Why empaths and narcissists seem to need each other.

Credit: Let Me Reach with Kim Saeed

The concept of narcissism and HSP (highly sensitive person) or empathic traits coexisting in the same person is a matter that has very little research behind it, but I definitely think there is a strong case to be made for it. Hear me out before you hit the backspace key. I actually think it’s at the core of why empaths and narcissists are so uncannily drawn to each other.

In my article A Match Made in Hell: Narcissists and HSPs, I wrote about the tendency for narcissists and HSPs to form trauma-bonds with each other–that’s really just a fancy way of saying these two seemingly opposite types of people are often attracted to each other and form codependent relationships.

The trauma bond.

The narcissist is both attracted to and envious of the empath’s vulnerability and high empathy. They are attracted to it for a very simple reason:  they need it badly. As children, narcissists failed to be mirrored or loved unconditionally by their parents, and are love-starved, even though they’d rather die than ever admit it.   The empath, in turn, is able to love the narcissist without condition, to the point of allowing themselves to be sucked dry.

Narcissists also envy the empath’s ability to love unconditionally because on some level, usually unconsciously but sometimes consciously, they know they jettisoned their own ability to love and feel empathy a long time ago in order to survive.  Most were highly sensitive children but shamed for it.  Many were bullied.   So they learned to bury their emotions behind an invulnerable facade because continuing to be so vulnerable hurt too much. Empathy may be a gift, and I think most narcissists were born with that gift, but were never shown how to use it and were punished for having it.  It became a curse instead of a blessing, so they sent the gift into exile and shored up a false self to make sure it never saw the light of day again.

Knowing they jettisoned their ability to access their own vulnerability, combined with a continued starvation for unconditional love and acceptance, is what draws narcissists to empaths. They abuse the empath, either consciously or unconsciously, because they hate the fact they need their love so badly, and the empath’s sensitivity also unconsciously reminds them of their own sensitivity that caused them so much pain. It’s a constant reminder of the shame they felt as children for being so sensitive, but they also can’t live without it. So they punish the empath for reminding them of their own “weakness” and making them feel so needy.

The narcissist, in their neediness and simultaneous resentment of being so needy, feeds off the empath like a vampire. If they are malignant, they don’t care that they’re destroying the very person who gives them a reason to live. They may even get some satisfaction in knowing they are punishing them. If the narcissist is not malignant, they may feel some guilt over what they do to  the person who gives them so much love, but be unable to stop doing it. Or more often, they aren’t even aware they are doing it. They just seem like a bottomless well that can’t get enough and keeps on demanding more.

Of course such a relationship is extremely unhealthy, even deadly, for the empath, who will eventually either leave the narcissist or be completely sucked dry or in the worst cases even destroyed. But the empath does gets something important out of the relationship too. They truly believe that through their unconditional love, they are saving the narcissist from him or herself.

Common roots.

Empaths and narcissists often both come from abusive or dysfunctional families. Both started life as highly sensitive children. But at some point they diverged. While the empath embraced their own vulnerability and learned how to use their gift to help others and find joy and authentic connection with others, the narcissist rejected it because it seemed more like a curse and made them feel too much pain. If they were never shown any empathy or were shamed for being too sensitive, it’s understandable why they might have rejected their own empathy and covered it over with a facade of toughness.

Why are empaths drawn to narcissists?

Empaths, like narcissists, often have narcissistic parents, and are unconsciously drawn to those who remind them of their parents or perhaps a sibling or other close family member.  They are naturally drawn to those who seem to need healing, and in embarking on a relationship with a narcissist, they are unconsciously attempting to heal their parent or other family member. This is why empaths so often become codependent to narcissists.

Empaths are able to see through the facade the narcissist presents to the world, to their hidden true self. They can see the hurt, abandoned child that lives inside every narcissist. They truly believe they can “fix” them and transform them into authentic, feeling humans capable of returning what they have been given. Of course, this belief is almost guaranteed to end in disappointment (if the empath is lucky), and possibly much worse. For a narcissist to change and stop the pattern of abuse, the desire to do so must come from inside of them. They must be willing to drop their mask of invulnerability and do the hard work of reclaiming the vulnerability they were born with and gave up a long time ago. The empath can’t make a narcissist want to change. Just because they can see through to the sensitive true self doesn’t mean they will be able to draw him or her out. They can die trying, but it probably won’t work. The unwilling, un-self-aware (or malignant) narcissist is likely to punish them for trying.

