Malignant Narcissism: At the Core of Psychopathy

As I mentioned in my post of last week, psychopathy (alt: sociopathy)  has received a lot of attention in recent years.  That’s primarily because of the dedication of the eminent researcher Dr. Robert Hare.  And Hare was among the first to identify the critical factor at work in psychopathy:  the callous, senseless, remorseless use and abuse of others rooted in severe empathy deficits. Although some psychopaths, do lead socially parasitic lifestyles and engage in criminal activity and other antisocial behaviors, Hare emphasizes that being antisocial is not what makes someone a psychopath.  There are many hooligans who are not psychopathic.   Psychopaths are distinguished from other problem characters because their extreme lack of empathy causes them to act with complete indifference and without conscience.  That’s what makes them capable of some of the most cold-hearted actions toward others.  And, because they can project an air of charm and civility, they can appear otherwise quite normal, they might even be, as Martha Stout points out, the person “next door.”

One of the things that I stress in my book Character Disturbance, is that psychopaths possess a uniquely malignant form of narcissism.  They not only have little empathy for others, but also see themselves as superior to typical human beings.  They actually consider themselves a superior form of life compared to other humans, which in their mind creates a justification for preying on those they regard as inferior.  It’s their highly malignant narcissism that makes them capable of the callous, senseless, remorseless, use and abuse of others that defines their core character trait. Recently, a police investigation in Utah uncovered a plot involving two teens that demonstrates this point all to chillingly well:

An 18-year old and a 16-year old boy were arrested on suspicion of plotting a Columbine-style massacre at a school.  And no, these boys were not misfits who had borne the scars of taunting, ostracization, or abuse,which should dispel another false notion about what must underlie such behaviors.  The 18-year old could not help bragging to police that he was intrigued by the Columbine event simply because of its magnitude, and for some time had been contemplating how he could put his “superior mind” to the task of creating an even more calamitous event and getting away with it.  So, he spent hours studying the crime, all the “mistakes” made by the perpetrator, and the response of the law enforcement community.  He even visited the town and the site several times.  He couldn’t believe what “fools” almost everyone had been and was determined to demonstrate that a superior intellect such as his could wipe out many more lives, leave an indelible mark on the community, and ensure his name would be immortalized. In addition, he would not only get away with the crime but would have many years to bask in the glory of his accomplishment.  The police investigators were taken aback by the candor and calm demeanor the young man displayed when bragging about his plan.  They were also struck by his apparent confidence, despite the fact that plan had obvious holes in it.  This demonstrates that the grandiosity inherent in malignant narcissism rarely has any factual justification.  As Stanton Samenow has often put it, such personalities are “legends in their own minds.”

As tragic as it is, sometimes people are attracted to the confidence and charm that psychopathic personalities project.  This causes them to ignore their internal danger sensors. And by the time they come to their senses, they’ve already been worked over by these pathologically haughty and unfeeling characters.  Make no mistake, no one is more dangerous than a person who sets him or herself above others to the point that he or she feels entitled to prey on those viewed as inferior.

One of the main things I tried to accomplish with Character Disturbance, was to give folks a framework for understanding the broad spectrum of character disturbance, and to distinguish how some personality types, including those as pathological as psychopaths and sociopaths, fit within this framework and compare to other problem characters.  Knowledge is power.  And the more we understand about the kinds of problem characters we’re likely to encounter, the less likely we are to be taken in or victimized by them.  It’s my hope that Character Disturbance will do for heightening awareness of the disturbing phenomenon of our age what In Sheep’s Clothing did for helping folks understand and deal with manipulation.

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22 thoughts on “Malignant Narcissism: At the Core of Psychopathy

  1. The one I know, was breast feed for over 5 years. The family would joke, that ounce in the armed forces he would ask special leave, to come home, for more. He lived with the family until marriage. After Dad passed away, he lived near momma, and made himself, the guardian of the family estate. He had the various holdings, transferred to joint accounts, of himself and momma. Some were joint accounts, and some we’re transfer on dead. Being that all holdings were on one person name, there was no need for probate. Out of one account he made himself and his brother joint owners. Then he feigned notating transferred his half, near the time of dad’s dead. So he inherited again half of everything. In other words, he got 3/4 . This type is really a vampire type. I thank you whoever gave me the opportunity. I to sound off. P.s I did hire a lawyer, but being that things were in his name, and transferd to him. I had no legal recourse.

    1. Joao…….It’s just unreal the level of lowness these people are capable of. I’m sorry to hear what you have been through and hope that you can move on happily in your life.

  2. I don’t remember reading this article before but thank you Dr. Simon for this!!
    ” They were also struck by his apparent confidence, despite the fact that plan had obvious holes in it. This demonstrates that the grandiosity inherent in malignant narcissism rarely has any factual justification. As Stanton Samenow has often put it, such personalities are “legends in their own minds.”

