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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11 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?

  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?

  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.

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