The Malignant Narcissist: The Worst Type of Human Evil
Malignant narcissism entails the darker side of narcissistic personality disorder, where aggression, antisocial behaviors, and suspiciousness are as prominent as their poor sense of self, fragility, and egocentricity. A person with malignant narcissism has the potential to destroy families, communities, nations, and work environments. This condition reflects a hybrid or blending of narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders.
Individuals with this profile can form connections with others and often present with a superficial charm that captivates others, but for the purpose of engaging others ultimately for the sake of exploitation and manipulation. They process information in ways that can hurt society in general, but also the people who love or depend on them. Family, co-workers, employees, and others in their lives often have to walk on eggshells to appease a fragile ego and minimize the occurrence of their unstable, impulsive, or aggressive behaviors. They lash out or humiliate others for infractions of even the most frivolous nature (for example, you gave an opinion that differed from theirs; you demonstrated confidence, and it made them look bad; you told a joke that involved poking fun at them). For some, their grandiosity and protection of their fragile “true self” can be at such extreme levels that they will lie and give the impression that simply because they say it, that makes it reality. Many will become angered if their lies are challenged with truth or facts. Of course, this can create problems for the people close to them, as this pattern of behavior can easily veer into gaslighting.
Malignant narcissism is a blend of two disorders that pose problems interpersonally for their victims — narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders. It is not uncommon for others to feel anxious, intimidated by, and fearful of people with this condition. The combination of poor empathy coupled with aggression, hypersensitivity, and suspiciousness can bring pain to others. Those who interact with malignant narcissists often consider them jealous, petty, thin-skinned, punitive, hateful, cunning, and angry. Given their shallowness, they are not regulated emotionally and have beliefs that swing from one extreme to the next. Their decisions can hurt others, because they rank relationships and people based on superficial standards and categories. They want to land on top, even when pretending to be altruistic or engaging in an activity that should not be “all about them.” They often view the world through a primitive binary lens (for example, winner/loser; smart/dumb; rich/poor; pretty/ugly; black/white) — all the while sustaining the belief that they are superior. This is likely associated with problems processing emotional information, which reflects faulty neurobiology.
The terms malignant narcissist and psychopath are sometimes used interchangeably because there is little to clinically separate the two. Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder, malignant narcissism, and psychopathy all display similar traits which are outlined in the Hare Psychopathy Checklist. The test has 20 items scored on a three-point scale, with a rating of 0 if it does not apply at all, 1 if there is a partial match or mixed information, and 2 if there is a reasonably good match. With a maximum score of 40, the cut-off for the label of psychopathy is 30 in the United States and 25 in the United Kingdom. High scores are positively associated with measures of impulsivity and aggression, Machiavellianism, persistent criminal behavior, and negatively associated with measures of empathy and affiliation.
While narcissists are common, malignant narcissists are less common. A notable difference between the two is the feature of sadism, or the gratuitous enjoyment of the pain of others. A narcissist will deliberately damage other people in pursuit of their own selfish desires, but may regret and will in some circumstances show remorse for doing so, while a malignant narcissist will harm others and enjoy doing so, showing little empathy or regret for the damage they have caused.
Professor Robert Hare is a criminal psychologist, and the creator of the PCL-R, a psychological assessment used to determine whether someone is a psychopath (which is basically the same as a malignant narcissist). For decades, he has studied people with psychopathy, and worked with them, in prisons and elsewhere. “It stuns me, as much as it did when I started 40 years ago, that it is possible to have people who are so emotionally disconnected that they can function as if other people are objects to be manipulated and destroyed without any concern,” he says. Our understanding of the brain is still in its infancy, and it’s not so many decades since psychological disorders were seen as character failings. Slowly we are learning to think of mental illnesses as illnesses, like kidney disease or liver failure, and developmental disorders, such as autism, in a similar way. Psychopathy challenges this view. “A high-scoring psychopath views the world in a very different way,” says Hare. “It’s like color-blind people trying to understand the color red, but in this case ‘red’ is other people’s emotions.”
At heart, Hare’s test is simple: a list of 20 criteria, each given a score of 0 (if it doesn’t apply to the person), 1 (if it partially applies) or 2 (if it fully applies). The list in full is: glibness and superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, cunning/manipulative, lack of remorse, emotional shallowness, callousness and lack of empathy, unwillingness to accept responsibility for actions, a tendency to boredom, a parasitic lifestyle, a lack of realistic long-term goals, impulsivity, irresponsibility, lack of behavioral control, behavioral problems in early life, juvenile delinquency, criminal versatility, a history of “revocation of conditional release” (ie broken parole), multiple marriages, and promiscuous sexual behavior.
