Three Signs of a Highly Sensitive Narcissist
Some narcissists are acutely sensitive.
Posted May 12, 2019 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina
Narcissism seems pervasive in our society these days, with many damaging relational consequences. The Oxford dictionary defines narcissism as “selfishness, involving a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.” The Mayo Clinic research group states that “those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they're superior to others and have little regard for other people's feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
Since the chronic narcissist’s self-worth and identity are often highly egocentric (based on false superiority, haughty conceit, superficial status, perceived privilege, overbearing entitlement, blatant materialism, etc.), many are highly sensitive to real or perceived signs of inattentiveness, slights, snubs, or unfavorable comparisons, which they interpret as a direct threat to their self-esteem.
It is important to note that many highly sensitive people are not narcissistic. Highly sensitive people are often aware, empathetic, and excellent listeners, which are the antithesis of narcissism. What characterizes the highly sensitive narcissist is their unique combination of self-absorbed conceit, hunger for appeasement from others, and intense negativity when they feel slighted or shunned, real or imagined, even in trivial matters.
Below are three common signs of narcissistic high sensitivity, with references from my books “How to Successfully Handle Narcissists”, and “A Practical Guide for Narcissists to Change Towards the Higher Self”. While some people might show one of these traits on occasion, which may not be a major issue, a chronically highly sensitive narcissist will exhibit a pattern of these character flaws on a recurring basis.
One of the clearest signs of narcissistic high sensitivity is their negative reaction to reasonable criticism. Most mature adults are able of taking criticism in stride, evaluate their validity, and accept legitimate, constructive feedback as a valuable learning tool. Highly sensitive narcissists, however, tend to react adversely, intensely and disproportionally to criticism — even if the feedback is given diplomatically, reasonably, and constructively. They often take things personally, agitate over “how dare they say/do this to me”, and have difficulty letting go.
“How dare you talk to me this way in front of my son!” —Angry customer being called out for blatantly cutting in line
Two other common traits of the highly sensitive narcissist are narcissistic brooding (cutting resentment and simmering hostility), and narcissistic rage (intense angry outbursts). In both instances, the narcissist experiences great agitation and rumination for not getting his or her way (no matter how unreasonable), or over real or perceived inattentiveness. Highly sensitive narcissists often have trouble coping when they learn that the world doesn’t always revolve around them, and that they’re not always going to get their way.
“Whenever my husband feels he isn’t being catered to, he would make everything difficult, while saying there’s nothing’s wrong.” ―Anonymous
“I hate it when you put groceries on the checkout counter that way. I told you before I HATE it!” ―Mother to daughter at supermarket
Other “triggers” of narcissistic high sensitivity may include situations when:
- The narcissist is informed that there are matters of greater importance at hand than the narcissist’s own selfish needs.
- The narcissist is unable to satisfy his or her desire for instant gratification, often in the form of requiring quick response or service from others.
- The narcissist is asked to accept responsibility for breaking promises, not following through, disregarding rules, or violating others’ boundaries (i.e. through manipulation and coercion).
- The narcissist feels rejected and not “special” because she or he is not being catered to.
- The narcissist ruminates excessively over real or perceived slights.
- The narcissist ruminates disproportionally when someone reasonably disagrees with his or her views, which the narcissists takes personally.
- The narcissist feels like he or she is not the center of attention, and/or feels intense jealously that someone else is receiving acknowledgement, praise, and recognition.
Again, many highly sensitive people are not narcissistic. The highly sensitive narcissist operates from within a “shell” of false superiority, conceit and entitlement, which crumbles emotionally when the world reminds them that they’re not always going to be worshipped on a pedestal.
Can a narcissist change for the better? Perhaps. But only if he or she is highly aware and willing to go through the courageous process of self-discovery. For narcissists no longer willing to play the charade at the cost of genuine relationships and credibility, there are ways to liberate from falsehood and progressively move toward one’s higher self. For those who live or work with narcissists, perceptive awareness and assertive communication are musts to establishing healthy and mutually respectful relationships. See references below.
© 2019 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.
Ni, Preston. How to Successfully Handle Narcissists. PNCC. (2014)
Ni, Preston. A Practical Guide for Narcissists to Change Towards the Higher Self. PNCC. (2015)
Ni, Preston. Are You Highly Sensitive? How to Gain Immunity, Peace, and Self-Mastery!. PNCC. (2017)
Ni, Preston. How to Communicate Effectively with Highly Sensitive People. PNCC. (2017)
English Oxford Living Dictionaries. (2019)
Gabbard, Glen O. “Two Subtypes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder”. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic. (1989)
Johnson, S. Humanizing the Narcissistic Style. W. W. Norton & Company. (1987)
Johnson, Stephen. Character Styles. W. W. Norton & Company. (1994)
Mayo Clinic Staff, "Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Symptoms." Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2016)
Ornstein, Paul (ed). The Search for the Self. Selected Writings of Heinz Kohut: 1950-1978. Volume 2. International University Press. (1978)