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The Vulnerable Narcissist

My friend James is always really curious about the narcissist life. He asked me, “Ryan, I heard about the vulnerable narcissist on the radio. And in a few podcasts… What is it? Why is it different than other types of narcissism?” Well, great question James! Let’s get to the bottom of it…

Indeed, at some point in your life, you’ve probably dealt with a person with more or less narcissistic behaviors, and so you’re quite accustomed to what those qualities may be from a general point of view.

If you’re not, narcissism, in general, is classified as a mental health condition where a person is usually self-entitled and thinks exceptionally highly of themselves.

They also love the quality and constant attention of their peers or loved ones while ignoring others’ needs and issues. There are many traits associated with narcissistic people, like the ones mentioned, and a clear cut would be their lack of empathy.

However, are you familiar with the types of narcissists that exist? The traits mentioned typically belong to a category of narcissistic people known as grandiose narcissists who will do everything possible to get what they want. 

While the traits of a vulnerable narcissist may be somewhat similar to the rest of the narcissists in question, like the sort of self-entitlement or a superiority complex they usually have, they have other different traits when compared.

Suppose you’re here because you want to learn more about vulnerable narcissists, or you have someone you love or know that might exhibit behaviors closely related but somewhat different to a common narcissist. In that case, you’re at the right place.

What to know about dating someone with narcissistic personality traits and BPD/NPD…

Dating a narcissistic personality type can certainly alter who you are. In fact, there’s now abundant research that points to the negative qualitative and quantitative effects of being around individuals with pathological narcissism.

According to a study by Nicholas J.S. Day, Michelle L. Townsend, and Brin F. S. Grenyer—screened participants described those with narcissistic personalities as having “grandiosity.” Or “having a requirement for admiration, showing arrogance, entitlement, envy, exploitativeness, grandiose fantasy, a lack of empathy, and self-importance.”

The study helps us to understand the types of behaviors that a single person could get exposed to over time. In a book published by the American Psychiatric Association titled “Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders 5th ed” (link to Amazon), which includes more than 200 experts, making it the definitive medical reference on all things borderline personality disorder—they outline the comprehensive effects of being with NPD partners.

How Would You Best Define A Vulnerable Narcissist? 

We’ll explore what makes someone a vulnerable narcissist as we go along. However, a broad definition of what makes a person a vulnerable narcissist would be their trait of being hypersensitive to criticism, coupled with low self-esteem and being hugely insecure.

In contrast, even though vulnerable narcissists may exhibit qualities like the rest of the other types of narcissists, like being self-entitled or feeling superior, these qualities are often unintentional and non-malicious.  

It is also clear that vulnerable narcissists tend to exhibit qualities like never taking accountability for their actions and would rather blame someone for their created issue. This behavior stems from their hate of being criticized. 

After being slightly criticized, vulnerable narcissists often show signs of being greatly offended or angry, which takes a huge toll on their various relationships. 

Maintaining meaningful relationships or making new ones may often be challenging for people suffering from this mental health issue.

What Are The Causes Of Vulnerable Narcissism?

Experts confirm that no singular cause can be truly blamed for this mental health issue. Yet, most cases of people that are vulnerable narcissists are related to individuals having past trauma.

This means that vulnerable narcissism stems from childhood trauma, which can be abuse, a broken family environment, a case of serious negligence, or a victim of flawed parenting styles.

In the worst-case scenario, the vulnerable narcissist may also be a victim of sexual abuse. All these reasonings could lead to a person not being loved enough, not being validated for all the right reasons, and being seriously neglected to the point where they must act up. 

This leads to the person being completely self-obsessed and feeling like they deserve what they didn’t get as kids!

Some other causes of vulnerable narcissism include:

  • A high degree of low self-esteem
  • Insecurity 
  • Inconsistent relationships 
  • Traumatic life experiences 

Even though the causes may not be limited to this, these are some of the most popular ones why someone may be a vulnerable narcissist in their adult years.

The vulnerable narcissist: Being in this type of relationship can feel like a form of abuse.
The vulnerable narcissist: Being in this type of relationship can feel like a form of abuse.

