5 Types of Narcissists and How to Identify Them (2023)

Jump to:

  • What is narcissism?
  • Different types of narcissists
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment
  • How to deal with a narcissist

We interact with all kinds of people on a daily basis, but admittedly, some are much more pleasant to deal with than others. Often, folks are just having a rough day and take it out on others. However, in some cases, people regularly act in a hurtful, narcissistic manner and don’t realize how their behavior affects others around them.

Narcissism exists on a spectrum, but research shows that anywhere from 0.5 to 5% of the U.S. population has the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Among everyone else, people may have varying levels of narcissism as a personality trait. (In this article, "narcissism" refers to people with high levels of this trait unless we use the term "NPD.")

How do you know if you’ve encountered a narcissist? Unless you’re a mental health professional, it’s difficult to know for sure. So we reached out to a few psychologists who conduct research on narcissism and work with clients who have NPD to explain the signs of narcissism, the different types of narcissism and the best way to protect your own well-being if someone you know presents with narcissistic tendencies.

What is narcissism?

“Narcissism is a personality style that is characterized by patterns including variable empathy, entitlement, grandiosity, validation- and admiration-seeking, envy of others, egocentricity, low capacity for mutual and reciprocal relationships and a deep sense of insecurity that underlies all of this,” says Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of several books including Don’t You Know Who I Am?” How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. “It is on a continuum and can range from milder narcissism that may be experienced as self-involvement, selfishness, vanity and immaturity all the way to more severe levels that may be experienced as exploitative, coercive and aggressive.”

For a person to qualify for an official diagnosis of NPD, one must exhibit at least five of these traits, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5):

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements, expects to be recognized as superior without actually completing the achievements)
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty or perfect love
  • Believes that they are “special” and can only be understood by or should only associate with other special people (or institutions)
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a sense of entitlement, such as an unreasonable expectation of favorable treatment or compliance with his or her expectations)
  • Is exploitative and takes advantage of others to achieve their own ends
  • Lacks empathy and is unwilling to identify with the needs of others
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of them
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors and attitudes

Different types of narcissists

The two primary types of narcissism manifest in different ways:

  • Grandiose (overt) narcissism: What most of us think of as narcissism is a specific type called grandiose narcissism. People who exhibit traits of grandiose narcissism generally fit the criteria listed above because of beliefs that are ingrained in their mind. “Somebody who’s a grandiose narcissist, they will legitimately believe that they’re better than you in their mind — inherently better,” says Pascal Wallisch, Ph.D., a clinical associate professor of psychology and data science at New York University. “And obviously if they’re so perfect, they cannot really accept the blame. It must have been you. In our research, that type is closely tied to psychopathy. They are inherently feeling great about themselves.
  • Vulnerable (covert) narcissism: While not talked about as much, vulnerable narcissism is actually more common than grandiose narcissism, according to research Wallisch has worked on. “The person is more anxious, angry, sullen, resentful, victimized, perceives that other people are against them and may also be hostile, sad and have difficulties functioning well,” says Durvasula. “These folks are often quite angry at the world and have deep-seated fears of failure as well as shame.” Vulnerable narcissism stems from strong feelings of insecurity in a person, which may develop after early childhood experiences lead them to feel inadequate. “They reject the blame and take the credit because they literally cannot stand it,” says Wallisch. “They feel like there’s a hole in their soul and they need the credit to patch that up and they cannot accept the blame because they’re already drowning. The tragedy is that after a while, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and other people start to genuinely reset them, which makes them do this even more.”

Beyond those two more well-studied types of narcissism, there are additional informal categories of narcissism like these:

“Malignant narcissism is more congruent with something called the dark tetrad which is where psychopathy, narcissism, Machiavellianism and sadism collide,” says Durvasula. “Here we see a more manipulative, exploitative, coercive, callous, cold and calculating form of narcissism.”


