there’s more than one type – and our research reveals what makes every ticking

Nikhila Mahadevan, University of Essex

Chances are, you’ve met a narcissist. Someone who thinks they are better than everyone else, dominates the conversation and enjoys the limelight. But scientists are increasingly realizing that not all narcissists are the same – some are, in fact, extremely insecure.

In our new article, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, we outline the distinct types – and what makes them tick.

In classical Greek mythology, the hunter Narcissus was the son of the river god Cephise and the nymph Liriope. He was known for his exceptional beauty and physique. One day when Narcissus was walking in the forest, the beautiful nymph Echo saw him and fell in love with him. However, he rejected her affections, leaving her heartbroken.

As punishment, Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance, lured him into a pool of water where he encountered his own reflection for the first time. Narcissus fell in love with his reflection and, finally realizing that his love could not be reciprocated, yearned for his death.

The Narcissus myth warns us of the dangers of excessive self-esteem, self-centeredness, and lack of empathy for others. He had a profound influence on Western culture, art and literature.

Narcissism is also a popular topic in psychology. English physician Havelock Ellis first identified narcissism as a mental disorder in the late 19th century. Sigmund Freud considered narcissism to be a normal part of a child’s development, but argued that it could become a disorder if it persisted after puberty into adulthood.

In modern psychology, narcissism is generally conceptualized as a personality trait, which lies on a spectrum. Some people are more narcissistic, others less. Narcissism usually involves an exaggerated view of oneself, a sense of superiority and entitlement, and a lack of concern for others. The above portrayal of a narcissist is familiar. But it is not the only one.

Grandiose versus vulnerable

In our research, we looked at two previously identified types of narcissism: grandiose and vulnerable. Grandiose narcissists are arrogant, dominant, and outgoing. They tend to have high self-esteem, be bold and assertive, and feel happy and confident in their lives.

Vulnerable narcissists, on the other hand, are withdrawn, neurotic and insecure. They tend to have low self-esteem, be hypersensitive, and feel anxious and depressed. However, these two types of narcissists also have something in common. Both are selfish, feel entitled to special treatment and privileges, and have antagonistic relationships with others.

You may be able to recognize both types of narcissists by the way they behave in social situations. Grandiose narcissists are socially competent. They are likely to be dominant and charming. Vulnerable narcissists, on the other hand, are less socially skilled. They are likely to be shy and anxious in social situations. Additionally, while grandiose narcissists are outspoken and assertive in the pursuit of their goals, seeking to maximize success, vulnerable narcissists are timid and defensive, seeking to minimize failure.

In our research, we examined the social motivations and perceptions of grandiose and vulnerable narcissists. In particular, we investigated their desires to access social status and social inclusion. We also looked at whether they felt they had succeeded in achieving social status and integrating socially.

Social status refers to being respected and admired by others. It’s about standing out and being seen as an important person in the social hierarchy. In contrast, social inclusion refers to being loved and accepted by others. It is about integrating well with others within the framework of the social community.

Any given person can have or desire both status and inclusion, only one of the two, or neither. For example, in The Simpsons TV show, the character of Mr. Burns has high status but is not particularly liked and accepted, while the character of Homer Simpson is well liked and accepted but does not have a status. raised.

Grandiose narcissists are arrogant, dominant, and outgoing. Prazis Images / Shutterstock

We conducted two studies, recruiting 676 adults based in the United States. We assessed their levels of grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. We also assessed how much they wanted status and inclusion as well as how well they felt they achieved their goals.

We have found that grandiose and vulnerable narcissists have a strong desire for social status. Interestingly, while grandiose narcissists believed they had achieved this status, vulnerable narcissists believed they had not been granted the status they deserved.

In addition, grandiose narcissists did not feel like they had achieved social inclusion but did not particularly desire it either. In contrast, vulnerable narcissists also did not believe they had achieved social inclusion but strongly wanted it. Grandiose narcissists therefore felt that they had achieved their social goals, but vulnerable narcissists did not.

Both types of narcissists seek respect and admiration from others. But while grandiose narcissists can be stars on the interpersonal scene, triumphantly capturing the spotlight, their vulnerable counterpart can be a bit of a gamer crouching on the sidelines, resentfully seeking, but not getting, the applause they crave.


Nikhila Mahadevan, lecturer in psychology, University of Essex

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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