Psychopathy and malignant narcissism: what is the difference?


I have been reading a blog written by a self-confessed Psychopath (who scored 36.8 on Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist) who writes engaging and well-informed articles about his disorder. I’ve always wondered myself about what it is exactly that distinguishes Malignant Narcissism from Psychopathy, because a MN can be every bit as cruel and callous as a psychopath. The primary difference is the Psychopath is not an attention-seeker, but the malignant narcissist is still trapped by his or her need for approval, attention and adulation from others. That is also one of the things (along with impulsivity–which ASPD has in common with BPD–as well as the likelihood of law-breaking) that distinguishes Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) from NPD/malignant narcissism.

There are those who believe that ASPD is on the same spectrum as NPD (but is at the top of the scale, while NPD is in the middle), but I’m not sure if it should be because there are qualitative, not just quantitative, differences. My opinion is that malignant narcissism is high spectrum NPD with ASPD traits. But they still need narcissistic supply. Psychopaths do not.

This writer has an interesting observation–that perhaps the only type of person able to control and/or take down a narcissist is a psychopath. He has little respect for narcissists due to their need for others (even as supply) and emotional sensitivity to rejection and criticism.

The anatomy of a psychopath. Malignant narcissists share with psychopaths the Factor 1 traits, but not Factor 2.

I think this article will explain these differences better than I can.

Narcissism or Psychopathy–Differences?

A Reader asks:

I would be interested in reading anything you wrote on psychopaths need for attention/acceptance. Have you? Like, how would they react to rejection?

Basically the need for attention and acceptance, if it’s a prominent and dominating aspect of what drives a person, is a distinctive trait in Narcissism. As such it is not exclusively something psychopaths are known for.

It is often said that psychopaths have strong narcissistic tendencies, and the statement isn’t completely wrong. But I also often see statements saying Malignant Narcissism and Psychopathy are the same, and this is not the case. There are some very important fundamental differences between psychopaths and malignant narcissists.

Narcissists may be callous and abusive – malignant narcissists definitely are callous and abusive! – and they lack empathy. These are things they have in common with psychopaths. But narcissists have a very strong emotional need for attention or Attention Seeking, Acceptance and Admiration. Their self esteem depends on whether or not they receive these things, and this makes them very vulnerable to rejection and other forms of negative attention such as humiliation, being out shined by someone else, or of being deliberately or naturally ignored.

Psychopaths do not need attention and we certainly do not need acceptance, at least not just for the sake getting it. Their emotional well being does not depend on whether or not they get these things, but they do play a part for most psychopaths’ sense of satisfaction. In this we’re probably not that different from normal people: We like to get attention, to be admired and respected just like everybody else, but we do not feel bad if we don’t get these things.

For psychopaths getting attention and respect from others is most of all a technique to get what they want without having to resort to coercion – threats, blackmail, and physical violence, i.e. – with the same frequency as we otherwise would. Having attention and respect – and acceptance – from others is really only paramount for as far as it is necessary to avoid the risks associated with the more negative techniques. In short: Attention and acceptance to psychopaths are not goals or ends, they’re means to ends.

When we (psychopaths) do care about whether or not we get attention it is not because we have an emotional dependency on being recognized or confirmed by our surroundings. It doesn’t matter to us that people speak badly about us, or that they try to avoid us. Being feared makes an opening for controlling those who fear you, and control leads to possible power.

Making sure you get a lot of attention is also a kind of control, it is a potential opener for gaining power, and it is the central, and often the only, reason why we seek to get it.

This is a well known fact, and the entertainment industry – just to mention one – knows and uses it: Make yourself known, make sure people notice you and that they can’t overlook you, and you have the basis for influencing how people respond to you.

If people like you, there’s a greater chance that they’ll support you or help you in other ways, especially if it’s mutual. <– This is what I've chosen to do, but I certainly did not always use a friendly approach. I've been very abusive in the past, and it has worked very well for me too. – But I've changed in many ways, and I find the mutual idea much more interesting now – and that is good, because it keeps me out of prison, and it has created a good possibility for me to actually do something valuable that others can benefit from… But that was a side note.

