What Is Narcissism? What You Need to Know about the Disorder

Narcissism is a commonly heard mental health condition often associated with behavioural traits such as grandiosity, self-centeredness, and a need for admiration.

Perhaps the most common example of narcissism is someone who has a high opinion of him or herself, a desire to be the center of attention and admiration, and a lack of empathy toward others. 

However, narcissism is more than just a personality trait. It is a mental health condition listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). It can be either overt or covert, depending on the level of self-esteem, the number of people needed to fulfill the ego and the level of dependency.

Let this article help you learn more about narcissism and its different types.

What Is Narcissism?

Narcissism is a mental health condition characterized by an inflated self-image and an actual or perceived lack of empathy. It can lead to an insatiable need for admiration and a focus on one’s success and achievements.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), or simply narcissism, makes up a small percentage of the population (a mere 5.9 percent) but is found in people from all walks of life, including celebrities, politicians, business people, and talented artists. 

While most people with narcissistic personality traits can generally find a place in the social order, narcissism is a mental health condition when the symptoms are so severe that they cause significant disruption to the lives of the person and those around them.

How to Know If Someone Has a Narcissistic Personality

A mental health professional will usually determine a narcissistic personality disorder diagnosis based on an in-depth patient evaluation. The evaluation will include information about the patient’s past and present behaviour, relationships, environment, and psychological status.

A mental health professional will consider the following characteristics and traits when diagnosing narcissistic personality disorder:

  • A desire to be admired
  • An expectation of special treatment
  • Dependency on others for a sense of self-worth
  • A sense of entitlement
  • A preoccupation with power and status
  • A tendency to experience frequent mood swings
  • An intense need to control others
  • A lack of empathy
  • A desire to feel powerful

Types of Narcissism

Narcissism is a condition that exists on a continuum, and people can fluctuate between different degrees of narcissistic traits. It is an ongoing pattern of behaviour that is different from having an ego that people have in healthy doses. It is essential to be able to distinguish healthy behaviour from unhealthy behaviour. 

Here are some of its types: 

1. Covert Narcissism

Feelings of insecurity or low self-esteem characterize covert narcissism. Still, the person with covert narcissism can cover these feelings with grandiose behaviour, attention-seeking, and an inflated sense of self-importance.

Covert narcissism is sometimes called “hidden” or “vulnerable” narcissism. It is usually found in romantic relationships where the partner with covert narcissism is dependent on the other partner for their self-esteem. 

This type of narcissism is often found in those who have experienced a time of trauma or abuse in their lives, and narcissism stems from a need to feel special and to avoid further pain.

2. Overt Narcissism

Overt narcissists are those whose narcissism is more apparent because they exhibit more outward signs of the disorder. They appear outgoing, competent, and assertive, but they are often very self-centred, lack empathy, and exploit others. They may come across as conceited and boastful.

3. Antagonistic Narcissism

Antagonistic narcissists are aggressive and manipulative, have a total lack of empathy and often have sadistic behaviour. This type of narcissism is rare but sometimes associated with a condition known as narcissistic psychopathology.


Narcissism is a complex and multifaceted condition that can be difficult to assess accurately. It is crucial to remember that a person with narcissism would not have received a narcissistic personality disorder diagnosis had they not experienced significant emotional, social, and interpersonal problems.

A mental health professional can help you decide whether you should seek help for someone with narcissistic traits. 

If you suspect that you or someone you know may be suffering from narcissism, book an appointment with us. Chettiar Counseling offers a no-cost phone consultation to help you determine if the counselling services we provide will be a good fit for you. Whether you want face-to-face, online, or video counselling, we can do that for you.