3 types of narcissists everyone encounters, say therapists
“They are such a narcissist.” It’s a classic phrase to describe a co-worker who takes all the credit, your ex who keeps staring at himself in the mirror, or your brother who craves admiration. While it’s easy to use the term for anyone who seems full of themselves, narcissistic personality disorder is actually a rare disease. Yet many people – maybe even you! – exhibit narcissistic characteristics.
Narcissism is a spectrumand there are several types of narcissists, says Michael Roeske, PsyD, senior director of the Newport Health Research and Innovation Center. “We all have aspects of narcissism. I think of it in terms of a bell curve, with most of us residing in the middle. Then you have at the end what you might call pathological degrees of narcissism.
People with high levels of narcissism often need to be the center of attention, have a high sense of self-importance, or feel like the rules don’t apply to them, Roeske says.
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“Narcissism is having too much self-esteem and not enough compassion for others,” says Sudhir Gadh, MD, board-certified psychiatrist with private practice in New York City. “We want to be able to take care of ourselves and value ourselves, while considering the well-being and well-being of others. It is symbiosis. Narcissism is an imbalance of that.
However, behaviors can be complex and many different personality traits can be considered narcissistic. Here’s a closer look at the types of narcissists.
What is narcissism?
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder which, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) includes several features:
- Models of Grand Importance
- Exaggerated sense of talent and achievement
- Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited sex, power, brilliance, or beauty
- Strong need for attention and admiration
- Indifference or feelings of rage, humiliation or emptiness in response to criticism, indifference or defeat
- Sense of entitlement
- Take advantage of others to satisfy their needs
- Lack of empathy
- Envy of others or belief that others envy them
The NDP is rare. It affects up to 6% of population, and most of those diagnosed are men. Someone may display narcissistic behaviors but not have NPD, however, says Roeske, “generally, personality disorders are defined by their persistent, inflexible, pervasive pattern and impact on interpersonal relationships.”
Take a successful athlete, he says: They may be naturally athletically gifted and exude such confidence that they seem arrogant. But, outside of his sport, the athlete is humble and has strong personal relationships. This is a healthy level of narcissism, whereas someone with a personality disorder would be arrogant in any setting.
The term narcissism comes from Greek myth of Narcissus, son of a god who tragically falls in love with his own reflection. Although the cause is not known, narcissism is linked to childhood experiences of neglect, abuse, excessive adoration or criticism from parents, or unrealistic expectations from parents, according to Mayo Clinic. Genetics and neurobiology also play a role.
“It comes from someone as a child feeling that their value depends on how they perform or how they look, or both,” says Dr Gadh. “So you’re no good unless you’re performing at a specific academic or athletic level or you look a certain way, you dress a certain way, you have a certain body type.”
What are the types of narcissists?
The DSM-5 describes three main types of narcissism: overt, covert, and malignant. But several subtypes also exist. Here is an overview of some common types of narcissists:
People with overt narcissism, also known as grandiose narcissism, have a high sense of self-esteem, superiority and entitlement. Overt narcissists can exhibit a “bulletproof” appearance, says Dr. Gadh. But they face internal self-esteem issues and a sensitivity to criticism.
They are overconfident and overestimate and exaggerate their knowledge and abilities. They tend to be impulsive and ignore expert advice. This makes them prone to making bad decisions, which they will likely blame on others.
Exploiting others for personal gain and showing hostility and aggression when challenged are other characteristics. Overt narcissism can cause someone to overestimate their emotional intelligence, studies To display.
To research suggests that overt narcissism can be either adaptive or maladaptive:
- Adaptive narcissism is defined by authority and autonomy. Someone inflates their confidence to protect themselves. They crave authority and prestige and are drawn to leadership roles and careers where they are in charge.
- maladaptive narcissism is characterized by entitlement, exhibitionism and exploitation. Someone believes they have the right to take advantage of others, so they try to control and manipulate people and situations. This type is associated with depression, anxiety, aggression, neuroticism, impulse buying, and low empathy.
Also known as vulnerable narcissism, covert narcissism seems to be the opposite of what you might consider a narcissist. “He’s someone who quietly believes in his own right and greatness, but doesn’t really show it,” says Dr Gadh.
People with covert narcissism often have low feelings of self-worth, crave praise and admiration, and dream of success. They might blame others for their lack of success and express envy. But, they also have higher levels of emotional intelligence and opening.
Covert narcissism causes hypersensitivity to rejection, social isolation, mistrust, anger, and hostility. A study 2022 published in the journal Personality and individual differences found that people with higher levels of vulnerable narcissism were more likely to fear being laughed at, but also more likely to enjoy laughing at others. They tend to avoid situations where they feel vulnerable, ashamed and inferior. Secret narcissism is related to neuroticismresearch shows, as well as depression and paranoia.
Malignant narcissism is considered the most severe type. The DSM-5 says it combines NPD and antisocial personality disorder, and people with malignant narcissism can share characteristics with sociopaths and psychopaths. Signs of malignant narcissism include:
- Thought in black and white
- Obsession with appearances
- sadistic behavior
- fantasies of success
- Refusal to take responsibility
People with malignant narcissism have been shown struggling with anxiety and day-to-day operation. They may also be prone to drug addiction.
Experts have identified a few other types of narcissism, including:
- Antagonistic narcissismconsidered a subcategory of overt narcissism, is related to rivalry and competition. Antagonistic narcissism causes people to compete with and take advantage of others, to be arrogant, and to be disagreeable or argumentative. A study 2017 found that people with antagonistic narcissism were less likely to forgive others, and another study found they were less confident.
- Communal narcissism, another type of overt narcissism, leads someone to value fairness and see themselves as selfless. But their behaviors do not correspond to these perceptions of themselves, a study 2018 show. Social power and self-importance lead to communal narcissism, with someone expressing moral outrage, describing themselves as generous and empathetic, and reacting strongly to injustice. But they don’t scrutinize their own behavior.
How can someone get help for narcissism?
Narcissists rarely acknowledge that their behaviors are a problem or even deny having exhibited these behaviors, which they see as a challenge to their identity. This is why treating narcissism can be difficult. Roeske says people with narcissism often seek treatment for other conditions, such as substance abuse or depression.
Psychotherapy is the primary treatment for NPD. But, “if people aren’t terribly interested in change, you probably won’t have much success,” Roeske adds. “Therapy requires vulnerability and a capacity for reciprocity and reflection. These are precisely the things that we might call terrifying, intolerable, or frustrating for someone with narcissism, and so they will drop out of treatment or tend to be deceptive.
If you recognize the signs of narcissism in yourself and it’s affecting your relationships and your ability to function on a day-to-day basis, it’s a good idea to contact a mental health professional.
Trying to talk to a partner, coworker, or anyone else you think suffers from narcissism can be a “landmine,” Dr. Gadh says. “The starting point is how great you think they are and how you think they can be even bigger. That’s the way to do it. Any other way is an immediate shutdown or extinction .
Talking to someone with narcissism can be distressing and frustrating, Roeske says. “Arguing about their actions is often not helpful. The best thing to do is to set limits in terms of what you will allow and not allow. Sometimes people need to distance themselves emotionally, which isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
Erica Sweeney is a writer who primarily covers health, wellness, and careers. She has written for The New York Times, HuffPost, Teen Vogue, Parade, Money, Business Insider and many more.