Narcissists seek attention and acceptance for it's own sake, and are miserable if they don't get it.
Psychopaths seek attention and acceptance because it is part of a technique to get something else. Attention and/or acceptance for it's own sake doesn't matter to how a psychopath feels.

A Narcissist, opposite a psychopath, is very vulnerable to Social Rejection and rejection in general. If you deny them admiration and respect, and – more important still – if you humiliate them publicly, you can crush a narcissist completely (provided you do it right and with timing).

Narcissists get very hurt when they get rejected.
Psychopaths do not feel any emotional pain or discomfort when they get rejected.

No narcissistic person can go through public humiliation and not feel emotionally very disturbed by it. With this knowledge one can destroy a narcissist quite easily… This is the typical area of most psychopaths' expertise, and it is why we so easily can control most narcissistic people. For the same reason most psychopaths have a lot of contempt for narcissistic people. We see individuals who love to abuse and humiliate, but who are even more vulnerable to these things themselves, and it's hard to find it in your heart to respect such people…
– I suspect we may have this in common with most neurotypicals.

24 thoughts on “Psychopathy and malignant narcissism: what is the difference?

  1. Okay, psychopaths are VERY creepy! Almost non-human, right? I almost feel sorry for the narcissists. I had a visual image of a psychopath looking down at the narcissist with disdain and callously stepping and squashing them like a bug.

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    • I had the same visual. Well, close. Mine was a narcissist blubbering on the ground begging for mercy while the psychopath kept kicking him in the face. At least the psychopath is not a hypocrite like the narc, who can dish it out but can’t take it. The psychopath dishes out and doesn’t give a shit what you think.

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  2. I find the story about the 2 NY prison escapeees classic textbook. They talked a woman who probably has severe BPD into helping them escape. I even predicted their escape route ..because they are very manipulive, but not as bright as people think. I figured they’d head north into the sticks…try to break into a place and get food…basic survival stuff and weapons. They did that. They robbed a hunters cabin and stole rifles…then they headed exactly to the obvious place. The Canadian border. And I assumed from there they would try to get on a small vessel and out to another country.

    The cops just shot 1 of them 20 miles from the Canadian border..and David sweat is probably around 18 miles from the Canadian border in the woods.

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  3. This is interesting… I only didn’t understand one part… “There are those who believe that ASPD is on the same spectrum as NPD (but is at the top of the scale, while NPD is in the middle), but Iā€™m not sure if it should be because there are qualitative, not just quantitative, differences.” – can’t a spectrum differ both in qualitative and quantitative aspects as one progress up or down it? I guess it depends how rigidly it is defined. I would of course be in the camp that says ASPD is part of a broader spectrum below or developmentally earlier than what is called NPD.

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    • I was wondering about this too, because I’ve always thought of ASPD as being the highest level on the narcissistic spectrum…and yes, I suppose as one goes up and down the spectrum, certain traits could appear that didn’t appear lower down. I tried to make a diagram of this once–you can see it here (not sure how accurate it is–I knew a lot less about some of these disorders when I made it):


      • That diagram is roughly similar to how I understand things. I like the diagram here by Rinsley, who was Masterson’s colleague from the Menninger Institute for Treatment of Personality Disorders/Psychoses in Topeka, Kansas –

        This diagram does not include ASPD. But if it did, ASPD would be an offshoot or variation of the earliest / left-most part of the diagram which covers psychotic conditions. In other words ASPD would developmentally correlate to what Rinsley calls symbiotic psychosis and presymbiotic psychosis/schizophrenia. Harvey Cleckley (Robert Hare’s forerunner on developing the psychopathy concepts) believed that psychopaths were in some meaningful sense psychotic and so I think that Rinsley would have classified them there also.

