Exploring Types of Narcissism
Ben Bursten has identified four types of narcissistic personality:
- The Craving personality is very demanding, clinging, and needy. He saw this as an oral need to be FED.
- The Paranoid personality is characterized by hypersensitivity, rigidity, unwarranted suspicion, envy and a tendency to blame others. Anger is a problem.
- The Manipulative personality employs deception to gain something at the expense of others. The result is contempt and a satisfying feeling of “putting something over” the victim.
- The Phallic personality tends to be exhibitionistic in terms of sexuality. Arrogance, above all, is the feature of this personality. (Bursten, 1986)
Proposing Nine Types of Narcissism
1. The Craver
A Craver may have a haunting sense of anxiety and a terrible fear of abandonment. There is always an edge of desperation.
The Craver has a bottomless well of need. It is experienced as an aching hunger that is rarely satisfied. He or she finds it hard to hold on to the experience of being loved.
2 Special Lover
The Special Lover is a true believer in the ideology of romantic love. A citizen of a far away land. Naturally a pure romantic is exciting, stimulating, even exhilarating. There may be a rich emotional life, full of feeling and perhaps selective empathy. Intimacy is easy based on unguarded self-disclosure. But there is an underlying theme of grandiosity: Our love is unique. No one can love you like I can. You may be in pain, but my love can heal. Initially there is idealization, then denial but eventually a realization of an unwelcome reality.
3. Power Broker
The Power Broker is in love with power. It may be expressed in bullying ways – humiliating and even terrorizing employees. Or it may be cold and bureaucratic. But power is embraced and used in an instrumental fashion.
Arrogance is the most obvious quality of the Power Broker who has arrived. Ambition is most apparent on the way up. There is a profound lack of empathy for others. Contempt is shown for “inferiors” who are barely recognized as human. Decisions are made without thought of the consequences for those affected. All that is important is the pursuit of career goals.
Although this description of the Power Broker is hardly flattering, such a person can be charming and have qualities widely admired in our society. Status and power attract. There can even be a genuine sense of benevolence towards others – though mostly in somewhat patronizing ways.
The Broker also finds it natural to also use power in relationships. A partner may experience this as being very possessive and highly controlling – or simply abusive.
4. Body Shaper
The Body Shaper looks good! But the assets are all external. The values are familiar: image, fashion, glamour, youth and beauty. This form of narcissism is so much part of our times that it is hardly obvious.
What I am identifying is not just a office worker on the way to the gym for a regular workout but a disturbance in personality. There is an exaggerated need for admiration. Characteristics include self-esteem linked to body image, a nagging perfectionism, and an obsession with the perfect body.
The Body Shaper tends to externalize internal problems, as if adding muscle bulk or looking more beautiful will solve anything. Denial is the most common defense. It is a refusal to see what eventually extends to trying to fight the aging process. This is the ultimate narcissistic injury.
The Rager is a common and somewhat obvious narcissistic type of personality. A barely controlled rage simmers below the surface and often lashes out at anyone nearby.
What is most characteristic is hypersensitivity to any perceived insult – whether intended or not. Everything is taken personally and usually interpreted as an attack. What sparks the rage is narcissistic injury.
A relationship with a Rager is always exciting if only for the variation in emotions and unpredictable behavior. But this is not the whole story. Some Ragers can be very loving and generous in affection. The aftermath of even ugly conflict can be intense sexual encounters which feel all the more erotic because of earlier menace. The Rager can be intensely controlling and it is almost the norm that the relationship will be abusive.
The Trickster is charming and may have many social graces. Adjectives of first impression are easy to find: engaging, smooth and inviting. Unfortunately this attractiveness is a veneer on a disturbed personality. Behind the “trust me” messages you will find a malicious intent. It is the personality of the “con-artist”. The motives are covert and include exploitation, limitless entitlement and a cruel twist when the victim realizes the script of betrayal.
The Trickster is ruthless in relationships. He or she delights in fooling the trusting lover with betrayals such as sexual infidelity, fraud, or criminal conspiracy. Usually there is intrigue and considerable pleasure in the set-up. The theme of manipulation is always central. Inevitably trust is shattered. In this elaborate way the Trickster is justified in the contempt of victim “who was easily fooled”.
It is a cruel game. The impact on the victim is usually shattering. It can be likened to psychic vandalism. The resulting damage is not easily repaired and may take years of patient re-building of boundaries, finding ways of better self-protection and perhaps eventually the capacity to trust again.
7. Fantasy Maker
Fantasy Maker has an elaborate inner world. All excitement is in the realm of fantasy. The real world intrudes, naturally, but it is exactly that – an intrusion and often resented. He or she may have an external appearance of superficiality, flightiness, and emptiness. There may also be considerable social anxiety and awkwardness. It is inner riches, outer poverty.
Just how is this narcissistic? After all some people are just being helpful. But the Rescuer has an hidden grandiosity: “It is only me that can really change things.” It is the grandiosity that distinguishes the Rescuer from what has been labeled codependency. The common ground includes: always remaining in control, emotional pursuing and unacknowledged needs. Both may be hidden in a helping profession including psychology, social work, medicine, pastoral care or counselling. Blurred boundaries are natural in this form of narcissism.
It is hard for the Rescuer to step out of role. It’s origin may be in childhood with the parentified child in a dysfunctional family. The difficult way forward is to break the stereotyped nature of relationships, allow more vulnerability to show, to both give and receive, and to even encourage the more childlike qualities of spontaneity, joy, emotional expression and playfulness.
There are no absolutely pure types. Narcissism, like coffee, usually comes in blends. For example a Craver who becomes a Rager when needs are blocked. Some types may be close such as the Power Broker and Rager, or Craver and Special Lover. Each of the types is a caricature but even an artificial schema can help to illuminate therapeutic issues.
This understanding of the types of narcissism is offered in the hope that it might be helpful to distinguish cold from warm varieties of narcissism. The more general DSMIV description is of a cold variety characterized by being aloof and arrogant. This comes through in types such as the Power Broker and Trickster. Perhaps also in cold types of the Rager. However it is equally obvious that some varieties of narcissism are warm and relationship centered. This will include the Craver and Special Lover. Some, such as the Body Shaper and Fantasy Maker, can be either.