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.


What’s up with this crazy idea that narcissism and Aspergers are the same thing?


As a person with Aspergers who has been a victim of narcissists all my life, the difference seems pretty clear to me, but to some people, including mental health professionals, high-functioning autism (Aspergers) and narcissism are seen as the same disorder!

A thread on Wrong Planet, a forum for people with autism and Aspergers (a high functioning form of autism) discusses the confusion, with people on both sides of the Aspergers=Narcissism fence. Cited there is an article from Psychology Today, which quotes Sam Vaknin who believes narcissism is an autism spectrum disorder! The British psychiatrist Dr. Khalid A. Mansour concurs.

Clearly, some people don’t understand much about high functioning autism/Aspergers. Yes, I believe it’s possible for a person to be both a narcissist AND on the autism spectrum (an example might be Mark Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook, especially as he was portrayed in the movie “The Social Network“), but they are two vastly different disorders.

Appearances are only skin deep.


I understand where the confusion comes from. On the surface, the two disorders can appear similar. People on the autism spectrum may seem as if they lack empathy because they do not express their emotions well, which of course includes showing empathy. They also sometimes blurt out inappropriate or hurtful things, not because they mean to, but because they honestly don’t know any better: they have great difficulty reading social cues. They can appear selfish and sometimes get angry or upset when their routines are interrupted or they are forced to pull themselves away from their solitary pursuits to engage with others. They can also violate the boundaries of others. All of these surface behaviors may look a lot like narcissism.

But appearances are only skin deep, and this is where any similarity ends. Lack of empathy seems to be the most commonly mentioned “characteristic” of both Aspies and narcissists. But in actuality, as far as empathy is concerned, a person with autism/Aspergers is the polar opposite of a narcissist. A narcissist cannot feel empathy, but can act as if they do. They are good actors and can fake emotion they do not feel. They can lie well; Aspies cannot lie or lie very badly. People with Aspergers and high functioning autism are great at picking up the emotions of others around them and are even sometimes overwhelmed by other people’s emotions (which sometimes makes them withdraw and that can make them seem like they lack empathy). They can be bad at expressing empathy because of their inability to read social cues or know what to say and do. Therefore, Aspies can feel empathy but often act as if they do not.


Narcissists can say hurtful or damaging things because (a) they don’t care how you feel; or (b) because they want to hurt you. People with autism/Aspergers say hurtful things too sometimes, but it’s never intentional and they do care how you feel. If they are told they said something hurtful, most autists/Aspies are consumed with guilt and will sincerely apologize. They blurt things out because they sometimes do not know it’s not appropriate to do so.

Aspies and autists hate to have their comforting routines interrupted because repetition is something that grounds and relaxes them. A low functioning person with autism will sometimes perform repetitive movements or repeat a phrase over and over. This is how they cope with too much stimuli coming in. If they are interrupted, a low-functioning autist may fly into a rage or have a temper tantrum. Disengaging and switching gears is impossible for them.

At the higher end of the spectrum, an Aspie or high functioning autist may not repeat the same word or action over and over, but they have their hobbies and obsessions which they pursue with a single-minded intensity. They tend to hyper-focus on whatever interests them. If they are interrupted from whatever their mind is focused on, they may snap at you or become very annoyed. They can switch gears if they must but they hate doing it.

A narcissist may also snap or become annoyed, but not because they have difficulty switching gears but because they are just plain selfish and don’t want to do something that might please someone else besides themselves. Think of the narcissistic husband playing a video game. His wife comes into the room and asks for some help opening a stuck window. The husband flies into a rage and tells her he’s busy and to do it herself. It’s not because he’s that engrossed in the game or even cares about it that much, it’s because he doesn’t want to put himself out for his wife. For an Aspie or autist, the game engages all of their senses and their mind is extremely focused. They simply can’t pull away from it.


A person with autism or Aspergers can and do violate the boundaries of others. Again, this is because they can’t read social cues well enough to know when they are violating someone else’s boundaries. A narcissist knows full well when they are violating boundaries, but they simply do not care.

A forum member on Wrong Planet sums up the confusion this way:

To me it’s as absurd as comparing the small narcissistic child recklessly driving a car, to a person trying to cross the street in a wheelchair, and saying they have a lot in common because they both have a set of wheels.