A formal diagnosis requires an evaluation by a licensed mental health practitioner. “In order to "diagnose" a personality disorder, not only does a professional need to determine that there is a sufficient number of these patterns that are persistent over time, but also that these patterns are resulting in clinically meaningful social and occupational impairment and/or distress to the person with the patterns,” says Durvasula. “The evaluating therapist would also be looking for the person’s capacity for consistent empathy, intimacy and closeness; the degree to which they are capable of setting realistic goals in a way that is self-motivated; and have a well-formed identity and capacity for regulation.” Keep in mind that just because someone has narcissistic tendencies, they may not fully fit the criteria for a diagnosis of NPD. On top of that, because a person with NPD may not see their behavioral patterns as problems, they may not reach out to a mental health professional to be evaluated.


Unfortunately, because of its inherent complexities, narcissism is not easily treated and studies have shown mixed results for a variety of treatment approaches. “The research that shows decent outcomes with narcissistic clients is usually done with the vulnerable narcissistic folks who often have other struggles like anxiety or depression and general distress that get them into therapy and then it requires long-term, consistent therapy,” says Durvasula. “Most people do not have access to this or couldn’t afford it.”

Many people with narcissism also don’t attempt therapy to begin with and if they do, they don’t stick with it. For example, if someone has an extreme sense of self-entitlement and self-importance and lacks empathy, they probably don’t think there’s anything amiss that therapy can help with. “Narcissistic people often don’t show up to therapy unless something is going wrong in their lives and then want to fix the problem instead of addressing their issues,” says Durvasula. “It is very resistant to change, but there are some therapies out there like schema therapy or transference focused therapies that have shown some evidence.” Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is also used.

For help with mental health issues, contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline at 800-950-6264 or text "HelpLine" to 62640.

“The classic treatment is that you challenge the narcissist in their assertions,” says Wallisch, “but if you think about it, if they’re feeling insecure — which is what our research shows — that’s not going to resonate. Acceptance might be a better approach. However, it’s very tricky because if you accept it, how do you then communicate that they are still wrong about this? How do you accept somebody if you need them to stop what they’re doing? This will take a lot of skill. Right now the prognosis is not good, but I’m not going to say it can’t be done. It’s just hard.” Treatment success also depends on how long a person has been exhibiting narcissistic behaviors as well as their trust in the mental health professional they’re working with, according to Wallisch. He hopes that additional studies will eventually shed more light on effective treatment solutions.

How to deal with a narcissist

There isn't a magic fix that will cure someone of all narcissistic tendencies, but these strategies can help you protect yourself. In an acute crisis or an emergency, don’t hesitate to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or text "START" to 88788.

“Their behavior is not your responsibility and it is crucial you do not blame yourself for it,” says Durvasula. “Many people in these relationships try to change themselves to appease the narcissistic person and are so oftengaslightedby the narcissistic person that they truly believe they are to blame for the narcissistic person’s behavior, or that what the narcissistic person is saying is true.” It may be difficult, but the best thing you can do for yourself in the long run is realize that it’s not your duty to change the other person or change yourself to please them.

    The bottom line: If someone you’re close with seems to have narcissistic tendencies, try not to take it personally, advises Wallisch, because the person is likely treating other people the same way they’re treating you. Unfortunately, these negative behaviors have deep-seated roots and are very difficult to change. “These are deeply insecure folks who have little self-reflective capacity who often do not take note of how they are hurting people,” says Durvasula. “If you are sticking it out in a relationship on the hope they will change, it may be a long ride or may never happen.”

    5 Types of Narcissists and How to Identify Them (1)

    Kaitlyn Phoenix

    Senior Editor

    Kaitlyn Phoenix is a senior editor in the Hearst Health Newsroom, where she reports, writes and edits research-backed health content for Good Housekeeping, Prevention and Woman's Day. She has more than 10 years of experience talking to top medical professionals and poring over studies to figure out the science of how our bodies work. Beyond that, Kaitlyn turns what she learns into engaging and easy-to-read stories about medical conditions, nutrition, exercise, sleep and mental health. She also holds a B.S. in magazine journalism from Syracuse University.

    Medically reviewed bySusan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., A.B.P.P.

    Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne is a professor emerita of psychology at University of Massachusetts Amherst and faculty fellow in gerontology at the University of Massachusetts Boston


    What are the 5 types of narcissism? ›

    Experts work with five main types of narcissism: overt, covert, communal, antagonistic, and malignant narcissism. They can all affect how you see yourself and interact with others. When it comes to treatment, narcissism can be tricky because many people living with it don't necessarily feel the need to change.

    How do you identify a narcissist with one simple question? ›

    Analyzing their data, they found that they could reliably identify narcissists simply using the question: “To what extent do you agree with this statement: 'I am a narcissist. ' (Note: The word 'narcissist' means egotistical, self-focused and vain.)”

    How to identify the 4 subtle steps a narcissist takes before? ›

    Understanding this dynamic can help emotionally intelligent people spot narcissistic tendencies before investing in a relationship. There are four phases of narcissistic manipulation: attraction, feeling small, sabotage, and countering manipulation with kindness.

    How do you identify a narcissist quickly? ›

    Signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder
    1. Grandiose sense of self-importance. ...
    2. Lives in a fantasy world that supports their delusions of grandeur. ...
    3. Needs constant praise and admiration. ...
    4. Sense of entitlement. ...
    5. Exploits others without guilt or shame. ...
    6. Frequently demeans, intimidates, bullies, or belittles others.
    Mar 28, 2023

    What are the 4 E's of narcissism? ›

    the 4 traits we're covering in this video, I call the 4 ease, envy, Empathy, Entitlement, and Exploitiveness. envy. narcissists tend to strongly envy people.

    Is narcissism one of the big 5? ›

    Big 5 personality characteristics (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and intellectual imagination; Goldberg, 1992) and narcissism (Raskin and Terry, 1988; Gentile et al., 2013) are included as personality indicators.

    What is the best way to confuse a narcissist? ›

    How To Confuse Narcissist?
    1. Try Not To Show Any Emotions.
    2. Make Them Doubt Themselves.
    3. Don't Make Eye Contact.
    4. Be Quiet And Listen To Others Instead Of Narcissist.
    5. Don't Fall For Their Tricks.
    6. Try To Stay Calm And Rational.
    7. Helps To Gain Control.
    8. May Get Them To Seek Help.

    What questions reveal a narcissist? ›

    • 1) Do they spearhead every conversation and incessantly talk about themselves? ...
    • 2) Do they lack empathy? ...
    • 3) Do they have many long-term friends? ...
    • 4) Do they 'gaslight' you? ...
    • 5) Do they always think they're right and never apologize for anything? ...
    • 6) Do they constantly pick on you?
    Jan 15, 2023

    What is the one question a narcissist can't answer? ›

    The question asked in the video is: “What makes you so different from anyone else?” It was referring to how infallible and superior narcissists see themselves. They cannot answer why they are so wonderful and perfect; they are special, and that's all you need to know about them.

    What are the red flags of subtle narcissists? ›

    They seem unable or unwilling to have empathy for others, and they appear to have no desire for emotional intimacy. Unrealistic sense of entitlement. They expect others to cater to their desires and may get angry when corrected, put out, or treated as if they're “common.” Needs to be the center of attention.

    What is the break up pattern of a narcissist? ›

    At the end of a relationship, a narcissist will often spiral down a long-winded gauntlet of manipulation tactics. They may blame you for causing the relationship to fail, work hard to keep you to stay with them, make lofty promises to change their behavior, or badmouth you to everyone around them.

    What are the biggest signs that someone has narcissistic? ›

    • Have an unreasonably high sense of self-importance and require constant, excessive admiration.
    • Feel that they deserve privileges and special treatment.
    • Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements.
    • Make achievements and talents seem bigger than they are.
    Apr 6, 2023

    How do you test if they're a narcissist? ›

    People with narcissistic personality disorder often present with five or more specific symptoms, including:
    1. grandiosity and self-importance.
    2. sense of specialness and uniqueness.
    3. fantasies of perfection and superiority.
    4. need for praise and attention.
    5. strong sense of entitlement.
    6. lack of empathy.
    7. jealousy, envy, and distrust.

