Grandiose Narcissism: Definition, Signs, & How to Deal with These Narcissists

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In essence, we all have a dose of narcissism, which is perfectly healthy as it makes us want the best in life.

We all wish to prioritize our needs, achieve our goals, experience positive emotions, and be happier humans.

That’s why we guide our actions according to the emotional rewards we can receive.

However, pathological narcissists pursue their goals while showing zero interest in other people’s feelings.

The only thing that matters to them is getting what they want.

Individuals who are pathologically narcissistic demand your undivided attention and die-hard dedication.

They reject criticism, are easily offended, and blame others for their failures and mistakes.

One particular form of toxic narcissism is grandiose narcissism, which I will describe and debunk in the following chapters.

What is a Narcissistic Personality?

Let’s take a closer look at narcissism as a set of personality traits.

Many of us use the word ‘narcissist’ to describe a person who behaves as if they are superior to everyone else, and the whole world should recognize their unique and special talents.

As I said before, every person has a dose of narcissism which originates in the omnipotence we all feel in the first years of life.

When we were babies, we lived under the impression that the whole universe revolves around our needs.

However, we soon learned that this feeling is an illusion and that the world extends far beyond our needs and desires.

This process happens gradually enough for us to realize that sometimes we are the priority, while other times we must accept that other people’s needs must come first.

In other words, our personality develops so that we’re confident enough to prioritize ourselves when possible and understanding enough to leave space for other people’s needs.

But when this process happens abruptly and unpredictably, your self-esteem will be affected, leading to a distorted sense of value.

As a result, you may become a narcissistic adult who oscillates between over- and under-evaluation of yourself and those around you, unable to overcome disappointment and failures.  

What Are the Causes of Narcissistic Personality?

The exact causes of narcissistic personality are currently unknown.

As with other personality disorders, there are many theories on how this personality trait emerges.

However, most experts agree that narcissistic personality is a result of biological, genetic, social, and psychological factors, among which are included:

  • Neglect and severe emotional abuse during childhood.
  • An education based on praise and rewards in the absence of effort or results.
  • Excessive admiration or criticism from parents, caregivers, or teachers.
  • Uninvolved or neglectful parenting which creates an environment where the child has no rules or boundaries, leaving them to behave as they please.

Grandiose vs. Vulnerable Narcissists

When we look at current studies, it’s obvious that narcissism is a complex topic, and recently, researchers have begun to differentiate between two types of narcissism: grandiose and vulnerable.

Although both types are alike in their excessive concern for their image and how others perceive them, there are some notable differences between vulnerable and grandiose narcissism.

While the grandiose narcissist has too much self-esteem and thinks highly of themself, the vulnerable narcissist has extremely low self-esteem.

Many experts believe that the way narcissists relate to their self-esteem is rooted in the different parenting styles they were exposed to.

On the one hand, the roots of vulnerable narcissism can be found in a problematic relationship with at least one of the parents.

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Needing to be the most admired and interesting person in the room, a grandiose narcissist will try to dominate any meeting he/she attends.

Always criticized, unseen, and in the shadow of an adult, the vulnerable narcissist didn’t have space to grow a healthy self-esteem.

In other words, the constant criticism made them feel worthless and fueled an avid desire for affirmation.

On the other hand, grandiose narcissists come from families where they were extremely pampered, praised beyond measure, and had no boundaries. They got everything on a silver platter and never had to learn empathy.

In time, they learned to behave as if they were exceptional and the world owed them everything.

As a result, grandiose narcissists are more likely to engage in risky activities. This has to do with the fact that “individuals with high level of grandiose narcissism tend to overestimate their abilities”. [1]  

Because of their overconfidence and impulsivity, they are more likely to make bad decisions or fail. [2]

While grandiose narcissists are impulsive risk-takers, vulnerable narcissists tend to experience a lot of interpersonal distrust and negative emotions (especially towards themselves). [3]

Now that we’ve highlighted the major differences between the two types of narcissists let’s take a closer look at the grandiose type.

Grandiose Narcissism and The False Self

The grandiose narcissist is much less sensitive to emotions than their vulnerable counterpart.

They are overconfident in their abilities and convinced of their superiority. So convinced that they believe they should receive special treatment from everyone else.

In most cases, the grandiose narcissist learned from an early age that they are somehow unique and superior to others.

That’s why they are constantly searching for the permanent reconfirmation of their merits and unique talents.

Aggressive and dominating, they do not feel shame towards themselves or others and often shows zero interest in their partner’s needs, boundaries, and desires.

