About Randi

Randi Kreger has brought the concerns of people who have a family member with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) to an international forefront through her best-selling books, informative website, and popular online family support community Welcome to Oz.


Is Your Narcissist the "Vulnerable" or "Grandiose" Type?

This blog post is by Randi Kreger and attorney/therapist Bill Eddy of the High Conflict Institute.

If you read the research, you'll see that dozens of researchers have put people with NPD into various categories with different names. For practical purposes, though, we can divide this into two groups: the vulnerable narcissist and the grandiose narcissist.

All narcissists are self-absorbed, see themselves as superior, and lack empathy. All display arrogance and disdain toward others, experience "narcissistic injuries" when others don't treat them as superior, and can't take direct feedback about their behavior. They are consistently very oblivious of their effect on others. The main differences, however, come in their ability (or inability) to feel deep emotions and the way they see themselves. In other blog posts, we'll point out the best way to respond to these differences.

Vulnerable NPs

Vulnerable narcissists (VNs) tend to be more emotionally sensitive. They feel helpless, anxious and victimized when people don't treat them like royalty. Just like those with BPD, vulnerable narcissists are preoccupied with fears of rejection and abandonment. They swing back and forth between feeling superior and inferior depending on what's going on in their life at the moment. A setback (such as being fired or threatened with divorce) can bring them to therapy. But when the crisis is over, they drop out.

VN's appear to be over-compensating for low self-esteem and a deep-seated sense of shame that may date back to early childhood. They developed the behaviors as a coping mechanism to deal with neglect, abuse or a dismissive style of parent-child attachment (meaning the parents never developed a close bond with their child, so he never felt safe and secure in his parents' love).

As adults, VNs care about how their partners see them and try to get respect. But ironically, they get defensive at suggestions that they change. They may have hidden affairs, yet accuse the other partner of being unfaithful and obsess about preventing that from happening.

An Example

John, a truck driver, is a vulnerable narcissist. He prides himself on his technical abilities to deal with any problem situation. He has a good reputation at work for his skills, but others are offended by his arrogance. They try to avoid him and put him down behind his back.

He marries Sandy, who has an administrative job. He feels easily threatened by Sandy's success and independence. But Sandy is quite codependent and spends a lot of effort "fixing" him, helping him feel great about himself. He complains to her about how people mistreat him at work and don't appreciate how special he is. He talks a lot about quitting his job and working with people who appreciate him. But he never does.

He also complains that his friends "turn against" him when they seem to avoid him or have other priorities. He blames Sandy when things go wrong around the house while he's on the road, and she has learned not to argue back. When Sandy gets a raise at work, John insults her and claims she must be sleeping with her boss. He demands that he determine how they spend their increased pay. Sandy sometimes hints about divorcing him, but he says he would kill himself if she did--so she doesn't.

Grandiose NPs

Grandiose narcissists are less sensitive and more confident. They know they are superior and will seek revenge or go into a vicious rage against those who don't treat them with respect or dare to give them negative feedback. They appear to have no sense of shame about themselves and truly have very high self-esteem. Their parents or caregivers may have treated them as superior from early childhood, so unlike VNs, they are not compensating for anything. They're simply acting out their expectations.

They don't care as much about how their partners see them and may easily walk out of the relationship if they don't get the respect and admiration they know they deserve. They may openly have multiple relationships/affairs and pride themselves on how many people see how wonderful they are. Like people with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), they can be very aggressive and dominance-seeking without empathy or remorse.

An Example

Fred, a physician, is a grandiose narcissist. He met Sharon, a nurse, at the hospital where he works. He divorced his first wife (who helped put him through medical school) and married Sharon, an attractive "trophy wife." Their relationship revolves around his career.

Everyone thinks Fred is a great guy—fun and witty. But behind the scenes he belittles Sharon and occasionally slaps her for acting "stupid." He doesn't want her to work, so she gives up her career to raise several children. In the meantime, Fred has several short affairs with other secretaries and nurses, which he doesn't hide. He gets furious with Sharon when this upsets her.

When the children get older, she wants to return to work. But he mocks her abilities. So she devotes herself to volunteer work related to the children's activities. One day, Sharon gets cancer. Fred gets the best treatment for her. But while she is in the hospital, he also develops a more substantial relationship with another nurse at work. When she finds out, Sharon is crushed--not only about the affair, but his undeniable inability to emotionally support her.

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