What do Jim Jones, OJ Simpson, and Ted Bundy all have in common? They were charismatic, charming, and had the ability to influence almost anyone. They also demonstrated specific characteristics associated with malignant narcissism.
Malignant narcissism is known as a mixture of narcissism and antisocial personality disorder. They lack empathy and often live in grandiose fantasies that compete with reality. If the fantasies are revealed as such, the afflicted person may become hostile with high levels of rage.
Malignant narcissism is not an individual diagnosis in the DSM, rather it is a subset of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. As well as having symptoms of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a person with malignant narcissism also displays paranoia.
Jim Jones suffered from paranoid delusions especially during the last days of his cult. When he first became obsessed with the CIA, Jim Jones began his search for “The Promised Land.” By instilling his fear into the minds of his followers, he was able to control large groups of people, ultimately leading to their death.
Since the personality of a malignant narcissist cannot tolerate any criticism, paranoia is usually stemmed from being mocked. Often times they will inflict paranoia in others by preaching highly controlled ideologies. Usually these are at least some-what fabricated to tailor the needs of the narcissist. Religion and philosophy are two categories they often gravitate toward. Pathological lying is another obvious trait of malignant narcissism. Ted Bundy lied about his killings to various professionals, but not to be considered innocent. For example, he told one psychologist that he started killing women in 1974, but later he said the killing started in 1969. At one point, Bundy said there were 35 victims in all, but in another setting he claimed over 100. The criminal investigation reports that Ted Bundy seemed to be lying to impress people rather than avoid jail. Many times he said the deaths of the women he killed were higher than the victims reported.
Pathological lying can be much more subtle than in Ted Bundy’s case. The term “gas lighting” is often used when someone denies another person’s reality to purposely manipulate them into feeling insane. This is another tactic frequently used in both malignant narcissists and general narcissists with NPD. Perhaps the most terrifying symptom of malignant narcissism is the lack of empathy that is required to carry out behavior. OJ Simpson frequently called his wife fat while she was pregnant. This was explained with the charisma of someone who was just “joking around.” Looking closer, this was not an isolated incident. He frequently beat his wife as well as publicly humiliated her by having affairs. When his wife was murdered, he seemed uninterested in his children, focusing more on himself. It is hard to prove that someone does not have empathy especially if that person is highly charismatic.
Someone with a lack of empathy may demonstrate kind facial or body language while simultaneously hurting another person. Because of the contrast in what is being said vs. what is being done, many people can feel as if they are losing their mind. The warning signs of involvement with someone who may be afflicted are as follows:
- Success At Any Cost. A close inspection of past relationships may show a failure to treat people kindly for the promise of a grandiose, yet superficial success. Beware of flaunted expenses, especially if there are a lack of people to share in the enjoyment.
- Narcissists may be hypersexual, often in relation to power and control. Incest is frequently reported as well as a lack of regard for partner and boundaries.
- Incessant Blaming. Lack of personal responsibility is a key sign. Often a narcissist will play ‘the victim’ even when he/she has hurt someone else.
- Violence. Since their ego is so fragile to begin with, any criticism received feels like an attack. They fight back much harder than what is doled out. Someone who uses violence frequently, demonstrates lack of impulse control and may also have multiple addictions.
- Manipulation. Pitting people against one another for the ultimate goal of loyalty is often used by narcissists. In this case, loyalty often means isolation.
If you are involved with someone who has these traits, most professionals advise leaving. There is no treatment for narcissism and statistically the outcome for change is low. The longer someone stays in a relationship with a narcissist, the worse they feel.