Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Fragile and the Vulnerable

He was such a sweet guy, she asked, how could I not trust him? I can't tell you the number of times this question has been posed to me and my response is usually a combination of support and gentle explanation. You weren't alone, many people trusted him. He was very, very good at hiding who he was on the inside -- especially from himself.

I've mentioned previously how I often look back over topics I've covered in an effort to avoid repeating myself. It's easy to do, particularly when you have favor

A couple of examples of rocking horses.
ite hobby horses you enjoy riding. I'm climbing onto one of them this morning because I've lately realized how one-sided my comments about it have been. Not intentionally so, but there's more to be said and I want to be fair.

In the past, I've described narcissism as though the competitive, arrogant type was pretty much typical, and in my experience, it has been. Nevertheless, I've also known individuals who seemed to feel a similar entitlement to special treatment, but for whom life is like an elaborate fantasy. It was as though they're playing chess and working both sides of the board to suit themselves. Anything that doesn't agree with what they imagine reality to be is treated as not having occurred at all.

It troubled me how they acted sincerely concerned for people but could resort to manipulation without remorse. I also noticed they were exquisitely sensitive to shame. A mistake for which you or I would admit responsibility and then move on, had the potential to trigger pent-up rage that easily turned into a grudge.

I've recently learned this pattern actually represents a more nuanced understanding of narcissism and is called the fragile/vulnerable or covert type. The underlying traits -- lack of genuine empathy, a sense of entitlement, self-absorption, etc. -- are virtually the same as those in the arrogant type, but they're expressed differently. The arrogant type is confident and self-assured while the fragile/vulnerable/covert type is prone to appear modest, unassuming, and possess a high moral code -- one which they apply ruthlessly to others but not equally to themselves. Their self-esteem is in the basement, along with a coal cellar filled with rage over being misunderstood or under-appreciated. They can use people as easily as the arrogant type, but they act nicer about it.

And this is why they're harder to identify and we can be more easily fooled. We overlook what we can't believe and make excuses for the rest. But we feel drained -- emotionally anemic -- after being around them, and when their denial crumbles under stress, you may begin to see how much of their life is organized around their particular fantasy.

If you're interested, there's a growing body of literature -- just do a search for fragile/vulnerable/covert narcissism and indulge yourself. Whether you're "in the business" or not, it can be enlightening, especially if you're familiar with someone like this. And if not, well, it never hurts to be prepared, just in case.

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