Vulnerable narcissists are quite a peculiar aspect of the narcissistic realm. When we think of narcissism, we often think of grandiose narcissists. They’re very arrogant, entitled, and very well put together individuals. 

Vulnerable narcissists are often characterized as introverted, they resent and minimize the success of others, often associated with depression, and have mastered self-victimization along with passive-aggressive behavioral patterns. 

How does one co-parent with a vulnerable narcissist, while ensuring their child’s perception of the world isn’t corrupted by their narcissistic parent’s manipulative defeatism? 

How to Tell If You’re In a Relationship With a Vulnerable Narcissist?

For starters, you should make sure that your partner shows narcissistic traits in the first place. When you have a cynical approach to human behavioral patterns, it’s very possible for you to mistakenly categorize a non-narcissistic individual as narcissistic as there is such a thing as healthy narcissism.

With that being said, being overly empathic can get you trapped within the narcissistic abuse cycle for months, years, and even decades. There’s a fine line between cynical and empathic approaches, but with the proper knowledge, finding it shouldn’t be a problem.  Here are a handful of manipulative behaviors they use, along with a list of some of the characteristics associated with individuals who are narcissistic.

3 commonly seen forms of manipulation that narcissists use
  • Hypersensitivity to Criticism
    • When faced with even the slightest amount of criticism, narcissists will often get very defensive, rageful, and temporarily indifferent to the existence of the one who criticized them.
  • Superficial
    • A narcissist’s behavioral patterns are designed to hide their miserable personalities and fragile egos. Victims of narcissistic abuse often notice that their abuser is charming and charismatic when other people are around, but mean-spirited, cruel, and manipulative when they’re alone.
  • Entitled 
    • The grandiosity of a narcissist makes them believe that they are entitled to what they want, when they want. This mentality can manifest in their inability to take responsibility for their actions. In other words, they don’t apologize when they hurt your feelings. 

A relationship with a vulnerable narcissist is very challenging because the victim spends most of their time coddling their abusers fragile/vulnerable ego. Vulnerable narcissists are masterful when it comes to blaming their shortcomings on irrelevant circumstances. 

It’s because of this that they tend to attract overly empathic people who have a desire to rescue, fix, and/or mitigate the narcissists’ “suffrage.” Victims of vulnerable narcissistic abuse are guaranteed to experience an advanced level of manipulation through minimization, guilt, and shame. 

7 Things Vulnerable Narcissists Say

  • I could have been (blank) if I had grown up with the money you grew up with.
  • If I had the opportunities they had, I would have been (blank).
  • If my parents would have got me into (blank university) I definitely would have had that job.
  • If my teacher had just done (blank) I wouldn’t have ended up in this position
  • I didn’t get fired because of my performance, I got fired because I didn’t have a fancy degree like the others.
  • I bet if my parents would have loved me enough to get me a trainer, I would be playing in the (blank) making millions. Must be nice to be born with talent.
  • If my parents had been harder on me, maybe I would have the work ethic to get the promotion I wanted.

The best way to determine if you’re in a relationship with a vulnerable narcissist is to analyze their responses when you try to comfort them. A vulnerable narcissist is masterful in the art of self-pity. Regardless of how many times you try to see the glass as half full, they’ll always see it as half empty.

For example, imagine that your narcissistic partner said, “If I had the opportunities they had, I would have been (blank)” and you try to comfort them by reminding them of the beautiful family they have, the successful career they have, and most importantly, the loving partner they have. 

If they show the characteristics I listed above that are commonly seen among narcissists, and they’re able to take all of that in, and still spew out pity, contempt, and victimhood, it’s very possible that you’re dealing with a vulnerable narcissist. 

What Should You Expect When Co-Parenting With a Vulnerable Narcissist?

Co-parenting with a vulnerable narcissist is incredibly exhausting because vulnerable narcissists have the emotional maturity of a toddler. It will be up to the non-narcissistic co-parent to not only raise the children, but reassure the vulnerabilities of their narcissistic partner.

What’s interesting about vulnerable narcissists is that they’re not as wrapped up with materialistic things and ideologies as grandiose narcissists are. Narcissists are so emotionally stunted that they don’t possess the skill set required to maintain healthy relationships, especially with their own children.

