, and access to their cloud data at all at once.

Thus, the best way to mess with a narcissist is to take back control over yourself and your life.  

5 tips on how to mess with a covert narcissist

Here are the five best ways to mess with a covert narcissist:

  1. Don’t lose yourself
  2. Stop allowing them to occupy your thoughts
  3. Stop allowing them to influence you
  4. Change your focus
  5. Be your own person

1. Don’t lose yourself

Feelings of hurt, sadness, and anger may trigger your own aggression and tempt you to seek revenge to gratify your ego. When you do this, you’re playing into your adversary’s hands. It’s what they anticipate and they will use it as confirmation of their smear campaign. Hang on to yourself. 

2. Stop allowing the narcissist to occupy your thoughts

The purpose of no contact is to set a hard boundary with yourself so that you can learn to stop centering the narcissistic person and learn to focus on developing yourself. This can be a long and complex process but it’s worth it to regain control over your life and destiny.

3. Stop allowing them to influence you

Remember, if you remain in a reactive state the narcissist is still controlling you. The first step to pulling the trauma bond out by its roots is by disengaging with them

4. Change your focus

Stop centering the narcissist and start centering yourself. It is far more helpful to invest in yourself so that you can grow in discernment and evolve expressions of unbound empathy into the practice of rational compassion. Use the words of Mahatma Gandhi as a talisman “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

5. Be your own person

Release your attachment to the narcissist. Learn to connect with yourself. Use your time and energy to discover who you are, what you enjoy, and what personal accomplishments you’d like to achieve. 

Final thoughts on messing with a covert narcissist

Because of the fragile state of their egos, the life of a narcissist often consists of moving from one narcissistic injury to another. While they go to extraordinary lengths to create the illusion of a perfect façade, remember that most of what you see is performative. In reality, the more narcissistic they are, the more likely they quietly exist in a state of emotional rigor mortis.

This wraps up my thoughts on the best way to mess with a narcissist. If you would like more of my help, visit the coaching page to book a session.

Confidential support is available 24/7/365 to anyone experiencing abuse.
In the USA call 1-800-799-7233 or log on to thehotline.org.
In the UK call 0808 2000 247 or log on to nationaldahelpline.org.uk.

NAR’s Journalistic Standards and Practices
 About NAR • Report Typo or Error

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