In my last blog I shared about a study I recently read that had concluded that there are three distinct subtypes of narcissism – Grandiose/Malignant Narcissism, Fragile Narcissism and High Functioning/Exhibitionistic Narcissism. This resonated for me and the division seems to provide a better framework to understand how some narcissistically disordered individuals hide, some resort to violence and others are able to hold down political office or significant positions of power.
While these categorizations should remain a loose framework with their overlap acknowledged as well; they can assist us in recognizing patterns of behavior for those that cross our path. Ultimately, my goal is to assist you in keeping yourself safe or at the least, emotionally buffered from the abuse. As one who assists those who have been caught in an abusive cycle I hope these frameworks become a roadmap to understand the narcissist's behavioral patterns and the importance of extricating yourself from the cycle of abuse.
I will use the remainder of today’s blog to share the studies distinctions between the three sub- categories.
The Grandiose/Malignant subtype. Grandiosity in this subtype differs from the previous grandiose category in that their ostentation is not something in which they feel a need to defend and appears to be an essential component to their narcissistic behavior. Where there have been schools that believed grandiosity is utilized as a cover up of deep seeded inadequacy, individuals with this sub-type tend not to be prone to negative affect states beyond that of anger. This style is highly aggressive and seethes with anger or rage. They resort to interpersonal manipulations, hold an exaggerated sense of self-importance and are blamers that have little insight into their own behaviors. They manifest similar traits to those with antisocial personality disorder and paranoid personality disorder; and usually engage in substance abuse. They resort to externalizing behaviors that include instigating fights or being the perpetrator in relationships. It is easy to see why there is so much confusion about what separates them from the sociopath or psychopath.
Similar to vulnerable subtypes is Fragile Narcissism. Grandiosity acts as an aid to avert feelings of inadequacy, smallness, loneliness and anxiety. Grandiose displays usually emerge when they are feeling under threat and when this defense is operating, effectively feel important and privileged. However, this self-representation isn’t always effective and when it fails a powerful current of negative affect floods them with feelings of anxiety and it can be accompanied by rage. Fragile narcissists share features with borderline personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder and dependent personality disorder. Compared with the other narcissism subtypes this subtype have difficulty in interpersonal relationships and work settings.
The third subtype is High functioning/exhibitionistic narcissism. This subtype is not often covered in research literature, but is seen in the clinical culture. This sub-type reflects the typical characteristics of grandiosity and entitlement; but presents with an affable mask. They are articulate, energetic, and interpersonally comfortable with those around them. They tend to show surprisingly good adaptive functioning relative to the other subtypes, and their narcissism motivates them to succeed. As expected people in this subtype are not free from pathology, yet are achievement oriented and do reasonably well in their lives. This subtype can be found in positions of great power both politically and corporately.
Again, it’s important to echo the literature’s warning of thinking narcissistic criteria is fixed. What can be observed is the commonality in presentation of baseline behaviors such as grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of self-reflection or empathetic engagement; with diversity of other secondary behaviors manifesting. Narcissism ranges are highly complex and nuanced leading to difficulty of understanding when one should hold out hope for change and when one should cut their loses and move on.