  3. “Knowledge is power. And the more we understand about the kinds of problem characters we’re likely to encounter, the less likely we are to be taken in or victimized by them. ”
    Very true, so very true……but it’s still not 100% because they come in so many sizes, shapes and descriptions. When Israel Keys was arrested he said himself that there were going to be a lot of people who were very surprised because NO one had a clue about what he really was.

  4. My husband made a false statement to the police saying that I was dangerous person and violent that he was afraid of me and a judge granted a temporary restraint order! I had to do it long time ago because he is the abusive one! But I never did it, now I haven’t seen my kids for almost a month and literally at the streets. My kids are really young 4&5. I’m afraid the scars will stay for ever. I can’t imagine what are being told my their father.

    1. Marina,

      So so sorry to read this. This is typical hateful, vindictive cruel behaviour on the part of the character disordered. Do you have family or friends nearby so that you can establish some security and base of operations for yourself? My heart goes out to you. Try to stay focused and don’t panic. Your children are still young and as long as they have one parent with them, they will be okay. As far as the creature they call, Dad, goes, he won’t likely be able to put much of a dent in their relationship with you.

      Can you reach out to their daycare, babysitter, for a supervised visit until things are straightened out?

      I went out with a man over 20 years ago now, who became enraged with me because I refused to testify in court that he was the better parent, in his attempt to get sole custody of his children. Same thing. Not done out of cruelty, just out of a desire to take his children with him out of the country. I was aghast. I told him I wasn’t going to lie in court and that there was no way I was going to be part of basically stealing another woman’s children from her. Then I left him.

      Can you hire a lawyer pro bono?

      1. If you go to court for this woman state only the facts not what you think he is for criticize him. His attorney will try to trap you into answering questions that discount you as a witness.always ask that attorney to rephrase the question especially if you feel like you’re going to get angry.

    2. Stay away from the emotional charge statements because that is the narcissistic tool to manipulate & ,destroy you just state the facts in a very bland and methodic repetitive statements. Example I am afraid for my children life. I hope they will be able to survive his mental and manipulative abuse.

  5. I met someone that claimed everyone else was manipulative but he did strange things that seemed designed to put you or others down all under the guise of trying to be helpful and honest. It was annoying and confusing. I once watched him talking to someone from a distance and at one point I could see from the body language of the other person that he had stuck his needle into the chink in the other person’s armor and they were being too polite to show protest or anger. He could really do this in a way that made others question their own perceptions. Questioning one’s own perceptions is sometimes a very intelligent thing to do but when it comes to a narcissist I wonder if it is not sometimes fatal. Any insights?

    1. Confusion in annoyance is one of the tools that nurses use to control you. And when they imply they you want to publicly display concern of his behavior and never be in contact with him after that even if he promises he’ll never do it again.

      1. manipulation & confusion Narcissis Use to control you. When you confront confront them. Label you as crazy or you’re not listening for your imagining this

  6. I am reading this because I’m trying to understand my ex husband. I left 2 years ago when my children revealed abuse. I was in shock. He filed for divorce so he could have the kids back. I have 11 children, 5 adults and 6 minors. The CFI for our case filed a 273 page report and said since he’s been doing these case since 1983 this is the worst in regards to child physical, sexual and emotional abuse. And the worst case of psychological domestic violence. He said he’s never before recommended no parenting time but he is certain my ex would manipulate my children even if supervised. This is both relieving and horrifying. We had nothing to compare it to. As for criminal charges, we are waiting for the DA to decide if and what charges to file. It took KBI and CBI almost a year to finish interviews and reports on my family. My ex refused and interview. We are doing very well now. Oh, my ex is a domestic violence trainer, drug hold as CAC 3, is a clinical supervisor a nationally certified counselor and many more certifications, and was a part time pastor for 16 years. The church almost all took his side.

    1. Narcissists are very calculated he’s what you call a covert narcissistsince he hides behind his titles and his façade. You will have to start documenting what he does when he does it. Stay away & get the hell away from . Every single time he has a statement about what he thinks you are. Best answer for that is you know what you’re right I have no right to tell you what you think of me I have no control over what you think of me and what you say about me.

  7. Dealing with many N/S and even Ps, I have found that Ns and S’s do not think; they constantly assume. This is a serious flaw on their behalf – if their assumptions are incorrect, the N/S becomes frustrated and then rages at the target.

  8. In my training in classical psychotherapy, neofreudian, amd object relations counseling schools, there is a fundamental error in attribution of meaning in this article. An omd professor of mine clarified the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath with a rather easy way to remember.

    The psychopath will kill you, because you crossed a boundary over something they love. I.e., stepped on their family bible. The sociopath, on the other hand, will kill you just to see the lights go out.

    The callous lack of empathy and social ease is the territory of the sociopath. The psychopath, conversely, is tormented by the constancy of deep emotion; they lack appropriate internal means of meeting life measure for measure. The dark, brooding, introvert with failed connections is a more fitting stereotype for the psychopath, than the cavalier detached image of the sociopath.

