Narcissistic issues cover a range of experiences and presentations. A vulnerable narcissist tends to be particularly insecure, sensitive to rejection, and is likely to require a high level of validation from other people.
It is important to keep in min d that narcissism is a broad and complex psychological category. At one end it refers to what we might think of as a healthy quality, to being able to look after yourself. At the other, it refers to an unhealthy desire for attention, a grandiose sense of self that can be controlling and domineering. In the case of the vulnerable narcissist, it is this mixture of grandiosity and insecurity that stands out.
A victim in an unfair world
The vulnerable narcissist thinks of themselves as a victim in an unfair and critical world, they may be quick to feel rejected. They may demand an unhealthy amount of praise and attention from other people, and they may be quick to think that they are being criticised. Quick to see insults where none may be intended they also struggle to develop empathy for other people’s needs. When they feel wronged they can be quick to react with anger. All of these traits can make for someone who manipulates other people.
If you checked the address book of a vulnerable narcissist you would likely find a lot of crossed-out entries. People who struggle with narcissistic problems might be attractive to others at first, but in the longer term, they will reject those people for failing to pay them sufficient attention.
Working with a vulnerable narcissist
Working with people with complex narcissistic traits tends to be intense and demanding. It requires a particular degree of patience. It is likely that you will be asked to repeatedly express your interest and wish to work with the vulnerable narcissist. How we do that without pandering to or offending the narcissistic client is a matter of skill.
Vulnerable narcissists tend to have a high degree of self-importance. They will be quick to be antagonised and to see arguments where none are intended.
Because they are defensive, hypersensitive, and always on the lookout for criticism they can be demanding. Theirs is a complicated problem. They crave external validation and are quick to retreat and become avoidant when they feel they haven’t been given the right attention.
There is an immaturity about the vulnerable narcissist. They haven’t navigated the ordinary developmental stages that are necessary if we are to thrive.
In ordinary development, the child comes to recognise the limit to their own demands. Their parents help them to come to terms with the things that they cannot have, and from this basis, the person comes to terms with their limits.
When there are problems navigating these stages problems and narcissistic issues follow. The vulnerable narcissist is a kind of childlike adult. They look like they have grown up, but they haven’t. Their psychologies are lagging behind.
Psychotherapy with a vulnerable narcissist
In psychotherapy, it might be possible to help the vulnerable narcissist to come to terms with themselves. The privacy and confidentiality of the therapy relationship may provide a sufficient framework. Good boundary setting is an important fundamental of any work with a vulnerable narcissist.
Trust and the vulnerable narcissist
Someone who struggles with these issues is likely to struggle to form and establish good relationships. They may be quick to attract people who might become friends, but they are then likely to reject those people for failing to pay them sufficient attention. They can be quick to become jealous and constantly react against ordinary social interactions.
All of this erodes their capacity to trust other people, they are more likely to be suspicious. So, the vulnerable narcissist is caught in a vicious circle; and being alone encourages them to become more alone.
The importance of framework and boundaries
Clear boundaries can enable the vulnerable narcissistic individual to develop a more realistic understanding of themselves. From there they may be able to recognise and start to relinquish their immature need for what Otto Kernberg so eloquently described as ‘narcissistic supplies,’ being constantly reassured and told that they are special.
How do vulnerable narcissists develop?
In my understanding we aren’t born vulnerable narcissists, rather it is the product of our early environmental experience. We see these characteristics particularly in only children who haven’t had to go through the ordinary sibling tensions and dynamics that other people have.
It is sometimes the case that the traits will be passed from one generation of a family to another. For example where an only child grows up to have an only child.
Children who have been raised by a very controlling and demanding parent, and who are only children may be more likely to develop these complicated traits. Children in these situations have not developed a good understanding of their own emotional and psychological needs.
With patience, these issues can be worked on.
Having the chance to speak in a confidential setting is often the key to developing a clearer understanding of how we may have become caught up in destructive narcissistic patterns of relating.
By giving yourself a safe space to look at these things you may start to discover a greater sense of possibilities, and this may be the beginning of developing a greater sense of understanding how to relate to yourself and others, how to start living more fully again, and how to start to have healthy relationships with yourself and other people.
The chance to reflect on ourselves, our feelings and experience can be powerful and transformative. Out of this, you may be able to develop a clearer understanding of how you and your sense of your problems have developed, and what you can change.
I have been working with people on issues such like this for more than twenty years. My work is built around helping you to develop greater insight into who you are, and how you live.
Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my approach might help you.