The Two Types of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter who was recognized primarily for his beauty. One day, Narcissus came upon his reflection in a river and fell in love with the attractive image staring back at him. Distraught at the belief that he would not be able to obtain the object of his desire, he stared at his reflection until he eventually died. Although this was several thousands of years ago, the legend of Narcissus still lives on and is more prevalent than ever in today’s society, with the psychological and behavioral manifestations of Narcissus being referred to instead as narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder.

Narcissistic personality disorder, in general, refers to traits central to that of a sense of entitlement, lack of empathy, an exaggerated sense of self-worth, an unrealistically high self-esteem and an expectation that others will comply with and validate their self-worth. However, while it is fairly simple for us to spot a “narcissist” and thereafter develop an internal narrative of the mindsets and motives of a person with narcissism, we can often be quite wrong.

What a lot of people don’t know is that there are actually two types of narcissism in narcissistic personality disorder, namely grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. Vulnerable narcissism is primarily associated with dysfunction due to a diminished self-esteem causing the individual to engage in self-idolizing fantasies, yet often swinging back and forth between feelings of superiority and shame. These expressions are driven by a weakened self-image and are covertly rather than overtly exhibited, as opposed to grandiose narcissism.

Grandiose narcissism is the most easily recognized form of narcissism, as it comprises of self-enhancing behaviors that are overtly publicized. Grandiose narcissists are more likely to report self-liking, self-competence and self-congruency as well as a denial of weakness, leading them to believe they are invincible. Psychological characteristics of narcissism appear to stem from maintaining an unrealistic positive self-image in order to uphold a high self-esteem and independent self-construal.

Let’s take a look at some of the main differences between these two types of narcissism:

Grandiose Narcissism

1. Externalize issues.
2. High self-esteem/self-worth.
3. Self-liking.
4. Independent self-construal.
5. Denial of weaknesses.
6. Fantasies about superiority, beauty and perfection.
7. Aggressive, manipulative, exploitative and antisocial behavior.
8. Behaviors are overtly exhibited.

Vulnerable Narcissism

1. Internalize issues.
2. Low self-esteem/self-worth.
3. Self-criticism.
4. Sensitive to rejection and criticism.
5. Hypersensitivity and depressed effect.
6. Feel shame/embarrassment at need for perfection.
7. Social avoidance/withdrawal due to fear of rejection.
8. Behaviors are covertly exhibited.

While narcissism can look different from individual to individual, it may be useful to keep these characteristics in mind. Whether you are the person with narcissism yourself or the person struggling is someone you know, it is important to keep in mind that being a “narcissist” does not necessarily define you as a “bad” person. This is a relatively common personality trait and personality disorder, with help available in differing forms of therapy. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help.

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Getty Images photo via AOosthuizen

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