  9. My father was a rougue and an manipulator without empathy. I never knew how he effected the other three siblings were because I was raped an abused by his best friend a pediofile. I was allowed one visit to a psychiatrist who told me to leave home at eighteen or when I could support myself. My father’s behavior was normal to three siblings. The youngest, Henry became a schizophrenic. I now realized Henry’s life was ruined by my family. They are in conspiracy to ruin mine. They have stolen million of my inheritance and tried to become my guardian. One brother claimed in court that he was a psychiatrist from Harvard. It is not true. My siblings took away by guardianship of Henry. I fear for my own life and that of my brother Henry. They accused me of stealing money that never existed, paid off my lawyers and maybe the judge in backwater’s KY. everything was done under the table. I am going to court in Florida. The three siblings have been in conspiracy to ruin me and readly brag about it. They tell me that I must love the people who hate me.

    1. Hi Elizabeth Murrell,

      You probably got good advice in leaving harmful environment as soon as you could. Once out of the games, and reflecting & observing it from outside, give a vastly different perspective that one simply cannot have while being bang in middle of those games. And, once that knowledge is gained, one can choose to go back in for the loved ones.
      Let no one guilt-trip or shame you into doing something that you don’t want to do. With regards to loving other, my take will be following:
      First develop self-respect for what you are and what you do. Same way respect others only to the extent what they are and what they actually do. Of course, in respecting others the social niceties and pleasantries guideline applies, but only to a certain limit.
      Then, once one is self-sufficient and strong standing alone, that person will love self as as he/she is. Of course, in loving self, we need to grow above selfish, hedonistic, I win – you lose kind of behaviours. Only then one can love other – doing something for others without expecting something in return.

      I meet my daughter only once a while. And, I risk losing even that if my wife decides to take that away by getting protection order on some false pretext – something that is way too easy. The way I console myself is that as long as I stay in touch from a distance, someday my daughter will grow up and she will come looking for me & answers (children almost always do, as long as they see something in distance), and that time hopefully I can present a better role model than what I could have been had I staying fully engaged with a veteran manipulator in a manipulative toxic environment.

    2. Elizabeth Murrell,

      Andy D gave great feedback.

      Unfortunately, I’ve dealt with a lot of these horrible people – family members and former bosses. What I’ve learned, and perhaps might be of help to you, is that you first need to get completely away from them. As in, no communication/contact with them or anyone that may report back to them.

      That gives you the mental/physical space you need to feel safe and secure. It helps to calm your nervous system so you can think clearly, rationally. It may take a bit of time. It’s important that you carefully attempt to get a support system. You might call local domestic violence shelters for a reference for a counselor that has experience with these sorts of characters. They are also a great listening ear and can give helpful safety tips. Since you are vulnerable, open up slowly to a counselor if they are not trained to deal with these sorts of dynamics. I’ve had counselors discount, minimize, make excuses for the bad behavior, blame me, etc.., and ended up more traumatized.
      A support system will help you be heard, keep perspective, figure out what your rights and options are, etc..

      The abusers often provoke to make you seem unstable (or in your and my case, terrified)! If you react out of the understandable panic and fear you feel, you may come across as unstable. Even though your feelings are perfectly understandable. They will use what they can out of context to make their case. In my experience, they try to bait you into doing something that will be disastrous to you (emotionally, financially, look bad/unreliable/aggressive/crazy). The goal is to destroy you.

      If you know their goal is to get you to look crazy, you must make sure you choose what you do/say carefully. Act with clear mind and purpose. If you can’t do that, then don’t act or say anything! Take the time you need to get to that place.

      Once you have your support system in place, have a plan, and you feel calm, strong and focused, then, if you choose, act. I’ve learned to only communicate them if you have to and then, only in writing. Document everything. It protects you and sends a strong message. Communicate respectfully and deal only in facts. Keep a paper trail. If they brag about their conspiracy to ruin you, they may just put that in writing too!

      I had a boss who used to brag about how he tricked and stole from people! He thought nothing of it! He was smart enough though, I think, not to brag like that in front of clients. I quit that job even though I didn’t have another one lined up because he was a psychopath and the emotional/psychological abuse was brutal. He lies when employers call to check my reference, claims all sorts of falsehoods.

      If your brother is that big of a fraud, it should be fairly easy for an attorney to build your case. However, the toll it takes on one while dealing with/recovering from cannot be underestimated. I’m currently dealing with something similar – stepbrother and his attorney stole our inheritance, took over guardianship of my brother when my brother’s guardian died and took his inheritance all the while trying to convince my siblings that I was the bad guy for challenging it. The siblings unfortunately went back and forth, first on board, then turned on me, they were tricked and manipulated into believing – despite all the evidence to the contrary. They didn’t want to (couldn’t?) deal with the reality, so chose the fantasy? Crazymaking, irrational, exhausting stuff.

      For my brother, I contacted an attorney, Social Security, special services, and everyone else I could and documented what happened and asked them to do the same and to protect him.

      The hurt, devastation and destruction they cause is often unbearable. Please take good care of yourself. You have to save yourself or you remain unsaved. Then, and only then, can you protect your siblings.

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