5 Basic Types of Narcissists (and How to Identify Them)

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Has something changed about you and the way you relate to others after dealing with a narcissist? Psychological experts are of the view that you're never really the same again after having a narcissist in your life. It doesn't matter whether the person is or was an intimate partner, parent, child, friend, boss, or co-worker or what “flavor” of narcissism they dished out on you.

Psychologists and therapists work with five main types of narcissists and, according to PsychCentral, they can all affect you in a negative way. Understanding the primary types of narcissism and identifying narcissists by their common traits is precisely what we'll be focusing on throughout this article.

What Is a Narcissist?

A narcissist is someone who displays signs of narcissism and a host of toxic personality traits. According to research, narcissism is a personality trait and shows up as a life-long pattern of negative behavior.

Primary and pervasive narcissistic traits include an over-inflated sense of self-importance, a strong desire for recognition or admiration, entitlement, and a lack of empathy.

Their maladaptive or dysfunctional behaviors impact their ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. These traits can make it hard for narcissistic people to get along with you and others.

Besides, a narcissist's relationships are primarily superficial and based on exploiting their “targets” for personal gains, e.g., money, sex, status, etc.

At the core of narcissism are a fragile sense of self-worth, low self-esteem, and chronic insecurity. Experts say that explains their self-absorbed, grandiose, and manipulative behaviors.

Anyone can display narcissism. However, the degree of narcissism ranges on a scale from mild (healthy or adaptive) to severe (malignant or pathological).

Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Note that a display of narcissistic traits or tendencies doesn't always mean the person has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). The disorder is a complex mental health condition that can be properly and formally diagnosed by a psychiatrist, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).

NPD is considered extreme or pathological narcissism, even though only 5% of the population meets the diagnostic criteria for the disorder. It is also one of the cluster B personality disorders that include histrionic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder.

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A narcissist is someone who displays signs of narcissism and a host of toxic personality traits.

These disorders may interfere with the individual's daily functioning as well as their ability to positively relate to others.

That said, narcissists, themselves are divided into five basic types, each displaying some unique traits and behaviors.

5 Basic Types of Narcissists and How to Know You're Dealing with One

To handle a narcissist and protect yourself from what can sometimes be vicious behaviors, it's vital to study them. Experts have identified these five primary types:

  • Overt narcissism
  • Covert narcissism
  • Antagonistic narcissism
  • Communal narcissism
  • Malignant narcissism

I'll define each of the five primary types of narcissist, identify common behavioral traits, and provide examples to help you spot when you're interacting with each type. 

1. The Overt Narcissist

Overt narcissism also called agentic narcissism is the most obvious form or type. Overt narcissists display classic behaviors, such as grandiosity, which is why they are also called grandiose narcissists.

It's not unusual to think someone acting this way has NPD since grandiosity is one of the criteria for diagnosis. However, these individuals and those who show signs of other types of narcissism must fit additional DMS-5 criteria for NPD.

More characteristics of overt narcissists

Signs you may be dealing with an overt narcissist:

  • Extroverted (highly sociable) and charismatic
  • Displays an exaggerated sense of self
  • Has a chronic and excessive need for praise and admiration
  • Walks around with a sense of entitlement (like the world owes them something)
  • Arrogance (purports to know it all)
  • Strives for uniqueness
  • Overbearing, often attempting to impose their opinions on you
  • Overly sensitive and easily slighted by even constructive criticisms
  • Highly competitive even against their partners
  • Lacks empathy

There's a belief that covert narcissists have high self-confidence and are less likely to feel sad, lonely, or worried due to their sociable nature. They may also overestimate their intelligence, abilities, and resilience. However, inflating one's sense of well-being is considered positive toxicity and harmful.

Example of overt narcissism

The overt narcissist is your classic “look at me” type. They enjoy being the center of attention. In conversations, they will talk excessively about themselves and interrupt you to return to the focus to them. They won't hesitate to exaggerate their accomplishments or embellish stories to come out looking like a hero.

If you tell them you're an animal lover, they might boast about bringing home and saving a lost dog. This isn't only competitiveness, but also an attempt to one-up you and show you they've done greater things than you.

