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Types of Narcissism -A Guide For Women

Personal Development Guides | By: Katie Lister

April 01, 2024

What is narcissism? How many types of narcissism are there? How do I tell different types of narcissists apart? How do I deal with a narcissist? Is narcissism curable? You have come to the right place if you have these and other questions.

Hi, I am Katie Lister, a practicing Registered Nurse and the founder of Growth Gals. I lead personal development groups and communities and coach women to evolve into the best versions of themselves. GG provides women with a safe space to come together to learn and get support from other women.

At Growth Gals, we explore numerous topics, including emotional intelligence, mental health, and interpersonal relationships, including narcissism. This article will provide more information about types of narcissism, how to tell them apart, and more.

Table of Contents

Types of Narcissists

The word narcissism originates from the Greek myth of a boy called Narcissus, who fell in love with his reflection, which is what most narcissists are known for.  Narcissists are self-absorbed individuals with a sense of superiority, and a need for validation and praise.

There is a spectrum of narcissism. On the high end is the personality disorder commonly referred to as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) that can only be diagnosed and treated by a qualified mental health professional. On the other end are those who exemplify narcissistic traits without an official diagnosis

Research shows there are two distinct types of narcissism:

  • Adaptive narcissism: refers to aspects of narcissism that can prove helpful, such as self-reliance, self-confidence, and self-celebration.
  • Maladaptive narcissism: refers to negative traits that can harm you and others, such as taking advantage of others, aggression, and entitlement.

When we talk about narcissism, we mostly refer to the maladaptive narcissistic types that cause harm and suffering to others. Experts have identified and researched most about the following types of narcissism:

Overt narcissism

Overt narcissism, also known as agentic or grandiose narcissism, is the sub-type associated with an outward narcissistic personality. Overt narcissists exhibit the following traits:

  • Arrogance
  • Entitlement
  • Overbearing
  • Thriving on praise and admiration
  • Exploitativeness
  • Possession of blown up self-image and expect special treatment
  • Lack empathy
  • Competitiveness
  • Gaslighting behavior

People living with overt narcissism feel good about themselves and are less likely to feel worried, lonely, or sad. Overt narcissists are also known to overestimate their intelligence and abilities. A study in 2018 suggested that overt narcissists overestimate their emotional intelligence. Most male narcissists are overt. 

Overt narcissists tend to be very successful and charming. Most are likely to be prominent people in society thanks to their go-getter attitude and overinflated sense of superiority. Conversations with overt narcissists are challenging as they tend to talk about themselves incessantly. They are uninterested in what others have to say or how they feel unless it’s praise for the narcissist.

Overt narcissists love to gaslight others. Gaslighting is a form of narcissistic abuse that involves manipulating others into doubting their perception, reality, or understanding of events that happened. They make you doubt your sanity by making you question whether the event in question occurred.

Covert narcissism

Covert narcissism, also referred to as closet or vulnerable narcissism, is a direct contrast to overt narcissism. Most people think of narcissists as overbearing, loud, and over-confident, but covert narcissists do not fall into this pattern.

Is my boyfriend a narcissist? Here is how to tell. 


Common personality traits of a person living with covert narcissism include:

  • Low self-esteem and self-worth
  • Insecurity and low-confidence
  • Likelihood of experiencing shame, depression, and anxiety
  • Defensiveness
  • Introversion
  • Avoidance
  • Tendency to play the victim

A person with covert narcissism is very focused and sure about what they want, but this often conflicts with their fear of not being enough, which holds them back. A covert narcissist has a hard time taking constructive criticism and perceives it as an attack.

Is dating a narcissist possible? This article has all the answers. 

Communal narcissism

With communal narcissism, individuals often have a grandiose idea of who they are in a community. They claim to believe in justice and fairness and have a stronger moral compass than everyone else, but their behavior often mirrors the opposite of what they claim to be.

