7 Types Of Narcissists And Narcissism Traits To Look For
The word “narcissism” is most simply defined as a heightened admiration for oneself, or a high regard for the self without just cause, though the reality of narcissism is far more complex. In the case of individual narcissism, its traits exist on a spectrum.
When exploring the topic of narcissism, it is important to make the distinction between narcissistic traits and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). While NPD is a diagnosable personality disorder, a person without the disorder can exhibit narcissistic traits.
In this article, we will explore the 7 most common types of narcissists and what traits to look for, along with the clinical criteria that defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
NPD Vs. Narcissistic Traits
In many cases, a person who shows traits of NPD may be living with a personality or mood disorder independent of NPD, such as bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder. Due to the likelihood of overlapping symptoms, it is typically best to consult a mental health professional with questions regarding the diagnostic process.
While narcissistic traits are typically regarded as negative, certain traits of narcissism are considered positive and healthy in moderation, such as a strong sense of confidence and high self-esteem.
Positive or healthy traits of narcissism do not typically disrupt an individual’s daily life or relationships such as the traits associated with NPD and other personality or mood disorders. Unhealthy narcissism is typically defined by a highly inflated sense of importance and entitlement, while simultaneously having a very fragile sense of self-worth.
As per the DSM-5, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) includes:
A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and with lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood, as indicated by at least five of the following:
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements, expects to be recognized as superior without actually completing the achievements).
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty, or perfect love.
- Believes that they are "special" and can only be understood by or should only associate with other special people (or institutions).
- Requires excessive admiration.
- Has a sense of entitlement, such as an unreasonable expectation of favorable treatment or compliance with his or her expectations).
- Is exploitative and takes advantage of others to achieve their own ends.
- Lacks empathy and is unwilling to identify with the needs of others.
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of them.
- Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors and attitudes.
To receive an NPD diagnosis, these traits or behaviors cannot be attributed to incidents that occurred during adolescence or during the developmental stage. Additionally, these traits cannot be attributed to other mental or physical challenges, such as substance abuse, when diagnosing NPD.
This clinical criteria affirms evidence that a number of these traits may exist in a person that does not meet the criteria for an NPD diagnosis.
The 7 Types Of Narcissists
Narcissist Personality Disorder (NPD) is the only official diagnosis regarding narcissism. In the field of psychology the word “narcissism” is used in a descriptive sense, rather than a clinical one.
In an interview published by the American Psychological Association, licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Ramani Durvasula states, “Narcissism is very much viewed as a disorder of sort of inflated self-esteem and grandiosity. It is those things, but in fact, it’s a disorder of self-esteem.”
Due to the nature of narcissistic traits and thinking, it is likely the individuals exhibiting them will not see a problem with their behavior. Rather, these behaviors will negatively affect the people around them. For this reason, it can be helpful to understand the different ways narcissistic traits may present in others.
A number of experts and mental health professionals have broken down the traits of narcissism into seven identifiable categories.
Overt narcissism is often regarded as the most obvious form of narcissism. These individuals are most commonly self-obsessed, entitled, or preoccupied with things like status, wealth or other external forms of validation.
An overt narcissist may appear to have an unjust air of self-importance and respond poorly to any form of criticism.
Similar to overt narcissism, an individual exhibiting covert narcissism will likely harbor a self of entitlement and inflated self-importance, but will go about displaying these traits in a more passive way.
Recognizing covert narcissism may be challenging as these individuals will likely paint themselves as a victim in situations where things do not go their way. Cover narcissists may engage in shaming, blaming, and manipulating those around them for the sake of receiving validation and attention.
Antagonistic narcissism is typically characterized by a consuming need to be “better” than others. Someone displaying antagonistic narcissism may lie, cheat, gaslight or put others down in a bid to “win” or appear dominant.