I think mental health professionals and others who believe narcissism and Aspergers are on the same spectrum need to dig a lot deeper before they make such sweeping generalizations. They are not the same disorder at all and are certainly not on the same spectrum. Aspergers/high functioning autism is a neurodevelopmental deficit and really a type of learning disability; narcissism is a moral deficit.

For further reading, please see my article, People with Autism Do Not Lack Empathy!
Also see The Spectrums of Autism and Narcissism.

Borderlines are human chameleons.


My latest obsession seems to be the similarities and differences between people with NPD and BPD. I’ve been trying to come to terms with the idea an increasing number of mental health professionals hold that BPD may actually be on the same spectrum as NPD (for more information about this, see Alexander Lowen’s “Spectrum of Narcissistic Disorders”) but is a less adaptive (to the sufferer) form of the same disorder. What I’ve been reading is disturbing to me because I had no idea how similar BPD and NPD really may be.

The most important thing both disorders seem to have in common is that both borderlines and narcissists feel empty inside. Both feel as if they have a black hole inside them, and many try to “fill” that hole with things like substances, sex or compulsive shopping. People with both disorders are prone to abuse drugs or alcohol, or engage in other unhealthy or self-destructive behaviors (with the borderline more likely to be deliberately self-destructive and the narcissist callous or destructive toward others). Filling the inner black hole becomes so important that people with these disorders may disregard the needs of others in their need to get their “fix.”

I found an article in Psychology Today that discusses the devastating conundrum that both narcissists and borderlines have to face: the lack of an identity. It’s this absence of a true identity that make people with these disorders feel so empty and hollow, and drives them to do the kinds of things they do. The primary difference between these disorders is that narcissists adopt a false self to replace the lost true self, while borderlines–although not having a false self per se — instead become human chameleons, adapting their behaviors to a given situation (to avoid rejection)– but none of these identities are really “them.” The truth is, they don’t know who they really are. That’s why borderlines seem to change with the wind and confuse those they are close to.

The article I’ve linked to discusses these ideas in more depth. It’s extremely interesting stuff, but somewhat upsetting to people like me with a BPD diagnosis.

This article is Part 7 of a series about the differences and similarities between BPD and NPD.
The other 6 can be linked to from this one. (Of course I’ll be reading all of them.)

Who Am I? The Conundrum of Both Borderlines and Narcissists

I cannot repost the article here here without written permission from the author, so you will have to click the link to read the article.

Here is an article by the same author about the False Self the Narcissist uses to mask their lack of an identity:

Not every narcissist has NPD.


As has been done with autism spectrum disorders, it’s becoming increasingly common to think of NPD as falling on a spectrum of narcissism, ranging from normal or healthy narcissism (which most of us have to some degree) all the way to psychopathy/sociopathy (variations of Antisocial Personality Disorder or ASPD) at the top. What we call malignant narcissism is actually NPD shading into ASPD.

Narcissism is a normal trait that helps us survive, but it becomes pathological when there is too much of it. On the narcissism spectrum, just below NPD and above healthy narcissism is a disorder called The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern, or DNP. It’s not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), but Dr. Nina Brown has written books about the disorder, which I haven’t read yet (I never even heard of DNP until a few days ago), but here is a description of DNP:

The destructive narcissistic pattern (DNP) is a term used to describe a constellation of characteristics generally associated with pathological narcissism, but which are fewer and less severe. Nonetheless, these characteristics negatively impact relationships. The destructive narcisist’s typical interaction produces negative reactions in others. For example, the individual devalues others, lacks empathy, has a sense of entitlement, and is emotionally shallow. He may function very well and be successful economically, but is unable to form and maintain stable relationships, as evidenced by numerous partners or marriages. The DNP, Brown asserts, is often unrecognized. Although others may find him frustrating and difficult, the individual with DNP can be charming when charm is perceived to be to his benefit.

Dr. Brown’s book “The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern” can be purchased on Amazon.

The blogger CZBZ has also written about DNP on her blog, “The Narcissistic Continuum” and has devised a detailed graph that shows the placement of disorders on the narcissistic spectrum:

DNP is probably much more common than full-blown NPD. These people can be very difficult to deal with but because their symptoms are less severe they would be more likely to respond to (and seek) therapy and may not be completely without empathy and have a stunted or limited conscience instead of an absent one.

The only problem I have with this continuum is that almost everyone would be on the narcissism spectrum, since most people (except for those whose self esteem has been all but obliterated) have some degree of healthy narcissism.