Who put the “psycho” in psychopath? A malignant narcissist, that’s who.

A malignant narcissist is like taking a psychopath, a narcissist, and a hostile, paranoid sadist, and rolling them all into one.

I never gave much thought to the term “malignant narcissist.” It’s not a term I’d come across very often, and when I did, it seemed just like another name for “psychopath.” Then several months ago I had a conversation with a psychopath named “R,” who said, “There is a lot of confusion between psychopathy and malignant narcissism. Malignant narcissists are in a permanent state of rage and are paranoid, emotionally unstable and dangerous. A lot of people wrongly considered psychopaths (Hitler and Ted Bundy, for example) were in reality malignant narcissists…. I believe that the psychology profession is deliberately led in certain directions, and part of that has been to avoid the subject of malignant narcissists. It moves the focus too close to home for a certain group of people… “

That piqued my interest a bit, although the source naturally left me skeptical.

But malignant narcissism (MN) really got my attention when I read this morning that psychologist John D. Gartner, PhD, a psychotherapist and an instructor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, was willing to step out on an ethical limb in order to warn the public about a serious danger: our new president’s mental state.

This courageous psychologist has diagnosed Donald Trump with malignant narcissism. And he is warning us that Trump is dangerous. I think many of us have already come to that conclusion, especially now, after this first week of his presidency. His grandiosity, vengeance and lack of humanity seem to have no bounds.

“We’ve seen enough public behavior by Donald Trump now that we can make this diagnosis indisputably,” says Gartner, whose comments run afoul of the so-called Goldwater Rule, the informal term for part of the ethics code of the American Psychiatric Association saying it is wrong to provide a professional opinion of a public figure without examining that person and gaining consent to discuss the evaluation. But Gartner says the Trump case warrants breaking that ethical code. “Donald Trump is dangerously mentally ill and temperamentally incapable of being president,” says Gartner. (US News and World Report, Jan. 28, 2017) 

I wanted this post to be a warning about malignant narcissists, not about Trump. But I realized all of us already have a malignant narcissist in our lives, and that happens to be the president. It doesn’t matter if it’s not a personal relationship. His behavior, words and actions have an effect on us. 

It is my hope that this information will help you to better understand him and his daily shocking and ruinous actions (actions that have brought incredible shame upon our country and are rapidly plunging us into an age of darkness). I don’t know about you, but my head is spinning. I can barely keep up with it. And I resent having this insanity thrust into my life and onto the world—the disastrous, inhumane new policies; the many lies; the constant gaslighting; the impulsive, attention-grabbing outbursts; and the destructive, King-Kong-style ego trip, one that seeks to destroy everything and everyone in its path.

But here we are. Like it or not, we’re all in this together. Being subject to the senseless whims and daily pummeling of a malignant narcissist can be traumatizing, and we should take it seriously. It has the potential to affect our mental health. I give tips on how to deal with it at the end of this post.

If you’re dealing with personal trauma in addition to this, which is likely, my heart goes out to you.

What is Malignant Narcissism?

“Malignant narcissism is a syndrome comprising an extreme mix of narcissism, antisocial personality disorder, aggression, and sadism. Often grandiose, and always ready to raise hostility levels, the malignant narcissist undermines organizations in which they are involved, and dehumanizes the people with whom they associate.” (Wikipedia)

Malignant Narcissists are “determined to gratify their wishes and furious if thwarted. Their desire can be so consuming that there is little comprehension of, respect for or ability to empathize with the other. They lack guilt or remorse and tend to feel or pronounce that it is they who have been mistreated,” notes an article on the Psychology Today website. “Malignant Narcissists will go to great lengths to achieve their aim… They may lie, falsely accuse, dramatize, smear, cheat, steal, manipulate, accuse, blame or twist to get what they want and feel justified in doing so. Because they are entitled, egocentric and desperate, they do not experience it as wrong.”

The traits of Malignant Narcissists are as follows:

  • Manipulative
  • Destructive
  • Egocentric
  • Uses projection as a defense mechanism
  • Lacks a conscience
  • Narcissistic
  • Exhibits anti-social behavior
  • Sadistic
  • Aggressive
  • Paranoid
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Regression (a defense mechanism leading to the temporary or long-term reversion of the ego to an earlier stage of development rather than handling unacceptable impulses in a more adaptive way.)