Failed empaths?

There may even be a genetic connection between narcissism and those who become empaths. I’ll go out on a limb and even speculate that they might even be the same thing–the narcissist being a “failed empath.  It’s ironic but I definitely think there’s a connection.

But how can that be? Narcissists are incapable of empathy, have problems feeling and expressing deep emotions, and are incapable of loving anyone but themselves. Isn’t that the opposite of being an empath?

Well, yes and no. The explanation is complicated, so I hope you stay with me here.

As I’ve explained before, I think most narcissists began life as highly sensitive people who at an early age suffered trauma due to abuse. This caused them to shut off their too-vulnerable true (authentic) selves from the world and in its place construct an elaborate defense mechanism–the false self–initially meant to protect the vulnerable true self from further harm, which has no defenses at all. Even empaths who are not narcissists have some protective psychological armor, so they did not need to construct a false self to take the place of the true one. Healthy empaths are truly authentic people who feel deeply and are emotionally honest with themselves and others. Narcissists were born with no emotional defenses at all; the false self replaces the true one and appears invulnerable. But this is only an illusion. When you face a narcissist, you will never know who that person really is because all they will show you is the protective mask they have created. They are so terrified of being hurt again that they will attack with vicious ferocity if they think you pose any threat to its flimsy underpinnings. It must be a terrifying way to live.

The high sensitivity of a narcissist is retained in the way they react to personal insults or slights. They overreact when they feel like they are being attacked, ignored, or they perceive their source of narcissistic supply may be in danger. They are paranoid, touchy, and often lack a sense of humor about themselves. They may try to appear as if they don’t care, but if you know narcissism, it’s usually not too hard to see the emotional fragility behind their defenses and acts of false bravado. When it comes to other people, they can seem incredibly insensitive.

Narcissists who aren’t high on the spectrum and become self aware may be able to reclaim emotional empathy toward others, because empathy is a skill that can be learned.  A forum member on the NPD board I read (who has NPD) described something that happened with her husband that warmed my heart.  She said he had hurt her feelings, and she caught herself about to attack him.  She felt her defenses go up, but instead of acting out, she decided to NOT act out and just allow herself to feel the hurt.  Instead of attacking him as she normally would have, she cried.   He put his arms around her and she allowed herself to be held and comforted, to feel vulnerable and cared for.   She said at first she felt awkward and uncomfortable, but the next time it happened, she felt less uncomfortable.  Now allowing herself to be loved is becoming second nature and she says she is starting to feel some tenderness toward him too, and even moments of a new feeling that she thinks is real love, a warm feeling not based on getting supply from him or bolstering her ego.   So I think empathy takes practice.  If you were born with it, you don’t lose it, but it may be hard to access and takes a conscious effort to learn to reclaim and use.

But before a narcissist can really get better and feel empathy toward others, they first need to develop self-compassion (this is NOT the same as self-pity, but is actually empathy for the rejected child-self). They must also be courageous enough to stay in treatment and confront and release the traumatic feelings that lie hidden beneath the mask.

This usually only happens when the narcissist hits rock bottom and suffers a massive loss of supply, sending them into a depression.  At that point they may enter therapy or realize the problems they have are because of themselves.   The problem with this is once things begin to improve or they begin to feel better again, they are likely to leave therapy because the work to get to their authentic self is too painful.    It takes an enormous amount of motivation, courage and positive thinking for a narcissist to stay in therapy long enough to begin to access their true self and embrace their own vulnerability.  It can be done, but it’s not easy.

For malignant narcissists though, things are very different.  Stay with me here because things are about to get complicated.

The connection between malignant narcissism and high sensitivity.

Warm and cold empathy.

In my research about NPD, there has been a lot of discussion about a concept called “cold” empathy.   Most of us associate narcissism with a lack of empathy, but this isn’t exactly the case. Most narcissists–especially malignant ones–do have empathy, but it’s not emotional or affective empathy; it’s cognitive or “cold” empathy. What this means is that a narcissist KNOWS what you are feeling, and may use what they know you are feeling against you. Cold empathy is “felt” on the cognitive (thinking) level, but not as an emotion, and that is why the narcissist can feel no compunctions about turning your feelings against you in order to punish or hurt you.

