Severe Narcissistic Malignancy
Severe narcissistic malignancy defines psychopathy (alt: sociopathy). Now, I’m well aware of how confusing the terms psychopathy and sociopathy can be. And that’s no accident. Professionals played loose with both terms for years. As a result, the general public understandably became confused. However, it’s well worth examining these character disorders closely.
Extreme character disturbances of all types are more common these days. And that includes those characterized by severe narcissistic malignancy. So, it’s inherently empowering to be in the know about them.
As I’ve written before, narcissism can come in some relatively benign forms. (See: Amorous Narcissists Can Charm Convincingly .) However, when certain aspects of narcissism are extreme, it becomes malignant. (See: The Narcissistic Malignancy Spectrum.) And malignant narcissism lies at the root of the most serious character disturbances. (See: Malignant Narcissism: At the Core of Psychopathy and Malignant Narcissism Goes Beyond Haughtiness.)
Severe narcissistic malignancy is ultimately about heartlessness and extreme ego inflation. When someone lacks empathy it’s problematic enough. But when when they also feel superior and entitled, they can exhibit all manner of ruthlessness.
Antisociality, Psychopathy, and Sociopathy
Folks often use the term “antisocial” incorrectly. Some use it to denote social stand-offishness. However, the technical definition is different. Literally, to be antisocial means to be “against society” or opposed to the social order. Antisocial characters are society’s archetypal rule-breakers. They hate someone telling them what to do. They’re fiesty, contentious, and fiercely independent. (I describe them in In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance as “unbridled aggressive.”) They’re the “hot-headed” among us. In contrast, psychopaths and sociopaths are society’s more “cold-hearted” predators.
As I mentioned, severe narcissitic malignancy is mostly about heartlessness and extreme ego inflation. Early researchers thought people who appeared to have no heart or conscience suffered from a form of insanity. That’s where the term “psychopath” (literally: “diseased mind”) came from. Later researchers focused heaviliy on the socially predatory behavior of such folks. That’s why and how we started using the term “sociopath” more commonly.
As you might expect, antisocial personalities frequently run afoul of the law. But most hot-headed common criminals are not psychopaths. Moreover, many psychopaths are stealthy enough as predators to avoid social sanction. And that makes them even more dangerous. (See also: Predators Among Us: The Psychopaths.)
Like most character disturbances, psychopathy and sociopathy are on a spectrum. And I was the first to describe the folks some have called “almost a psychopath.” (Others now call these types “covert narcissists”.) These are the folks who can present mask of civility and charm but will still wantonly abuse and exploit you. And they’re the subject of the book that launched my career. Because they can be so adept at looking good, most folks only learn who they are after it’s too late. (See also: How Did We End Up Here?.)
Pathological heartlessness and egomania are certainly not normal but are sadly becoming more common. And I’ll be saying more about the factors contributing to severe narcissistic malignancy in the coming weeks, both in the weekly articles and on the “New” Character Matters program. The current episode explorespersonality, character, and some of the roots of extreme character dysfunction. Find it on YouTube and in the Archives.