When you think of the word “narcissist,” what comes to mind? Narcissism describes a set of traits and behaviors that can cause a lot of relational pain and discomfort, both for the narcissist and the people around them. Narcissism can damage every kind of relationship, ranging from professional to intimate.
However, narcissism isn’t as straightforward as it may initially seem. Although people can be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), not all people with narcissistic traits have the diagnosis. Keep reading to learn more about narcissism, its different types and when it qualifies as a personality disorder.
Narcissism vs. Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Although many people have narcissistic traits, most of them do not have a diagnosis of or meet the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder. To be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), an individual must consistently show at least five of nine narcissistic traits in multiple areas of their lives.
These nine traits are defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and include:
- Inflated self-esteem
- Sense of entitlement
- Obsession with power, status or beauty
- Manipulation or exploitation
- Lack of empathy
- Belief that they’re special
- Need for admiration
- Preoccupation with envy
Many people show one or more of these tendencies. For a mental health practitioner to formally diagnose someone with NPD, the individual would have to consistently demonstrate five of these nine traits. Instead of thinking of narcissism as a diagnosis, it can be helpful to think of it as patterns of behavior.
When a person shows a strong enough pattern, a professional can clinically diagnose them with NPD. However, those without NPD can still have strong narcissistic tendencies, especially under certain circumstances.
Narcissism as a term is often used casually to describe someone who is rude, has an inflated sense of self-importance and is inconsiderate toward others. From a clinical standpoint, however, narcissism is much more nuanced.
Types of Narcissism
There are several different types of clinically diagnosed narcissism, and each highlights different narcissistic traits. The majority of people with NPD fit the behavior of an overt narcissist, but not every type is so obviously narcissistic. Narcissists who are skilled at manipulation can be difficult to spot right away.
Here are four of the major types of narcissism as understood by the study of psychology today:
- Overt narcissism: These people tend to show off and angle for other people’s attention constantly. They’re not necessarily unkind, but they are often aggressive, entitled and boastful. Overt narcissists are also often called grandiose narcissists.
- Covert narcissism: People with covert narcissism are harder to spot. They may actually seem depressed because they believe no one will ever give them the recognition they truly deserve. Their sense of entitlement is actually what drives the behavior that looks like depression. Covert narcissists believe the world has passed them by and that they’re owed something because of it.
- Communal narcissism: People with this type of narcissism are out in the world trying to help other people. However, they’re not helping for the sake of others but because they want to gain admiration and approval for themselves. They often choose very public charities so they’ll gain recognition, and they don’t treat family members well the way they treat business contacts.
- Malignant narcissism: This kind of narcissist is willing to lie, cheat and otherwise “work the system” to get what they want. Although they often appear charming and successful, they see people as tools and will exploit others to get what they want. They may feel some remorse for their actions, but that won’t stop them from going after the next thing they want.
Understanding Narcissistic Behavior
While these types highlight different aspects of being a narcissist, there are several tendencies and behaviors all narcissists have in common. Understanding the inner thought process behind narcissism can help you spot a narcissist regardless of their specific type and behavior:
- How they view the self: At their core, narcissists are all deeply insecure. They look for validation from others to fill that inner void. If that need to be validated isn’t filled, they will often lash out aggressively.
- What motivates them: Narcissists are primarily motivated by trying to gain validation and attention from other people. They may take this to ridiculous lengths, like trying to steal the spotlight at a wedding or talking over someone else’s speech at a graduation ceremony. Everything has to be about them all the time.
- What they lack: Another component that sets narcissists apart from other personality disorders is their lack of empathy for others. They can’t put themselves in another person’s shoes, which is why they’re often so manipulative. Because they’re not interested in real connections, their relationships also tend to be superficial.
Narcissists are deeply insecure, so they can’t handle criticism. They’ll react in very unhealthy ways when they don’t get the admiration they want. Examples include having fits of rage, gaslighting or starting a smear campaign where they get other people to talk behind your back. Narcissists will try to make you feel like you’re the problem.
Narcissistic Traits vs. Narcissistic Symptoms
While narcissistic traits tend to stay the same, symptoms can look different depending on how those traits affect a person’s life. Many people with strong narcissistic tendencies or NPD have co-occurring conditions that could be considered symptoms of narcissism.
Here are a few mental health conditions that may occur with high narcissistic traits:
- Bipolar Disorder
- Substance Abuse
In addition to physical and mental symptoms, there are several additional behaviors that are symptomatic of narcissistic behavior. For example, people who are narcissistic tend to be very controlling. They need this control over others because that’s where they find their sense of self-validation.
Taken a step further, this need for control can translate to a lack of boundaries in relationships. Narcissists often see others as an extension of themselves, either in a positive or negative way. For example, they may spend time with wealthy or attractive people because that feeds into their desire to be better than others.
On the flip side, narcissistic parents may react very negatively when adult children do something they don’t like. They believe their child’s behavior is an extension of themselves and can’t handle choices they think will reflect badly on them. Sometimes, narcissists may engage in “splitting,” a phenomenon where they decide people who displease them are completely “bad” while others are entirely “good.”
Heal From Narcissism With Taylor Counseling Group
If you are suffering from the narcissistic behavior of others or would like to work on narcissistic tendencies in yourself, reach out to Taylor Counseling Group in Texas. Our therapists offer high-quality and affordable care for individuals, couples, families and children above the age of 5. Although it may seem daunting, counseling is highly accessible and can equip you with the tools you need to heal and thrive. Schedule an online appointment with us today!