The Narcissistic Malignancy Spectrum

Narcissistic Malignancy

Narcissistic malignancy exists along spectra of type and degree. Not all narcissism is the same. That’s just one reason defining personality disorders is so difficult these days. (See also: Personality Disorders Are Increasingly Difficult to Define.) Moreover, narcissism factors into a wide variety of character disturbances. So, exactly what factors make up someone’s narcissism matters a lot. And some of those factors contribute heavily to a narcsissm properly regarded as malignant. (See, for example: Malignant Narcissism and Malignant Narcissism: At the Core of Psychopathy.)

While several factors can contribute to narcissistic malignancy, two stand out: empathy deficiency and non-neurotic grandiosity.

Neurotic Narcissism and Grandiosity

I’ve written quite a bit about narcissism. But some things are worth mentioning again and again. There’s so much misinformation out there these days. One important thing to remember is that narcissism comes in two very different major forms. And long before research confirmed my observations, I described them in both Character Disturbance and In Sheep’s Clothing.

One major form of narcissism is the classical “neurotic” or “compensatory” type. It was once considered the only type of narcissism. And, unfortunately, some professionals still think it’s the only type. How I wish it were. Why? Because this type is relatively considerably more “benign” than the other major type. Neurotic narcissists are anxious and insecure individuals. And they unconsciously compensate for this with a pompous facade. They may act “all that.” But inwardly, they don’t feel all that. And in their inner sense of worthlessness, they desperately seek attention, approval, and adulation.

It should be said that no type of narcissism is entirely benign. But for various reasons the more more neurotic type is much less problematic than the the other major type. With neurosis comes some semblance of conscience. And with conscience comes a sense of inner disquiet about doing harmful things. That’s why there’s some hope for folks with this kind of narcissism in their character. (See: Aggressors, Narcissists, Conscience, and Character.)

Non-Neurotic Narcissism and Grandiosity

In my books, I call non-neurotic narcissists the charcter disturbed type. And these days, such narcissists are in the majority. Moreover, research indicates that the imbalance between the two narcissistic types is greater in men. So, if the guy you’re with displays grandiosity, you simply can’t assume he’s unconsciously compensating for anything.

I mentioned earlier that narcissistic malignancy is largely about two things: empathy deficiency and non-neurotic grandiosity. Malignantly narcissistic folks act the way they do because they don’t care enough or can’t care enough to behave humanely. And when such folks act “all that,” they’re serious. Whether or not they have any legitimate grounds for it, they truly believe in their specialness and greatness. And their inflated opinions of themselves can border on the delusional. Accordingly, these folks act in remarkably entitled, superior, callous ways. They use and abuse people wantonly. That’s because they lack conscience. And while they’re not starving for adulation, they dare to command it. So, when no one sings their praises, they’ll unabashedly blow their own horn.

Just how malignant someone’s narcsissism is depends on several factors. But as you might imagine, it mostly has to do with how devoid of empathy the person is and how inflated the their sense of self-worth is. And I’ll be talking more about these things in upcoming posts.

The Discussion on Narcissism Continues on Character Matters

I’ve been discussing all things narcissism on The New Character Matters. You can access parts 1 and 2 of the series on the program’s archives page or on my YouTube Channel.  And you can follow this link to Part 3 of All About Narcissism.


2 thoughts on “The Narcissistic Malignancy Spectrum

  1. Hello Dr George, how could I find out if a new friend is a narcissist, I can explain more about him,
    I like him and consider him as a life partner

  2. I am having a hard time figuring out my husband. He fits the neurotic narcissist a little, he had tendencies to be grandiose at times, but mostly he would say he was putting on the “.his name” show and that really he was insecure and shy. He grew up poor with an addict father and possibly his mother drank to deal with the father. His father brags about how he taught his kids not to trust people entirely, observe people, and to use the Catholic church to deal with his “recovery” because AA was just a group of his friends that went out drinking meetings. My father in law can seek attention or be quiet and study people. His son says that his dad was abusive while on drugs (he was also a dealer) but after he got out jail (my husband was a teen) he was finally in recovery and being a father. There was some major stuff my husband needed to work through family wise. I knew my husband had addictive traits, but otherwise he was fine. Just had issues with moderation. My husband was an amazing person who got me. He had never pushed, he was responsible, respectful, honest, fun, helpful to others, empathetic,and we shared the same morals, values and character traits. I felt completely safe, secure, respected,wanted, and loved. We were together 13 years before we got married…the first 7 were for both of us to finish school. ….then limbo happened while we were long distance for jobs. He kept telling me he was waiting for me. Then finally we got married and he was able to get a job where I was. Life was wonderful…. but then I found the porn, he was happy (except for the new job, projections of me controlling our sex life (not true), yelling me I was overreacting when he told someone that he had to check with the boss (referring me) when invited out with a co-worker and that I didn’t appreciate the way that he was painting a picture of me….he could have said let me check with my wife if she is available. He got a DUI in the first year of marriage…..I asked him to use this time to seriously consider if he had a problem. Just stuff would come up every two years where he felt that he could do whatever without consequences. Then more porn. Fast-forward….we have a kid, he almost stroked out (the job if course), another DUI, he starts to act funny and not as vulnerable after 2nd DUI.. no real sex after kid is born, he doesn’t believe in date nights all of a sudden,and four years ago I find evidence of an affair with a married co-worker (they are both teachers), drinking after work and coming home even later, and a complete double life online….. diagnosis? Sex and porn addict could with alcohol. I ask him to get help, he bails only to see his daughter for supervised visits. This has gone on for four year. Any thoughts? My therapist helped me see how he has covertly manipulated, gaslit, and shown disrespectful behavior hidden in a respectable way. His dad is like that too….convincing and empathetic, but then accuses me if playing games. I filed for divorce to protect myself and my daughter, but I still love him and hoped he would get into treatment. It was after I filed ( he ghosted me and our daughter) because he refused the sex addiction treatment and he is supposedly going to AA, but has shown no remorse.He shows characteristics of borderline…..any thoughts?

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