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As always, this post is intended to enlighten, educate and empower.  If you are continually struggling in your relationship with someone who no longer seems interested in your well-being, the following information might shed light on some issues.

We’ve all met, read about or been in relationships with someone who exhibits the typical behavioral traits associated with narcissism.  Narcissism is explained as the need for attention and over-emphasis of one’s own importance.  Whether Classic (Overt) or Vulnerable (Covert), the attention-seeking narcissist will want the focus to be on them no matter what strategy they employ.

While a Narcissistic Personality Disorder is often the result, Narcissism doesn’t have to be full-blown to its’ extreme in order for characteristics to exist within a personality.  An actual Narcissist, as defined as Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistics Manual) displays all of the characteristics described below,  but to an extent that these traits take over their lives.  For someone diagnosed with NPD, there is no real place for them to thrive in a functional society.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is routinely characterized by:

  • a grandiose sense of self
  • a personal preoccupation with beauty, success, power or ideal love
  • a belief they are special
  • requiring excessive admiration
  • being interpersonally exploitative
  • having a sense of entitlement
  • lacking empathy
  • envy
  • arrogance

While Narcissistic tendencies exist within all of us to some extent.  The real difference in an NPD diagnosis lies within the fact that their lives and relationships have become totally dysfunctional.  The characteristics and self-absorption have created chaos and normal life is nearly impossible.

 

A Quick Overview Of The Different Types Of Narcissism

To give a very quick overview, there are many types of narcissists. We no longer think in terms of only grandiose behaviour but have discovered other nuances to the narcissism spectrum.

However these first two – Overt and Covert – represent the two main variations with the remaining types as subtypes of these two.

1. Overt narcissism, as discussed previously, is also known as grandiose narcissism. This is the traditional type of narcissism that most people associate with a narcissistic personality.

Characteristics: outgoing, arrogant, entitled, overbearing, having an exaggerated self-image, needing to be praised and admired, exploitative, competitive, charming and lacking empathy

2. Covert narcissism is also known as vulnerable narcissism and is the contrast to overt narcissism. While many people think of narcissism as a loud and overbearing trait, people with covert narcissism don’t fit this pattern.

Characteristics: expressions of low self-esteem,higher likelihood of experiencing anxiety, depression and shame, introversion, insecurity or low confidence, defensiveness, and feels or plays the victim.

3. Antagonistic narcissism is thought to be a subtype of overt narcissism. With this aspect of narcissism, the focus is on rivalry and competition.

Characteristics: arrogance, tendency to take advantage of others, tendency to compete with others and disagreeability or proneness to arguing.

4. Communal narcissism is also thought to be another type of overt narcissism, and is usually seen as the opposite of antagonistic narcissism. Someone with communal narcissism values fairness and is likely to see themselves as altruistic, but there are gaps between these beliefs and the person’s behavior.

Characteristics: they become easily morally outraged, describe themselves as empathetic and generous, and react strongly to things they see as unfair.

The key difference is that for people with communal narcissism, social power and self-importance are playing major roles.

5. Malignant narcissism is more closely connected to overt narcissism but is more severe.

Someone with malignant narcissism may have many common traits of narcissism, like a strong need for praise and to be elevated above others. In addition, malignant narcissism can show up as vindictiveness, sadism or getting enjoyment from the pain of others, aggression when interacting with people, and paranoia or heightened preoccupation with potential threats.

EVERYTHING YOU SAY

CAN AND WILL

BE USED AGAINST YOU

Let’ Differentiate The Covert or Vulnerable Narcissist

Historically there have been thought to be two main sub-types of narcissism. There is the obvious, difficult to miss, grandiose narcissist who exemplifies the common traits that we think of when we think of a Narcissist and the vulnerable narcissist or the narcissist-vulnerable subtype.

Grandiose Narcissism is the most obvious of the types of narcissism. With their outward charm and confidence overcompensating for their internal insecurities and vulnerability. 

Unlike vulnerable narcissists, grandiose narcissists are all about extroversion. They are dominant, and always in pursuit of power and status. Think about lawyers and doctors, or even politicians who pursue power in order to help and empower others. Narcissists aren’t wired that way. It’s all about them!