Similar to covert narcissism, someone displaying traits of communal narcissism may not appear to exhibit obvious narcissistic traits. Communal narcissists may engage heavily in activism or social movements, leading to these individuals initially being perceived as selfless and empathetic.
In reality, someone displaying traits of communal narcissism will be motivated by earning praise and validation, rather than being motivated by a genuine interest in helping others.
Malignant narcissism is typically classified as the most dangerous form of narcissism as its traits tend to present in the form of aggression, hostility, and a general lack of empathy.
In some cases, traits and behaviors associated with malignant narcissism may overlap with the symptoms of Antisocial Personality disorder which is typically characterized by a long-term pattern of manipulating, exploiting, or violating the rights of others without any remorse.
Adaptive narcissism may exist alongside other narcissistic classifications such as covert or communal narcissism. Adaptive narcissism refers to traits that allow an individual to “blend in” with others or even help them to succeed in areas such as their career or education.
Similar to adaptive narcissism, maladaptive narcissism can co-exist alongside other narcissistic traits. Maladaptive narcissism tends to affect the person exhibiting them in a negative way, often leading to poor interpersonal relationships due to aggressive, hostile or condescending behaviors.
When approaching the subject of narcissism, it can be important to make the distinction between narcissistic traits and the clinical diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Due to the complexity of NPD and individual difficulty to recognize narcissistic traits in oneself, the people closest to “narcissists” typically experience the brunt of their negative behaviors.
If you are struggling to co-exist with someone exhibiting narcissistic traits, consulting a licensed mental health professional may help. Virtual options like online therapy may be a more accessible or safe option to receive professional guidance, especially in cases where the narcissistic person tends to gaslight or refuse help.
In some cases, narcissistic traits may be attributed to other mental health conditions. According to multiple studies conducted over a number of years, online therapy is equally as effective as in-person therapy in regards to treating certain mental health conditions.
If you feel that you or someone you know is exhibiting narcissistic traits that affect your quality of life, consulting a licensed therapist or mental health professional is recommended.
Are narcissists born or made?
As with many mental disorders, narcissism can develop from a combination of genetic and social influences. Medically reviewed studies show that narcissism may have a genetic component, but it can also be a mental health condition that develops over the course of a person’s life. Pathological narcissism, for example, may be caused by neglectful parenting.
Are narcissists sociopaths?
Though narcissism is a mental health disorder, this does not mean all narcissists are sociopaths or have antisocial personality disorder. To be diagnosed with narcissism, a person must meet several criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and for someone to have a formal diagnosis as a sociopath, they must also meet a set of different criteria in the DSM-5. Therefore, sociopathy and narcissism are two separate traits, but they can overlap.
For more advice, diagnosis, or treatment of a mental health condition, reach out to a medical or psychiatric professional.
Can a narcissist be a good person?
The idea of what a “good person” means varies between people, but someone who is a bit narcissistic can certainly still be a good person, as many of us possess narcissistic traits and are still good people. However, it’s important to be able to spot covert narcissism, which is when people pretend to be a good person, but secretly hurt and exploit others.
This sort of false morality can also be seen in communal narcissism. With communal narcissism, people tend to be very sociable and may even have a lot of friends. They may be heavily involved in their community and be considered giving and warm. However, the problem with communal narcissism is that people who have it expect special treatment for being well-liked, outgoing, and generous.
What is the root cause of narcissism?
The root cause of narcissism is currently unknown, but researchers suspect that a combination of genetics, parenting, and life experiences causes narcissism to develop.
One interesting concept to better understand how narcissism forms is adaptive and maladaptive narcissism. Maladaptive narcissism includes the negative parts of narcissism—a person’s tendency to exploit others, need excessive praise or attention, and lack empathy. People with maladaptive narcissism may struggle more in life with interpersonal relationships. Adaptive narcissism, on the other hand, can be beneficial because the person with adaptive narcissism tends to have a positive self-image, winning over friends and colleagues—but without the need to exploit or manipulate these people.
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