“Narcissism” has become a major buzzword to describe people who care too much about themselves, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Narcissistic behavior can be almost hidden in some cases, and much more obvious in others.
There are multiple subtypes of narcissism that all fall under the umbrella term narcissistic personality disorder. The only medical diagnosis for narcissism is narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), says Stephanie Freitag, a licensed clinical psychologist at Westchester Child and Adult Psychological Services.
The different types of narcissism are ways to identify different behaviors or patterns in narcissists.
Here are six types of narcissism to be on the lookout for.
Type of narcissism
Characterized by and How to spot it
Selfishness and disregard for other people — the most classic type
A desire for everyone to think they are a great person who cares about others
A compulsion to be the best and win at all costs
Craving social power
Deep insecurity and fear of failure
May be sadistic and aggressive
Overt or grandiose narcissism is the “classic” type that many people associate with narcissists. This type of narcissist is very easy to spot since they have a clear excessive admiration for themselves, says Freitag,
These kinds of narcissists also exhibit other typical narcissistic traits — for example, they:
- Love to be the center of attention
- May be charismatic
- Make it clear that they think they’re better than everyone else
- Are overly competitive
Overt narcissists may also “seek and expect praise when sharing their accomplishments, in an overwhelming and uncomfortable-to-be-around way,” says Laurel Steinberg, a licensed psychotherapist in private practice.
This behavior shows up in different ways depending on the individual. Freitag says three subsets of narcissism fall under the grandiose narcissism umbrella:
Communal narcissists may try to act like Mother Theresa or a savior of sorts, Freitag says.
You may find these kinds of narcissists volunteering or attaching themselves to a good cause, but their motives are off and it’s only to feed their own ego.
Freitag says you can tell this is the case because they will use it as a way to promote themselves or their “brand,” and will be more focused on personal attention or “fame” than the success of the cause.
“They use social causes as a method to appear empathic or caring. They use this to gain praise and admiration, not because they care about the issue,” says Nakpangi Thomas, a licensed professional counselor and traumatologist with Choosing Therapy.
According to a 2019 study, these individuals may view themselves as or appear to be:
- Extremely helpful
- Extra trustworthy
- Very friendly
Thomas says some signs to look out for are if they:
- Believe they’re the best at something, even if there’s no evidence to support it
- Focus on how they are the best helper or raised the most money, rather than focusing on the cause
- Only show their concern for charities publicly, and would never be the type to make an anonymous donation
- Lie to move up the ranks in leadership positions
- Disrupt the team or cause mischief, focusing instead on their personal interests rather than the greater good
Antagonistic narcissists are highly competitive and focused on winning or being the best. “They have a ‘them versus me’ attitude that causes them to be argumentative or over-talk to prove their point,” Thomas says.
There might not even be a good reason for them to argue over something; they may simply argue for the sake of arguing and to promote themselves as superior, Steinberg says.
According to a 2020 study, other signs of antagonistic narcissists to look out for are if they:
- Get aggressive if their ego is threatened
- Exploit other people
- Devalue other people
Steinberg says exploiting someone may mean taking advantage of someone or cheating them for their own benefit, and devaluing someone may look like putting someone down, whether directly to their face or behind their back.
Basically, whether you’re arguing with a narcissist or being exploited or devalued by one, you’ll likely feel attacked, abused, or mistreated by an antagonist narcissist, Steinberg says.
Agentic narcissism is about seeking social power. “This type of narcissist dramatically overdramatizes their abilities to lead and then when their performance falls short, they are intolerant of criticism,” Steinberg says.
For example, she says an agentic narcissist might convince people to vote for them to be on a community board, but once they are elected, they won’t show up when there’s work that needs to be done or they will come up with excuses.
Some signs that help you spot this type are if they:
- Exaggerate their intelligence and creativity
- Act self-important
- Feel entitled to social power
- Think they’re more capable than others
Agentic narcissism is closely linked to communal and antagonistic narcissism, according to a 2019 study.
Covert narcissists are on the opposite side of the spectrum from overt narcissists. But unlike overt narcissists, covert narcissists tend to be more introverted and may even appear shy.
While they are still self-absorbed, it presents more in a way where the individual is self-conscious or insecure.
“This type of narcissist can’t cope with the idea of failing in any way, and as a result, is intolerant of receiving criticism. They struggle with the ongoing fear of failing at something, as this would mean that they themselves are a failure,” Steinberg says.
Thomas says some other hallmark signs of covert narcissism are if they:
- Are very sensitive to criticism and view it as a personal attack
- Always play the victim and never take responsibility for their own actions
- Are passive aggressive or use the silent treatment
- View everyone as direct competition
- Bring others down by criticizing them or intentionally giving bad advice
Freitag says malignant narcissism is the most dangerous type.
“People with malignant narcissism tend to have psychopathic features, and a tendency to be sadistic or aggressive interpersonally,” Freitag says.
They may be so self-absorbed that they completely do not care about others’ feelings.
Like grandiose narcissism, this type is easier to spot in others than covert/vulnerable narcissism since the behavior is outwardly blatant.
Thomas says some signs of malignant narcissism to look out for are if they:
- Are extremely aggressive
- Are abusive (physically and/or emotionally)
- Lack empathy
Narcissism shows up in a variety of ways, ranging from quiet, subtle covert narcissism to loud, obvious grandiose narcissism. Or, it may be straight-up malicious in the case of malignant narcissism.
Thomas says it’s important to keep in mind that these types of narcissism are fluid, and oftentimes, narcissists move back and forth between different types and traits.
If you believe you’re dealing with a narcissist, this can be extremely draining and potentially dangerous for your own well-being. Don’t hesitate to seek the help of a mental health professional.
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