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Malignant narcissist: 10 things they do and how to handle them

Narcissists are all around us. Sometimes, we might even play the part of a narcissist ourselves.

But when we are faced with true malignant narcissists – those who penetrate into every aspect of our lives – things become very difficult and cumbersome.

According to Elizabeth Scott, MS in Very Well Mind:

“Among the variants of narcissism, however, malignant narcissists are by far the most damaging. Beyond merely wanting to focus primarily on themselves and be held in overly high regard by virtually everyone in their lives, they tend to have a darker side to their self-absorption.”

You may find you have been inadvertently cut off from your family or friends, alienated from your job and the things you love and are being made to do and say things you don’t really want to do, despite your best efforts to avoid doing and saying those things.

That’s how a malignant narcissist works: they can get you to do anything so that they benefit from the fallout or outcome.

Here are 10 signs you’re dealing with a malignant narcissist:

1) They take pleasure in your pain.

You may find that narcissists in your life are taking over your life by making you suffer. Not necessarily physical pain, although that is possible, mental anguish is more the style of narcissism.

They love to watch you squirm and try to get out of sticky situations that they put you in.

Elinor Greenberg, Ph.D. says in Psychology Today:

“Most of the malignant narcissists I have met seem to enjoy tormenting insecure people. They are basically bullies. If you are not insecure to begin with, they will try to make you insecure.”

2) They keep you away from others.

Narcissists work to keep you all for themselves.

According to Margalis Fjelstad, PhD, LMFT in Mind Body Green:

“Narcissists need constant attention—even following you around the house, asking you to find things, or constantly saying something to grab your attention.”

Not only do they stand in the way of you seeing the people you love, but they also take pride in cutting those people down to size in front of you so that you may eventually also start cutting them down.

It’s a slippery slope and one way that narcissists can make you think that you’ve created for yourself.

3) They can’t handle your criticism.

When you try to talk to a narcissist about their behavior and actions they’ll lash out at you and come up with some amazing excuse for why they need to treat you like that or why they have been treating you so poorly.

They’ll work hard to make it seem like it’s not their fault and if you aren’t careful, they’ll consume your life and thoughts and make you feel bad for them.

This may be because narcissists have a high need for perfectionism, says Margalis Fjelstad, PhD, LMFT in Mind Body Green:

“Narcissists have an extremely high need for everything to be perfect. They believe they should be perfect, you should be perfect, events should happen exactly as expected, and life should play out precisely as they envision it.”

4) They worry you are trying to manipulate them.

One interesting thing that happens to people who suffer from narcissism is that they also suffer from things such as anxiety, fear, imposter syndrome, and depression.

This combination of problems can lead to a disturbing presentation of ownership and they’ll worry that you are trying to take over their lives, which, in turn, means that they try to rule yours even more.

In Psychology Today, Shahram Heshmat Ph.D. described paranoia as referring to “someone who feels excessively suspicious without justification, and/or that others are plotting against him [or her]. They read far too much into everything people say and are quick to criticize, but they are not open to criticism themselves.”

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5) They manipulate you ahead of time.

Because a good narcissist knows they are going to have to keep you under their thumb, they are going to work ahead of time to ensure that the stories they feed you are well-primed.

Abigail Brenner M.D. wrote on Psychology Today, “Manipulative people are really not interested in you except as a vehicle to allow them to gain control so that you become an unwilling participant in their plans.”

They might start mentioning weeks in advance about something that might happen or they fear will happen.

So when shit hits the fan, don’t be surprised and do what you can to get back control of the situation.

6) They can’t take responsibility for their actions.

Like criticism, narcissists can’t handle responsibility.

Because many people with narcissistic tendencies believe that they are acting in the best interest of themselves – and in some cases, you! – they are going to have a hard time owning up to the fact that they are doing wrong by you.

According to BPD Central:

Narcissistic entitlement is not the same as self-worth; for example, that is, the belief that one is worthy of accomplishments earned through hard work. Instead, the narcissist is like a toddler who never learned he is not the center of the world and becomes enraged when others don’t meet his [or her] immediate demands.”

7) Their need for attention is all-consuming.

Someone who needs to control a situation is also someone who needs to take credit for a situation well-controlled.

Ironically, narcissists are constantly playing catch-up because their lives are webs of lies and that kind of operation can take its toll pretty quickly.

They need to be seen and heard and obeyed in order to feel alive.

Krauss explained on Psychology Today that, “Egocentrism can cause us to make incorrect assumptions about what other people are thinking or feeling” and “annoyed or even enraged when others fail to see things their way. ”

8) They publically envy others and shame them for what they have achieved.

