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Are there different types of narcissists? How many types of narcissists are there and how do you handle them?
Knowing the different types of narcissists can help you learn to manage them. Each type of narcissist sees things differently, and learning their behavior can help you navigate relationships with them.
Read more about the different types of narcissists and how to deal with them.
Different Types of Narcissists
There are three different types of narcissists. By learning about these different types of narcissists, you can learn how to manage them.
Category #1: Deep Narcissists
Deep narcissists lack a self-image, so the only way they can meet their need for attention is by getting it from others.
As children, some extroverted deep narcissists do perfectly well. They learn how to attract attention, and people often think they’re vivacious and social. Introverts, on the other hand, inaccurately create a fantasy self-image that’s far superior to themselves and any real people. This image is unrealistic, so no one, including themselves, will validate it, and they’re constantly editing it to try to come up with something that sticks.
Both extroverted and introverted deep narcissists struggle once they’re in their twenties and thirties. People get tired of extroverts’ dramatic bids for attention, and extroverts have to find new social circles regularly. Introverts further isolate themselves because they’re both socially awkward and sure they’re better than everyone else, and no one wants to spend time with that kind of person. Sometimes, deep narcissists become addicted to alcohol or drugs. This is one of the different types of narcissists.
To identify deep narcissists, look for the following flags:
- When challenged or insulted, they get righteously angry or act victimized (they have no internal mechanism to deal with these feelings).
- They take everything personally.
- They think they have a lot of enemies.
- They want to control others, see them as self-objects (part of themselves), and think the only point of others is to give them attention.
- For example, in a romantic relationship, they force their partners to end all their other relationships so they get all their attention.
- They make others feel guilty for not paying them enough attention.
- They get impatient or bored when you talk to them about something that doesn’t affect them, and they try to bring the conversation back to themselves.
- They’re envious when others get attention.
- They’re very self-confident because this serves two purposes: gaining attention and hiding insecurities. However, this self-confidence is usually unjustified—they aren’t actually as competent as they appear to be.
- Often, they struggle with their jobs because they’re so worried about what others think of them that it’s hard to concentrate on anything outside themselves. (There is one exception—those who use their professional accomplishments to garner attention.)
Subcategories of Deep Narcissists
There are four types of deep narcissists. If no more specific directions are given on how to handle each type, you should avoid them.
Type #1: Leaders
These deep narcissists are more driven than most and put this energy towards their work. People are drawn to them because their self-confidence makes them seem competent, and some of their surprising behaviors that don’t meet social conventions seem authentic and honest. They can be dangerous in romantic relationships and particularly in leadership positions, because the more people who follow them, the more important they feel.
- For example, most dictators are narcissistic leaders.
They tend to be bad leaders. If challenged, they rage. They create problems only they can solve to demonstrate that they’re powerful and gain them more attention. Whatever organization or group they lead usually struggles because they need to control everyone.
To deal with these types, avoid joining their groups.
Type #2: Controllers
This is one of the different types of narcissists. These types of narcissists are more ambitious, energetic, and insecure than other deep narcissists. They’re so sensitive to what others think of them that they’re constantly paying attention to others’ feelings and thoughts. At some point, these narcissists realize that their powers of observation can be used to learn about other people’s self-images. This allows these narcissists to mimic empathy, be likable, appear self-confident, and manipulate people. They’re most dangerous when they’re being charming.
- For example, when Joseph Stalin first became premier of the Soviet Union, he was charming, funny, representative of an average person, and he made everyone he met feel important.
These narcissists’ interactions aren’t completely faked. Otherwise, they would never draw anyone in. However, once the interaction is over, they ax any positive feelings—if they didn’t, they’d be vulnerable. The next time they encounter the same people, they act cold, which confuses people and makes them want to feel the camaraderie again.
Once they have power, they get resentful that they ever had to give other people attention. They’ll turn away from friends and create rock-and-a-hard-place situations.
- For example, Stalin was angry with his lieutenants both when they agreed with him—they were useless and he had to do all the work himself—and when they disagreed—how dare they question him.
To identify this type of narcissist:
- Scrutinize their empathy. While they may appear likable, they don’t truly pay attention to you and they always pull back.
- Study their past. They often have troubled childhoods and have never had an intimate relationship. If people from their past try to warn you about them, pay attention.
- Look at their staff. If anyone who serves them looks scared, this is a red flag.
It’s hard to avoid these narcissists because they’re so ambitious they often end up in positions of power, but once you’ve identified them, stay away. It’s the only way to be safe.
Type #3: Theatrical
These narcissists hide the fact that they crave attention because they know it would make them unlikeable. They disguise their narcissism by playing roles and inciting drama, and they often go to extreme lengths to seem moral or victimized.
The only way to deal with this type of narcissist is to avoid being drawn in by the show. If someone is always more victimized or more moral than anyone else, be suspicious, and look for drama in their past.
For example, French nun Jeanne de Belciel was a theatrical narcissist. When she was young, her need for attention so annoyed her parents that they sent her to a convent in Poitiers. There, she was sarcastic and superior, which got her sent off to another convent, this time in Loudun. Since her previous two acts hadn’t worked, in Loudun, she decided to become an expert in piousness. This approach did work—when the prioress left, Jeanne succeeded her. Being in charge wasn’t enough, however, so she dramatically pretended to be possessed, which resulted in public exorcisms, the execution of her supposed sorcerer, self-mutilation, and once she was cured, a tour of Europe to show off how blessed she was.
Type #4: Partner-Enhanced
Narcissism isn’t limited to a single person; it can appear in a relationship as well. Partners who don’t understand each other’s values and aren’t willing to learn empathy can encourage narcissistic tendencies in the other person.
To avoid this situation, employ empathy by learning more about the other person. When you treat someone with empathy, they can’t be defensive because you’re coming at things from their point of view. When one person is empathetic, this encourages the other person to be empathetic as well. (Being defensive is a lot of work and most people don’t want to do it.)
For example, Leo Tolstoy and Sonya Behrs were a narcissistic couple. Leo was a deep narcissist and Sonya was fairly self-absorbed as well. Their trouble started just before their marriage when Leo asked Sonya to read his diaries. He asked her to do this because he didn’t want there to be any secrets in their relationship. She, on the other hand, thought he’d asked her to read them because he didn’t want to marry her—the diaries were full of descriptions of his affairs, encounters at brothels, STIs, and other vices. Her reaction made Leo think she didn’t love him.
They did marry, but there was more conflict, often caused by one of them not understanding the other’s motivations. Leo would do something that annoyed Sonya, she’d do something extreme in response, and he’d feel bad and repent. Then, she’d do something that made him regret his repentance. They were never happy together. Leo eventually ran away, Sonya attempted suicide unsuccessfully and then chased him, and Leo fell ill while fleeing and died.
Category #2: Functional Narcissists
Most of us are functional narcissists—self-absorbed, but able to operate because we get enough attention from our self-image that we have time and energy to focus on things outside of ourselves. Functional narcissists have moments of deeper narcissism when something goes wrong in their lives, but they can usually recover.
Category #3: Healthy Narcissists
Healthy narcissists have a strong self-image and they don’t need as much attention from others. They’ve accepted that they’re flawed, which makes their self-image even stronger because it’s close to reality. As a result, they can handle criticism, and they can focus outside of themselves more easily so they tend to be professionally or artistically successful. This success creates validation, which further strengthens their sense of self.
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- Why it's in your nature to self-sabotage
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- Why you're wired to want the wrong things in life