Narcissism and narcissists have recently come into the public eye. Many know today that narcissistic people hog the spotlight, mistrust others, and exploit people without feeling bad.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a recognized mental health illness, but not every narcissist is an NPD. You require a professional diagnosis to label a narcissist as having NPD.
While all narcissists are arrogant and selfish, only a few engage in antisocial behavior. According to psychologists, most of us have some level of narcissism, but only a few rare ones are toxic and deadly.
Five hallmark traits of a narcissist are a sense of entitlement, exploitative nature, aggressiveness, grandiose fantasies, and self-absorption.
Recognizing the strange signs of a narcissist type can help you defend against the harmful type.
Six Different Types of Narcissists
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) has only one official diagnosis, and that is NPD. It does not specify different types or subtypes of NPD.
There are mainly two kinds of narcissists: grandiose and vulnerable. Researchers, on the other hand, have identified six categories. One of them is the one who can hurt you without guilt or remorse.
Here are the six different types of narcissists:
Type 1. Grandiose or Overt Narcissist.
Most people, when they hear “narcissist,” imagine a person with exaggerated self-worth, feelings of grandiosity and superiority, attention-seeking, entitlement, and arrogance. These are the grandiose narcissists.
Grandiose narcissists are so-called because they have a grand, but false, sense of self-importance. They always feel entitled to special treatment because of this bloated sense of self-importance.
Researcher Baumeister found in 2003 that grandiose narcissists have a sense of self-esteem that exceeds their actual performance.
So, while others see them as average performers, they see a larger-than-life version of themselves in the mirror.
They swim in their fantasies of being grand in every way – intelligence, appearance, qualities, connections, and achievements.
They are, however, insecure people on the inside. This frequently manifests as self-pity:
“The world doesn’t recognize my value.”
They are constantly in need of praise and attention. So, they work hard to build a flock of fans with their fantasy stories of adventures and accomplishments.
Grandiose narcissists are cunning people whose very nature is interpersonal deception—they are never fully honest in their interactions.
They can get angry or aggressive without provocation, especially when they feel they are not valued.
They are also outgoing, charming, self-confident, helpful, and perform well under pressure (Back et al., 2010; Watts et al., 2013).
When grandiose narcissists get into a group project, their peers’ initial impressions of them are positive.
However, towards the end, the same perceptions turn noticeably negative.
Their peers rate them as cold, arrogant, and hostile persons who are prone to negative traits like bragging and overestimating themselves.
This type of narcissist is prosocial, which means they do things to benefit others. However, when it comes to their motives for helpfulness, these narcissists are actually more strategic: they are more likely to help to draw a personal benefit, rather than for altruistic reasons.
You are more likely to have a toxic relationship with a grandiose type than with other types.
Falling in love with a grandiose narcissist is like getting smitten by a charismatic, secure, and confident person, but over time, they become aggressive and controlling (Reidy et al., 2008).
They secretly judge themselves as the most perfect people put on earth and look at the rest of humanity as vain.
Grandiose narcissists are people who grant themselves both status and self-love; vulnerable narcissists, on the other hand, grant themselves status but not love. — Miller, 2012
When grandiose narcissists become defensive and angry, they don’t hesitate to protect their high self-esteem at the cost of demeaning others.
According to research, they show excessive self-absorption and arrogance, exploitativeness, entitlement, and interpersonal hostility (Besser et al., 2010; Miller et al., 2011)
Breaking up with them can be hard. They leave you feeling frustrated, confused, and deprived of your fond hopes and promises.
Closet narcissists form a sub-type who do not inflict their narcissistic urges upon others or society. However, they genuinely believe in the positive aspects of narcissism. They may rarely reveal their narcissistic traits, like expressing their superiority over a self-praising person.
Type 2. Vulnerable or Covert Narcissist.
Covert narcissists are difficult to spot because of their modesty and shyness.
They may come across as sensitive introverts who worry too much.
Researchers Miller & Lynam feel that vulnerable narcissism is mostly a disorder of neuroticism.
People who score high on neuroticism are more likely than average to be moody and experience feelings of anxiety, worry, fear, anger, frustration, envy, jealousy, guilt, depressed mood, and loneliness.
Covert narcissism has gone under several names over the years, including hidden, shy, hypersensitive, and vulnerable narcissism.
Like their grandiose counterparts, vulnerable narcissists are self-absorbed, exploitative, aggressive, and hold entitled and grandiose thoughts (Miller et al., 2011).
These narcissists are always in need of lots of supportive attention. They remain unsure about their own judgments, attitudes, and beliefs, which makes them rely heavily on feedback from others (Kealy & Rasmussen, 2012).