Because a narcissist needs a lot of attention and wants to be the center of attention, they will go to great lengths to prove to you that others who have succeeded or done similar things are not worthy of their achievements.

They want to shame others so that they can stand out as the pure or real achievers.

According to Rhonda Freeman Ph.D. in Psychology Today:

“They believe they are better than other people, and usually, the variables that are self-enhanced are related to “power and status.”

This is a problem for you if your narcissist is trying to take credit for your work, life, or goals and makes you feel poorly about having wanted to achieve those things in the first place.

Unfortunately, Rhonda Freeman says that you won’t be able to change their mind, either:

“Indisputable evidence of their inaccurate, overly inflated self-assessment does not change the self-view of someone high in narcissism.”

9) They can turn on the charm.

The hard part about dealing with a narcissist in your life and how they end up taking over your life is that they can turn on the charm at any time.

According to Elizabeth Scott, MS in Very Well Mind, narcissists can “care quite a bit about their appearance and can come across as quite charming.”

They don’t have a filter and can make you feel like a million bucks in the same moment they make you feel small and ashamed of yourself.

It’s a slippery slope and one thing that makes it very hard to walk away.

Just knowing that you are being manipulated is hard, but trying to get out of that situation or relationship can be made harder when your narcissist is as nice as they are cruel.

10) They have a very poor sense of self

They don’t have the ability to appreciate things, others, and themselves.

They are not authentic and don’t appear to care about being authentic.

They often turn on the charm or defense to suit their needs in a particular situation.

They work to keep people at arm’s length and they suffer from emotional attachment issues, a sense of grandeur, and have a serious lack of understanding regarding the way their behavior is impacting others and the world around them.

They are, for lack of a better word, clueless to the way they engage and defraud others.

This is what makes a malignant narcissist dangerous, according to Rhonda Freeman Ph.D. in Psychology Today:

“They lash out or humiliate others for infractions of even the most frivolous nature.”

Malignant narcissists are a special breed of human being that make it difficult to believe, trust, and enjoy the company of others.

These people are world-class liars, disturbers and sometimes physical roadblocks for getting on with your life.

Whether you are dealing with a narcissist in your home or workplace, these people can become very dangerous if they don’t get the help they need.

Unfortunately, because of the way narcissism works, many people never recognize they have a problem and the issues persist for years while the victims of narcissist ways try to cope and keep the peace.

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How to deal with a malignant narcissist

1) It’s not your fault

What’s important when trying to understand narcissism and malignant narcissism is that it’s not your fault.

Like many situations that result in the victim feeling like the bad guy, narcissism has a way of penetrating your life and making you feel like the reason for the poor treatment and misalignment of values.

When their words cut like a knife, know that it’s not you – it’s them. It’s not anything you said or did, despite what they said to you about what you said or did.

This is why it helps to understand the signs of a malignant narcissist (that we mentioned above) so you know that it’s not about you.

According to Elizabeth Scott, MS in Very Well Mind:

“Knowing that you may be dealing with someone who could hurt you and having some concern for yourself in this situation can help you to protect yourself from the pain that a malignant narcissist can cause, at least to an extent.”

There’s an imbalance happening when it comes to the narcissism that is not your fault.

The words they use to gain control and manipulate situations has everything to do with their expectations in the world and not your lack of delivery on those expectations.

2) Make sure you look after yourself

If you find yourself in a situation where you are dealing with a malignant narcissist, the best thing to do is to decide what you want to get out of the relationship.

Here is some great advice from Albert J Bernstein, Ph.D. on the importance of looking out for yourself when you’re dealing with a narcissist:

“Never extend credit to, or accept promises from, a narcissist. As soon as they get what they want, they will be on to the next thing, forgetting whatever they said they would do for you. Sometimes they make promises they don’t intend to keep, but just as often, they merely forget. Either way, you should keep a ledger in your mind and make sure you get what they dangle in front of you before you give them what they want. With other people, this mercenary approach might seem insulting. Narcissists will respect you for it. Everything in their world is quid pro quo. They will rarely be offended by people looking out for themselves.”

3) But if you can avoid narcissist, then avoid them

However, if you can avoid dealing with a narcissist, then it might be best to do so anyway.

As M.I.T. negotiation professor John Richardson says: never asked yourself first, “How do I make this deal?” Instead, start with, “Should this deal be made?” With narcissists, the answer is usually it’s not worth it.

If it’s a coworker, you might have to ask for a transfer. If it’s your boss, you might have to look for another job. If it’s your spouse, you might have to ask yourself if you deserve better or more.

