If you have ever met someone with a narcissistic personality, it can make you keenly aware of anyone else who shows those characteristics.  But what is a narcissist, really?  How do you know what to look for and when it may be time to cut any attachments with them?


Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health/personality disorder.  It is characterized by an individual having a long-term pattern of exaggerated feelings of self-importance, and an excessive need for admiration.   According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a person must exhibit at least five of the following characteristics, which are usually present by early adulthood.

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance
  • Exploitation of others: Narcissists don’t mind using people for what they can get and feel no remorse.  They are known to borrow money or other valuable things with promises to repay, but never follow through.  This poor behavior often results in the person with narcissistic personality disorder having troubled relationships.
  • A sense of entitlement: Regardless of whether he/she has earned respect or honor, a narcissist believes that he/she should have it.  They often look down on others and view themselves as superior.
  • Lack of empathy: No matter how much pain or embarrassment a narcissist causes, it is unlikely that he/she will show any compassion for the person who was hurt.  Rather, they relish in the discomfort of others and use those situations to manipulate vulnerable people.
  • Preoccupation with fantasies of power, brilliance, beauty, ideal love, or unlimited success: These fantasies are more than a teenage daydream.  A person with narcissistic personality disorder often has delusions that he or she possesses some great quality that others cannot obtain or even begin to understand.  They may fantasize about a famous person being secretly in love with them.  When someone calls the narcissist’s attention to the fact that these feelings are a fantasy only, they become very offended and play the victim.
  • The belief that only people who have the same superior traits can understand them.
  • Haughty or arrogant attitudes or behaviors: These behaviors are much more than someone acting in a snobby manner.  A narcissist truly believes that he/she is better than others and often take offense when others try to communicate with them “as an equal.”

Types of Narcissists

While there are several characteristics of narcissism that may be seen in any of the types of narcissistic personalities, narcissists are generally labeled by the most common characteristic they display.

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The Classic Narcissist

Classic narcissists tend to thrive on the admiration and praise of others.  They generally believe they are more special or more valuable than other people and crave being the center of attention.  They don’t mind using other people for anything that fits into their goal or agenda and become offended easily if others try to deny them anything they think they deserve.

The Seductive Narcissist

The Vulnerable Narcissist

Make no mistake.  The vulnerable narcissist is not vulnerable.  They are, however, very good at playing the vulnerable victim act.  A vulnerable narcissist seeks attention by trying to get pity from others.

They are very manipulative.  Their behavior is often so subtle that it can be difficult to spot the warning signs.  The vulnerable narcissist tends to use their ability to manipulate the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors of others to help fuel their own ego trip.  If a person sees through this narcissist’s behavior, he or she will likely act hurt or offended and will then move on to another, unsuspecting target.

The Covert Narcissist

When you think of a covert narcissist, think of a covert or “secret” military operation.  It is planned, calculated, and generally comes as a surprise.  This is exactly how a covert narcissist acts. Covert narcissists often use guilt-tripping and emotional manipulation to get what they want.  They usually belittle their partners and deprive them of physical or emotional needs until they get what they want.  When the covert narcissist does get what he wants, he will then show affection or buy gifts to gain more control over his partner.

They are very good at masking manipulative behavior so that it is not detected by others.  They come across as charming and use that charm to seduce and manipulate others.

The Grandiose Narcissist

The narcissist with a grandiose personality tends to see himself as more influential and important than anyone else.  People with this personality may exaggerate their importance and brag about accomplishments to elicit your admiration or envy.  A grandiose narcissist generally believes that they are destined to do great things.  This type of narcissist is very driven and charismatic, often drawing the attention of others, which is what feeds their all-about-me personality.

The charisma with which a grandiose narcissist pursues goals may leave others feeling the need to compete for attention.  However, this is not recommended.  Any time a grandiose narcissist is challenged, they will likely increase efforts to be the most superior.

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The Malignant Narcissist

People who are defined as malignant narcissists are incapable of showing any empathy or compassion toward others.  They are often called sociopaths or psychopaths.  They are very manipulative and often exploit friends, peers, and family members for personal and/or professional gain.  Malignant narcissists are very controlling of the people in their lives and put forth strong efforts to isolate their victim or target.

Malignant narcissists rarely feel guilt or remorse no matter how much pain they cause for others.  On the contrary, they are usually driven by the feeling of complete control and may enjoy causing pain for others.  Watching people struggle and feel oppressed gives them an opportunity to play the hero and then set a victim up to be hurt again.

The Vindictive Narcissist

Vindictive may very well be an understatement.  If you challenge a person who is a vindictive narcissist, they will do everything they can to destroy you.  A vindictive narcissist may gossip about you to your friends and try to break up friendships.  They love to play the victim to bosses and try to get their targets fired.  If you were married to someone who is a vindictive narcissist, don’t be surprised if they try to turn your children against you.

Unfortunately, vindictive narcissists are very good at hiding their true nature and intentions from others.  Therefore, if you suspect that there is a vindictive narcissist in your life, try to distance yourself as soon as possible.  Further, protecting yourself legally may be the only recourse you have when dealing with a vindictive narcissist.  Save emails, texts, and other communications that can prove the narcissist is harassing you or trying to harm you.  While this may seem a bit extreme to some, once the damage is done by a vindictive narcissist, it is often difficult to undo it.  Preparing and protecting yourself is important.