7 Types of Narcissism

Covert, grandiose, and other types of narcissistic personality disorder

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Narcissism is what many refer to as being self-centered. Overt narcissism—defined by a sense of entitlement and focus on things like power and wealth—is the most classic type. Other types of narcissism include covert, antagonistic, communal, malignant, maladaptive, and adaptive.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition characterized by self-importance, a need for praise, and other traits that negatively impact one's relationships, self-image, and daily life. Someone with NPD can have any of the types of narcissism.

It's also possible to have narcissistic tendencies and not the disorder. Someone may come across as "unlikeable" at times, but can function in their lives and may even be a high achiever.

This article goes over narcissistic personality traits and the different types of narcissism. It also discusses how narcissistic personality disorder can be managed.

A man in a suit and tie looks admiringly at himself in a hotel room mirror.
Antonio Saba/Getty Images.

Antonio Saba/Getty Images

Narcissistic Personality Traits vs. Disorder

Having narcissistic traits doesn't necessarily mean you have narcissistic personality disorder. The difference largely comes down to how present and impactful narcissism is in one's daily life.

NPD is one of the cluster B personality disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). These are associated with dramatic, emotional, irrational, and erratic behavior.

To be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, a person's narcissistic traits must impair functioning at work and in school, as well as negatively impact self-esteem, identity, and the ability to have healthy relationships—whether they are apparent to others or not.

The behaviors and attitudes are always there and there is no motivation to change them. In fact, someone with BPD may not even recognize they are problematic.

In contrast, someone who has narcissistic traits but not the disorder may occasionally exhibit these behaviors and attitudes without much consequence. They are also likely to be more aware of their tendencies and open to changing them.

Person With Narcissistic Tendencies
  • Exhibits one or a few traits (e.g., believes other should admire them)

  • Behaviors come and go, or are only present in some situations (e.g., only at work or school)

  • Life and relationships not effected in a major, negative way; traits may even give an advantage (e.g., help them succeed at work)

  • May start to show traits in childhood and teen years

  • Can recognize traits as negative and be open to changing them

  • Has/develops self-awareness and insight

  • Can be empathetic but may choose not to be at times

Person With Narcissist Personality Disorder
  • Traits are fundamental to their personality

  • Behaviors are constant across all situations

  • Traits always significantly impair their life, making it impossible for them to have healthy relationships

  • Is age 18 or older (the threshold for diagnosis)

  • Does not see traits as negative and is less likely to be open and willing to work on changing them

  • Often lacks self-awareness and insight

  • Has little to no ability to empathize; may "weaponizes" empathy and can even be sadistic

Researchers estimate that only up to 5% of the population meets the criteria for NPD.

What causes someone to develop NPD is not entirely understood, but it’s thought to be related to a combination of factors like childhood trauma, genetics, and/or a person's living environment and upbringing.

4 Core Elements of Narcissism

The four key signs of narcissism are grandiosity, extreme self-focus, an inflated sense of self-worth, and a strong need for praise and recognition.

A person with NPD will often have all of these signs to a great extent, all the time. Those with tendencies, but not the disorder, may display one or two, but to a lesser degree and only at certain times.

Grandiose Feelings

A narcissistic person may exhibit grandiosity or a sense of superiority. They may believe that they're entitled to special favors, praise, or admiration from others.

They can sometimes come off as condescending or arrogant.

They may also be overly focused on impressing other people, whether through outward displays of wealth, status, intelligence, or beauty.

Extreme Self-Focus

While many people are self-absorbed to an extent, a narcissist will focus almost exclusively on themselves and their own personal gain. They may talk about themselves constantly or have a hard time feeling empathy for others.

This can lead to challenges with intimacy and relationships because interactions are only superficial in nature. The person may even exploit others to get what they want.

Inflated Sense of Self-Worth

Narcissistic people may expect special treatment for no reason at all.

They might brag about or exaggerate their accomplishments and see themselves as being uniquely gifted and deserving.

Strong Need for Praise and Recognition

People with narcissism usually struggle with their self-esteem and sense of identity, though their external image may not convey that.

They often rely on others to maintain a positive view of themselves, which leads to an overwhelming longing for praise and recognition.

Many people with narcissistic traits need constant external ego-stroking. They may feel obsessively jealous of someone else’s positive traits or accomplishments.

