The answer is he could be and a simple answer is that whilst not all psychopaths are narcissists, most narcissists have psychopathic tendencies. From an analytical point of view there are overlapping characteristics.
In many cases, we describe conditions which exist together as “co-morbid” that is to say they are distinct conditions which often exist at the same time in a single individual. Psychopathology and certain personality disorders including narcissistic personality disorder are more like overlapping traits in that the characteristics are common to both.
What is psychopathology?
Freud described psychopathology as an imbalance in the psyche. The psyche being the mind, is made up of three parts.
The Id, being natural, uncontrolled urges like a vexatious baby crying because it is the centre of its own world. It operates purely on hedonistic pleasure principle and takes no heed of consequences
The Super Ego: is the antitheses of the Id. It is conscience and prevents a person from behaving an amoral way.
The Ego. Is the reality check and manages the obvious tensions between the Id and the super ego. A healthy and strong ego is necessary for balance in the psyche an good mental health
Now Freud thought that much of the work of keeping the balance in the psyche went on in our unconscious and that its working was only obvious through such things as dreams, phobias, word slips and obsessions. The Ego develops slowly and according to Freud was only fully functional in an adult. If the Ego was weakened during childhood trauma then either the Id or the Super Ego could dominate the psyche.
Too much Superego and you have neuroses characterised by anxiety and restrictive compulsions such as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and perfectionism. Too much Id and you would have an uncontrolled, amoral psychopath or sociopath as characterised by egocentric behaviour, lack of moral scruples, lying, grandiose gesturing and sometimes a desire to inflict pain or not to care about the pain of others.
By and large neurotics hurt themselves, psychopaths hurt others. The pages of the internet are littered with the outrages committed by psychopaths and sociopaths from Ted Bundy to Harold Shipman, Pol Pot and others whose tale has not yet been told.
Psychopathology and Narcissism
Anyone familiar with narcissism or who has a relationship with a narcissist will have read the above description of psychopathic behaviour and bells will have rung. Psychopathic traits are heavily intertwined with personality disorders. There are however both similarities and differences.
Both psychopaths and narcissists have big egos which need to be fed by those around them who supply them with gratification. Both are capable of grandiose social gestures and both are almost pathological in their ability to lie. Their social relationships will be based on a win/lose model, that is to say they win, you lose. And undoubtedly, any person involved with a psychopath or a narcissist will get hurt unless they are very, very, emotionally strong.
It is an ability to hurt those around them which both makes them similar but is also, at the same time their greatest difference. Unlike narcissists, a pure psychopath will derive pleasure from hurting others and it will be a directed goal of their behaviour. Hurting others will motivate them and move them to act. They will enjoy it. They are also more likely to lie and have alternative personas to gain control over people. They see any action as a means to an end. Their self-esteem is intact and they don’t care what anyone else thinks of them. If you are the victim of a psychopath you are in danger, you are no more important to them than a fly. As Shakespeare eloquently put it:
“As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport”
A psychopath wears their identity as a god
On the other hand, a narcissist may hurt you but their needs and motivation are very different. At the centre of their behaviour is a wounded ego which in Freudian terms has allowed the nagging voice of an out of control super ego, to invade their everyday living and make it hell. Their grandiose gestures, the hurt they inflict on others and their win/lose is a fight for them to maintain control, to block out the noise of their own scripts which echo:
“You are such a disappointment!”
“You are just not as good as your father!”
Or even the untrue boasts of their parent:
“Fred could have gone to Yale or Harvard but he chose to join me in our family business instead”
You can hurt a narcissist, you can’t even touch a psychopath
Is my narcissistic partner a psychopath?
Hopefully not! The truth is that they can both hurt you and the effect on you and your mental health may well be the same. They will both give you crumbs for their emotional feasting and demand in return your undying affection which they may choose to cast off without an apparent thought.
Both a narcissist and a psychopathic lover will lie and will probably be unfaithful. A narcissist will do it because they need the feedback that they are attractive and still “have it”. They may create for themselves a base with a wife/husband and have forays into other relationships to manage their ego needs. A psychopath will view you as a “thing” to be discarded when you are no longer stimulating enough. They will literally “love you and leave you”. A narcissist on the other hand may well stick around and continue to contact you because they need you.
I guess the only way to tell would be to wait and see and most of all protect yourself. The one sure difference will be the ending of the relationship. If your partner hangs around in your life after you have finished or love bombs you (just enough to keep you hanging on) they are most likely a narcissist. If they take off into the night and disappear without trace then they are a psychopath. But if you ever find yourself wishing for the latter then you know that you have to do something about it, don’t you?