Narcissism or Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is something which has gained a great deal of visibility recently. It is now widely discussed in a variety of contexts and by a great number of people, programs, and publications.
It is most discussed, however, in its more sinister and damaging form: malignant narcissism.
When stories of narcissistic abuse in relationships of all kinds come to light, chances are the victim is dealing with a malignant narcissist.
Since the traits that make up NPD all sit along a spectrum, so narcissism itself also comes in different levels of severity.
There are those who might rightfully be diagnosed as having NPD who are no more than the boastful, shallow, needy, jealous, and grandiose friends, colleagues, family members, and acquaintances you might interact with regularly.
Aside from being somewhat draining and hard to like in any deep or meaningful sense, they can be relatively harmless, benign even (relatively being the key word – they can still cause harm or be quite the nuisance).
As you move along the spectrum and the negative traits are dialled up, you enter the territory of the malignant narcissist.
Along with more acute narcissist traits, these people also tend to share traits of Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD), psychopathy, and other forms of personality disorder.
While malignant narcissism is not recognized as a separate disorder by the psychiatric profession, we can try to define it nonetheless.
This article will discuss the traits that are most closely associated with a malignant narcissist.
It is worth remembering at all times that each of these traits will have a spectrum of its own. No two personalities are the same and some characteristics might appear more prominent than others according to the individual.
Whilst not wishing to give one trait more importance than another, those that appear higher in this list are more closely associated with the specific malignant narcissism we are trying to define. Those toward the bottom are more widely found in all forms of narcissism.
The definition of malignant, according to Dictionary.com is: “disposed to cause harm, suffering, or distress deliberately; feeling or showing ill will or hatred.”
This perfectly describes one of the key traits of the malignant narcissist: sadism.
A sadist gains enjoyment from the pain, suffering, and humiliation of others. They willingly inflict this suffering to gratify themselves and to control others. This may manifest as verbal, emotional, and even physical abuse.
It may also show in the way they treat animals and their indifference toward violence in movies, TV shows, and on the news.
2. Proactive Manipulation
All narcissists manipulate to some degree; it is their way of getting what they want.
But manipulation comes in different forms. There are those who are opportunists, who seek to capitalize on events or take advantage of anyone in a vulnerable state.
Then there are others – the malignant types – who are proactive in their manipulation. By this, we mean that they don’t wait for something to happen and then respond to it, they will manipulate as and when they feel the need.
In fact, they get almost as much enjoyment from manipulating others as they do from making them suffer. This is, perhaps, somewhat unsurprising given that manipulation often leads to suffering.
They are more forceful and less subtle in how they manipulate others, yet they also employ a greater range of tactics from gaslighting to love bombing.
These acts of manipulation are calculated, planned, honed over years of use until they reach their peak of effectiveness. This is one of the key dangers of malignant narcissism – the free will of the victim is diminished and they grow ever more helpless to remove themselves from the situation.
3. Antisocial Behaviors
Given that malignant narcissism crosses into Antisocial Personality Disorder, it probably won’t come as any surprise to hear that they engage in various types of antisocial behavior.
They are up for the fight – any fight, with anyone, at any time. This forms part of the destructive pattern of narcissistic behavior.
4. Hypersensitivity To Criticism
You criticize a malignant narcissist at your peril.
Some sufferers of NPD further down the scale might be able to brush off criticism because they consider it ludicrous and a joke – they are perfect after all.
Others find any form of criticism an affront to their character and go on the attack at the slightest hint of it.
Their sense of self is so fragile that it is easily damaged, and retaliation or escalation is the only means they know of feeling better about themselves.
Malignant narcissists don’t trust anyone. Quite the opposite, in fact. They are overly suspicious of everyone and believe others are out to get them.
This likely stems from the fact that they seek to manipulate others for their personal gain, and so they believe everyone else acts the same way (or has the capacity to).
This paranoia can lead to a state of hypervigilance where they are always on the lookout for threats. They can become preoccupied with what other people are doing; often leading them to control the movements of their victims for fear of what they might otherwise do or say.
All narcissists lack empathy to some degree, but like all of these traits, there is a spectrum.
As we’ve already discussed, the malignant type will happily inflict pain and suffering on others. They also ignore and invalidate any emotions shown by another being.
One key thing to note is that the less dangerous narcissists may be able to experience empathy, but they are often – though not always – unwilling to let it influence them. They may even experience remorse or regret on some level.
A malignant narcissist simply cannot feel empathy full stop. They cannot put themselves in another’s shoes or relate to their feelings. It’s a totally foreign concept to them. They feel and show no remorse for any suffering they cause and this is how they can behave in such a malicious manner.
It’s not always easy to take responsibility for our actions – this is not only true of narcissists.
Yet they take things to a different level. Sometimes they will accept that they acted in a certain way, but they will warp the truth to make it seem like they were justified in doing so. They will externalize the responsibility to something or someone else (in other words, play the blame game).
Other times they might refuse to accept that their actions were wrong or unacceptable. They will flat out deny responsibility for the hurt caused to others or other undesirable outcomes they may have caused.
8. Need For Attention
All narcissists need a form of supply. That is, they need the frequent attention, adoration, and affection of others in order to make themselves feel good and restore their energy levels.
They feed off it.
A low-level or moderate narcissist may seek out mostly positive forms of attention to bolster their sense of self-worth. A malignant narcissist may get almost as much satisfaction from negative attention too.
They may enjoy playing the villain and, as we stated above, they aren’t afraid of confrontation and fighting in the moral, intellectual, or physical sense.
This trait is actually one where there is far less overlap with someone who suffers from Antisocial Personality Disorder or psychopathy.
They typically don’t care what other people think of them and will sometimes prefer to be a loner rather than the center of attention.
Narcissists have an inflated sense of their self-importance. They believe they are better than others in every way: more attractive, more intelligent, more successful, more important.
This grandiosity is the root cause of their sense of entitlement. Since they believe themselves to be superior to everyone else, they consider it necessary to be treated as such.
Again, this is not as common in those with APD.
Because they hold themselves in such high regard, if they encounter someone with a trait or lifestyle or possession that they covet, they are consumed with envy.
They hate to see others with something that they do not have. When they do, they will belittle them and put their ownership of that thing down to pure luck. Rarely do they admit that someone is deserving of such a thing.
If the opportunity presents itself, they are not afraid to sabotage someone’s success by giving bad advice or purposefully smearing that person’s reputation.
And they revel in the failure of others – perhaps not overtly (though this is a possibility), but certainly on the inside they will be doing a happy dance.
As a narcissist, it’s all about me, myself, and I. They act for their own benefit and no one else’s.
They talk about themselves, many enjoy being in the spotlight, they put others down, and they are overly concerned with their appearance and what other people think of them.
They see their beliefs as true facts, are short-sighted and narrow-minded, and are prone to oversimplifying a complex situation to suit their views.
Most narcissists have the ability to turn on the charm when they need to. In fact, when you first meet one, they can seem like friendly, amenable people.
This is how they are able to snare their victims. They wear a mask and are careful not to let it slip until their target has been adequately manipulated and broken down.
Even if you are not their primary target, they will try to use a charm offensive to make you act in a certain way or have a certain opinion of them
It’s all false and fake of course; they do not say or do nice things with any sincerity.
So, a malignant narcissist is considered to be someone who straddles both Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD).
While they will likely embody all of the traditional traits of narcissism, they will differ in some ways from the person with APD or a psychopath.
They will also have more exaggerated narcissistic tendencies than other narcissists, particularly in areas involving harming others, aggression, and manipulation.
They are a more extreme, abusive, and dangerous type of narcissist and one who should be avoided at all costs.