How to Identify the 3 Types of Narcissists

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Calling someone a narcissist is one of those terms we throw around without really knowing much about it. If a friend has ever told you about a bad romantic relationship, they've probably casually used the term to describe their ex-partner without ever really explaining what they mean by that.
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But narcissism is a personality disorder, says Monica Vermani, PsyD, a Canada-based clinical psychologist and author of A Deeper Wellness: Conquering Stress, Mood, Anxiety and Traumas. "When most people talk about narcissism, they may be referring to some part of a person's personality or a narcissistic personality disorder," says Vermani. Narcissistic Personality Disorder or (NPD) is a medical diagnosis that can only be evaluated and made by a doctor. Like most diagnoses, narcissism exists on a spectrum, which can make it even more difficult to diagnose in an individual.
Dealing with a narcissist can be incredibly challenging, confusing, and frustrating, but understanding what you're experiencing is the first place to start. Here are the most common types of narcissism, how to know which type you are dealing with, and common traits of narcissists.
Definition of the 3 types of narcissism
There are many types of narcissism, but the three most popular are covert, overt, and malignant.
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Hidden Narcissism
According to Vermani, this is the most common type of narcissism. It is also known as vulnerable or secretive narcissism. "While someone with covert narcissism is very self-centered, they also harbor a deep fear or sense of not being enough," explains Vermani. She adds that, unlike overt narcissists, covert narcissists are more likely to internalize criticism and take it harder than intended.
Obvious narcissism
This is sometimes referred to as grandiose or agentic narcissism. "This type of narcissism is what most people associate with a narcissistic personality," explains Vermani. "Overt narcissists tend to overestimate their emotional intelligence and abilities." Unlike covert narcissists, these individuals tend to feel good about themselves but are uncomfortable with emotions such as sadness, worry, or loneliness.
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Malignant Narcissism
This is a severe type of narcissism and can cause many problems for the individual living with the disorder, Vermani says. "The malignant narcissist is more closely associated with overt than covert narcissism and may share many common traits of narcissism, along with traits of antisocial personality disorder," she says. These individuals may be more likely to suffer from substance abuse or even legal problems.
How can you identify each type of narcissism?
Each type of narcissism has its own characteristics and identifiers. Here's what to look for.
Signs of covert narcissism
According to Vermani, someone with covert narcissism is typically introverted and has an avoidant attachment style. They can have low self-confidence, insecurity, and a quick defensiveness. They have a high likelihood of experiencing anxiety, depression, and shame, and "tend to feel victimized and victimized in situations," says Vermani. A covert narcissist expresses low self-esteem, shows clinginess, or becomes distant/walks away when others try to set boundaries.
Signs of overt narcissism
These individuals will be more open-minded, exploitative, and controlling, says Vermani. "They have an exaggerated self-image and need constant praise and admiration," she says. They can come across as entitled, rude, dismissive, arrogant, and overbearing.
Signs of malignant narcissism
A malignant narcissist can appear vindictive and aggressive when interacting with others. "Paranoia, heightened concern about potential threats, sadism, and pleasure or enjoyment in inflicting pain on others" are common, says Vermani.
Can a person be more than one type of narcissist?
It's important to note that "narcissism as a personality disorder is rare," according to Carder Stout, PhD, a Los Angeles-based psychologist and author of Lost in Ghost Town, a memoir. Less than 5 percent of the population fight with the NPD.
Apart from that, there are also traits shared by different types of narcissists. Many people with NPD also have comorbid clinical disorders that complicate their narcissistic behavior and symptoms, Vermani says.
"We all have narcissistic tendencies — self-centeredness, vanity, believing we're right — but possessing the qualities of a diagnosable narcissist is rare," says Stout. "If someone is clearly showing signs of grandiose thinking, excessive complacency, and a lack of concern for others, they are likely to be an overt narcissist. If you find these qualities to be more subtle and hidden, they may fall into the concealment category. Malignant narcissists are usually the ones we read about who have committed serious crimes that are not condoned by society.”
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