Narcissism is a term used to define a high admiration for oneself or a high regard for the self without cause. However, narcissistic traits can exist more on a spectrum. When exploring the topic of narcissism, it can be vital to distinguish between narcissistic traits and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). While NPD is a diagnosable personality disorder, a person without the disorder can exhibit narcissistic traits.
Understanding the multiple types of narcissistic traits and tendencies can be beneficial if you believe you or someone you know, is struggling with these areas or might be living with NPD.
When approaching the subject of narcissism, it can be beneficial to distinguish between narcissistic traits and the clinical diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Due to the complexity of NPD and individual difficulty in recognizing narcissistic traits in oneself, the people closest to these individuals might first notice these tendencies. However, people with narcissistic tendencies who want to seek support may also benefit from support. If you or someone you love has narcissistic traits like the ones mentioned above, consider contacting a therapist.
Virtual options like therapy through an online counseling platform like BetterHelp may be a more convenient or safe option for care if someone's narcissistic traits impact you or have traits you'd like to work through yourself. If you feel shameful about your mental health and want support, online therapy can allow you a discreet way to talk to someone. You can use a nickname when you sign up and choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions with your therapist.
In some cases, narcissistic traits may be attributed to other mental health conditions. According to multiple studies conducted over several years, online therapy is equally as effective as in-person therapy in treating many mental illnesses that may accompany narcissistic tendencies.
What are the 9 types of narcissists?
Defining narcissism is complex. It is a personality trait that is considered pathological in most contexts. The only rigid definitions are found in the diagnostic criteria for narcissistic personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-V (DSM-V). It is considered a harmful mental health condition, but many people display narcissistic behaviors without meeting the criteria for diagnosis. Because of the nuances associated with narcissism, many attempts have been made to classify potential subtypes, each with varying evidence supporting them. Some of the better-known types of narcissism are outlined below:
- Grandiose narcissism is what many consider to be representative of common narcissistic tendencies. It is characterized by an inflated sense of self-worth, a tendency to overestimate one’s ability, and a desire to exert superiority over others. Grandiose narcissists tend to endorse positive descriptions of themselves while suppressing negative ones. They have extreme self-focus and rarely notice those around them.
- Vulnerable narcissism is often called the “opposite” of the grandiose type, but the two types have many similarities. Both grandiose and vulnerable narcissists exhibit self-centeredness and an exaggerated sense of self-importance, but vulnerable narcissists typically have lower self-esteem and require validation from others to bolster it.
- Closet narcissism often presents as shyness or subservience. They present a false self that may appear ideal but often hides underlying vulnerabilities about their flaws. They tend to hide mistakes and avoid solving problems caused by their low self-worth. Closet narcissists rarely perceive that they live up to the expectations of others and may go to great lengths to avoid criticism.
- Sexual narcissism describes narcissistic tendencies that are expressed through sex. It is typically described as having four facets: sexual exploitation, entitlement, low empathy, and high sexual skills. Sexual narcissists are usually obsessed with sexual superiority and will likely respond to criticism harshly. They may be willing to be coercive or deceitful to obtain sexual opportunities.
- Somatic narcissism describes narcissism related to beauty. Those with somatic narcissism derive their self-worth from their physical appearance. They may obsess over exercise routines and beauty regimens and likely become upset if their appearance is criticized. They may routinely criticize the appearance of others. Somatic narcissists believe that they are the most beautiful person present and react strongly to suggestions otherwise.
- Intellectual narcissism, also called cerebral narcissism, refers to those who express their narcissistic tendencies through displays of intellectual superiority. Intellectual narcissists believe themselves to be incredibly intelligent and often use their intelligence to diminish others. They typically go to great lengths to demonstrate their intelligence and be seen as the smartest in the room.
- Malignant narcissism is a particularly harmful form of narcissism that combines typical narcissistic traits with antisocial and paranoid features. For malignant narcissists, lying, manipulating, and disregarding others is the norm. They likely have little or no capacity for empathy and tend to dehumanize others. They typically harbor a deep sense of mistrust and often feel that others are responsible for transient adverse events in their lives. Malignant narcissism is often associated with an inability to show remorse and or regret harmful actions.
- Adaptive and maladaptive narcissism are both terms used to describe the impact narcissism has on the person exhibiting the behavior. Adaptive narcissism is characterized by authority and self-sufficiency, indicating that narcissism may have some positive components. Maladaptive narcissism is characterized by exploitative behavior and entitlement. It is associated with a higher degree of depression, anxiety, and aggression. While it likely wouldn’t be accurate to call adaptive narcissism “healthy narcissism,” the adaptive-maladaptive dichotomy shows that narcissistic tendencies are not always characteristically negative.
