Seven Types Of Narcissistic Traits And Tendencies

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated June 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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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. 

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Are you living with someone who has narcissistic tendencies?

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.

What is the difference between NPD and narcissistic traits? 

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a diagnosable personality disorder with criteria detailed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition(DSM-5). However, narcissistic traits are behavioral patterns that can exist in a person regardless of whether they havethe minimum diagnostic criteria tohave a mental illness. As a personality trait, narcissism may be difficult to separate from NPD; because of this, it's essential to seek an official diagnosis.

In many cases, a person who shows traits of NPD may be living with a personality or mood disorder independent of NPD. Due to the likelihood of overlapping symptoms, it may be beneficial to consult a mental health professional with questions regarding the diagnostic process. While narcissistic traits are often regarded as harmful, certain traits of narcissism may be considered positive and healthy in moderation, such as a strong sense of confidence and high self-esteem. 

Positive or healthy traits of narcissism may not disrupt an individual's daily life or relationships. Unhealthy narcissism may be defined by a highly inflated sense of entitlement paired with a fragile sense of self-worth or low self-esteem. 

In the DSM-5, narcissistic personality disorder involves a pervasive pattern of grandiosity. The term grandiosity refers to exaggerated feelings of superiority or entitlement, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy, These symptoms can begin by early adulthood, and may be indicated by at least five of the following symptoms: 

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance, including exaggerated achievements, expectations for superior recognition, and desire for approval 
  • Preoccupation with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty, or "perfect" love
  • A belief that one is "special" and can only be understood by or should only associate with other special people or institutions 
  • A need for excessive admiration 
  • A sense of entitlement, such as an unreasonable expectation of favorable treatment
  • Exploitation and taking advantage of others to achieve one's own goals 
  • A lack of empathy and an unwillingness to identify with the needs of others.
  • Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of them
  • Arrogant, haughty behaviors and attitudes

To receive an NPD diagnosis, these traits or behaviors cannot be attributed to incidents during adolescence or the developmental stage. Additionally, these traits cannot be attributed to other mental or physical challenges, such as substance use disorders. 

Major narcissism categories: vulnerable and grandiose narcissism

While there are a variety of narcissistic traits and tendencies, they often fit into two overarching categories: grandiose and vulnerable. Grandiose and vulnerable narcissism can have similar features, including a tendency to be charismatic and likable. However, the two categories can also differ significantly, including their potential sources. For example, a person with vulnerable narcissistic traits (sometimes incorrectly referred to as a “vulnerable narcissist”) may come from an abusive background or childhood neglect. On the other hand, those with grandiose narcissistic traits (sometimes incorrectly referred to as “grandiose narcissists”).

Seven types of narcissistic traits and tendencies 

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is the only official diagnosis regarding narcissism, meaning there are no other narcissistic personality disorder types. Outside 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 (APA), licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula states, "Narcissism is viewed as a disorder 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, individuals exhibiting them might struggle to see or care about the adverse consequences of their behavior. Instead, these behaviors may negatively affect the people around them while subconsciously impacting the individual themselves in ways. For this reason, it can be helpful to understand the different types of narcissism and the ways that narcissistic traits may present in others.

Various experts and mental health professionals have broken down the traits of narcissism into seven identifiable categories, including the following. 

Overt narcissism

Overt narcissism is regarded as the most apparent form of narcissism. Individuals experiencing tendencies of overt narcissism may seem self-obsessed, entitled, or preoccupied with status, wealth, or other external forms of validation. Those with overt traits may appear to have an unjust or grandiose self-image and respond poorly to criticism. They might struggle to notice the faults in their behaviors. These individuals also may be focused on specific personal features, with one example being a person with somatic narcissistic traits. Sometimes incorrectly referred to as a “somatic narcissist,” these people may directly tie their self-worth to their physical attractiveness.

Covert narcissism

Like overt narcissism, an individual exhibiting covert narcissism may harbor a self of entitlement and inflated self-importance. However, they might go about displaying these traits more passively. This can be seen with certain types of individuals with narcissistic traits, like those whose narcissism is defined by spirituality (sometimes incorrectly referred to as a “spiritual narcissist”).

Recognizing covert narcissism may be challenging as these individuals might paint themselves as the ones impacted in situations where they've acted out against someone else. These individuals may engage in shaming, blaming, and manipulating those around them for the sake of receiving validation and attention. They may try to make others seem at fault for their own behavior and might be successful due to their hidden strategies, including gaslighting and lying. 

Antagonistic narcissism

Antagonistic narcissism is characterized by a consuming need to be "better" than others. Someone displaying antagonistic narcissism may lie, cheat, gaslight, or put others down to "win" or appear dominant.

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Communal narcissism

Like covert narcissism, someone displaying traits of communal narcissism may not appear to exhibit obvious narcissistic traits. These individuals may engage in activism or social movements, leading to them being perceived as selfless and empathetic. However, someone displaying communal narcissism may be more motivated by earning praise and validation, rather than by a genuine interest in helping others.

Malignant narcissism

Malignant narcissism is often classified as the most dangerous form of narcissism as its traits tend to present in the form of aggression, hostility, and a lack of empathy. 

In some cases, traits and behaviors associated with malignant narcissism may overlap with the symptoms of antisocial personality disorder, which can be characterized by a long-term pattern of manipulating, exploiting, or violating the rights of others without remorse. 

Adaptive narcissism

Adaptive narcissism may exist alongside other narcissistic classifications, such as covert or communal narcissism. Adaptive narcissism refers to traits that allow individuals to "blend in" with others or help them succeed in their careers or education. People with adaptive narcissistic tendencies might adapt their manipulation strategies to those they're with or act as "chameleons" in social situations.  

Maladaptive narcissism

Like adaptive narcissism, maladaptive narcissism can co-exist alongside other narcissistic traits. Maladaptive narcissism tends to negatively affect the person exhibiting the traits, often leading to poor interpersonal or peer relationships due to aggressive, hostile, or condescending behaviors.

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Are you living with someone who has narcissistic tendencies?

Counseling options 

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 if you have traits you'd like to work through yourself. If you are experiencing negative emotions 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.  

Takeaway

Narcissistic tendencies can be challenging to understand, and there are seven distinct types of these behaviors you might consider. If you or someone you love is experiencing narcissistic tendencies or has been diagnosed with NPD, consider reaching out for support from a therapist online or in your area.
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