Narcissistic Personality Disorder - Narcissist vs. Psychopath
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By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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We all heard the terms "psychopath" or "sociopath". These are the old or colloquial names for a patient with the Antisocial Personality Disorder (AsPD). It is hard to distinguish narcissists from psychopaths. The latter may simply be a less inhibited and less grandiose form of the former. Some scholars have suggested the existence of a hybrid "psychopathic narcissist", or "narcissistic psychopath". Indeed, the DSM V Committee is considering to merge these personality disorders.
Still, there are some important nuances setting the two disorders apart:
As opposed to most narcissists, psychopaths are either unable or unwilling to control their impulses or to delay gratification. They use their rage to control people and manipulate them into submission.
Psychopaths, like narcissists, lack empathy but many of them are also sadistic: they take pleasure in inflicting pain on their victims or in deceiving them. They even find it funny!
Psychopaths are far less able to form interpersonal relationships, even the twisted and tragic relationships that are the staple of the narcissist.
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Both the psychopath and the narcissist disregard society, its conventions, social cues and social treaties. But the psychopath carries this disdain to the extreme and is likely to be a scheming, calculated, ruthless, and callous career criminal. Psychopaths are deliberately and gleefully evil while narcissists are absent-mindedly and incidentally evil.
From my book "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited":
"As opposed to what Scott Peck says, narcissists are not evil – they lack the intention to cause harm (mens rea). As Millon notes, certain narcissists 'incorporate moral values into their exaggerated sense of superiority. Here, moral laxity is seen (by the narcissist) as evidence of inferiority, and it is those who are unable to remain morally pure who are looked upon with contempt.' (Millon, Th., Davis, R. - Personality Disorders in Modern Life - John Wiley and Sons, 2000). Narcissists are simply indifferent, callous and careless in their conduct and in their treatment of others. Their abusive conduct is off-handed and absent-minded, not calculated and premeditated like the psychopath's."
Psychopaths really do not need other people while narcissists are addicted to narcissistic supply (the admiration, attention, and envy of others).
Millon and Davis (supra) add (p. 299-300):
"When the egocentricity, lack of empathy, and sense of superiority of the narcissist cross-fertilize with the impulsivity, deceitfulness, and criminal tendencies of the antisocial, the result is a psychopath, an individual who seeks the gratification of selfish impulses through any means without empathy or remorse."
(negativistic or covert) psychopath lacks key features of the classic variant:
she maintains impulse control and is never violent.
The covert psychopath plans ahead her egregious, spiteful, raging, vindictive, self-serving, emotionally reregulating, palliative, or restorative antisocial acts. Her behavioral choices are intended to primarily cater to her emotional needs and regulate her self-esteem and self-worth. By the by, as a secondary bonus, she metes out justice as she sees it. Her conduct is selected, premeditated, organized, planned, and well executed. She is self-efficacious.
The stealth of the covert psychopath is such that when she does act, it comes as a shocking bolt out of the blue, a paralyzing and highly traumatic lightning strike, affecting everyone involved. This gives the indelible but utterly erroneous impression of impulsivity where impulse control is actually intact.
The covert psychopath verbally externalizes or sublimates aggression, but is very rarely violent or criminal. She hurts people and humiliates them with malice aforethought, but mostly she is concerned with her selfish cravings. deficiencies, and desires. To her, people are a nuisance and a collateral damage and they are used, exploited, abused, violated, and - their utility over - discarded like so much trash on the way to self-gratification.
A certain behavior or
behavioral pattern can be utterly psychopathic and, at the same time, reactive
to abuse, justified, and proportional.
Psychopathic conduct has its hallmarks: it is impulsive (abrupt and shocking), antisocial, aggressive, reckless, and dysempathic. It includes elements of novelty- or thrill-seeking and risk-taking. It is often self-defeating or self-destructive.
But these attributes of psychopathic action do not mean that the psychopath is invariably immoral, that he is always in the wrong: even psychopaths are sometimes egregiously mistreated and have the inherent right to rectify and remedy the injustice or to make sure the maltreatment ceases.
The psychopath is distinguished by HOW he (or increasingly, she) does things - not by considerations of ethics and morality.
The worst, most egregious,
hurtful and dangerous type of narcissist - really, of any person - is also
antisocial (psychopathic) and sadistic. He is the sad and corrupted outcome of
intermittent reinforcement in early childhood which resulted in a shattering
and never resolved narcissistic mortification.
Such narcissists, as children, were first idolized, placed on a pedestal, pampered, and cosseted, admired, exhibited, they could do no wrong, they were perfection reified. Then, abruptly, they were cast aside, shunned, discarded, mocked, nightmarishly abused in every which manner, sadistically criticized, and ostentatiously hated.
These narcissists will stop at nothing to recapture this garden of Eden ideal state. In women, they look for an idealizing mother - or, failing that, they try to "fix" the intimate partner coercively. They generate a shared fantasy space into which they shoehorn all others, from business partners and colleagues to romantic partners and neighbors. Any attempt to exit the space or challenge it leads to extreme aggression and a replay of the original narcissistic mortification.
Here is how to instantly tell
a narcissist apart from a psychopath:
The narcissist maintains one island of stability in his life while all the other dimensions of his existence are a chaotic maelstrom. He remains married to the same woman for decades even as he dizzyingly switches between careers and workplaces. Or he climbs the corporate ladder with the same enterprise for 35 years, having divorced and remarried five different spouses.
The psychopath has no such peaceable oasis: every single aspect of his life is mayhem and pandemonium. His personal life is disordered beyond any timelines, as is his kaleidoscopic range of vocations, his myriad on and off "friendships", his antisocial or defiant pursuits, his numerous domiciles, and so on.
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