Thursday, January 18, 2007

Narcissist or psychopath....both are human predators

Psychopathy is an extremely researched area of psychology, although this diagnosis is not in the DSM IV. Dr. Robert Hare is the recognized expert in this field and has defined the concept. What has this to do with narcissism? Glad you asked. The clinical tool used to diagnose psychopathy, as developed by Hare, is called the PCL-R. Half of the checklist (Factor 1) correlates with narcissistic personality disorder and defines the core personality traits of psychopathy . The Wikipedia entry on the PCL-R is concise and provides a decent introduction to this diagnostic device.

What is becoming more well-recognized in professional circles is that all psychopaths are narcissists. We are supposed to believe, though, that not all narcissists are psychopaths. I'm becoming less and less sure of this being true. If psychopathy is only identified as such if a person demonstrates certain behaviors, yes, we can accurately state that not all narcissists are psychopaths. But one of Dr. Hare's assertions based on his profoundly extensive research is that the vast majority of psychopaths live "peacefully" among us. Most do not commit violent crimes. See "Snakes in Suits" and "Without Conscience". Dr. Hare has been leading the charge to change the DSM IV criteria to move away from a behavior-only checklist (as it is in the DSM III-R) towards the more comprehensive checklist that includes narcissism as the core definition of the personality of the psychopath. One of the reasons for this is his recognition of the fact that some psychopaths slip through the cracks because the context of their lives has allowed them to circumvent certain behaviors such as violent crimes or other anti-social behaviors. So if a psychopath can only be diagnosed as psychopathic by exhibiting certain behaviors then he is allowed to continue his predations with little to no interference from the law or the psych community. Worse yet, the undiagnosed psychopaths end up in remedial programs that worsen their behaviors. Psychopaths require a much different approach than we take with non-psychopaths otherwise we unleash a more sophisticated manipulator onto the general public. Dr. Hare presents a strong case for using a more comprehensive tool to diagnose psychopathy. He insists the tool must include an analysis of personality type/affect/interpersonal impressions if doctors are going to accurately detect a higher percentage of these people. The constant with psychopaths is not how they behave but who they are i.e. personality traits. This is why Dr. Hare has included the checklist for narcissistic personality traits into the PCL-R. This checklist, which includes personality type, is especially important in prison populations where recidivism rates for certain offenders must be considered. The PCL-R has been proven to be the best predictor of recidivism that exists. Dr. Hare's intentional movement away from behavior-only based checklists to a more comprehensive checklist which includes personality traits has resulted in a highly effective tool for detection of psychopathy.

The question we need to be asking ourselves is: at what point does the narcissist become a full-blown psychopath? Is there a clear demarcation line, or is it all kind of fuzzy? Was Jim Jones only a narcissist who suddenly became a psychopath the day he got all his followers to drink the Kool-Aid? That kind of reasoning defies logic. If he was a psychopath on that fateful day, then should we not reasonably conclude he was a psychopath long before this violent act? If psychopathy is only present once violence has been employed then the logic works. But when the leading research on the subject keeps clarifying that psychopathy can be present without violence then we really need to re-think the way we categorize.

Speaking of categorization...I think we would all do well to remember the rather arbitrary lines that have been drawn up for us by the psych community. They are allowed the freedom to re-draw the lines as they deem necessary which only tends to prove the non-scientific nature of the categorization. What I have been glad to see is how much true science has been employed in the research on psychopathy. The result of which is showing that narcissists come in many flavors...some of which we call psychopaths.

At this point in time it is looking like the only clear difference between the malignant narcissist and the narcissistic psychopath is the level of risk-taking they are comfortable with. Considering that predatory behavior is not just the realm of the psychopath but also one of the defining characteristics of narcissists, we should really consider the narcissist to be just as dangerous to human society as the psychopath even if we are not willing to call them psychopaths. Narcissists leave a trail of human devastation and ruined lives in their paths. They waltz through life rarely detected because they don't actually leave a bunch of bodies buried under their houses like John Wayne Gacy. No, they just cruelly destroy souls which is arguably just as horrid as what the violent psychopath does.

Narcissist or psychopath? Seems the differences are fewer than the similarities. Be aware that either way you are dealing with a psychological predator. Safety is only achieved through distance. You've been warned.


Anna Valerious said...

Hey, thanks for your $.02. I am not advocating relating to someone as if they are a psychopath just because they demonstrate narcissistic tendencies. NPD is not about having narcissistic tendencies. NPD is about pathological narcissism. We all have narcissistic tendencies. I am not ever talking about narcissistic tendencies when I talk about NPD. What is highlighted on this blog is malignant narcissism. This blog post is pointing out that NPD, or malignant narcissism, and psychopathy proving to be on the same continuum.

An official diagnosis of psychopathy is only going to happen after a person has committed a violation of the law. Most likely that violation is going to be a violent crime. So the chance that as a society we will label narcissists as psychopaths is just not a scenario I can ever see developing. The psychopathy checklist does not diagnose based on traits of narcissism alone. No one is in danger of being labeled a psychopath just because he manifests personality traits of narcissism. The other half of the checklist is that of overt behaviors.

How people relate to the narcissists in their lives is up to them. But I do think it is helpful to recognize that if you have a malignant narcissist in your life, then you need to consider the danger they present to you. Seeing that the malignant narcissist has more in common with a psychopath than with normal people can be a helpful perspective which can help people to avoid having their lives further destroyed by the full-blown narcissist.

Anna Valerious said...

By the way, if you go to Kathy Krajco's blog and read the entry titled "Spotting Narcissists" (dated Sat. Jan. 20th) she expresses perfectly my viewpoint on our efforts to use our judgment to discern the narcissists and psychopaths in our lives. Check it out at:

Anna Valerious said...

Kathy has moved her blog. The aforementioned post can be found at this page now:

Anna Valerious said...

Hmmm, that got cut off...let me try again:

Anonymous said...

Part of the problem, of course, is the definition of "violence". The current definition seems to consider violence as acts that may result in a criminal charge. And yet, violence can be much more subtle. If a thrown dish hits a wall rather than a face, is the act any less violent? It is the intent rather than the degree that makes the psychopath; the fact that the dish did not hit its mark is irrelevant (but so hard to prove).

Anonymous said...

I know a woman whose x-N is suing her for exposing & telling the truth about him. His attorney & he are VERY angry she called him a Predator as, apparently, the term applies only to PEDOPHILES legally.

But damn they ARE predators. Of the worst kind.

Tenacious1 said...

Can a malignant narcissist become a psychopath? Could exposure cause this to happen?