While it’s true MN has a lot in common with psychopathy and narcissism, it seems to be different and more extreme.

(the most severe pathology and the root of the most vicious destructiveness and inhumanity)

What is it, exactly, that makes a Malignant Narcissist especially dangerous?

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.” I think “R,” the psychopath I spoke with, was right about Bundy and Hitler. And now we have another name to add to that list. Unfortunately, this is not good news for anyone. Trump will not be stopped (at least not by the government) or he would have been a long time ago. Too many people in power are getting what they want. Not because they are strong, but because they are weak.

If you are feeling traumatized, how can you deal with it?

  • Remember to have boundaries. Boundaries protect you, often from yourself. Avoid staying glued to the news all day and risk falling into depression, anxiety attacks and despair. Stay informed, of course, but don’t make it your sole focus. It’s true that many of us are outraged, anxious and horrified, but we have to take measures to preserve our mental well-being. Be sure to do the things you love, or even take up some new hobby or activity. Get out in nature. Hike with friends or go to a park. Learn to play an instrument. Learn a foreign language. Read a good book. Knit. Try some new recipes. Learn to dance. This is the perfect time to start practicing yoga and/or meditation. Enjoy your life and take good care of yourself, despite what’s going on.
  • Realize what you’re dealing with.  The unvarnished truth will alleviate your confusion and help you stop wasting your time wondering why everyone doesn’t come to their senses. An article I highly recommend is  Orwell’s “1984” and Trump’s America | The New Yorker. Author Adam Gopnic writes,

“Starting this week, it’s vital that everyone who is trying to maintain sanity understand that this is so: that it is a myth that reason, as normally undertaken, is going to affect this process or that “consequences,” as they are normally understood, will, either. Whenever there is an authoritarian coup rooted in an irrational ideology, well-meaning people insist that it can’t persist because the results are going to be so obviously bad for the people who believe in it, whether it’s the theocratic revolution in Iran or the first truly autocratic Administration in America. Tragically, terribly, this is never the way it works. There is no political cost for Trump in being seen to be incompetent, impulsive, shallow, inconsistent, and contemptuous of truth and reason. Those are his politics. This is how he achieved power.”

Be sure to recognize and avoid useless, frustrating interviews and conversations with people who are gaslighting. Trust your own perceptions if something’s not making sense, and don’t waste your time with it. Bill Maher said it best in his monlogue, WTF is going on?:

“Here’s how Sean Spicer explained ‘alternative facts.’ He said, ‘it’s like the weather report. One weather report comes out and says it’s going to be cloudy, and another comes out and says there’s going to be light rain. No one lied to you.’ Yeah, sometimes weather men disagree on what the weather is going to be like tomorrow. BUT THEY DON’T DISAGREE ON WHAT IT WAS LIKE YESTERDAY.”

  • Be in community with like-minded people for support and TAKE ACTION. Taking action is empowering! Sitting and worrying won’t do any good. If you’re angry, remember that anger is energizing. You can channel that energy into something that makes a difference. Join in a protest (were any of you in the women’s march? I’d love to hear about it). Call Congress: 202-224-3121. Call every day. More often than not, you will speak to a staff person in the member’s office. This person keeps track of how many people called and their positions on issues, and provides a summary to the member. Your call does count, even if you are not able to speak directly to your senator or representative.

The following organizations will give you ideas for action, and connect you with groups in your area:

Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda 

COMMON CAUSE: Holding Power Accountable

MoveOn.org 

Sign petitions:

 Elect the president by national popular vote (777,000 signatures so far)

Sign the White House website’s petition calling for immediate release of Trump’s tax returns (407,000 signatures so far)

  • Do things that restore your faith in humanity. Look for ways to support those who are suffering. Volunteer to help the poor or hungry. Send books to a prison. Donate work-worthy clothing to a DV shelter that gets women back on their feet. Make a donation to a worthy cause, such as one that provides aid to Syrian refugees, which Trump has inhumanely and disgracefully banned from the US. You can find reputable charities here: CHARITY NAVIGATOR: Syrian Crisis

 

♥ Let’s all be sure to reach out for the support we need, and reach out to support others. These are trying times, and I wish us all well.

Never forget who you are, and who we are together

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