Stop Walking on Eggshells

When someone in your life has borderline or narcissistic personality disorder

Two Types of Narcissists Pose Somewhat Different Challenges

There are "vulnerable" narcissists and "invulnerable" NPs.

In the discussions on this blog about narcissists, I've been talking about them as if they all act alike. But that's been to make things a bit less complicated than they already are.

If you read the research, you'll see that dozens of researchers have put NPs into various categories. There seems to be little consensus. But what it comes down to is that there are two types. Bill Eddy, author of Splitting and many other books, wrote this article about the two general types.

Vulnerable vs. Invulnerable Narcissists

All narcissists are typically self-absorbed, see themselves as superior, lack empathy, display arrogance and disdain toward others, experience "narcissistic injuries" when others don't treat them as superior or insult them, and are very upset by any direct feedback about their behavior. They are consistently very oblivious of their effect on others. They truly expect that others will see them as superior and will view them as entitled to special treatment. They are usually caught by surprise that others are offended by their behavior.

However, clinical experience and the research literature indicate that there are two or more general subtypes of narcissists, using a variety of terms. For practical purposes, the most common terms used are vulnerable and invulnerable (grandiose) narcissists.

Two Examples

These two examples involve men, but there are also women who are vulnerable and invulnerable narcissists.

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.


An example of an invulnerable grandiose narcissist would be Fred. Fred is a physician. He met Sharon at work, who is a nurse. 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.

He routinely belittles Sharon behind the scenes and occasionally slaps her for acting "stupid." He doesn't want her to work, so she gives up her career to raise several children. Fred, in the meantime, 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 belittles her abilities, so she devotes herself to volunteer work related to the children's activities.Then Sharon gets cancer and 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, she is crushed--not only about the affair, but his inability to emotionally support her.

The Vulnerable NP

Vulnerable narcissists (VN's) tend to be more sensitive, often see themselves as victims of those who don't understand how superior they are. Just like those with BPD, vulnerable narcissists tend to be preoccupied with fears of rejection and abandonment. They and may feel helpless, anxious and depressed when people don't treat them as they desire.

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. Vulnerable NPs tend to swing back and forth between showing off and feeling hurt, and appear to be trying to prove they are superior to others and themselves.

In adult partner relationships, VNs care about how their partners see them. Partners often make the mistake of pointing out their vulnerabilities in an effort to change the partner's opinion. Any effort to hold them responsible for their own behavior may result in a defensive, attacking response or a self-destructive response. They often try various ways of getting treated with respect while still remaining in the relationship. They may have hidden affairs, yet accuse the other partner of having affairs and may be obsessive about preventing that from happening.

Invulnerable NPs

Invulnerable narcissists tend to be 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 as superior 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 that they are not compensating for anything. They're simply acting out their expectations.

In adult partner relationships, 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 think they deserve. They may openly have multiple relationships/affairs and pride themselves on how many people see how wonderful they are. In common with those with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), they can be very aggressive and dominance-seeking without empathy or remorse.

As you can see, depending upon which narcissist you're involved with-and any comorbid BPD or antisocial personality they might have--you'll have somewhat different challenges.They both have many things in common as well, such as needing power and control, lack of empathy, using others for narcissistic supply, blaming and criticizing, and refusing to accept responsibility for any relationship problems.

By Bill Eddy of the High Conflict Institute. Bill is the author of Splitting and many other books. He gives seminars on high conflixt personalities throughout the United States.

Randi Kreger is the co-author of Stop Walking on Eggshells.

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