Narcissism as natural self-love is essential to survival. It is what makes us value ourselves, and find purpose in life. Essentially, self-love is necessary for one's self-preservation. Everyone has some narcissistic traits, however being conceited, argumentative, or selfish doesn't mean you have a nasty personality disorder.
The DSM-IV-TR, a manual that mental health professionals use to diagnose mental disorders classifies Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as a psychological personality disorder. The disorder is characterized by grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy. NPD is not mere "narcissism" in the usual sense of the word. To distinguish it from healthy self-love, the term "malignant narcissism" has been coined for NPD. Don't confuse NPD (malignant narcissism) with what people usually mean when they say someone is "narcissistic." Despite the superficial similarities, one is benign, the other is malignant. Malignant narcissism is a deeply perverted self-love. A malignant narcissist doesn't just revere himself; he demands others revere him as well. If the victim of the narcissist fails to revere him, he/she will invariably be subjected to emotional, mental or even physical abuse.
Malignant narcissists are everywhere. 1 to 3 of every 20 people you meet are malignant narcissists. 75% of the pathologically narcissistic are male. You can find them in law enforcement, politics, business, the clergy, medical professionals, and in post offices. The smart ones easily move up the food chain. They know when to brown nose and suck-up to get ahead and further their grandiose sense of themselves.
Malignant narcissists seek omnipotence and total control, and will attempt to achieve those goals by any means. They will defy those in authority, challenge them, and attempt to demean them. Narcissists cast themselves as victims, justifying all of their feelings and actions. They blame all of their shortcomings on perceived enemies.
Narcissists often have an underlying paranoia. They invariably have an inferiority complex. However, they believe that they must be seen as perfect, superior, bigger than life, or god-like. They don't want others to like them; they want others to obey, fear, or admire them. Malignant narcissists are frequently suicidal. They are contemptuous of others. Narcissists are extremely sensitive to personal criticism while being very critical of other people. They are characteristically mentally and emotionally cruel towards others, and can resort to violence.
The narcissist’s fundamental problem is that he lacks empathy. He simply won't take other people's feelings into account. Additionally, narcissists are intrinsically grandiose. Their jobs, friends, families, homes, and possessions aren't good enough for them; they deserve better. They truly feel entitled to whatever they can take. If there is nothing in it for the narcissist, don’t bother bringing it to his attention, he could care less. Narcissists are very sneaky and extraordinarily manipulative. They are best noted for their negative, pessimistic, cynical, doomsday outlook on life. They whine, gripe, complain, and criticize about virtually everyone or every thing relentlessly. They are notoriously sarcastic, while believing they are witty. Narcissists invariably contradict themselves, often in the same sentence. The narcissist is incapable of seeing that they have a problem, it is always the other person's problem, and that person must change. If you try to confront a narcissist about the way he is treating you, the unfailing response you will receive is "You just have to accept me the way I am." Yet, narcissists need relationships, relationships they can control, they hate to live alone.
Narcissists lack a mature conscience and are only restrained by the fear of being punished or having their reputations damaged. However, they will do something illegal, immoral, or violent if they believe that they can get away with it without being stopped or punished. Most narcissists truly don't feel responsible for their actions. They have convinced themselves that they are the victims of injustice, discrimination or prejudice.
The fundamental beliefs of the narcissist include:
- "Since I am so superior, I am entitled to special treatment and privileges."
- "I don't have to be bound by the rules that apply to other people."
- "If others don't respect my status, they should be punished."
- "Other people should satisfy my needs."
- "Other people should recognize how special I am."
- "Since I am so talented, people should go out of their way to promote my career."
- "No one's needs should interfere with my own."
The Violent Malignant Narcissist
Malignant narcissists are predators who hunt easy prey. Being a predator puts the narcissist in the class of psychopathology; in fact all psychopaths are narcissists. Serial bullies, serial adulterers, gold-diggers, pedophiliac priests, rapists, child molesters, terrorists and serial killers are all examples of malignant narcissists. They prey on others simply for ego gratification. They are able to violate the rights of others because they are incapable of feeling empathy for anyone else. They tend to view others as objects or tools, to further exploit for their sense of entitlement.
Most narcissists won't engage in violent crime; that would be far too risky for them. However, they are pros in mental cruelty towards virtually anyone; family members, employees, classmates, etc. They will cross the line into physical or sexual violence only when they think they can get away with it.
The violence-prone narcissist is often preoccupied by control issues. He has a strong need to control, if not dominate, his environment and those around him. Additionally, he usually has very poor impulse control. When he feels attacked, he will lash out verbally, non-verbally, and can become physically explosive. The narcissist is also obsessively vindictive. He is certain that his feelings and actions are justified. He may hold smoldering rage related to previous perceptions of rejection or victimization. People who are constantly bullied and tormented may finally reach the state of "I'm not going to take it anymore", such as was the case at Columbine. When you add all these factors together, you have a strong candidate for sociopathic violence.
NPD is legally classified as a character disorder, disputing its classification as a personality disorder by mental health professionals. Usually a defendant with a personality disorder can use that as a defense. However, US law classes NPD as a character disorder, which is no defense. This is because a narcissist's behavior is premeditated and volitional. The narcissist is able to tell right from wrong and to distinguish between good and evil. You don't get off on a mental plea when you know what you're doing is wrong. Lacking empathy, the narcissist is rarely remorseful.
There has been no real success in treating people with NPD. Those who commit the most heinous offenses are frequently repeat offenders (rapists, pedophiles, serial killers). There is no magic medicine to cure a personality disorder, and talk therapy isn't the answer with predators.
As a law enforcement officer you will deal with more than your share of people with NPD. From the know-it-all, "I don't take paper" beat partner; to the command climber who will steal your ideas while belittling you on your evaluation. From the DV suspect who claims she deserved it; to the traffic stop with the guy telling you to catch a real criminal; to the male shooter holding hostages after a dispute with his employer. Recognizing malignant narcissistic traits will help allow you to prepare yourself accordingly. Malignant narcissists should be considered as potentially dangerous.
If you are married to a malignant narcissist, I send my condolences.