Narcissism is what many refer to as being self-centered. Overt narcissism—defined by a sense of grandiosity, a continuous desire for admiration, arrogance, and fantasies of unlimited power and success—is the most classic type. Other types of narcissism have been described including covert, antagonistic, communal, malignant, maladaptive, and adaptive.
Narcissistic personality disorder(NPD) is a mental health condition characterized by an unrealistic sense of self-importance, an excessive need for praise, and other traits that negatively impact one's relationships, self-image, and daily life.
It's also possible to have narcissistic tendencies and traits and not the disorder.
This article goes over narcissistic personality traits and the different types of narcissism. It also discusses how narcissistic personality disorder can be managed.
Narcissistic Personality Traits vs. Disorder
Having narcissistic traits doesn't necessarily mean you have narcissistic personality disorder. The difference largely comes down to how present and impactful narcissism is in one's daily life.
NPD is one of the cluster Bpersonality disordersin the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).These are associated with dramatic, emotional, irrational, and erratic behavior.
To be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, a person's narcissistic traits must impair functioning , present in a variety of contexts, as well as negatively impact identity and the ability to have healthy relationships.
The behaviors and attitudes are pervasive, inflexible, and often there is no motivation to change them. In fact, someone with NPD may not even recognize they are problematic.
In contrast, someone who has narcissistic traits but not the disorder may occasionally exhibit these behaviors and attitudes without significant functional impairment or distress. They are also likely to be more aware of their tendencies and open to changing them.
Person With Narcissistic Tendencies
Exhibits one or a few traits (e.g., believes other should admire them)
Behaviors come and go, or are only present in some situations (e.g., only at work or school)
Life and relationships not effected in a major, negative way; traits may even give an advantage (e.g., help them succeed at work)
May be developmentally normative in childhood and teen years
Can recognize traits as negative and be open to changing them(Video) 4 Types of Narcissism
Has/develops self-awareness and insight
Can be empathetic but may not be at times
Person With Narcissist Personality Disorder
Traits are fundamental to their personality
Behaviors are constant across situations
Traits significantly impair their life, making it impossible for them to have healthy relationships
Does not see traits as negative and is less likely to be open and willing to work on changing them
Often lacks self-awareness and insight
Has little to no ability to empathize; may "weaponizes" empathy and can even be sadistic
Researchers estimates vary, with some studies citing up to 5% of the population meeting the criteria for NPD.
What causes someone to develop NPD is not entirely understood, but it’s thought to be related to a combination of factors likechildhood trauma, genetics, and/or a person's living environment and upbringing.
4 Core Elements of Narcissism
Four key elements of narcissism are grandiosity, extreme self-focus, an inflated sense of self-importants, and a strong need for praise and recognition.
A person with NPD will often have all of these signs to a great extent, all the time. Those with tendencies, but not the disorder, may display one or two, but to a lesser degree and only at certain times.
A narcissistic person may exhibit grandiosity or a sense of superiority. They may believe that they're entitled to special treatment, favors, praise, or admiration from others.
They can sometimes come off as condescending or arrogant.
They may also be overly focused on impressing other people, often through outward displays of wealth, status, intelligence, or beauty.
While many people are self-absorbed to an extent, a narcissist will focus almost exclusively on themselves and their own personal gain. They may talk about themselves constantly or have a hard time feeling empathy for others.
This can lead to challenges with intimacy and relationships because interactions are only superficial in nature. The person may even exploit others to get what they want.
Inflated Sense of Self-Importance
Narcissistic people may expect special treatment for no reason at all.
They might brag about or exaggerate their accomplishments and see themselves as being uniquely gifted and deserving.
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Strong Need for Praise and Recognition
People with narcissism usually struggle with theirself-esteemand sense of identity, though their external image may not convey that.
They often rely on others to maintain a positive view of themselves, which leads to an overarching longing for praise and recognition.
They may also often feel deeply envious of someone else’s positive traits or accomplishments.
Personality Disorders: Types and Characteristics
The 7 Types of Narcissism
The overt narcissism described in the DSM criteria of NPD is the only official diagnosis related to narcissism. However, many mental health therapists who have worked with patients with NPD, as well as researchers who study personality disorders, have identified five possible narcissistic personality disorder types.
They include overt narcissism, covert narcissism, antagonistic narcissism, communal narcissism, and malignant narcissism.
Some experts also distinguish between adaptive and maladaptive narcissism, the potential sixth and seventh types. However, people with narcissistic traits, by definition, do not have narcissism that is as maladaptive as someone with NPD. For someone with NPD, narcissism impairs their life in a significant way and would never be considered "adaptive."