Vulnerable narcissists believe they deserve more, but they doubt it until someone else convinces them that they do. Yet, they are never fully satisfied with that feedback.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is the new Borderline Personal Disorder (BPD) of our current era. — Lois Choi-Kain, 2020
People with covert narcissism have little empathy or compassion for others, but they are good at faking those qualities.
A covert narcissist, like any other narcissist, struggles to utter, “I’m sorry.” Instead of apologizing, they will point out who is to blame for the mess, and often, it’s you.
While talking on-to-one, the covert tends to describe their issues in tedious, long-winded detail, while entirely ignoring the listener’s feelings and needs.
No wonder, these people struggle to keep their jobs and maintain their relationships.
Covert narcissists also need interpersonal validation.
It means, they become disturbed when you do not approve of them. They turn visibly anxious, and may even start to act out of aggression and hostility (Krizan & Johar, 2014; Malkin, et al., 2013).
According to research, when vulnerable (or covert) narcissists sense heightened callous-unemotional traits in a person, their aggression worsens.
That is, they feel and express violent anger at callous attitudes.
If the covert narcissist suspects that you are not feeling guilty, are not expressing empathy, or have an uncaring attitude when there is a situation, they can become outrageously angry.
Internalizing disorders (that is, anxiety and depression) are positively linked to vulnerable narcissism but negatively or weakly related to grandiose narcissism (Barry & Malkin, 2010)
They have low empathy and can get so lost in narrating their own stories that they fail to realize that the listener too may also want to talk about their own experiences and feelings.
Secretly, the coverts are preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, and beauty. They envy others because they think others are envious of them.
Those high on vulnerable narcissism can be exploitative and entitled, but their hallmark symptoms involve hypersensitivity to criticism, fear of rejection, and fragile self-esteem (Akhtar & Thomson, 1982; Wink, 1991).
There is evidence that women who are vulnerable narcissists (not grandiose ones) experience body shame (Carrotte, et al., 2019) and body dissatisfaction (Purton, et al., 2018).
Generally speaking, vulnerable narcissism positively correlates with mental health’s two common colds: depression and anxiety. — Stephanie D. Freis, The Emotional Life of Vulnerable Narcissists, 2014.
The interesting thing is that, while we think of grandiose narcissists as invulnerable, research reveals that grandiose narcissism is always accompanied by vulnerable features (Roberts and Huprich, 2012; Pincus et al., 2014; Gore and Widiger, 2016).
Some researchers suggest that grandiose and vulnerable narcissism are not distinct traits, but rather different manifestations of the same thing.
Cerebral narcissists are a sub-type of narcissists who are smart, intelligent, and successful. They appear as know-it-alls and constantly try to prove their superiority with their knowledge. They use technical and uncommon words to silence and control others. Strangely, they often remain asexual.
Type 3. Antagonistic Narcissist.
Antagonistic narcissists will constantly expect you to be their “yes-guy” and frequently bully you into agreeing with their viewpoints.
Antagonism is characterized by behaviors such as an excessive sense of self-importance, an expectation of special treatment, and a callous antipathy for others.
They are blind to the needs and feelings of others and are ready to use others for their own benefit.
They will also recklessly violate your psychological boundaries.
The attachment style of an antagonistic narcissist in a relationship is one that benefits them at the cost of the other, through deceitful, predatory, and parasitic behaviors.
Antagonistic narcissism is related to overt competition with others (Kwiatkowska & Jułkowski, 2019).
They have low trust in others and see social interactions as zero-sum games (meaning, one must lose if the other has to win, as opposed to win-win exchanges).
In contrast, people in good relationships have a synergistic attachment style. They:
- thrive on mutual respect,
- understand each other’s needs and desires,
- work together to achieve shared goals,
- express love and respect, and
- have trust in each other’s vulnerabilities.
The antagonistic narcissist is constantly looking for total domination over the other person. They will want to subjugate you physically, emotionally, and socially.
They are those types of narcissists who strive for supremacy in all their relationships, have a hostile interpersonal style, and harbor high levels of unforgiveness.
These people see life as a zero-sum game, meaning, in every interaction, one person must win and the other lose.
They are forever comparing their achievements and bragging about how they have superior capabilities and achievements to the other person.
Antagonistic narcissists exaggerate facts and relentlessly gaslight any relationship to establish their superiority.
They often act as parasites in a relationship. They coax and manipulate the other person to give them money, housing, physical favors, and other privileges.
An antagonistic narcissist dissolves your boundaries and drains you of your physical resources and mental energies.
Type 4. Communal Narcissist.
Communal narcissists have saint-like self-perceptions, but they are not fair people.
Indeed, many godmen and godwomen are communal types of narcissists.
