Narcissism has been talked about for a long time as a general personality trait, like the self-absorbed somebody who is so focused on their own appearance and self-admiration that it becomes annoying. But did you know that Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a legitimate disorder that involves more than somebody who suffers from a general dose of vanity?
While the causes for NPD haven’t been pinpointed to an exact cause, it is understood that the cause for the disorder is complex and could largely revolve around parent-child relationships involving excessive amounts of praise or punishment, inherited genetic characteristics, or even a neurobiological basis.
What we do know is that the narcissistic personality disorder is a condition where an individual presents with an inflated sense of self-importance and high levels of self-admiration, a need for constant attention and admiration from others, trouble forming and maintaining relationships, and a general lack of empathy for others. What lies underneath that mask of projected self-importance a lot of the time, however, is a fragile self-esteem that relies on external messages from others and the environment to maintain their notion of self-worth.
When we come across somebody who displays narcissistic qualities, it is good to ask: are we simply dealing with someone who has a selfish character? Or someone who has NDP? An understanding of their behavior allows us to navigate interactions with them more effectively.
Like all types of personality disorders, there are different types of NPD that come with their own nuanced behaviors. Malignant narcissists are often regarded as having the most extreme form of NPD, and while they will have the regular qualities of someone with narcissistic personality disorder, their self-absorption and self-obsession is accompanied by some darker behaviors as well.
Learning how to identify malignant narcissists, what their motivations are, and how best to handle them and interact with them can help you in the long run to avoid any unsavory encounters.
So, What Exactly Is Malignant Narcissism?
As well as all of the regular behaviors associated with NPD, malignant narcissism also involves antisocial behavior, sadism (deriving pleasure from the pain or suffering of others), and a paranoid orientation. This can be contrasted with other common types of NPD, such as grandiose narcissism which generally requires excessive amounts of attention and praise, and vulnerable narcissism which generally involves feeling vulnerable, defensive, and requiring support from others.
Malignant narcissism often involves a combination of internal fragility, aggression, and general suspiciousness of those around them. They are known for being manipulative, and the lack of empathy for others often means that they will do what they must in order to get what they want. Professionals often use the terms malignant narcissist and psychopath interchangeably.
Some of the most common behaviors and symptoms of malignant narcissism include:
Only seeing things as black or white, such as whether someone is a friend or an enemy, or whether or not someone wronged them
They show zero remorse for harming someone, where someone with a different type of NPD may feel guilty after harming someone for self-gain
They will do anything that it takes to get what they want, regardless of the harm it causes others
They may feel empowered by hurting or harming others
They rank relationships and other people based on superficial standards rather than emotional qualities
Obviously, just because someone has no empathy or is self-absorbed doesn’t make them a malignant narcissist or even someone with NPD. However just because someone who has some of these traits isn’t diagnosed as a malignant narcissist doesn’t mean that they can’t do any damage. This article therefore may help you in other interactions as well.
When we interact with malignant narcissists, it is common for people to feel intimidated, anxious, and fearful of someone with this condition. Malignant narcissists may leave an impression that makes people feel like they are jealous, petty, hateful, and cunning.
There are other signs and symptoms that we can look out for as well that are also found in other forms of NPD, and may provide indications that someone is a malignant narcissist. They include:
Focusing on fantasies regarding their beauty, success, and power
Blaming other people for their bad behavior
Having a weak sense of self and lots of hidden insecurities
Taking over conversations and bullying people who they think are below them
Believing they deserve the best from everything and everyone and expecting that to be how things work
Never experiencing remorse or feeling like they need to apologize unless it is for their own benefit
An inability to self-regulate their emotions
Having an inflated sense of self
Lack of empathy for people and animals
Being heavily focused on their appearance and superficial aspects of themselves
Lashing out at others when they feel wronged or emotionally exposed
Taking advantage of people to achieve their own goals
Being unable to take criticism from others
Malignant Narcissism in the Mental Health World
Although malignant narcissism is genuinely considered to be a manifestation of NPD, with experts agreeing that it is the most severe form of the personality disorder, it isn’t recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5). Even though it isn’t listed as a formal diagnosis, psychologists and other mental health experts still use it as an effective term for describing a set of characteristics in people affected by NPD. The reason why it hasn’t been classified as a formal diagnosis is because malignant narcissism is essentially at a crossroads between multiple disorders. It combines aspects of NPD with Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD), aggression and sadism, and paranoia.
Antisocial Personality Disorder
Because of many of the shared similarities between APD and malignant narcissism, it is helpful to understand this type of personality disorder so that it may shed light on some of the characteristics of malignant narcissism. Someone with APD will show some of the following symptoms:
Zero regard for their own safety or that of others
An inability to follow social norms and laws
Being aggressive and irritable
Showing zero remorse for their actions
Lying and manipulating others for their own amusement or to achieve their own goals
Consistent irresponsibility and an avoidance of taking responsibility for their own actions
Dealing with a Narcissist
Whether you have to deal with a loved one who has NPD, or even malignant narcissism, or if it is someone outside of your family like a co-worker or your boss who you can’t avoid, know that there are some approaches and general rules that you can follow to maintain a safe interaction:
Acknowledge that dealing with them won’t be easy. People with NPD generally have poor perceptions of boundaries; however, it is important that you establish and maintain them and acknowledge that it may take some effort to do so. This may involve establishing physical space between the two of you, or maintaining personal boundaries if they repeatedly ask for favors from you.
