Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition that causes someone to rely on others for praise, admiration, and self-esteem.This may lead to harmful interactions, including attention-seeking behavior or superficial relationships based on personal gain.
While there's only one official diagnosis for NPD, some researchers have identified several different types of narcissism:
- Overt narcissism: Entitled; concerned with power and image
- Covert narcissism: Blaming; manipulative
- Antagonistic narcissism: Driven to win, even at others' expense
- Communal narcissism: Insincerely caring in an effort to garner attention
- Malignant narcissism: Aggressive, paranoid, and potentially abusive
This article will help you to learn more about narcissistic traits, symptoms, and treatment, as well as the different narcissistic personality disorder types.
NPD is one of the 10 personality disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).
Personality disorders cause impairments in functioning at work, in school, with self-esteem and identity, and in relationships.
NPD is one of the cluster B personality disorders. Cluster B personality disorders are associated with dramatic, emotional, irrational, and erratic behavior. Other examples of cluster B personality disorders include borderline personality disorder (BPD), histrionic personality disorder (HPD), and antisocial personality disorder (ASPD).
How Common Is NPD?
While many people have narcissistic traits, researchers estimate that up to 5% of the population meets the criteria for NPD.
The main hallmarks of narcissism include grandiosity, extreme self-focus, an inflated sense of self-worth, and a strong need for praise and recognition.
For a therapist to diagnose someone with NPD, someone must exhibit these traits in pathological (unhealthy) ways that interfere with their daily functioning and their ability to relate to others.
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A person with NPD might exhibit grandiosity or a sense of superiority. They may believe they're entitled to special favors, praise, or admiration from others. They might also come off as condescending or arrogant. People with NPD might also be overly focused on impressing other people, whether through outward displays of wealth, status, intelligence, or beauty.
Extreme self-focus is another common narcissistic trait. While many people are self-absorbed to an extent, someone with NPD will focus almost exclusively on themselves and their own personal gain. They might talk about themselves constantly or have a hard time feeling empathy for other people. This can lead many people with NPD to face challenges in areas of intimacy and relationships, as they relate to others only superficially. They might even exploit others to get what they want.
Inflated Sense of Self-Worth
An inflated sense of self-worth is another common narcissistic trait. People with NPD might expect special treatment for no reason at all. They might brag about or exaggerate their accomplishments and see themselves as uniquely gifted and deserving.
Strong Need for Praise and Recognition
People with NPD usually struggle with their self-esteem and sense of identity. They often rely on others to maintain a positive view of themselves, resulting in an overwhelming longing for praise and recognition. This leads many people with narcissistic traits to require constant external ego-stroking. They might also feel obsessively jealous about someone else’s positive traits or accomplishments.
Personality Disorders: Types and Characteristics
Types of Narcissism
NPD is the only official diagnosis related to narcissism in the DSM-5. However, many mental health therapists who have worked with patients with NPD, as well as researchers who study personality disorders, have identified various possible narcissistic personality disorder types.
They include overt narcissism, covert narcissism, antagonistic narcissism, communal narcissism, and malignant narcissism. Some experts also distinguish between adaptive and maladaptive narcissism.
Overt Narcissism (Agentic Narcissism)
Overt narcissism, also called agentic narcissism, is what you might think of as the “classic” and most obvious form of NPD.
Someone experiencing overt narcissism is excessively preoccupied with how others see them. They're often overly focused on status, wealth, flattery, and power due to their grandiosity and sense of entitlement. Many overt narcissists are high-achieving and deeply sensitive to criticism, no matter how slight.
Covert Narcissism (Closet Narcissism, Vulnerable Narcissism)
Covert narcissism, also known as closet narcissism or vulnerable narcissism, isn't as obvious as overt narcissism. Like other people with NPD, someone with covert narcissism has an inflated sense of self-importance and craves admiration from others.
However, someone living with covert narcissism might display more subtle and passive negative behaviors. Rather than bragging about themselves or demanding respect, a they might engage in blaming, shaming, manipulation, or emotional neglect to get what they want and keep the focus on themselves. They also might see themselves as a victim.