If you are dealing with a narcissist friend, it might be time to meet new friends.

If you choose to stay in the relationship and change nothing, nothing will change, but the situation will get worse. Make your decision and then take steps toward making those choices a reality.

You may find narcissists living in your home, next door, across the street, in the office, or even at the grocery store.

4) How narcissistic are you?

But before you start pointing fingers at people who you deem annoying or narcissistic, take a moment to look in the mirror and ask yourself if you could check some boxes in the narcissistic category.

If you are like most people, the answer is yes, you could.

You could be considered a narcissist…at least, from time to time. That’s because we are human, and humans have similar tendencies, traits, needs and wants.

After all, we have all some sort of narcissism in us as it’s viewed as being on a scale. Glenn Geher Ph.D. explains in Psychology Today:

“Researchers who study narcissism don’t tend to see people as either “narcissistic” or “not narcissistic.” As is the case with so many personality variables, we see narcissism as a matter of degree.”

How we get those things might differ, but every now and then we can let our claws show and move mountains to get our way.

Once you admit that you, too, could also have these issues, it becomes much easier to see, relate to, and deal with full-blown narcissists in your life.

5) There’s no point trying to fix them

As you consider the ways you may have narcissistic tendencies, consider how it feels to be someone who is so closed off from the world that they need to manipulate it and bend it to their will.

Consider how the malignant narcissist feels and what the possible motives are behind their actions.

You do not have to fix them and you don’t have to explain their own behavior to them, but you do have to imagine how hard it is for them to go through this life and what might possess them to act in this way.

Trying to fix them won’t be successful anyway, according to Elizabeth Scott, MS in Very Well Mind:

“Do not try to change them and don’t expect them to change or you will be disappointed.”

It’s not for them: this is for you. Because if you can put yourself in their shoes, you can have compassion for them and understand them better.

Understanding makes it easier to walk away if you decide that you can’t have them in your life.

Instead of being angry, you recognize that sometimes people are the way they are and it’s not your job to fix them.

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6) Use “we” and ask “what people would think?”

When conversing with a person who has narcissistic tendencies, be sure to refer to you and them as a unit.

Using the term, “we” helps to break narcissists out of their singular-thinking ways and brings them back to the land of the empathetic for brief moments.

Not only can you use the word “we”, but you can also ask them “what would people think”.

After all, narcissists may not feel guilty, but they do care about appearances, right?”

Here is some great advice from Albert J Bernstein, Ph.D:

“If you are in a position to advise, ask what people would think. Narcissists are not stupid; there are just things, like other people’s feelings, that they rarely consider. If you have their ear, don’t tell them how people might react; instead, ask probing questions. Narcissists are much more likely to act on ideas that they think they thought up themselves.”

7) See them for what they are.

When dealing with a narcissist, it’s important to remember that the chances of them changing or being different are very slim.

This is because a lot of what makes someone narcissistic is done in defence. They are working really hard to protect themselves from something or someone and they don’t want anyone to get into that barrier.

According to licensed clinical psychologist Dianne Grande, Ph.D., a narcissist “will only change if it serves his or her purpose.”

You might see glimpses of a better version of them or they may have full-on manic swings of personality in which you find yourself being attracted to them again or tolerant of their ways, but it’s not real.

This could be because they are “love bombing” you. According to Psychology Today, love bombing is the practice of “overwhelming someone with signs of adoration and attraction…designed to manipulate you into spending more time with the bomber.”

If you are going to keep them in your life, you need to remember that they are narcissistic and it’s likely not going to change.

Not everyone hates these kinds of people. But if you are someone who highly dislikes them, this part might be tough because we want to see the good in people.

It literally steps one of dealing with a narcissist. But don’t fool yourself: these people can be very manipulative and at the end of the day, the likelihood that they are looking out for your best needs is quite low.

8) Make a choice.

The final thing you can do when dealing with a narcissist is to make a decision to allow them to stay in your life.

They might be good people, but if they are good people who do bad things, that’s going to create a constant state of chaos in your life.

You’ll never be able to know for sure if you can trust them, or even what version of them you are getting on any given day.

You can choose to forgive them and hope for the best, but the best way to deal with them is to just accept them for who they are and find room in your life for them. If you can’t see yourself living like that, let them go.

If you’re looking for more articles on narcissists, check out these articles:

Covert narcissists: 5 things they do and how to handle them

How to deal with a narcissist: 5 smart tactics

Love bombing: 10 ways narcissists use it to control you

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Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the editor of Ideapod and founder of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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