I learned a new term today, and it’s one that every American and every foreign leader should become familiar with immediately. As soon as I heard the descriptor from a mental health professional who will remain nameless, I knew it was spot-on: malignant narcissist.
The first offering was an excerpt from Wikipedia, and it literally made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
“Kernberg described malignant narcissism as a syndrome characterized by a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), antisocial features, paranoid traits, and egosyntonic aggression. Other symptoms may include an absence of conscience, a psychological need for power, and a sense of importance (grandiosity).”
You might not know exactly what all those terms mean, but you know exactly who they are talking about, don’t you?
The term was first used by the social psychologist Erich Fromm in 1964, when he described malignant narcissism as a “severe mental sickness” representing “the quintessence of evil.” (Cue another rise of the neck hair.) Fromm called the condition “the most severe pathology and the root of the most vicious destructiveness and inhumanity.”
These people aren’t your run of the mill narcissists, who damage people for their own promotion but then might feel bad about it later. No, a malignant narcissist enjoys harming others and shows little empathy or regret for say, mocking disabled people or grabbing women’s crotches.
Another way you can tell a malignant narcissist from a regular ol’ psychopath, according to psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg, is that psychopaths can’t really identify with anyone, whereas malignant narcissists “have the capacity to admire powerful people, and can depend on sadistic and powerful but reliable parental images,” like say, Vladimir Putin.
Otto also wrote that, “Some of them may present rationalized antisocial behavior – for example, as leaders of sadistic gangs or terrorist groups . . . with the capacity for loyalty to their own comrades.” Can you say Bannon? Guiliani?
Author and psychoanalyst Dan Shaw is quoted in an article in Psychology Today (a must-read, seriously) as offering these telltale signs of malignant narcissism:
- Someone who is “infinitely entitled and grateful to no one.”
- When telling the story of his life, he “leaves out any trace of his own significant misdeeds and failures.”
- Someone who “never hesitates to lie for the purpose of self-aggrandizement.”
- Someone who “blames others for his own errors and failures.”
- Someone who “is erratic, thin-skinned, belligerent, and constantly engaged in attacking and belittling perceived enemies.”
- And in the case of malignant narcissistic leaders of cults and political movements, Shaw says, “he persuades followers to see their lives before joining his group as wretched, and he claims exclusive possession of the power to transform followers’ lives in miraculous ways.”
Please, people, let’s not pretend. Let’s not normalize pathology. Let’s not let the media get away with normalizing this, either. We are in very deep trouble. While denial might make us feel better, it is not an option right now.