While all people with narcissistic traits might be overly concerned with how they appear to others, antagonistic narcissists are particularly concerned with coming out “on top.”
Antagonistic narcissism is defined by a sense of competitiveness, arrogance, and rivalry.
Someone with antagonistic narcissism might try to exploit others to get ahead. They might also put others down or start arguments in an attempt to gain the upper hand or appear dominant.
Like someone living with covert narcissism, someone experiencing communal narcissism might not appear to be ego-driven at all. They might initially come across as selfless or even as a martyr. But their internal motivation is to earn praise and admiration, not help others.
To that end, these people often place themselves at the forefront of social causes or communities, usually as the leader or the face of a movement. People with communal narcissism see themselves as more empathetic, caring, or selfless than others and often display moral outrage.
Malignant narcissism is often seen as the most severe or potentially abusive form of NPD.
Someone with malignant narcissism has the same egocentric self-absorption and sense of superiority as other narcissists. They also have traits associated with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), such as aggression, paranoia, and a lack of empathy. They might even have a sadistic streak.
Narcissistic Traits and Violent Crime
Narcissistic traits may be associated with a higher likelihood of violent crime. In one study, over 21% of inmates in a single prison met the diagnostic criteria for NPD.
Adaptive Narcissism vs. Maladaptive Narcissism
It’s important to recognize that not all people with NPD will look, act, or behave the same way.
For example, a person with NPD might be a very well-dressed, charming overachiever who cultivates a certain image to impress others. Another person with NPD might be an underachiever who sets low expectations for themselves because of a sense of entitlement.
Some researchers refer to narcissistic traits like a sense of authority and a drive to become self-sufficient as “adaptive narcissism."
These traits can actually help someone succeed in certain areas of life, such as their career, education, or finances.
Meanwhile, narcissistic traits like exploitativeness, condescension, and aggression are called “maladaptive narcissism.” These traits negatively affect both the person who exhibits them and those around them.
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Treatment and Outlook for All Narcissistic Personality Disorder Types
Because personality disorders are complex mental health conditions, someone who appears to have NPD might actually have another cluster B personality disorder, such as HPD. They might also have a mood disorder, such as bipolar disorder. That’s why it is important to be diagnosed with NPD by a licensed mental health professional.
To diagnose you or your loved one with NPD, a psychotherapist will use the diagnostic criteria for NPD in the DSM-5 as laid out by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). They might use diagnostic tools such as surveys and ask you questions about your life, identity, past, and relationships.
According to the DSM-5, a person with NPD must have chronic, long-term impairments in social and personal functioning due to their narcissistic traits.
They must also display pathological personality traits that affect their relationships and well-being. Also, the challenges faced by a person with NPD can’t be attributed to their developmental stage (such as adolescence) or other issues with their mental or physical health, such as substance abuse.
Someone with NPD might not seek treatment because they may not realize they have a problem. Instead, their loved ones might notice their symptoms before they do. Other people with narcissistic traits may realize that they are struggling but might feel sensitive to criticism from a therapist. However, people with NPD can seek out and benefit from treatment.
Researchers don’t entirely understand what causes someone to develop NPD, but it’s likely due to a combination of neurobiological factors, childhood trauma, genetics, and/or environment and upbringing.
The mainline treatment for NPD is psychotherapy. People with NPD might also benefit from couples’ counseling, family counseling, and support groups.
Psychotherapy can help people with NPD in several areas, such as:
- Developing a sense of self that doesn’t rely so heavily on outside recognition
- Setting realistic goals
- Dealing with and healing from past traumas
- Improving relationships with partners, friends, colleagues, and relatives
- Developing a greater sense of empathy for others
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NPD is a mental health condition that causes someone to exhibit traits like grandiosity, self-absorption, and an excessive need for praise and admiration. There's only one official diagnosis related to narcissistic traits: NPD.
However, researchers have identified several possible subtypes of NPD, such as overt narcissism, covert narcissism, antagonistic narcissism, communal narcissism, and malignant narcissism. People with NPD and their loved ones can benefit from psychotherapy, including family counseling, support groups, and couples’ counseling.