The 7 Types of Narcissism

NPD is the only official diagnosis related to narcissism in the DSM-5. However, many mental health therapists who have worked with patients with NPD, as well as researchers who study personality disorders, have identified five possible narcissistic personality disorder types.

They include overt narcissism, covert narcissism, antagonistic narcissism, communal narcissism, and malignant narcissism.

Some experts also distinguish between adaptive and maladaptive narcissism, the potential sixth and seventh types. However, people with narcissistic traits, by definition, do not have narcissism that is maladaptive—that is more the key to diagnosing NPD. For someone with NPD, narcissism impairs their life in a significant way and would never be considered "adaptive."

You can think of adaptive narcissism as being like the typical (and developmentally normal) "me first," "the world revolves around me," centeredness that children and teenagers show as they're growing up. That said, early signs of narcissism in kids may lead to a diagnosis of NPD later in life (the disorder is not diagnosed in people younger than age 18).

Overt Narcissism

Overt narcissism, or agentic narcissism, is the “classic” and most obvious form of NPD.

Someone with overt narcissism is excessively preoccupied with how others see them. They're often overly focused on status, wealth, flattery, and power due to their grandiosity and sense of entitlement.

Many overt narcissists are high-achieving and deeply sensitive to criticism, no matter how slight.

Covert Narcissism

Covert narcissism, also known as closet narcissism or vulnerable narcissism, is not as obvious as overt narcissism.

Like other people with NPD, someone with covert narcissism has an inflated sense of self-importance and craves admiration from others. However, someone living with covert narcissism may display more subtle and passive negative behaviors.

For example, rather than bragging about themselves or demanding respect, they may engage in blaming, shaming, manipulation, or emotional neglect to get what they want and keep the focus on themselves. They also may see themselves as a victim.

Antagonistic Narcissism

Antagonistic narcissism is defined by a sense of competitiveness, arrogance, and rivalry. While all people with narcissistic traits can be overly concerned with how they appear to others, antagonistic narcissists are particularly concerned with coming out “on top."

Someone with antagonistic narcissism may try to exploit others to get ahead. They may put others down or start arguments in an attempt to gain the upper hand or appear dominant.

Communal Narcissism

Like someone living with covert narcissism, someone with communal narcissism may not appear to be ego-driven at all.

At first, they can come across as selfless or even as a martyr. However, their internal motivation is to earn praise and admiration, not help others.

To that end, people with communal narcissism place themselves at the forefront of social causes or communities, usually as the leader or the face of a movement. People with communal narcissism see themselves as more empathetic, caring, or selfless than others and often display moral outrage.

Malignant Narcissism

Malignant narcissism is often seen as the most severe or potentially abusive form of NPD.

Someone with malignant narcissism has the same egocentric self-absorption and sense of superiority as people with other narcissistic behaviors, but they also have traits associated with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), such as aggression, paranoia, and a lack of empathy.

They may even have a sadistic streak.

Narcissistic Traits and Violent Crime

Narcissistic traits may be associated with a higher likelihood of violent crime. In one study, over 21% of inmates in a single prison met the diagnostic criteria for NPD.

Adaptive Narcissism vs. Maladaptive Narcissism

It’s important to recognize that not all people with NPD will look, act, or behave the same way. 

For example, one person with NPD could be a well-dressed, charming overachiever who cultivates a certain image to impress others. 

Another person with NPD could be an underachiever who sets low expectations for themselves because of a sense of entitlement. 

Some researchers refer to narcissistic traits like a sense of authority and a drive to become self-sufficient as adaptive narcissism. These traits can actually help a person succeed in certain areas of life, such as their career, education, or finances. 

On the other hand, narcissistic traits like being exploitative, condescending, and aggressive are called maladaptive narcissism because they negatively affect the person who shows them and the people that they interact with.

Do Narcissists Gaslight?

Anyone can use gaslighting—making someone doubt their reality—to manipulate others, so it's not a sure sign of narcissism. However, gaslighting is often associated with a narcissist personality. For example, a person with NPD may say something hurtful to a partner and then say, “I never said that,” or “You’re overreacting,” when confronted about it.

How Are NPD Types Diagnosed?

People with NPD do not always seek mental health evaluation and treatment. Some people do not recognize their negative traits and behaviors, while others might feel that they would be criticized or judged in therapy.

Sometimes, a person’s loved ones notice their behaviors before they do.