You can think of adaptive narcissism as being like the typical (and developmentally normal) "me first," "the world revolves around me," centeredness that children and teenagers show as they're growing up. That said, early signs of narcissism in kids may lead to a diagnosis of NPD later in life (the disorder is not generally diagnosed in people younger than age 18).
Overt narcissism is the “classic” and most obvious form of NPD.
Someone with overt narcissism is excessively preoccupied with how others see them. They're often overly focused on status, wealth, flattery, and power due to their grandiosity and sense of entitlement.
Overt narcissists may be high-achieving and deeply sensitive to criticism, no matter how slight.
Covert narcissism, also known as closet narcissism or vulnerable narcissism, is not as obvious as overt narcissism.
Like other people with NPD, someone with covert narcissism has an inflated sense of self-importance and craves admiration from others.However, someone living with covert narcissism may display more subtle and passive negative behaviors.
For example, rather than bragging about themselves or demanding respect, they may engage in blaming, shaming, manipulation, or emotional neglect to get what they want and keep the focus on themselves. They also may see themselves as a victim.
Antagonistic narcissism is defined by a sense of competitiveness, arrogance, and rivalry. While all people with narcissistic traits can be overly concerned with how they appear to others, antagonistic narcissists are particularly concerned with coming out “on top."
Someone with antagonistic narcissism may try to exploit others to get ahead. They may put others down or start arguments in an attempt to gain the upper hand or appear dominant.
Like someone living with covert narcissism, someone with communal narcissism may not appear to be ego-driven at all.
At first, they can come across as selfless or even as a martyr. However, their internal motivation is to earn praise and admiration, not help others.
To that end, people with communal narcissism place themselves at the forefront of social causes or communities, usually as the leader or the face of a movement. People with communal narcissism see themselves as more empathetic, caring, or selfless than others and often display moral outrage.
Malignant narcissismis often seen as the most severe or potentially abusive form of NPD.
Someone with malignant narcissism has the same egocentric self-absorption and sense of superiority as people with other narcissistic behaviors, but they also have traits associated with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), such as aggression, paranoia, and a lack of empathy. They may even have a sadistic streak.
Narcissistic Traits and Violent Crime
Narcissistic traits may be associated with a higher likelihood of violent crime. In one study, over 21% of inmates in a single prison met the diagnostic criteria for NPD.
Adaptive Narcissism vs. Maladaptive Narcissism
It’s important to recognize that not all people with NPD will look, act, or behave the same way.
For example, one person with NPD could be a well-dressed, charming overachiever who cultivates a certain image to impress others.
Another person with NPD could be an underachiever who sets low expectations for themselves because of a sense of entitlement.
Some researchers refer to narcissistic traits like a sense of authority and a drive to become self-sufficient as adaptive narcissism. These traits can actually help a person succeed in certain areas of life, such as their career, education, or finances.
On the other hand, narcissistic traits like being exploitative, condescending, and aggressive are called maladaptive narcissism because they negatively affect the person who shows them and the people that they interact with.
Do Narcissists Gaslight?
Anyone can use gaslighting—making someone doubt their reality—to manipulate others, so it's not a sure sign of narcissism. However, gaslighting is often associated with a narcissist personality. For example, a person with NPD may say something hurtful to a partner and then say, “I never said that,” or “You’re overreacting,” when confronted about it.
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How Are NPD Types Diagnosed?
People with NPD do not generally seek mental health evaluation and treatment for their personality disorder. Some people do not recognize their negative traits and behaviors, while others might feel that they would be criticized or judged in therapy.
Sometimes, a person’s loved ones notice their behaviors before they do.
To be diagnosed withNPD, a person must show narcissistic traits in unhealthy (pathological) ways that interfere with their daily functioning and how they relate to other people.
However, narcissism exists on a spectrum and there are different levels of narcissistic behavior. Some people show narcissistic behaviors but are not diagnosed with NPD.
The diagnosis will often be established through clinical interviews asking questions about a person’s life, identity, past, and relationships. Formal diagnostic tools and testing may be used as well as obtaining information from significant others in one's life.
A mental health professional will use the diagnostic criteria for NPD in the DSM-5 as laid out by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to diagnose someone with NPD.
According to the DSM-5, a person with NPD must:
- Have chronic, long-term impairments in social and personal functioning due to their narcissistic traits.
- Display pathological personality traits that affect their relationships and well-being.
To be diagnosed with NPD, a person’s behaviors cannot be attributed to their developmental stage (e.g., adolescence) or other challenges they are facing with their mental or physical health (e.g., substance abuse).
