Narcissistic personality disorder is a clinical diagnosis defining those with a feeling of self-importance that impacts quality of life.
But narcissism can present itself in many ways. While there is only one formally recognized diagnosis, not all narcissists will exhibit the same behaviors. Some researchers categorize narcissism into five types: grandiose, covert, antagonistic, communal, and malignant.
Understanding these differences can help you recognize and react to narcissism in a more productive way. Let’s take a look at the different types of narcissism, and how these traits can present themselves.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder Diagnosis
Narcissism can be viewed as a personality trait, or as a personality disorder. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a single, formal mental health diagnosis. There are no official “types” recognized by the DSM-5, although the condition can present itself in different ways (such as covert and overt).
The DSM-5 lays out 9 symptoms that can be used to diagnose narcissistic personality disorder. You must recognize at least 5 of these 9 symptoms, and they must remain constant over time, and show up in different areas of a client’s life, before diagnosing NPD.
Narcissistic Personality Types
Researchers are still considering the different ways in which narcissism can present itself. These personality types share many similar traits, but they will appear in different behaviors. While some narcissistic tendencies are easily noticeable, others can be significantly more subtle.
The most commonly identified types of narcissistic personality are: grandiose, covert, antagonistic, communal, and malignant. You should think of these as different personality types within narcissism.
Grandiose Narcissism (Overt Narcissism, Agentic Narcissism)
Grandiose narcissism is the form of narcissism most commonly associated with the personality. Those with grandiose narcissism will often be very outgoing, seeking attention and thriving in the limelight. Grandiose narcissists can often appear charming and confident, but with an inflated sense of self-importance. They overestimate their own intelligence and abilities, while underestimating others.
Grandiose narcissists will often struggle with criticism, while constantly seeking praise from others. Many are focused on signs of status and power, such as wealth, and believe they are entitled to more than those around them. They can be self-absorbed and fail to recognize the needs of others, which can result in abusive or manipulative behavior.
Covert Narcissism (Vulnerable Narcissism, Closet Narcissism)
Covert narcissists display many of the same traits as the grandiose narcissist, but in different ways. While the grandiose narcissist is extroverted and outgoing, the covert narcissist is quieter, and introverted. They will often appear to be lacking in self-esteem, and will make deprecating remarks about themselves to receive praise and attention.
Covert narcissism is linked to neuroticism, depression, and paranoia. Those with covert narcissistic personalities frequently display jealous behavior, and can hold grudges. They believe they deserve more, and often see themselves as the victim. You will often observe covert narcissists engaging in passive aggressive behavior, shaming and blaming, and emotional neglect.
Overt and covert narcissism are the two most widely recognized forms of narcissism.
Antagonistic narcissism is typically seen as a subset of overt narcissism, but with a high focus on the competitive aspect. Antagonistic narcissists are focused on appearing to be on top, and see others as their rivals. They often struggle to trust others, and are unlikely to forgive.
You will often notice that those displaying antagonistic narcissism see everyone around them as competition. They are willing to exploit others to get ahead, and will seek ways to appear dominant. This can often result in picking fights and starting arguments, just so they have the chance to “win”. The antagonistic narcissist is arrogant, and will take advantage of others to achieve their own goals.
Like antagonistic narcissism, communal narcissism is seen as a type of overt narcissism. However, it presents itself in a very different way. Like the antagonistic narcissist, the communal narcissist seeks social power and a feeling of importance. But the communal narcissist sees themselves as altruistic and empathetic, even if their actions don’t compare.
A communal narcissist will see themselves as highly moral, and will be appalled by behavior they perceive as wrong. But they fail to apply this scrutiny to their own actions. They still seek admiration and praise, and will initially appear to be selfless and warm. While the grandiose narcissist wants to be seen as the most powerful, the communal narcissist wants to be seen as the most empathetic. Both motivations drive the narcissist toward power and esteem.
Malignant narcissism is often associated with severe forms of NPD, and it frequently disrupts a person’s quality of life. While malignant narcissism is associated with self-interest and a lack of empathy, it can also show up as paranoia and vindictiveness. Those with malignant narcissistic tendencies can be aggressive, and will sometimes enjoy causing pain.
Malignant narcissism is associated with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). Those with malignant narcissism will often find it has a negative impact on their quality of life, and it is potentially linked to substance abuse, and anxiety.
Adaptive Narcissism Vs Maladaptive Narcissism
While the above categories separate narcissism into types based on how the symptoms present themselves, some researchers divide narcissism into different categories. Adaptive and maladaptive narcissism are terms used to describe the different aspects of narcissism.
Adaptive narcissism refers to the productive aspects of narcissism. These are areas that may be helpful in life, such as high self-confidence. Those with a narcissistic personality can often be high achievers due to an increased belief in the self.
Maladaptive narcissism refers to the unproductive traits of narcissism. These can have a negative impact on quality of life. These traits include aggression, self-importance, and a lack of empathy towards others. These symptoms will be observed before a clinical diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder.
There is only one form of narcissism formally recognized by the DSM-5: narcissistic personality disorder. However, researchers have observed different types of narcissism, linked by common traits expressed in different ways. These types will affect how a client interacts with others and themselves, as well as the therapies a client can benefit from.