When most of us hear the word, “Narcissist,” we probably think of some exaggerated, boisterous, arrogant strutting peacock of a person. We think of over-the-top, attention-seeking behavior.
I thought that for many years. And I had numerous experiences with those types of individuals.
But there is another type of Narcissist out there. This person is flying under the radar, stealth, unassuming.
Often called, the “Covert Narcissist,” they are also described as a “Fragile Narcissist” or a “Vulnerable Narcissist.”
But I think the best alternative term to describe these people is that of “Shy Narcissist.”
For whoever could think anything harmful could come from someone shy?
Just look at the image, featured here, of “Bashful,” from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” When you and I look at this little guy, there’s no fear that strikes our hearts. We don’t see a deadly, treacherous, manipulative enemy.
If anything, we feel compassion, maybe even a fond wish to take care of him. After all, Bashful looks so sweet and helpless.
And that, perhaps, is by design.
I’ve been challenged with some Covert or Shy Narcissists in my life. In my experiences with Bashful, I’ve picked up on a few things, perhaps, some hallmarks of this certain type of Narcissist.
First, Bashful casts themselves as the “nice” person. “Nice” is code for harmless.
However, there’s often no harmless behavior to be found around such an individual. The “nice” mask allows for all kinds of sneaky tricks to exist. If we’re buying the image of sweet, innocent, Bashful, then we never take the opportunity, time or thought to look at what else is going on, besides this “niceness.”
“I’m Nice” is often the badge of honor a Shy Narcissist wears.
And what drives that behavior is the importance that Shy Narcissist attaches to image. Appearance, to many of these individuals, is often prized over truth. It is all about how something looks. There can exist an obsession, therefore, on the Shy Narcissist’s part, that they “appear” nice: nice in thought, word, and deed, as well as with their physical appearance and status.
Concerning my experience with Bashful, I have literally been coached to lie for them, to keep the illusion going, often at the expense of my well-being and safety. The “truth” was abuse, terror, addiction and unhealthy codependence. But, in their eyes, that truth was viewed as weak, uncomfortable and ugly.
What will others think if they knew what really was happening here?
That question, presenting unflattering reality, tortures the image-driven, Bashful.
Therefore, it must not be allowed to have air. It must be suffocated by the “nice” storyline, instead.
The “Shy Narc” wants only to be viewed in the most flattering light, even if that’s at the expense of someone else.
That’s not so nice, is it?
Don’t Pay Any Attention to Me.
Here’s a fun one.
Bashful, for all intents and purposes, is attention-seeking. Yet this Shy Narc will INSIST ON their Shyness, that they don’t need, or want, any attention, whatsoever. They insist they are content, humble, and happy with their lives and how things are going.
But poke- or wait– around a little longer, and soon enough, ulterior motives and manipulation will pop up.
If Bashful is, indeed, truly ignored, like he or she claimed they wanted to be, eventually, an entitled resentment will surface. Bashful fully believes he or she is such an exemplary, unique human being, that it’s only inevitable they will be discovered to be the stars they are.
So, when that doesn’t happen on the Shy Narcissist’s timetable and precisely according to specification, “Houston, we have a problem!”
Bashful is now offended and a smidge more desperate. The Shy Narc’s very real need for attention, acclaim and praise is not getting met.
Bashful has already painted himself/herself in a corner by insisting, “No, don’t pay any attention to me.”
So, people oblige that request.
But that’s not what was supposed to happen. That was merely the cue for others to be mesmerized by Bashful’s niceness, star quality and, of course, humility, so much so, that they cannot help but gush over the Shy Narc.
And, since that is not happening, Bashful doesn’t give a moment’s pause for self-reflection.
Instead, he/she doubles down with a Machiavellian approach: “the ends justify the means.”
Oh, boy, now we’re really having fun!
Bashful, instead of taking stock of things and owning their actions, merely looks around for a way to make the attention they crave happen.
And what’s the best way to go for that? By manipulating others to do your bidding!
It’s more subtle than it sounds. In fact, not all Shy Narcissists are fully aware and intentional of the manipulative tactics they employ. Often, it’s unconscious. Yet the damage is still done. Bashful, knowingly or unknowingly, determines that other people will serve as the vehicles or the tools for their unfulfilled wishes.
The phrase, “living vicariously through another” springs to mind.
And indeed, that’s what happens. Bashful wants whatever he/she wants.
But this Shy Narcissist doesn’t want to let go of an image that is incongruent with that desire. Therefore, manipulation of another person must occur, so that Bashful’s reputation as a nice, humble, sweet individual stays intact.
Personally, I experienced this as I pursued the goals of a Shy Narc, doing the grunt work of achieving those realized dreams, while Bashful simply stayed behind the scenes, safely tucked away from criticism or judgment, never putting themselves out there. They were validated as I achieved their goals for them.
No muss, no fuss.
I’m a Helpless Victim.
Bashful is often oblivious to the harm he/she causes. Part of their “no muss, no fuss” conclusion, or any other Machiavellian conclusion, for that matter, emanates from their victim mentality vantage point. They are the only victims, ergo, they are entitled to whatever they want, especially if they perceive themselves to be “nice.”
For Shy Narc’s, being helpless is part of their allure. Look at the image of Snow White’s Bashful dwarf. Look at that face. Does it not scream, “Help me, love me, take pity on me?”
One rationale of a Shy Narc’s mindset dovetails into another, seamlessly.
“I’m ‘nice,’ so, I must tell you I don’t want attention (even though that’s all I can think about), therefore, I’m a helpless victim.”
Here’s where the puppy dog eyes come out. Here’s where Bashful elicits sympathy.
Yet, the Shy Narcissist is not interested in getting help to get better. It’s quite the contrary, in fact.
Bashful wants help because 1) It’s attention, 2) It’s validating they are important, and 3) They don’t want to do the hard or the unpleasant work, themselves, when it’s much easier to have you and I do it for them.
This, again, can be part of the “vicariously through another” phenomena.
They want the “perks” without the “work.”
Well, we’d all enjoy that, wouldn’t we?
The difference between us and Bashful is that we know we need to work for what we want, while the Shy Narcissist thinks they’re “owed it,” simply because of who they are as a person.
“Why do it if someone will do it FOR me?”
Once again, Bashful requested I “help” them. I had no problem, initially, with helping. That was, until I saw how they completely stepped away and allowed me to do all the work.
That’s not help.
Bashful, however, doesn’t see it that way. They only see themselves as getting what they want.
And if it takes being helpless, while having someone else do all the work to make that happen, so be it.
You are Always Wrong; I’m Always Right.
Again, there’s more dovetailing going on; one thought dissolves into another.
And, it seems, at the epicenter of all Shy Narcissistic thoughts exists this one doozy: “You are Always Wrong; I’m Always Right.”
Yes, this seems to be the foundational principle of any Narcissist. However, the Shy Narcissist, our very own Bashful, corners the market on weaponizing it against us.
“You are Always Wrong; I’m Always Right.”
You can just feel the impasse from here, can’t you?
Yes, our nice, helpless, victim-y Bashful appears to use that perspective concerning any stance we take with him or her. This is especially the case if we disagree with Bashful and do not operate according to their dictates and wishes. Whenever we “disobey” them, it’s usually not too long before we hear (or feel) this decree, stated outright or implied.
In my many encounters with a Bashful, I’ve been confronted with this reality the most when I was asserting my own boundaries. Yes, how DARE I take care of myself! The ultimate sin, at least, according to the Shy Narcissist.
Back in “the good ‘ole days,” asserting my boundaries had more to do with not attending a social engagement, one in which my presence was “a must.”
However, now, within the past two years, I see, more clearly, this sentiment and its attempts at coercion and manipulation, as I prioritize my health, within the context of my cancer diagnosis.
Ah, yes. Now, things take on more significance. Life or death, depending upon how I choose to take care of myself.
Most people, you would think, would “get” the need to take care of oneself regarding cancer.
But Shy Narcissists? Not so much. They’re still operating under the principle, “You are Always Wrong; I’m Always Right.”
So, with that line of thinking, further buoyed by thoughts like, “I’m nice, I’m helpless, and I need to get attention in a sneaky way,” you can see how, not even cancer, holds up.
Again, look at the eyes on Bashful. The Shy Narcissist wants you and I to believe that they are most important, the most in need, the most deserving of all attention. Never mind our life-threatening disease.
We’re wrong. They’re right.
End of discussion.
I enjoy the lies and the drama I create.
“Bold” is not a word you’d apply to Bashful. “Bold,” by its very definition, is the opposite of the word, “Shy.”
And that’s exactly how our Shy Narcissist wants you to think about it.
Bashful’s sneakiness allows him/her to bask in some stealth power plays.
Make a fuss. Create a crisis. Act helpless. Elicit sympathy or pity. Get someone else fighting for you, doing the work. Sit back, looking every bit the nice, helpless victim. Enjoy watching other people fight over you, fight with each other, while you, Bashful, keep your hands clean, confidently, boldly, thinking things like…
…No one is any the wiser.
Shy Narcissists are not direct. And, any kind of delusional boldness in these statements, mentioned above, has to do with their cowardice and their evasive fear of confrontation, communication and truth.
They are viewed and described by their masks of nice, sweet and helpless.
And, all the while, they believe themselves to be far superior to any mere mortal who engages with them.
“Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”
George Bernard Shaw
This quote is often used to depict the futility of engaging with a Narcissist.
But I believe, in the case of a Shy Narcissist, Bashful views himself/herself as better than the mud pit. They won’t even get in; they won’t wrestle. That’s what other people are for.
Use as needed.
And, as long as we are willing participants, doing just that, Bashful is content and entertained. Bashful can keep believing he/she is better than us dirty pigs, rolling around in the muck.
Check Your Own Bashful Self…
And, while we’re talking about superiority, let’s do a little reality check on ourselves.
There is no inoculation for Narcissism. None of us are above having some Shy Narcissist tendencies. I say that, not to induce despair, but to promote healthy self-awareness.
Check yourself before you wreck yourself.
If we’re truly honest with ourselves, we’ve all been a little “Bashful” from time to time. Perhaps we thought that being nice would work to our advantage. Maybe we’ve played the helpless card.
Or, even better still, maybe we think we’re always right about something, “and everyone else…” is wrong.
See yourself in any of this?
It’s okay. They say that honesty is the best policy. Start there. You can be uncomfortable, nervous, and disgusted by your behavior.
And then, you can change it.
Be direct. Be earnest. Be real. Be honest.
And, if you see any tendency toward manipulation, coercion or toxic victimhood…
Don’t be shy about it. Deal with it.
Copyright © 2020 by Sheryle Cruse