Closet Narcissist Basic Relationship Style: They choose someone that they can idealize as perfect and special. They bask in this person’s reflected glory. They imagine that some of this specialness will rub off on them. They treasure the small bits of approval that they get from whomever they idealize. They often form relationships with Exhibitionist Narcissists because they mistake their defensive grandiosity for true self-confidence.
- Toxic Narcissists
Toxic Narcissists are the “meanies” of the Narcissistic group. They are not satisfied by being the center of attention, they want complete dominance and others to submit. They usually have a sadistic streak and enjoy hurting other people. They want you to obey and fear them.
Some are what I think of as “Failed Exhibitionists.” They are angry and bitter that they have not been able to live up to their own unrealistic fantasies of limitless achievement. They envy anyone who has what they want. They have given up on being a constructive force in the world and are now mainly intent on thwarting other people’s happiness.
Their poisonous intent is very obvious when they present in an overt form, such as the classroom bully who terrorizes the weakest kids or the boss that likes to angrily devalue a different person every day in front of the whole office: “You screwed up again! What are you an idiot? Or did you decide to get yourself fired today to get on unemployment because you are too lazy to work?”
Toxic Narcissists can also present more covertly, such as your seemingly “sweet old aunt” who always manages to ask you embarrassing questions that make you squirm in front of the whole family: “Why are you so fat? Neither of your parents were fat as children.” Or, “Such a shame that you lost your job again! How many jobs have you lost? Why can’t a bright girl like you keep a job?”
Example—Ted and Mona
Ted, the Exhibitionist Narcissist, has a first date with Mona, a Toxic Narcissist. Ted tried to do his usual first date plan. Here is how the evening went.
Ted: “Let me order for you. I know you will love it.”
Mona: (After taking a few bites of the steak and a sip of the wine). “It is such a shame that really prime beef is no longer available and they pass off meat like this as Prime. Please don’t feel bad. You are not alone. Most people don’t know better because they have never tasted the real thing! This wine is not bad. I see why you might like it. It is better than most.”
As you can see, Mona, the Toxic Narcissist, quickly asserts her dominance over Ted, the Exhibitionist Narcissist. She neatly ruins any pleasure Ted might have felt in supplying this meal. According to Mona, she is the real expert on steak and wine, and poor Ted is simply used to an inferior grade of both and does not know any better. What is really happening is that Mona is consistently devaluing Ted.
Toxic Narcissist Relationship Style: Their goal is to establish themselves as better than you and make you feel inferior and inadequate. Life with them is one long putdown. You can never please them. They will never praise you. Any self-confidence that you entered the relationship with is likely to get eroded and replaced with self-doubt.
Devaluation and Narcissistic Personality Disorder
All Narcissists will devalue other people to support their own self-esteem. By devalue, I mean that they will say insulting things that are designed to make someone else feel worthless. The three types of Narcissists differ, however, in whom they devalue, how often they devalue, and when they devalue.
Exhibitionist Narcissists: Exhibitionist Narcissists will openly devalue other people whenever they cannot get the admiration that they crave or when they feel criticized. In general, they will not devalue people that they consider above them on the status totem pole, only those who are competing with them or who are clearly below them.
The Exhibitionist Narcissist’s use of devaluation, sometimes leads untrained people to mistake Exhibitionist Narcissists for Toxic Narcissists. As you can see from the above examples, Ted the Exhibitionist Narcissist began by actively seeking his dates’ admiration, while Mona the Toxic Narcissist began by devaluing Ted.
Closet Narcissists: Closet Narcissists are more likely to devalue themselves than other people. They are always apologizing. If they do devalue other people, it is likely to be behind their back or take the form of coldly withdrawing. They are more likely to openly express envy, than to publically insult or berate another person.
Toxic Narcissists: Toxic Narcissists like to see other people squirm in embarrassment. They also like to knock people off stride. They often begin an interaction by putting the other person down in some way, as Mona did with Ted. They may do this subtly or they may be bluntly and openly devaluing. Unlike the Exhibitionist Narcissists who usually first display themselves for admiration and only resort to devaluation when that is not working well, Toxic Narcissists lead with devaluation. They generally prefer being feared to being admired—or they may equate the two things.
As you can see from the above examples, Narcissists are not all alike. People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be divided into three general subtypes—Exhibitionist, Closet, and Toxic Narcissist—based on how they solve the central Narcissistic life issue: How do I support my shaky self-esteem and feel good about myself?
All Narcissists use other people to help regulate their self-esteem. If you are contemplating a relationship with a Narcissist (or are already in one), it can be very helpful to recognize their subtype, what they are looking for from you, and what this means in terms of how you are likely to be treated in the relationship. Depending on your inner resources and preferences, you might find one type of Narcissist tolerable as a relationship partner, while another type of Narcissist might literally drive you insane.