Malignant Narcissism (from Rosenberg’s Human Magnet Syndrome Book 2013)
Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC, CSAT
In 1984, Dr. Otto Kernberg, a Cornell University psychoanalyst, coined the diagnostic term “malignant narcissism.” Kernberg believed that there is a narcissism continuum, with NPD at the low end, and malignant narcissism with psychopathic features at the high end. Malignant narcissism appears to be a hybrid of NPD, as it is a combination of four pathological extremes: narcissism, psychopathy, sadism and paranoia. Even with the other forms of psychopathology, they are still distinctly narcissistic as they demonstrate most narcissistic traits/symptoms. The difference, though, is that malignant narcissists are able to force their grandiose fantasies onto others.
Like NPDs, they are entitled and grandiose. However, malignant narcissists take it to a more extreme level because they believe they have a special destiny in life. By believing in their special status or destiny, their extreme sense of entitlement and grandiosity in their relationships is reinforced. They are outwardly selfish and unapologetic, while also feeling compelled to direct the lives around them. They are often suspicious of others, especially those who could remove them from their position of power. They are belligerent and scheming, while manipulatively casting themselves as the injured party. They often rise to influence by claiming they are victims of oppression. As a direct result of their beguiling charm and calculating nature, they are able to sympathetically rally support for their cause. With legions of dedicated followers, they are able to lead and inspire rebellions, which in turn secure their leadership and power structure.
Because malignant narcissists are fundamentally insecure and paranoid in their relationships, they counter by maintaining complete and total control of others. With a rise to power through popular support, they believe there is a mandate for them to maintain power and strict control over their legions of followers. Once they have achieved control, they will do almost anything to maintain it, including rape, murder, and even genocide. As a direct result of their paranoid and psychopathic tendencies, they challenge, defy, demean and even murder anyone who is either an authority figure or has the power to hurt them. Examples of malignant narcissists include Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein.
Malignant narcissists are known to be emotionally, physically and/or sexually abusive and will purposely and maliciously harm others. Their cruel and harmful treatment of others is reinforced by their need to maintain power, control, and a sense of superiority over others. Although they seem similar to psychopaths or those diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder, they are different in that they can internalize right and wrong, form meaningful personal and social relationships and rationalize their actions as a desire to advance society. They may be loyal in relationships, but because of their paranoia, may hurt or harm those who pledge loyalty to them.