Advice For Dating A Vulnerable Narcissist
Narcissism can be difficult to navigate in a relationship, particularly when its expression is subtle and harder to understand. Vulnerable narcissism is a less overt, potentially more difficult-to-address form of narcissism that can be contrasted with grandiose narcissism, the form that most people are familiar with. If your partner has vulnerable narcissism—also called covert narcissism—they may be introverted, sensitive, and shy. Instead of using more forceful forms of manipulation, they may exhibit passive-aggressive behavior and utilize indirect methods of getting their way. Although being in a relationship with a vulnerable narcissist can be challenging, it can also result in a meaningful and rewarding connection. In this article, we’re providing advice for dating a vulnerable narcissist, helping you understand the signs of covert narcissism and the ways you can safeguard your mental well-being while also fostering a healthy, happy relationship.
Recognize The Traits Of A Vulnerable Narcissist
Often, narcissism is a sign of a mental health condition called narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), which is characterized by an outsized sense of self-importance and a desire for attention and admiration. (It’s important to note that someone can exhibit narcissistic traits without living with NPD.) There are two main types of narcissistic personality disorder: grandiose and vulnerable.
While many people are familiar with the characteristics of a grandiose narcissist—bold, aggressive behavior that seeks to reinforce the individual’s importance—fewer people know about vulnerable narcissism. The root of narcissistic traits is generally the same in both types. It’s primarily the expression of their traits that is most noticeably different. Where a grandiose narcissist may be more bombastic and self-aggrandizing in order to garner the attention of others, a vulnerable narcissist might utilize self-deprecating remarks or appeals to the empathy of others. These less-obvious forms of manipulation can make covert narcissism harder to spot and more difficult to confront in relationships. include:
Lack of self-esteem
Tendency toward depression
What Is A Relationship With A Vulnerable Narcissist Like?
If you’re in a relationship with a vulnerable narcissist, you’ve probably noticed that your partner is highly sensitive. They may be averse to receiving feedback or constructive criticism, and they can become very upset at critical remarks. While these presentations of their narcissistic traits are different from those of grandiose narcissists—who may simply shrug off feedback or criticism—they can still strain your relationship.
You might feel like you’re frequently walking on eggshells with someone who is a vulnerable narcissist. When covert narcissists feel threatened, they tend to withdraw and use tactics like passive-aggressiveness to manipulate the emotions of others. Much of this comes from a place of anxiety and fear on their part. If you are dealing with a partner who exhibits vulnerable narcissistic traits, it’s best to remember that they may be coping with a mental health disorder that usually requires a professional diagnosis and treatment.
How To Navigate A Relationship With A Vulnerable Narcissist
Because of a vulnerable narcissist’s subtle way of focusing on their self-interests, interacting with a partner who experiences this form of narcissism can require both a gentle approach and firm boundaries. Below are several ways you can address potential challenges in a relationship with a covert narcissist.
Understand Your Partner’s Sensitivity
If your partner is a vulnerable narcissist, it’s important to recognize that they may be more emotionally fragile than others. Their self-esteem may depend on what others think of them, and they can be hypersensitive to the things that people say to them. Your partner’s delicate emotional state means that they may consistently seek positive affirmation or reassurance from you. This self-consciousness can also lead to when their feelings are hurt. In fact, anger is thought to be more pronounced in those who are covert narcissists than overt narcissists.
It’s also important to understand that your partner may struggle to communicate effectively. Vulnerable narcissists tend to be more introverted. They often live with social anxiety that makes socializing difficult and causes them to shy away from people. This could mean that your partner may actively try to avoid social situations. They could be fine with hanging out with you but unwilling to go eat out at a restaurant.
Set And Maintain Boundaries
Setting healthy boundaries is important in any relationship, but it can be particularly crucial in a relationship with a vulnerable narcissist. Decide what you will and will not accept in the relationship and be very clear about it. If something makes you uncomfortable, you can speak up and let your partner know that you feel that way. You have a right to your feelings and to be respected. A person with vulnerable narcissism may try to push your boundaries, but it’s important to remain firm from the beginning.
