Most people tend to prefer to have things go their way, but they are generally able to decipher the needs and wants of others and incorporate these things into the decisions they make in their lives. For some, however, they feel an exaggerated sense of self-importance that causes them to lack the empathy needed to compromise and consider others and instead need and crave constant attention and validation from others without returning those sentiments. People who have these characteristics may be diagnosed by a mental health professional as having narcissistic personality disorder; in order for someone to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, they must meet the criteria of 5 out of these 9 symptoms:
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (feeling superior and more talented than others without concrete evidence or proof that this is the case)
- Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or love
- Believes that he or she is “special” and unique (believes that because of this “special”ness that they should only associate with elite and powerful people).
- Requires excessive admiration
- Has a very strong sense of entitlement (often demands excessive favorable treatment because of their believed “higher status”).
- Is exploitative of others and takes advantage of others
- Lacks empathy
- Is often envious of others (and can believe others are jealous of them)
- Regularly shows arrogant behaviors or attitudes
Mental health professionals have long studied and treated those with narcissistic personality disorder by helping them with perspective-taking, empathy building, and helping them develop a rational and accurate sense of self. Throughout this journey, mental health professionals have come across people who they have characterized as having extreme forms of narcissism, which has led to a hypothetical and possible future diagnosis of malignant narcissism. First brought up by social psychologist Erich Fromm in 1964, he believed that there is a distinction between narcissistic personality disorder and malignant narcissism, stating that it is a, “severe mental sickness” representing “the quintessence of evil” and “the most severe pathology and the root of the most vicious destructiveness and inhumanity”. Professionals who believe in this distinction state that malignant narcissism involves more severe symptoms, such as antisocial, paranoid, or sadistic personality symptoms, that do not accompany the narcissistic personality disorder symptom criteria.
So, what does malignant narcissism look like? Professionals say that those who could potentially be diagnosed with malignant narcissism usually meet the above-mentioned criteria of narcissistic personality disorder, but that they may also present with volatile, aggressive, and suspicious behaviors that could become dangerous if not addressed. Because this seems to be a blend between narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder, they could have any combination of the following symptoms along with their typical narcissistic ones:
- Failure to obey laws and norms by engaging in behavior which results in criminal arrest, or would warrant criminal arrest
- Lying, deception, and manipulation, for profit or self-amusement,
- Impulsive behavior
- Irritability and aggression, manifested as frequently assaults others, or engages in fighting
- Blatantly disregards safety of self and others,
- A pattern of irresponsibility and
- Lack of remorse for actions
The combination of narcissistic and antisocial characteristics can be extremely problematic in relationships, as these disorders can cause people to feel threatened, causing lack of healthy communication and anxiety and stress within the relationship. If you, or someone you know, is exhibiting a combination of these symptoms, seeking support and help from a mental health professional is recommended, as lack of treatment could potentially lead to danger for the person suffering from this condition or for the people around them.
Dr. Shannon McHugh is a Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults who have developmental and social delays, behavioral difficulties, and those who have experienced traumatic events