Narcissistic Personalities Come in Various Types

Narcissistic Personalities

Narcissistic personalities are problem characters, to be sure. But they’re not all alike. Some narcissists are more tolerable than others. Some are even quite likeable. And a few are actually quite benign, relatively speaking. Mildly narcissistic folks of a certain type might cause you some grief but they likely won’t do you in. Other narcissists, however, are simply toxic – even dangerous.

I’ve written about this topic several times before. But I’ll keep writing about it, and often. Why? Because there’s so much misinformation about narcissism these days. The misinformation abounds in popular books and online articles. From what you read and hear, you might easily believe that all narcissists are the same. They’re not. And most of what you read and hear about these personalities stems from experiences with the most problematic types. And there’s a danger in this, too, because folks with subtler, less offensive narcissistic characteristics cause their own kinds of problems.

In my books In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance, I make the point that character disturbance is a spectrum phenomenon. And I explain the inevitable relationship problems that occur with the various types and degrees of character dysfunction. Moreover, in several articles, I explore narcissism as a dimension of personality impacting one’s overall character. And I explain how this dimension occurs along spectra of both type and degree.

Because when it comes to understanding narcissistic personalities one description does not fit all, I think it helpful to review some of the more common types.

The Major Types of Narcissistic Personalities

Ample research affirms what I first asserted in Character Disturbance and In Sheep’s Clothing. There are two major kinds of narcissists. One kind tries to prove worth and status out of insecurity. This is the “vulnerable,” compensatory, more “neurotic” type. The other, more grandiose type has an inflated sense of self that is rooted in deep-seated feelings of superiority, a lack of empathy, and a disdain for perceived weakness. On balance, the latter is more toxic, problematic, and sometimes dangerous. The former, is relatively more benign.

Relatively Benign Narcissistic Subtypes

Some narcissists are both amiable and charming. And amorous type will worm their way into your heart. And while these types are not the heartless predators some narcissists are, they’re still narcissists. So, they’ll eventually prove themselves poor intimate relationship partners. Still, these vulnerable types possess at least some empathy and moral conscience. And with proper motivation and the right kind of help they can become more wholesome characters.

More Toxic, Malevolent Types

Some folks simply lack empathy. They show no real care or concern for the welfare of others. And some, simply can’t care because of how they’re put together. You might hold some value for a time for a simply self-serving purpose. But they can’t value you as a person and, accordingly, can’t truly love you. And some establish their relationships with you for the primary purpose of exploitation of some type. This kind of narcissism has a spectrum to it, also. And the malignant narcissists who occupy the far end of this spectrum are truly the most dangerous of humans.

Character Matters

I talk a bit more about the different types of narcissistic personalities on the latest edition of Character Matters.


22 thoughts on “Narcissistic Personalities Come in Various Types

  1. I find this article helpful, informative and interesting. I hope I’m not narcissistic. I know I’m not the later type as I have great empathy and I’m not interested in seeking a relationship for self serving matters. I will say there are times that I search for ways to serve humanity where I am using my gifts and I wonder if this is my way of seeking worth and value. Interesting!!!

  2. A few years ago I told and retold a disturbing experience I had had with a stranger in my neighbourhood. I told my story to different people, and in some cases a group of people. What I found most telling was relating my story to my sons wife who I strongly suspected as being a malignant narcissist.

    I had an audience of five family members, all women, casually sitting around in my living room enjoying dessert. I gave each of the five women about the same amount of eye contact but I was really focused on my DIL. After the story I paused, and four of the women made predictable comments: “Did you go to the police?!” “You should have screamed!” “That was terrible!”

    My DIL said “It must be nice to have so much free time to go on such long walks.” There was not one ounce of empathy for what I had gone through. And, what she said was in some way meant to be funny. For me it was a very poignant moment and I knew without a doubt who I was dealing with.

    There are so many examples of how she has systematically torn this family apart that I’d need to write a book. She could not be stopped. If their sights are set on you as someone who is a threat to them they will create slights. They will tear you down behind your back to anyone, and in the most subtle of ways. People I’d never laid eyes on gave me the cold shoulder at their wedding! It was a nightmare. We will never willingly lay eyes on her again.

    This thing who is technically my DIL is not the first narcissist I’ve encountered but she’s been the most destructive and it took awhile for my support team to catch on but when they did they understood. Yes, they’re on a spectrum but they present so differently from one person to the next. Different faces, with different personalities so it can take some people along time to realize what they are dealing with.

    1. D.
      Those who know you, though, will in time be able to see who the real culprit is. That doesn’t mean she’ll still do damage to the family. People like her chose their “victim” and pursue the damage relentlessly. I know this – my X still does this to me in any way he can. Thank goodness my daughter has finally caught on to his tactics. My son won’t speak to him. Hasn’t in a year.
      Sorry you’re going through this, that she entered your family.
      Keep posting. We here get it!

