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Types of Narcissism: An Overview and Clarification

What is Narcissism

Narcissism is characterized by pervasive grandiosity, feelings of uniqueness and superiority, excessive need for admiration, a sense of entitlement, arrogance, and self-centeredness.​1​ Narcissists have low empathy for others and do not have a genuine interest in the needs or feelings of others.

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

Due to interpersonal dysfunction, narcissistic behaviors can disrupt healthy interactions and interpersonal relationships with others. 

Narcissists have a domineering and vindictive interpersonal style, poor romantic commitment, and infidelity tendencies. Violent and aggressive behavior is also typical 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 because 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 different types of narcissism differentiated by different variables can create confusion.

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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 severe clinical condition characterized by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), a strong need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. 

This mental health condition is diagnosed when five or more narcissistic personality traits exist.​4​

  1. an inflated 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 subtypes

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

Overt narcissism, or grandiose narcissism, are characterized by a grandiose sense of self.

Overt narcissists crave attention and can be socially charming, despite often being oblivious to the needs of others. They are typically more adjusted, with high self-esteem and optimism traits. Well-adjusted narcissists tend to have fewer depressive symptoms.

This type of narcissism has some adaptive properties, making grandiose narcissists generally happier.

However, when faced with failure or loss, they may experience depression and feelings of inferiority.

On the other hand, covert narcissism, also referred to as vulnerable narcissism, involves feeling deeply inferior to others.

Covert narcissists are highly sensitive to criticism and often dissatisfied. They tend to be less adjusted, with low self-esteem, leaning more toward the maladjusted end of the spectrum.

They often struggle with anxiety and low self-efficacy and have a higher correlation with measures of depression. Their defensive and fragile grandiosity may serve as a mask of feelings of inadequacy.

Despite initially appearing shy and inhibited, vulnerable narcissists may reveal common traits, such as grandiose and exhibitionistic fantasies, reflecting their underlying narcissistic tendencies upon closer contact.

Grandiose narcissism is the most common type of narcissism studied in psychology research and implicated in the NPD diagnosis.​6​

Also known as​7​Grandiosity / ExhibitionismVulnerability / Hypersensitivity
Character​8​Charming at first sightTimid, cold, distant
Social interactions​9​EnjoyAvoid

Agency vs. Communal subtypes

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

Agentic narcissists are primarily focused on asserting their importance, respect, entitlement, and power, particularly when they can exercise control and influence.

They are characterized by a tendency to prioritize their own needs over those of others, often displaying a lack of empathy. They typically view themselves as being exceptionally intelligent.

On the other hand, communal narcissists derive their sense of superiority from serving others, such as through helping, leading, or contributing to a group or community.

They feel important, respected, entitled, and powerful in these situations.

Communal narcissists perceive themselves as exceptionally virtuous, helpful, or self-sacrificing and seek recognition and admiration for their efforts.

However, like agentic narcissists, they can also exhibit a lack of empathy as their actions are primarily motivated by their constant need for recognition and admiration. They generally believe they are the most helpful or virtuous individuals.​15​

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 different types of narcissists mentioned above.

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 narcissistic traits.​1​

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

Symptoms of Narcissism

Narcissistic personality disorder is frequently comorbid with other disorders, particularly substance use disorders, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and pass-aggressive personality disorder.​16​




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