What Are The Signs Of A Vulnerable Narcissist?

While most vulnerable narcissists may have the same traits, there are possibilities that a few percentages of people suffering from this mental health issue may differ. 

However, vulnerable narcissists generally cannot deal with rejection and might revert to an angry state or be offended by the slightest criticism, no matter the subject.

Since they are highly insecure, they tend to be extremely self-conscious and will be hurt easily.

In any case, even if you think someone close to you might have narcissistic personality disorder, it might not be the case since you’ll need professional help to determine if they really have that disorder or not.

Regardless, we’ll be giving you some signs that you should look out for, and these are general traits that typically vulnerable narcissists usually have.

The Constant Glorification 

Needless to say, this is one of the most common traits found in a vulnerable narcissist. They crave and demand all the attention and validation from people around them to release a good dose of dopamine. 

They cannot function without it, so they often wear masks to receive them. But whatever the case, if a vulnerable narcissist lacks attention, they start feeling insecure or anxious.

Expert Manipulators 

It could be validation, compliments, or something that they want. Regardless of whatever it may be, a vulnerable narcissist will use various manipulative techniques to get something they need out of a situation.

The usual techniques that they use on people involve shaming or guilt-tripping their targets.

Boundary Issues

Generally, vulnerable narcissists have a hard time setting boundaries with people, friends, or family and have serious issues related to it later down the road. 

Since they can’t set those healthy boundaries, they usually feel neglected or less respected when they feel like the people they are attached to are not considering their needs over theirs. 

The relationship goes down the drain since these issues start bottling up, and they begin to hate the person and start various arguments over it.

Abandonment Issues

As we’ve explained earlier, vulnerable narcissists may be trauma victims. This includes abandonment by someone they truly cared about, so a common trait that most vulnerable narcissists share is a fear of people abandoning them.

As a result of this fear, they become way too attached to the person they like or, in a sense, extremely possessive making it hard for people to breathe in the relationship.

Extreme Trust Issues

It may be due to past trauma, betrayal from someone close to them, or other reasons leading up to this point, but vulnerable narcissists often share a common trait of trust issues, even with their closest bonds.

They always keep a keen eye and suspect others of having various harmful motives. They tend to keep a noticeable distance or a protective barrier around themselves with others to protect themselves from getting hurt. 

As a result, they cannot form any meaningful bond or relationship with almost anyone, which also affects already-formed connections they might have. 

The vulnerable narcissist: Set clear boundaries for yourself. And protect YOU!
The vulnerable narcissist: Set clear boundaries for yourself. And protect YOU!

Empathy Is For The Weak

Empathy goes a long way in keeping or forming extremely meaningful bonds, but unfortunately, vulnerable narcissists do not have this trait. Being unempathetic is surely one of the most common traits that they share with each other.

They fail to willingly or unwillingly see things from someone else’s perspective or, in this case, shoes and will not try and understand where they are coming from or how it hurts them mentally or emotionally when they do certain things. 

See also: What happens when an empath leaves a narcisst

Criticism Is Their Kryptonite 

Whether it is constructive criticism, factual criticism, or any type of criticism a person dishes out on a vulnerable narcissist, they will always get angry or offended with the person giving them.

They will never accept it, will surely get defensive, and will lash out, making this a common trait among them. 

Expert advice: According to a study by Nicholas J.S. Day, Michelle L. Townsend, and Brin F. S. Grenyer—screened participants described those with narcissistic personalities as having “grandiosity.” Or “having a requirement for admiration, showing arrogance, entitlement, envy, exploitativeness, grandiose fantasy, a lack of empathy, and self-importance.”

The Lack Of Clarity

A vulnerable narcissist, apart from making someone else’s life miserable, tends to make themselves miserable as well. They lack clarity on their own struggles and will often find it hard to understand their needs or feelings sometimes.

This usually leads to a feeling of valuelessness or confusion that may harm their mental state or the people around them.

The Struggle To Make Bonds

Vulnerable narcissists always over-value themselves, putting themselves first over other people’s needs regardless of the situation they may find themselves in. This is not how any kind of relationship works, so striking an important or necessary bond might be too difficult of a task for them.

