All narcissists value adoration, praise, and validation. They all struggle or completely lack empathy for others, and they inadvertently hurt people with their selfish actions. Malignant narcissists, on the other hand, intentionally and actively harm others. They’re more likely to use force and violence to meet their needs.
A malignant narcissist tends to lash out frequently with no regard for how their actions impact others. They may be hostile, threatening, or downright violent. Depending on their role, they can also yield extreme power. How do you know you are dealing with a malignant narcissist? Let’s get into what you need to know.
What Is Malignant Narcissism?
Although there is only one established diagnosis for narcissistic personality disorder, narcissism itself lies on a spectrum. Some people exhibit relatively mild and benign traits (think: people who love taking excess selfies). On the extreme end, narcissist behavior can resemble that of sociopathy.
Malignant narcissism refers to a persistent pattern of actively seeking to sabotage other people’s happiness, self-esteem, or relationships. For these reasons, experts often cite malignant narcissists as the most dangerous subtype.
What Are The Traits of Malignant Narcissism?
Malignant narcissism signs can range from being incredibly obvious to incredibly sneaky and subtle. The types of malignant narcissism vary from person to person. Depending on the context, symptoms may ebb and flow, and they can also progress over time. Let’s get into some of the classic signs of a malignant narcissist.
Extreme Anger (That May Seem To Come Out of Nowhere)
A person looks at them strangely. Their spouse doesn’t load the dishwasher. Their coworker makes a minor mistake during their group presentation.
Any of those seemingly mundane events can trigger extreme rage for the malignant narcissist. When a narcissist feels threatened, they react with anger. Their anger acts as a protective shield against any semblance of vulnerability. They use this anger in various ways- threats, violence, extreme gaslighting- to restore their sense of power.
Just like the anger can manifest quickly, it can also disappear quickly. It’s one of the reasons why loved ones struggle so often with narcissists. Their moods can be so unreliable that it’s impossible to predict how they will react in a certain situation.
It’s no secret that all narcissists believe they are entitled to the things they want. Subsequently, they can’t necessarily comprehend why other people don’t see it their way.
But malignant narcissists don’t just stop at confusion. Not only do they fail to accept how other people think, but they will also take any measure they can to ensure they get what they want.
In other words, if they think they deserve a job opportunity, they might:
- Actively start a smear campaign against a competing coworker.
- Befriend their superiors to try to manpower their way into winning the position.
- Give dangerous threats about what they’ll do if they don’t get the role.
- Make the workplace miserable if things don’t go their way.
Tendency To Interrupt and Dominate Conversations
When narcissists communicate with others, it’s not about fostering connection. Conversations are tools- the dialogue is about securing their needs. Instead of having a mutual exchange, they’re calculating what you can offer them.
As a result, malignant narcissists tend to:
- Interrupt what people are saying to make their own point.
- Get visibility distracted and restless when other people speak.
- Monopolize the discussion by talking about their needs.
- Criticize or shame others to get them to stop talking.
Keep in mind that this symptom doesn’t apply to everyone, as not all types of malignant narcissism are created equally. Some malignant narcissists are more callous and calculating in their interactions. They may adapt by using sophisticated manipulation (being charming, faking empathy) tactics to get close with other people.
One of the main signs of a malignant narcissist is their incessant paranoia. Generally speaking, they tend to be extremely distrustful of others. They may have a rigid complex that only they can look out for themselves. The paranoia may manifest as statements like:
- Don’t listen to what anyone else says! They don’t know what they’re talking about.
- You can’t trust what you read these days.
- They’re going to take advantage of you- just watch!
- They’re out to get you. Keep your guard up at all times.
Lack of Remorse
More than anything, malignant narcissists lack remorse for how their actions affect other people. Unlike most narcissists, they often don’t even attempt to “pretend” remorse with fake apologies or justifications.
Instead, they will usually continue to lash out or intimidate people until they’re left alone. Because many people fear the malignant narcissist’s rage, they tend to tiptoe around them when they’re in a questionable mood.
Malignant narcissists often see things in fixed categories. People are good, or they are bad. Things are perfect, or they are a colossal failure. There is no middle ground.
This thinking comes from their own rules and logic. Interestingly, these rules and logic can change at any time. That’s why it’s not uncommon for malignant narcissists to seemingly change their mind out of nowhere. This happens when they latch onto a single piece of compelling evidence.
For example, let’s say the narcissist has a decent enough relationship with their neighbor. The neighbor praises their fancy car and outside landscaping, which validates the narcissist’s self-worth. Then, the neighbor’s dog poops on their lawn. This single event transforms the friendly neighbor into a mortal enemy. How dare they let their dog do that? Do they really think they’re going to get away with this? Just wait!
All narcissists attempt to dodge personal accountability for their actions. Many of them will blame other people to avoid looking inwards.
Malignant narcissists also blame others, even in extreme cases. For example, if they attack someone, they’ll blame the other person for looking at them the wrong way. They will try to project and triangulate other people to avoid getting blamed.
Are narcissists violent? Not always, but malignant narcissists tend to be. They often have intense rage issues coupled with poor impulse control. This recipe makes it easy for them to lash out others, particularly when they feel threatened or slighted.