An important boundary to set might be related to the time you’re willing to spend with your partner. Often, people with vulnerable narcissism desire a lot of attention from others, which could be draining for you. It is perfectly okay to let your partner know how much time you’re comfortable spending with them and that, if you find yourself overwhelmed at times in your relationship, you may need to maintain some distance. Coming from an empathetic place, you can outline the reasons you’d like space, explaining that you want to honor your own needs.
A vulnerable narcissist may go to great lengths to manipulate your emotions and ensure you’re giving them what they want in the relationship—whether that’s your time, admiration, etc. It can be easy to lose your sense of self when your partner is always taking center stage. While it’s important to acknowledge your partner's feelings, remember that your own emotions matter just as much. When dating a vulnerable narcissist, put yourself first, stand up for yourself, and let yourself be heard.
Try Not To Take Their Behavior Personally
When dating a vulnerable narcissist, it may seem as though their deception or lack of empathy is meant as an attack on you. However, it’s important to remember that their behavior is likely not in response to anything you did; rather, it is a result of their personality. They probably behave similarly toward other people in their life and are not singling you out.
Consider Seeking Professional Help
Maintaining a healthy romantic relationship with a vulnerable narcissist can be challenging. Seeking professional help for your partner—and for your relationship—is one effective way of addressing narcissism in your partnership. A therapist can provide tools and guidance that may help you both cope with narcissistic behaviors and strengthen your relationship.
Studies suggest that online therapy is a useful modality for couples who want to strengthen their relationship while also improving individual mental health challenges, such as those related to narcissistic behavior. For example, the results of a study of over 150 couples show that online therapy improved relationship quality and satisfaction while alleviating anxiety symptoms, which are common in those living with vulnerable narcissism. The study notes the increased availability and cost-effectiveness of online couples therapy compared to in-person therapy.
Online therapy can be there for you and your partner if narcissism is leading to complicated feelings in your relationship. With an online therapy platform like Regain, you can participate in therapy remotely, which can make it easier for you and your partner to attend sessions and address challenges related to vulnerable narcissism at the same time. Online therapy is also an affordable option—Regain subscriptions start at $65 per week (billed every 4 weeks), and you can cancel anytime. A licensed couples therapist can give you and your partner the tools to better address tension and set boundaries in your relationship. Read below for reviews of Regain therapists from those who have sought help for similar concerns in the past.
“Austa has been wonderful thus far. She has helped my partner and I during an unimaginably difficult time... She has also guided us in communicating effectively and setting appropriate boundaries in our relationship. I was hesitant to pursue counseling initially, but I truly believe that it makes a difference in our relationship. Austa is easy to talk to, and she is a great listener. I would wholeheartedly recommend her as a counselor.”
“Sessions with Natalie are very insightful and give practical advice on implementing new habits and changes. Be prepared to engage and be challenged to think differently. I know that my partner and I can already see improvements in our relationship and feel more positive about working through our issues together.”
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A relationship with a vulnerable narcissist often requires a tactful, delicate approach; but it can still lead to a rewarding relationship. By setting boundaries, communicating effectively, and standing up for yourself, you can develop a strong connection with your partner while safeguarding your emotional well-being and helping to improve the mental health of your partner. If you’d like further support, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist online. Working with a couples therapist can be the first step toward mental wellness and a happy and satisfying relationship.
Other Commonly Asked Questions
What is it like to be in a relationship with a vulnerable narcissist?
If you’re in a relationship with a vulnerable narcissist, you’ve probably noticed that your partner is highly sensitive. They may be really touchy when it comes to feedback or constructive criticism, and they can become very upset at critical remarks. While these presentations of their narcissistic traits are totally different from those of grandiose narcissists – who may just shrug off any feedback or criticism – this is still a strain on many of their relationships.