You Should Expect to Feel Like a Single Parent

A vulnerable narcissist embodies the definition of a self-centered individual. Because of their instinctual jealousy and contempt towards their children, they’re likely to feel offended when their partner shows affection towards the children, instead of them. 

You wouldn’t expect a grown adult to need the same attentiveness that parent give to their children, but vulnerable narcissists do. They’re so emotionally stunted that one could characterize the relationship of a vulnerable narcissist and their children as a sibling rivalry.

This level of jealousy and emotional immaturity creates an individual who is offended by being asked to have even the slightest bit of responsibility that comes with parenthood. 

Image of a vulnerable narcissist acting like a child

Narcissistic Injuries and the Shame-Rage Spiral

There isn’t a human being alive today who hasn’t had their ego wounded at least once in their lifetime. Ego injuries could manifest in a professor being outwitted by a bright student, someone being rejected from their dream college, or an athlete realizing they’re past their prime. 

It hurts, but emotionally stable individuals are able to regulate their emotions in a healthy manner. Narcissists on the other hand, can not. When a narcissist experiences an ego injury, it’s called narcissistic injury, because they overreact to the situation. 

Their inability to regulate their own emotions, pushes them into a shame-rage spiral. A shame-rage spiral is when a narcissist will be in a situation where they feel ashamed, and because of their emotional immaturity, they can’t regulate the feeling of being ashamed, so they rage. 

Unfortunately, rage is rarely a justified response and is usually met with disgust and/or horror, which makes them feel ashamed again and the cycle repeats.

In fact, while researching for a previous article, Do Narcissists Feel Ashamed? I came across an article by Zlatan Kirzan and Omesh Johar called Narcissistic Rage Revisited, where they mentioned four studies they conducted that suggests a narcissist’s vulnerability, not grandiosity, plays a major role in narcissistic rage. 

Significant Level of Jealousy Towards Their Own Children

A vulnerable narcissist’s behavioral patterns circulate around their immaturity and need for narcissistic supply. Their jealousy towards their own children isn’t as simple as being jealous that the children are getting more attention than themselves, no, in many cases it triggers their fear of abandonment.

How?

We only had 14 participants who could identify their ex abuser as a vulnerable narcissist, so as part of my research, I reached out to online forms and Facebook groups to find other survivors of vulnerable narcissistic abuse. 

After connecting with 34 more survivors of vulnerable narcissism, a very interesting pattern began to emerge. A basic understanding of a vulnerable narcissist’s jealousy towards their children, that you can easily find on the internet or youtube, paints an image of a person who gets jealous when the child is getting more attention and/or more resources.

The interesting pattern that emerged while speaking to the 48 survivors of narcissistic abuse with a vulnerable narcissist, was that their abuser wasn’t always so competitive with their children. Furthermore, the explanations they gave correlated with a narcissist’s willingness to exploit their children for narcissistic supply, which is the validation and admiration they get from others.

In our article, What Effect Does Having a Narcissistic Parent Have On a Child, we talked about the dynamic between a golden child and a narcissistic parent. The golden child is the child that a narcissistic parent favors. The golden child will get all of the things the other family members won’t, validation, admiration, and some levels of respect and empathy. 

What’s the catch?

Well, the title of golden child is very conditional. They’re only the golden child because they bring some sort of validation and/or admiration to the family, aka, the narcissist. So, because the child is a fantastic athlete, student, musician, or whatever else it may be, the narcissist is able to maneuver themselves into the limelight and soak up the validation and admiration.

Of course, there were different variations to their explanations, but 39 out of 48 of the survivors depicted the following timeline.

This is so significant because it correlates with a child gradually gaining their independence. When a child is 10 or younger, they’re still very dependent on their parents. Which allows a narcissistic parent to take the credit for their achievements. 

When a child is 10 to 16 years old, they begin to become more and more independent, especially when they hit their teenage years. It’s around these ages where the tone shifts from, “Mr. Anderson, your child is such a great student, athlete, musician etc., you must be so proud.” to “Johnny you’re doing a fantastic job! I love your dedication.”