    What is the no smiling test for narcissism? ›

    Other narcissist "tests" are not at all scientifically validated, such as the so-called narcissist smile test, which claims that you can tell if someone is a narcissist based on how they react if you smile, look them in the eye, and tell them "no" in response to something they ask of you.

    What are the worst narcissist type? ›

    Malignant narcissism is a psychological syndrome comprising an extreme mix of narcissism, antisocial behavior, aggression, and sadism.

    What are the 2 faces of narcissism? ›

    Grandiose and vulnerable narcissism are the “two faces” of narcissism that represent related but separate traits.

    What are the three cycles of narcissism? ›

    It's a phenomenon called the narcissistic abuse cycle. This cycle is broken down into three important phases: idealization, devaluation, and rejection. By understanding these key points, people who are struggling with narcissism or those who are in a relationship with a narcissist can get the help they need.

    Who is a perfect target of a narcissist? ›

    Narcissists often look for victims who struggle with insecurity and low self-esteem. People who think less of themselves and struggle with the “I am not enough” mindset tend to attract toxic partners. People with self-esteem issues tend to think of themselves as imperfect or unlovable.

    Do narcissists have higher intelligence? ›

    First, just as the authors had projected prior to the experiment, grandiose narcissists reliably ranked themselves as being more intelligent than others, even though this did not translate to higher marks on the intellect exams.

    Is narcissistic on the spectrum? ›

    Not every narcissist has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), as narcissism is a spectrum. People who are at the highest end of the spectrum are those that are classified as NPD, but others, still with narcissistic traits, may fall on the lower end of the narcissistic spectrum.

    What to say to a narcissist to shut them down permanently? ›

    The following are 16 key phrases to disarm a narcissist:
    • 1. “ ...
    • “I Can't Control How You Feel About Me” ...
    • “I Hear What You're Saying” ...
    • “I'm Sorry You Feel That Way” ...
    • “Everything Is Okay” ...
    • “We Both Have a Right to Our Own Opinions” ...
    • “I Can Accept How You Feel” ...
    • “I Don't Like How You're Speaking to Me so I Will not Engage”
    Dec 28, 2021

    What to say to outsmart a narcissist? ›

    React with empathy and respect.

    A narcissist thrives on conflict, and will take control of the conversation as soon as you get defensive or try to fight back. Instead, you can take control by making empathetic statements about the situation, which will help the narcissist calm down.

    What are narcissist weaknesses? ›

    A monumental weakness in the narcissist is the failure to look internally and flesh out what needs to be worked on. Then, of course, the next step is to spend time improving. The narcissist sabotages any possibility of looking deep within.

    What color represents narcissism? ›

    It was concluded that whereas admiration and rivalry represent the bright and dark face of narcissism, vulnerable narcissism represents its blue face.

    What kind of shows do narcissists like? ›

    Interestingly people who are more narcissistic are seemingly looking for characters they can relate to, which is what they find in reality TV, sports, political talk shows and thrillers. The authors of the research found that on the other hand people who watch the news appeared to score lower on a test of narcissism.

    What does a narcissist not want you to know? ›

    He doesn't want you to know you are lovable and have power in the relationship. Your narcissist wants you to feel small, unlovable, powerless, and without value. This is how he controls you.

    What is something a narcissist would never say? ›

    From a distance, a narcissist with a plan can seem charming, self-confident, and even considerate. Nevertheless, there are a few things that narcissists never do, especially when it comes to relationships. They never say sorry, never try to repair the damage they've done, and they never admit to their mistakes.

    How do narcissists trick you? ›

    Narcissists also gaslight or practice master manipulation, weakening and destabilizing their victims; finally, they utilize positive and negative emotions or moments to trick others. When a narcissist can't control you, they'll likely feel threatened, react with anger, and they might even start threatening you.