Don’t expect them to change. Because this is a personality disorder, these kinds of behaviors and aspects of their personality sit at such a core level within them that trying to change them will likely just leave you (and them) frustrated. This is not the same as correcting bad behavior in a child who will learn from the experience, so be prepared to leave them be.
If you challenge them openly and directly, they may fight back. This may not involve physical violence. However, they may try to either manipulate you in retaliation to challenging them over something, or they may manipulate other people against you in an attempt to win and gain dominance. This is an important rule to remember, especially when setting and maintaining healthy boundaries. Sometimes instead of outright saying no and creating a confrontational atmosphere, it can be a good idea to find less confrontational approaches to maintaining boundaries. You don’t have to agree with everything they say or go along with everything they ask, but focus on maintaining a friendly atmosphere and kindly suggest alternatives to them if you really need to.
If confrontation is unavoidable, don’t do it in front of a crowd. If, no matter how hard you try, a confrontation can’t be avoided, doing so in front of spectators will only make them feel like they need to protect themselves more in order to save face in front of a crowd. This can lead to even heavier retaliation. It can be a good idea to pull them aside beforehand, and let them know that you don’t want to challenge them in front of other people as a favor to them.
Let your friends know and surround yourself with supportive people. After any interaction with a malignant narcissist, it is a good idea to keep the people who you trust in the loop regarding what happened so that if anything bad happens that negatively affects you, you will have people around you who are not so easily manipulated who can stand up for you when you are not around and can support you and help protect you if needed. That way you won’t be fighting any battles alone.
Dealing with someone with NPD can be a difficult task, and if they have malignant narcissism, it can be even harder. Remember to try and keep as much distance as you can between them and yourself, however we realize that if they are a family member or someone who you have to regularly interact with then this can be hard. You can reach out to a mental health professional to get access to some great tips and coping methods to ensure that you stay safe and can confidently navigate any future interactions you have with them.
These revelations saw a decline surrounding the stigma of mental health. Having a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder sucks and always will, the point is, people are talking about it, and that’s a good thing.
With all this information about Narcissism at our disposal, how helpful is it to those who genuinely have the condition?
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is one of many personality disorders and is a mental health condition in which individuals have an exaggerated sense of self-importance.
People suffering from NPD often exhibit the following behaviour patterns :
● An exaggerated sense of self-importance
● Difficult or troubled relationships
● Severe lack of empathy towards others
● A deep need for excessive admiration and attention from others
Concealed behind a smokescreen of grandiosity and sheer arrogance, lies brittle self-esteem that is easily breakable with the slightest comment or remark.
Narcissistic Personality Symptoms
The symptoms (and the severity of the symptoms) of Narcissistic Personality Disorder varies from person to person.
The signs and symptoms often feature:
● Exaggerated achievements and talents
● The person has a strong sense of entitlement and needs constant admiration and attention.
● The belief that they are superior to others and that they can only associate themselves with people of a similar select status
● The person is incapable of meeting and recognizing other people’s feelings and needs.
● Being envious of others and having the belief that others are envious of them
● Belittling or looking down on other people, particularly those the narcissist perceives as being inferior
● Behaving in an arrogant, conceited and boastful manner
● Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
● Demanding the best of everything, the best seat on the train, the best office views, etc.
Other symptoms associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder include:
● Becoming angered or enraged when things don’t go their way, or when they don’t receive the special treatment that they feel they are entitled to
● Being incapable of regulating emotions
● Experiencing feelings of shame, humiliation and vulnerability
● Debasing others to feel more superior
● Having personal relationship problems and becoming easily offended
● Experiencing mood swings and depression
Origins of Narcissistic Personality Disorder in Greek Mythology
Anyone with even a smattering of interest in the science of psychology will tell you that the subject is alive with theories related to Greek mythology.
Sigmund Freud’s controversial theory on the Oedipal Complex, for instance, was named after the Greek myth of Oedipus, a young boy who killed his father to marry his mother.
Freud based his Oedipus Complex theory on Oedipus, the Greek Theban King, and hypothesized that children (during the developmental phase) become attracted to the opposite -sex parent and experience hatred and envy towards the same-sex parent.
The story of Narcissus centres on Greek mythology about the son of a River god named Cephissus – his son was called Narcissus.
Narcissus, a young hunter, believed himself so beautiful that he would reject anyone that fell in love with him. Plenty of men and women took their own lives in the name of Narcissus, something that he eventually did himself.
Narcissus broke many a maiden’s hearts (and a few men’s hearts for good measure!).