      1. Lucy, who knows how the family dynamics are functioning now that we’ve stepped away. It’s been over four years.

        My H, went through a health crisis awhile back and I asked him if we should contact our son. That suggestion alone triggered angst for the both of us. Our son had become very dismissive of us, we were given ultimatums to change based on mis perceived slights that his wife presented to him. Not once were we stupid enough to tell him what he was married to. He has to come to that realization himself. Whether it will be in our lifetime remains to be seen. And, he is the epitome of procrastination, so if he wanted to get out of the marriage I doubt he’d put in the work to make it happen.

        “Those who know you, though, will in time be able to see who the real culprit is.”
        He tossed away two parents and a sister, an aunt and uncle, a cousin, and who knows who else.

        I don’t think the people our son surrounds himself with and even his own adult daughter would recognize what she is. The daughter in law is vigilantly covert and patient. We have no contact with our adult granddaughter because the
        damage kept extending itself. We believe there is a lot of collateral damage but will they look at the real culprit? The DIL uses our son as the conduit so she looks benign. He has a brain too so he isn’t entirely without fault. But it depends how invested his friends and other family members are emotionally. That is, to research answers like I have.

        Thank you Lucy for your comment.

        1. D.
          I meant that she won’t still do damage to the family, which I suspect she will. She’s got that evil intent, and from what you’ve stated has done much damage to the family, your side anyway, pushing away the parents, aunts and uncle, cousin, infecting the granddaughter. That’s a lot of people.
          If your son ever does leave her, that will be an ordeal. He will see her worst. I suspect he is uneasy with the outcomes of the alienation of his family. But he hasn’t yet done anything about it. CD of his wife’s type are so overbearing, I guess he’s just done whatever she wants to appease her. That’s too bad.
          Sorry this has all happened to you. It’s hard to watch. And it’s hard staying in it with all the disorder.
          I’m glad I was able to step away from my X, but a son or daughter would be terribly difficult to step away, but you got to do what you have to do to get peace. Life is too short to deal with all the ugly.

          1. Lucy, we had to save ourselves and step away. If we had met his ultimatums it would have been something else the next time. His wife has created falsehoods to encourage him to distance himself and I’d bet DIL has planted negative perceptions about our son to her own family in the event she leaves, this way she garners sympathy and she will appear justified.
            Thankfully we have friends and other family who have chosen to be in our lives, who value us, and us them. We never talk about this anymore. When the decision is made to estrange it can be terrifying to begin with but then the numbness wears off, smiles and then laughter happen. The grieving is over. He knows where we are, we haven’t changed.

    2. The lying and tearing down the “target” behind their backs is one of the things I find most hurtful. When you meet someone for the first time and they look at you like you have two heads. I didn’t get it for a long time, I didn’t know what I was dealing with – and thats where the most harm comes in. I blamed myself. Also, as in the case of family members who tear the family apart for their own selfish purposes by their deceptions, its so hurtful-some are so good at it they never seem to get discovered. Sorry for you and anyone else who has dealt or is continuing to deal with this stuff.

      1. kat,

        I hope you’re not still blaming yourself.
        My X did this to me, spread a lie about myself and my grandson to my daughter and she then repeated it to the other grandma. I had to explain to her numerous times how he lied. He got some thrill from that. It’s so sick. He will carry his hatefulness towards me till the day I die, I’m sure of it. And all because I left him for his disgusting behaviors. He’s lied to so many people about so much other stuff to hide his behaviors and try to save him reputation. I don’t care about what others think, but I do care about my daughter knowing the truth.

        1. Lucy,
          I think they do it to manage their image-like you said, to hide his behavior and save his reputation. Another reason I believe is that they like to use empathy or sympathy to manipulate others. My ex used to go around telling others that our son wasn’t his-I wasn’t aware of it because nobody said anything of course. I didn’t learn that until years later when we were no longer together and his brother told me. Then when we were apart his brother told me he used to tell people me and our two children died in a fiery car crash. I’m sure he got a lot of mileage out of that. Its insanity.

          1. kat,
            That is crazy. Those lies they tell. Eventually many catch on. But the narc really doesn’t care about that either, because they lack empathy, love, normal emotions.

          2. I think they also do it to divide people and isolate their target.

            My narc neighbor has been trying to do this to me. Fortunately, most of the neighbors know both of us pretty well. Him as an aggressive, volatile, always complaining and mansplainer. Me, likely as someone who is quiet and polite. I mind my own business and love working in the garden.

            I’ve noticed lately that more and more people are avoiding him. He vandalized my car and stole a chair out of my yard. He likely bragged about it and said I deserved it!

            It’s amazing how they treat you like garbage, violate your rights and boundaries, then have the nerve to hate you for saying no or leaving them!

      2. Kat, I remember the exact moment when I knew what DIL was doing.

        I was meeting the DILs brother for the very first time, he would not look at me when I introduced myself. It was awkward and so I thought he was awkward, that is until he met my H and he was all smiles and warm. I knew then the DIL was trying to divide and conquer and our daughter and my H were having none of it. This started happening with more frequency with people who would believe whatever she was saying. This is when my H and daughter really stood back and watched her. DIL eventually turned on my H but she had tried unsuccessfully to “hang out” with our daughter. My daughter would agree but never make the first move and I’m convinced DIL needs that invitation rather than the other way around. It terrified me to think my daughter would be in her company alone but it never happened before the estrangement. It is such an unbelievable game!

