Malignant Narcissist (A brief guide)

In this guide, we will discuss what is understood by “malignant narcissist”, symptoms and signs on how to know if there is one in your life.  

Malignant Narcissist: what does it mean?

Malignant narcissist is a syndrome that is generally characterized by a Narcissistic personality disorder with antisocial features, paranoid traits, and egosyntonic aggression.

It has been said that additional features include grandiosity or a sense of feeling important, a need for power and a lack of conscience. 

Narcissism is a personality trait that has existed for a very long time, and the term was first coined from Greek mythology about young Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection.

However, sometimes when we meet someone we tend to use the word “narcissistic” to describe someone who is selfish, is eager for power and can’t think of anyone but themselves.  

Dealing with a narcissist is never easy so it is important to be able to identify when you are dealing with one and also it is necessary to differentiate between someone with narcissistic traits and someone with a narcissistic personality disorder. 

However, it is believed that this is a less common manifestation of Narcissistic personality disorder and experts considered it is actually the most severe manifestation.

In addition, it is not specifically recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) but many mental health professionals use the term to refer to a specific set of personality traits. 

According to Crystal Raypole from Healthline, “Malignant narcissism can present in many ways — there’s no set list of traits. It’s also very hard, especially for someone who isn’t a mental health professional, to differentiate between malignant narcissism and severe Narcissistic personality disorder”. 

This means there is no consensus on the specific criteria for malignant narcissism, however, many professionals include it as part of the narcissism spectrum. 

Narcissism vs Narcissistic personality disorder

People with narcissistic traits are not necessarily categorized as having a Narcissistic personality disorder.

According to the American Psychological Association, personality disorders involve at least two of the following areas:

  • Cognitive or thought patterns
  • Affective or emotional patterns
  • Interpersonal or how they relate to others
  • Impulse control based

Personality disorders are said to affect how someone functions in their day to day activities, and there are actually different types of personality disorders and people with some of the traits that do not meet the full diagnostic criteria may actually have a less severe form of the disorder. 

Are there any other types?

There are different “subtypes” of narcissists that vary in degree and severity, even if there is only one official diagnosis.

Some of those variants are Grandiose Narcissists, Vulnerable Narcissists or Malignant Narcissists and they are considered as being part of the “spectrum”.

Symptoms of Narcissistic personality disorder

According to psychology today, Narcissistic personality disorder includes symptoms such as:

  •  Poor self-identity
  • Inability to appreciate others or little to no empathy for how other people feel
  • Entitlement or an exaggerated sense of self-importance, feeling overly special and superior (e.g. exaggerating achievements or talents)
  • Lack of authenticity
  • Need for control or take advantage of others exploiting them for their personal gain
  • Intolerance of the views/opinions of others
  • Emotional detachment
  • Grandiosity: in the form of thoughts related to personal success, power, and attractiveness/sex appeal. 
  • Lack of awareness or concern regarding the impact of their behavior
  • Minimal emotional reciprocity
  • A desperate need for the approval and positive attention of others (admiration and recognition)

People with a Narcissistic personality disorder may have difficulties dealing with change, in addition, they may feel depressed or feel insecure and vulnerable reacting in an aggressive way towards others when they don’t seem to admire them or give the attention they feel they deserve or feel entitled to. 

It is important to take into consideration that not every person with narcissism or a Narcissistic personality disorder can manifest the condition in the same way.

In addition, the severity and intensity of the symptoms may also vary.  

Personality disorders: DSM-5

Personality disorders within the DSM-5 classification include:

Even if the disorders have their own category and symptoms, it is said that someone can manifest more than one personality trait at the same time that does not belong to the same category.

For instance, someone with a narcissistic personality and antisocial personality traits can be described as malignant narcissism. 

Antisocial personality disorder

This condition is primarily characterized by a consistent disregard or inability to acknowledge other people’s feelings, here manipulation and deceit can take place as well as physical or emotional abuse.

They tend to be aggressive or violent but there are some cases of people with an antisocial personality disorder that actually do not display this kind of behavior. 

Another key feature is a lack of remorse for wrongdoing or the inability to recognize they did something wrong or made a mistake.

In addition, people with an antisocial personality disorder most likely started to show symptoms of conduct disorder during childhood. 

Some of the displayed behaviors can include being violent towards other people and animals, vandalism, or theft.

They don’t tend to think about the consequences of their actions or simply don’t really care.

Malignant Narcissists vs other types

Malignant narcissists need to fulfill the same criteria within the Narcissistic personality disorder, however, we must consider this occurs on a spectrum and these following subtypes can help understand how they can vary.

According to Lachlan Brown from Hack Spirit:

  • Covert Narcissist: doesn’t mind being a team player but secretly dreams of being a team leader in belief they are better than everyone, is capable of an apology but tend to fake to preserve their reputation, are prone to feeling fragile and disappointed of themselves, believes the world is “ostracizing” them because they are superior, fake being nice to cover their mistakes and like making their friends and partner feel guilty in their relationship.
  • Overt Narcissist: this type looks for roles that accentuate their leadership and outwardly express why they deserve them, refuses to apologize at all costs, inflated sense of productivity/work, believes the world should acknowledge their superiority, does not care about what others think and tend to be dominant over their relationships/friendships. 
  • Malignant Narcissist: they will not consider anything less than leadership roles since they believe they are the only ones that can offer something special, they also believe the means justify the ends no matter the cost, they appear as ambitious, cunning and high-performers, make sure everyone knows how superior they are and feels like you’re in an unrequited relationship with someone dominant.