An extreme example of this would be the sadistic, psychopathic rapist. The rapist “smells” your fear and uses that against you to become even more sadistic. It *is* empathy, but it’s “cold”–the rapist understands exactly what you are feeling and your fear makes him feel powerful, so he increases the level of torment. He feeds off your fear like a vulture feeds on carrion. You don’t need to tell him you’re afraid; he KNOWS. He just doesn’t care and even derives pleasure from it.

Cold empathy is the twisted mirror image of warm empathy, which non-pathological people are capable of feeling on an emotional, not just a cognitive level. HSPs and empaths have an excess of warm empathy.  Here’s where things get complicated. If a narcissist is also a failed empath, their high sensitivity could morph into a quality that seems almost supernatural and is utterly chilling–a cold, sadistic form of “empathy” where they seem to be able to see into your mind. A non-sensitive person would not be able to detect your emotions without you telling them how you feel, and therefore not have that creepy, unsettling way of “seeing into your soul” that the malignant narcissist does. So, the higher the sensitivity a narcissist has (and the more the “warm” empathy has been shut out or turned “cold”), the more malignant they will be.

Malignant narcissism is high on the HSP spectrum.
Credit: http://dondepresso.rujic.net/post/116940034025/manic-chart-narcautism-spectrum

This idea was actually illustrated in the humorous-but-true graph (shown above), where initially I wondered why malignant narcissism was showing so high in empathic/HSP traits. But actually it makes perfect sense. An empath who adopts narcissism as a way to cope and whose warm empathy all turns cold will become malignant. A less sensitive person (or a highly sensitive person who still retains some warm empathy) may still become a narcissist, but they won’t become malignant. Of course, at their core, all narcissists are highly sensitive. They just don’t want you to know.

In summary, then, empaths and HSPs can be the most kind and caring people you can ever hope to meet–or the most dangerous. A narcissistic empath is definitely someone you’d want to avoid.

They are two sides of the same coin. The tragedy is that a malignant narcissist can destroy a previously healthy empath, but it doesn’t work the other way around: a non-narcissistic empath can’t change a malignant narcissist into a good person.


Further reading:

Narcissists and Empaths: The Ego Dynamic


The real reason why my attitude toward narcissism changed.


A few weeks ago, I posted a somewhat negative article about Sam Vaknin that pretty much blamed him for turning NPD into something resembling demonic possession because of his own self-hatred and hatred of his own narcissism.  I also complained about the way he appears to have combined a number of other personality disorders–BPD, ASPD (sociopathy/psychopathy), SPD, and other disorders–into a new, much more malignant, definition of “narcissism.”  (Actually, this last part does have some validity and I’m not the first person to write about it).

In retrospect, I think my Vaknin article  may not have been completely fair to him; after all, he was the first person (that I know of) who brought the problem of narcissistic abuse out into the open and got victims talking about their experiences among themselves.   He also appeared to backpedal in a video he did with Richard Grannon (SpartanLifeCoach) about a year ago, in which they talked about how many people in the narcissistic abuse community, particularly in America, have transformed the psychiatric diagnosis of  Narcissistic Personality Disorder into a good- versus-evil, us-versus-them, morality play.   So to say Vaknin was single-handedly responsible for the demonization of NPD is probably unfair and inaccurate.

That article didn’t generate a lot of interest or get many comments, and it quickly got buried under other posts, which I was secretly grateful for, since I had some grave doubts about what I’d written about him after the fact.

A narc-abuse blogger friend who has recently adopted an attitude similar to mine about narcissism and NPD, found that post today and referenced it along with another post of mine in this article:

Are We Being Too Harsh on Lower Level Narcissists?

I used to be a narc-hater.  I bashed them with the best of them and agreed they were inhuman demons straight from the bowels of hell.   And like me, in the beginning, (and like many victims of narcissistic abuse), this blogger I refer to also hated all narcs.   We both believed there were NO exceptions, and any narcs who showed any remorse, guilt, or shame were probably just lying through their teeth to get more supply.

