A malignant narcissist is a term applied to the most severe form of narcissistic personality disorder. This person feels an absolute need for full power. Couple that compulsive need to control others with a demand to be the center of attention. The combination makes this person intolerable to those around him or her.

The Meaning Behind the Term “Narcissism”

For those who are curious about where the term narcissism comes from, it is derived from Greek mythology. Furthermore, it is an interpolation of the name Narkissos, a young Greek man who was quite enamored with himself.

According to the mythical tale, Narkissos was the object of affection for Echo, a nymph who repeatedly professed her love. He rejected her adorations. Narkissos was so taken with himself that he would often spend hours and even days admiring his handsome reflection in various lakes. He believed that nobody, including Echo, was worthy of him.

While this is a fascinating story in Greek mythology, narcissism is, in fact, a real personality disorder. More than that, it is one that can quickly spiral out of control if an individual doesn’t seek treatment from a licensed mental health professional.

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What Is a Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Now that we have a little more background relative to where the term narcissism came from let’s take a moment to learn more about what it means to have a narcissistic personality disorder. First and foremost, narcissism is classified as a cluster B personality disorder.

Individuals with this disorder often seek admiration from others but will seldom offer it in return. Further, they tend to prioritize self-importance above the needs and wants of others, including their friends and family.

Another hallmark of those with this particular disorder is a lack of empathy. Something else to note when it comes to narcissistic personality disorders is that they are surprisingly common in America, according to a study published by the National Institutes of Health, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The same study published by the National Institutes of Health also revealed that narcissistic personality disorders account for 20.2 percent of all mental health disorders in America.

The Primary Signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

That said, it is abundantly clear that there is a significant difference between having high self-esteem and equally high self-confidence and having a narcissistic personality disorder. Along with a preoccupation with one’s self and a constant need for admiration and validation, individuals with a narcissistic personality disorder will also exhibit behaviors that are in line with the diagnostic criteria 301.81 per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). These behaviors often include the following:

  • Jealousy
  • Arrogance
  • A tendency to exaggerate one’s talents, achievements, or both
  • Remaining in a perpetual state of fantasy in terms of achieving or maintaining success and power
  • A tendency to be interpersonally exploitative

Indeed, narcissism, as a mental health disorder, can quickly push away friends and family while turning an individual’s life on its head. Fortunately, it is possible to prevent these things from happening if one can recognize the signs of the disorder and also seek treatment from a licensed therapist.

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The Different Types of Narcissistic Personality Disorders

Studies show that there are three subtypes when it comes to narcissistic personality disorders. And they include overt, covert, and exhibitionist. To better understand how each of these subtypes can impact an individual’s life, it helps to take a look at each of them individually:

The Overt or Malignant Narcissist

Also known as a “malignant narcissist,” this type of narcissistic personality disorder is one that often coexists with other psychological comorbidities, such as avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

It is important to note that overt narcissistic personality disorders are also quite common among those who engage in substance abuse. While there are many others, constant feelings of anger and hostility are two of the more notable signs that an individual might be struggling with an overt narcissistic personality disorder.

You may also hear this described as “grandiose” narcissism.

Covert Narcissism

Individuals with an overt narcissistic personality disorder are also struggling with comorbidities that make matters worse, some of which include anxiety and depression. Further, many also have low self-esteem. And to combat these feelings of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, they are often very critical of others. In essence, they build themselves up while subtly berating and tearing others down.


An exhibitionist narcissistic personality disorder is generally not accompanied by psychological comorbidities.

However, there is one exception. In times of crisis, such as a failed relationship or losing a job, for example, individuals with an exhibitionist narcissistic personality disorder may display signs of entitlement issues. It is also not uncommon for them to become self-centered and less empathetic toward others as they go through these crises.

What Is the Worst Type of Narcissism?

Any variation of a narcissistic personality disorder can have a profound impact on one’s life. The NPD diagnosis also impacts to mention the lives of those around them. Some are worse than others. And this is especially the case when it comes to malignant narcissists in that they are very anti-social and extremely paranoid.

What’s more, they derive a perverse pleasure in acting out aggressively and engaging in acts of sadism, especially when it comes to sexual gratification, according to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, one of the oldest monthly peer-reviewed medical journals. That said, most psychologists and psychiatrists will agree that malignant narcissists are not only a danger to themselves but also to other people in their life.

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How to Tell If You’re Dealing With a Malignant Narcissist

Having established that malignant narcissism is the worst out of the three narcissistic personality disorders, let’s take a moment to recap the five signs that could reveal someone you know might have such a disorder:

1. Extreme Anti-Social Behavior

Although anti-social behavior is often associated with shyness, malignant narcissists are known to take things a step further. Their behavior is a peculiar mix of anti-social and narcissistic traits.

They will often isolate themselves because they believe that others are not worthy of their time, friendship, or attention. And in those rare instances when they do allow others into their life, they will try to manipulate or exploit them for their own gratification, according to Dr. Daniel Fox, a licensed psychologist, international speaker, and author located in Texas.

2. Sadism

Arguably one of the most identifiable signs of a malignant narcissist is sadism. Most people will feel and display some degree of empathy when someone they know is depressed or going through a difficult time in their life. On the other hand, a malignant narcissist is the opposite in that they feel more powerful when others struggle. And this is especially true if they played a role in the person’s misery.

Undoubtedly, most people will perceive this type of behavior as mean-spirited. It is akin to kicking someone while they are down. However, it is part and parcel when it comes to malignant narcissism, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, a quarterly academic journal providing information on topics related to psychiatry in America.

3. Malicious Plotting Against Friends and Family

Malicious plotting against an enemy is not unusual. Let’s be honest. A large percentage of people will look for ways to get back at someone who has wronged them.

However, those who engage in malignant narcissism will adopt the same mindset when it comes to friends and family. This behavior occurs even if the loved one didn’t do anything to justify such actions. Some of the more common forms of malicious plotting include lying and manipulation, which are both carried out with a high degree of sophistication.

4. Aggressive Behavior

Although aggressive behavior, for some people, commonly associates with anger. However, it is also another telling sign that you might be dealing with a malignant narcissist. Along with verbal altercations, individuals with this disorder will also engage in acts of physical violence without provocation. This behavior further explains why most psychiatrists consider this variation of narcissistic personality disorder the worst.

According to Craig Malkin, a clinical psychologist and lecturer at the famed Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, the aggressive behavior of individuals with a malignant-based narcissistic personality disorder is often a blend of the following:

  • Sadism
  • Psychopathy
  • Machiavellianism

5. Psychopathy

In some cases, a malignant narcissist might behave in such a way that blends seemingly innocuous narcissism with dangerous psychopathy. And this unique combination removes the guilt that they would otherwise feel when they harm or manipulate others.

This same combination of psychopathy and narcissism can also give way to verbal and physical altercations. And when things get to this point, most individuals with this disorder tend to be very cold and calculating when it comes to their verbal or physical attacks.

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Final Thoughts on Malignant Narcissists

In summary, there is a world of difference between having a healthy, positive self-image and having a narcissistic personality disorder. Of course, any variation of the mental disorder is troubling. However, it is reasonably safe to say that the malignant narcissist is the most dangerous type. After all, it is as close as someone can get to being a psychopath without officially being diagnosed as one.