How many types of narcissists are there? A psychology expert sets the record straight

Our interest in narcissism has never been higher, with Google searches for the word narcissist increasing steadily over the past decade. This term has become part of everyday parlance, readily used to describe celebrities, politicians and ex-partners.

A byproduct of our growing interest in narcissism is curiosity about what kinds of narcissists exist. But this is where things get complicated. A Google search for types of narcissists returns wildly varied results. Some websites only describe three types. Others list up to 14.

Enlaces Patrocinados:

What’s going on here?

What is a narcissist?

The word narcissism comes from the Greek myth of Narcissus, a boy who falls in love with his own reflection.

Over the last century or so, conceptualizations of narcissism have evolved. It is now thought of as a collection of personality traits characterized by grandiosity, entitlement, and callousness. Narcissist is the term used to describe someone who scores highly on these traits.

A narcissist may also meet the diagnostic criteria for narcissistic personality disorder, a mental health diagnosis that affects approximately 1% of people. He is widely described as a pervasive pattern of displaying grandiosity, in need of admiration and lacking empathy.

Importantly, not all narcissists have narcissistic personality disorder.

How many types of narcissism are there?

There are two main types of trait narcissism (which are distinct from narcissistic personality disorder). These are grandiose narcissism and vulnerable narcissism.

Grandiose narcissism is associated with a grandiose sense of self, aggression, and dominance. Vulnerable narcissism is characterized by heightened emotional sensitivity and a defensive, insecure grandiosity that masks feelings of inadequacy.

Recent models have identified three core components of narcissism that help explain the similarities and differences between grandiose and vulnerable narcissism.

  1. Antagonism it is common to both grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. It is related to traits such as arrogance, entitlement, exploitative and lack of empathy.
  2. Agentic extraversion it is unique to grandiose narcissism. It is associated with traits such as authority, grandiosity, and exhibitionism.
  3. Narcissistic neuroticism it is specific to vulnerable narcissism. It is associated with fragile self-esteem and a tendency to experience negative emotions and shame.

A person is likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for narcissistic personality disorder when there is a convergence of high scores in each of these components.

Furthermore, while the diagnostic criteria emphasize the grandiose aspects of narcissistic personality disorder, clinicians report a swing between grandiose and vulnerable narcissism in people with the disorder.

Vulnerable narcissism has considerable overlap with borderline personality disorder, particularly in terms of the causes and personality traits displayed. A person who scores high on vulnerable narcissism alone is more likely to be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder than narcissistic personality disorder.

Are there other types of narcissists?

Given the consensus in psychology on the two main types of trait narcissism described above (which sit alongside the clinical diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder), how do we explain the many sources describing other types of narcissism?

First and most concerning is the proliferation of pop psychology articles describing types of narcissism for which there is no solid evidence.

They feature terms like cerebral narcissist, somatic narcissist, seductive narcissist, and spiritual narcissist. But searching the peer-reviewed academic literature for these terms yields no evidence that they are valid types of narcissism.

Some articles also use terms often considered synonymous with grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. This likely stems from the early literature, which used a number of terms to describe types of narcissism. A 2008 review identified more than 50 different labels used to describe types of narcissism.

Conceptually, however, each of these labels can be mapped to grandiose or vulnerable narcissism.

You will often see both overt and covert being described, sometimes alongside descriptions of grandiose and vulnerable narcissists. Some researchers have proposed overt and covert narcissism as similar to grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. Others argue that they are more appropriately considered expressions of narcissism present in both grandiose and vulnerable narcissism.

Finally, some of these articles describe narcissists by drawing on specific expressions of grandiose or vulnerable narcissism. For example, they describe adversarial narcissists, community narcissists, agent narcissists, and sexual narcissists alongside grandiose and vulnerable narcissists.

These descriptions imply that each of these types of narcissism are mutually exclusive, when in fact they should be thought of as aspects of grandiose and/or vulnerable narcissism. In other words, they are examples of how narcissism might be expressed.

The danger of labels

The multifaceted nature of narcissism has likely contributed to the range of terms people use to describe narcissists.

Some of these are valid constructs. When used accurately, they can be helpful in identifying the different ways in which narcissism is expressed particularly in intimate relationships, where high levels of grandiose and vulnerable narcissism are associated with the perpetration of abuse.

However, online articles that inaccurately describe and categorize narcissism are far from helpful. This content fuels armchair psychologists, who then leap to assign the narcissist label to anyone they think displays narcissistic traits.

Even when accurately applied in a clinical setting, diagnostic labels are not always useful. They can carry stigma, which can discourage people from seeking mental health support.The conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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