To some extent, this attitude is perfectly understandable.  After all, the things our abusers did to us were real and damaged us severely.  What they did was soul-crushing.   There are some malignant narcissists and sociopaths who have truly become evil, and who show no remorse or seem to have a conscience or even a soul anymore.    Some of us grew up becoming the scapegoats and punching bags of families composed of such high spectrum narcissists and sociopaths.   So I think when we’re trying to get out of an abusive relationship or cut ties with a narcissistic family, anger, even rage, is healthy and necessary.   Without it, you would stay stuck in fear and codependency.

Unrelenting hatred is soul-poison.

This blogger and I both agree though, that once you have separated yourself from the narcissists in your life, that holding onto that rage and hatred (which now has nowhere to go) begins to turn a person bitter and hinders them from being able to move on from the abuse and begin to heal.  It turns them paranoid and they begin to see narcissism hiding behind every streetlamp and under every bed.  They begin to see narcissism in everyday human behavior.   It wasn’t until I began to try to understand this disorder and look at all its different facets and let go of my hate (which was healthy at first), that I began to take any real steps toward healing, and my life began to change for the better.

It’s a fact that narcissists have the potential to be incredibly dangerous.  I suffered terribly at the hands of a highly malignant N mother and a thoroughly evil N ex.  Some high on the spectrum are definitely evil, and appear to have lost their souls.  And as a narc abuse victim, I empathize with most narc abuse bloggers (except the ones who have turned bitter and self pitying and narcissistic themselves due to their inability to let go of their hatred) and am friends with a number of them, especially here on WordPress.

The mob mentality.


I admit I probably drive the “no hate” point home a bit too much sometimes, but I think that’s probably partly a reaction against the way I got mobbed by a very toxic and abusive group of narc-abuse bloggers (not on WordPress) because I dared to suggest that some narcissists may be redeemable, as well as my admission that I had a BPD diagnosis (to the haters, all BPDs are devils too).    Their attack on me was so over the top and cruel that I was re-traumatized and considered taking my blog down.  I became depressed and anxious and for awhile, my PTSD and BPD symptoms returned.   Another blogger friend of mine, who had been viciously bullied several years earlier by a member of this same group, got mobbed again by proxy just because she was a friend of mine.  Several vicious new posts were written about her, using her own vulnerabilities against her–which is something malignant narcissists and sociopaths do.   I felt terrible for her having been re-traumatized due to her proximity to me.  I felt somehow responsible.

These people have adopted a mob (or herd) mentality and have not been able to move on from their victimization, so they remain stuck in self pity and hatred.  They claim to “hate all narcs” but use every trick in the malignant narcissist’s playbook should you disagree with them in any way–and then some.   They are utterly incapable of seeing they have become exactly what they despise.   One of these bloggers, who happens to have an extremely popular blog, has recently written a book.   I read the intro to the book and could not believe what I was reading.  In it, this person said that people who were abused later or married a narcissist, do not count as real victims because they brought it on themselves by knowingly making the choice to be with a narcissist.   This blogger thinks you’re only a valid victim if you had  N parents.  I could not believe the complete lack of empathy toward abuse victims from N marriages and relationships, etc.  They brought it on themselves!   There are quite a few other red flags on this blog too.   This blogger is an extremist–and clearly a narcissist–who preaches only hatred and revenge.   Someone like this, while probably of some help to people considering going No Contact, is a dangerous person who encourages other victims to become narcissists themselves.  And sadly, because this blogger is extremely charismatic and is an entertaining writer, they sometimes have.

In summary, the herd mentality is a pervasive social disease that’s distressingly common in politics, in religion, and wherever there is a lot of emotion and controversy.   It’s a form of splitting, or black and white thinking that does nothing except cause even more problems and solves absolutely nothing.

Education and understanding.

Moving on from that, the reason I adopted a more (some would say) tolerant attitude toward narcissists is mostly because of some time  I spent for awhile posting on an NPD forum where both narcissists (both diagnosed and self diagnosed) and “nons” (as they are called there) posted.  Both were learning from each other–and both were listening.  While a few of the more sociopathic NPDs with antisocial traits (malignant narcissists) seemed to like their disorder and think it improved their lives, most of the NPDs on that forum were not that high on the spectrum. They were ego-dystonic and definitely did not like their disorder.  They wanted to change. Their attitude was more like some of the BPDs I know of, who are damaged people and can unwittingly hurt others because of their acting out, but are in no way evil or want to do harm.    To my surprise, at no point was I bullied or attacked on these forums.   There was a lot of mutual respect among the Ns and the “nons,” even though sometimes there’d be disagreements.   It was an educational and positive experience for me, and it taught me not only more about narcissism, but a lot more about myself.   I began to see my own narcissism, and decided I wanted to change those traits because they were holding me back from being able to connect or have meaningful relationships.   I entered therapy and began to let go of my rage and finally move forward into something resembling life instead of mere survival.