2. The Covert Narcissist

This is your secret or closeted type of narcissist, unlike the brash and bold overt narcissist. Some psychologists call it vulnerable narcissism. Covert narcissists also have an inflated sense of self-importance and crave constant admiration from others. However, they tend to seek attention and validation through passive-aggressive means.

More characteristics of covert narcissists

Subtle signs you may be dealing with a covert narcissist:

  • Introverted (appears shy and reserved)
  • Emotional manipulation, e.g., gaslighting
  • Low self-esteem, insecurity, or low self-confidence
  • Tendency to refuse accountability while blaming others for their mistakes
  • Passive-aggressive behaviors, e.g., shutting down and withdrawing to garner attention
  • Lacks empathy
  • Emotionally neglecting partners
  • Disagreeableness and disregard for the feelings of others
  • Playing the victim
  • Minimize their accomplishments to garner attention or fish for compliments
  • Defensiveness, procrastination, and internal rage

Individuals expressing this type of narcissism often feel not good enough and are hypersensitive to criticism. Researchers suggest that these traits are strongly linked to neuroticism, hence the labeling of covert types as neurotic narcissists. Pervasive low self-esteem and feelings of insecurity make them more likely to experience shame, anxiety, or depression.

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Primary and pervasive narcissistic traits include an over-inflated sense of self-importance, a strong desire for recognition or admiration, entitlement, and a lack of empathy.

Vulnerable narcissists tend to engage in guilt-tripping and emotionally manipulating others to boost their ego, get their needs met, and feel better about themselves. To get their way, they may shower their partners with gifts and attention (love bombing) to reassert control. However, experts say their actions are consistent with emotional abuse.

Example of covert narcissism

Covert narcissists have a grandiose belief that they're special and have amazing talents. They may post about their involvement in a charity, but won't usually outrightly boast about their generous contributions like the overt type would.

The problem is that they become resentful when people fail to appreciate their do-gooder actions, talents, or intelligence. They internalize their anger and engage in passive-aggressive behaviors, such as pouting, avoidance, or giving the silent treatment.

3. The Antagonistic Narcissist

A study published in the Journal of Research in Personality in 2017, compared agentic (covert), communal, and antagonistic narcissism. The researchers saw antagonistic narcissists as those who “strive for supremacy, derogate others, and engage in aggressive interpersonal behaviors.” They are also less likely to forgive compared to other types of narcissists.

More characteristics of antagonistic narcissists

Signs you may be dealing with an antagonistic narcissist:

  • Arrogant
  • Driven by competitiveness and rivalry
  • Preoccupied with coming out “on top
  • Feels entitled to special treatment by others
  • Uses hostility and aggression to gain control
  • Puts others down to achieve a sense of dominance
  • Disagreeable and argumentative
  • Do or say things to provoke conflict

Individuals with high tendencies toward antagonistic narcissism may be more distrusting of others, according to a 2019 study. In addition, they reportedly react in destructive or vengeful ways when they feel wronged or provoked. For example, they may continue to be hard on the person who hurt them.

People showing high overt narcissism tend to react differently, according to a 2017 publication. They take a constructive approach to conflict, even though their cooperation is based on the need to maintain superiority over those who offended them.

Example of antagonistic narcissism

Being their oppositional and argumentative self, an antagonistic narc may nitpick and use putdowns to get your attention. You'll come home after a long day at work only to be confronted by your antagonistic partner, who launches an attack on you for missing dinner.

Due to their competitive, you-versus-me nature, antagonists get into arguments to criticize, demean, and “win.” This provides an instant ego boost and a feeling of superiority.

4. The Communal Narcissist

A communal narcissist is considered the opposite of the aggressive, antagonistic narcissist. Communal narcissism manifests as trying to satisfy self-related needs through communal means. The term “communal” refers to being community-minded, such as helping others, e.g., through volunteering, being a trustworthy member of society, and showing empathy.

A communal narcissist may show up as a leader of a social cause or movement, for example, one that protects people, animals, or the environment.

More characteristics of communal narcissists

Common features of communal narcissists include:

  • Demonstrating altruistic tendencies
  • Carrying themselves as kind, empathetic, and selfless to be seen as good and likable
  • Showing a strong belief in fairness and justice
  • Displaying exceptional moral values and abilities
  • Being easily morally outraged over injustices and societal oppression
  • More likely than other types of narcissist to start a movement to get justice for others
  • Often members of a charitable organization
  • Typically show concern for the poor and disadvantaged, but only in public
  • Lacks empathy (in fact)

Despite demonstrating these tendencies, researchers suggest the actions of communal narcissists don't usually match up with their beliefs that they're prosocial, e.g., helpful or altruistic. Their prosocial behaviors are said to be motivated by an underlying need for admiration, praise, and validation.

This is precisely how they gain their sense of self-importance without the need to exhibit grandiosity like the covert narcissist. According to Psychology Today, it's kind of unintentionally deceiving themselves and the public that they're, in fact, exceptional people. For some commentators, their public display of being community-minded people is hypocritical.

Example of communal narcissism

A communal narcissist does and publicizes those social acts of care or kindness to gain recognition. He or she may start a charity project to provide food for homeless people in their community. They may get people to become volunteers but hardly roll up their sleeves and help.

They will stand by to take the praise after the volunteers do the hard work. The narcissist may get mad at people who don't support their cause. They may become irritable and lash out if they don't get the praise and validation, they expected for starting the charity.

5. The Malignant Narcissist

On the scale of narcissism measuring narcissistic tendencies from mild to severe, malignant narcissists, also known as pathological narcissists, appear on the severe end of the spectrum. They possess the superiority, grandiosity, and entitlement traits of overt narcissists.

However, they are sometimes referred to as the worst type, mainly because they have a high potential for abusing others. What's more, these individuals have traits that show strong links to antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), sociopathy, and psychopathy.

More characteristics of malignant narcissists

A 2010 research publication concluded that “Malignant Narcissism is a severe personality disorder that has devastating consequences for the family and society.” The conclusion is based on the common harmful traits or behaviors seen in malignant narcissism, including these:

  • Highly manipulative
  • Aggressiveness
  • Paranoia, or persistently on the lookout for threats
  • Vindictiveness
  • Sadism, or getting pleasure from humiliating others or inflicting pain and suffering
  • Strong lack of emotional and cognitive empathy, which makes it easier for them to mistreat and harm others

In a YouTube interview, Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a psychologist and professor of psychology, gave her descriptions of malignant narcissism. The psychologist noted that malignant narcissists are far more problematic than the rest, are really mean, and will do bad or borderline psychopathic things without feeling much guilt or remorse.

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Narcissism is a personality trait and shows up as a life-long pattern of negative behavior.

Giving examples of maladaptive behavioral traits, Dr. Ramani said they cheat on their partners, steal, and lie, and would “make good criminals.” It may not be surprising, as Erich Fromm, the social psychologist who first coined the term malignant narcissism, called people of this type “the quintessence of evil.

You may notice articles that suggest other types of narcissists, e.g., grandiose narcissists, psychopathic narcissists, sexual narcissists, somatic narcissists, and cerebral narcissists. Some experts consider them as subtypes of the primary types explained above.

For example, the grandiose narcissist can easily fit into the overt type, while the psychopathic narcissist is likened to the malignant type.

Example of malignant narcissism

Psychologist Lissy Abrahams calls these the most exploitative and nastiest type as they lack empathy.” A malignant narcissist in action can be a friend or partner who will learn your weak spots and purposely do those things they know would hurt you.

Your pain is empowering and gratifying to them. They would even harm your loved one or pet to get your attention. They won't feel guilt or remorse and tend to apologize, albeit insincerely, only if it will benefit them.

Final Thoughts on Basic Types of Narcissists

Anyone can display narcissistic tendencies, but it's those displaying a pattern of destructive behaviors that can be difficult to cope with. Being able to spot these behavior patterns might help you take action to deal with the individual accordingly and protect yourself from narcissistic abuse.

Steps could include calling out their behaviors, distancing yourself, or ending the relationship altogether. As mentioned earlier, interacting with a narcissist will negatively affect you in some way.

In my experience, they can leave you feeling paranoid, helpless, and not good enough… but you don't have to take my word for it. Just check out 13 Ways Dating a Narcissist Changes You.

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

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