In this second installment about narcissism, we will explore the eight different types of narcissists. This is based on Dr. Ramani Durvasula’s work and book, titled “’Don’t You Know Who I Am?’ How to stay sane in an era of narcissism, entitlement, and incivility,” as well as Dr. Ramani’s videos on YouTube. Her channel is an incredible resource as well as her books.
According to her work, there are eight different types of narcissists: grandiose, covert/vulnerable, malignant (dark triad or dark tetrad), communal, benign, neglectful, entitled/self-righteous and generational/cultural. I want to reiterate what I wrote in the first installment, which is that the label is less important than being able to recognize the patterns of behaviors. Further, these types exist on a spectrum, and where appropriate, I will highlight what that spectrum may look like within the type.
Additionally, to further highlight the general difference between confidence and pathological narcissism, Dr. Durvasula writes in her book that “True confidence is a bit more restrained and quiet, and tends to be backed up with an accurate assessment of one’s ability, an appropriate manner of communicating those abilities, the willingness to hear about other people’s skills or perspectives, and enough humility to put others at ease” (pg. 87).
This is also known as the “classic” or stereotypical narcissist and what many think of when they use this term. These individuals are typically described as arrogant, entitled, charming, grandiose, superficial, and vain. Dr. Durvasula describes these individuals as “show-offs” and “overly confident”, and frequently not accompanied with an accurate assessment of their abilities. They tend to lack empathy and have a proclivity for lying and being antagonistic. When these individuals are disappointed, they will exhibit rage.
We and others may find ourselves attracted to them, and rather quickly, because they tend be very charming and successful. These individuals may also be rather prominent in their communities.
When interacting with these individuals, one-on-one conversations tend to be one-sided. They will often be very talkative, but it is about themselves. When you attempt to talk, they may seem uninterested and act busy.
The covert/vulnerable narcissist is characterized by a lack of empathy, entitlement, hypersensitivity, passive aggressive behavior, sense of justice, resentment, insecurity, low levels of self-esteem, and higher levels of depression. Contempt is pervasive and prominent in these individuals. In the extreme of this presentation, these individuals tend to exhibit behaviors consistent with sociopathy.
These individuals frequently engage in projection. Projection is a defense mechanism unconsciously used to regulate anxiety we may feel about ourselves. An example of what this looks like is when someone is being aggressive, and then proceeds to accuse the person they’re talking to as being aggressive instead of acknowledging their own behavior. When we cannot tolerate an aspect of ourselves, we have to “discard it.” This can lead to conflict, distress and gaslighting.
The hypersensitivity is related to perceived hostility from others as well as feeling criticized by others. Their interaction with others often feels hostile, and they often interact with others with a hostile attribution bias. This means they experience others as hostile, and because there is the perception that others are being hostile towards them, they will respond in kind. What can further contribute to the covert/vulnerable narcissist’s hostility and contempt for others is the grandiose belief they hold in themselves, which displays in a less obvious way than the grandiose narcissist that was described above. These individuals may present as though they are misunderstood and/or their special abilities are not well understood, which further leads to their feelings of being slighted by others and perceiving others as hostile.
Additionally, with regards to a sense of justice, the covert/vulnerable narcissist feels as though the world and others owe them and may be described as brooding, as they feel they are due and deserve some retribution. Their resentment is about their perception that others have a better life than them.
As noted in the first installment on narcissism, there is always a question about the impact of early childhood abuse, neglect, and trauma on personality disorders. Of all the types of narcissists, it is this type that Dr. Durvasula indicates is more likely to be associated with an abusive childhood. “A child exposed to chronic neglect and invalidation is going to have been exposed to more hostile motivations and become more attuned to combing their environments for hostile threats” (pg. 90).
According to Dr. Durvasula, this is the most toxic and aversive type of narcissist. She writes, “This form takes the grandiose narcissist and adds a more exploitative, antagonistic, Machiavellian, and, at times, seemingly psychopathic overlay… Malignant narcissists drive people to the edge and leave them feeling betrayed, fearful, manipulated, tricked, and devastated” (pg 88).
The malignant narcissist is often referred to as the Dark Triad (psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism) or Dark Tetrad (psychopathy, Machiavellianism, sadism, and narcissism). These individuals are quite charming, yet political, manipulative, and often lack remorse. Due to their exploitative nature, they can truly cause a lot of devastation and damage to others. These are individuals who may not only bend or break the rules, but also abuse their power. These individuals often see others as disposable and a means to an end.
Leaving a relationship with a malignant narcissist can be very difficult due to fear of the narcissist and what they may do.