Spiritual growth.

I also grew closer to God and have become a Christian.  I feel like God is leading me in a new direction — one of understanding and compassion and recognizing that no one is beyond God’s grace and love.  Even malignant narcissists who seem too far gone to ever change can still be helped through prayer if that’s in God’s will.  And sometimes it is–I always think of the conversion of the Apostle Paul as a biblical example of this.

Narcissists who suffer.

Vector illustration of a man lock up in prison

Some really do.  I’ve had a few NPDs email me privately asking for help.  I can’t do much for them other than direct them to other resources.  I regard these suffering NPDs as victims themselves (which they are, and most had horrific childhoods and narcissism was not a choice), rather than perpetrators (even though they most likely have hurt others in the past).  So I do have empathy for them, as I do for any abuse victim.

There is one  low level narcissist I know of who is in therapy and emails me about her progress.  At the moment she’s in an extremely fragile state, experiencing lots of guilt and shame. She cries after her therapy sessions. She has also written to me about the stigma and wishes there were a more nuanced view of this disorder than currently exists.  She’s definitely not malignant and her motivation to change gives me hope that at least some can get better. It’s not lost on me that this diagnosed NPD is a much nicer person than a few of the hate-mongering, judgmental victims I’ve come across.

I know another low level narcissist from the NPD forums who reminded me of a flagellant from the time of the crusades.    Almost every post of his was basically him beating himself up over things he had done in the past, but he was also intelligent and extremely insightful into his disorder.  he sympathized with the “nons” there.   He explained that he removed himself from society and became a recluse and hermit, so he could never hurt anyone again.   He didn’t think he could change so sending himself into a kind of exile was all he thought he could do.  At some point, he disappeared from the forums without warning.   No one was able to contact him.  Everyone on the forums worried that he might have committed suicide.

Obviously, neither of these people are evil in spite of having NPD–the idea of it is ludicrous to me.  We are all complicated people with many combinations of traits and most of us probably fall somewhere on the N spectrum anyway–especially those of us who blog! 😉

It’s definitely not lost on me how toxic NPDs can be, especially if they’re malignant. They make absolutely horrible parents and do a lot of damage to their children.   I just wish the general attitude on the web was a more nuanced, reasonable one.    I wish there was some acknowledgment out there that some lower level NPDs can and do change, if they want to and if they retain a positive attitude and remain motivated to change.  I do not think, except in very rare circumstances, that malignant narcs can change.  Only an act of God could do that.    I do pray for my mother, because when all is said and done, I do have love for her and it breaks my heart that she will probably die never being free of her disorder.  I don’t hold a lot of hope for her.  I was told once that it’s wrong to pray for “the narcs” but I don’t agree with that at all.  I don’t think anyone is beyond God’s grace.   And of course, I also pray for their victims.

Black and white thinking.

The boundary between narcissism and other disorders caused by narcissistic abuse is a fuzzy one.  There’s no “us versus them,” not really.   C-PTSD and BPD can both shade into narcissism, and I also think NPD itself is a complication of C-PTSD or PTSD in which aggressive defenses were adopted to cope and have become ingrained in the personality.   This is something else I’ve learned, and that’s why it’s so hard to go back to that holier than thou, sanctimonious, “all narcs are evil and destined for hell and I’m just a poor victim who never did anything wrong in my life” mentality.   That being said, I have no empathy at all for malignant, high spectrum narcissists and sociopaths who have no desire to change or have zero self awareness.  I still pray for them, though.

I really can’t stand judgmental, black and white thinking (also known as “splitting”).   A someone with BPD, I engaged it in myself for way too long, and it just made me miserable and crazy and bitter and stuck in self pity.  That’s no way for anyone to live.  You can’t heal with a mentality like that.   I wasn’t able to start moving away from that mentality until I realized that my parents didn’t do what they did to me because they were demons; they did what they did because they were victims themselves at one point and were programmed to act that way.   That doesn’t mean it wasn’t terrible and it doesn’t mean I have to maintain contact with my mother, but she could not help herself.  As for my father (who died on June 6th of this year), I know he did love me, in spite of his awfulness as a parent.  My dad was either a Borderline or a covert narcissist who was not malignant but would get drunk and then rage, and was always very codependent to my mother.

