How does avoidant PD differ from covert (vulnerable) narcissism?


Covert (vulnerable or fragile) narcissism (cNPD) can, on the surface, look an awful lot like Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD–not to be confuse with AsPD!), which I have been diagnosed with, along with BPD.

But appearances are only skin deep.

I found an article on Psychforums (in the Avoidant PD forum) that describes the differences very well. Because covert/vulnerable narcissism is not an officially recognized diagnosis, and is not included in the DSM (yet), covert narcissists are frequently (if not almost always) diagnosed BPD comorbid with AvPD, as I am. Aspergers can also be easily confused with cNPD, and has been by many. But this article focuses on Avoidant PD, not Aspergers.

“Vulnerable narcissism could be misdiagnosed with at least two other distinct DSM personality disorders: Avoidant Personality Disorder (AVPD) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). In the diagnosis of AVPD, there are several criteria that may overlap with vulnerable narcissism. First, avoidant individuals are observed as appearing shy and being fearful of developing close relationships with others. Second, individuals with AVPD may meet criteria for experiencing fears of feeling humiliated, rejected, or embarrassed within individual relationships. Finally, Millon (1996) proposes that the use of fantasy in individuals with AVPD is a major element in the presentation and perpetuation of this disorder. This is striking in the fact that the use of fantasy has long been denoted as primary to the realm of narcissistic pathology.The vulnerable narcissist will likely exhibit significant interpersonal anxiety, avoidance of relationships, and use of fantasy, but this is guided by a core of entitled expectations. That is, vulnerable narcissists may avoid relationships in order to protect themselves from the disappointment and shame over unmet expectations of others, in contrast to fears of social rejection or making a negative social impact typical of AVPD.

Another false positive diagnosis that may occur as a result of misinterpreting vulnerable narcissismis in the diagnosis of BPD. Masterson (1993) forwarded this issue in an elaborate discussion about the potential for misdiagnosis of the closet narcissistic personalitywith BPD. Misdiagnosis can occur because of a clinician’s attention to the overt presentation of the emotional lability in the individual to the exclusion of an understanding of the cognitive and socio-emotional experience that guides the lability. As with social avoidance, the emotional lability of the vulnerable narcissist is influenced by his or her covert entitlement and difficulties managing disappointment and self-esteem threat. In contrast, the emotionally lability of the individual with BPD is a byproduct of unrealistic anaclitic needs (e.g., the need for a strong caretaker to manage his or her fears of being independent).

avoidant personality

Both the AVPD and the vulnerable narcissistic character will likely report difficulties with feeling self-conscious in interpersonal situations, along with the tendency to avoid situations in which they expect to be ridiculed. The difference between AVPD and vulnerable narcissistic characters lies in their expectations for themselves and others. Individuals with AVPD have needs to be liked and accepted by others, but fear they will fail to be acceptable to others. In contrast, vulnerable narcissistic characters need others to respond favorably to them and to admire them regardless of their behaviors, beliefs, skills, or social status, but fear that others will fail to provide them with narcissistic supplies. For vulnerable narcissistic characters, it is not mere concern about being liked or not. Rather, the vulnerable narcissist’s fear is that he or she will not be admired. Furthermore, vulnerable narcissistic individuals experience significant injury and anger in response to perceived slights. Their avoidance of relationships is based upon their fear of not being able to tolerate the disappointment of their unrealistic expectations.

The assessment of entitled expectations and exploitative motivations are important variables that would guide how an individual approaches and experiences relationships, including a therapeutic relationship. Not acknowledging narcissistic entitlement when it is present could lead to important misinterpretations of clients’ experiences that either reinforce their sense of entitlement or lead to unrecognized self-esteem threat in the therapeutic relationship (Gabbard, 1998).”

From “Interpersonal analysis of grandiose and vulnerable narcissism” Dickinson, Kelly A; Pincus, Aaron L

12 thoughts on “How does avoidant PD differ from covert (vulnerable) narcissism?

    • It’s a pretty common thing, actually . I did it for 10 years. I’ve been reading on the NPD forums at Psychforums and lots of cNPDs thought they were Aspies. it was kind of hard to have to discard that label because I had become comfortable with and even a little proud of it. Identifying as a cNPD isn’t easy and I don’t take any pride in it.


  1. I have Avoidant Personality Disorder. My sub-type is ‘Conflicted’. I don’t agree that people like me shun all relationships. A need for feeling loved supercedes any fear of feeling disappointed by other people. I’ve come to accept that the latter phenomenon is almost inevitable. Shit people happen; I’m dealing with it. Love conquers all, eventually.