Communal narcissists are wholly engaged in the community and post everything online about their pursuits in changing the world. “Communal narcissists may feature frequent posts on their social media or personal website showing them interacting with those ‘less fortunate’ than them and drawing attention to their charitable deeds with hashtags like #savingtheworld, #feelsgoodtogiveback, #charitygoals, #iloveeveryone, or #elephantsarepeopletoo. Then they sit back, expect validation from their followers (‘Wow, you are amazing,’ ‘You have the biggest heart ever,’ ‘Keep saving the world – and you look hot in your bikini’) and then bask in likes and comments about their giving nature” (pg. 93).
These individuals perceive themselves as altruistic, which is in contrast to the three above types that would perceive themselves as successful. Dr. Durvasula makes a point of caution that there are people who can truly give of themselves to others and not be a communal narcissist. She stresses that the difference, and important factor to consider, is the motivation behind the altruistic behaviors and actions.
Further, these individuals may present to the world as others-facing, while at home they may be quite the opposite. This can result in a lot of confusion for loved ones and partners, as at home the other narcissistic traits are on display. “In many ways, the communal narcissist derives a sense of self from the idea of being a ‘giver’ but maintains little insight into his or her entitlement, antagonism, or lack of empathy in other close relationships” (pg. 94).
Neglectful narcissists do not engage with anyone unless they want something from them. People are seen as conveniences for them and not as individuals to have genuine relationships and connections with.
Benign narcissists often exhibit a lack of empathy, entitlement, and grandiosity, however, other experience their lack of empathy as being clueless, their entitlement as being clumsy, and their grandiosity as being childlike. These are the individuals that only talk about themselves or work to make your story, or what you are saying, about them.
They have a superficial immaturity and often resemble adolescents who are preoccupied with caring what others think about them, obsessively follow social media and likes, are thoughtless when they speak, and others are often dismissing their behaviors as someone who does not have a filter.
Relationships with these individuals may not be fulfilling and may be described as shallow and immature. In comparison to the other types of narcissists, these individuals do not cause as much damage or destruction. In many ways, they are very harmless.
Dr. Durvasula describes that entitlement is being seen everywhere today, which underscores that entitlement is taught; it is not a trait we are born with, like introversion/extraversion.
Entitlement is visible in the behaviors of others, and it is the belief that we deserve special treatment without cause or reason, even at the expense of another person. We can all think of examples of entitlement. The impatient person at the store who feels they do not need to wait in line, or the person who removes a “reserved” sign in a blocked off area at an event and sits in a restricted area anyways.
Entitlement is taught through modeling and reinforcement by parents who do not correct their children when they act entitled, and/or do not teach their children how to regulate their own emotions when they do not get what they want when they want it. Another example of how entitlement is fostered can be seen through instillment of the idea that everyone receives a trophy regardless of their team winning. This can create the false understanding within a child that special treatment, celebration, and recognition will always be extended. As these children age, these are sometimes the students in school who ask why they did not receive an A in a course, despite not completing any work or passing exams. They may argue that they attended, tried and thus are deserving of the A. As noted in the first installment, when children do not learn how to temper their wants and/or do not learn how to regulate and tolerate disappointment, they will be unable to tolerate situations in which they are being told “no,” are not recognized, promoted, or provided with constructive criticism.
Dr. Durvasula describes that entitlement may also express itself as self-righteousness. This involves the convenient use of morality where rules do not apply to them, and their view of the world is correct.
This type of narcissist is one of the most difficult to describe, even in the consideration of it being a form of narcissism. Dr. Durvasula even cautions that she is not completely convinced that narcissism would be accurate here due to the universality of histories.
In general, these are narcissists whose behaviors are reinforced by culture. This may look like when we say, “Our parent looks and acts narcissistic, however, we can understand it because we know their family history, where they came from, where they lived, etc”. This type of narcissist is reinforced throughout history through intergenerational traumas and other patterns of behaviors. Dr. Durvasula describes that these patterns of narcissistic behaviors are observed in cultures and societies characterized by stratification by authoritarianism, patriarchy, major differences in power, massive divides between “haves and have nots,” and cultures with a variety of pervasive -isms, such as racism, colonialism, etc. Insecurity is often pervasive in these societies, especially among those with power. They will act in ways to ensure their power. In this way then, narcissism becomes an adaptive trait, both by those with power and those oppressed. Entitlement now develops as a function of money, social status, etc. These behaviors and ways of societal functioning in turn do not support the development of empathy or even emotional depth in relationships. This can serve to dehumanize others and treat them as indispensable and a means to an end, and reinforces an earlier point about entitlement being taught rather than an innate trait.
We have a tendency here to excuse these behaviors when we express that we understand why someone behaves a certain way given their histories. Unlike the other types of narcissists described above, this type (if we even determine it to be one), would exist in overlap with the other types and not standalone.
In the next, and last installment, we will be looking at what a relationship with a narcissist is like, the stages of how those relationship develop, and common behaviors exhibited in those relationships. Additionally, we will explore what a trauma bond is, how to identify them, and how to break them. This final installment will also have additional resources for support.