Types of Narcissists and Communication Tactics That Work

If you’re in a relationship with someone who is self-centered and manipulative, you already know the frustration and confusion. While they initially seemed to be caring, they’re now short-tempered and critical. Nothing you say or do is right. Under their influence, you often question your own feelings and perceptions. 

These are all red flags of narcissistic behavior. And being involved with a narcissist is not only harmful to your relationship but can also be harmful to your well-being.

How can you tell if your partner has narcissistic tendencies? How can you talk to them in a meaningful way so they truly understand what they’re doing and the harm it’s causing you and your relationship?

Different types of narcissists

While narcissistic personality disorder is a clinically diagnosed personality disorder, someone can have narcissistic traits without a clinical diagnosis. Research has defined several different subsets of narcissism.

Overt narcissism

Overt narcissism is what most people think of as “classic” narcissism. 

Someone with overt narcissism is highly self-important and displays a lack of empathy for others. They are usually egotistical and high-achieving, focusing more on power and status than personal substance. But while they act self-important and take advantage of others, they’re often fueled by a deep sense of insecurity. 

Covert narcissism

Someone with covert narcissism, also known as “vulnerable narcissism,” can come across as the opposite of an overt narcissist.

Narcissism often stems from low self-esteem and self-worth, but a covert narcissist will internalize it instead of making up for it by acting self-important. Rather than pretend to be all-powerful, they play the victim. Covert narcissists are often avoidant, irritable, and subject to anxiety and depression. 

Suggested: Tips for Boosting Your Mental Health

Antagonistic narcissism

Antagonistic narcissism is considered a subtype of overt narcissism. People with antagonistic narcissism are highly competitive and need to dominate those they consider their rivals. They can come across as arrogant, argumentative, and unforgiving with a highly exaggerated sense of self-importance. They have no problem exploiting others for their own gain.

Malignant narcissism

Narcissism can be controlling and manipulative, but malignant narcissism takes it to its most serious degree. Note that “malignant narcissistic behavior” is not a clinical term. Instead, it’s used often in law enforcement to describe someone who behaves in harmful, antisocial, and often criminal ways. 

Communal narcissism

People with communal narcissism tend to be leaders of social movements who purport to value self-sacrifice and fairness. They gain a sense of power from their moral superiority, often becoming outraged by others’ behavior and treating the objects of their disdain in less-than-fair and benevolent ways. 

Seductive narcissism

While “standard” narcissists tend to make victims feel bad or insignificant, seductive narcissists manipulate others by love-bombing and using coercive charm, flattery, and feigned admiration to get their target to feel good and let their guard down.

Narcissistic behaviors that hurt relationships

Relationships require a balance of give and take. Unfortunately, that balance is non-existent when you’re in a relationship with someone who appears to have an oversized sense of entitlement.

In a narcissist’s world, they are so self-consumed that there is no room left for you. Everything they do and say is designed to make themselves look better to others so they can feel better about themselves. In most cases, their behavior is focused on devaluing everyone else, including those closest to them.

A narcissist may do any of the following:

  • Manipulate you in any way necessary to get what they want
  • Gaslight you so you doubt yourself and your reality
  • Be unconcerned about your pain or hurt feelings
  • Criticize and belittle you to feel better about themselves
  • Lie to you and have no problem justifying it

No matter how bad their behavior makes you feel, a narcissist feels no empathy and takes no ownership of their actions. And, in most cases, they will manage to make it all your fault. 

Is a diagnosis needed?

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a diagnosable personality disorder. But narcissism can also be considered an unhealthy group of personality traits. Do you need a clinical diagnosis to know that your partner’s behavior is harming your relationship and personal well-being? No! Trust your gut and get help.

How to communicate 

Is it possible to maintain a relationship with a narcissist? That's up to both individuals. If you can get your partner to realize the effect their behavior has on your relationship – and they are willing to take positive measures – it may be possible. 

Communicate in ways they will listen to. Accusatory statements can trigger a narcissist, so avoid comments like “you always” or “you never.” Phrase your conversations around “I” statements such as “I feel” or “I want.” Don’t back down when they try to turn the conversation against you. The more assertive and clear your communication is, the less likely they will be able to twist what you say against you. 

Have you inadvertently been a codependent partner in their behavior? Learn to recognize their manipulation tactics. Speak up, and begin to value and believe in yourself. Maintain clear and consistent boundaries, and establish an outside support system so you can have access to periodic reality checks. 

Couples therapy can also help you get past this. There are many therapies available today that have been successful in counteracting narcissistic behavior in relationships. 

Is divorce necessary?

Narcissism is typically considered a lifelong issue that doesn’t necessarily get “cured.” If you’re both committed, however, there are ways you can learn to manage it and its effect on your relationship.

Narcissistic abuse is real, and it can be detrimental to your health. If you believe your partner is unlikely to change, divorce may be the most logical conclusion and the best way to end the emotional abuse you’ve suffered.

Block: Are you having a difficult time with a narcissist in your life? Read How to Understand and Forgive a Narcissist for more insight. Understanding and forgiving does not mean you have to stay in a relationship with them. The understanding and forgiveness are actually for you – not them.

While divorce can be difficult in general, divorcing a narcissist comes with its own unique challenges. Narcissists are often motivated by conflict, so a friendly divorce may not be in the cards. You may need a lot of emotional wherewithal, patience, and professional help to get you through the ordeal.

At Hello Divorce, we are committed to providing people with the legal and emotional support they need to navigate their divorce proceedings and beyond. We offer professional services such as meditation and divorce coaching in addition to low-cost divorce plans. We also provide a wealth of educational resources about the divorce process and what comes afterward. 

Need help? Contact us for a free 15-minute introductory phone call.

Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.