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Types of Narcissism: An Overview and Clarification

| What is Narcissism | Types of Narcissism |

What is Narcissism

Narcissism is characterized by pervasive patterns of grandiosity, feelings of uniqueness and superiority, excessive need for admiration, a sense of entitlement, arrogance, self-centeredness, and low empathy​1​.

An individual may suffer from a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) in serious cases. But one can have traits of narcissism or a small degree of narcissism without NPD.

Narcissistic behaviors can disrupt healthy interactions and relationships due to interpersonal dysfunction. 

Narcissists have a domineering and vindictive interpersonal style, poor romantic commitment, and infidelity tendencies. Violent and aggressive behavior is also common among them​2​.

Types of Narcissism

Studies on narcissism have been somewhat confusing as they often reach contradictory conclusions.

For instance, some studies have shown that narcissism leads to misery and maladjustment, while others have indicated that it leads to psychological well-being​3​.

The inconsistency is due to the fact that there is more than one type of narcissism.

To corroborate empirical data, psychologists have studied this trait in different ways and classified it differently. 

Mixing the types that are identified by different variables together can create confusion.

types narcissism entitled woman.jpeg

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

Clinically, NPD has only one type of diagnosis. At the moment, there is no official subtype that can be diagnosed.

NPD requires a formal diagnosis from mental health professionals or clinical psychologists.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) defines NPD as a serious clinical condition characterized by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy. 

This mental health condition is diagnosed when five or more of these conditions are present in a patient​4​.

  1. a grandiose sense of self-importance
  2. preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  3. beliefs of being special and unique
  4. requirements of excessive admiration
  5. a sense of entitlement
  6. interpersonal exploitativeness
  7. lack of empathy
  8. envy of others
  9. arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

Covert vs. Overt

In psychology (as opposed to medical diagnosis), covert narcissism and overt narcissism are commonly considered subtypes of narcissism​5​.

While overt narcissists tend to have a grandiose sense of self and demand attention from others, often being socially charming despite being relatively unaware of others’ needs, covert narcissists feel deeply inferior to others, are highly sensitive to criticism, and generally have feelings of dissatisfaction.

Some researchers categorize narcissism into grandiose narcissism and vulnerable narcissism to emphasize the difference in vulnerability.

Both grandiose narcissists and vulnerable narcissists have the common traits of being extraordinarily self-absorbed and having an inflated sense of self-worth​6​. However, the two types of narcissists fall on different ends of the adjustment spectrum​7​.

Narcissistic personality traits manifest in different ways along a continuum of adjustment, with covert narcissism leaning toward the maladjusted end and overt narcissism positioned toward the more adjusted end.

Overt narcissism tends to correlate positively with high self-esteem and optimism and negatively with depressive symptoms. Covert narcissism tends to correlate positively with measures of depression and anxiety.

An overt type of narcissist has higher self-efficacy, while the covert type struggles with anxiety and low self-efficacy.

Overt narcissism has some adaptive properties, while covert narcissism is primarily maladaptive. As a result, overt narcissists tend to be happier than covert narcissists.

OvertCovert
Also known as​8​Grandiosity / ExhibitionismVulnerability / Hypersensitivity
Character​9​Charming at first sightTimid, cold, distant
Social interaction​10​EnjoyAvoid
Adjustment​11​AdaptiveMaladaptive
Self-esteem​12​HighLow
Self-efficacy​13​HighLow
Optimism​14​PositiveNegative
Depressive​15​FewerMore
Happiness​5​HappyUnhappy

Although overt and covert narcissism are considered distinct types, individuals with narcissistic traits may not adhere to one type and fluctuate between them. 

Overt narcissists often manifest as grandiosity, exhibitionism, and entitlement, but such individuals may experience depression, depletion, and feelings of inferiority in the face of failure or loss.

Those with covert narcissism may initially present as shy, timid, and inhibited, but upon closer contact, they may reveal grandiose and exhibitionistic fantasies that align with their underlying narcissistic tendencies.

Agency vs. Communal

According to the agency-communion model of narcissism, there are two subtypes of narcissism: agentic narcissism and communal narcissism.

The agency-communion model of narcissism differentiates between agentic narcissists and communal narcissists.

Agentic narcissists focus on fulfilling their needs to feel important, respected, entitled, and powerful in situations where they are in control and can exert their influence or authority. They tend to prioritize their own interests over others and may exhibit a lack of empathy.

