What Is The Criteria For Determining A Malignant Psychopath Versus A Malignant Narcissist? (Updated)
Original Publish Date: 04/05/2022
In this post I discuss the malignant psychopath, according to Theodore Millon’s and Roger Davis’, “Ten Subtypes of Psychopathy.” I outline some key differences between malignant psychopath versus the narcissist. While it is difficult to discriminate among the various personality disorders and the varieties of narcissistic personality, there is value in clarifying a key difference which include the dark triad/dark tetrad and the character traits of clinical sadism. There has been an expressed need for clarification in the literature between sociopathy and psychopathy because these two variants tend to be grouped together. However, it is the same thing for malignant narcissism and malignant psychopathy. It just may be, people who call their “narcissist”, a malignant narcissist, may actually be dealing with a malignant psychopath. However, the key difference is the presence of the dark triad/dark tetrad when dealing with the malignant psychopath. And it certainly seems that Theodore Millon’s outline of a Malignant Psychopath is a Malignant Narcissist. But for clarity, narcissists and psychopaths are not the same. And key personality feature to the Malignant Psychopath is the Dark Triad/Dark Tetrad.
Dark Triad — is a personality constellation that includes narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.
Dark Tetrad — is the same thing with one additional trait element in the personality constellation: Sadism.
In the study of personality and object relations; narcissism, sociopathy and psychopathy are three (3) different personality types. It needs to also be said that a narcissist and a psychopath are two different personality types. For example, the following is quoted from a book called “Psychopathy: Antisocial, Criminal, and Violent Behavior” in the “Typologies” section states:
The Malignant Psychopath
Malignant psychopaths represent structurally defective variants of the psychopathic pattern. Their features frequently blend with those of the paranoid personality disorder (PPD). They are characterized best by their autocratic power orientation and by their mistrust resentment, and envy of others. Underlying these features is a ruthless desire to vindicate themselves for past wrong by cunning revenge or callous, force, if necessary.
In contrast to the other [psychopathic] subtypes, the malignant psychopaths have found that their efforts to abuse and tyrannize others have only prompted the others to inflict more of the arrogance and brutalization has backfired too often, and they now seek retribution, not as much through action as through fantasy. Isolated and resentful, they increasingly turn to themselves, to cogitate and mull over their fate. Left to their own ruminations, they begin to imagine a plot in which every facet of the environment plays a threatening and treacherous role. Moreover, through the intrapsychic mechanism of projection, they attribute their own venom to others, ascribing to them the malice and ill will they feel within themselves. As the line between objective antagonism and imagined hostility becomes thin, the belief takes hold that others are intentionally persecuting them. Not infrequently, persecutory delusions combine with delusions of grandeur; however, these later beliefs play a secondary role among malignant psychopaths, in contrast to their primacy among fanatic paranoid personalities.
Preeminent among malignant psychopaths is their need to retain their independence and cling tenaciously to the belief in their own self-worth. The need to protect their autonomy and strength may be seen in the content of their persecutory delusions. Malevolence on the part of others is viewed as neither casual nor random; rather, it is seen as designed to intimidate, offend, and undermine the individuals’ self-esteem. “They” are seeking to weaken the psychopaths’ “will”, to destroy their power, to spread lies, to thwart their talents, to control their thoughts, and to immobilize and subjugate them. These psychopaths dread losing their self-determination; their persecutory fantasies are filled with fears of being forced to submit to authority, of being made soft and pliant, and of being tricked to surrender their self-determination (pg. 170).
One comment I’d like to make is in the characterization of these psychopaths. First, the verbiage used which I bold-faced and italicized, makes a clear connection to clinical aspects of sadism and the masculine gender orientation. Where narcissists may not be sadistic, they do possess a level of indifference, care, or expressed empathy for others, but at the same time, need others to survive and prey on. So, their “caring” and “empathy” are veiled attempts at winning over the other. Another aspect of this disorder as Theodore Millon said, “These psychopaths dread losing their self-determination, filling them with fears of being forced to submit to authority, of being made soft and pliant, and of being tricked to surrender their self-determination.” According to the writings of Nancy Chodorow in “Individualizing Sexuality and Gender”, chapter 9; Hate; “Humiliation, and Masculinity”, it is a particular individual who engages in terrorism, and one of Millon’s last descriptions outlines a primary expression of classic masculinity. So, this places the gender orientation of people with this disorder as most likely identifying as male. The fear of being considered “a little girl” or like “mother” and “not soft and pliant” (weak) and certainly “not dominant” like father will often promote retaliations of violence against victims who are perceived as “doing them wrong.” Whether the violence be passive-aggressive or overt. We see this in male patterned dominant violence and the sexual hegemony of heterosexuality.