Communal narcissists may believe they have extraordinary capabilities. They also believe they are the best socializers, helpers, and listeners and are the most charitable. Yet, they mostly just want to meet their selfish needs and fill their narcissistic supply. Their concern for other people only serves to help them gain self-importance and social power. They pretend to get agitated when others mistreat people. And yet, given the same opportunity, they will not treat others with fairness.

Somatic narcissism                       

The word somatic means relating to the body. Somatic narcissists are people obsessed with their physical appearance. Such people derive their self-worth and esteem from external validation and crave attention based on their appearance. Somatic narcissists are competitive over their appearance and want to look better than everyone else.

Cerebral narcissism

Intellectual or cerebral narcissists are people who get their narcissistic supply via their perceived intelligence. Cerebral narcissists are intelligent, but they present themselves as more educated than they are to hide their insecurities. Cerebral narcissist boasts about their vast knowledge, constantly correct others, and might start their sentences with “Actually…” in a bid to undermine other people and redirect attention to themselves.

Malignant narcissism

Malignant narcissism describes individuals who exhibit symptoms of antisocial personality disorder and NPD. When the two disorders combine, the malignant narcissist exhibits traits like:

  • Arrogance
  • Lack of empathy
  • Need for recognition and power
  • Tendency to exploit and use others
  • Pleasure when mistreating others (sadistic behavior)
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Paranoia and a fear of being made fun of
  • Aggression
  • Cannot tolerate or handle criticism
  • Vindictiveness

Antagonistic narcissism

A subtype of overt narcissism, antagonistic narcissism focuses on competition and rivalry. Traits of narcissism displayed by antagonistic narcissists may include:

  • Tendency to exploit others
  • Tendency to be overly competitive
  • Arrogance
  • Disagreeable and argumentative

According to a 2017 research on narcissism, individuals with this type are less likely to forgive and may hold grudges as compared to those with other kinds of narcissism. These individuals also have lower trust levels in people.

Types of Narcissism – How to Tell Them Apart

Narcissists are highly self-involved and are masters at ignoring other people’s needs. While everyone may exhibit narcissistic tendencies, a true narcissist disregards other people’s feelings. They do not understand or care about the effect their behavior has on the people around them.


Of the many types of narcissism discussed, the two main types are overt or grandiose and covert or vulnerable narcissism, with the rest being mostly subtypes of the two. You can tell these two main types of narcissists apart using the following narcissist checklist for related symptoms.


Overt narcissists are shameless and do not shy away from saying or doing outrageous things while feeling nothing about the reactions their words or actions cause. The overt narcissist may be aware of negative attitudes from others but doesn’t care what others think or feel. All that matters is how they feel. The narcissists think highly of themselves and believe they can do no wrong.

A vulnerable narcissist is the complete opposite and is very sensitive to criticism. They hate looking bad and carefully guard their reputations to avoid embarrassment and shame.


Vulnerable narcissists have fragile egos and are hypersensitive and anxious about their social image. They constantly compare themselves to others and feel like they have something to prove. They do not feel happy about other people’s success or good fortune, especially if it makes them look inferior. The covert narcissist is always looking for recognition and praise, albeit in subtle ways.

The grandiose narcissist already has a remarkable level of self-confidence and assurance. They feel good and ‘know’ that they are superior to everyone else. They pretend to not need people to affirm them, although they still desire constant praise and admiration.


Vulnerable narcissists try hard to be seen in a positive light. It upsets them when anything tarnishes their image. When they do something that hurts others, narcissists stay in denial at first, then later may feel bad after realizing the harm they have caused. However, they are unlikely to publicly admit to their wrong and apologize.

The overt narcissist will try to restore their good image as they worry more about what people think of them. The grandiose narcissist cared greatly about how others perceive them. They only care about their well-being, and never about the harm they cause. They feel entitled to do whatever they please and have no remorse for any damage caused.

Are narcissists born or made? This article has the answers. 