What is the worst type of narcissist?
All forms of narcissism have the potential to cause harm to the person displaying the behavior and those around them. Regarding what type of narcissism can cause the most harm, it is likely that malignant narcissism meets the criteria. Malignant narcissism is characterized by the typical traits of narcissism, such as self-centeredness and a lack of empathy, but also has additional antisocial and paranoid dimensions.
Antisocial behavior is commonly misunderstood, and “antisocial” is often incorrectly interpreted to have a similar meaning to “introvert.” The behaviors of introversion are referred to as asocial behaviors, not antisocial. Antisocial behaviors are those which harm or disregard other human beings. In malignant narcissism, antisocial tendencies don’t rise to the level of antisocial personality disorder, but the lack of empathy and disregard for others is pronounced.
A strong feeling of persecution and paranoia also characterizes malignant narcissism. The person is often irrationally angry at their circumstances and regularly blames others for their situation. They may feel constantly motivated to seek revenge or get payback, often for imagined or insignificant slights.
How do I know if I'm a narcissist?
Likely the best way to find out if you exhibit narcissistic tendencies or meet the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder is to meet with a qualified mental health professional. Only licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, or therapists can diagnose a personality disorder. Diagnosing NPD can be complicated because its symptoms overlap with several other personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder. Co-occurring mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety, may also make diagnosis difficult.
Narcissists rarely seek treatment, as doing so would directly contradict their internal narratives of high self-worth and perfection. Still, those with narcissistic tendencies may be somewhat aware of their behavior and desire to change it. A therapist can help you evaluate the impact of potentially narcissistic tendencies and guide you through a process of change that addresses the underlying causes of the behavior.
Can narcissists be nice?
Narcissists are often nice, funny, and charming when first meeting people. It is not until others get to know them that their more harmful or toxic personality elements emerge. In many cases, whether or not the person is a narcissist doesn't become apparent until long into the relationship. Narcissists are often engaging and interesting to be around in the early days of knowing them, but they tend to display only superficial kindness. They rarely contribute meaningful effort to empathize or help those around them.
What are the 2 faces of narcissism?
Narcissism is often broken into two broad presentations: overt and covert narcissism. Overt narcissism correlates strongly with grandiose-type narcissism and is characterized by exhibitionism, exaggerated self-importance, and a strong desire for attention. It is considered overt because the narcissistic behavior is plainly visible, and other people can often recognize it.
On the other hand, covert narcissism correlates strongly with vulnerable-type narcissism. It is characterized by hypersensitivity to criticism, lack of confidence, and social withdrawal. Like overt narcissists, covert narcissists feel superior to others but hide that belief to prevent it from being threatened. It may be appropriate to say that overt narcissism is “open” narcissism, where the narcissistic traits are displayed proudly. In contrast, covert narcissism is “closed” narcissism and the narcissistic traits are better hidden.
What is a true narcissist?
There is no well-defined construct for what separates a “true” narcissist from those with mere tendencies, except for the diagnostic criteria of narcissistic personality disorder. A person meets the criteria for a diagnosis when their narcissistic tendencies become severe or consistent enough to harm themselves or those around them significantly. Narcissistic tendencies that don’t meet the criteria for diagnosis are often referred to as “sub-clinical” narcissism. Sub-clinical presentations can still be harmful and may benefit from treatment, but from a personality disorder perspective, the person is not a “true” narcissist.
Can narcissists cry?
Narcissists can cry and display any other human emotion. It is possible that narcissists feel some degree of legitimate remorse. How much remorse they are capable of feeling likely depends on the severity of their narcissistic tendencies, the presence of co-occurring disorders, and other personal factors. No two cases of narcissism are the same, and recent research suggests that narcissism exists along a spectrum of severity. Those on the low end of the spectrum may be capable of empathy and compassion.
Does a narcissist apologize?
Narcissists do apologize, but their motives may be suspect. Those with narcissistic tendencies may disregard the feelings of others to achieve their goal, and their apologies may be strategic rather than genuine. Narcissists are more likely to apologize or compromise if they believe they are about to lose something important or stand to gain something from the person to whom they are apologizing.
Narcissists may accompany apologies with promises to change, displays of affection (which may indicate the onset of love bombing), or other empathetic gestures. Most narcissists can display empathy for at least a short time. However, many narcissists also become adept at faking compassionate interactions, which may make the genuineness of the apology challenging to evaluate.
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