Within a relationship, the partner is left feeling unwanted, unappreciated and questioning everything.  The narcissistic partner no longer demonstrates the traits that attracted you to them, making you re-evaluate your own thoughts and understanding of who they actually are and why you were attracted to them.  The relationship feels stripped of its’ original integrity but you might feel a strong desire to remain with the narcissist, in hopes of the original person returning.

Vulnerable or covert narcissists are much harder to spot.  You can know one for years without ever picking up on their narcissistic tendencies.  Vulnerable Narcissists (or covert) fly under the radar. They have high self-esteem but seem quiet and reserved. To a vulnerable narcissist, they are perfect, but the world is out to get them. Try as they might, they never get the attention they want. So, they manipulate the people closest to them to get it.

The most prominent of vulnerable narcissism traits is a constant victimization mentality. They are always the victim, and always require sympathetic attention.  They are emotionally draining to be around. Mostly because of how sensitive they are on top of being emotionally demanding. Their mission in life is to convince the people around them to see them as the perfect creatures they are.

Vulnerable narcissists are quite prone to developing depression. The life they live does not meet the fantasy of the life they feel entitled to.  Some Covert Narcissists will actually hurt themselves or threaten more serious self-harm as a means of getting attention and therefore should be treated very cautiously.  Vulnerable narcissists are one of the few people who tend to make threats of self-harm in order to get attention, but rarely follow through with it.

Vulnerable narcissists mostly appear introverted and calm. But emotional regulation can still be difficult for the confusing self-esteem issues they haveThe first line of narcissistic defenses includes being passive aggressive and shutting people out to punish themThey will always play the victim card because they will always see themselves as the victim. Regardless of the circumstances.

 

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How A Narcissist Manipulates

Both of these types of narcissists will employ various tactics to manipulate and control their partner.  Triangulation, love bombing, projection, playing the victim, guilt tripping, creating a smear campaign and hoovering are all part of the tactics that the narcissist might use to elicit their desired response. 

One of the better known strategies is “gaslighting”.  Gaslighting is an emotionally abusive tactic that is damaging to the psyche and makes you question your reality.  This tactic uses lies, deceit, denial, emotional triggers as ammo, confusing details and projection.  All of these are designed to wear you down and make you question your reality.

The following is a typical pattern of manipulation by someone exhibiting Narcissistic qualities and is intended as information for someone struggling within their relationship.

1.  They like to be feared

For the overt or grandiose narcissist, this is obvious.  They take great satisfaction in your fear and discomfort.  However for the Covert or vulnerable narcissist, this might be characterized as moodiness or unpredictability, so that their partner is constantly on the defense and walking on eggshells.

2.  They take pleasure at their partner’s expense

They will be stubborn and relentless in getting their own way constantly, leading to their partner being constantly frustrated at having to continuously apologize or compromise.

3.  They enjoy watching their partner decompose

As the relationship continues, the partner will become angrier and angrier and the narcissist will enjoy watching as you lose yourself in your anger to greater and greater degrees.  They will provoke your anger and love watching you destruct emotionally as it validates their superiority.

4.  They portray themselves as a misunderstood good person

They try to get everyone to believe that they are the good guy in the relationship and their partner is just not trying.  It can also be the case, that as the relationship progresses and the partner becomes more and more unstable, the narcissist will have people take their side, because it’s obvious that they are the s who are tolerating their partner’s instability.

5.  They will provoke friends and family to turn against the partner (One step further)

As the relationship[ continues, they will start a smear campaign against the partner.  They’ll look for opportunities to provoke crazy or unstable behaviour in their partner and then p[point it out to their friends.  The narcissist will take pleasure in watching others turn against the partner.

6.  They enjoy creating awkward discomfort

The narcissist uses passive aggression constantly to provoke the partner into an outburst.  This pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings keeps their partner guessing and walking on eggshells.  The awkward dynamic ensures to them that the partner is in constant heightened discomfort.

7.  They like watching you be uncomfortable

The narcissist creates a dynamic within the relationship whereby the pattern feels progressively rejected, anxious, depressed and out of control.  This is exactly what they want and they enjoy your discomfort.