A pure, prototypical psychopath would score 40. A score of 30 or more qualifies for a diagnosis of psychopathy. Hare says: “A friend of mine, a psychiatrist, once said: ‘Bob, when I meet someone who scores 35 or 36, I know these people really are different.’ The ones we consider to be alien are the ones at the upper end.”
The Psychopathy (Malignant Narcissist) Checklist
GLIB AND SUPERFICIAL CHARM — the tendency to be smooth, engaging, charming, slick, and verbally facile. Psychopathic charm is not in the least shy, self-conscious, or afraid to say anything. A psychopath never gets tongue-tied. He can also be a great listener, to simulate empathy while zeroing in on his targets’ dreams and vulnerabilities, to be able to manipulate them better.
GRANDIOSE SELF-WORTH — a grossly inflated view of one’s abilities and self-worth, self-assured, opinionated, cocky, a braggart. Psychopaths are arrogant people who believe they are superior human beings.
NEED FOR STIMULATION or PRONENESS TO BOREDOM — an excessive need for novel, thrilling, and exciting stimulation; taking chances and doing things that are risky. Psychopaths often have a low self-discipline in carrying tasks through to completion because they get bored easily. They fail to work at the same job for any length of time, for example, or to finish tasks that they consider dull or routine.
PATHOLOGICAL LYING — can be moderate or high; in moderate form, they will be shrewd, crafty, cunning, sly, and clever; in extreme form, they will be deceptive, deceitful, underhanded, unscrupulous, manipulative and dishonest.
CONNING AND MANIPULATIVENESS: the use of deceit and deception to cheat, con, or defraud others for personal gain; distinguished from Item #4 in the degree to which exploitation and callous ruthlessness is present, as reflected in a lack of concern for the feelings and suffering of one’s victims.
LACK OF REMORSE OR GUILT: a lack of feelings or concern for the losses, pain, and suffering of victims; a tendency to be unconcerned, dispassionate, cold-hearted and unempathic. This item is usually demonstrated by a disdain for one’s victims.
SHALLOW AFFECT: emotional poverty or a limited range or depth of feelings; interpersonal coldness in spite of signs of open gregariousness and superficial warmth.
CALLOUSNESS and LACK OF EMPATHY: a lack of feelings toward people in general; cold, contemptuous, inconsiderate, and tactless.
PARASITIC LIFESTYLE: an intentional, manipulative, selfish, and exploitative financial dependence on others as reflected in a lack of motivation, low self-discipline and the inability to carry through one’s responsibilities.
POOR BEHAVIORAL CONTROLS: expressions of irritability, annoyance, impatience, threats, aggression and verbal abuse; inadequate control of anger and temper; acting out and hastily.
PROMISCUOUS SEXUAL BEHAVIOR: a variety of brief, superficial relations, numerous affairs, and an indiscriminate selection of sexual partners; the maintenance of numerous, multiple relationships at the same time; a history of attempts to sexually coerce others into sexual activity (rape) or taking great pride at discussing sexual exploits and conquests.
EARLY BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS: a variety of behaviors prior to age 13, including lying, theft, cheating, vandalism, bullying, sexual activity, fire-setting, glue-sniffing, alcohol use and running away from home.
LACK OF REALISTIC, LONG-TERM GOALS: an inability or persistent failure to develop and execute long-term plans and goals; a nomadic existence, aimless, lacking direction in life.
IMPULSIVITY: the occurrence of behaviors that are unpremeditated and lack reflection or planning; inability to resist temptation, frustrations and momentary urges; a lack of deliberation without considering the consequences; foolhardy, rash, unpredictable, erratic and reckless.
IRRESPONSIBILITY: repeated failure to fulfill or honor obligations and commitments; such as not paying bills, defaulting on loans, performing sloppy work, being absent or late to work, failing to honor contractual agreements.
FAILURE TO ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR OWN ACTIONS / PROJECTS BLAME: a failure to accept responsibility for one’s actions reflected in low conscientiousness, an absence of dutifulness, antagonistic manipulation, denial of responsibility, and an effort to manipulate others through this denial. Projects negative thoughts, actions and beliefs on others.
MANY SHORT-TERM RELATIONSHIPS: a lack of commitment to a long-term relationship reflected in inconsistent, undependable, and unreliable commitments in life, including in marital and familial bonds.
JUVENILE DELINQUENCY: behavior problems between the ages of 13-18; mostly behaviors that are crimes or clearly involve aspects of antagonism, exploitation, aggression, manipulation, or a callous, ruthless tough-mindedness.
REVOCATION OF CONDITION RELEASE: a revocation of probation or other conditional release due to technical violations, such as carelessness, low deliberation or failing to appear.
CRIMINAL VERSATILITY: a diversity of types of criminal offenses, regardless if the person has been arrested or convicted for them; taking great pride at getting away with crimes or wrongdoings.