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Whether you suspect that you have NPD, or that your partner or loved one has narcissistic traits, it’s important to get help. Psychotherapy can help you or your loved one improve relationships, build self-esteem, and set more attainable, realistic goals.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many types of narcissistic personalities are there?
There is only one formal diagnosis in the DSM-5 related to narcissistic traits: narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). People with NPD have an inflated sense of self, an overwhelming need for praise and admiration, and go to extremes to impress others.
Within the broader diagnosis of NPD, however, some researchers have noticed up to five subtypes: overt narcissism, covert narcissism, antagonistic narcissism, communal narcissism, and malignant narcissism.
Is narcissistic personality disorder treatable?
Many people with NPD don't seek out mental health treatment. Some might not recognize their negative traits and behaviors. Others might feel criticized or judged in therapy.
Still, people with NPD can benefit from psychotherapy, including family counseling, support groups, one-on-one treatment, and couples’ counseling. In talk therapy, people with NPD can improve their relationships, build self-esteem, learn to set more realistic goals and expectations, and work through past traumas.(Video) Narcissistic Personality Disorder Clinical Presentation
They include overt narcissism, covert narcissism, antagonistic narcissism, communal narcissism, and malignant narcissism. Some experts also distinguish between adaptive and maladaptive narcissism.
According to a 2018 research article from Frontiers, narcissists fall into two broad categories: grandiose and vulnerable; a third category, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), is an actual mental health disorder. All share some traits, such as self-centeredness and exaggerated self-importance.What is the highest form of narcissism? ›
Malignant narcissists are often regarded as having the most extreme form of NPD, and while they will have the regular qualities of someone with narcissistic personality disorder, their self-absorption and self-obsession is accompanied by some darker behaviors as well.
Specifically, female narcissists are less entitled, impulsive, aggressive, and more empathetic than males diagnosed with NPD. 2, 4 Female narcissists also may display certain distinct traits such as a preoccupation with their appearance or being more prone to envy and jealousy than males.What are the red flags of a narcissistic person? ›
Here are some narcissism red flags to look out for: Lacking empathy. They seem unable or unwilling to have empathy for others, and they appear to have no desire for emotional intimacy. Unrealistic sense of entitlement.
People who are impressive in some way, either in their career, hobbies and talents, their friendship circles, or family. Someone who will make the narcissist feel good about themselves, through compliments or gestures. Anyone who will reflect well on them in the eyes of other people.How do you spot a narcissist easily? ›
They think highly of themselves (elevated sense of self-importance), exaggerate achievements, and expect to be recognized as superior. They fantasize about their own success, power, brilliance, beauty or perfect love. They believe they are special and can only be understood by other special people (or institutions).
High functioning narcissists possess issues with entitlement and self-centeredness. Unsurprisingly, it's very common for this behaviour to cause big problems for the relationships they have with other people, particularly a spouse or partner.What is a full blown narcissist? ›
While most people fall on the narcissistic spectrum to some degree, some have full-blown narcissistic personality disorder, where their sense of self-importance and tendency to be hyper-critical impacts all or most of their relationships.
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) occurs on a spectrum. People with narcissism can, in fact, show empathy and work to develop it further if they choose to do so. Many myths about narcissism stem from the belief that all people with this condition are evil and incapable of change, but that just isn't true.
Sociopaths are more dangerous than narcissists. People with antisocial personality disorder are more likely to be engaged in an abusive or controlling relationship. They're also more likely to be involved in illegal activities or financial fraud schemes. If dating someone like this, you're in trouble.
Narcissistic personality disorder affects more males than females, and it often begins in the teens or early adulthood. Some children may show traits of narcissism, but this is often typical for their age and doesn't mean they'll go on to develop narcissistic personality disorder.How does a narcissist treat their child? ›
A narcissistic parent will often abuse the normal parental role of guiding their children and being the primary decision maker in the child's life, becoming overly possessive and controlling. This possessiveness and excessive control disempowers the child; the parent sees the child simply as an extension of themselves.
