As a personality trait, there are many types of narcissism. As a mental health condition, there’s only one diagnosis.
Many people might not be aware there is more than one type of narcissism.
Taking a closer look at the different manifestations can help you when dealing with a narcissist.
Learning about narcissistic traits and types may also help you understand more about the thought processes, emotions, and behavioral patterns that tend to show up with narcissism.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a formal mental health diagnosis.
When people talk about narcissism, they might be referring to it either as part of someone’s personality or as Narcissistic Personality Disorder. NPD is usually diagnosed when narcissism extends beyond a personality trait and persistently affects many areas of your life. Mental health professionals generally consider only one type of narcissism.
Extensive research has proven that narcissism can show up as part of someone’s personality in multiple ways; including those formally diagnosed.
Narcissism is closely tied to extreme self-focus, an inflated sense of self, and a strong desire for recognition and praise. In regards to types of narcissism, experts have broken the concept into five parts:
- Overt Narcissism
- Covert Narcissism
- Antagonistic Narcissism
- Communal Narcissism
- Malignant Narcissism
Narcissism can also be looked at in terms of how it affects your day to day life and ability to form healthy relationships.
In this context, there are two types of narcissism: adaptive (helpful) or maladaptive (unhelpful).
These categories can help us view narcissism on a spectrum from less to more severe. Studies suggest it could be more accurate to view narcissism this way. You might then imagine that the different “types” of narcissism fit somewhere along that spectrum.
Adaptive VS. Maladaptive
There are key differences between adaptive and maladaptive narcissism. Examining these differences helps to show the difference between productive and unproductive aspects of narcissism.
Adaptive narcissism refers to aspects of narcissism that can actually be helpful, like high self-confidence, self-reliance, and the ability to celebrate yourself.
Maladaptive narcissism is connected to traits that don’t serve you and can negatively impact how you relate to yourself and others. Entitlement, aggression, and the tendency to take advantage of others fit under the umbrella of maladaptive narcissism. This would be associated with symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
When most people talk about narcissism, it’s the maladaptive kind they’re referring to. While maladaptive narcissism tends to decrease the older we get, adaptive narcissism doesn’t decline as much over time.
Both adaptive and maladaptive narcissism can be passed on through genes and influenced by your childhood upbringing.
Overt narcissism is also known by several other names, including grandiose narcissism and agentic narcissism. This type of narcissism is what most people associate with a narcissistic personality.
Someone with overt narcissism might come across as:
- Having an exaggerated sense of self
- Needing to be praised and admired
- Lacking empathy
People with overt narcissism are more likely to feel good about themselves and less likely to experience uncomfortable emotions like sadness, worry, or loneliness. People with overt narcissism may also tend to overestimate their own abilities and intelligence.
While many people think of narcissism as a loud and overbearing trait, people with covert narcissism don’t fit this pattern.
Instead, some common traits of someone with covert narcissism include:
- Expressions of low self-esteem
- Higher likelihood of experiencing anxiety, depression, and shame
- Insecurity or low confidence
- Tendency to feel or play the victim
The exact causes of covert narcissism are not entirely understood, but it is likely that a number of factors contribute. Experts suggest that narcissistic personality disorder is linked to factors including genetics, childhood abuse and trauma, upbringing and relationship with caregivers, and personality and temperament.
Antagonistic narcissism is a subtype of overt narcissism. With this aspect of narcissism, the focus is on rivalry and competition.
Some behaviors of antagonistic narcissism include:
- Tendency to take advantage of others
- Tendency to compete with others
- Disagreeability or proneness to arguing
Those with antagonistic narcissism reported they were less likely to forgive others than people with other types of narcissism. People with antagonistic narcissism may also have lower levels of trust in others.
Communal narcissism is another type of overt narcissism, and it’s usually seen as the opposite of antagonistic narcissism.
Someone with communal narcissism values fairness and is likely to see themselves as altruistic, but there’s a gap between these beliefs and the person’s behavior.
People with communal narcissism might:
- Become easily morally outraged
- Describe themselves as empathetic and generous
- React strongly to things they see as unfair
For those with communal narcissism, social power and self-importance are playing a major role. While communal narcissism might cause you to say (and believe) you have a strong moral code or care for others, you might not realize the way you treat others doesn’t match up with your beliefs.
Narcissism can exist at different levels of severity, and malignant narcissism is the most severe form.
Someone with malignant narcissism may have many common traits of narcissism, like a strong need for praise and to be elevated above others. But in addition, malignant narcissism can show up as:
- Sadism, or getting enjoyment from the pain of others
- Aggression when interacting with other people
- Paranoia, or heightened worry about potential threats
Someone with malignant narcissism may also share some traits with Antisocial Personality Disorder (sociopathy). This also means someone with malignant narcissism could be more likely to experience legal trouble or substance misuse.