They believe the world revolves around them. They do not think twice before hurting others, even if they are their loved ones, because all they can think about is themselves. This is how a malignant narcissist is — charming on the outside, but unpleasant from the inside.
Extreme cases of malignant narcissism could be dangerous to their partners as they can stoop to any level to protect their fragile self under the armor of grandiosity.
In this post, MomJunction helps you identify the signs of a malignant narcissist, understand the reasons for such behavior, and know how to deal with such a partner.
What Is Malignant Narcissism?
The term “malignant narcissism” was coined by social psychologist Erich Fromm, who described it as a “severe mental sickness” representing “the quintessence of evil”.
Malignant narcissism is a personality disorder wherein a person lacks empathy and compassion for others. They only think about themselves and would not mind inflicting pain and suffering on the people around them.
Malignant narcissism is a notch above narcissism as it is a combination of narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial behavior; it has ‘devastating consequences’ for the family (1). It has symptoms such as an identity crisis, a lack of empathy, and sadism.
Signs Of A Malignant Narcissist
The nature and intensity of the symptoms would vary from person to person. For example, some people can be shy, timid and a malignant narcissist (MA), while some are extroverted, boastful and have sadistic intentions.
Below are a few common signs of a malignant narcissist.
1. Entitlement to anything and everything
Everyone is entitled to love, affection and loyalty in a committed relationship. But a malignant narcissist has no boundaries on their expectations; they feel they own your life.
An MA has unreasonable expectations. They want you to do what they say, not think independently, and offer everything they demand – be it money, sexual favors, household chores or something else.
2. Intolerance towards criticism
They strongly believe that they are flawless. Trying to point out flaws or criticizing a malignant narcissist is like unleashing an angry bull. They are just not open to criticism in any form, and when you try to change them, they lodge a counter-attack, which can be pretty damaging. They do not back off until they completely destroy you.
3. The urge for constant attention
Malignant narcissists need constant attention (2) as they believe in their brilliance and beauty. Such thoughts make them see themselves in powerful positions, and expect others to respect them. This urge to get power and attention might make them plot shorter routes for success, and trample people on their way up.
An MA would pretend to be someone charming and intelligent to gain popularity. They assume the people around them are not as worthy as them; they build a bubble and live in it. But as a partner, you will get to know them closely and will be shocked to see the ugliness underneath the charm.
With you, they are condescending and seem to be always saying, “I know everything, and you don’t; I have everything, and you have nothing.”
5. Proactive manipulation
Narcissists are manipulative, but malignant narcissists are known for ‘proactive manipulation’. This means they do not need a situation for manipulation as they do it whenever they please. They enjoy manipulating people and this is not achieved in a day but is a result of years of planning and practice. They lure the person into their life and ruin their free will and self-worth. The victim ends up being either helpless or dependent on the MA.
6. A constant fear
As they lead a superficial life, malignant narcissists are in constant fear of exposing their true self. Also, because of their manipulating and plotting nature, they suspect the people around them of doing the same.
They over-think and over-analyze everything that others say. For example, if you are talking with an old friend, an MA might assume and accuse you of planning to leave them and go away with that friend. This constant fear prevents them from getting close to anyone and having an emotional connection.
7. A monstrous ego
They talk high about themselves, demand compliments and never say sorry or thank you. However, it is not necessary for every egoistic person to be a malignant narcissist. A malignant narcissist feeds their ego with manipulation and cannot rest until things are done their way. If you confront them, they manipulate and wrap the truth to make it seem justified. In plain terms, they will throw a knife at you, and when you cry out in pain, they will blame you for coming in the way.
8. A tendency to cheat and lack of empathy
A malignant narcissist will cheat on you, and when you confront, they manipulate it to make you feel that it was your mistake. They either guilt you into doubting them or blame you for not being a perfect partner. An MA inflicts pain on their victims and enjoys their suffering. Their cruel and sadistic mentality makes them harm others, especially the partner.
A person with such extreme behavior simply cannot put themselves in others’ shoes. They only have self-sympathy but not empathy towards others.
9. Disregard to social norms
As malignant narcissists think they are above everyone, they do not find any value in following social norms. They have certain unrealistic norms and expect everyone to follow them.
They do not value loyalty and honesty, but definitely expect these virtues in others. As long as it is beneficial to them, they do not mind doing illegal things.
Malignant narcissism is an extreme case. All they do is make you walk on a bed of needles, while they relax and enjoy it.
