“Malignant psychopaths represent structurally defective variants of the psychopathic pattern. Their features frequently blend with those of the paranoid personality disorder. They are characterized best by their autocratic power orientation and by their mistrust, resentment, and envy of others. Underlying these features is a ruthless desire to vindicate themselves for past wrongs by cunning revenge or callous force, if necessary.” ~The Malignant Psychopath
Following is an outline of several types of character traits and aspects to various forms of narcissistic personality otherwise known as narcissistic personality disorder. It should also be noted that some people suffering from this form of personality disorder may exhibit hybrid combination of two or more of the following conditions. Most recently in a published article discussing Donald Trump’s fitness for office, John Gartner, a psychologist who trained as a resident at John Hopkins, has asserted that Donald Trump suffers from, not narcissistic personality disorder but, malignant narcissistic personality disorder. A diagnosis that has been considered pretty hard to make outside the clinical setting since it violates the American Psychiatric Association’s so-called Goldwater Rule, an ethical dictum that discourages mental health professional from diagnosing public figures from afar.
The Unprincipled Psychopath
The unprincipled psychopath is seen most frequently in conjunction with narcissistic personality patters. These individuals are often successful in keeping their activities just within the bounds of the law, and infrequently enter into clinical treatment.
These psychopaths exhibit an arrogant sense of self-worth, an indifference to the welfare of others, and a fraudulent social manner. There is a desire to exploit others, or at least expect special recognition and considerations without assuming reciprocal responsibilities. A deficient social conscience is evident in the tendency to flout conventions, to engage in actions that raise questions of personal integrity, and to disregard the rights of others. Achievement deficits and social irresponsibility are justified by expansive fantasies and frank prevarications. Descriptively, we may characterize this psychopath as devoid of a superego – that is, as evidencing and unscrupulous, amoral, and deceptive approach to relationships with others. More than merely disloyal and exploitative, these psychopaths may be found among society’s con artists, and charlatans, many of whom are vindictive toward and contemptuous of their victims.
The unprincipled psychopath often evidences a rash willingness to risk harm and is usually fearless in the face of threats and punitive action. Malicious tendencies are projected outward, precipitating frequent personal and family difficulties, as well as occasional legal entanglements. Vengeful gratification is often obtained by humiliating others. These narcissistic psychopaths operate as if they have no principles other than exploiting others for their personal gain. Lacking a genuine sense of guilt and possessing little social conscience, they are opportunists who enjoy the process of swindling others, outwitting them in a game they enjoy playing, which others are held in contempt because of the ease with which they can be seduced. Relationships survive only as long as this type of psychopath has something to gain. People are dropped with no thought to the anguish they may experience as a consequence of the psychopath’s irresponsible behaviors.
These psychopaths display an indifference to truth that, if brought to their attention, is likely to elicit an attitude of nonchalant indifference. They are skillful in the ways of social influence, are capable of feigning an air of justified innocence, and are adept in deceiving others with charm and glibness. Lacking any deep feelings of loyalty, they may successfully scheme beneath a veneer of politeness and civility. Their principal orientation is that of outwitting others – “Do unto others before they do unto you.” A number of these psychopaths attempt to present an image of cool strength, acting arrogant and fearless. To prove their courage, they may invite danger and punishment. But punishment only verifies their unconscious recognition that they probably deserve to be punished for their unprincipled behaviors. Rather than having a deterrent effect, it only reinforces their exploitative behaviors.
In many ways, the unprincipled psychopath is similar to the disingenuous psychopath, to whom we will turn next. They share a devious and guileful style, plotting and scheming in their calculations to manipulate others. However, the disingenuous psychopath, a variant of the histrionic personality, continues to pursue a strong need for attention and approval – characteristics not present in the unprincipled psychopath, who exhibits a basic self-centeredness and indifference to the attitudes and reactions of others. Unprincipled psychopaths prey on the weak and vulnerable, enjoying their dismay and anger; disingenuous psychopaths, by contrast, seek to hold the respect and affection of those they put aside in their pursuit of new sources of love and admiration.”
