While this may appear at first glance to be a simple question, it’s actually more complex than appearances reveal. As interest in the study of narcissism grows, experts have yet to agree on a specific set of subtypes under the general heading of narcissistic personality disorder.
Some experts only broadly divide narcissism into the categories of covert and overt, but others have defined numerous other subtypes.
So, the answer ranges from three to nine, depending on the source, and none are considered established clinical diagnoses.
Still, investigating some of these subtypes gives us insight into the varying ways in which narcissists work. While narcissists all have similar patterns of behavior, they also have different personalities, different particular interests, and contrasting degrees of pathology. They exist on a spectrum from relatively healthy to absolutely malignant.
Read on to learn how to identify what experts see as some established subtypes of narcissism.
It seems counter-intuitive to call narcissism “healthy,” but some narcissistic feelings can actually boost self-esteem and confidence. Typically, healthy narcissism has little in common with narcissistic personality disorder. Rather, it describes someone who exhibits some narcissistic traits at particular moments in their personal or professional life.
Just about everyone has a dose of this healthy narcissism. It’s what we need to take a risk or ask for a promotion or find the courage to ask someone out on a date. It’s when we use our self-confidence and pride to take us to the next level in whatever we are doing. Healthy narcissism allows us to feel as if we are entitled to succeed, that we deserve the good things in life.
Healthy narcissism, unlike the full-blown disorder, is rooted in reality, not the beholder’s delusions of superiority. It gives us the opportunity to share our achievements with others, not as a blowhard braggart but as someone who genuinely deserves the accolades and acknowledgment.
Grandiose or Overt Narcissism
Here we begin to verge into pathological thinking. Grandiose narcissism is what most of us understand as narcissistic personality disorder. These are typically what we call pathological narcissists.
People with grandiose narcissism exhibit the same kind of entitlement and pride as described above, but it isn’t always based in reality, in actual accomplishments. Instead, it is accompanied by an unhealthy sense of superiority and inflated ego.
This type of narcissism reveals a pattern of manipulation and deceit that the narcissist employs to gain dominance and control over others. The overt narcissist won’t hide his disorder—because he thinks there is nothing wrong with him—but rather openly display his bragging and self-absorption for all to witness.
This type will also typically be charming, but he will lack empathy and compassion. In addition, his interest will be solely on himself, and he is unable to relate to most other people. This is because the grandiose narcissist is busy garnering all the attention for himself. He may also enjoy not only manipulating others but also seeing them confused or even hurt.
For a good example of how grandiose narcissism manifests, check out this post about what it can look like in your mother.
Vulnerable or Covert Narcissism
As opposed to grandiose narcissism, covert narcissism looks more like passive-aggressive behavior. The vulnerable narcissist won’t openly brag or directly ask for attention. She will appear to be meek and humble, while harboring secret feelings of superiority.
Check out this blog article for signs of a vulnerable narcissistic mother to get some more insight.
The covert narcissist instead traffics in the dynamics of victimhood, seeing herself as the sacrificing martyr while simultaneously establishing emotional control over her family and friends. She uses deception, misdirection, and guilt to achieve her ends. Her love is conditional upon how successfully you serve her self-interest.
She too craves attention, like the grandiose narcissist, but she goes about getting it in different ways. She creates drama within the family unit, centering herself at the middle of the crises she creates. The vulnerable narcissist is frequently critical of others while chronically incapable of accepting criticism of herself.
The most pathological of the subtypes of narcissism, the malignant narcissist is a borderline sociopath. They are unable to identify with others on any level, and their manipulations are malicious and cruel. Malignant narcissists frequently display aggression and can be physically, not just psychologically, abusive.
While the previous two subtypes of narcissists may glean some pleasure out of seeing others uncomfortable, the malignant narcissist takes true pleasure in hurting their victims. This sadistic behavior can be dangerous and escalate quickly. Most experts recommend that you get away from and cut ties with the malignant narcissist as soon as you are able.
Because this type of narcissist is largely resistant to any therapeutic intervention, the best course of action for you is to end your relationship with them. The malignant narcissist is usually quite intelligent, as well, and has spent a great deal of time honing the manipulative and malicious skills that make them so dangerous.
Specialized Narcissism SubTypes
There are also a handful of narcissistic subtypes who “specialize” in a particular form of narcissistic behavior. That is, these types might not necessarily be narcissistic in all arenas of their life—or at least not overtly so—but they develop an obsessive relationship with one part of themselves they believe to be superior.
Experts have identified four of these specialized sub-types thus far: sexual, somatic, cerebral, and spiritual. While these are not official designations as of yet, as mentioned in the introduction, they are recognizable patterns noted by various psychologists and other professionals.
The sexual narcissist manipulates partners via sex, believing themselves to be preternaturally gifted at sexual encounters. They are usually frequently unfaithful and may become violent in the course of a sexual tryst. Somatic narcissists may also display some of these behaviors, though their primary concern is their appearance. They become obsessed with their weight and fitness and will criticize others for not meeting their impossible standards.
The cerebral narcissist values their intellect above all else. They believe that they are smarter, more knowledgeable, and better at arguing any point than anyone else. In contrast, the spiritual narcissist values their superior sensitivity and commitment to “higher causes.” They will use their supposed elevated spiritual feeling to manipulate others into serving their self-interest.
The field of study centering on narcissism has been expanding and specializing. Most experts believe that narcissism is more complex, more diverse, and possibly more widespread than previously thought. These categories are still being defined and refined as diagnostic tools.
We can clearly see that narcissism is a diverse disorder with various manifestations. Being able to identify the subtypes of narcissistic behavior will better equip us to counter the narcissist’s attempts to rule over us.
To learn more check out this article to learn about how you can spot the common signs of a covert female narcissist.
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