By age 16 and older, most of us are well on our way to independence. We’re able to join the workforce, we’re being judged by colleges, coaches, teachers, and so on regarding our academic or athletic ability. And there’s a strong push for us to take responsibility for our own actions, learn our own success, and learn from our own failures.

It’s no coincidence that the people I connected with reported that their vulnerable co-parent narcissist became very jealous, competitive, and rageful over their children’s success once they reached an age where they could no longer take credit for it. 

Just to be clear, everyone in this study reported that their narcissistic co-parent always had some level of jealousy towards their children, but it got more and more intense as the child got older, and subsequently, more independent. 

What You Should Expect If You’re Divorced and Co-Parenting With a Vulnerable Narcissist

Vulnerable narcissists are very much the black sheep of the narcissistic realm. It’s very common for survivors of narcissistic abuse to experience a very vengeful, rageful, and manipulative narcissistic partner during the divorce phase if they’re dealing with a malignant, grandiose, or communal narcissist. While this may still occur with a vulnerable narcissist, it’s far more likely they’ll have much different experiences. 

A Smooth Custody Battle

By no means is this a certainty, but if there were a type of narcissist who’d give up custody of the children without a major fight, it would be a vulnerable narcissist.

When it comes to narcissists, vulnerable narcissists in particular, parenting is more of a cover than a desire. Because of the fragility of a narcissist’s ego, they have an insecure need to fit in and look good to society, which means meeting, and exceeding society’s expectations.

Having a family is a cultural norm in the era we live in, therefore narcissists feel obligated to create one on a primitive level in order to fit in and look good to society. If you combine this with a vulnerable narcissist’s insecurity, immaturity, and sense of inadequacy, it’s easy to see why so many of them willingly give up custody.

image of a vulnerable narcissist wanting to give up custody of the kids

It’s important to remember that while survivors of narcissistic abuse will feel very relieved that the vulnerable narcissist is giving up on the custody battle, the children will likely feel an enormous amount of rejection and loss.

Stingy Over Money

The interesting part about vulnerable narcissists, is that oftentimes their social inadequacy holds them back from the financial stability and success that the other types of narcissists are known for achieving.

It’s very common for vulnerable narcissists to feel victimized when they are forced to divvy up the assets that they believe is theirs, even when it comes to their children. 

Difficulties Co-Parenting

One of the most difficult aspects of co-parenting with a narcissist is the effect it will inevitably have on your children. Just as you did, your children may mistake the vulnerable narcissist’s behavior as a cry for help, rather than a manipulative pattern.

Children of vulnerable narcissist’s may develop maladaptive behaviors such as the minimization of their own achievements, because of how competitive, jealous, and passive-aggressive their narcissistic parent is. 

Your children may even feel responsible for the wellbeing of their narcissistic parent because of how victimized they portray themselves as. 

Finding a balance between not calling the vulnerable narcissist’s behavior out to your children, and rebuilding their beliefs in themselves while reassuring them that their parent’s happiness isn’t their responsibility, will be the most challenging aspect of co-parenting with a vulnerable narcissist. 

Vulnerable narcissists suck the life out of anything joyous, and it’s exhausting. It is so important that you fight your impulses to expose your narcissistic ex to your children because many victims of narcissistic abuse, not only children, have a specific time and place where they can hear and comprehend the truth. 

Ask yourself, would you have been ready to hear that your husband/wife was a miserable human-being that would never change when you were your happiest with them? 

The most important thing you can do as a parent is to be an accurate mirror to your child. With a childhood of having their thoughts and feelings accurately mirrored, children enter adulthood with the self-awareness and self-acceptance needed to live healthy lives.


All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

Krizan, Z., & Johar, O. (2015). Narcissistic rage revisited. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(5), 784–801. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000013

Irena Pilch & Małgorzata E. Górnik-Durose (2017) Grandiose and Vulnerable Narcissism, Materialism, Money Attitudes, and Consumption Preferences, The Journal of Psychology, 151:2, 185-206, DOI: 10.1080/00223980.2016.1252707

Interpersonal analysis of grandiose and vulnerable narcissism Dickinson, Kelly A;Pincus, Aaron L Journal of Personality Disorders; Jun 2003; 17, 3; pg 188-207 Gilford Press https://doi.org/10.1521/pedi.17.3.188.22146

Suggested Readings: