According to Masterson, Closet Narcissistic Disorder differs from the Exhibitionist subtype in that people with this NPD variation are afraid to be directly in the spotlight. While an Exhibitionist will elbow you aside to become the center of admiring attention, the person with Closet Narcissistic Personality Disorder is afraid to openly seek admiration. They are too concerned that if people were to take a close look at them, they will be exposed as inadequate fakes.
Most people with this variation were taught in early childhood that if they exhibited themselves for attention or openly acted “special,” they would be harshly punished or devalued. So their basic dilemma is, “How do I get to feel special and prop up my shaky self-esteem without being open about my agenda?” One of the common ways that people with Closet Narcissistic Disorder deal with their conflict about wanting to be special is by attaching themselves to people, groups, and objects that they idealize as special. Then instead of saying, “Admire me!” as the Exhibitionist does, they say “Admire this!” Then, they feel special by association.