They have a grandiose view of their social skills, likability, and most importantly, their helpfulness. They believe they are angels of God who are here on earth to bless others.
These are the narcissists who elevate themselves above others based on their self-perceived moral superiority within a communal environment.
Communal narcissism is positively associated with self-enhancement in the communal domain (Gebauer et al., 2012). Read it as the communal narcissists act in the social arena to further their personal interests.
They believe that the extent to which they go out of their way to help others and donate to charities is unparalleled.
But one thing gives it away: If they have helped others, they will trumpet it.
Communal narcissists actively publicize their charity activities as a long-term investment strategy. These are often the people you see on social media live-posting their selfless acts of kindness to strangers.
They not only talk about their mission of healing people from poverty and wars, say, but also make it a point to be seen at prominent charities and causes.
Remember, they are not altruists.
- Altruists are people who selflessly act for the benefit of others. They genuinely help people.
- Communal narcissists, in contrast, engage in social welfare activities to gain power or fame.
A rich communal narc may express their “hate” for the wealthy people while claiming they earned their riches only to help others.
Communal narcissists are neither more nor less prosocial than non-narcissists, but they believe they are highly prosocial.
They love to say, “People just love me! Since I came into their lives, they can’t do without me.”
Type 5. Agentic Narcissist.
Agentic ones are types of narcissists who have superhero-like self-perceptions.
This is narcissism with a lot of agency or influence.
Agentic narcissism is associated with self-enhancement in the agentic domain, which is less relevant to the perception of human nature as trustworthy (Wojciszke & Abele, 2008).
Agentic narcissists consider themselves to be highly competent, successful, influential, unique, attractive, intelligent, and better than others in all agentic domains.
They tend to disregard and even despise the values of the communal domain.
For comparison, the communal domain involves qualities like team spirit, moral nature, dependability, warmth, agreeableness, and nurturance.
These are the people who put themselves above others for the sole purpose of being admired by others. Wherever they go, they actively try to promote themselves and seek public admiration.
A new 2022 study on the Milgram experiment indicates that agentic narcissists are aware of their capability for cruelty.
Agentic narcissists are less prosocial than non-narcissists, objectively as well as subjectively.
Type 6. Malignant Narcissist
They are the most dangerous type of narcissist. They have malefic intents, sadistic streaks, and antisocial traits.
Antisocial behavior has two features: antagonism, which means hostility toward others, and disinhibition, which involves disregard for moral norms and risk-taking (Seigfried-Spellar et al., 2017).
They are toxic people who have an unhealthy drive to dominate people, which makes them highly manipulative and aggressive. They frequently turn violent and typically show no remorse for their acts.
They are so harmful to others that some experts see them as the psychopaths of the narcissist world. Eric Fromm called them “the quintessence of evil.”
Characteristics of malignant narcissists
- They are highly manipulative, devoid of empathy, and can hurt anyone to get what they want and will feel no remorse.
- They can come across as sadistic—people who take pleasure in putting others into trouble.
- They never recognize other people’s needs, desires, or feelings except for the reason that they will take advantage of their weaknesses.
- The malignant narcissist cannot handle any criticism politely and can verbally flay others if even mildly criticized.
- They take credit for what good happens around them, often by lying and mucking those actually deserve it.
- They never accept responsibility if anything goes wrong, even if the damage was their doing.
Their antisocial and sadistic tendencies, however, are not so blatant that they risk getting arrested. They will not destroy your property or beat you up, but if a mob comes through, they will most likely point out your house.
Furthermore, they are the ones you would never hear apologizing to anyone. If they are ever forced to tender an apology, they do it with bitterness and scorn. Their trademark way of saying sorry is,
“Okay, I’m sorry. Are you happy now? What else do you want from me?”— A Malignant Narcissist
They are glib and superficial. That is, they are smooth talkers who will take you on a ride with fake praises, and then torture you into giving in to their desires.
They do not walk their talk.
When pointed out that they said one thing and did the opposite, their natural reaction is to rationalize that it was due to people or events beyond their control.
They are highly revengeful and harbor grudges for a long, long time.
How is a malignant narcissist different from a psychopath?
- A psychopath (nowadays called antisocial personality disorder) does not have a grandiose sense of self-importance and is usually not an attention-seeker.
- Whereas a malignant narcissist harbors fantasies of grandiosity and is always in need of attention, approval, and praise from others.
Somatic narcissists are those narcissists who are obsessed with their bodies and external appearance. They take extreme care about appearing highly presentable in public. They do not leave their house or pose for pictures without making sure they look their flawless best.
What are the 2 types of narcissists?