8.  They try to convince you that true is false and false is true

This is GASLIGHTING.   The narcissist is constantly weaving a web where they tell you that what you think isn’t actually true:

  • “That never happened” – creates self-doubt in the partner
  • “You’re too sensitive” – used to invalidate the partner’s feelings
  • “You have a terrible memory” – encourages the partner to doubt themselves
  • “You’re crazy –  and other people think so too” – this not only have the partner question their own sanity but decreases the likelihood that the partner’s stories will be believable.
  • “I’m sorry you think I hurt you” – not an apology at all, but rather serves to have the partner question their own judgment.

 

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How to Deal with a Vulnerable or Covert Narcissist

The way to approach a narcissist depends on the type of narcissist you are dealing with. People with vulnerable or grandiose narcissistic traits can often improve. The problem is, that the stronger the manifestation of the traits, the harder it is for that person to change. 

Here are some concrete tips for dealing with a Narcissist.

Narcissistic supply” is a term used to describe the attention and focus that is lavished on the narcissist.  If you are in a relationship with them, they have an unlimited supply of attention which feeds their ego and dysfunction.  Limiting their “supply” can actually force the Narcissist to choose to either leave or change.

Set Healthy Boundaries

The best way of dealing with any narcissist is to set healthy boundaries. Sometimes they are unavoidable because we are related to them, or we work with or for them. In all cases, you need to distance yourself from the person in mind, physically, as well as, emotionally.

Try to be rational when dealing with them. When you view the narcissist from a safe distance, it is easier to identify their irrational behavior. Keep that safe buffer zone around you. They will quickly lose interest in hurting or manipulating you. 

There are other strategies that you can implement depending on how you’ve chosen to progress with the relationship.  Read my article on the victimology typically seen within a narcissistic relationship, and at the end I’ve included a few strategies that you might find useful.

As a narcissistic partner, you need to consider options.  While I do believe an individual with a certain degree of self-awareness can change these patterns of behaviour and exit the realm of self-importance, this is not typically the case.  A true narcissist will have an unlimited toxic narcissistic supply within your relationship, acting to fuel their behavior. They don’t have the capacity for empathy, will not see any need for change and will trample you in their quest for fuel to their narcissism.

 

TAKEAWAY

We have only touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding Narcissism in its’ varying subtypes.  If you feel that you mgiht be in this type of relationship, we have a free assessment designed for you to gain some clarity.  Please click this link.

 

Sources

  • Frontiers In Psychology –  Emanuel Jauk, Elena Weigle, Konrad Lehmann, Mathias Benedek & Alijoscha C. Newbauer.  “The Relationship Between Grandiose and Vulnerable (Hypersensitive) Narcissism” (https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01600/full )  Accessed 03/16/19
  • ScienceDirect – William Hart, John Adams, K.Alex Burton & Gregory K. Tortoriello “Narcissism and Self-Presentation:  Profiling Grandiose and Vulnerable Narcissists’ Self-presentation Tactic Use”  (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886916308121?via%3Dihub )  Accessed 03/16/19
  • HelpGuide.org. Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-disorders/narcissistic-personality-disorder.htm) Accessed 12/19/2022.
  • Pauline Poless, Linda Torstveit, Ricardo Lugo, Marita Andreassen & Stefan Sutterlin.  “Guilt and Proneness to Shame:  Unethical Behavior in Vulnerable and Grandiose Narcissism”  (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5973515/ )  Accessed 03/16/19
  • Stathis Grapsas, Eddie Brummelman, Mitja D. Back and Jaap J. A. Denissen.  “The “Why” and “How” of Narcissism: A Process Model of Narcissistic Status Pursuit” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6970445/) Accessed 12/19/22
Katrina Murphy
Katrina Murphy

Katrina Murphy is a Professional Intuitive Mindset and Confidence Coach in Ontario, Canada, serving clients across Canada and internationally. Katrina helps professionals to change the relationship that they have with themselves so they can reconnect both in their relationships and at work. She’s been featured in various publications and is the creator of the Power-Passion-Purpose Framework.

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