Communal narcissists have a sense of superiority when they serve others, for example, by helping, leading, or contributing to a group or community. They feel important, respected, entitled, and powerful in those situations.

They see themselves as especially virtuous, helpful, or self-sacrificing and expect recognition and admiration for their efforts. They can also display a lack of empathy, as their actions are mainly driven by their own needs for recognition and admiration.

Agentic narcissists believe they are the most intelligent, while communal narcissists believe they are the most helpful or virtuous​16​.

Also See: 11 Effects of Narcissistic Parents and How To Deal With Them

Antagonistic, malignant, neurotic, and others

Other theories and labels, such as antagonistic narcissism, malignant narcissism, and neurotic narcissism, have been proposed to categorize narcissism differently, but they tend to only describe specific narcissistic characteristics or serve as alternative names for the above-mentioned subtypes.

Most of these labels do not represent widely recognized or well-studied types of narcissism.

As opposed to being independent types, they are more like different aspects of narcissism​1​.

Check Out: 50+ Things Narcissistic Mothers Say and Why They Say Them

References

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    Campbell WK, Miller JD. The Handbook of Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; 2011. doi:10.1002/9781118093108
  2. 2.
    Wilson S, Stroud CB, Durbin CE. Interpersonal dysfunction in personality disorders: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin. Published online July 2017:677-734. doi:10.1037/bul0000101
  3. 3.
    Rhodewalt F, Madrian JC, Cheney S. Narcissism, Self-Knowledge Organization, and Emotional Reactivity: The Effect of Daily Experiences on Self-Esteem and Affect. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. Published online January 1998:75-87. doi:10.1177/0146167298241006
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    Skodol AE, Bender DS, Morey LC. Narcissistic personality disorder in DSM-5. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment. Published online October 2014:422-427. doi:10.1037/per0000023
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    Rose P. The happy and unhappy faces of narcissism. Personality and Individual Differences. Published online August 2002:379-391. doi:10.1016/s0191-8869(01)00162-3
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    Gabbard G. Two subtypes of narcissistic personality disorder. Bull Menninger Clin. 1989;53(6):527-532. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2819295
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    Watson PJ, Varnell SP, Morris RJ. Self-Reported Narcissism and Perfectionism: An Ego-Psychological Perspective and the Continuum Hypothesis. Imagination, Cognition and Personality. Published online September 1999:59-69. doi:10.2190/md51-7p8n-weye-9h3x
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    Wink P. Two faces of narcissism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Published online 1991:590-597. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.61.4.590
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    Given-Wilson Z, McIlwain D, Warburton W. Meta-cognitive and interpersonal difficulties in overt and covert narcissism. Personality and Individual Differences. Published online May 2011:1000-1005. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2011.01.014
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    Ksinan AJ, Vazsonyi AT. Narcissism, Internet, and social relations: A study of two tales. Personality and Individual Differences. Published online May 2016:118-123. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.01.016
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    Hill PL, Lapsley DK. Adaptive and maladaptive narcissism in adolescent development. Narcissism and Machiavellianism in youth: Implications for the development of adaptive and maladaptive behavior. Published online 2011:89-105. doi:10.1037/12352-005
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    Trumpeter NN, Watson PJ, O’Leary BJ, Weathington BL. Self-Functioning and Perceived Parenting: Relations of Parental Empathy and Love Inconsistency With Narcissism, Depression, and Self-Esteem. The Journal of Genetic Psychology. Published online March 1, 2008:51-71. doi:10.3200/gntp.169.1.51-71
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    Brookes J. The effect of overt and covert narcissism on self-esteem and self-efficacy beyond self-esteem. Personality and Individual Differences. Published online October 2015:172-175. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2015.05.013
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    Hickman SE, Watson PJ, Morris RJ. Optimism, pessimism, and the complexity of narcissism. Personality and Individual Differences. Published online April 1996:521-525. doi:10.1016/0191-8869(95)00223-5
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    Rathvon N, Holmstrom RW. An MMPI-2 Portrait of Narcissism. Journal of Personality Assessment. Published online February 1996:1-19. doi:10.1207/s15327752jpa6601_1
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    Gebauer JE, Sedikides C, Verplanken B, Maio GR. Communal narcissism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Published online 2012:854-878. doi:10.1037/a0029629

About Pamela Li

Pamela Li is an author, Founder, and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting For Brain. Her educational background is in Electrical Engineering (MS, Stanford University) and Business Management (MBA, Harvard University). Learn more

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