You hear the narcissist label used quite a lot these days—in ordinary conversation, in news articles, on television. Most people use the word to describe men and women who think a little too well of themselves and don’t have much regard for the feelings of others. It’s often deployed as a put-down and in the realm of politics, an attack weapon.
Listening to the way narcissist is commonly used, you might get the impression that all narcissists conform to a consistent pattern. But narcissism actually occurs along a continuum of expressions, with healthy self-esteem at one end and narcissistic personality disorder at the other. Even men and women who demonstrate its more toxic forms—those I refer to as “Extreme Narcissists” in my new book—don’t act alike. They have differing personality types and different modes of shoring up a grandiose self-image. They also affect your self-esteem in different ways when they interact with you.
From least to most toxic, here are five types of Extreme Narcissist you might encounter, with some advice for ways to handle them (and yourself) when you come into conflict. (Each type can, of course, be of any gender.) Bear in mind that Extreme Narcissists always need to prove that they are “winners” in comparison to other people they view as “losers,” though their methods vary.
The Know-It-All Narcissist
This person is always eager to give her opinion, even when unsolicited, and believes she knows more than anyone else, no matter the topic under conversation. She likes to lecture, and she has a hard time listening because she’s too busy thinking about what she wants to say next.
The Grandiose Narcissist
This type more clearly demonstrates a familiar kind of narcissism we all recognize: He sees himself as more important, and more influential, than everyone else. He touts his own accomplishments, exaggerates their importance, and wants to elicit your envy or admiration. He believes he is destined for great things. When charismatic and driven, his achievements may actually match his ambition and you may find yourself drawn into an admiring orbit around him.
The Seductive Narcissist
Unlike the other types of Extreme Narcissist discussed here, this one manipulates you by making you feel good about yourself. At first, she will appear to admire or even idealize you, but her ultimate goal is to make you feel the same way about her so she can use you. She wants your support and admiration and will flatter you in order to get it. But when she has no further use for you, she’ll give you the cold shoulder.
The Bullying Narcissist
This is the man who builds himself up by humiliating other people. Though he may share common traits with the Grandiose or Know-it-All Narcissist, he is more brutal about the way he asserts his superiority. He often relies on contempt to make others feel like losers, proving himself a winner in the process. He will belittle and mock you, and when he needs something from you, he may become threatening. At his most toxic, he will make you doubt yourself and your value as a human being.
The Vindictive Narcissist
While it’s possible to co-exist with a Bullying Narcissist, provided you don’t pose too obvious a threat, once you become the target of a Vindictive Narcissist, she will try to destroy you. You may have challenged her superior status in some way you don’t even recognize, and as a result, she needs to prove you the ultimate loser by destroying you. She’ll talk trash about you to friends and family. She might try to get you fired. If she is your ex-wife, she might try to turn your children against you and spend years tying you up in family court.
More advice for coping with these difficult people can be found in my new book, The Narcissist You Know: Defending Yourself Against Extreme Narcissists in an All-About-Me Age, released today by Touchstone Books.