Vulnerable narcissism is a form of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). People may also call this subtype “covert narcissism.” Those with this diagnosis may experience hypersensitivity, defensiveness, and introversion.

A personality disorder is a mental health condition in which a person experiences ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving that deviate from the expectations of the culture, cause distress or problems functioning, and last over time.

With NPD, a person may experience a pattern of need for admiration, a lack of empathy for others, or feelings of self-importance and entitlement. People with the vulnerable subtype of NPD may experience these characteristics but also display a more introverted personality.

This article discusses vulnerable narcissism, including its signs, possible causes, and treatments.

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According to the American Psychiatric Association, people with NPD may crave admiration from others and can demonstrate a lack of empathy for people around them.

There are two basic subtypes of NPD, known as grandiose and vulnerable. A person with grandiose NPD may behave in aggressive and bold ways. However, a person with vulnerable NPD may experience patterns of hypersensitive and introverted behavior.

Other terms used for vulnerable NPD include:

  • covert NPD
  • fragile NPD
  • hypersensitive NPD
  • implicit NPD

A person with the vulnerable subtype of NPD may try to hide things about themselves they feel self-conscious about. This may make it harder for a healthcare professional to diagnose the condition.

Learn more about NPD.

Various signs may indicate a person has vulnerable NPD, such as:


Research from 2017 notes that vulnerable NPD corresponds highly with introversion, where a person tends to focus intensely on their internal feelings and may behave in a reserved way in social situations. Research from 2003 found that participants with vulnerable NPD reported high interpersonal distress and problems with social avoidance.

More recent research supports this, including a 2019 study that appears to confirm the hypothesis that people with vulnerable NPD tend to demonstrate negative self-esteem and often construct their self-image based on how other people see them. These patterns can create anxiety around interacting with others.

The findings of a 2020 study also suggest individuals with vulnerable NPD may be more prone to developing an addiction to using Facebook than people without NPD. Its authors suggest this may be at least partly a result of anxiety.

The research notes that individuals with grandiose NPD also appear more likely to experience Facebook addiction, with anxiety possibly contributing to those cases in a similar way.

However, it is important to note that introversion is a personality trait that many people without NPD exhibit, and it exists on a spectrum.

Learn more about introversion.


A person with vulnerable NPD may experience hypersensitivity to criticism or feeling judged by others. A 2022 study notes that other people’s remarks can easily hurt people with this subtype. They may also interpret comments as being hostile when they are not intended that way.

Research from 2020 reports that some relatives of people with vulnerable NPD felt they had to “walk on eggshells” to avoid causing highly negative responses to perceived criticism.

Low self-esteem

Research from 2019 suggests that people with vulnerable narcissism may experience low self-esteem. This may manifest as anxiety in social situations where they cannot control how people perceive them.

Additional research from 2021 states that people with vulnerable narcissism may feel unable to promote a perceived level of superiority or receive the level of praise and admiration they feel they deserve. It suggests that this may cause feelings of anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression.


A 2020 study reported on the experiences of relatives of people with vulnerable NPD. They suggested that their family members with vulnerable NPD thought the following:

  • that others treated them harshly or unfairly
  • that they were victims of attacks from others
  • that people took advantage of them

Research from 2019 suggests that people with vulnerable narcissism can experience the following in relationships:

Researchers do not yet know the causes of NPD. However, the collection of traits it encompasses may result from a combination of genetics and childhood experiences.

A 2020 study noted that people with vulnerable NPD reported higher levels of childhood trauma and adverse childhood experiences than people with grandiose NPD. However, further research is needed to investigate these results.

There is no standard treatment for a person with NPD. Doctors may recommend different forms of therapy, such as:

  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy: This can focus on a person’s defenses that are present during a therapy session.
  • Transference-focused therapy: This focuses on the interaction between the person and their therapist.
  • Schema-focused therapy: This combines therapy techniques to help a person change rigid patterns of thinking.

A healthcare professional may prescribe medications such as antidepressants or antipsychotics to help a person with the condition manage symptoms such as:

People who have grandiose NPD can display the following characteristics and behaviors:

  • extroversion
  • aggression
  • boldness
  • self-confidence
  • self-assurance
  • selfishness
  • manipulation
  • charm
  • charisma

Although people with vulnerable NPD may share some of these traits, they usually do not have the same level of self-confidence and extroversion that someone with grandiose NPD tends to have.

Learn more about signs of narcissism.

Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about vulnerable NPD.

Do people with vulnerable NPD have empathy?

People with vulnerable and grandiose NPD can lack empathy. People with these diagnoses may display an intense level of focus on themselves, making it difficult to consider the feelings of others.

Are people with vulnerable NPD capable of love?

Yes, people with vulnerable NPD can love other people. However, in relationships, they may demonstrate behaviors that are:

  • dependent
  • possessive
  • fearful of rejection
  • aggressive

They may also display a tendency toward victimhood and excessively seek signs of love and acceptance from a partner.

There are two basic forms of NPD: vulnerable and grandiose. NPD can cause a person to experience an intense level of focus on themselves and have feelings of superiority. In addition, people with vulnerable NPD tend to display personality traits such as introversion and hypersensitivity.

The causes of vulnerable NPD are not currently clear. However, researchers believe it may result from a combination of genetics and childhood experiences.

Although there is no standard treatment for NPD, healthcare professionals can treat its symptoms using therapy and medication.