If you have a toxic or abusive parent, they likely have narcissistic behaviors or tendencies. Learning more about the different types of narcissism can help you understand what you may be experiencing so you can shield yourself from further toxicity and find ways to heal.
I previously covered signs of a narcissistic parent and common abuse tactics by narcissistic parents.
Most narcissists have shared behaviors, as covered in my prior posts. However, there are some differences or variations in those behaviors that might cause them to fall under one (or more) of the types of narcissism.
What is Narcissism?
Narcissism is defined as self-involvement. So a narcissist is typically someone who’s very self-involved.
Narcissism is a personality trait that exists on a spectrum. Everyone is narcissistic to some degree. It’s just a matter of how severe it is.
According to Dr. Craig Malkin, the author of Rethinking Narcissism, a narcissistic person does not necessarily have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), nor are they inherently abusive. However, the more extreme one’s narcissism is, the more likely they are to be emotionally and physically abusive.
Dealing with a narcissistic parent can be confusing, frustrating, and crazy-making. Learning about their behavior and tactics can help you learn to deal with it and begin healing.
Please note that the types of narcissism mentioned in this post aren’t mutually exclusive. In other words, just because someone has one type doesn’t mean they can’t have another. It is possible for someone to display signs of more than one type of narcissism or fluctuate between types over periods of time.
The Three Main Types of Narcissism
According to Dr. Malkin, “All narcissists are addicted to feeling special. They just go about feeling special in different ways.” Based on his research, he identified three basic types of narcissism: overt, covert, and communal.
Overt narcissism is also known as grandiose, classic, agentic, or extraverted narcissism.
When most people talk about narcissists or Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), they are usually referring to overt narcissism.
This type of narcissism has been tested and validated through research, often in contrast to covert narcissism, which will be discussed next.
Overt narcissists tend to:
- Come across as exploitative and controlling
- Have an unrealistic sense of superiority
- Expect special treatment
- Overestimate their abilities and intelligence
- Assert their dominance over others
- Have an inflated sense of self-esteem
- Be angry or aggressive if someone disagrees with them or tries to set boundaries
- Have a constant need to be praised and admired to feed their false ego
Overt narcissists can come across as charming and outgoing. They may also be well-liked by the public, or at least people that don’t know about narcissists and their possible two faces.
Overt narcissistic parents likely has a charming facade to the outside world. But when in private with their children, they’re cold, demanding, and invalidating. These types of narcissistic parents often use their child as a tool to further their own goals and needs.
Because of how much they care about their image and reputation, overt narcissistic parents may:
- Brag about their child’s accomplishments as if it’s their own
- Take credit for something their child achieved
- Shame or belittle their child if they feel threatened by their child’s success
- Sabotage their child so their child cannot succeed and steal the spotlight
- Only show love to their child if it benefits them
- Withhold love from their child if their child doesn’t please or obey them
Covert narcissism is also known as vulnerable, closet, introverted, or hypersensitive narcissism. It is considered the opposite of overt narcissism.
According to Dr. Monica Vermani, a psychologist and the author of A Deeper Wellness, this is the most common type of narcissism.
Unlike their overt countertypes, covert narcissists are typically more withdrawn and introverted with an avoidant attachment style. Instead of demanding special treatment, they use more subtle or indirect ways to get it.
Covert narcissism’s most common and identifying trait is playing the victim. They tend to feel victimized and are quick to cry or act melodramatically for attention. They also tend to believe that their suffering is worse than anyone else’s.
Covert narcissists also tend to:
- Have low self-esteem and are very insecure
- Experience anxiety, depression, and paranoia
- Exhibit clinginess or become distant when others try to set boundaries
- Internalize criticism or take it more harshly than intended
- Get very defensive from perceived criticisms
- Crave praise and admiration so they can feel better about themselves
- Have emotional outbursts in the face of perceived criticisms
- Blame others for their lack of success
- Feel envious of others
- Be highly sensitive to body language, facial expressions, tones, and the reactions of others
Covert narcissistic parents frequently depend on their child for emotional support and expect their child to take care of them. This is known as parentification, a form of emotional abuse.
These types of narcissistic parents see their struggles as worse than their child’s, thus often one-upping their child’s struggles or invalidating their child’s feelings and experiences.
They are also often manipulative, using guilt trips and self-pitying dramas to control their child and get them to do what they want.
Communal narcissism is a type of overt narcissism. Narcissists with this type of narcissism believe that they are the most helpful, generous, and empathetic people.
Communal narcissists tend to:
- Value fairness
- See themselves as altruistic, empathetic, and generous
- Become easily outraged when witnessing inequality, unfairness, or injustice
- Believe their good deeds set them apart from other people
- Have a constant need to be admired and praised for their good deeds
- Announce and voice how much money they’ve given or how much they’ve helped others
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being generous and empathetic to others. However, communal narcissists help others so they themselves can feel special and superior.
And while they might perceive themselves as highly altruistic, their actions might not necessarily reflect that. Their acts of kindness are often shallow and only for show. And they have no issue mistreating anyone who doesn’t agree with their views.
Additionally, they often don’t extend that same “kindness” to the people close to them like their own child.
Communal narcissistic parents may:
- Devote too much time to helping others that they end up neglecting their child
- Criticize, invalidate, or dismiss their child’s needs and wants
- Think their child is selfish or shallow for having needs
- Insist their child sees them as generous and caring
- Put their child down while celebrating themselves for being good
These types of narcissistic parents may appear to be the most loving and helpful parents to the outside world. But they’re usually the opposite behind closed doors.
Other Types & Subtypes of Narcissism
These types and subtypes of narcissism are informally named and popularized by various mental health professionals.
