8 Types of Narcissists- Including One to Stay Away From at All Costs

Narcissism has become such a frequently-used word in mainstream culture that it has taken on a life of its own. It’s used for everything ranging from a way to informally insult someone to a way of discussing the behavior of reality TV stars. The word has even been applied indiscriminately to describe entire cultural generations.

Though it may have a colloquial definition that isn’t going away anytime soon, the term “narcissist” still has a very specific diagnostic definition in the mental health field. The term is applied to someone who meets the criteria for the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), which are laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.

Individuals who meet the criteria for having NPD can be generally described as having a belief of superiority over others that gives them entitlement to special treatment and an obsession with grandiose fantasies of success and power. Deep down, however, they are very vulnerable to criticism and feelings of shame and go to great lengths to protect their fragile egos. They are also self-absorbed and have lower levels of empathy for others.  This may lead them to take advantage of people in their quest for excessive attention and admiration.

Narcissism exists along a spectrum, however, and all those who are diagnosed with NPD do not adhere neatly to this characterization. Researchers have identified three major types of narcissists, each with its own combination of traits. Each of the three categories has different methods of protecting the fragile inner core sense of self, and one of them may even have a different motivation. Within each of the three types, there are also sub-types that characterize how the traits may appear to others.

These different types and sub-types are discussed by many different researchers and mental health professionals. However, they often use different labels to describe the same “type.” In addition, sometimes the researchers use the same label for two different categories even when it is clear that they are describing the same type or sub-type.  This makes an understanding of the types of narcissists very difficult to grasp.

This article will consolidate in one place the three major types of narcissists, as well as five subtypes, that have been identified separately using differing terminology by many different researchers and describe how they are related to one another.

The Three Major Types of Narcissists

  • Classic Narcissists

Also known as High-Functioning, Exhibitionist, or Grandiose Narcissists, these are the typical narcissists that most people think of when they hear the term “narcissist.” These are the attention-seeking narcissists who brag about their accomplishments, expect others to flatter them, and feel entitled to special treatment. They get bored when the focus of the conversation turns to anyone but themselves, and rarely like to share the spotlight with others. The irony is that they are desperate to feel important, and at the same time they often already perceive themselves to be superior to most people with whom they come into contact.

  • Vulnerable Narcissists

Also known as Fragile, Compensatory or Closet Narcissists, they still feel as if they are superior to most people they meet, however, they actually despise the spotlight. They often seek to attach themselves to special people instead of seeking special treatment themselves. They may seek pity or ingratiate others through excessive generosity to receive the attention and admiration they need to boost their sense of self-worth.

  • Malignant Narcissists

Also known as Toxic Narcissists, they are highly manipulative and exploitative.  These narcissists have many antisocial traits that are not present in the other two major types and are often compared with sociopaths and psychopaths. They often have a sadistic streak that makes them different from the other two major types. Their primary goal is to dominate and control, and they will use deceit and aggression to accomplish it and lack remorse for their actions. They may even enjoy the suffering of others.

Sub-Type 1

  • Overt vs. Covert

This sub-type describes whether the narcissist uses methods to get his or her needs met that are more out in the open or whether those methods are more stealthy and secretive. For example, both overt and covert narcissists may put people down, boast, and look for opportunities to take advantage of people, but overt narcissists do so in unmistakable and noticeable ways. Covert narcissists work behind the scenes or are more passive-aggressive. Others may come away not knowing they were manipulated or the narcissist’s tactics may allow him or her to deny what happened. Classic narcissists will always be overt narcissists, and vulnerable narcissists will always be covert narcissists, however, malignant narcissists could be either.

Sub-Type 2

  • Somatic vs. Cerebral

This sub-type defines what the narcissist primarily values in himself or herself and in others. Neither sub-type wants to be outshined by their partner, but they do want someone around who enhances their status because, to them, their partners are objects they can show off as if to say, “look what I just obtained for my collection.” Somatic narcissists are obsessed with their bodies, youth and external appearance, spending a lot of time at the gym and in front of mirrors.  Cerebral narcissists are the know-it-alls and think of themselves as the most intelligent ones in the room, trying to impress people with their accomplishments and positions of power.  Any of the three types of narcissists—classic, vulnerable, or malignant—can be either of these two sub-types.

Sub-Type 3

  • Inverted

Some researchers have identified a special type of covert, vulnerable narcissist called an inverted narcissist. These narcissists are thought to be codependent. They seek to attach themselves to other narcissists to feel special, and are only satisfied or happy when they are in relationships with other narcissists. They are victim-narcissists who suffer from childhood abandonment issues.

Because the term narcissist is used so frequently and in such an arbitrary way, it has become difficult to tell when it should be taken seriously, or even to what group of people the term is being applied. Although all narcissists can potentially be exploitative, not all narcissists are alike and one of them is very dangerous.  Malignant narcissists can be destructive and abusive, and because they seek to dominate others, lack a conscience, and enjoy the damage they cause, interactions with them are likely to be harmful. Learning how to distinguish these types and how to understand which type is being discussed in reading material about narcissism is crucial.

