Last Updated on April 16, 2021 by Alexander Burgemeester
Most of us think we know someone with a narcissistic personality disorder – they’re the Instagram influencer, the self-absorbed jerk at the gym, the histrionic reality TV star we hate-watch every week. However, Narcissism takes many forms and not all of them are quite so obvious.
Narcissists can also be analytical, introverted, brooding, and bookish, almost the exact opposite of what we’d usually consider narcissistic behavior; the cerebral narcissist will dazzle you with their brilliance rather than their charm.
This doesn’t make them any less threatening though, and in fact, their superior (or perceived to be superior) intellect provides them with a dangerously inflated ego.
What is a Cerebral Narcissist?
Let’s start with what a cerebral narcissist is because they aren’t always easy to spot. Unlike your typical narcissist (referred to as somatic narcissists), they’re probably not vain about their appearance and they don’t boast of financial success or their sexual conquests. In fact, cerebral narcissists sometimes have little to no interest in sex. Since they consider others to be intellectual beneath them and intelligence is the biggest turn on for them, it’s hard to find a partner that they’re attracted to.
More often than not cerebral narcissists are very intelligent, which is a trait most of us find admirable. Though unlike your average egghead, cerebral narcissists see cognitive ability as a form of power and a method for gaining it. Their intellectual pursuits are not about exploring their personal interests or broadening their knowledge for the benefit of mankind; it’s plain and simple about ruling over others.
Signs of a Cerebral Narcissist
Given the definition of an intellectual narcissist, you might assume that they all have a very high IQ. This is often true, but not always so. Just as many somatic narcissists are not wealthy, powerful, or beautiful – they simply believe that they are.
To cover their knowledge gaps, cerebral narcissists might only engage in conversations they know they can dominate. They’ll also jump on an opportunity to prove someone else wrong, no matter how trivial the subject, so long as it makes them appear more intelligent than their peers.
Like somatic narcissists, cerebral narcissists enjoy having power over others – they just gain that power with their mind rather than their body and charm. They see everyone as being intellectually beneath them and unworthy of their respect.
They do not accept criticism and seek to destroy anyone who is a threat to their power. However, a cerebral narcissist will often complement a potential partner by stating that you are their intellectual equal (the highest compliment they could give). Unfortunately, the compliment is just a method for drawing in victims to provide them with a source of narcissistic supply.
No Interest in Sex
One of the defining traits of cerebral narcissism is a disinterest in sex. A cerebral narcissist husband might watch pornography or masturbate frequently but will have no interest in intimacy with his wife. Cerebral narcissists aren’t interested in bodily pleasure and see their sex drive as a shameful desire that should be dealt with alone.
This is in direct contrast to the behavior of most narcissists, who take great pleasure in sexual relationships, even though they are devoid of intimacy. Neither type of narcissist is capable of having any kind of real connection with their partner though, so the difference is a matter of appearance not of interpersonal traits.
Gender Differences Male and Female Cerebral Narcissist
There are some gender differences in cerebral narcissists: female cerebral narcissists don’t seem to be as common as women face a backlash for overt displays of intelligence. While men are praised for their intellectual one-upmanship, women face a backlash that is very undesirable to the female narcissist’s self-image.
Men are far more likely to display cerebral narcissism as intelligence is valued and praised in them. Female cerebral narcissists do exist though and you’ll often find them at the top of their field with various degrees, certificates, and professional accolades.
Once in a position of power, she will use her credentials to torment those below her. Their narcissistic abuse is often aimed at their female underlings, who she sees as a threat to her position.
Causes of Cerebral Narcissistic Personality Disorder
The root cause of cerebral narcissistic personality disorder isn’t really known, but it’s suspected that it has some common factors with general narcissism. The causes can be broken down along the classic groupings of nature (genetics) vs nurture (environment.
Narcissism is just in some people’s DNA, and while scientists haven’t pinpointed an exact location for it, the trait appears to be inherited from parent to child. There’s not much anyone can do about their genetic makeup, but a genetic proclivity towards certain traits does not guarantee those traits will be expressed.
While many of us contain the genetic coding for narcissism, the trait typically needs an environmental push to become active. Many researchers believe a narcissistic personality can be traced back to parent-child relations where the parent was either overprotective or neglectful.
In either case, the parent’s behavior was mismatched with what the child needed at the time i.e. an insecure child receiving too little attention or a secure child smothered in adoration.
The messiness of the genetic-environmental relationship makes it hard for social scientists to pinpoint ways to prevent the disorder. Narcissistic adults start exhibiting behaviors in their teenage years, which is mistaken for the normal moodiness and self-centeredness typical for that age.
Cerebral narcissists might appear nerdy and focused on their studies, which are seen as positive qualities, and thus treatment is rarely administered during those early years.
Is There a Test for Cerebral Narcissists?
