The Malignant Narcissist: A Joyful Sadist
If you have studied narcissistic personality disorder, you may have heard the term "malignant narcissism." Malignant narcissism is not an actual psychiatric diagnosis—it is more of a proposed subtype of narcissistic personality disorder.
When studying personality disorders in general, it is important to keep in mind that they range from mild to severe, and sometimes they even border on psychosis. Not every antisocial person is a serial killer, and not every narcissistic person has traits of malignant narcissism.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th Ed., 2000) narcissistic personality disorder encompasses the following traits:
- A grandiose sense of self-importance
- Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love
- Belief that he/she is “special” and can only be understood by other high-status people
- Requires excessive admiration
- Has a sense of entitlement
- Exploits others
- Lacks empathy
- Is envious and believes others are envious of him/her
- Is arrogant and haughty
About 1% of the general population meet criteria for this disorder, but cases are steadily rising.
Antisocial Personality Disorder
The traits of antisocial personality disorder include:
- Failure to conform to social norms (e.g. laws)
- Deceitfulness (e.g. lying, conning, manipulating)
- Irritability and aggressiveness (e.g. a pattern of fighting, often physical in nature)
- Reckless disregard for the safety of others (e.g. driving recklessly with children in the car)
- Consistently irresponsible behaviors (e.g. doesn’t pay bills, skips from job to job)
- Lack of remorse (e.g. either demonstrates no remorse or demonstrates fake remorse)
You may notice that people with antisocial personality disorder often come across as charming and charismatic. This is part of the manipulation to draw in others who they may exploit and hurt in the future. About 4% of the population meet criteria for antisocial personality disorder and there is a familial pattern noted (DSM-IV TR, 2000). Most of those diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder are male, though females do suffer from it as well. For more detailed information about antisocial personality disorder, please see my article on this topic here.
Malignant Narcissism: Charles Manson?
It is very likely that you have encountered a person who embodies many of these traits. However, it is far less likely that you have encountered a malignant narcissist. You probably have seen or heard of Charles Manson. Those who believe malignant narcissism is a separate entity from narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder may give Charles Manson as an example of a malignant narcissist. Watch the video below and then read on for more information about malignant narcissism. Decide for yourself whether Charles Manson and others like him have traits and symptoms that go far beyond those listed for narcissistic and antisocial personality disorder.
Does Charles Manson have:
A malignant narcissist is hypothesized to have:
- Symptoms of narcissism
- Lack of a conscience
- Grandiosity built around aggression
- A psychological need for power
- Enjoyment of cruelty
You might see malignant narcissism in any of these scenarios:
- Serial killers
- Serial rapists
- Severe bullies
- Serial adulterers
Note that many of these are “serial” in nature. That is because personality disorders do not exacerbate and remit like many other mental illness (e.g. bipolar disorder). When a person has a personality disorder, it is for life, especially without intensive psychiatric treatment. The behaviors are largely choices, though some would argue that the biological and environmental factors at play leave little choice in the long-term.
Treatment of Malignant Narcissism
Malignant narcissism is extremely difficult to treat, as the malignant narcissist believes him/herself to be far superior to any doctor or therapist. He would not want another person to have the power to help him. If he were to improve his behavior, he would want to take all the credit for it, but since he is not equipped to deal with his own behavioral problems, it is unlikely his condition will improve with time. In fact, it is likely to worsen. Much of the prison population in the United States is thought to suffer from narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, or malignant narcissism, which seems to be a combination of the two aforementioned disorders. Basically, we do not know how to help this population and our only solution thus far is to imprison them away from people they may harm.
© 2013 Leah Wells-Marshburn