Narcissism is often associated with its many external manifestations, including attention seeking, grandstanding, superficial charm, lack of reliability, boundary violation, manipulation, and many other traits.
However, not all narcissists are openly grandiose and outwardly intrusive. Various researchers and authors have written about the introverted narcissist, variously identified as the covert narcissist, the hypersensitive narcissist, the closet narcissist, and the vulnerable narcissist (1)(2)(3)(4). This subtype of narcissism is more hidden, and yet can carry the same self-conceit and negative contagion as their extroverted counterpart.
It’s important to point out that many introverts are not narcissistic. The ones who are, however, may have a way of influencing others around them to feel off-balance and/or insecure.
What both extrovert and introvert narcissists have in common is their employment of an outer veneer of superiority, to disguise their inner sense of vulnerability. While the extroverted narcissist will say, in so many ways, that “I’m better than you”, the introverted narcissist will strongly hint at it.*
Many extrovert narcissists are fairly easy to spot, with their grandiose mannerisms and attention-seeking machinations. Introvert narcissists, on the other hand, can be more difficult to pinpoint, at least at the outset. They tend to observe (judgmentally) rather than act, and listen (half-heartedly) rather than speak. Yet, their quieter brand of superiority complex betrays itself through aloof detachment and disconcerting nonverbal cues. They may not express their negativity outright, but you get the distinct sense that they are barely tolerant with their lack of eye contact, condescending glare, eye-rolling, dismissive gestures, groans and sighs, high distractibility, quick boredom, impolite yawns, and overall inattentiveness. When they do speak, their comments tend to be critical and judgmental, focusing on their own conceited views.
This seemingly impenetrable smugness is, of course, a front, covering a sense of vulnerability within. Part of the insecurity may be the inability to relate to people meaningfully as human beings.
“One cries because one is sad…I cry because others are stupid, and that makes me sad.”
― from Big Bang Theory
One of the most common characteristics of an introverted narcissist is a sense of “withdrawn self-centeredness”. While many introverts are more quiet but good listeners, introvert narcissists tend to be reticent and poor listeners. Often, they will make a quick assessment of a person or situation, find it uninteresting, flawed, or unworthy of their attention, and mentally tune out (block you out). While most mature adults are capable of recognizing nuances of issues, and giving people the benefit of the doubt, introvert narcissists tend to focus on only what they selfishly want and find agreeable. All else might be labeled as “boring” or “stupid”.
3.Lack of Empathy
“You’re sick? But what about driving me to the mall?”
Both extrovert and introvert narcissists share this trait. Narcissists are often oblivious to, or dismissive of others’ thoughts and feelings. Even when you tell them how their attitudes and actions are generating adverse consequences, their response will be more about themselves. Such is the self-absorption.
Some introverted narcissists deal with disagreeable people or circumstances in passive-aggressive ways. Upon receiving a reasonable request from you, they might say “okay,” “yes,” “of course,” or “as you wish,” then either do nothing, or behave however they please. When you inquire why they didn’t follow-through on an arrangement, they may shrug it off with an excuse, or say nonchalantly that their way is better.
Psychiatrist Glen Gabbard notes that some introverted narcissists are “exquisitely sensitive”. They tend to be affronted by any signs of real or perceived slights, and handle criticism poorly. In the face of negative feedback, some introvert narcissists will defend with an increased sense of superior smugness and dismissal (fight), while others will respond with sullen withdraw (flight). Typically, they will not let on how much the negative experience bothers them, and instead use their well-rehearsed aloofness to continue their schema.
Of course, not all highly sensitive people are narcissistic. What distinguishes the narcissist is their falsely constructed superiority complex.
6.The “Misunderstood Special Person”
The self-perceptions of some introverted narcissists include notions such as: “I’m special,” “I’m one-of a kind,” “I’m ahead of my time,” “I’m so unique no one understands me,” and “I’m so smart I’m above everyone else.” Statements such as these reveal common narcissistic tendencies of superiority, grandiosity, and entitlement. By constructing the superficial belief that one is “exceptional”, the introvert narcissist creates a reassuring role, submerging the fearful and vulnerable true self.
7.Impersonal and Difficult Relationships
As mentioned earlier, part of the introvert narcissist’s insecurity is the inability to genuinely connect with people. To this extent, the aloofness and/or smugness serve as a defensive mechanism keeping people away, lest the narcissist is exposed for her or his interpersonal inadequacies. Some introvert narcissists narrowly focus on self-absorbing work, technology, social networking, small cliques, books, games, fantasies, and/or other endeavors to minimize wider human interactions. These activities may also help them enact their covert, self-important personas.
(1)Kaufman, Scott B. “23 Signs You’re Secretly a Narcissist Masquerading as a Sensitive Introvert”. Scientific American. (2013)
(2)Gabbard, Glen O. “Two Subtypes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder”. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic. (1989)
(3)Vaknin, Sam. “The Inverted (Covert) Narcissist Codependent”. Narcissus Publications. (2014)
(4)Dickinson, Kelly A., Aaron L. Pincus. “Interpersonal Analysis of Grandiose and Vulnerable Narcissism”. Journal of Personality Disorders. (2003)
Bursten, Ben. “Some Narcissistic Personality Types”. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis. (1973)
Johnson, Stephen. “Character Styles”. W. W. Norton & Company. (1994)
Johnson, Stephen. “Humanizing the Narcissistic Style”. W. W. Norton & Company. (1987)