They struggle to understand how putting others’ needs may change the whole negative vibe that they may be going through, and ultimately cannot connect with the other person. 

See also: Signs a narcissist is done with you

Not Jealous Or Envious

This might be the case in another universe, but vulnerable narcissists in our world have serious jealousy and envious traits surrounding them. All the more reasons to prove how vulnerable narcissists have a hard time maintaining or making healthy bonds.

The Projection Is Real

If someone you know has the tendency to blame everything on someone else, even when you clearly know that they were the cause of it, they may very well be a vulnerable narcissist. 

They often wouldn’t accept that it’s their fault that things are not going as planned and would possibly turn to the easy route of blaming it on everyone else instead of looking for any explanations proving they may be the problem.

Expert advice: Being in a narcissistic relationship can be very damaging. You may start to lose respect for others. Or certain behaviors of others that the narcissistic personality doesn’t value. Typically, the narcissistic personality will only appreciate those who serve them, not a mutually beneficial relationship.

Master Of Exploitation 

Vulnerable narcissists tend to exploit anyone, regardless of their relationship with them, to get what they want. 

It could be something minor like not enough praise, attention, and validation to anything major if a vulnerable narcissist can’t see the point of the relationship or is not benefitting from it, they will cut you off entirely.

Extremely Controlling

The last sign of identifying a person with narcissistic vulnerability would be the trait of control. Vulnerable narcissists you may encounter might be too controlling of you or themselves. 

It could be the smallest things like what to say in a conversation to making big decisions; they will try to handle it all.

What Is The Best Way to Deal With a Vulnerable Narcissist?

If you find yourself in a situation where you’re dealing with a vulnerable narcissist and you don’t see a way out from it due to reasons like work, or they are an immediate family member and the like, dealing with them can be a challenge.

We understand that it is hardly easy to live side by side with a full-blown vulnerable narcissist, but it is doable no matter how far-fetched the idea might seem. 

The zero empathy, lack of respect, emotional challenges, etc., might get too overwhelming, so here are some tips to stay happy and successfully deal with a vulnerable narcissist. 

Identify The Signs (The Earlier, The Better)

The first thing everyone needs to do is ensure you’re dealing with a vulnerable narcissist. 

Most vulnerable narcissists are difficult to identify, yet if you ever feel like you’re constantly getting them to be more considerate of your feelings when they do or say things.

Or you find yourself in constant situations where you feel like they demand validation and praise from you, then you might be dealing with a person who has narcissistic vulnerability!

Not Taking It Personal

When you find yourself dealing with a vulnerable narcissist, it is important to find it in yourself to understand that their manipulative or deceptive nature or the self-entitlement they have truly isn’t about you or because of you. 

We understand that the receiving end might always take it personally but don’t let it drag you down; instead, learn to understand that it’s their own issue. 


It is important to note that when dealing with a vulnerable narcissist, they are prone to make everything about themselves and disregard your needs and feelings.

The deal is, while you may listen to what they have to say; they will have plenty, and even though it may be harsh, listen and deal with it calmly. Understand that they are troubled but do not let it slide.

Calmly explain what you’re going through and let them acknowledge that their behavior is wrong and affecting you. 

Setting Your Boundaries

It may get extremely overwhelming when dealing with a vulnerable narcissist, so set your boundaries and set limits, like saying no to requests or walking away when it gets too uncomfortable.

Not Feeding Their Ego

In any case, feeding their ego would not only lead to the complete destruction of your relationship and your mental health, but it will also encourage their behavior and ultimately lead to their own destruction. 

Fact checked:
Board reviewed by Marianne Tomlinson, LCSW (Couples and Family Therapy). Content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Learn more.

About the author

Ryan Sanderson (LCSW) Ryan is a game and relationship enthusiast who enjoys all things quizzes, games, fun, love, relationships, and family. He's a licensed social worker and helps families, couples, and children in need. He's spoken about love and relationships on Salon.com, Forbes, and Mirror, to name a few.

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