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Understanding the different forms of narcissism

When we hear the term ‘narcissist’, we usually think of the grandiose, self-important, arrogant and powerful world leader or celebrity. Recently, however, the term ‘narcissist’ is increasingly being used to refer to co-workers, bosses, partners or family members. This may be due to a rise in narcissism or simply increased awareness of this toxic personality style. Whichever it is, the reality is that coming into contact with or having someone in your family or friendship circle who’s a narcissist can be incredibly challenging. In light of this, and the lack of clarity around the term ‘narcissist’, I’d like to break down and explain the 5 types of narcissism.

The Grandiose (Classic) Narcissist

In the Narcissistic sphere, this is your classic narcissist, often seen as pillars of the community, typically, but not always, working as company leaders, politicians, and public figures, or aspiring to do so. Whilst you may initially be dazzled by their charisma and charm, it doesn’t take long to realise that what you’re actually dealing with is a person who lacks empathy, is entitled, arrogant and superficial. As they continuously harp on about their achievements, exceptional children, beautiful partner and wealth, your attempts to speak to them will be met with indifference, clock-checking, indiscreet yawns and claims of being too busy to chat.

Many people make the mistake of believing narcissists are highly confident. This is not the case. Hiding beneath this grandiose and arrogant exterior is someone who’s insecure and desperately seeking attention and validation, hence the need to broadcast one’s exaggerated achievements and acquisitions on social media round the clock. This insecurity often results in behaviour such as lying, breaking rules or flying into a rage if left feeling disappointed or frustrated. You’ll spot the Grandiose Narcissist shouting at service staff, demanding special attention in shops and restaurants, and making unreasonable demands of anyone they see as able to give them what they need and believe they rightly deserve.

The Malignant Narcissist

The Malignant Narcissist makes the Grandiose narcissist appear meek and gentle. These people exhibit all the traits of the Grandiose narcissist but possess dark, vindictive and dangerous qualities, often bordering on sociopathy and psychopathy. Famous Malignant Narcissists include Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein. Erich Fromm, an Existential Psychologist, coined the term Malignant Narcissist and described these individuals as the most vicious, destructive and inhumane of all personality types. These people lack remorse, are vindictive and exploitative, and will go to any length to get what they want. They have slippery ethics, abuse their power, break rules and dehumanise anyone who gets in their way. Many people report that after a relationship with a Malignant Narcissist, they feel they’ve endured a trauma, experiencing severe anxiety, depression, social withdrawal, hypervigilance and physical complaints similar to those seen in PTSD.

The Covert Narcissist

At first glance, the Covert Narcissist appears quiet, sullen, introverted and vulnerable, so much so that you may feel inclined to shower them with love and support. These narcissists tend to go unrecognised because they’re not showy or grandiose in an obvious way. Deep down, however, they feel the world misunderstands them or fails to see their special, unique qualities. This leads to the development of a victim mindset whereby they perceive threats and insults which were not intended as such and retaliate with hostility and projection.

These people lack empathy, are paranoid, passive-aggressive, resentful, contemptuous, reactive and insecure. You’ll recognise them as the person at the dinner table spewing over-intellectualised debate whilst everyone at the table looks on uncomfortably. Their belief that they haven’t received the recognition and life they deserved often leads to resentment and blame towards anyone who seems to have a better life than they do, which is just about everyone. Covert Narcissists feel inferior and are constantly seeking validation and, should you not give them such, you may become the target of their anger and rage. Spending time with a Covert Narcissist will have you walking on eggshells, feeling confused, misunderstood and constantly questioning reality.

The Communal Narcissist

What differentiates a truly charitable and socially conscious person from a Communal Narcissist is the motivation behind one’s work or generosity. The Communal Narcissist is motivated by external validation, deriving a sense of self as a ‘giver’ from the likes and admiration he receives for his work in the community. This is the person building huts in Africa, campaigning for the rights of abused children and attending gala dinners, all whilst broadcasting it on Facebook and Instagram for all to see. This person expects publicity, attention from friends, family and colleagues, and community recognition. These narcissists are motivated by the need to feel and be seen as generous, helpful and charitable. Unfortunately, this ‘goodness’ rarely extends to personal relationships. It can be very frustrating and painful to see someone broadcasting their ‘goodness’ to all the world, only to behave in a manner that is detached, uninterested and lacking in empathy with anyone in their personal sphere. This includes children, partners, family members, and colleagues/employees.

The Benign Narcissist

Unlike the above characters, the Benign Narcissist is relatively harmless. Whilst possessing all the general narcissistic characteristics such as vanity, grandiosity, entitlement and a lack of empathy, these traits are milder in the Benign Narcissist. With these traits, however, comes a pattern of behaviour that is immature, lacking in awareness, clumsy and insensitive, making for relationships that lack depth and reciprocity. This is the friend who’s always up for a fun night out but will claim to be busy whenever you’re in need of support or the mother who pays little attention to how her child is feeling but cares deeply that her child gets the best results in class. With this person, you’ll often be left feeling disappointed, frustrated and unseen since they will rarely if ever, meet your deeper, relational needs.

Danjela Falzon - Malta therapy clinic

About Danjela Falzon

Danjela has been practising as a Psychotherapist since 2011, having read for a BSc in Psychology at Birkbeck, University of London, followed by a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy at GPTIM. She works therapeutically with individuals, adopting an approach which is warm and empathic, yet direct and challenging when necessary. She also works with groups, teaching mindfulness and providing support and guidance to reduce stress and anxiety.

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