There are six types of narcissism, but which one is the most dangerous?
A few things about the narcissists first. Narcissists believe they are important and unique people when they are not. They expect special treatment wherever they go.
Their nature is to take advantage of others while giving nothing back. They believe all they receive is owed to them, and they are not required to return any favors. No wonder, these people often have difficulties maintaining work and relationships.
Secretly, they are preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, and beauty. They envy others because they think others are envious of them.
The five hallmark traits of a narcissist are grandiose fantasy, sense of entitlement, exploitative nature, aggressiveness, and self-absorption.A narcissist never says, “I'm sorry.” Instead, you'll hear them blame someone else for the mess they cause. Click To Tweet
Current science tells us that any one of us can have some level of narcissism, but it is rare for a person to be clinically diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
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.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is the new Borderline Personal Disorder (BPD) of our current era. — Lois Choi-Kain, 2020
What are the 6 types of narcissism?
Although the DSM-5 does not officially lay out types of NPD, researchers point toward six types of narcissism:
1. Overt or Grandiose Narcissism.
These narcissists have a grandiose sense of self-importance. They swim in their fantasies of being grand in every way – intelligence, appearance, qualities, and achievements.
Grandiose narcissists have an inflated sense of self-esteem that is unrelated to their actual performance (Baumeister et al., 2003).
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 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, with their peers rating them as cold, arrogant, and hostile persons prone to 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.
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.
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)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 Click To Tweet
2. Covert or Vulnerable Narcissism.
This type of narcissism has gone under several names over the years, including covert, closet, shy, and vulnerable narcissism. The covert narcissists are difficult to spot because of their modesty and shyness.
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.
People with covert narcissism have little empathy or compassion for others, but they are good at faking those qualities.
They tend to describe their issues in unnecessary and long-winded details, while entirely ignoring the listener’s feelings and needs.
Covert or vulnerable narcissism also involves a need for interpersonal validation. They become disturbed when they do not receive approval. It can cause visible anxiousness, as well as various acts of aggression and hostility (Krizan & Johar, 2014; Malkin, et al., 2013).
They don’t seem to tolerate callous attitudes. When vulnerable narcissists perceive a lack of guilt or empathy in a situation, they can become outrageously angry.
Research finds that vulnerable narcissism worsens self-reported aggression in presence of heightened callous-unemotional traits, like lack of guilt, absence of empathy, and uncaring attitude.Generally speaking, vulnerable narcissism positively correlates with mental health’s two common colds: depression and anxiety. — Stephanie Desiree Freis, The Emotional Life of Vulnerable Narcissists Click To Tweet
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.
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).
3. Antagonistic Narcissism.
The antagonistic narcissist’s attachment style in a relationship is one that benefits at the cost of the other, by deceitful, predatory, or parasitic behaviors.
In contrast, good relationships thrive on mutual respect, understanding each other’s needs and desires, working together to achieve shared goals, expressing love and respect, and having trust in each other’s vulnerabilities. We may call it a synergistic attachment style.
They frequently intimidate and violate. The antagonistic narcissist is constantly looking for total domination over the other person. They will subjugate them physically, emotionally, and socially.
They are those who strive for supremacy in any of 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.
The 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.
4. Communal Narcissism.
The communal narcissists have saint-like self-perceptions.
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.
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.
The 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 welfare of others. They do it genuinely for helping others, while the communal narcissist does it to gain leverage or fame out of their act.
A rich communal narc may express their “hate” for the wealthy people while claiming they earned their riches only to help others.
The 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.”
5. Agentic Narcissism.
This is narcissism that is high on agency. These people have superhero-like self-perceptions.
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.
6. Malignant Narcissism: The Most Dangerous Type of Narcissist
The malignant narcissist has the darkest type of narcissism.
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.”
They are highly manipulative, have an utter lack of empathy, and are even antisocial.
Occasionally, they come across as sadistic—people who take pleasure in putting others into trouble.
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.
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 when criticized. To get what they want, they can hurt without feeling remorse.
They are overly concerned about looking beautiful. They do not leave their house or appear in pictures without making sure they look their flawless best.
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.
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 take credit for what good happens around them, often by lying and mucking those actually deserve it. But they never accept responsibility if anything goes wrong, even if the damage was their doing.
They are highly revengeful and harbor grudges for a long, long time.
What is the difference between a psychopath and a narcissist?
A psychopath does not have a grandiose sense of self-importance, nor is an attention-seeker. Whereas a malignant narcissist harbors fantasies of grandiosity and always in need of attention, approval, and praise from others.
Can a psychopath also be a narcissist?
A psychopath can be a narcissist as well. Several studies indicate that grandiose narcissism is associated with primary psychopathy (Benning et al., 2005; Cale et al., 2002), and both have traits like superficial charm, arrogance, and double standards.
On the other hand, secondary psychopathy and vulnerable narcissism traits like impulsivity and irresponsibility (Schoenleber et al., 2011).
Most experts do not see all psychopaths as narcissists, though the 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), which is the first personality disorder to be recognized by the American Psychological Association.
- George F, Short D. The cognitive neuroscience of narcissism. J Brain Behav Cogn Sci. 2018; Link.
- Di Pierro R., Di Sarno M., Preti E., Di Mattei V. E., & Madeddu F. (2017). The role of identity instability in the relationship between narcissism and emotional empathy. Psychoanalytic Psychology, Link.
- Gore W. L., & Widiger T. A. (2016). Fluctuation between grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, Link.
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.
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Did you know about these 10 strange behaviors of Narcissists In Relationships?
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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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