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Malignant narcissism is a psychological syndrome comprising an extreme mix of narcissism, antisocial behavior, aggression, and sadism. Grandiose, and always ready to raise hostility levels, the malignant narcissist undermines families and organizations in which they are involved, and dehumanizes the people with whom they associate.
Malignant narcissism is not a diagnostic category, but a subcategory of narcissism. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), while malignant narcissism is not. Malignant narcissism could include aspects of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) alongside a mix of antisocial, paranoid and sadistic personality disorder traits. The importance of malignant narcissism and of projection as a defense mechanism has been confirmed in paranoia, as well as "the patient's vulnerability to malignant narcissistic regression". A person with malignant narcissism exhibits paranoia in addition to the symptoms of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Because a malignant narcissist's personality cannot tolerate any criticism, being mocked typically causes paranoia.
The social psychologist Erich Fromm first coined the term "malignant narcissism" in 1964, describing it as a "severe mental sickness" representing "the quintessence of evil". He characterized the condition as "the most severe pathology and the root of the most vicious destructiveness and inhumanity". Edith Weigert (1967) saw malignant narcissism as a "regressive escape from frustration by distortion and denial of reality", while Herbert Rosenfeld (1971) described it as "a disturbing form of narcissistic personality where grandiosity is built around aggression and the destructive aspects of the self become idealized."...
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). Psychoanalyst George H. Pollock wrote in 1978: "The malignant narcissist is presented as pathologically grandiose, lacking in conscience and behavioral regulation with characteristic demonstrations of joyful cruelty and sadism". Of note, M. Scott Peck uses malignant narcissism as a way to explain evil.
Kernberg believed that malignant narcissism should be considered part of a spectrum of pathological narcissism, which he saw as ranging from Hervey M. Cleckley's antisocial character (what is now referred to as psychopathy or antisocial personality) at the high end of severity, through malignant narcissism, and then to narcissistic personality disorder at the low end. So according to Kernberg's hierarchy, psychopathy trumps malignant narcissism as a more extreme form of pathological narcissism. Malignant narcissism can be distinguished from psychopathy, according to Kernberg, because of the malignant narcissist's capacity to internalize "both aggressive and idealized superego precursors, leading to the idealization of the aggressive, sadistic features of the pathological grandiose self of these patients".
According to Kernberg, the psychopath's paranoid stance against external influences makes him or her unwilling to internalize even the values of the "aggressor", while malignant narcissists "have the capacity to admire powerful people, and can depend on sadistic and powerful but reliable parental images". Malignant narcissists, in contrast to psychopaths, are also said to be capable of developing "some identification with other powerful idealized figures as part of a cohesive 'gang'...which permits at least some loyalty and good object relations to be internalized... 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."...