In general, Closet Narcissists tend to be more insecure than Exhibitionist Narcissists. They feel too exposed and vulnerable to enjoy being the center of admiring attention. They are afraid that other people will see all their flaws and attack and devalue them the way their Narcissistic parent did. Instead, they find ways to attach themselves to people, causes, religions, and other things that they admire and consider special. They then feel special by association.
They do not say: I am special, admire me!
They say: This is perfect and special. You should admire this! (my religion, my lover, my school, this book, etc.)
Instead of being openly demanding, Closet Narcissists sometimes try to manipulate the situation to get their way indirectly. They may play the victim and use your pity to persuade you to do what they want. They often pretend to be much nicer than they really feel inside.
Many people with Closet Narcissistic Personality Disorder allow themselves to be used by their more confident friends. They live for the praise that they hope to get by working hard for the people, causes, and groups that they admire. There is a song in the movie “Beaches” called “The Wind Beneath My Wings” that beautifully describes the type of appreciation that most Closet Narcissists dream about getting from the people that they idealize.
Example—Ted and Lara on a date
Ted is the Exhibitionist Narcissist that we met in my earlier example with Sue. Now he is out on a first date with Lara, who has a Closet Narcissist Disorder. Here they are each describing the date later.
Ted: He says exactly the same thing about his date with Lara as he did about Sue. Ted repeats basically the same first date with every new woman. For Exhibitionist Narcissists such as Ted, women are basically interchangeable as long as they serve the same function for him.
“I really impressed her! I told her about how many important people I know, and I took her to a fancy restaurant and I ordered a fabulous dinner for her and chose an excellent wine that she had never tasted before. I can’t wait for the next date. She is hot! Next time we will end up at my apartment for the night.”
Lara: “Ted is so wonderful! I can’t believe he wants me. He is so masterful! I love that he took charge and ordered for me. How did he know that I love steak and a good red wine? He is so perceptive.”
As a Closet Narcissist, Lara looks up to Ted and idealizes him for the exact same qualities that non-Narcissistic Sue found obnoxious. Lara also misunderstands Ted. Unlike Sue who quickly realized how selfish Ted was being by ordering for her, Lara idealizes him for it. She mistakes his selfishness for confidence.
Closet Narcissist Basic Relationship Style: They choose someone that they can idealize as perfect and special. They bask in this person’s reflected glory. They imagine that some of this specialness will rub off on them. They treasure the small bits of approval that they get from whomever they idealize. They often form relationships with Exhibitionist Narcissists because they mistake their defensive grandiosity for true self-confidence.
3. Toxic Narcissists
Toxic Narcissists are the “meanies” of the Narcissistic group. They are not satisfied by being the center of attention, they want complete dominance and others to submit. They usually have a sadistic streak and enjoy hurting other people. They want you to obey and fear them.
Some are what I think of as “Failed Exhibitionists.” They are angry and bitter that they have not been able to live up to their own unrealistic fantasies of limitless achievement. They envy anyone who has what they want. They have given up on being a constructive force in the world and are now mainly intent on thwarting other people’s happiness.
Their poisonous intent is very obvious when they present in an overt form, such as the classroom bully who terrorizes the weakest kids or the boss that likes to angrily devalue a different person every day in front of the whole office: “You screwed up again! What are you an idiot? Or did you decide to get yourself fired today to get on unemployment because you are too lazy to work?”