According to mainstream psychology, the two types of narcissists are grandiose and vulnerable. They share some common features, like extreme self-centeredness, lack of empathy, and an inflated sense of self-importance.
However, there are also some significant variations within each. Grandiose narcissists are loudmouthed attention-seekers, while covert narcissists cleverly hide their obsession with self-image and power hungriness.
What are the 7 types of narcissists?
The seven different types of narcissists are the grandiose or overt (bragging about their achievements), the vulnerable or covert (using guilt-tripping and emotional manipulation), the antagonistic (parasitic and opportunistic), the communal (helpfulness as show-offs), the agentic (feeling like superheroes), the vindictive narcissist (revengeful and aggressive), and the malignant (antisocial and torturous).
What is social narcissism?
Social narcissism is using online social media platforms to showcase one’s obsession with physical attractiveness, social skills, high social status, professional success, and financial net worth. Social narcissists can be easily identified by their profile bios and posts on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram Reels, where they are mostly seen dancing in exquisite outfits and flaunting their wealth.
Can a narcissist be a good person?
One kind of narcissist sees themselves and behaves as a good person, who is often called a positive narcissist. They come across as kind, helpful, and uncynical, and they do not tend to abuse people close to them. They are well-liked and respected. Their deep-seated narcissistic tendencies surface when they are pressed to donate more or do more than they are willing to give or do.
Can a psychopath also be a narcissist?
Yes, a psychopath can be a narcissist as well, though most experts do not see all psychopaths as narcissists. Several studies indicate that grandiose narcissism is associated with primary psychopathy (Benning et al., 2005; Cale et al., 2002), and both have traits like a superficial charm, arrogance, and double standards.
On the other hand, secondary psychopathy and vulnerable narcissism share traits like impulsivity and irresponsibility (Schoenleber et al., 2011). Psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg believes that psychopaths suffer from a severe type of narcissistic personality disorder.
The official term for psychopathy is antisocial personality disorder (APD) — the first
personality disorder to be recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA).
6 Strange Behaviors of Narcissists
- Narcissists believe they are celebrities who are entitled to special treatment. Even if they appear modest, realize that they truly believe they are superior to everyone around them.
- They do not return favors. You can go to tremendous lengths to help them, yet they will simply accept it all without being grateful.
- They believe they do not need to reciprocate since you owe them everything you do for them. They never say “I owe you one” because they feel as if you borrowed their umbrella for a rainy day and then returned it late.
- Narcissism is a personality disorder that exists on a spectrum. Those at the topmost end of the spectrum are diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Others showing narcissistic signs and tendencies are simply labeled narcissists and placed at the lower end of the scale.
- The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) defines NPD as a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.
- A person with a narcissistic personality disorder often struggles with relationships, academics, work, and finances.
Do not classify every selfish person as having Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). To diagnose someone with NPD, you need to consult a psychotherapist who will follow the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic criteria for NPD in the DSM-5.
- The cognitive neuroscience of narcissism, 2018.
- The role of identity instability in the relationship between narcissism and emotional empathy, 2017.
- Fluctuation between grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 2016.
- The effect of pathological narcissism on interpersonal and affective processes in social interactions, 2018.
- Narcissism and trust: Differential impact of agentic, antagonistic, and communal narcissism, 2019.
- Changes in pathological narcissism, 2019.
- Communal narcissism: Social decisions and neurophysiological reactions, 2018.
- Validation of an implicit measure of antagonistic narcissism, 2020.
- Malignant Narcissism in Relation to Clinical Change in Borderline Personality Disorder: An Exploratory Study, 2018.
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder – Overview
Social/personality psychologists and clinical psychologists disagree on the main characteristics of narcissism (Miller & Campbell, 2008).
In 2016, Robert Ackerman and Aaron Hands brought together 32 men and 17 women, most of whom had degrees in psychology. They got the participant experts to check what they felt were the main traits of a narcissist.
The experts generally agreed that the grandiose features of narcissism are most central to narcissism. Surprisingly, most experts in the study did not agree that narcissists are necessarily extroverts.
The researchers wrote:
“Indeed, descriptions of Entitlement, Grandiose Presentation of the Self-Concept, Self-Serving Distortions, and Self-Absorption/Egocentricity consistently received the highest centrality scores from experts.”
Finally, having NPD is not a terrible thing, although it has a stigma, much like an addiction. Feel no shame if you suspect yourself to have NPD, and seek treatment from a doctor or therapist who can help you change your habits.
• • •
- What causes Narcissistic Rage? How can you trigger it, and what to do to control it?
- Do you know about these 10 strange behaviors of narcissists in relationships?
- Why do narcissists fake empathy (and shed crocodile tears)?
• • •
Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, positive psychology, mindfulness, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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