    How do you take power from a narcissist? ›

    Here are three ways to reclaim your power when you are experiencing the devastating withholding behaviors of a narcissist:
    1. Plan a safe exit. ...
    2. Use any withholding periods as times for radical self-care and productivity. ...
    3. Resolve to integrate the painful lesson of withholding into your future experiences.
    Jul 17, 2019

    How to scare a narcissist? ›

    17 Ways to Make a Narcissist Really Fear You
    1. Don't give them your attention.
    2. Starve them of empathy.
    3. Show strength and confidence.
    4. Ignore them.
    5. Set and enforce boundaries.
    6. Say no.
    7. Challenge them.
    8. Hold them accountable.
    Jul 13, 2022

    What is an example of a narcissistic rage? ›

    Examples of narcissistic rage range from intense outbursts and sudden fits of anger, to passive-aggressive acts such as simmering resentment, icy silence, deliberate neglect, or cutting sarcasm.

    What are three signs of a highly sensitive narcissist? ›

    They often take things personally, agitate over “how dare they say/do this to me”, and have difficulty letting go. Two other common traits of the highly sensitive narcissist are narcissistic brooding (cutting resentment and simmering hostility), and narcissistic rage (intense angry outbursts).

    How narcissists hide in plain sight? ›

    Lies and then denial or shifting blame

    That's true of the narcissist, too, but in a bad way: No matter where he starts, it will always come back to you, especially when he's lying. The narcissist lies for different reasons than the rest of us.

    What are 4 signs you were raised by a narcissist? ›

    • What are the signs you were raised by a narcissist? ...
    • You feel like you're never good enough. ...
    • You might self-sabotage. ...
    • You have relationship problems. ...
    • You struggle with your own emotions. ...
    • You tie your self-worth to your achievements. ...
    • You're obsessed with perfection. ...
    • You struggle to set boundaries.
    Sep 27, 2022

    What makes a narcissist collapse? ›

    A narcissistic collapse represents an emotional reaction a narcissist experiences when their fragile self-esteem is threatened. So, any situation in which a person with NPD feels neglected, humiliated, or confronted may lead to a narcissistic collapse, causing them to stop functioning or harm themselves or others.

    Do narcissists text a lot? ›

    What is this? Most people send matter-of-fact texts occasionally (especially in moments of urgency), but narcissists often come across as chronically demanding. And of course, they expect you to drop everything you're doing and take care of their need instantly. These texts may come out of nowhere.

    What is the narcissist end game? ›

    Sad to say, narcissists are schemers. They have a foundation of deep insecurity (which they deny), so it is of utmost importance for them to create a milieu in which they can be on top. Their end game is to establish themselves as the authority, the one who calls the shots.

    What are the 5 main habits of a narcissist? ›

    Common Narcissist Characteristics
    • Inflated Ego.
    • Lack of Empathy.
    • Need for Attention.
    • Repressed Insecurities.
    • Few Boundaries.

    What does a depressed narcissist look like? ›

    They're often introverted, sensitive, and prone to experiencing anxiety and shame. They may also struggle to maintain close friendships as they focus heavily on themselves, require attention, and are hyper-sensitive to perceived criticism.

    What does a narcissist look like physically? ›

    Narcissists are more likely to wear expensive, flashy clothing, have an organized, neat appearance requiring a lot of preparation, and (in females) wear makeup and show cleavage.

    Can you ever tell a narcissist they are a narcissist? ›

    An often effective way to point out a person's narcissism, while at the same time allowing the individual flexibility to change, is to separate the behavior from the person. For instance, instead of stating “you're a narcissist,” say “you're acting like a narcissist,” or “this [specify the behavior] is narcissistic.”

    What turns on a narcissist? ›

    "Narcissists are drawn to those who can boost their own self-esteem and validate their sense of importance," Wasser told Insider. "Being associated with someone who is successful or admired can make the narcissist feel more important by proxy."

    Do narcissists know they are narcissists? ›

    They have speculated that if narcissists received true feedback, they would change. The Carlson and colleagues' study suggests this is not the case: Narcissists are fully aware that they are narcissistic and that they have a narcissistic reputation.

