Understanding Inverted Narcissism
You would be forgiven for assuming that inverted narcissism is a sub type of the typical understanding of narcissism. However, it’s something quite different. In order to understand inverted narcissism we must set the preface what narcissism is.
Dr Sam Vaknin coined the term inverted narcissist to refer to someone who depends upon a narcissistic personality to validate them. There is something heart-wrenching to this definition because, let’s face it, a narcissist is probably the last personality type upon whom you can rely for the validation of your self-worth. In all honesty, this sounds like a self-defeating quest for affirmation.
To put it another way, an inverted narcissist can also be described as codependent. In fact, inverted narcissists are also referred to narcissist codependents (and covert narcissists, for that matter). What is codependency? Essentially it means that one person relies on another for something. The prefix ‘co’ often implies some form of positive partnership (as in cooperate, coordinate, etc), but sadly this is not the case here. Unfortunately, any accurate codependency definition will refer to what can be regarded as a dysfunctional relationship.
As already established, the inverted narcissist relies upon the narcissist for validation. What is the narcissist’s role in this relationship? Typically, the narcissist will enable and support the inverted narcissist’s Addiction. No, this has nothing to do with alcohol, illicit narcotics, or anything like that. The inverted narcissist is addicted to this state of codependency and therefore, by association, the other person’s narcissism.
Let’s make an important distinction here: you can be in a relationship with a narcissist without being an inverted narcissist. You might have a narcissist as a friend, partner, spouse, relative, colleague, etc. This does not automatically qualify you as an inverted narcissist.
Inverted narcissists depend exclusively on relationships with narcissists. They actively seek out narcissists for this purpose. To continue with the previous comparison with addiction, inverted narcissists crave relationships with narcissists. They can be repeatedly abused by narcissists, and yet they will continue to seek them out. Again, for the purpose of clarity, simply being in a relationship with a narcissist does not put you in this category. Your relationships with narcissists do not have to be codependent in nature.
So just what does this relationship of codependency look like? Inverted narcissists are, above all, afraid of abandonment. This fear fuels their codependent behavior and explains why they will endure (and fight to stay in) what are often abusive relationships.
The inverted narcissist’s fear is at the root of several observable behaviors. They will cling to narcissists. In order to stay in a relationship with a narcissist, an inverted narcissist can be immature, demanding, submissive, and needy. They will often embrace the role of victim – with some enthusiasm and eagerness.
Commonsense would dictate that a person would be happier in a relationship that is free from codependency. However, this is not so for inverted narcissists. As challenging as it may be to accept, inverted narcissists seek out this type of dysfunctional relationship. A relationship with any other kind of person leaves them feeling empty and unhappy. It simply won’t feed their addiction.
Before you assume the label of inverted narcissist or apply it to anyone, a person has to also meet the definition of a Dependent Personality Disorder. The diagnostic criteria can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V. The accompanying description reads as follows:
“The core feature of the Dependent Personality Disorder is a strong need to be taken care of by other people. This need to be taken care of, and the associated fear of losing the support of others, often leads people with Dependent Personality Disorder to behave in a “clingy” manner; to submit to the desires of other people. In order to avoid conflict, they may have great difficulty standing up for themselves. The intense fear of losing a relationship makes them vulnerable to manipulation and abuse. They find it difficult to express disagreement or make independent decisions, and are challenged to begin a task when nobody is available to assist them. Being alone is extremely hard for them. When someone with Dependent Personality Disorder finds that a relationship they depend on has ended, they will immediately seek another source of support.”
It is important to remember that everyone can exhibit some of these personality traits from time to time. To meet the diagnostic requirement of a personality disorder, these traits must be inflexible; i.e., they can be repeatedly observed without regard to time, place, or circumstance. Furthermore, these traits must cause functional impairment and/or subjective distress. Functional impairment means these traits interfere with a person’s ability to functional well in society. The symptoms cause problems with interpersonal relationships; or at work, school, or home.
If you feel somewhat confounded by this, then prepare for another revelation: inverted narcissists are, through their assumption of victim hood, trying to control the narcissists in their relationships. But this does not mean that they are manipulative and cunning (like true narcissists). You might need to think that through for a minute…
Although this might not fit the conventional definition of a victim, an inverted narcissist can also be described as self-centered, defensive, hostile, sensitive, vulnerable, and paranoid. They feel entitled, and these grandiose fantasies lead them to exploit others, although more subtly that your stereotypical exploiter.
However, this sense of grandiosity conflicts with an inner sense of worthlessness. They recognize that their desires and urges are socially impermissible. This leads to them being shy, perfectionists, unassertive, and extremely self-critical. It is this conflict that is at the heart of this personality disorder.
They seek codependent relationships with narcissists, who they envy and resent. This is what makes the condition so challenging to treat: they are addicted to that which fuels their disorder.
Here are Recommendations to Improve Your Life With Inverted Narcissism
- Seek out a counselor or therapist that has experience in treating this disorder.
- Read a good book.
- Create an exercise routine be sure to include some yoga.
- Do a 10 day detox. Make a plan to change your eating habits if they are unhealthy.
- When you feel fear, sadness and loss find a healthy way to grieve and move beyond these feelings.
- Become capable of forgiving those you harbor resentment towards. This is the best Self-love you could ever give yourself!
- Learn to look at things from others perspective instead of your own.
- You must move from victim to survivor.
- Envision your life expanding and changing to include more joy and create more independence.
- Practice by taking a walk or drive by yourself.
- Eating a meal alone can also create independence.
- To accelerate your independence at a rapid pace take a vacation alone!
- Embark on a spiritual journey or attend a spiritual retreat!
- Get a relaxing massage and be gentle with yourself!
Author: Esateys Stuchiner
Esateys (pronounced Ee sáh teez) is an International Life Transformational Speaker, Author, Master Facilitator, Life Coach and Expert in the Human condition. She is a Nationally and Board Certified Nurse Practitioner. For over 30 years, she has practiced, taught and lectured extensively in the allopathic and alternative medicine field.
Esateys is known for her groundbreaking work in the areas of personal empowerment and health restoration using mindset and inner connection as the catalyst for all change.
Esateys describes herself as the ‘Architect of the New You’ and has dedicated her life and professional career to helping her clients create “New Beginnings” by facilitating self empowerment, economic freedom and restored health.
For more information, go to esateys.com.