The Disingenuous Psychopath
The disingenuous psychopath’s behavior is typified by a veneer of friendliness and sociability. Although making a superficially good impression upon acquaintances, this psychopath frequently shows a more characteristic unreliability, impulsive tendencies, and deep resentments and moodiness among family members and other close associates. A socially facile lifestyle may include persistent seeking of attention and excitement, often expressed in seductive behaviors. Relationships are shallow and fleeting, frequently disrupted by caustic comments and impulses that are acted upon with insufficient deliberation – characteristics typically found among histrionic personalities, which the disingenuous psychopath most resembles.
Others often see this subtype as irresponsible and undependable, exhibiting short-lived enthusiasms and immature stimulus-seeking behaviors. Notable also among these disingenuous psychopaths are tendencies to be contriving and plotting; to exhibit a crafty and scheming approach to life; and to be insincere, calculating, and deceitful. Not likely to admit responsibility for personal or family difficulties, this psychopath manifests a cleverly defensive denial of psychological tensions or conflicts. Interpersonal difficulties are rationalized, and blame is projected upon others. Although self-indulgent and insistent on attention, the disingenuous type provides others with erratic loyalty and reciprocal affection.
A flagrant deceitfulness is a principal prototypal characteristic of his variant of psychopathy. These individual are more willful and insincere in their relationships, doing everything necessary to obtain what they need and want from others. Moreover, and in contrast to other psychopaths, they seem to enjoy seductive play, gaining gratification in the excitement and tension thus engendered. Often they are calculating and guileful when someone else has what they covet, be it the attention of a person or some tangible possession. Developmentally, their need for the approval of others gradually erodes over time, and is replaced by the means used to achieve approval. In the end, only a manipulative and cunning style remains.
The deceitfulness of the disingenuous psychopath is extended to the self. The attention and commendation of others are always perceived as consequences of the psychopath’s own plotting and scheming behaviors; rarely are they seen as expressions of unconditional regard. Beneath the surface, such psychopaths’ greatest fear is that no one will care for or love them unless they are made to do so. Despite this recognition, they attempt to persuade themselves that their intentions are basically good, and that their insincerely, motivated scheming is appreciated for its intrinsic worth. Throughout these mixed internal messages, nevertheless, the disingenuous psychopaths persist in seeking what is most important to themselves, always angling and maneuvering to acquire it. These psychopaths are no less self-deceptive about their motives than they are about those whom they deceive.
Although their weak points are usually concealed through veils of deceitfulness, disingenuous persons are often fearful that others may see them as indecisive or soft-hearted. When mildly crossed, subject to minor pressures, or faced with potential embarrassment, these psychopaths may be quickly provoked to anger, often expressed in a revengeful or vindictive way. The air of superficial affability is extremely precarious, and they are ready to depreciate anyone whose attitudes touch a sensitive theme. When the thin veneer of sociability is eroded, there may be momentary upsurges of abuse and rage, although these are infrequent.
The Risk-Taking Psychopath
The next type of psychopath often engages in risk taking for itself – for the excitement it provides, and for the sense of feeling alive and involved in life, rather than for such purposes as material gain or defense of reputation. Many individuals respond before thinking, act impulsively, and behave in an unreflective and uncontrolled manner. Beyond such simple impulsiveness, however, the risk-taking psychopaths are in addition substantially fearless, unbalanced by events that most people experience as dangerous or frightening. Practiced to this degree, their venturesomeness seems foolhardy, not courageous; they appear blind to the potential consequences of serious physical harm. Unwilling to give up their need for autonomy and independence, lacking habits of self-discipline, and unsure that they can ever achieve or fulfill the emptiness they feel within themselves in the real world, they are tempted to prove themselves against new and exciting ventures, traveling on a hyperactive and erratic course of hazardous activity. Descriptively, we may characterize these psychopaths as being dauntless, intrepid, bold, and audacious. Thus, this subtype represents an admixture of commingling of both antisocial and histrionic personality features.
In contrast to many psychopaths, whose basic motivations are largely aggrandizement and revenge, these individuals are driven by the need for excitement and stimulation, for adventures that are intrinsically treacherous. They are, in effect, thrill seekers, easily infatuated by opportunities to prove their mettle or open their possibilities. The factors that make them psychopathic are the undependability and irresponsibility of their actions, and their disdain for the effects of their behaviors on others as they pursue a restless chase to fulfill one capricious whim after another.
