What is the definition of a malignant narcissist?


There have been some different methods researchers and clinicians have used to categorize narcissists. One way breaks narcissism into two subtypes. The grandiose subtype was described as “grandiose, arrogant, entitled, exploitative, and envious.” The vulnerable subtype was described as “overly self-inhibited and modest but harboring underlying grandiose expectations for oneself and others.” (Dickinson & Pincus, 2003).

Subsequent research suggested that there were three subtypes of narcissism, which were grandiose/malignant, fragile and high-functioning/exhibitionistic. The grandiose/malignant subtype was characterized by seething anger, interpersonal manipulativeness, the pursuit of interpersonal power and control, lack of remorse, exaggerated self-importance, and feelings of privilege. These narcissists did not seem to experience a poor self-concept, feelings of inadequacy or to experience negative emotional states except anger. They demonstrated little insight into their behavior and blamed others for their problems.

Grandiose/malignant narcissists tend to have the greatest problems with substance abuse and the greatest amount of acting out or violent behavior such as getting into fights and spousal abuse (Russ, Shedler, Bradley, & Westen, 2008).

Characteristics of the Grandiose/Malignant Narcissist (Russ, Shedler, Bradley, & Westen, 2008)

- Has an exaggerated sense of self-importance (e.g., feels special, superior, grand, or envied)

- Appears to feel privileged and entitled; expects preferential treatment

- Has little empathy; seems unable or unwilling to understand or respond to others’ needs or feelings

- Tends to blame own failures or shortcomings on other people or circumstances; attributes his or her difficulties to external factors rather than accepting responsibility for own conduct or choices

- Tends to be critical of others

- Tends to be controlling

- Tends to have extreme reactions to perceived slights or criticism (e.g., may react with rage, humiliation, etc.)

- Has little psychological insight into own motives, behavior, etc.

- Tends to get into power struggles

- Tends to be angry or hostile (whether consciously or unconsciously)

- Takes advantage of others; has little investment in moral values (e.g., puts own needs first, uses or exploits people with little regard for their feelings or welfare, etc.)

- Tends to be dismissive, haughty, or arrogant

- Tends to seek power or influence over others (whether in beneficial or destructive ways)

- Tends to hold grudges; may dwell on insults or slights for long periods

- Tends to be manipulative

- Tends to feel misunderstood, mistreated, or victimized

- Is prone to intense anger, out of proportion to the situation at hand (e.g., has rage episodes)

- Experiences little or no remorse for harm or injury caused to others


Dickinson, K.A, Pincus, A.L., (2003). Interpersonal analysis of grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. J Personal Disord 2003; 17:188–207.

Russ, E., Shedler, J., Bradley, R., & Westen, D. (2008). Refining the construct of narcissistic personality disorder: Diagnostic criteria and subtypes. American Journal of Psychiatry, 165(11), 1473-1481.

Updated on August 1, 2018

Original Article:

Can Narcissists Feel Empathy?
By Natalie Frank

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