That said, the narcissist does not genuinely acknowledge or apologize for their violent behavior because they have egosyntonic aggression. Egosyntonic refers to core beliefs that are acceptable to oneself- they feel natural, persistent, and sensical.
Egodystonic, on the other hand, refers to thoughts or impulses that trigger shame, guilt, or distress. While most people have aggressive thoughts from time to time, having an egodystonic mindset prevents the action.
For a narcissist, their violence is usually egosyntonic. It feels completely natural, and they don’t have remorse for it. That’s why they often downplay, justify, or outright their actions. For example, they might say gaslight you by saying something along these lines:
- I wasn’t even trying to hurt you. Stop being so sensitive.
- I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t have done that. You know better.
- I didn’t mean to! I felt like I was getting backed into a corner. You shouldn’t do that to me.
- She was the one who lunged at me! It was self-defense.
Malignant narcissists typically rank their success and well-being over everyone else’s. To the outside world, they may come across as highly ambitious and extremely successful.
Winning is their top priority, even when their quest for coming out on top hurts other people. When they want something, they make all efforts into making that happen.
In fact, most malignant narcissists won’t even consider anything beyond leadership roles. To them, any subservient title is insulting and demeaning.
Their competitiveness can happen anywhere: in relationships, at work or school, and even in their own imagined challenges. For example, a narcissistic mother might find herself competing against every other mother at her child’s school. She makes it her mission to make sure her daughter is the top student, even though this goal may harm her child.
Of course, this isn’t a competition anyone else has joined. She’s just decided that she needs to win against all the other moms.
What Is the Difference Between a
Malignant Narcissist and a Sociopath?
Some experts argue that there isn’t much of a difference between the two terms. Narcissistic sociopaths exist, although it’s important to recognize that not all narcissists are sociopaths and not all sociopaths are narcissists.
A narcissistic sociopath typically meets criteria for both narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder, a disorder characterized by a persistent pattern of:
- Aggression towards people or animals
- Legal problems due to authority issues or lack of regard for other people
- History of abusive relationships
- Pathological lying
- Lack of empathy or remorse
- Poor impulse control
Narcissism, at its core, is about needing admiration and recognition. Narcissists want to feel loved, and they want to feel important. All narcissistic behavior is in response to meeting those core needs. Sociopaths don’t necessarily desire such validation. Instead, their dark motives usually come from a place of intense rage. When someone (or something) triggers that anger, they explode.
What Causes Malignant Narcissism?
There isn’t a single cause for narcissistic personality disorder. Experts believe narcissism comes from a combination of different genetic and environmental factors.
In almost every circumstance, the narcissist has a previous history of childhood trauma.
Childhood trauma can include neglect, physical abuse, and emotional abuse. Trauma can also manifest when young children need to take care of their parents due to a medical or psychiatric issue.
These children may grow up with a core belief that the world is unsafe and that people are bad and unreliable. They essentially take on a victim stance and learn to protect themselves by acting superior and powerful over others. Their super-inflated ego acts as a defense mechanism to shield their fragile and vulnerable selves.
A lack of parental consistency may also contribute to narcissism. All children need structure and boundaries to feel safe in the world. When they lack these needs, they may develop the complex that rules don’t matter because nobody actually enforces them.
Too much of a good thing can be problematic when it comes to narcissism. If someone receives constant validation and praise for every accomplishment, it can reinforce a grandiose sense of self. This is why many narcissists surround themselves with people who will enable their greatness- they need this constant reassurance about their self-worth.
A pattern of chronic rejection can make narcissists more susceptible to malignant narcissism. Chronic rejection wounds the ego, and it chips away at someone’s self-worth. Some people struggle with profoundly low self-esteem as a result. Malignant narcissists gravitate towards needing excess power, control, and dominance to ensure that nobody can hurt them again.
How Can You Take Care Of Yourself
If You’re With A Malignant Narcissist?
First, it’s important to remember that most narcissists don’t seek help on their own accord. That’s because they cannot recognize their behavior as faulty or harmful. If they do enter treatment, it’s usually for other reasons like depression or sometimes abuse. Sometimes they’ll seek therapy to satisfy other requirements like court orders or ultimatums.
Malignant narcissist relationships can be devastating for loved ones. This personality type can be domineering and dangerous. While most narcissists recognize that they may cause pain to others, malignant narcissists thrive from this apparent torture.
But after abusing you, they tend to switch quickly into becoming the victim themselves. I’m just trying to make you a better person! I didn’t want to hurt you, but this is what had to be done! This pattern often keeps victims in a constant state of fear and helplessness.
If you suspect you’re with a malignant narcissist, it’s crucial to keep yourself safe. These narcissists rarely have much of an incentive to change, and your entire life may be in jeopardy. Logic and reasoning aren’t viable solutions- instead, implement boundaries, reach out for support, and consider taking a no-contact approach.
Sources Used For this Article
- Antisocial personality disorder: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (2013). Medlineplus.Gov. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000921.htm
- Narcissism as a consequence of trauma and early experiences. (2019, May 22). ESTD. http://estd.org/narcissism-consequence-trauma-and-early-experiences
- Garfield, D., & Havens, L. (1991). Paranoid Phenomena and Pathological Narcissism. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 45(2), 160–172. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.psychotherapy.1918.104.22.168