The Covetous Psychopath
In the covetous psychopath, we see in its most distilled form an essential feature of the DSM’s antisocial personality disorder and the ICD’s dissocial personality disorder: aggrandizement. These individuals feel that life has not “given them their due”; that they have been deprived of their rightful level of love, support, or material rewards; that others have received more than their share; and that they personally never were given the bounties of the good life. Thus, they are driven by envy and a desire for retribution – a wish to take back what they have been deprived of by destiny. Through acts of theft or destruction, they compensate themselves for the emptiness of their own lives, dismissing with smug entitlement their violations of the social order. They act on the rationalization that they alone must restore the karmic imbalance with which life has burdened them.
For those who are merely somewhat resentful, and for whom some conscious controls remain, interact, small transgression and petty acquisitions often suffice to blunt the expression of more extreme characteristics. For the more severely disordered, however, the usurpation of others’ earned achievement and possessions becomes the highest reward. Here, the pleasure lies in taking rather than in having. Like hungry animals pursuing prey, covetous psychopaths have an enormous drive, a rapaciousness. They manipulate others and treat them as pawns in their power games. Although they have little compassion for the effects of their behaviors, feeling little or no guilt for their actions, they remain at heart quite insecure about their power and their possessions; they never feel that enough has been acquired to make up for earlier deprivations. Regardless of their achievements, they remain ever jealous and envious, pushy and greedy, presenting ostentatious displays of materialism and conspicuous consumption. For the most part, they are completely self-centered and self-indulgent, often profligate and wasteful, un-willing to share with others for fear that they will take again what was so desperately desired in early life. Hence, such psychopaths never achieve a deep sense of contentment. They feel unfulfilled, empty, and forlorn, regardless of their successes, and remain forever dissatisfied and insatiable. Believing they will continue to be deprived, these psychopaths show minimal empathy for those who are exploited and deceived. Some may become successful entrepreneurs, exploiters of others as objects to satisfy their desires.
Although similar in certain central characteristics to the unprincipled psychopathic personality, the covetous variant manifests smug or justified, rather than benign, entitlement. Here an active exploitiveness, manifested through greed and the appropriation of others’ possessions, becomes a central motivating force. The narcissistic psychopaths, however, experience not only a deep and pervasive sense of emptiness – a powerful hunger for the love and recognition not received early in life – but also an insecurity that they perhaps really are intrinsically less than others, somehow deserving of life’s marginal dispensations.
The Spineless Psychopath
Some psychopaths are habitually powerful and vicious tormentors of others. The explosive type (described next) acts In this manner periodically, and then is troubled and contrite about the conscionably of such irrational actions. In contrast, another variant is deeply insecure and irresolute, perhaps even faint-hearted and cowardly. Psychopathic aggression in this variant represents a paradoxical response to felt dangers and fears, intended to show persecutors that one is not anxious or weak, and will not succumb to external pressure or coercion. In our typology, such craven and cowardly individuals are spineless psychopaths. These personalities commit violent acts as a means of overcoming fearfulness and of securing refuge. For them, aggression is not intrinsically rewarding, but is instead essentially a counterphobic act. Anticipating real danger, projecting hostile fantasies, spineless types feel it is best to strike first, hoping thereby to forestall their antagonists.
The dynamics of the spineless psychopath are derivative of the avoidant and dependent personalities. Here, others are fantasized as powerful, aggressive, sadistic enemies. In contrast, the self is viewed as a precariously and helplessly undefended target. Experiencing panic, spineless psychopaths seek to head off inevitable annihilation by engaging in the very acts most deeply feared as a form of preemptive attack. By public and strong display of the opposite of their deep fear, they present a façade of formidable strength. Their behavior is counterphobic, as noted above, and as the analysts have pointed out so clearly. Not only does this mechanism serve to enable them to master their personal fears, but it serves to divert and impress the public by a false sense of confidence and self-assurance. Some turn inward as soon as the invaders have been repelled. In others, however, we see the publicly swaggering spineless type, a belligerent and intimidating variant; these individuals want the world to know that they “cannot be pushed around.” As the many other psychopaths, public aggressiveness is not a sign of genuine confidence and personal strength, but a desperate means to try to feel superior and self-assured. Neither naturally mean-spirited nor intrinsically violent, these spineless variants become caricatures of swaggering ‘tough guys” and petty tyrants.
