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.