        The DIL is the step mother to our granddaughter who put DIL on a pedestal and so we were sunk. I’m thinking the pedestal is rather wobbly by now. The division between father and daughter was just starting when the estrangement happened, and since her father walks on water I’m thinking the rose coloured glasses were starting to slip. We are not talking about young adults by the way. We are retired and the people I’m talking about are in their 50s,40s and 30s. In all the years before this DIL there were no problems. We couldn’t be any less demanding than what we were and yet she still managed to get him to find fault with us.

        We are convinced that I became the target because I had said no with a very reasonable explanation about a request she had made and she refused to it let go. It was a request to have out of town guests stay in our home when I had no room. I truly believe the word “no” to her is a challenge she must win at all costs. It simply does not matter who gets in the way.

        1. D,
          I have a SIL who targets me as well, she has three of my brothers wrapped around her finger. Somehow I became the bad guy, I have my theories of why but they use what they can as you know. I have basically had to write off most of my family due to her influence, then there is my daughter who is also a narc. When I left my ex I swore I would never deal with another narc if I could help it – well I couldn’t help it so I choose not to go around my family except one and my daughter I try to have a relationship with just to listen to whats going on with my grandkids and in her life-I can’t talk to her about anything but herself – or I’ll be sorry. Shes out of state so it works. We don’t deserve any of this, but somehow we as the ones who get subjected to them and have to come to some kind of peace that it is all happening. I’m still working on that. Its amazing how much damage they do.

          1. kat,
            Wish I had a magic wand to fix families. It feels like it will always be messed up. We just have to figure out the best way to find peace ourselves, take care of ourselves, not become their lifelong victim.

        2. The account of your DIL’s tactics was incredible and so sad. She sounds like a classic, but covert, sociopath. What’s amazing to me is how many folks get caught up in the manipulation, believe the lies, and fall for the smear campaign. Stepping away to save yourselves is the only way when you have someone like this in your family. We had to do this in my family, too. Many well-meaning people didn’t understand this and kept telling us to forgive and reach out to try again. They have no concept of how a person like this can damage and even try to kill your soul and it’s as bad as someone who tries to kill the body.

          1. Amen.

            This describes my daughter, but she sometimes likes to use me – parade me out – as a normalizer. I’m not a person, just a pawn to be used when useful and how she she’s fit. Depending on the audience, I’m an abusive tyrant or who knows what else, or a model parent that the other person can look upon with favor or perhaps envy.

            I realized when she was in middle school she made up stories about me to her counselors. She also did it with her friends. The ones that hadn’t ever met me before were cold and would avoid me. The ones that did come around, liked me.

            In he senior year at college, She would pretend to dote on me in public, but privately be abusive. Image management.
            It’s terrifying and confusing and not something easily explained to people ( I don’t). I avoid the topic or just say she’s doing well and change the topic.

  3. “And some establish their relationships with you for the primary purpose of exploitation of some type.”

    My ex husband criticized my choosing of friends. He then lectured me that you choose friends for what they can do for you and the people I choose are worthless. I understood then that he chose his wife the same way.

    1. Charlie,
      That statement there makes me want to cry. It’s so mean to use a person. I know your heart sank. But boy did he out himself with that statement.
      I don’t think I was used in my marriage at the beginning, but in time I most certainly was. I was so useful to him. Even up to the end, he wanted to stay married. For love and companionship? Heck no. For my usefulness and all I’d done for him.
      Relationships now I am so wary, looking for red flags. I see them but don’t always understand them, till they begin fitting together. I need to work on acting on them quickly so I don’t waste time and energy on these people. It’s a constant challenge to me.

  4. D.
    You’ve come out on the other side, and Dr. Simon’s site here allows us to help others in similar situations. Like we all say, no one else really understands the complexity and damage these people do to lives.

  5. Healing,
    In describing your daughter it sounds as if a person may be born with certain personality traits. She started this at such a young age.
    I’d do as you do, when someone asks, saying she’s doing well. It is so frustrating trying to explain to someone what a CD person does. If someone has not lived it, they just don’t understand. And we certainly don’t want their bad advice. I don’t think most counselors fully understand these people and therefore they don’t good advice as well.
    Again I thank you for all your input on this site. And Dr. Simon for his informative helpful writings.
    It is good to see our group come out on the other side.

    1. Lucy,

      Thank you for your support. It is challenging, as you well know.

      I do wonder how much is innate and how much is environment. Her dad is an alcoholic sociopath, so I’m sure that is a factor.

      I had a counselor that I saw years ago and new my history, after reading an email she sent me, told me she will take, take, take until there is nothing left, then move on to someone else. He thought she may be bipolar II.

      As I come to terms with things, I’m hoping my posts will help someone else struggling to recognize, or come to terms, themselves. I know other folks posts have done that for me.

      It is good to see our group come out on the other side. I would add that it’s great the way we support one another and help each other when we get stuck or confused.

      Thanks again, Lucy.

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