How a False Sense of Reality Impacts Vulnerable Narcissists

The disconnect between fantasy and reality.

Posted May 27, 2020

Vulnerable narcissists inhabit a world that has a firm foot in fantasy land. Like grandiose narcissists, they have a belief in their “specialness” and superiority compared to other people. Unlike their grandiose counterparts—who will find any way possible in getting the message out there about how brilliant they are—the vulnerable narcissist has this belief but lacks the outgoing qualities of the grandiose narcissist in spreading the word. Instead of going to the boss and asking for a pay rise based on the fact that they believe they’re the hardest-working, most skilled employee in the office, the vulnerable narcissist is far more likely to feel hurt and resentful that their workplace efforts have gone unnoticed. 

In many ways, grandiose narcissists have the capacity to create realities that reflect their innermost beliefs about their superiority and illustriousness by surrounding themselves with people who, attracted by their charm, shore up these beliefs. Like the Greek God Narcissus, the grandiose narcissist can hold up a mirror of their own creation which affirms what they want to see. 

For the vulnerable narcissist, however, there is a disconnect between what they believe and the reality which they create. They lack the ability to convince everyone else of their specialness. The vulnerable narcissist’s mirror tends to be distorted and misshapen—a bit like those mirrors at the fairground.

What is the Impact of This Distorted Reality?

Constant quest for recognition. The vulnerable narcissist relies on external validation for a sense of self-worth. But because there is a disconnect between what they believe about themselves and what is reflected back to them, they fail to receive the validation they are searching for. This can end in a constant quest for recognition, leading the vulnerable narcissist to become a perfectionist.

Wanting to start at the top. Living in a fantasy world in which you’re superior to everyone else can hold you back. Do you really have to put in the same effort as your counterparts? Shouldn’t your boss be able to spot your genius and promote you anyway? You might feel demeaned by having to start at the bottom and annoyed that other people don’t know how skilled you are. You might miss out on some great personal and professional opportunities because you think they’re beneath you.

Feeling overlooked. Because people in the real world fail to validate your beliefs, you may end up feeling overlooked and become resentful. Far from spurring you on to greater things, you can end up feeling as if there’s no point in pushing yourself because nobody notices anyway. 

Nothing is ever good enough. You’ve earned more money. Become more successful. Bought a bigger car and received a few awards. But it’s not enough. If your view of what you deserve out of life is based on the fact that you’re better than pretty much everyone else, it’s going to be hard to feel satisfied. Ever.

A distorted picture of other people. If you’re a vulnerable narcissist, you may see yourself as being in competition with other people. When you think you’re more “special” than others, you can become jealous when they receive promotion or recognition. You might fail to recognise the beauty in people who you regard as being of lesser importance than you. Other people appear boring or threatening and the world becomes a place inhabited by people who are either of no interest or who are out to get you. This can make the world a lonely place.

If you recognise the traits of vulnerable narcissism in yourself, it is possible to change. It’s important to realise that you have these traits because you have felt a need to prove yourself and earn validation. Perhaps you have been raised by a narcissistic parent and have learned that this is the way of the world. It is possible to work on changing the reflection in the mirror.