Understanding Inverted Narcissism

Black and White Person

​You would be forgiven for assuming that inverted narcissism is a subtype 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.

The definition of narcissism from Dictionary.com. Narcissism is the inordinate fascination with oneself: excessive self-love; vanity.

Dr Sam Vaknin coined the term inverted narcissist to refer to someone who depends upon a narcissistic personality to validate them. An inverted narcissist can also be called a covert narcissist. 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. Continue reading to learn more about inverted narcissist behavior.

Basic Definitions

First, let's take a closer look at what exactly some of these terms mean.


A codependent is someone who depends on other people for their emotional gratification. Generally, they are demanding, needy, and subservient. Similarly to a classic narcissist, they are afraid of abandonment. 

Codependents will engage in immature behaviors to maintain a "relationship," and tend to be clingy. They will stay with their partner no matter what abuse is inflicted upon them.

Also similarly to a classic narcissist, they attempt to control their partner, but do so by being an eager victim. 

Codependents have an excessive and unhealthy care-taking behavior. This occurs with narcissists, as well as partners of drug addicts, sex addicts, alcoholics, or other addicts. 

Often codependents set themselves up as the victim, usually in disagreements or arguments. They may stand up for themselves from time to time, but then become extremely guilty.

Inverted Narcissist

We go into a deep dive of inverted narcissism throughout the article, so we will keep it brief here. 

An inverted narcissist has concealed narcissist behavior. They are a type of codependent who exclusively depends on narcissists. 

Characteristics of an Inverted Narcissist

Beautiful Blur

​Inverted narcissist traits are not that difficult to identify. 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 inco-operatinge, 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.

These are the more specific inverted narcissist symptoms:

  • ​No self-worth
  • ​Has fantasies of possessing success, power, beauty, knowledge or perfect love
  • ​Believes that he or she is not special and unique
  • ​Does not like to be the center of attention
  • ​Feels undeserving
  • ​Exaggerated selflessness
  • ​Lacks empathy
  • ​Great envy for others
  • ​Extreme shyness in public situations and places

​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.

Black and White Girl

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 an 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 function 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 victimhood, 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…

Girl in Garden

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.

Types of Narcissism Personality Disorder


​These are are the different types of an inverted narcissist.

Main Types:

  • ​Vulnerable Narcissists
  • ​Invulnerable Narcissists


  • ​The Amorous Narcissist
  • ​The Compensatory Narcissist
  • ​The Elitist Narcissist
  • ​The Malignant Narcissist

How to deal with narcissist people?

Inverted Narcissism

​Here are Recommendations to Improve Your Life With Inverted Narcissism

  • ​Seek out a counselor or therapist that has experience in treating this disorder.
  • Meditation!
  • ​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.
  • ​Embark on a spiritual journey or attend a spiritual retreat!
  • ​Get a relaxing massage and be gentle with yourself!

​Can an Inverted Narcissist be Cured?

​Unfortunately, many experts that inverted narcissism cannot be cured. Narcissistic personality disorder, in general, cannot be cured.

People who have a narcissistic personality are resistant to changing their traits, feelings, and how they live their life. The narcissistic characteristics and symptoms have already been embedded in their personality or to their whole being for that matter.

This is the type of personality disorder that was developed at an early age has been a victim of abuse by a narcissistic parent. Thus, it is too late to change the personality of the person.


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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.

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