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Desperate: The Hidden World of Introvert Narcissists

The submerged pains of introvert narcissists.

Key points

  • Narcissists exist along a continuum, from the extroverted Oblivious Narcissist to the introverted Hypervigilant Narcissist.
  • The Hypervigilant Narcissist avoids attention, but may secretly crave the spotlight (“quiet grandiosity”).
  • What both Oblivious and Hypervigilant Narcissists have in common is their well-constructed and rehearsed false image.

Narcissism is often associated with its many external manifestations, including attention seeking, superiority complex, self-centeredness, manipulation, lack of reliability, boundary violation, negative emotions, and many other traits.

At the same time, psychiatrist Glen Gabbard suggests that some narcissists belong to a subtype that is much more introvert-oriented.(1)

According to Gabbard, narcissists exist along a continuum between two subtypes: the more extroverted Oblivious Narcissist, and the more introverted Hypervigilant Narcissist. Unlike the grandiose, “I’m so unique and special” persona of the Oblivious Narcissist, a Hypervigilant Narcissist tends to avoid the limelight, is “exquisitely sensitive,” and has a constant, heightened fear of being rejected by others.

"(Hypervigilant Narcissists) listen to others carefully for evidence of any critical reaction, and they tend to feel slighted at every turn."

— Glen Gabbard

It's important to point out the differences between introversion, social anxiety disorder, shyness, and Hypervigilant Narcissism. As a hypothetical, an introvert may choose to stay home instead of socialize because she (or he) prefers being alone. Someone with social anxiety disorder wants to socialize but is so nervous about it that she ends up staying home. A shy person wants to socialize and remains her bashful self while socializing. The Hypervigilant Narcissist also wants to socialize, does so very carefully to be accepted, desists from standing out for fear of disapproval, and regularly behaves in ways that are not herself to avoid rejection.

Below are comparisons of the Oblivious Narcissist versus the Hypervigilant Narcissist. This is a general overview only. Each individual, of course, has a unique set of traits. Many narcissists possess aspects of both subtypes.

The Oblivious Narcissist (2)

  • Insensitive to others.
  • Fears irrelevance and feeling unloved (un-adored).
  • Attention seeking and grandiose.
  • Violates others’ boundaries and manipulates in relationship.
  • Life decisions to boost superficial image and ego-driven success.

The Hypervigilant Narcissist (3)

  • Hypersensitive to others.
  • Fears rejection and abandonment.
  • Avoids attention, but may secretly crave the spotlight (“quiet grandiosity”).
  • Constantly engages in Fight, Flight, or Freeze around the theme of feeling rejected.
  • Life decisions to avoid the pain of rejection and failure.

What both Oblivious and Hypervigilant narcissists have in common is their well-constructed and rehearsed false image (like roles in a dramatic play). The “ugly duckling” true self is submerged in order to perform a role to be admired and/or accepted. For introverted Hypervigilant Narcissists, their hidden pain is one of wanting connection, but expecting rejection.

© 2015 by Preston C. Ni.


(1) Gabbard, Glen O. “Two Subtypes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder”. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic. (1989) 527. (2) Gabbard, Glen O. “Tw