The Explosive Psychopath
The explosive psychopath is differentiated from other psychopathic variants by the unpredictable and sudden emergence of hostility. These “adult tantrums,” characterized by uncontrollable rage and fearsome attacks upon others, occur frequently against members of the psychopath’s own family.
Such explosive behavior erupts precipitously, before its intensive nature can be identified and constrained. Feeling thwarted or threatened, these psychopaths respond in a volatile and hurtful way, bewildering others by the abrupt change that has overtaken them, saying unforgivable things, striking unforgettable blows. As with children, tantrums are instantaneous reactions to cope with frustration or fear. Although the explosive behavior is often effective in intimidating others into silence or passivity, it is not primarily an instrumental act, but rather an outburst that serves to discharge pent-up feelings of humiliation and degradation.
Disappointed and feeling frustrated in life, these persons lose control and seek revenge for the mistreatment and deprecation to which they feel subjected. In contrast to other psychopaths, explosive individuals do not move about in a surly and truculent manner. Rather, their rages burst out uncontrollably, often with no apparent provocation. In periods of explosive rage, they may unleash a torrent of abuse and storm about defiantly, curing and voicing bitter contempt for all. This quality of sudden and irrational belligerence, as well as the frenzied lashing out, distinguishes these psychopathics from the other subtypes. Many are hypersensitive to feelings of betrayal or may be deeply frustrated by the futility and hopelessness of their lives.
When explosive psychopaths are faced with repeated failures, humiliations, and frustrations, their limited controls may be quickly overrun by deeply felt and undischarged resentments. Once released, the fury of the moment draw upon memories and emotions of the past that surge unrestrained to the surface, breaking out into a wild, irrational, and uncontrollable rage. From the preceding descriptions, it would not be unreasonable to hypothesize that explosive psychopaths possess beneath their surface controls a pattern similar to that of individuals described as “sadistic borderlines.” Usually under control, but lacking the cohesion of psychic structure to maintain controls across all situations, these individuals periodically erupt with precipitous and vindictive behaviors that signify their psychopathic style.
The Abrasive Psychopath
In contrast to other psychopaths, who exhibit a struggle between doing the bidding of others and expressing their frustrations in a passive and indirect manner, the abrasive psychopath acts in an overtly and directly contentious and quarrelsome way. To the abrasive psychopath, everything and everyone is an object available for nagging and assaulting, a sounding board for discharging inner irritabilities, or even a target for litigious action. More than merely angry in a general way, these persons are intentionally abrasive and antagonistic. Abrasive psychopaths have incessant discords with others, magnifying every minor friction into repeated and bitter struggles. They may have few qualms and little conscience or remorse about demeaning even their most intimate associates. The following adjectives may be used to characterize this abrasive type: contentious, intransigent, fractious, irritable, caustic, debasing, quarrelsome, acrimonious, and corrosive. Not surprisingly, many exhibit features usually associated with the negativistic and paranoid personality disorders.
Some abrasive psychopaths insist that their quarrelsomeness is dedicated to certain high principles; though a kernel of truth may be found in their beliefs, these higher principles invariably correspond to positions they themselves hold. Others are unquestionably wrong, and they are unquestionably right. Fault-finding and dogmatic, these psychopaths achieve special delight in contradicting others.
They take less pleasure in the legitimacy and logic and their reasoning than in its use to frustrate and undermine their opponents.