It wasn’t until Narcissus saw his reflection in the water one day, that this arrogant boy, full of boasting found in his image someone to fall in love with – himself.
The legend goes that Narcissus became so preoccupied with his beauty, that he refused to eat and drink, and eventually wasted away from the pain of unrequited love.
All this eventually led to his death.
Narcissus has since been the origin term for Narcissism, referencing a fixation with oneself, public perception and physical appearance.
Narcissism In Literature
Narcissistic Personality Disorder has roots within the literature, particularly in the novel Le Rouge Et Le Noir (also known as Red and Black), where the character Mathilde is a textbook narcissist.
Prince Korasoff speaks of his beloved girl to character Julien Sorel in a way that can only be synonymous with Narcissism:
She looks at herself instead of looking at you, and so doesn’t know you.
During the two or three outbursts of passion she has allowed herself in your favour, she has, by a great effort of imagination, seen in you the hero of her dreams, and not yourself as you are (1953, Penguin Edition, trans. Margaret R.B. Shaw).
5 Signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Although plenty of personality traits gear towards Narcissism, there are consistencies in those suffering from NPD. These include:
#1. The person believes they are special or unique
In the company of a narcissist, you might notice that they have a deep sense of entitlement.
They want the best of everything; this could be the most expensive food at a restaurant, or the most expensive car in the showroom.
Narcissists are so self-absorbed that to them being seen by a junior doctor for a minor ailment isn’t good enough – they want to see a top specialist, end of story!
#2. They ruin special occasions
Ever had a birthday or anniversary ruined by someone you love? If so, they are likely narcissistic, according to studies.
Special occasions and vacations are a narcissists playground of horrors.
The objective is to sabotage anything that might be important to you; this also shifts the attention back to them, which is what they want.
In essence, a narcissist tends to become very uncomfortable when they see other people around them having fun, especially if they feel excluded in any way.
Experts call this seasonal problem; to devalue and discard, where during special occasions, the narcissist focuses their abuse on close family members and spouses.
The reason behind this sabotage is that a narcissist doesn’t know how to love and will do anything to destroy their relationships.
#3. They are masters of manipulation
Narcissistic manipulation involves devaluing another person’s achievements and successes by one-upmanship and debasing.
All this can involve degrading you and using any weaknesses you might have to add weight to their superiority. The narcissist is the best at everything and won’t let others shine for too long.
#4. They are envious of other people
This envy can get projected onto other people, and the narcissist winds up believing that they are the ones who people envy.
All this comes down to the narcissist’s sense of superiority and self-importance over others. Didn’t you know that narcissists are undoubtedly the fairest of them all?
#5. Lack of empathy
A real sign of a narcissist is the lack of empathy they display towards others and the amount of heart they expect from those around them.
In the world of a selfish person, all is not fair in love and war. What they demand from others, they rarely give back, and if they do, there are usually consequences.
Crying in front of a narcissist, or indeed reacting to their antagonizing ways often creates a cycle of narcissistic supply – something a narcissist needs by the bucket loads to survive!
Indeed, gray rocking or being unresponsive to their damaging whims seems to be one of the ways a victim can survive the narcissist’s abuse.
Why Therapy Doesn’t Always Work For Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
Traditional Therapy doesn’t always work when it comes to treating someone with Narcissism or those who have suffered at the hands of narcissistic abuse.
The reason being is that most therapists are under-educated when it comes to recognizing the signs of narcissistic abuse and the toxic relationships with people who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
NPD often presents many challenges in clinical Therapy, particularly in couples therapy, where the narc and the victim are often at odds with each other.
In Therapy, the narcissist often plays the role of victim, and since narcissists are such great pretenders, they tend to pull their role off very well, Oscar material worthy even!
Going to couples therapy with a narcissist often sets the other person up for victim-blaming. Since therapists are often unaware of the depths of emotional abuse coming from the narcissist, they likely take what they see at face value.
What tends to happen is that the other half of the couple (the victim) gets blamed for most of the struggles in the relationship since they often come across as subdued and quiet in therapy sessions.
Victims of Narcissistic abuse tend to find coping mechanisms to survive the abuse, and this often manifests as them staying silent or gray rocking the narcissist in an attempt to avoid conflict.
Over time, the victim has learned that arguing or sticking up for themselves makes the narcissist more angry, enraged, vengeful and agitated.
They learn the only way to avoid any more conflict is to push down their feelings by being non-reactive to the narcissists antagonizing.
When narcissistic abuse continues in the long-term, it often results in the victim losing their identity and becoming a lesser version of themselves in the act of self-preservation.
To a therapist who isn’t aware of the narcissist’s tricks of the trade, victims often come across as unempathetic, non-compliant and emotionless, when in truth, they are trying to protect themselves from more abuse and blame.
Therefore, recovery from Narcissistic abuse requires a therapist with experience in the field of NPD and, preferably a therapist who can recognize the signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and how the abuse manifests.
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