        But interestingly, Rinsley also thought psychopaths would be treatable to whatever degree their personality contained narcissistic traits (including “malignant narcissistic” traits). But he said the practical problem was how to stop the defensive matrix of acting-out behaviors (e.g. drug use, violence, denial/avoidance, raging at others, other addictions, etc.) that prevented the tenuous positive pockets of the narcissistic mind-states which existed in the psychopathic matrix from being accessed and drawn into a relationship with someone outside the psychopathic person, that could strengthen and help them. He talked about how he had usually only been able to control psychopathic acting out in a prison environment, but that this environment was of course very untherapeutic and harmful in other ways, so it tended to work against the goals of psychotherapy.

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        • In my opinion, I don’t think many psychopaths/ASPDs would be curable for the simple reason that unlike NPD’s and BPD’s, they LIKE their disorder. Unlike narcisssists and borderlines, they do not live for how others regard them, are not seeking attention for attention’s sake, or trying to get supply–all things that cause people with these disorders to become depressed or despondent when things aren’t going their way. As someone pointed out to me today, psychopaths do not suffer. Their self image isn’t dependent on getting supply (narcissistic) or on being accepted/loved (borderline). So why would an ASPD present for therapy unless they were forced to do so by the legal system? If someone doesn’t want to be cured then no cure is possible, but I am with you that NPDs (and maybe even MN’s) and certainly BPD’s are curable if they present themselves for therapy, and they do (especially borderlines whose disorder is ego-dystonic and therefore intolerable to them)


          • This is mostly true. Masterson and Rinsley discussed in fact how psychopathic people did not get depressed or show dissatisfaction with their life situations in a way that would make them seek help. On the other hand, Rinsley discussed how psychopaths would in fact become depressed if their acting-out matrix of defenses / patterns of controlling others were somehow interrupted. And then, they could be accessible to intervention. Of course, the process that would make them accessible to help would take tremendous luck / coincidence and be quite rare.

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            • How would their acting-out matrix of defenses and pattrns of controlling others be interrupted? Incarceration maybe? Would there be any examples of such people? I’m thinking maybe Jeffrey Dahmer…I’m not sure if he was psychopathic or if his crimes were based on narcissistic supply thwarted and he raged and killed. But didn’t he repent and become a born again Christian just before he was put to death? If it was a sincere change of heart, perhaps he actually did want to change–or maybe he was just afraid of going to hell and did what he thought he had to do.

              Here is a shocker: according to Wikipedia, Dahmer was diagnosed with BPD! šŸ˜®


            • Right… being imprisoned. Because then they couldn’t carry on addictions, do violent things (as easily), or use denial/avoidance/splitting in as total a way as usually. I don’t know examples of these people. But I do know my favorite fictional example who was somewhat redeemed. Theodore Bagwell from Prison Break šŸ™‚
              Just look at this clip for about 60 seconds:

              I have never seen better acting of a psychopath’s facial expressions. I love this character despite his evilness.

              Liked by 1 person

          • I think narcissism is an aspect of psychopathy. All psychopaths have it. But it’s not the same kind of narcissism someone with NPD has. Needing narcissistic supply isn’t part of psychopathy. I think they have different spectrums. We need a Robert Hare to create a checklist for narcs. Perhaps Sam Vaknin would be up for the task.

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            • I always thought of them all being on the same spectrum, but you are right because psychopaths don’t really need narcissistic supply and a psychopath can actually *choose* to do good (they usually don’t though) over evil while a malignant narc can’t. Otherwise they wouldn’t be malignant. So yes, they may not even be on the same spectrum. It’s confusing. There are so many theories.


  4. I ran out of nested replies. That’s an interesting clip. So it looks like Bagwell was having flashbacks to the crimes that landed him in prison and having a moment of regret or even…remorse? Could a psychopath in such a situation actually feel true remorse for their actions, or is their regret more that they got caught? of course, this is a fictional character and in fiction it’s possible for someone to suddenly grow a conscience. I don’t think in actuality, such a thing would be possible, but they might want to change just so they do not get caught anymore. Only either (a) an act of God or (b) long, intensive, difficult therapy could actually change their hearts so they have a true conscience.
    I like that song btw. šŸ™‚


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