Not surprisingly, the behavior of the abrasive personality resemble that of adolescents who, seeking to establish their separateness and individuality, act in ways that clearly oppose their parents. Thus, the children of deeply committed conservatives will favor highly liberal or socialistic values, whereas those of liberal parents may adopt intensely conservative points of view. But the rebellion of adolescents against parental customs and standards is usually time-limited-a stage of development in which strategies of self-assertion are appropriate. Once a sense of independence is achieved, oppositional teenagers are likely to drop this style of behavior, often reverting to the very customs previously opposed. In contrast, the hostile and opposing manner of abrasive psychopaths is part of the core of their being. Their knack of belittling and denigrating anyone in the name of whatever principle they happen to espouse is well rehearsed and persistent. Criticism of others as “good for them” may even be viewed as an essential corrective mechanism. Believing that they take no personal satisfaction in telling people off or in having ulterior motives for doing so, these individuals feel unconstrained, free to say and do anything they please “to set people right.”
Those with whom abrasive psychopaths relate know their pretensions of principled behavior to be but a thin veneer. Faced with any opposition, especially from person they consider of lesser stature than themselves, these person spew forth bitter complaints of how they are utterly unappreciated and ill- treated. Anything personal they have done to others does not really reflect their character, but is merely a justified reaction to the uncaring treatment to which they have been exposed. Thus, they are justified in what they say and do, with no qualms of conscience or remorse for having acted in the most obnoxious way. As the argument is joined, the deeper origins of their personality style are perpetually reactivated and refueled.
The Malevolent Psychopath
The malevolent subtype is one of the least attractive of the psychopathic variants. These individuals are particularly vindictive and hostile; their retributive impulses are discharged in a hateful and destructive defiance of conventional social life. Distrustful of others and anticipating betrayal and punishment, they have acquired a cold-blooded, ruthlessness, and intense desire to gain revenge for the real or imagined mistreatment to which they were subjected in childhood. Here we see a sweeping rejection of tender emotions and a deep suspicion that others’ efforts at goodwill are merely ploys to deceive and undo them. They may assume a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude, a readiness to lash out at those whom they wish to destroy or cause as scapegoats for their revengeful impulses. Many are fearless and guiltless, inclined to anticipate and search out betrayal and punitiveness on the part of others. The primary psychopathic characteristics of these individuals blend with those of the sadistic and/or paranoid personality, reflecting not only a deep sense of deprivation and a desire for compensatory retribution, but also an intense suspiciousness and hostility. Many murderers and serial killers fit this psychopathic pattern. Such persons might be described as belligerent, mordant, rancorous, vicious, malignant, brutal, callous, truculent, and vengeful.
To “prove” their courage, malevolent psychopaths may even court punishment. Rather than serving as a deterrent, however, punishment often reinforces their desire for retribution. In positions of power, the often brutalize others to confirm their self-image of strength. If they are faced with persistent failure, beaten down in efforts to dominate and control others, or finding aspirations far outdistancing their luck, their feelings of frustration, resentment, and anger mount to a point where their controls give way to raw brutality or secretive acts of vengeful hostility. Spurred by repeated rejection and driven by an increasing need for retribution, aggressive impulses will surge into the open. At these times, the psychopaths’ behaviors may become outrageously and flagrantly antisocial. Not only do they show minimal guilt or remorse for their violent acts, but they may instead display an arrogant contempt for the rights of the others.
What distinguishes malevolent psychopaths is their capacity to understand guilt and remorse, if not necessarily to experience it. Although they are capable of giving a perfectly rational explanation of ethical concepts – that is, they know the difference between right and wrong – they seem nevertheless incapable of feeling it. These psychopaths often relish menacing others, making them cower and withdraw. They are combative and seek to bring more pressure upon their opponents than their opponents are willing to tolerate or to bring against them. Most make few concessions and are inclined to escalate as far as necessary, never letting go until others succumb. In contrast to other subtypes, however, malevolent psychopaths recognize the limits of what can be done in their own self-interests. They do not lose self-conscious awareness of their actions, and press forward only if their goals of retribution and destructiveness are likely to be achieved (calculating). Accordingly, their adversarial stance is somewhat contrived and works as a bluffing mechanism to ensure that others will back off. Infrequently, actions are taken that may lead to misjudgment and counter-reaction in these matters.
The Tyrannical Psychopath
Along with the malevolent type just described, the tyrannical psychopath stands among the most frightening and cruel of the psychopathic subtypes. Both relate to others in an attacking, intimidating, and overwhelming way; are frequently accusatory and abusive; and are almost invariably destructive.
