Psychology: this is the toxic move “vulnerable narcissists” use to put others down

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Lauren Geall
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A mouth open in laughter

A new study has revealed the dangers of this lesser-known type of narcissist.

While there are a number of key characteristics associated with all narcissists (most notably, an excessive admiration and interest in oneself), there are also a number of “types” of narcissist who possess a series of unique toxic traits.

One such type is the “vulnerable narcissist”, which was the subject of a new study published in the journal Personality And Individual Differences.

According to the study, which set out to examine the relationship between vulnerable narcissism and several toxic interpersonal behaviours, vulnerable narcissism is broadly defined “in terms of hypersensitivity to rejection, negative affectivity, social isolation, but also of distrust of others and increased levels of anger and hostility”. 

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In this way, vulnerable narcissism differs from other kinds of narcissism because it’s considered an internalising trait – vulnerable narcissists are more likely to have higher levels of neuroticism and lower levels of agreeableness and extraversion, meaning their personality is more likely to be hostile than outwardly aggressive.

However, as the new study also revealed, that doesn’t mean vulnerable narcissists don’t have the potential to have a negative impact on the people around them.

In fact, their relationship to ridicule (both in terms of being laughed at and laughing at others) can be particularly damaging to those around them.

A woman with squiggles in her head
Vulnerable narcissists are typically hypersensitive to rejection.

“On the one hand, due to heightened levels of neuroticism and its social withdrawal, vulnerable narcissism might be inevitably related to the fear of being laughed at,” the study’s authors explain.

“On the other, due to the fact that vulnerable narcissism is also related to being spiteful in the sense that the accidents of others make them feel better, it is also hypothesised to be positively related to [enjoying laughing at others].”

In this way, not only can a vulnerable narcissist’s fear of being laughed at make them more likely to act passive aggressively towards those they perceive to be mocking them (even if they’re not), but they’re likely to take pleasure from putting people down and making a joke out of other people’s mishaps.  

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A vulnerable narcissist’s fear of being laughed at can also lead them to isolate themselves socially and experience distressing emotions – something which can exacerbate their dislike and contempt towards the people around them.

In short, while vulnerable narcissists may not be as aggressive or in-your-face as an overt narcissist, the way they see the world – especially when it comes to ridicule – can have a significant impact on both themselves and those around them. 

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.