A vulnerable narcissist differs from an overt narcissist because they’re not as attention-seeking or arrogant. They still have the main characteristics of someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) but covertly display them. The vulnerable narcissist usually struggles with low self-esteem and comes across as shy and reserved. Instead of claiming the spotlight, covert narcissists may isolate themselves or avoid relationships due to fear of rejection.

People may feel more inclined to empathize with the hidden narcissist than the typical egomaniac. However, in some ways, the former can pose the greatest threat because of their ability to trick people into pitying them. They often have a victim mentality and believe others want to sabotage them. Because they have deep-rooted insecurities, the clandestine narcissist struggles to trust people.

At first glance, the covert narcissist may seem withdrawn and socially awkward but not conceited or insensitive. But once you get to know them, their true colors will emerge, revealing their narcissistic tendencies. That’s why hidden narcissism is so insidious since you usually don’t notice the traits immediately.


However, by understanding the behaviors of a vulnerable narcissist, you can protect yourself from their manipulation and toxicity.

What is a Vulnerable Narcissist?

Someone with a narcissistic personality disorder will seem self-absorbed, uncaring, and desperate for attention. They may appear charming and lovable at first to make a positive impression and get in people’s good graces. But their self-serving strategy and demeanor will soon become evident once they remove the mask.

The vulnerable narcissist can maintain the facade even longer because they use covert tactics and manipulation to deceive people. Unlike the grandiose narcissist, a hidden egomaniac displays patterns of self-victimization and self-pity. The former wants to hide their weaknesses at all costs, while the latter exposes them for their benefit. By accentuating their vulnerability, they believe it makes them more likable, trustworthy, and relatable.

After all, most people want to connect with others who seem genuine and comfortable with their flaws. Unfortunately, those with covert narcissism traits have underlying intentions, exploiting human nature and relationships to gain an advantage.

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Seven Behaviors of a Vulnerable Narcissist

Seven common traits of a hidden narcissist include:

  • Emotional manipulation. A covert narcissist often manipulates and attempts to control others by guilt-tripping them. They may shift blame onto others and avoid taking responsibility for their actions. By making themselves look like the victim, they believe others will console and reassure them.
  • A common tactic of overt and covert narcissists involves manipulating people’s thoughts and feelings. They can gain control and power in relationships if they make others question their reality and perceptions.
  • Self-victimization. As stated, hidden narcissists reveal their inner nature by playing the victim. Most narcissists have insecurities and low self-worth, but vulnerable narcissists show it more frequently.
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection and ridicule. Another key trait of covert narcissism includes an inability to handle criticism or humiliation. One study found that concealed narcissists usually have an inferiority complex, which makes them highly sensitive to negative judgments. The research found that they also enjoy mocking others to boost their self-worth.
  • Social withdrawal and isolation. Many sensitive narcissists avoid or limit social interactions due to their self-perceived inferiority. Studies show a strong link between hidden NPD and introversion, as people with this disorder use isolation as a coping mechanism. They seek to protect their fragile ego from negative evaluations in any way possible, even if it means being a lone wolf.
  • Passive-aggressive behavior. Both overt and covert narcissists employ this tactic to manipulate and control people. They may utilize silent treatment, offensive, sarcastic remarks disguised as jokes, and other harmful communication strategies.
  • Neurotic antagonism. According to studies, concealed narcissism usually involves projecting unwanted, painful feelings onto others. Narcissists use this as a defense mechanism to avoid taking responsibility for their behaviors and insecurities.

The Impact of Vulnerable Narcissism on Relationships

As you might expect or have experienced firsthand, vulnerable narcissism often leads to toxic relationships. Since narcissists cannot think about others’ needs, having healthy, fulfilling bonds with them is impossible. Concealed narcissists frequently struggle with codependency and low self-esteem in relationships since their entire identity revolves around how people perceive them.

Their partner may not feel safe or secure in the relationship because of the narcissist’s instability. Most people with NPD don’t know how to establish healthy boundaries, which can erode their partner’s independence and self-worth. Having separate lives outside the relationship is also challenging if one partner feels utterly dependent on the other.

How to Recognize and Deal with a Vulnerable Narcissist

Protecting yourself from a vulnerable narcissist is crucial to maintain your mental health and overall well-being. Increasing your awareness and understanding of hidden narcissism, practicing self-care, and setting firm boundaries can safeguard you from narcissistic abuse. Once you know the signs to watch out for, you can avoid falling into their trap. If you have a kind, empathetic nature, you may want to help narcissists, but you must know when to put yourself first.

Why Vulnerable Narcissism is Difficult to Recognize and Address

Most people think narcissists are cunning, self-centered, and extroverted, which explains why they often overlook the more subtle form of NPD. Since covert narcissists often exhibit empathy and vulnerability, they can easily convince people to trust them. However, they eventually reveal their true nature once others get too close, so they lash out in fear and anger. Social norms that discourage speaking out against abusive behaviors and the mental health stigma make it challenging to address hidden narcissism. But you should never feel unsafe or trapped in a toxic relationship, so please seek support from trusted individuals if necessary.

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Final Thoughts on Navigating Codependency and Toxic Dynamics in Relationships

Unlike grandiose narcissism, the covert version of this disorder usually goes undetected because of its subtle nature. People with narcissistic personality disorder can easily hide their insecurities and vulnerabilities, projecting an entirely different persona in public. But behind this facade lies a person with underlying intentions who wants to dominate and deceive others.

Usually, people with NPD have childhood trauma and genetic predispositions that make them more susceptible to mental illnesses. They may not intend to hurt people. But their behaviors can inflict long-term psychological damage and trauma on others and harms relationships. If you’re recovering from relationships with vulnerable narcissists, please seek support from loved ones and health professionals. You can’t turn back the clock, but you can reclaim your power and focus on a positive future.