7 unmistakeable traits of a malignant narcissist (the worst kind)

We’ve likely all heard the term “narcissist” tossed around in conversations.

Used often to describe someone who is excessively self-centered or self-absorbed, it is – perhaps used with a little too much frequency nowadays.

Yes, I’m looking at those glaring at the supermarket cashier and muttering ‘narcissist’ under their breath. 

Or nodding primly at a friend who has in some way wronged them, quietly whispering “I always knew they were a narcissist”.

If used too often, this can turn into something akin to crying wolf, and it becomes harder and harder to distinguish the slightly arrogant and self-centered from the more sinister type of narcissism lurking in the shadows. 

Welcome the malignant narcissist; arguably the most dangerous kind.

The traits of a malignant narcissist can be subtle yet absolutely devastating. 

Their foul play and cunning ways can leave you feeling like you’re a dancing puppet on a string in someone else’s game.

So, how exactly do we spot a malignant narcissist? 

What traits do they exhibit that make them so malicious?

And how might you better defend yourself against their path of destruction?

Buckle up and let’s dive into the 7 unmistakable traits that set them apart: 

1) Unmatched sense of self-importance

Egoistical or arrogant is hardly enough to describe the absolute sense of self-importance that these individuals hold.

They truly, wholeheartedly believe they’re far superior to others and carry an overinflated sense of worth when it comes to their abilities and achievements.

And this isn’t just about having high self-esteem or being confident (both highly commendable traits as we love a bit of self-confidence around her.)

No; we’re talking about a deeply ingrained belief that they’re special and unique, almost god-like in presence – often without any substantial evidence to back it up.

We’re talking about overexaggerating their accomplishments, stamping their feet and demanding constant praise, or negging and criticizing others in an attempt to boost their own status.

This is a trait that’s often hard to ignore once you spot it, making it a pretty clear marker of a malignant narcissist.

2) Absolute lack of empathy

The second trait that defines a malignant narcissist is a severe lack of empathy. 

They are simply incapable or unwilling to recognize or relate to the feelings and needs of others. Sure, they might try (especially ealy into their relationship with someone, when they want to win them over) to pretend…

But you best believe they aren’t feeling any pity for you.

And this isn’t because they can’t understand your emotions; it’s more so that they don’t care whatsoever, as it doesn’t impact them. 

3) Manipulation masterminds

You better believe that malignant narcissists are the absolute maestros of the manipulation world

Emotional manipulation is to them a game, at which they excel quite remarkably.

To them, you’re little more than a mere pawn in a greater game of life-chess. 

They’ll spin you around and topple you over if it suits them, with little qualms or consideration for how this might affect you.

This one is a chilling trait that can leave you questioning your own sanity and worth.

But once you’re aware of it and able to spot quite how little such an individual cares for others, you can begin to protect yourself from their manipulative tactics.

4) Unable to admit when they’re wrong

A malignant narcissist can never, ever own up and admit that they are never wrong – at least in their own eyes.

They’ll use the manipulation we mentioned above as they have an uncanny ability to twist every situation in such a way that they come out as the victim or the hero…

But never the villain. 

In the narrative they tell, it’s always someone else’s fault – never theirs.

Caught cheating? Totally their partner’s fault for not giving out more.

Caught shoplifting? That grimey little kid slipped the souvenir into their pocket.

Forget a deadline? Not their problem. The secretary forgot to remind them. Their conscience is clear.

In essence, a malignant narcissist will do anything to avoid facing their own faults or failures.

They have a deep-seated fear of being seen as less than perfect, and so they project their insecurities onto others.

5) Constant demanding admiration

If someone uses these phrases theyre closer to being a Karen than they realize 2 7 unmistakeable traits of a malignant narcissist (the worst kind)

A malignant narcissist doesn’t just enjoy admiration; they crave it like a sweet nectar that feeds and drugs them, and keeps them coming back for more.

Interestingly, psychologists suggest that this constant need for admiration stems from deep-rooted insecurities and a fragile self-esteem. They use the admiration of others as a means to validate their worth and cover up their insecurities (which let’s be honest, they’ll never admit to having.)

You might notice them fishing for compliments or showcasing their achievements at every opportunity. 

They’re also likely to surround themselves with superficial people who feed their ego, and will readily discard those who don’t.

In essence, a malignant narcissist’s world revolves around being admired and appreciated. 

But know now that this is not about healthy self-love; it’s an intense, obsessive craving that can be both exhaustive and destructive for those around them. 

6) Exploiting others to achieve their own goals

To a malignant narcissist, another person is as we mentioned above little more than a pawn in a wider game for their usage.

And in the same way that they lack the empathy to consider other people’s feelings, they also have no reservations about clambering over people to get to the top.

So caution to those who get in the way of a malignant narcissist who wants something…

Take a narcissist who has set her eyes on someone else’s boyfriend. 

He’s not easy game, so she befriends his girlfriend and charms her. 

She woos the enemy, and when the enemy is least expecting it, she swoops in, stabs her in the back, and steals her prize. (The boyfriend.)

Malignant narcissists tend always to view relationships as opportunities for personal gain rather than genuine connections, so beware those who get in the way of something they want.

7) Green with envy

Finally, malignant narcissists are often consumed by jealousy, but not in a way you might expect.

They’re not envious of your new car or your latest vacation. 

No, their envy runs far, far deeper. 

They’re envious of your happiness, your smile, your genuine relationships, or perhaps your ability to even feel empathy.

This envy can drive them to undermine and belittle you, to make themselves feel superior. It’s a highly toxic trait that can wreak havoc on your self-esteem and overall well-being.

Similar to Aesop’s fable about the farm dog who snoozed in hay for cattle and in the process spoiled it, purely because he couldn’t eat the hay himself, narcissists will use and soil that which they do not and cannot have. 

Just for the sake of it.

So if you find someone constantly trying to diminish your achievements or joy, take note. It could be a clear sign of a malignant narcissist in your midst.

Defending yourself against malignant narcissists

Navigating relationships with malignant narcissists can be challenging. 

If you’ve recognized any of these traits in someone close to you, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a malignant narcissist as we all have a few flaws. 

But it’s absolutely worth being mindful of these signs – particularly if you notice a good few of them.

Still, remember that it’s not your responsibility to change or fix anyone. What is within your power is protecting yourself.

So begin by setting boundaries, prioritize your own needs, and distance yourself from toxic influences.

And lastly, remember that everyone has the capacity for change, including malignant narcissists. But that change must come from within them, not from external pressure.

Picture of Liv Walde

Liv Walde

London-based writer with big thoughts, big dreams, and a passion for helping others.

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