Six Tips to Help You Recognize a Passive Aggressive Narcissist

Vulnerable narcissism can cause many problems. Here, we tell you the most common traits of the passive-aggressive narcissist.
Six Tips to Help You Recognize a Passive Aggressive Narcissist

Last update: 26 November, 2021

When you hear the word narcissism, you probably tend to imagine a loud and outgoing person who wants to draw attention to themselves. Indeed, although this idea isn’t far from reality, narcissism can also encompass certain broader types of behavior. As a matter of fact, there’s one kind of narcissism that tends to largely go unnoticed. This is because it manifests itself covertly. Consequently, it’s important to be aware of some tips for recognizing this kind of narcissist, the passive-aggressive one.

Thanks to their introverted nature and tendency to isolate themselves, others tend not to notice their behavior. Therefore, others tend to reinforce their behavior without realizing it and they find themselves subject to manipulation from the narcissist.

The passive-aggressive or vulnerable narcissist

The term ‘narcissistic’ is used to talk about people with certain personality traits that are problematic. They often create conflict in social relationships and other areas of life. Among the features of the narcissist are the following:

  • Heightened sense of grandeur.
  • Lack of empathy for others.
  • The constant need for attention.

However, possessing narcissistic personality traits isn’t the same as having a narcissistic personality disorder. In fact, the latter is a more complex picture, although the above-mentioned aspects are still present. Many authors claim that narcissism is more than a trait. They see it as a spectrum. Therefore, it’s possible to distinguish different types of narcissism. For example, the grandiose and the vulnerable.

As a rule, people only recognize the first type, as they tend to be outgoing and quirky. The latter are usually introverted, shy people with low self-esteem. For this reason, people often don’t know how to recognize a passive-aggressive narcissist. Furthermore, they may even feel compassion for them and give them the attention they seek.

Along the same lines, there’s a hypothesis that narcissists fluctuate between vulnerability and grandiosity. Gore and Widiger (2016) published a study in which they evaluated people with vulnerable and grandiose features. They concluded that grandiose narcissists can experience episodes of vulnerability and vice versa.

An unhappy man, maybe a passive-aggressive narcissist.

Tips for recognizing a passive-aggressive narcissist

No matter what kind of narcissism we’re talking about, it can be harmful. However, the vulnerable narcissist tends to act undercover. This is why it’s advisable to learn how to identify them. This isn’t in order to point them out or judge them, but to protect yourself from their attitudes and perhaps even help them.

1. Low self-esteem

Both types of narcissists share low self-esteem but it manifests itself in different ways. For example, extroverted narcissists will openly express how great they are. On the other hand, the introverted narcissist does the opposite. Indeed, it’s likely that these types of people appear quite insecure and exhibit feelings of worthlessness in front of others.

Rohmann et al. (2012) conducted a study on grandiose and vulnerable narcissism and analyzed the characteristic features of each profile. They discovered that vulnerable narcissism is associated with low levels of self-esteem and high levels of separation anxiety. Consequently, a tendency to emotional dependence can be observed.

2. Victimization

This behavior is related to low self-esteem and makes it easy to recognize a passive-aggressive narcissist.

To win the sympathy of others, they tend to position themselves as the victim in all situations. In addition, it’s a mechanism that helps them protect their ego since they don’t cope with criticism well. Thus, seeing themselves as victims prevents them from feeling guilty or frustrated.

3. Verbal assaults

Verbal attacks on other people are common among vulnerable narcissists. As a matter of fact, it’s common for them to try to insult others and then disguise it as a joke. This attitude is a way of sabotaging others since they fear competition. In fact, in the event that someone confronts them, they may resort to victimization to make others feel guilty.

4. They don’t take responsibility for their actions

We all make mistakes and sometimes it can be hard to bear the consequences, but doing so is a sign of maturity However, you can recognize a passive-aggressive narcissist is by their inability to take responsibility for their actions.

Indeed, these types of people experience marked difficulties in taking charge of their actions. Furthermore, they often blame others for their mistakes and refuse to do anything to correct them.

5. Introversion

People with these personality traits avoid social contact and are introverts. The reason for this is that they fear being judged by others and having to compete to be recognized.

Therefore, by isolating themselves, they protect themselves from any potential criticism or challenge where they may need to demonstrate certain capabilities.

Woman isolating herself from her friends

6. Envy

It’s common for these types of people to look down on the achievements of others and claim that they don’t deserve their success. They might also claim that, for one reason or another, they should’ve had the recognition that others had. In fact, these kinds of negative thoughts tend to dominate the minds of vulnerable narcissists.

Finally, it’s important to remember that narcissistic personality traits aren’t the same as having a narcissistic personality disorder. However, these behaviors could indicate that the condition is present. Therefore, knowing how to recognize a passive-aggressive narcissist could be key in motivating them to seek guidance.

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  • Dickinson, K. A., & Pincus, A. L. (2003). Interpersonal analysis of grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. Journal of personality disorders, 17(3), 188-207.
  • Gore, W. L., & Widiger, T. A. (2016). Fluctuation between grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 7(4), 363.
  • Rohmann, E., Neumann, E., Herner, M. J., & Bierhoff, H. W. (2012). Grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. European Psychologist.