The only thing that matters to them is to receive the perpetual admiration they feel they deserve.

Because they were unable to develop their self-esteem properly during childhood, the narcissist builds a false self which allows them to cope.

Narcissists wear a mask in public to feel worthy of the appreciation of those around them.

That way, they can avoid contact with reality and, simultaneously, with the emotional void they’re trying to escape.

Narcissists don't love themselves, but they adore their false selves.

It is (in their view) the only thing that can help them gain the attention and admiration of others.

Unfortunately, the false self is also why their interactions feel somehow ‘fake’ and superficial. On top of that comes the lack of empathy which robs the narcissist of honest and meaningful connections.

7 Signs of a Grandiose Narcissist

1. Charismatic, Flashy, and Full of (Empty) Dreams

At first sight, narcissists appear charismatic, leaving a good impression and cultivating a sense of trust.

But this is just the mask they use to convince others to believe in their ideas and manipulate them to get what they want.

In most cases, their grandiose ideas turn out to be broken promises, missed deadlines, and major failures.

When this happens, they will either blame it on someone else or play the “to make mistakes is human” card and declare their “lesson learned.”

The second excuse is a manipulation tactic that allows them to fool you again the next time they come up with a “brilliant” idea.

2. Always Looking to Steal the Spotlight

Needing to be the most admired and interesting person in the room, a grandiose narcissist will try to dominate any meeting they attends.

They achieve this by constantly reminding those present why their achievements, ideas, and proposals deserve special attention.

Because they want to appear powerful and influential, a narcissist will interrupt other people and even resort to offenses or judgments to ‘crush the competition.’

3. Constantly Brags About Having Friends in High Places

Grandiose narcissists brag about the prestigious schools they attended, or the important positions held by family members and friends, even if these are often exaggerated.

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Having an exaggerated sense of importance, grandiose narcissists will constantly look for special treatment.

They do this to cultivate a sense of importance and gain the admiration of those around them.

4. Disproportionate Reactions to Even the Smallest Criticism

Experts call it ‘narcissistic rage,’ which describes a disproportionate reaction to an insignificant event that the narcissist perceives as extremely offensive and hurtful.

In most cases, it has absolutely nothing to do with the severity of the insult.

It can be something as trivial as a difference of opinion or someone telling them that certain clothes are not the most suitable choice.

However, the narcissist’s response can range from ignorance to verbal or physical violence.

For a friend or life partner of the narcissist, such disproportionate reactions can be extremely abusive.

5. Always Asking for Special Treatment

Having an exaggerated sense of importance, grandiose narcissists will constantly look for special treatment.

They have no problem going over the speed limit or making a scene at the restaurant if their order takes longer than expected.

This overblown sense of entitlement can cause difficulties for them and their close ones (friends, family members, and life partners).

Honestly, I pity the person who makes the (unintentional) mistake of cutting in front of them in line or dares to point out a mistake they’ve made.

6. Stubbornly Refuses to Change Their Views

Another trait of narcissists (both grandiose and vulnerable) is mental rigidity or all-or-nothing thinking.

In other words, it's either their way or the highway when it comes to debating a topic, project planning, or even deciding where to hang out.

This often results in conflicts and heated arguments in which a narcissist may resort to humiliation and verbal abuse.

As you can probably imagine, having a relationship with a grandiose narcissist who stubbornly refuses to make the healthy compromises that any couple goes through can be extremely frustrating.

7. Overconfident in Their Knowledge and Experience

One of the defining traits of grandiose narcissists is overconfidence which often leads to impulsivity and poor decision-making.

When you mix mental rigidity with an exaggerated sense of importance, you get a person who believes their knowledge and expertise are above everyone else’s.

This will inevitably lead to mistakes and losses for which the narcissist won’t take any responsibility.

But the saddest part is that others often end up paying the price or cleaning up the mess simply because the narcissist is skilled at manipulating the situation so that they come out innocent.  

4 Pieces of Advice to Deal with Grandiose Narcissists

1. Look Beyond Narcissism for a Moment

I know from experience that interacting with a grandiose narcissist can be challenging and frustrating.

But just because someone has narcissistic tendencies doesn’t mean they're broken and should be avoided at all costs.

Maybe the narcissist in your life is a family member with whom you can’t just cut all ties and pretend like they don’t exist.

Or maybe they are someone you love and care about deeply and don’t want to leave before trying to make things work.

To a certain extent, I believe that human beings can make remarkable changes.

