Many are familiar with what narcissism looks and feels like even if we can’t articulate it. Most have experienced its harmful effects firsthand from school peers, co-workers, dates, or even a boss. However, not every display of narcissism is proof of someone who suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder.
What is a narcissist?
Kidding! “A narcissist is someone who often comes across as grandiose, self-centered, self-absorbed, manipulative, and overall, highly conceited.” says Preston Ni, a professor at Foothill College in Silicon Valley, CA. “Based on the many descriptions of narcissism and its various subtypes (overt, covert/introvert, passive-aggressive, situational, sexual, etc.), almost anyone seems capable of being a narcissist, at least some of the time.”
I’m sure you’ve got a better image of a narcissist in your head now, maybe thinking of experiences passed. But does someone acting narcissistically mean they suffer from a personality disorder?
It isn’t helpful in dealing with an issue to generalize it. Thus, it’s important to understand that although someone may exhibit narcissistic behavior, it doesn’t mean they’re a pathological narcissist. What makes someone a pathological narcissist is how often, how intense, and how long they take such actions. A co-worker may receive a promotion and flaunt their success around the workplace, but a week later they return to their usual, less abrasive demeanor. That co-worker just got a little carried away with their happiness, but most likely isn’t close to a narcissist.
A pathological narcissist is someone who creates a toxic environment to exploit others for their personal gain consistently and habitually. A co-worker receives a promotion outside of your supervisory chain, but insists they begin to review your work? That is someone suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder.
Identifying Malignant Narcissism
There is yet a more specific, uncommon form that narcissism manifests itself in known as malignant narcissism (MN).
According to Campbell’s Psychiatric Dictionary, MN includes characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) with varying degrees of severity. Some who exhibit a combination, or all, of the following behavior may be suffering from MN:
- dominates conversations
- can’t handle criticism
- routinely blames others for their circumstances
- blames others for their own poor behavior
- well-known entitlement to the “best” of everything
- low self-awareness
- projects insecurities
- remorseless; won’t apologize unless it benefits them someway
- self-absorbed, overly worried about their appearance
- inflated sense of self and self-worth
- cannot self-regulate
- expects superior treatment
- incapable of/lacks empathy for others
- takes advantage of others
- overreacts/attacks when they feel slighted
- distracted by delusions of grandeur, beauty, fame, wealth, and power
Dealing with Malignant Narcissism
Understand how difficult it will be to deal with them as early as possible. Some are known to have a hard time respecting the physical boundary of others. It’s important to establish boundaries and ensure they’re respected throughout the conversation. Don’t enter a discussion with the expectation of changing who they are. Even if someone suffering from MN is capable of conflict resolution, they must want change for themselves to truly grow.
If you confront them directly, they will most likely react unfavorably. Try to work out a tactful, non-confrontational way to discuss your complaints in private. This ensures the focus of the conversation stays on-point and isn’t detracted from by convenient complaints in the moment.
There are many ways MN can present itself, so there’s been no set list of traits. Though some experts consider this presentation of narcissism as the most severe subtype, it’s advised not to jump to using this term to describe someone you know, especially if you’re not a mental health professional with extensive knowledge of the person’s background.
The state of someone else’s mental health never excuses abuse. It’s imperative to keep in mind that someone’s abusive behavior may have nothing to do with their mental health.
If you believe your relationship has become unhealthy, speaking with a therapist can help you broaden your perspective to be better prepared for crucial decision making. The issues you face don’t need to be as serious as what’s discussed above to be addressed.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Call the HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. ET or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re in crisis or for any reason you are unable to talk safely, text NAMI to 741741.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline. 800-273-TALK (8255)
Self-Injury Outreach and Support. Learn and/or share personal stories while learning coping skills for the urge to self-harm.
If you enjoyed reading about malignant narcissism, you will/might enjoy this intriguing analysis of the 45th President of the United States.