How is Narcissism Diagnosed?

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a formal mental health issue that needs diagnosis by a qualified mental health professional. This means a person could have narcissistic traits and not be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder.

NPD is a cluster B personality disorder listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). In the DSM-5, a person living with NPD should exhibit at least five of these traits:

  • Sense of entitlement
  • Grandiosity or sense of self-importance
  • False sense of grandeur and fantasies of success, intelligence, and power
  • Lack of empathy
  • Excessive need for validation, praise, and admiration
  • Arrogance
  • Sense of superiority
  • Exploiting others
  • Envying others and believing others envy them
  • Obsession with status, class, and self-image
  • Overly proud of their children or family’s accomplishments

It’s difficult to get someone with NPD to seek medical treatment as they do not recognize or accept they have a problem. The first step toward recovery is for the person suffering from NPD to accept they have a problem that is affecting their relationships.


A healthcare provider, can be a psychiatrist or psychologist, talks to the person and gets to know their history by asking questions about their life and their interactions with others, including their family members and friends.

The medical professional may also ask questions that rule out other related or similar conditions. For instance, people living with psychopathy are narcissistic and meet the NPD criteria. However, not everyone diagnosed with NPD is psychopathic.

Another example that may make the therapist want to rule out conditions is that approximately 40% of people living with borderline personality disorder (BPD) may have signs of NPD. This means the professional has to confirm whether the individual has BPD or NPD. The professional may take several weeks to months to diagnose correctly as thorough investigations are necessary.

Treatment or Management Options for Narcissism

The therapist draws a mental health care plan if you have no related conditions. NPD treatment involves:

Psychotherapy (mental health therapy)                      

Psychotherapy involves talking to a therapist with the aim of helping the patient develop a realistic self-image and learn how to relate more positively with others. Common therapy types include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • Metacognitive therapy
  • Family or couples therapy
  • Group therapy


There is no specific medication for treating NPD. However, you can get medicines that treat the symptoms that come with related conditions like depression or anxiety. Some of the drugs for NPD-related conditions may include:

  • Anxiolytics or anxiety medication
  • Antidepressants
  • Anticonvulsant medication mainly for seizures
  • Antipsychotic medication

Can The Different Types of Narcissism Be Cured? 

NPD is treatable, but the condition is life-long and incurable. That does not mean there is no hope. Narcissism is a trait that responds well to professional support, and alternative treatment options such as institutionalization and prescription medication are almost always unnecessary. People living with NPD can get help to get better, but only if they acknowledge they have a problem and fully intend to get better.

Most narcissists avoid treatment because it’s in their nature to feel superior and better than everyone else. Their enormous egos do not allow them to admit they need help, which would mean admitting they are not perfect.

These individuals instead believe the world is against them, that everyone is out to get them, and that nobody meets their standards. These expectations lead to numerous failed relationships that lead them into depression and substance abuse.

Types of Narcissism: How Growth Gals Can Help

Our aim at Growth Gals is to inspire women to reach their full potential. We also strive to create positive change by giving women the resources to discover their true selves and expand their knowledge base on various issues, such as emotional intelligence, mental health, and interpersonal relationships, including narcissism.

Growth Gals helps women overcome obstacles and make informed decisions. We also help them connect with others with similar values and experiences. Subscribe to the Growth Gals newsletter to access helpful guides and resources for women. Learn more about how we can support you if you have anyone in your life with these different types of narcissism.

Types of Narcissism: Conclusion

Narcissism comes in different types and subtypes. Different types of narcissists have varying behaviors and may exhibit common traits like arrogance, shame, hypersensitivity, a sense of superiority, and illusions of grandeur. We all portray narcissistic traits, but that does not mean we all have narcissistic personality disorder.

Only a licensed mental health provider can diagnose NPD. It is important to remember that NPD is a manageable condition, and the individual must acknowledge they have a problem for treatment to be successful.

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