You might feel like you’re always walking on eggshells because when vulnerable narcissists feel threatened they tend to lash out at the person or people closest to them. Much of this comes from a place of anxiety and fear on their part, but it is also harmful to you. If you are dealing with a partner who exhibits vulnerable narcissistic traits (or even goes as far as to engage in narcissistic abuse), it’s best to remember that they are coping with a personality disorder that usually requires professional diagnosis and treatment.
Seeking professional help for yourself and your partner is an effective way to approach your partner’s narcissistic personality disorder. A licensed clinical psychologist can help you in dealing with the specific traits that you see in vulnerable narcissists in relationships. They can also help your partner recognize and work on improving their own narcissistic behavior. If face-to-face therapy is out of reach for your schedule or budget at the moment, consider online therapy as a way to get the help that you and your partner need.
Who are vulnerable narcissists attracted to?
Vulnerable narcissists are generally attracted to people who don’t trigger their anxiety, and who feed their need to feel superior. This means that people with vulnerable narcissistic personality disorder tend to gravitate towards people who hold their tongues and never criticize them or offer them any feedback. This helps them to preserve their highly esteemed sense of self, and it helps them avoid anything that might make the narcissist feel belittled.
While grandiose narcissists prefer people who constantly praise them and build up their sense of self-worth and grandeur, vulnerable narcissists prefer a partner who will go along with anything that they say and never question their sense of judgment, behaviors, or decisions.
How does a vulnerable narcissist behave?
Not all narcissists are people who have high self-esteem. In fact, vulnerable narcissism – while it stems from some of the same root causes – manifests in quite a different way than the more well-known grandiose narcissism.
Vulnerable narcissists have some hallmark traits that set them apart from grandiose narcissists. These behaviors include:
- High sensitivity
- Introversion, especially much more than grandiose narcissists
- Extreme difficulty coping with trauma or failure (whether real or perceived)
- Constantly worrying about how others view them
- Turning on themselves when they feel hurt by another person
- Feeling deep shame when rejected
- Having an intense sense of entitlement that is easily offended
- May experience depression
- May withdraw from social situations
- Envy or jealousy towards others
- Blaming another person, even when the fault is their own
If you recognize these traits in a friend, partner, or family acquaintance, you may be dealing with vulnerable narcissists. The best course of action is to talk with a therapist or psychologist who can help with the diagnosis and treatment of any narcissism and/or personality disorders.
What happens when you break up with a vulnerable narcissist?
Breaking up with a narcissist is hard. When you break up with a vulnerable narcissist, they will likely internalize the breakup. Their own sense of entitlement will cause them to perceive the breakup as entirely your fault. From their point of view, all of the problems in the relationship were your fault anyway.
Relationships are already a difficult part of life, and when you throw narcissism in the mix it becomes even more complicated.
How will a narcissist react when you end the relationship?
When relationships end, grandiose narcissists and vulnerable narcissists might react with similar behaviors. For example, both types of narcissists feel a sense of entitlement that allows them to shift all of the blame to the other person. Both will find a way to justify just moving on in life and not looking back.
However, while a grandiose narcissist might externalize any hurt they feel, a vulnerable narcissist might be more likely to turn the anger towards themselves. Vulnerable narcissism is often a reaction to a deep fear or anxiety that threatens the narcissist's sense of entitlement and/or high view of themselves. When relationships end, they are likely to internalize these fears and anxieties, which only strengthens their own elevated perception of themselves.
Are vulnerable narcissists insecure?
Do vulnerable narcissists fall in love?
Can you date a vulnerable narcissist?
How does a vulnerable narcissist think?
How do you outsmart a vulnerable narcissist?
What are the fears of a vulnerable narcissist?
Is it possible for a vulnerable narcissist to be loyal to his or her partner?
Why do narcissists often ignore you?
Can narcissists be empathic?
What does a narcissist typically do when you leave them?
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