'It's like being in a cult': Identifying different types of narcissistic personalities

"You could say that narcissistic parents are likely to raise narcissistic children."
"You could say that narcissistic parents are likely to raise narcissistic children."

It's been called "the most popularly theorised mental health issue around" but according to the professionals, what we know about narcissism is far from the lived reality of those diagnosed with the certifiable condition.  

Parent24's narcissistic parenting series aims to debunk the myths about Narcissistic personality disorder and seeks to provide insight into how the common mental health condition plays out in parenting.  

The ladies of Red Table Talk (RTT) have always had their finger on the pulse, and their latest conversation is no exception. 

In an episode titled The Narcissism Epidemic, Jada Pinkett Smith, along with her daughter Willow Smith and mom, Adrienne Banfield-Jones, talk with clinical psychologist Dr Ramani Durvasula about narcissistic personality disorder. 

Lead by the expertise of Dr Ramani, the ladies leave no stone unturned, covering everything from basic definitions to what romantic and family relationships are like when dealing with someone with the disorder. 

We've covered these basics in part one of the Parent24 narcissistic parenting series, read more here

"It's like being in a cult, it's like living with a bunch of mirrors, but none of them shows your own reflection, that's what it's like," explained Dr Ramani. 

The RTT team and their guest also cover the various kinds of narcissism and a few terms were mentioned, including classical, covert and noble narcissism. 

A Google search of these terms yields many results, including vast amounts of types that can become confusing to understand. 

We reached out to local Psychoanalyst Enzo Sinisi for clarity. 

Sharing his expertise with Parent24 via email correspondence, Sinisi breaks down the three main types of narcissistic personality disorder. 

Thick-skinned narcissist

Sinisi says this is "someone who, from the outside, seems to think the world of themselves and the people they like but not much of anyone else. Certain presidents and CEO's come to mind, but this can also reflect a genuinely debilitating condition that causes the person, and all those around them, much suffering."

In RTT video, Dr Ramani describes this as the "classical form of narcissism," the kind that "what most people picture." 

"That sort of grandiose, 'look how great I am', 'look at my car', 'look at my dress, I'm all that' [type of person]...  we're often entertained by them, they're very charming." 

Thin-skinned narcissist

According to Sinisi, the term thin-skinned narcissist describes "someone who has a weak sense of self, is easily injured, harbours fantasies of greatness, but does not act in a grandiose, arrogant way. A narcissist but in the closet."

Dr Ramani identifies this type as "the dark knights of the narcissistic world... they're very angry at the world; they're very sullen, they can often look depressed. So we miss them because they're not putting on the big show," she says, using the example of the comic book character, The Joker, to illustrate her point. 

Malignant narcissist

Sinisi defines these types of people as being "ruthlessly preoccupied with, and willing to cause harm in the pursuit of admiration, power, superiority, greatness, and success. Looks a bit like a psychopath in that they show little care for others and cause great harm, but unlike the cold psychopath, they feel anxiety and need to be admired." 

Concurring, Dr Ramani says this type is "the last stop on the train." 

"The most dangerous... These are the people who not only can be quite grandiose and charming, but they're willing to manipulate, to exploit... to throw you under the bus. To me, it's like the last stop on the train before being a psychopath." 

Also see: Is Panda Parenting the secret to the success of Gugu Gumede, Atandwa Kani, Aisha Pandor and Elon Musk?

"Squarely on the shoulders of the parents"

The conversation then turned to how people end up this way. 

Previously, Sinisi explained that while no specific cause has been identified, the most common reason people develop narcissistic personality disorder is emotionally detached parents. 

"You could say that narcissistic parents are likely to raise narcissistic children," he told Parent24. 

Echoing  Sinisi, Dr Ramani told the RTT team that "this one 's squarely on the shoulders of the parents," and that to raise a narcissist you're either a narcissistic parent or "really distracted" parents who overindulge their children while ignoring their emotional needs. 

"They go to Disneyland every weekend, but sometimes they just want to cry and say 'I feel sad, I feel scared', and there's no adult to be found.... that teaches the child that only the outside, external stuff matters." 

The disorder is also developed "in kids who only get valued for what they do," she explained. 

"'You kick a soccer ball well', 'You sing well', 'You get good grades', 'You look pretty', those kids who learn that realise 'I'm only about the things I do and how I look, and nobody cares about my inside world." 

Sinisi advises that "Parenting styles which help children to feel calm, held, understood, loved, accepted, and enjoyed protect against narcissism." 

Be sure to catch the next instalment of Parent24's narcissistic parenting series. 

Watch the Red Table Talk below: 

To find a therapist in your area, check out the Therapy Route

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