Narcissists come in two main varieties: vulnerable (“neurotic”) narcissists and grandiose narcissists (those I refer to in In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance as more character-disturbed or disordered). Last week’s post dealt primarily with the more vulnerable, neurotic narcissist (see: Two Main Varieties of Narcissists) and the kinds of problems such folks can bring into a relationship. But of the two types, grandiose narcissists are even more problematic. And unfortunately, because of the nature of our culture and times they’re also more prevalent, so they’re worth discussing in greater depth.
Until recently very few mental health professionals distinguished between the two kinds of narcissists. For years, overly applying the theory of neurosis to character problems, almost all believed the egocentric, selfish, egomaniacal among us to be inwardly lacking in self-esteem and therefore vulnerable, trying desperately to compensate for their feelings of inadequacy and allay their anxieties about (and also “prove”) their self-worth. Unfortunately, in our character-disturbed age, there are many folks who engage in grandiose self-appraisal that’s not only genuine but also goes to the core of who they are as a person. In short, there are folks who sincerely believe “they’re all that!” Their haughtiness is no pretense. And such folks often have an accompanying sense of entitlement to do as they please with and to those whom they perceive as inferior.
There is some research suggesting that compared to females, male narcissists tend to be of the more grandiose type. But this research is certainly not conclusive on the matter and anyone who’s had to deal with a grandiose narcissist knows how much grief they can cause in a relationship regardless of their gender.
Grandiose narcissists are prone to a particularly insidious type of thinking error. Professionals used to say that they sometimes engage in a “magical” type of thinking common to children – a type of thinking also viewed as a primative “defense mechanism” against emotional pain and anxiety. Children think in this magical when they imagine something will happen or be a certain way simply because they wish it. But grandiose narcissists take a much more aggressive, egomaniacal view of reality. Don’t bore them with the facts. Your facts are only opinion anyway. Reality – at least as far as they’re concerned – is what they say it is. And this is why they’re so good at the crazy-making tactic of “gaslighting” (for more on this subject see the articles: (Some Different Views on Gaslighting and Gaslighters and Gaslighting as a Manipulation Tactic: What It Is, Who Does It, and Why). They often appear so sure they’re right or have the answer and so convincing that everyone else is full of beans that they can make you question your sanity as well as your own sense of reality.
Unlike the more vulnerable or neuriotic type, grandiose narcissists don’t care what you think of them and don’t feel the need to prove themselves. They know they’re great. And if you don’t seem to recognize that, they not only have little use for you but also in some ways pity you. After all, if you only really knew and appreciated who they are and what you were getting in them, you’d be worshiping at their feet night and day. This is why the grandiose type has no compunction about showing their disdain for all those they see as “beneath” them. Whereas we once thought they belittled others as a way of building up their own sense of self (we used to erroneously think similar things about bullies, too), they’re simply being dismissive of those they view as inferior and therefore unworthy in comparison. And it’s the dismissive quality of grandiose narcissists that can really get under the skin of their relationship partners.
Confronting grandiose narcissists, even for a professional well-trained in the special tools for dealing with character disturbance, is a particularly challenging enterprise. I’ll be doing some special training in this area as I begin my tour of professional workshops in just a couple of weeks. And I’ll have some illustrative vignettes to share in next week’s concluding article on the topic.