What Causes Malignant Narcissism?
Nobody is born a malignant narcissist. Various factors and life experiences could make them that way. While nothing can justify their behavior, it is good to know the reasons for such behavior to deal with an MA.
Here are the possible factors that influence a person’s behavior.
- Biological factors: Malignant narcissism can run in families, but the genetic material alone cannot be the sole cause. If the person was raised by malignantly narcissistic parents, then they tend to develop similar characteristics. There are three biological factors that can cause malignant narcissism (1):
- Temperament: It is the basic response to emotional stimuli. A person with malignant narcissism is said to be excitable, quick-tempered, extravagant, attention-seeking, and self-indulgent.
- Genetic: Genetic factors may not be the sole reason for someone to turn into a malignant narcissist but we cannot overrule its influence. Research says that if one monozygotic twin has a criminal background, then there are 66% chances of the other also having such behavior. In the case of dizygotic twins, there is a 31 % chance.
- Neurobiological: Certain changes in the neurobiological systems also tend to influence a person’s behavior. For example, people with antisocial personality disorder are found to have reduced central and peripheral nervous systems and endocrine response to stress. It might influence a person’s judgment, abstraction, social skills and problem-solving skills (3).
- Environmental/ physiological factors: It could be childhood trauma or a serious mid-life incident, but a person’s social and physiological factors have a profound effect on their mind. Children who did not receive proper parental care or those shuffled between foster parents might develop this disorder due to identity crisis (4).
For example, in families where children are seen as their narcissistic extensions, they are loved only when they are highly achieving and bring fame to the family (5). A low level of maternal care and denial of assurance and affection can also lead to malignant narcissism.
- Social and cultural factors: Unemployment, lack of or strict social norms, cultural confusion, migration, etc., can bring about emotional dysregulation, which can lead to malignant narcissism. Usually, malignant narcissism comes along with other psychiatric disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, borderline and antisocial personality disorders.
Whatever might be the reason, malignant narcissists are vicious people and can go to any length to destroy you when you show signs of resistance. So, you need to know how to face them and escape from them.
4 Ways To Deal With A Malignant Narcissist
The first step towards your well being would be to cut all ties and remove them from your life, as the chances of changing a malignant narcissist are slim if not nil.
- Look out for the right signs: Your spouse could be having a bad day at the office or might be disturbed for some reason. This could make them behave self-centered and inconsiderate. But this doesn’t make them a malignant narcissist.
Before labeling them as an MA, take some time and assess the situation with honesty because there is a difference between a selfish person and a person who has a personality disorder.
- Stand up for yourself: If you have been enduring pain and suffering because of a malignant narcissist, then it is time to stand up for yourself. Let go of the temptation to please them as well as the hope that one day they would realize and start treating you with love and affection.
- Draw strict boundaries: When you take a stand, a malignant narcissist will do anything to keep you under their crutches. They might plead, threaten or harm you, but you have to stay strong, leave them and never look back.
Once you have reached a safe place, cut all communication with that person and inform your trusted allies about your whereabouts. A malignant narcissist will try to hunt you down. So, never give away your location; inform the authorities if you suspect a threat to your life.
- Accept it is not your fault and move on: No matter how much a malignant narcissist tries to guilt you and break your self-confidence, never let them get into your head. Think of all the circumstances that led you to take this decision.
No matter how important they may seem or how dear they are, if they are the reason for your suffering, then you need to remove them from your life (guilt-free).
If you are stuck in the relationship, then seek help from friends and family. Also, remember it is completely normal to feel scared and uncertain while ending an abusive relationship, but do not let such thoughts cloud your judgment.
If you are just entering into a relationship and suspect the person is an MA, then stay away from them. But if you are already in a relationship with such a person, do not let that one mistake ruin your entire life. Though it may sound scary and impossible, take that first step away from them, and the rest will fall in place.
2. Jodi M. Lane, Stephen A. Kent; Malignant narcissism, L Ron Hubbard, and scientology’s policies of narcissistic range; University of Alberta
3. George FR, Short D, Frank R, George; The Cognitive Neuroscience of Narcissism; The Center of Brain, Behavior and Cognitive Sciences (2018)
4. Karen Kernberg Bardenstein; The cracked mirror: Features of narcissistic personality disorder in children; Westreserve University, Cleveland
5. Carrie Henschel; The effects of parenting style on development of narcissism; Behavioral Health