Unlike the malevolent psychopaths, however, the tyrannical psychopaths seem to be stimulated by resistances or weaknesses, which encourage attack rather than deter it or slow it down. Some are crudely assaultive and distressingly vulgar, whereas others are physically restrained, but overwhelm their victims by unrelenting criticism and bitter tirades. This variant derives a special sense of satisfaction from forcing victims to cower and submit. Among those who are not physical brutal, we see verbally cutting and scathing commentaries that are both accusatory and demeaning. Many intentionally heighten and dramatize their surly, abusive, inhumane, and unmerciful behaviors. Although these individuals are in many respects the purest type of classical psychopaths, they do exhibit features of several personality disorders, most notably the SM-III-R’s sadistic and DSM-IV’s negativistic personality disorders.
Especially distinctive is this type of psychopath’s desire and willingness to go out of the way to be unmerciful and inhumane. Often calculating and cool, tyrannical psychopaths are selective in their choice of victims, identifying individuals who are likely to submit rather than to react with counter-violence. Quite frequently, they display a disproportionate level of abusiveness and intimidation, in order to impress not only their victims but those who observe the psychopaths’ unconstrained power. More than any other subtype, these individuals derive deep satisfaction in creating suffering and in seeing its effect on others. In contrast to the explosive psychopaths, for whom hostility serves primarily as a discharge of pent-up feelings, the tyrannical psychopaths employ violence instrumentally as a means to inspire terror and intimidation. These experiences then become the object of self-conscious reflection, providing the psychopaths with a sense of deep satisfaction. Many other subtypes, by contrast, have second thoughts and feel a measure of contrition about their actions.
Much of what drives tyrannical psychopaths is their fear that others may recognize their inner insecurities and low sense of self-esteem. To overcome these deeply felt inner weaknesses, they have learned that they can feel superior through overwhelming others by the force of their physical power and brutal vindictiveness.
The Malignant Psychopath
Malignant psychopaths represent structurally defective variants of the psychopathic pattern. Their features frequently blend with those of the paranoid personality disorder. They are characterized best by their autocratic power orientation and by their mistrust, resentment, and envy of others. Underlying these features is a ruthless desire to vindicate themselves for past wrongs by cunning revenge or callous force, if necessary.
In contrast to the other subtypes, the malignant psychopaths have found that their efforts to abuse and tyrannize others have only prompted the others to inflict more of the hostility and harsh punishment experienced in childhood. The psychopaths’ strategy of arrogance and brutalization has backfired too often, and they now seek retribution, not as much through action as through fantasy. Isolated and resentful, they increasingly turn to themselves, to cogitate and mull over their fate. Left to their own ruminations, they begin to imagine a plot in which every facet of the environment plays a threatening and treacherous role. Moreover, through the intra-psychic mechanism of projection, they attribute their own venom to others, ascribing to them the malic and ill will they feel within themselves. As the line between objective antagonism and imagined hostility becomes thin, the belief takes hold that others are intentionally persecuting them. Not inter beliefs play a secondary role among malignant psychopaths, in contrast to their primacy among fanatic paranoid personalities.
Preeminent among malignant psychopaths is their need to retain their independence and cling tenaciously to the belief in their own self-worth. The need to protect their autonomy and strength may be seen in the content of their persecutory delusions. Malevolence on the part of others is viewed as neither casual nor random; rather, it is seen as designed to intimidate, offend, and undermine the individuals’ self-esteem. “They” are seeking to weaken the psychopaths’ “will,” to destroy their power, to spread lies, to thwart their talents, to control their thoughts, and to immobilize the subjugate them. These psychopaths dread losing their self-determination; their persecutory fantasies are filled with fears of being forced to submit to authority, of being made soft and pliant, and of being tricked to surrender their self-determination.
Personality disorders, including psychopathy, may represent extreme variants of common personality traits (Costa & Widiger, 1994). This hypothesis has been supported by studies that have indicated a close association of the dimensions of the five-factor model (FFM) of normal personality functioning with personality disorder symptomatology (Widiger& Costa, 1994).