To be diagnosed with NPD, a person must show narcissistic traits in unhealthy (pathological) ways that interfere with their daily functioning and how they relate to other people.

However, narcissism exists on a spectrum and there are different levels of narcissistic behavior. Some people show narcissistic behaviors but are not diagnosed with NPD. 

Diagnostic tools such as surveys and asking questions about a person’s life, identity, past, and relationships are usually part of screening for NPD.

A psychotherapist will use the diagnostic criteria for NPD in the DSM-5 as laid out by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to diagnose someone with NPD.

According to the DSM-5, a person with NPD must:

  • Have chronic, long-term impairments in social and personal functioning due to their narcissistic traits.
  • Display pathological personality traits that affect their relationships and well-being

To be diagnosed with NPD, a person’s behaviors cannot be attributed to their developmental stage (e.g., adolescence) or other challenges they are facing with their mental or physical health (e.g., substance abuse).

What If It’s Not NPD?

Personality disorders are complex mental health conditions. A person who shows traits of NPD may have another cluster B personality disorder, such as HPD. 

They could also have a mood disorder, such as bipolar disorder. That’s why it is important to be diagnosed with NPD by a licensed mental health professional.

How Types of Narcissism Are Treated

People who have narcissistic traits but not NPD might be more aware of the negative effects of their behavior and be open to working on them.

Treatment for NPD can be more difficult, as a person with the disorder often does not recognize their behavior as being problematic and may not be motivated—or willing—to change.

If a person with NPD is open to it, taking part in psychotherapy can be beneficial. Talk therapy can help them improve their relationships, build self-esteem, learn to set more realistic goals and expectations, and work through past traumas. 

Psychotherapy can help people with NPD in several areas, such as:

  • Developing a sense of self that does not rely so much on getting outside recognition
  • Setting realistic goals 
  • Dealing with and healing from past traumas
  • Improving relationships with partners, friends, colleagues, and relatives
  • Developing a greater sense of empathy for others


Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) mental health condition that causes someone to exhibit traits like grandiosity, self-absorption, and an excessive need for praise and admiration. People can have narcissistic traits without having NPD. 

While NPD is the only official diagnosis related to narcissistic traits, researchers have identified several subtypes of NPD, such as overt narcissism, covert narcissism, antagonistic narcissism, communal narcissism, and malignant narcissism. 

People with NPD and their loved ones can benefit from psychotherapy, including family counselingsupport groups, and couples counseling.

Whether you think that you have NPD, or that your partner or loved one has narcissistic traits, it’s important to get help. It’s possible to improve relationships, build self-esteem, and set more attainable, realistic goals.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Caligor E, Levy KN, Yeomans FE. Narcissistic personality disorder: diagnostic and clinical challengesAJP. 2015;172(5):415-422. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2014.14060723

  2. Luo YLL, Cai H, Song H. A behavioral genetic study of intrapersonal and interpersonal dimensions of narcissism. PLoS One. 2014;9(4):e93403. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0093403

  3. American Psychiatric Association. DSM-IV and DSM-V criteria for personality disorders.

  4. McCullough ME, Emmons RA, Kilpatrick SD, Mooney CN. Narcissists as "victims:" The role of narcissism in the perception of transgressionsPers Soc Psychol Bull. 2003;29(7):885-893. doi:10.1177/0146167203029007007

  5. Cowan N, Adams EJ, Bhangal S, et al. Foundations of Arrogance: A Broad Survey and Framework for ResearchRev Gen Psychol. 2019;23(4):425-443. doi:10.1177/1089268019877138

  6. Flórez G, Ferrer V, García LS, Crespo MR, Pérez M, Saiz PA. Personality disorders, addictions and psychopathy as predictors of criminal behaviour in a prison sample. Rev Esp Sanid Penit. 2019;21(2):62-79.

  7. Cai H, Luo YLL. Distinguishing between adaptive and maladaptive narcissism. In: Hermann AD, Brunell AB, Foster JD, eds. Handbook of Trait Narcissism: Key Advances, Research Methods, and Controversies. Springer International Publishing; 2018:97-104. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-92171-6_10

By Laura Dorwart
Laura Dorwart is a health journalist with particular interests in mental health, pregnancy-related conditions, and disability rights. She has published work in VICE, SELF, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Week, HuffPost, BuzzFeed Reader, Catapult, Pacific Standard, Health.com, Insider, Forbes.com, TalkPoverty, and many other outlets.