A “malignant narcissist,” if that is what they are, would be more likely to be indifferent, lacking empathy and care, although unbeknownst to the victim, through staged, veiled seductions that make their targets believe otherwise. In addition, with personality disorders like narcissistic personality disorder there tends to be “blending” or “clustering of more than one type of personality disorder. This is may be present in personalities with extreme levels of narcissism. However, the “malignant narcissist” could be comorbid with another personality disorder like antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), Sadistic Personality Disorder (SPD) or Paranoid Personality Disorder. For me, there seems to be a sadistic element to the Malignant Psychopath. Or at the very least a Dark Triad/Tetrad in their narcissistic constellation.
In my opinion, or at least in my dealing with a them, malignant psychopaths are more likely to possess the dark triad/dark tetrad character traits with the dispositional tendency to engage in cruel demeaning or antagonistic behaviors for pleasure of subjugation including physical and sexual violence. That is, to demean and humiliate their perceived targets gives them much pleasure. Sadistic psychopaths take pleasure in causing or witnessing acts of cruelty in which the physical suffering of others, in itself, is rewarding. This places the malignant psychopath as most likely a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) possibly comorbid with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) or Sadistic Personality (SD) or one of the other personality disorders.
Summarily, and additional list of character traits common to being a malignant narcissist are these:
- Incredible charisma. They trick everyone with their charm. Nobody has a clue who they are.
- Enjoy inflicting harm. This is either covertly or overtly and can range from insidious mild and or randomized emotional and psychological manipulation all the way up to killing you physically.
- They methodically plan and scheme manipulating you. They enjoy watching you trip up, get angry at them, praise them. Reactions, especially ones of anger and vengeance towards them they get off on like you wouldn’t believe.
- They constantly trigger your core wounds from childhood on purpose to watch you react.
- They have leadership positions as they act calm and cool. Nothing could be further from the truth. They set traps and watch their enemies fall into them easily.
Some additional notes that may be helpful:
Malignant narcissism is a construct of or presented as ‘extreme narcissism.’
Could also be thought of or summarized as a co-occurrence of NPD and ASPD (psychopathy)
You’ll see clinicians differ slightly or there’s some discrepancy regarding characterization.
“…I view it as more of a co-occurrence; a person having both NPD and ASPD” — Dr. Todd Grande.
“Those with malignant narcissism have a grandiose self — infiltrated with extreme paranoia, much more significant antisocial traits and very poor reality testing.” — Dr. Dana Diamond
“The cut off in my mind is the sociopath/psychopath — literally has no concern for anyone else on the planet. Interestingly, the malignant narcissist can usually care about another person; put differently — relations can matter.” — Dr. Frank Yeoman
There are other criteria/differentiating factors to distinguish ‘core’ NPD from psychopathy.
Psychopathy and NPD are not easily distinguished, and this requires clinical expertise.
Malignant narcissism might be ‘diet coke’ to psychopathy coke — the metaphor of a traffic light as ‘pink’ and not red; not yellow (NPD) but not fully red (psychopathy) either.
It’s a ‘feral’ and “serially disturbed” presentation of NPD — requiring extensive trauma with NPD genetics to effect; more exposure to/witnessing violence.
Psychopathy has a relationship with maltreatment and in particular witnessing domestic violence has certain ‘effects’ in it’s development.
So naturally bringing the two together you can roughly see the formation of malignant narcissism.
More seriously — the delusional thinking/unparticipation in reality with NPD is ‘maxed out’ or against the wall.
Would appear openly detached — others smirking, laughing, pandering etc
Also, would witness facial contortions and immediate rage, violence.
Jim Jones is a good working example/visual of a malignant narcissist.
It’s a “frightening capacity” — we don’t ‘see’ other people; our sense of grandiosity exhausted, so severe it removes us from all others and literally.
In summation or as an answer, MN is ‘extreme NPD’ and/or psychopathy and narcissism co morbid — the ‘Dark Triad.’
The aforementioned doctors I cited give excellent break downs and interpretations.
Psychopathy: Antisocial, Criminal and Violent Behavior. (1998) New York. Guilford press. Edited by Theodore Millon. (Pg. 170).
Nancy J. Chodorow. Individualizing Sexuality and Gender: Theory and Practice. (2012) New York. Routledge. Chapter 9 Hate, Humiliation, and Masculinity. (pg. 121–136).
Additional answers provided by: https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-criteria-for-determining-a-malignant-narcissist-and-is-it-the-same-as-a-Malignant-psychopath