Pathological narcissists are considered to be boastful, aggressive, and domineering, therefore easy to distinguish. Most of us believe that we know when we see it, but, in realty, and more often than not, narcissism is hidden. And why wouldn’t it be if you don’t have the social standing, which most of us don’t, to simply be an asshole? Therefore, narcissism solely conceived of as gluttony, or the insatiable quest to acquire possessions and status, is a common misconception.
Narcissism isn’t just greed for the sake of pleasure; it’s also greed for the sake of comfort. Some vulnerable narcissists consider themselves to be special because of years of suffering, or due to some horrific experience, therefore, they come to believe, the world owes all of its attention to them. In this vein, they don’t covet admiration as much as care, a different form of attention (although, obviously, some search for both).
This version of narcissism is dragging multiple people into a perpetual vortex because you’re too much of a coward to make a decision. It’s asking for advice from everyone you can, multiple times, in a fantastical quest for certainty. It’s also stringing someone else along, even several individuals, as you struggle to decide whether to pursue a romantic relationship with either one of them. And, in all of it, it’s throwing a temper tantrum when others don’t oblige. At one time or another, some of us have been these people, and all of us certainly know some of them. Generally, most of us feel guilty because they seem to need so much help and, yet, regardless of how we offer it, it never appears to be enough.
And that’s because, unless the aid fixes all of their problems and propels them into a Gatsbyesque utopia, they’re chronically unhappy. They dream of a world where their suffering isn’t in vain, wherein perpetual rest and comfort aren’t far off from the beaten path. Fundamentally, uniting them with grandiose narcissists, are the core traits of entitlement and lack of empathy. And life for them is colored in black and white. It’s human nature to ask for compensation when you’ve been wronged in some significant way, but vulnerable narcissists often believe that they’ve suffered more than all of the others, often considering themselves martyrs. Thus, in that respect, the only reasonable amount of compensation can only be universal.
If you’ve been hurt and abandoned by multiple partners, you might begin to believe that it’s your right to spread your affection, or to eat your cake and have it, too. If your life has been inordinately unfair, you might believe that it’s your right to demand your loved ones listen to each and every gripe. If you weren’t born with particular talents, you can rationalize stealing from others. Essentially, the vulnerable narcissist is, oftentimes, the ultimate victim. Since the truth is complicated, it would be unfair to say that many of these individuals aren’t or haven’t been victimized. And much of their behavior is rooted in trauma. As much as they need help, vulnerable narcissists also need boundaries.
Thus, much of the therapeutic work done with them entails helping them understand that people can’t always be available to them, nor should they have to wait on them to make choices, especially if they don’t want to commit to them. It’s challenging to accept that while loved ones will try their best to help you, the universe will never compensate you for your suffering, meaning that you’ll never reach your idyllic state. Perfection, in a realistic sense, is not only cultivating lines of support; it’s also developing the drive and inner mechanisms to aid yourself. Additionally, it’s apologizing to those whom you took for granted. Perfection is building moral character, choosing to do better for the world, instead of requiring its restitution to you. And, finally, perfection is no longer devaluing the innate gifts provided to you.