How do I know I am dealing with a malignant narcissist?

As we have discussed so far, we need to differentiate between people that only have some of the personality traits but they don’t actually fall within the malignant narcissist’s spectrum or they do not fulfill the criteria of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder, so please be careful with diagnosing someone with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Sign 1: Sadism

Someone sadistic enjoys making other people suffer by humiliating them and causing great pain.

They often tend to do this to gain control over others and as a way to gratify themselves.

Some behaviors can include being verbally, psychologically or physically abusive. 

If you notice a cruel way to treat animals or certain indifference when watching series/movies/news that has violent content then it could be a sign you are dealing with a malignant narcissist.

Sign 2: Manipulation

Narcissists have a natural tendency to manipulate to some extent and it is the method employed to always get what they want but these manipulation strategies can come in different forms. 

Malignant narcissists tend to be proactive when it comes to manipulation, they don’t wait for things to happen, they will use manipulation whenever they see fit and it is believed they actually enjoy it as much as making others suffer. 

Sign 3: Antisocial Behavior

As discussed, malignant narcissists have also some personality traits from an antisocial personality disorder. 

They will have a tendency to lie, cheat, steal and will be more susceptible to being volatile, aggressive and hostile when not provoked. 

If you have met someone that is lying until a pathological extent, it has a volatile mood and it is recognized for being aggressive towards you or others, always ready for a fight, then it can be a sign of a malignant narcissist.

Sign 4: They are hypersensitive to being criticized

You can meet a malignant narcissist that might be able to ignore being criticized since they considered themselves to be perfect after all so they won’t hear any negative comments about them.

Also, there is another type of malignant narcissist that at the very slight form of criticism they will become defensive and will become very aggressive.

Sign 5: Paranoid behavior

If you have met a malignant narcissist, most likely they are the type of people that say they can’t trust anyone, they are always on alert and overly suspicious of everyone, believing and manifesting that others are out there trying to get them.

This tends to relate to the fact that they are very manipulative for their personal gain and think others will have the same behavior towards them. 

If you have met a malignant narcissist, most likely they will remain hypervigilant, looking out for threats and they can become overly preoccupied about what others are doing.

Sign 6: Empathy is not their strong suit

Narcissists have a tendency to lack empathy to some extent or degree and as we mentioned they enjoy making other people suffer.

In addition, they tend to ignore other people’s feelings and invalidate their emotions. 

Since there is a broad spectrum, the considered “less dangerous” malignant narcissist may be able to feel empathy but that won’t influence them at all and they may even regret doing something they know was wrong (on some level). 

If you have crossed paths with a malignant narcissist you may notice how they lack the ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes or they will probably do something wrong and won’t even feel the slightest regret or remorse about it. 

Sign 7: Desperate for attention

Narcissists have a tendency to demand affection, attention, and recognition from others in order for them to feel good about themselves. 

A narcissist may seek positive forms of attention, however, a malignant narcissist may get as much satisfaction from negative as for positive attention, for them it is just about the same kind of attention. 

Sign 8: Delusions of Grandeur

As we have discussed, narcissists have an inflated ego and they tend to feel very important, believing they have more to offer than the rest feeling more attractive, intelligent, successful and full of talents.

This is said to be the reason why they have a sense of entitlement where they believe to be superior to the rest so they need to be treated differently. 

Why is this blog about malignant narcissist important?

Identifying a malignant narcissist is not an easy task since there seems to be a mix between narcissism, antisocial personality disorder, psychopathy, aggression, and sadism.

It is quite a difficult task already for mental health professionals but it is also helpful to be aware of the symptoms and signs. 

Additionally, they can use several manipulation techniques for their personal gain without you even noticing, as well as being abusive in a broad range, from subtle ways up to physical abuse, always making you feel guilty, ashamed or even making you feel you have lost your mind. 

If you are insecure, always try to fix things and don’t actually like confrontation or conflict then you may be the type of person malignant narcissist target.  

Please feel free to comment in the comments section below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about malignant narcissist

How do you tell you’re dealing with a malignant narcissist?

You can tell you are dealing with a malignant narcissist if they have difficulties relating to and understanding other’s feelings.

You can also notice some signs such as manipulative behavior (words and actions), self-serving behavior or if they keep a pattern of failed or toxic relationships. 

What are the 9 symptoms of narcissism?

Symptoms of narcissism may include a sense of self-importance and grandiosity, lives in a fantasy world that serves the purpose of supporting their delusions of grandeur, needs approval and constant appraisal and admiration, sense of entitlement uses others for their personal gain, frequently diminishes, intimidates or bullies others. 

What is a histrionic narcissist?

A histrionic narcissist is someone characterized by constantly seeking attention, their emotional reactions are exaggerated, and they have a seductive behavior.

In addition, they tend to overdramatize situations and this may impair their relationships leading to depression. 

What are the 4 types of narcissism?

There are some variants of narcissism that include vulnerable narcissists, invulnerable narcissists, amorous narcissists, compensatory narcissists, elitist narcissists, and malignant narcissists. 

What triggers narcissism?

Some of the triggers of Narcissistic personality disorder may be linked to environmental factors such as mismatches in parent-child relationships with either excessive adoration or excessive criticism that is poorly attuned to the child’s experience or Genetics factors such as inherited characteristics.



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