If you are being mistreated, exploited, or abused by anyone, however, it doesn’t matter what type of narcissist they are or even if they’re a narcissist at all.  Run!

Sources & Citations:
Bressert, S. (2017). Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 7, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/disorders/narcissistic-personality-disorder/ Ettensohn, Mark. (2016).

Unmasking Narcissism: A Guide to Understanding the Narcissist in Your Life. Berkeley, CA: Althea Press. Greenberg, Elinor. (2017)

How the Three Types of Narcissists Act on a First Date. Psychology Today. Retrieved on March 9, 2017: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/understanding-narcissism/201712/how-the-3-types-narcissists-act-first-date Vaknin, Sam. (2015). Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited. Maring-Igor, Skopje, Macedonia.

  1. I’m dealing with a Classic, Somatic Narcissist. I am currently staying with her and her boyfriend under the agreement that I provide services for their home and land in exchange for a place to stay, and meals. It’s called a work-exchange, and the “Look what I just obtained for my collection” part seriously jumped out at me – I have ‘co-workers’, and I’m sure that’s how she views us all.

    She runs the show here, and constantly has 1 drama/outburst after another, but she takes no responsibility for the part she could have played, or she defends her actions/reasonings . . . seemingly obliviously – as if there was no way there could not have been a problem.

    She’s also purposely disorganized – or she’ll whine and complain about it, but reject suggestions to fix the problem – as allocating responsibilities and times, and having better structure would make us have less of a need to ask her what to do next, plus the way she communicates is demeaning.

    I know I deserve far better – psychological sanctity, healthy relationships – I’m employing Gray Rock with her, and everyone else – she either sucked them in or they were very damaged to begin with; they seem very comfortable with her. I’m known as the ‘unsociable’ one, which I seriously don’t mind at all because it’s keeping me safe, allowing me to love myself and focus on my goals. Seeking out things like this helps me detach, and neutralize her behavior.

  2. You poor thing!!! I really empathize & sympathize. Sounds like your boss is the Wicked Witch of the West & she just reeled all of ya’ll into her web. I hope you’ve found better arrangements by now. If you haven’t, however, why not try to seek the help of your coworkers. If what you said is true, she’s nasty to all her employees & most of them probably hate her guts. There’s strength in numbers, so try ganging up on her & demanding a better work environment. If she still wants to play hardball, then everybody up & quit, & see how she likes them apples. Good luck, darlin’!!!

  3. I am writing a book about my life with a covert narc who commited suicide (slowly) with drugs. It is concerned with the (musical) fame of the individual and many of the antics experienced. It is very difficult to write because there is the implicit need to lionize the famous person because no one wants their heroes to be de-bunked. I must tread softly.

    This article is an excellent breakdown of the different types. Thank you.

  4. I would get away from these people as fast as possible. Why should you have to take their abuse? You cannot go off on these people but the best thing to do is bless them when they are abusing you. lol they don’t know what to do with that. I did it to somebody in my family, a distant cousin. It is awful when you have a family full of these types of people. You can’t get away from them. I do distant myself as fast as I can. Only will I engage them if we have a family function and it is necessary. I am a Christian so I cannot treat people poorly. The Bible says to bless and it works on this behavior. She is the worst, cruelest, malignant narcissist you could meet. It is really sad when you think about it. I have never heard one kind word spoken about her. Only negative.

  5. My bf is definitely malignant covert. He is a former Marine but I am a former Navy corpsman who served with the Marines I tell him you can take a life I can take it and give it back with six minutes in the middle for you to talk to God and figure out where you’re going wrong. I’ve also used “you’ve got jokes”, and walked away. Then I put my military training in practice and watch my perimeter, he is left out food to bait rats to come into the house on purpose and has done other things like listen to articles about pedophilia on YouTube as I was falling asleep just to give me bad dreams because he knows that my stepfather tried to molest me when I was a child, which gave me nightmares a couple of times. luckily I am practiced at lucid dreaming and can change my dreams. he’s not my first rodeo and they really are weak-minded bullies who use fear and intimidation. I do not negotiate with terrorists or children. It drives him nuts. So “you got jokes” is definitely my favorite. can I go somewhere by myself and cry a little bit and he’s got to be such an asshat but I try to never let him see me sweat. what’s really funny is when he tried to his discard and then he got arrested the next night for a 10 year old warrant that I had nothing to do with I wasn’t even around and now I have his Harley and everything that he owns and his banking and I’m taking care of it with honor and integrity so he will have it when he comes out.Then I will kindly remind him that he said the night before he was arrested that I was lazy and disgusting and I will walk away and remove him from my sphere of influence.on his shoulder he has the Marine tattoo death before dishonor I reminded him of this and he said that I “did not count” I think I count now with all of his possessions and including his Harley as I’m doing his security job so that he still has it when he gets out in July, what an ass hat! Karma

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