Even a grandiose narcissist who thinks they're above everyone else can learn to have honest and healthy interactions.

Granted, it takes patience and steel nerves to help them change how they perceive themselves, others, and the world in general, but if you believe that person is worth the effort, let me share some advice.

2. Be Kind, But Assertive

If you’re in a relationship with a grandiose narcissist and want to make it work, I think it’s essential to address each obstacle gently but assertively.

If there’s a sensitive or frustrating issue, try to convey the message calmly and respectfully.

Focus on how certain things they say or do make you feel rather than what you assume might be their motivation or intentions.

If they respond with anger and defensiveness, try to remain calm, leave if necessary, and review the conversation later.

What I learned working with narcissists is that even though they might push your buttons, it’s vital to refrain from presenting things in the form of reproaches.

When a narcissist feels attacked, their instinct is to defend themselves and prove you wrong. But, unfortunately, no matter how rational or solid your argument is, chances are they won’t stick.

Simply express your disagreement and move on.

3. Set Clear and Healthy Boundaries

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The most important rule when dealing with narcissists is to set and maintain clear boundaries.

But to set healthy boundaries, first, you must observe and notice which attitudes or behaviors you dislike and which of your limits are constantly violated by your narcissistic friend or life partner.

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Narcissists appear charismatic, leaving a good impression and cultivating a sense of trust.

When dealing with a narcissist, you must set firm boundaries and learn to say NO. Otherwise, you risk becoming nothing more than a person who caters to their needs.

I know setting boundaries can be difficult at first but trust me when I tell you that with time, the narcissist in your life will get used to it and understand that certain things are simply not allowed.

The boundaries you wish to establish must be discussed and planned. And for this, you need to set some goals by answering the following questions:

  • Have you tried setting boundaries in the past? If so, how did it go? What worked?
  • What are the most important changes you wish to achieve?
  • How and when will you apply the newly established limits?
  • What will you do if they cross your newly established boundaries?

Answering these questions will help you gain some clarity and develop a realistic plan.

4. Be Prepared for Anything

When dealing with a narcissistic friend or life partner, always remember that they’ll feel threatened by your attempts to set healthy boundaries and gain some control.

To compensate, they might make new demands in other aspects of the relationship, distance themselves to punish you or try to manipulate you into giving up on your limits.

To better understand why it’s so difficult to set and maintain boundaries with a narcissist, check out Dr. Ramani’s video here.

Unfortunately, there are times when, no matter how patient and assertive you are, things between you and the narcissist in your life are just not going in a healthy direction.

The closer the relationship, the more difficult it is to stay connected with yourself and your needs, especially in a conflict.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is ask yourself: What exactly brought me into this relationship? And What keeps me going?

Final Thoughts on Grandiose Narcissism

In any relationship, the only person we have complete control over is ourselves.

You may not be able to control the infatuation and entitlement of a grandiose narcissist, but you can control how you respond to their reactions and outbursts.

But to do that, first, you need to figure out if the person with whom you have a problematic interaction –a friend, coworker, family member, or life partner – has narcissistic tendencies.

Afterward, make sure to:

  • Educate yourself on narcissism and why people with narcissistic tendencies are difficult, stubborn, and entitled.
  • Make yourself seen and heard. Express your needs and desires kindly and assertively.
  • Set clear and healthy boundaries. Otherwise, they’ll walk all over you.
  • Be prepared for anything, including the possibility of ending the relationship.

Grandiose narcissists can be charming when looking for a new admirer. But remember that their charm and courtesy will run thin as soon as you do even the slightest thing that upsets them.  

Finally, if you want to identify YOUR personality type, then take one of these 11 personality tests to better understand what makes you tick.

References

[1]M. Zajenkowski, O. Maciantowicz, K. Szymaniak and P. Urban, “Vulnerable and Grandiose Narcissism Are Differentially Associated With Ability and Trait Emotional Intelligence,” Frontiers in Psychology, 2018.
[2]C. A. O'Reilly and N. Hall, “Grandiose narcissists and decision making: Impulsive, overconfident, and skeptical of experts–but seldom in doubt,” Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 168, 2021.
[3]J. D. Miller and J. Maples, “Trait Personality Models of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Grandiose Narcissism, and Vulnerable Narcissism,” in The Handbook of Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Theoretical Approaches, Empirical Findings, and Treatments, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2011.

Alexander Draghici is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, CBT practitioner, and content writer for various mental health websites. His work focuses mainly on strategies designed to help people manage and prevent two of the most common emotional problems – anxiety and depression.

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