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