Malignant narcissism is the most severe type of narcissism. People with this type of narcissism display antisocial traits on top of narcissistic traits.
This term was popularized by Dr. Sam Vaknin, the author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited.
Malignant narcissists tend to be hostile, paranoid, and sadistic. As compared to other types of narcissism, they are the most likely to break the law.
Malignant narcissists tend to:
- Display vindictive and malicious behavior
- Be aggressive when interacting with other
- Derive pleasure from inflicting pain on others
- Obsess and worry over perceived threats
- Dehumanize others
- Demonstrate impulsive or reckless behavior
Malignant narcissistic parents may be physically abusive on top of the other common narcissistic abuse tactics. Due to the severity of this type of narcissism, these parents can inflict extreme pain on their child and others.
Antagonistic narcissism, also known as competitive narcissism, is a subtype of overt narcissism that focuses on rivalry and competition. It is often seen as the opposite of communal narcissism.
Antagonistic narcissists are typically arrogant, disagreeable, argumentative, and extremely competitive. They tend to have a low level of trust in others, which creates a tendency for them to see people as rivals. It’s common for this type of narcissist to argue with others and treat most social interactions as a competition.
As parents, antagonistic narcissists may constantly compete with their child. Anything their child does, they can do better. And if their child gets something nice, they will feel envious, get something better for themself, or find a way to ruin it for the child.
These types of narcissistic parents feel threatened when their child succeeds or surpasses their abilities in some way. They may sabotage their child’s accomplishments, intentionally set them up for failure, or intimidate the child into giving up.
They may feel jealous of the child for getting attention or being taken care of. And they may feel jealous of their child’s youth, appearance, body, accomplishments, or even their relationship with other people, including their spouse – the child’s other parent.
Vindictive narcissists are extremely sensitive to rejections, disagreements, and perceived criticisms. They take these things very personally and can get immensely hurt by them. As a result, these types of narcissists may take “revenge” on the person they perceive as being responsible.
They may blackmail, act out in rage, make threats, or start smear campaigns to try to damage the person’s reputation. This type of narcissist is also stubborn. Apologies or proof from the person in question isn’t enough to change their stance.
As parents, vindictive narcissists can inflict any of the above-mentioned actions on their child if they feel like their child wronged them in any way. They may also verbally or physically abuse their child as punishment. They may even go out of their way to act extremely petty or calculating in how they serve their “revenge”.
Somatic narcissists are obsessed with their bodies such as weight and physical appearance. These types of narcissists tend to criticize others based on their appearance. They believe they are prettier, stronger, or fitter than others.
As parents, they may shame their child’s body or appearance. Or they may play favorites among their children and favor the one who they consider as more physically attractive or superior. They may also compete with their child physically or feel jealous if their child is physically better than them.
Similar to somatic narcissism, instead of obsessing over their bodies, cerebral narcissists – also known as intellectual narcissists – obsess over their minds.
They believe that they are smarter than others. And in order to feel superior, they try to make others feel unintelligent.
As parents, they may often shame or criticize their children for being “stupid” so they themselves can feel smarter. They may also feel jealous and further try to knock their child down if they feel like their child is surpassing them intellectually.
Similar to how somatic and cerebral narcissism is, sexual narcissists are obsessed with sexual performance and the need for the sexual admiration of others. They often use sex to manipulate people and feel entitled to have their sexual needs met.
As parents, these types of narcissists may sexually abuse their child or somehow use sex or the child’s body to manipulate them somehow.
And though less severe, nonetheless still abusive, these parents may talk about their sexual conquests and bedroom adventures in detail with their age-inappropriate child. And when their child is older, they may insist on hearing about their child’s sexual performance. They may even “compete” with their child in this regard or feel envious if they think their child has a better sex life than them.
Seductive narcissists shower their targets with compliments to get the admiration they seek. And if they don’t get enough praise or validation from someone, they’ll drop them without hesitation and move on to someone new.
As parents, seductive narcissists may shower their children with compliments as a way to manipulate them. This is often common with the golden child in the golden child and scapegoat dynamic. And when the child can no longer be manipulated by the parent’s love-bombing, the parent has no problem abusing the child and/or using it on another child to keep getting what they want.
Spiritual narcissists use spirituality to feel superior. They may also often use spirituality as a way to justify abusive behavior, intimidate others, or to satisfy whatever selfish needs or desires they have.
They may believe that because they are of a certain religion or have a certain belief that they are superior to everyone else who doesn’t. Even people who share the same beliefs as them might be deemed inferior because the narcissist considers themself to be more faithful or knowledgeable in the area.
As parents, these types of narcissists may use their spirituality or religion as an excuse to abuse their child. They may use God or another entity as a way to shame, ridicule, or manipulate their child into doing what they want. And if met with any skepticism or pushback, they will further use spirituality to support their actions and claims.
Some of these types of narcissism are more difficult to deal with than others. But they are nonetheless toxic and can leave damaging effects, especially if you’ve been experiencing them since childhood.
As someone who had a narcissistic mother growing up who possesses traits associated with many of the types of narcissism listed here, I know how confusing, daunting, and overwhelming learning all of this can be. However, I also hope it was validating and enlightening for you.
Whether your narcissistic parent fit the “criteria” of your classic narcissist or one of the types covered in this post, their behavior has probably hurt you in more ways than you can count. Please take all the time you need to process this. And when you’re ready, feel free to check out my other posts on narcissistic abuse to learn more and begin healing.
Hi there, I’m Estee.
Having been raised by an abusive mother, I developed an interest in mental health to better learn, understand, and manage the effects the abuse had on me. My experiences inspired me to create Hopeful Panda.
In my free time, you’ll find me cooking, organizing, playing video games, writing, or spending time with my family. You can read more about me and my blog here.
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