Vulnerable Narcissism: What Is It And How Can It Impact A Relationship?

Updated June 15, 2024by Regain Editorial Team
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Not all narcissists are going to express their superiority in grandiose ways. There is a type of narcissism that is known as narcissism that's also classified as vulnerable. A vulnerable narcissist is more introverted and self-absorbed when compared to the more recognized grandiose narcissist. They do have some things in common, but narcissism classified as vulnerable is unique in many important ways. Read on to learn more about this kind of narcissism and how it might impact a relationship.

Understanding narcissism

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It's important to understand a bit more about narcissism. You see, only one percent of the population is diagnosed with what is known as clinical narcissism. This is not the common type of narcissism most people refer to when talking about someone with some narcissistic tendencies. People with clinical narcissism have a great sense of self-importance, believing themselves to be special, and often lack empathy.

The more common forms of narcissism that will be discussed here are known as sub-clinical forms of narcissism. The two sub-clinical forms of narcissism are narcissism that's also classified as vulnerable or grandiose. The two are distinct from one another in important ways that you'll understand as you read on. First, you should focus on the type of narcissist you are likely more familiar with; the grandiose narcissist.

A grandiose narcissist is extroverted and will express feelings of superiority. They will also often make their sense of entitlement known. These people have huge egos, and they often think of themselves to be above others. They might even feel as if they deserve special treatment due to their greatness. This is the typical definition of a narcissist that you're probably already familiar with.

A vulnerable narcissist is going to be completely different. These narcissists have introverted tendencies and are often very self-absorbed. They can be highly neurotic and might even be hypersensitive to criticism. Even light criticism can be enough to set a vulnerable narcissist off. These narcissists feel a constant need for reassurance and are indeed very vulnerable.

Oddly enough, vulnerable narcissist still very much feels that they are above other people. They're just a lot more fragile than a grandiose narcissist is. They have a big ego, but they also fear criticism to an extreme degree. A vulnerable narcissist might even go out of their way to avoid others and might not even like getting too much attention. This is very different from a grandiose narcissist who will generally bask in the attention of others happily.

Why do some people develop vulnerable narcissism?

People can develop narcissistic traits at a young age. When developing narcissism classified as vulnerable, many people develop the condition as a coping mechanism when they're young. This is often done as a response to dealing with some childhood abuse or neglect. They might have dealt with something traumatic that caused them to withdraw from others and become self-absorbed. Their trauma has led to the need to explain to other people why they are so great. It's an inverse effect. They felt(feel) small, so they tend to try to convince others of their importance.

Knowing that it is a coping mechanism can make it easier for you to understand their plight. It also makes it simpler to see why vulnerable narcissists have such fragile egos. They feel superior much of the time but can also come crashing down very easily. They might feel inadequate or inferior to others deep down inside. This is the reason why they're constantly seeking reassurance.

This swinging mood or temperament can be very difficult to deal with. It makes it tough to befriend or date someone who is a vulnerable narcissist.

Vulnerable narcissism and relationships


The narcissism that's also classified as vulnerable can have a very big impact on a romantic relationship. Dating any narcissist is not going to be easy. One of the traits of vulnerable narcissists is that they need constant reassurance. They're also very emotionally vulnerable and can take criticism to heart far too quickly.

Knowing this, you can see how communicating with a vulnerable narcissist in a relationship could become problematic. If you have issues that you need to discuss with your partner, they could easily wind up taking things the wrong way. 

One of the biggest problems with dating vulnerable narcissists is that they aren't very good at empathizing with others. They have a hard time relating to you and understanding where you're coming from. This can lead to significant communication issues, and you might not be able to find common ground. Also, vulnerable narcissists are very self-centered. They're often more focused on whatever they're doing than you.

If you're going to date a vulnerable narcissist, you will have to accept that things won't be easy. They can be emotionally withdrawn at times, and their emotional fragility can become frustrating. Communicating with your partner in normal ways might not be simple, and you might find that you're constantly at odds if you don't learn how to cater to their ego. For many people, dating a vulnerable narcissist is going to be a bad idea.

Dating any narcissist is going to be difficult. You're going to have to put in a lot of effort, and you might not always feel like you're getting the same effort back from your partner. Even so, these vulnerable narcissists can change over time. They can work on becoming more empathetic, and a relationship can be successful. It's just important to be realistic and understand that it isn't going to be easy.

Working on things together 

Working on things together is a good way to make a relationship work with a vulnerable narcissist. Just remember that people with this type of sub-clinical narcissism aren't going to have the easiest time relating to others. It might take significant effort to get them to start empathizing with you. Some of this will depend on how bad their narcissistic traits are. Certain people will have an easier time opening themselves up to new possibilities than others.

For your relationship to work, it's going to be necessary for things to change. It's unlikely that you'll be able to have a truly fulfilling relationship if your partner continues to be self-centered. When someone can only focus on their own needs and desires, it isn't healthy for a relationship. You need your partner to recognize that their behavior needs to change for the relationship to continue.

The narcissist will have to learn to become more empathetic while also working on shedding their self-centered attitude. Understand that this isn't always going to be easy. Many people with narcissistic traits have a real problem with making progress. This is going to take them way out of their comfort zone. Vulnerable narcissists are self-absorbed and often take criticism poorly, so hearing that they aren't acting right or treating some right could be taken the wrong way.

This is why it is likely going to be beneficial to seek out professional help. Working on salvaging a relationship with a narcissist will not be easy when you don't know how to go about things. Luckily, you can work with a dedicated therapist to get the best results possible. They're going to know how to talk with your partner to facilitate the best possible outcome. If you can commit to the process, you might enjoy a better relationship with your narcissistic partner.

Online therapy is there for you

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Online therapy will always be there for you, and you can reach out today if you're ready. If you're in a relationship with a vulnerable narcissist, then you can try to get the right help to take your relationship to the next level. It might be something that will take some time to accomplish, but a narcissist can learn to let go of self-centered behavior patterns. You might find that your partner can become more empathetic over time and that you can start enjoying the relationship style that you have always wanted.

This isn't something that is going to happen overnight, though. A vulnerable narcissist needs time to change, and they also need time to work on personal issues. Your partner might have some past trauma that needs to be worked through, and this trauma might have contributed to their current mental state. As long as you're willing to work together, it's possible to make progress.


Don't hesitate to reach out to online counselors if you're in need. Your partner can receive individual counseling to help with some issues, and you can also attend couples counseling together. All of this can happen from the comfort of your own home. Sign up today, and you can start counseling sessions whenever it is convenient for you to do so.

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