Cerebral narcissism isn’t categorically different from other forms of narcissism, so any test for it will pick up on the cerebral variety. Unfortunately, testing for narcissism is quite difficult. Many of the qualities that contribute to being a narcissist are considered positive, so long as they’re not in excess: ambition, high self-esteem, confidence.
They’re qualities that contribute to being a happy and healthy individual; the negative side to narcissism is in how the narcissist perceives and treats the people around them.
You’ll find hundreds of tests for narcissistic personality disorder all over the internet. Most require the suspected narcissist to take them (a dubious prospect) and their scientific accuracy is questionable.
However, unlike many other personality disorders, a substantial portion of narcissists will freely admit that they are narcissists. They’re not ashamed of it and don’t see any deleterious effects of having it – it only hurts other people, who they’re not too prone to being empathetic towards.
A clinical professional can diagnose the disorder, but this relies on the narcissist wanting to seek treatment. If you believe your partner or someone close to you might be a cerebral narcissist, there’s a good chance your right, especially if you’ve experienced the three stages of narcissistic abuse:
Narcissistic Abuse of the Cerebral Narcissist
Narcissistic abuse comes in many forms – gaslighting, invasions of privacy, neglect, and emotional blackmail. However, cerebral narcissists are more likely to engage in verbal abuse that demeans your intelligence and champions their own. If they feel you are an intellectual foil, your relationship will be a never-ending competition. Cerebral Narcissists aren’t all that different in how they abuse their victims though, and they follow the idealization, devaluation, and discard pattern that all narcissists do.
Idealization: At the beginning of a relationship, narcissists shower their partner with praise to make them feel special. Cerebral narcissists value intelligence above all else and they can’t imagine being with someone who is less intelligent than they are. They’ll want to share their love of all things cultured and intellectual, while also getting you hooked on their self-esteem boosting powers.
Devaluation: Once the cerebral narcissist has a grip on you, they’ll want to knock you down a few pegs. No one can be their intellectual equal and one of the best ways for them to feel superior about their intellect is by discrediting others. They might call you stupid to your face, demean you in front of friends, or simply question all of your decisions. They want you to know that you’re not respected and the only way to regain it is by praising the narcissist’s intelligence.
Discard: Even with constant praise, most narcissists give up on their partner and move on to new victims. The cerebral narcissist discard is particularly jarring as it’s often sudden and final. Your perceived lack of intelligence makes you worthless in their mind, so they’re less likely than your average narcissist to return to the relationship.
Difference Between a Covert Narcissist and a Cerebral Narcissist
Covert and Cerebral narcissists are often confused for one another and not just because they sound similar, but also because cerebral narcissists seem covert in their narcissistic tendencies. Covert narcissists are usually introverted, they make no attempt to be the center of attention.
They’re not divas, the performers, or the life of the party. Their negative behaviors are centered on those close to them, the people that have the potential to upset their precarious self-esteem.
Covert narcissists usually aren’t as over the top during the idealization stage, when love-bombing is common. They often appear sensitive and thoughtful rather than charming and gregarious. However, they’re not so different from overt narcissists in the devaluation and discard phase.
They’re just as likely to be emotionally neglectful, blame their partner for their own faults, and demean them to feel more important.
The primary overlap between covert and cerebral narcissists is that they both are seen as quiet and introverted. Covert narcissists need not be particularly intelligent or focused on intellectual pursuits though, they’re simply not as outgoing as overt narcissists.
They can still focus on wealth, body image, and other facets of their life that would be completely uninteresting to the cerebral narcissist; cerebral narcissists are distinctly separate in this respect.
How to Deal With a Cerebral Narcissist?
A cerebral narcissist always seems to have one more trick up their sleeve and one last crushing zinger in an argument. It can feel like there’s no way to win with them and that the best course of action is to just follow their lead. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be the case and there are a few things you can do to minimize the hurt inflicted by a cerebral narcissist.
Cerebral narcissists always consider themselves the smartest person in the room and they will do anything to get you to feel the same way. Most often they will belittle their victims to the point of submission and manipulate them into believing they are of a lesser intelligence and lower value.
This type of narcissist is a master debater and they will do anything to win an argument. Even if you are a competent verbal sparring partner, the narcissist is always willing to go lower and play dirtier. The best advice is to avoid the argument in the first place.
Walk Away (If You Can)
Narcissists of all stripes are hard to treat and without treatment, there’s little chance that they’ll change. No matter how much you study the cerebral narcissist’s traits and understand what makes them tick, you’re bound to get hurt by them.
Partners often feel guilty about leaving, but you can’t sacrifice your own well-being for someone that needs professional help. Leaving is painful, but in the long run, it’s the only way to save yourself from years of narcissistic abuse.
The cerebral narcissist is certainly a more low-key figure compared to somatic narcissists. They’re not flashy or in your face, but they exhibit many of the same dangerous tendencies and are often hurtful to those close to them.
Understanding their disorder and how it is affecting you is the first step to healing from narcissistic abuse. While many narcissists aren’t interesting in changing, some are and with professional help, their negative tendencies can be overcome.