The 4 Types of Narcissism Share A Core Trait

Types Narcissism Share Core Trait

Fluctuating Ego States among types of narcissism

If you have a hard time identifying which type of narcissist you’re dealing with, it might be because grandiose narcissists oscillate between states of grandiosity and vulnerability. For example, grandiose narcissists may show vulnerability and emotionality (usually anger) when their success is thwarted or their self-concept is under attack. Greater grandiosity indicates greater instability and likelihood of fluctuation. There’s little evidence that vulnerable narcissists exhibit grandiosity. (Edershile & Wright, 2019), (Rhodewalt, et al. 1998).

Related: Is Your Kid A Narcissist? How You May Be Creating Narcissistic Children

The Search for the Core of Narcissism

Using new techniques, recent studies have attempted to isolate a singular, unifying trait among narcissists. Researchers examined narcissism by testing distinct personality traits.

Two recent models emerged: One is based on personality and the other is an integrative, transactional approach.

Related: 22 Stages of Relationship Between An Empath and A Narcissist

The Trifurcated Model

The Trifurcated Model of Narcissism

The Trifurcated Model of Narcissism shows that narcissism centers on three personality traits: Agentic extraversion, disagreeableness, and neuroticism. (Miller, Lynam, et al., 1917) (Agentic extraverts are authoritative and bold go-getters who pursue acclaim, achievement, and leadership positions.) Of the Big Five personality traits, disagreeableness is the only one common to both types. The model illuminates the core of narcissism to be interpersonal antagonism, shared by grandiose and vulnerable narcissists alike.  It’s characterized by manipulation, hostility, entitlement, callousness, and anger. (Kaufman, et al., 2020) Vulnerable and grandiose narcissists express antagonism differently. The former are more hostile and distrustful, and the latter are more immodest and domineering.

The Spectrum Model

The Narcissism Spectrum Model (NSM) created by Kerzan and Herlache (2017) conceives narcissism as existing on a spectrum from grandiose to vulnerable. It demonstrates how NPD varies in severity and how traits manifest. The model reveals that both types of narcissists share a common psychological core of entitled self-importance. Narcissists believe that they and their needs are special and take precedence over those of others. This core is made up of arrogance, self-involvement, and entitlement. In fact, entitlement is reportedly the most toxic element in relationships. 

Narcissism Spectrum Model

Narcissism Spectrum Model

Narcissists’ differing personalities express diverse qualities at various times, this model captures a fluid, functional analysis that is more representative of real life. The greater a person’s grandiosity, the less is their vulnerability and vice versa. More entitlement and risk-taking increase professional and interpersonal difficulties. The greater the vulnerability, the further away (lower) is their grandiosity.

Related: 8 Things A Narcissist Fears The Most


In sum, narcissism exists on a spectrum ranging from domineering and extraverted to introverted and neurotic. The core features of narcissism are antagonism, self-importance, and entitlement, making narcissists disagreeable, uncooperative partners, and work associates. Because other personality types can be antagonistic, I prefer the Spectrum Model that singles out self-important entitlement as the core of narcissism, thus distinguishing it from sociopathy and borderline personality disorder, among others.

Grandiose narcissists present a mixed bag. While they feel and function better than vulnerable narcissists and can be socially engaging when they choose, their antagonism and entitlement create problems and jeopardize relationships. If they attend psychotherapy, it should focus on their antagonism and entitlement. 

On the other hand, vulnerable narcissists need help managing their perceptions, moods, and emotions. They resemble people with borderline personality disorder and would benefit from dialectical behavioral therapy, which is effective in reducing antagonism. Schema-focused psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are helpful for both types to reduce shame and anger.

Whatever type of narcissist you care about, the relationship is hurtful. Rather than getting your needs met, you’re undermined and drained dealing with frequent criticism, callousness, hostility, demands, and entitled expectations. Don’t spend your efforts trying to please or change a narcissist. Instead, start recovery to rebuild your self-esteem and autonomy so you’re more resilient whether you stay or go. If you’re undecided, get some individual psychotherapy, and use the tools in Dealing with a Narcissist to determine the prognosis for your relationship.

© Darlene Lancer 2020


Edershile, E. & Wright, E. (2019). “Fluctuations in grandiose and vulnerable narcissistic states: A momentary perspective.” DOI: 10.31234/

Houlcroft, L., Bore, M., & Munro, D. (2012). “Three faces of Narcissism.” Personality and Individual Differences, 53: 274-278.

Kaufman, S. B., Weiss, B., Miller J. D., & Campbell, W. K. (2020). “Clinical correlates of vulnerable and grandiose narcissism: A personality perspective,” Journal of Personality Disorders, 34 (1), 107-130.

Krizan, Z. & Herlache, A. D. (2018). “The Narcissism Spectrum Model: A synthetic view of the narcissistic personality,” Personality and Social Psychology Review, 1:29. DOI: 10:1177/1088868316685018.

Miller, J. D., Lynam, D. R., Hyatt, C. S., & Campbell, W. K. (2017). Controversies in narcissism. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 13, 291–315.

Rhodewalt, F. & Morf, C. C. (1998). On self-aggrandizement and anger: a temporal analysis of narcissism and affective reactions to success and failure. Journal of personality and social psychology, 74(3), 672.

Written by: Darlene Lancer

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