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  2. Hi there,
    I do love your blog. I’m a “well developed Borderliner”, also an HSP. My last partner was autistic, he loved being close to me but after five years I just couldn’t live with his avoidant and otherwise quite “cold” behaviour. I split up and met my new partner, almost five years ago. He seemed warm, loving, caring and understanding, but also very shy and humble. It’s his first real relationship with me- at the age of 49, he only had very short and very few far distance relationships before ours.
    I should have been wary, after several months I came to the conclusion he’s anxious-avoidant. All the time I thought it’s due to the fact he’s british and I’m german and that our intercultural differences were the cause. He just couldn’t live with my openess, assertiveness, felt humiliated all the time, he critizised my behaviour all the time,everything he said he likes doing, got less and less, he became more and more depressed, we barely go out and if we do so, it’s pure horror. I’m being pushed into giving him what he never got as a child but at the same time he feels being controled and manipulated. He’s been bullied as a very young age, being a very sensitive child and he still hasn’t forgotten or even gotten over this. He NEVER forgets anything “bad” people ever did to him ( almost everything is “bad”, to his opinion), his moral standards towards other people are tremendously high, he swings between expecting others (of course he never says so, shame is a huge issue ) to almost kind of admire him for what he has archived and how he is (good, moral, always friendly- at least to the outside), and feeling totally useless, ugly and never good enough.
    He started a therapy last year and the therapist gave him the same diagnose as I did two years earlier- Anxious-avoidant. But living with this man day in and day out, I have realized he’s a covert narcissist. Covert narcissism in Germany is totally unknown, I’ve learned about this only through english websites. But various extra symptoms to his diagnose, behaviours he probably never told the therapist have made life with him almost unberable. As a mother of two grown ups, I have tremendously developed in my live, without any therapy at all. I don’t want to sound arrogant, just express how bad it feels to me, after developing so well myself, being with someone now who constantly blames me for everything, asks advice all the time, then decides what to do, does it and then again blames me when not happy with the descision and action he took in the end, and much more.
    He thinks people are bad, but he likes them when they behave “good” towards him and “forgets” about the bad sides of them, so he proposed to me some weeks ago, when we had quite a long period of a really nice time. When he got angry some days later due to certain things happening and me and him discussing over the marriage plans, he blamed me for old stuff again ( I’ve been quite nasty to him in the beginning, as I was still developing myself, over the last four years) and now my feelings have completely gone down the drain. I feel he proposed only to the “good” side of me, but hating me for my dark sides. He’s got issues with women, I have realized that long before, he dislikes them a lot ( due to his mother’s behaviour). And he’s not able to have a constant feeling about other people. I do believe that most people are good human beings but they have got their dark sides and times when they behave “bad”, but afterwards they are good again. This being “good” or “bad” thing is something my partner has brought up, I don’t categorize people this way, he’s a Christian.
    My partner is manipulative in a nice kind of way, but I often do things for him which I don’t like doing, I’m playing the clown for him, try cheering him up all the time, give him solace and so on. He denies being manipulative and tells me it’s just my sick perception of things because I’m a Borderliner. I know my difficulties, but I know I’m quite good at seeing though people and their motives.
    So know I’m sitting here, still and again thinking about how to be a better woman for him, how to be more understanding to his problems- yes, just thinking how to be better, better, better. For a guy noone would ever think that he can be this way, because he is always so nice and friendly. Superficially, when not being close to him…..I guess I’d like to split up, but I just can’t. I’m very bad at splitting up, unfortunately.

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    • Hi, Dani,
      I’m glad you found my blog. I can relate to your post. My ex (actually a malignant narcissist/psychopath!) used to love to blameshift to others for anything that went wrong in his life, especially me. He’d always tell me I was “crazy” because of my BPD if I tried to call him out (this is gaslighting).
      I found out I’m not actually a covert narcissist, but I know I have a lot of traits! (I also have the anxious-avoidant dx). But your partner does sound like one even though I cannot diagnose him. Covert narcissism isn’t recognized here either and few therapists will actually diagnose it because it’s not “officially recognized” but it should be. If a covert narcissist starts getting lots of “supply” they may turn overt. I’ve seen it happen. It happens the other way around too–I’ve seen arrogant, grandiose narcs turn covert when supply is running low or they become depressed.
      You would be doing yourself a favor to split up with him, even though you’re recently engaged. I don’t see this relationship going anywhere good, if you don’t mind me saying so. Is there any reason why you’re reluctant to end things with him? Are you afraid of his reaction?
      Anyway, I’m looking forward to talking to you more here and welcome!


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