    What do the eyes of a narcissist look like? ›

    Their eyes go from their natural colour into something so dark, so devoid of any human emotion, you become paralysed. This narcissistic stare is often referred to as a sociopathic stare, “death stare”, or “reptilian stare”, and is described as “pure evil”.

    What is masked narcissism? ›

    Narcissism has been conceptualized as involving attempts to defend against negative self-schemata (implicit negative beliefs about one's own self-worth). This idea has been termed the 'mask model of narcissism'.

    What are narcissists hiding? ›

    Readily revealing themselves while in the midst of familiar, grandiose states of mind, narcissists tend to hide what they consider shameful signs of weakness, deficiency, or failure.

    What are the 7 signs of narcissism? ›

    7 Characteristics of a Narcissist
    • 7 Characteristics of a Narcissist. ...
    • They seem perfect at first. ...
    • They talk about themselves almost all the time. ...
    • They are sensitive to perceived criticism. ...
    • They give backhanded compliments. ...
    • They manipulate your feelings. ...
    • They are arrogant. ...
    • They cannot stand rejection.

    What is the highest form of narcissism? ›

    Malignant narcissism is considered by many to be the most severe type. 2 That's why it helps to recognize when you have someone with this condition in your life and what to expect from interactions with them. This knowledge can also provide insight into how to deal with them in the healthiest way possible.

    Does narcissism get worse with age? ›

    Summary: For most people, narcissism wanes as they age. A new study reports the magnitude of the decline of narcissistic traits is tied to specific career and personal relationship choices. However, this is not true for everyone.

    What are the three E's of narcissism? ›

    Malkin says the key to spotting narcissistic personality disorder is observing the “three Es” — exploitation, entitlement, and empathy impairment.

    How narcissists use gaslighting? ›

    Signs of Narcissist Gaslighting

    They may try to make you feel like you're overreacting or being too sensitive by saying things like, “You're being paranoid,” or “You're imagining things.” They might also try to control what you do and who you see by trying to isolate you from your friends and family.

    What is the GREY rock method? ›

    The grey rock method is where you deliberately act unresponsive or unengaged so that an abusive person will lose interest in you. Abusive people thrive on emotions and drama. When you act indifferent and don't show your emotions, they may lose interest and stop bothering you. This is known as “grey rocking.”

    What can be mistaken for narcissism? ›

    Based on overlapping symptoms, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are often mistaken for one another.

    How do I know if I'm a narcissist? ›

    Extremely selfish. Unable to deal with criticism, perceived slights, or disagreements. Hypersensitive, defensive, and anxious. Not settling for anything less than what you think you deserve.

    What kind of childhood creates a narcissist? ›

    Narcissism tends to emerge as a psychological defence in response to excessive levels of parental criticism, abuse or neglect in early life. Narcissistic personalities tend to be formed by emotional injury as a result of overwhelming shame, loss or deprivation during childhood.

    What type of narcissist is the scariest? ›

    Malignant narcissists are often regarded as having the most extreme form of NPD, and while they will have the regular qualities of someone with narcissistic personality disorder, their self-absorption and self-obsession is accompanied by some darker behaviors as well.

    What is the mildest form of narcissism? ›

    Mild: A mildly narcissistic person might be egotistical or boastful about their accomplishments but still function well in society.

    What does an aging narcissist look like? ›

    As we get older, we all require more care and support from those around us. An elderly narcissist struggles greatly with the idea of looking weak or relying on others. In response to the natural aging process, they may become more hostile, more self-centered, and more inflexible.

    How do narcissists treat their pets? ›

    The narcissist offers your pet a treat and then takes it back. The narcissist gets a payoff from seeing people and pets suffer under their control. By teasing your pet, the narcissist is also pushing your pet into snapping at them as a way to tell the narcissist to stop.

    What is the emotional age of a narcissist? ›

    According to Thomaes & Brummelman, the development of narcissism begins at around the ages of 7 or 8. This is the time when children begin to evaluate themselves according to how they perceive others.


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