What If It’s Not NPD?
Personality disorders are complex mental health conditions. A person who shows traits of NPD may have another cluster B personality disorder, such as borderline personality disorder (BPD).
They could also have a mood disorder, such asbipolar disorder. That’s why it is important to be diagnosed with NPD by a licensed mental health professional.
How Types of Narcissism Are Treated
People who have narcissistic traits but not NPD might be more aware of the negative effects of their behavior and be open to working on them.
Treatment for NPD can be more difficult, as a person with the disorder often does not recognize their behavior as being problematic and may not be motivated—or willing—to change.
If a person with NPD is open to it, taking part in psychotherapy can be beneficial. Talk therapy can help them improve their relationships, build self-esteem, learn to set more realistic goals and expectations, and work through past traumas.
Psychotherapy can help people with NPD in several areas, such as:
- Developing a sense of self that does not rely so much on getting outside recognition
- Setting realistic goals
- Dealing with and healing from past traumas
- Improving relationships with partners, friends, colleagues, and relatives
- Developing a greater sense of empathy for others
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Narcissistic personality disorder(NPD) mental health condition that causes someone to exhibit traits like grandiosity, self-absorption, and an excessive need for praise and admiration.People can have narcissistic traits without having NPD.
While NPD is the only official diagnosis related to narcissistic traits, researchers have identified several subtypes of NPD, such as overt narcissism, covert narcissism, antagonistic narcissism, communal narcissism, and malignant narcissism.
People with NPD and their loved ones can benefit from psychotherapy, includingfamily counseling,support groups, and couples counseling.
Whether you think that you have NPD, or that your or a loved one has NPD or narcissistic traits, it can be important to get help. It’s possible to improve relationships, build self-esteem, and set more attainable, realistic goals.
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Four Ds of Narcissism: Deny, Dismiss, Devalue & Divorce.What are the worst narcissist type? ›
Grandiose, and always ready to raise hostility levels, the malignant narcissist undermines families and organizations in which they are involved, and dehumanizes the people with whom they associate. Malignant narcissism is not a diagnostic category, but a subcategory of narcissism.What triggers narcissistic collapse? ›
Some experts argue that narcissists use their attitudes of superiority and domination to compensate for insecurity and frail self-esteem. So, when a narcissist does not receive the validation they believe they are entitled to, they may experience high levels of emotional distress, leading to a narcissistic collapse.What words can destroy a narcissist? ›
- 1. “ ...
- “I Can't Control How You Feel About Me” ...
- “I Hear What You're Saying” ...
- “I'm Sorry You Feel That Way” ...
- “Everything Is Okay” ...
- “We Both Have a Right to Our Own Opinions” ...
- “I Can Accept How You Feel” ...
- “I Don't Like How You're Speaking to Me so I Will not Engage”
What Triggers Narcissistic Rage? Narcissistic rage is common for those with NPD as they grow increasingly angry with any display of vulnerability. This anger can be triggered when they are “called out,” their image has been damaged, or their shortcomings or wrongdoings are highlighted.What is the #1 word a narcissist Cannot stand? ›
It comes hand-in-hand with this that narcissists hate being criticised or called out. Which is exactly why there's one word in particular narcissistic people cannot stand: "no".What is the one question to identify a narcissist? ›
“To what extent do you agree with this statement: 'I am a narcissist.'”
Red Flags When You're In a Relationship With a Narcissist
Downplays your emotions. Uses manipulative tactics to “win” arguments. Love bombing, especially after a fight. Makes you second-guess yourself constantly.
Ever spoken with someone who responded dismissively to everything you said? Narcissists brush aside or deprecate what others say instead of truly listening. One tip-off is the word, "But..." But deletes whatever came before. "But a better way to look at it is..." Another tip-off is tone of voice.
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Cerebral Narcissist Traits
They hyperfocus on intellectual topics and go to great lengths to ensure others view them as the “smartest” in the room. Some defining traits of NPD in general include: Lack of empathy.
Narcissists seek endless validation, attention, and praise to compensate for low self-esteem, confidence, and a perceived lack of acceptance.What are the three E's of narcissism? ›
One of the keys to spotting narcissistic personality disorder is observing the “three Es” — exploitation, entitlement, and empathy impairment. However, this is different from lacking empathy altogether. Dr.What are the 3 D's of narcissism? ›
The 3 Ds—defensiveness, dismissiveness, and dominance—offer valuable insights into assessing narcissism and emotional abuse. If you recognize these traits in your relationship, it's important to address them and seek professional guidance if necessary.