The term “narcissist” gets thrown around pretty often and haphazardly to describe actions that reflect someone’s self-interest. But at its core, narcissism goes beyond your friend monopolizing the dinner conversation last weekend to talk about her recent hot fling or awful boss. Rather, it’s a straight-up personality disorder that causes someone to have an inflated sense of self-importance. While narcissists are often charming at first (or second or third) blush, it’s best to avoid dating them or befriending or otherwise inviting them into your life for obvious reasons. But—since the disorder isn’t one-size-fits-all and there are several different types of narcissists, steering clear is often easier said than done.
“Many times, people can’t believe a person is that self-centered and lacking in empathy,” says therapist Lesli Doares, LMFT. “They are given the benefit of the doubt because they can act in ways that seem generous, but it’s only a ploy to keep someone connected to them or to get something specific in return.” It’s easy to latch on to those moments as “proof” that the narcissist actually cared, she explains—but this false earnestness doesn’t last.
Add up all this confusion, and it’s easy to see how simple unknowingly letting a narcissist into your life can be—which is precisely why it’s so important to know about the different types of narcissists, and their defining characteristics.
Learn about the 6 types of narcissists below—and which you should absolutely avoid.
1. The toxic narcissist
There’s a range of toxic narcissism, and none of it is good. A toxic narcissist “continually causes drama in others’ lives at the very least and causes pain and destruction at the very worst,” says clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD. So, if you happen to have a friend who constantly demands all of your time and attention—and doesn’t respond well when you don’t meet those demands—you may be dealing with a toxic narcissist. Likewise, if someone in your life has caused more extreme issues, like gotten you fired from your job, physically abused you, or led to the end of a relationship, they may be a toxic narcissist as well.
2. The psychopathic narcissist
A psychopath is an unstable, aggressive person, and these traits also show up in the psychopathic narcissist. A psychopathic narcissist, which is a type of toxic narcissist, will often be violent and show no remorse for their behavior. “Serial killers largely make up this type of narcissist,” Dr. Mayer says.
3. The closet narcissist
This one can be trickier to spot than other types of narcissists because the person isn’t always obvious about their disorder. “A closet narcissist is one who doesn’t inflict their personality upon others or society but firmly believes in the characteristics of narcissism,” says Dr. Mayer. That can mean a host of things, including feeling entitled, constantly needing other people to admire them, being preoccupied with success, being jealous of other people, and lacking empathy for others.
“They’re a bit more codependent,” says psychotherapist Alisa Ruby Bash, PsyD, LMFT. “They often try to pretend that they’re really selfless, but like to associate themselves with someone that they admire and ride their coattails.”
4. The exhibitionist narcissist
The exhibitionist narcissist is on the opposite end of the narcissism spectrum from the closet narcissist. “This is the narcissist who lets everyone around them know that they are narcissistic,” says Dr. Mayer, adding that this person takes advantage of other people and is often haughty and arrogant. They’re also blatant about their self-centered behavior. “They need to be in the spotlight and get uncomfortable when they’re not,” Dr. Bash says.
5. The bullying narcissist
This person combines two terrible traits: bullying and self-absorption. Bullying narcissists build themselves up by trashing other people, Dr. Mayer says. They’re often fixated on winning and will mock or threaten others to get their way. They ultimately get joy from making other people feel bad, small, or unworthy. This is different from a “regular” bully who tends to put people down for social gain, where a bullying narcissist does it for personal motivation.
6. The seducer narcissist
This is a particularly tricky type of narcissist: The seducer will “make you feel great about yourself just to ‘win’ you over as a sexual or love conquest,” Dr. Mayer says. They will often seem to admire or fawn over you, only to write you off once they no longer have a use for you. Think: Regina George.
Ultimately, it’s not great to have any kind of narcissist in your life if you can help it, Doares says. But since the toxic narcissist is actually dangerous to be around, this is the one to avoid at all costs. “They can become abusive,” Dr. Bash says. “Other kinds of narcissists aren’t going to go out of their way to hurt somebody—they’re just obsessed with themselves. But a toxic narcissist may actually hurt someone.”
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