Narcissist Women: In Relationships
They crave attention and being the object of desire. Narcissist women often have ex-partners that they keep ensnared, may instigate love triangles to feel validation, and are prone to cheating both emotionally and physically. Narcissist women are often very seductive.
Narcissistic partners act as if they are always right, that they know better and that their partner is wrong or incompetent. This often leaves the other person in the relationship either angry and trying to defend themselves or identifying with this negative self-image and feeling badly about themselves.
People oftentimes throw the term "narcissist" around without much awareness of its clinical meaning. It is possible for a person to demonstrate narcissistic traits without having a narcissistic personality disorder, and there is such a thing as healthy narcissism.What is a covert narcissist like? ›
A covert narcissist lives with the need for admiration and validation, an unstable sense of self and self-importance, and emotional fragility. Their expression of these needs and vulnerability is more introverted and passive-aggressive than the typical or overt narcissist.
Narcissists paradoxically manifest both an inflated idea of their own importance and quickness to feel deflated by negative feedback. Criticism hurts—and because narcissists think everything is about them, they hear others' attempts to talk about personal feelings as veiled criticisms of themselves.How do you know a narcissist is toxic? ›
Toxic People, for the Most Part, Are Narcissists
Narcissists have absolutely no concerns outside of their own needs and desires. They don't care about the people around them as much as they care about themselves.
Examples of narcissistic rage range from intense outbursts and sudden fits of anger, to passive-aggressive acts such as simmering resentment, icy silence, deliberate neglect, or cutting sarcasm.
Narcissistic Behavior Patterns
Narcissists typically have an unrealistic sense of superiority, believing that they are better than everyone around them, including their partner. Narcissists also have an overwhelming need for attention and admiration and generally, lack empathy toward others.
One of the most common misconceptions is that narcissists only look for emotionally dependent partners who lack confidence and self-esteem. In fact, narcissists are often attracted to strong, confident, and self-assured women.Who can make a narcissist happy? ›
The truth is that nothing can make a narcissist happy, because their agenda of dominance, exploitation and oppression creates an ever-expanding chasm within their soul. The narcissist can take pleasure in the exercise of power and the subjugation of others, but they can't feel happiness from any source.
Empathy for others and recognition of their needs. Authentic self-concept. Self-respect and self-love. Courage to abide criticism from others while maintaining positive self-regard.What are the four subtle signs of a narcissist? ›
There are plenty of tell-tale signs, like self-importance, a lack of empathy, a demanding personality and an excessive need for admiration.
One of the most common early indicators of narcissism is what's known as the love-bombing phase. At the beginning of the relationship, the narcissist will often come on very strong, put you on a pedestal, and make you feel incredibly special.How can you tell a narcissist at first glance? ›
- overblown sense of self-importance.
- fantasies of unlimited success, brilliance, and more.
- belief that they're special and should only associate with high status people.
- need for excessive admiration.
- sense of entitlement.
- exploitation of others for their own benefit.
- lack empathy.
Thus, we can conclude through our research that some of our students who are highly intelligent and possess narcissistic personality by nature can be equally intelligent in terms of emotions, society and empathy towards people around them.What are the top five traits of a narcissist? ›
- Inflated Ego.
- Lack of Empathy.
- Need for Attention.
- Repressed Insecurities.
- Few Boundaries.
The opposite of a narcissist is called an 'empath'— here are the signs you could be one. People who are very receptive to the emotions of others are known as empaths. They are also very sensitive to noise, smell, and being around people. This means they are overwhelmed in crowds, and get exhausted in social situations.
Grandiosity: They will act as though they are superior to everyone else. This is not always based on evidence, but they will believe themselves to be special. They need to be admired and adored, and will seek out people who mirror this specialness.
The dark triad personality refers to three negative personality traits: narcissism (entitled self-importance), Machiavellianism (entitled self-importance), Machiavellianism (strategic exploitation and deceit), and subclinical psychopathy (callousness and cynicism), which all share malevolent features.