Is my narcissist mother changing?


Something strange is happening lately, but I don’t dare get my hopes up yet.   My mother, who I’ve described many times on this blog, is an apparently unredeemable and hardened malignant narcissist who just recently talked trash about me to my own son and tried to keep him from allowing me to visit him.  (That was described in my recent post “Back on the Couch”).   I know she reads my other blog (Lucky Otter’s Haven) but I don’t think she knows about this one (though I could be wrong).

In that same post, I talked about my son’s revelation to me that my deceased dad’s wife never hated me (as I had believed).  I realized I’ve just been projecting onto her, just because she’s not emotionally demonstrative and I misunderstood her aloofness and matter-of-factness as coldness and hatred.    She even wants me to call her soon.  While my father was always disordered (either BPD or covert narcissism, or both),  he was never malignant and I always knew that he did love me, even if his expression of love for his youngest daughter left a lot to be desired.

After years of thinking I hated my mother,  I’ve realized I really do love her.   I wasn’t able to let go of my hatred of her until I let go of my hatred of all people with NPD.    In fact, I’ve developed compassion for her and although I remain (and intend to remain) No Contact with her (because she makes me so crazy and I have to),  I spend a lot of time in prayer for her deliverance from NPD, which has ruined both her life and the lives of those who have had the misfortune of being close to her.

A few days ago, she Liked a few of my posts on Facebook, including the photographs I took while I was in Florida with my son.   She also made a comment under one of my shared blog posts (I don’t share all my posts to Facebook –just the less personal ones–because so many of my family members would see them and I prefer they don’t).

Her comment was this:

“I think you are a fantastic writer.  I always love to read what you have to say.  You have so much talent.”


I almost felt lightheaded from the shock of this.   I read it again, this time between the lines.  There were no barbs, no judgment, no criticism of any kind.  Just an acknowlegment that she recognized that I’m a good writer. No, better than that.  A very good, talented writer.   And that she loved what I had to say.

This, after referring to my blog as “that thing” just a few weeks ago.

Of course, there’s a distinct possibility (in fact, likelihood) that she’s just hoovering me or love bombing me for some reason, with both that comment and all her recent Likes. Maybe she’s trying to draw me back into her web for some reason–after all, she’s quite up there in age, and probably realizes she doesn’t have much longer on this earth.

Or maybe she’s recognizing that she can no longer control me (I went to see my son anyway and we had a wonderful time, and I didn’t have the “bad influence” over him the way she had warned him).  Maybe she has some grudging respect for me now, after years of looking down on me.  I doubt it, but it’s not impossible.

Or maybe….my prayers are working.  Maybe God has listened to my pleas and is going to deliver her from her narcissism, so that she and I can have that 100-Kleenex reconciliation before she finally  shucks off this mortal coil.

I’m not going to get my hopes up, because the reality is, very, VERY few people as malignant as she is can ever change, especially at such a late age.   But miracles do happen in this world, and God can do anything if it’s in his will to do so.

I’m going to remain No Contact, because she could well be just hoovering me, and I’m no longer so gullible to believe everything a narcissist tells me, or so desperate to hang onto the slightest sign of love that I get all starry eyed and “malignantly optimistic” about the true state of their heart.

I love sappy movie endings, and always want life to work out the way they do in the movies.   I always cry whenever a hardened narcissist turns into a good guy or gal at the end and tearfully makes amends for all the pain they have caused their loved ones.  I know life isn’t a movie.  But still…miracles can happen.  The timing of her behavior on Facebook is odd, and it dovetails with all my prayers for her deliverance.  So only time will tell.

How beautiful and perfect if my mother’s decades-long hardened heart finally unfolds and she’s freed of her narcissism in time for us to finally have the mother-daughter, heart to heart talk we never, ever had and I never dared to hope for.    How lovely and bittersweet if we could finally hold each other the way normal mothers and daughters do, both of us weeping with regret and sorrow over the past and yet with gratitude and joy for the present.

If this is what’s happening, I don’t think it would ever have happened had I not let go of my hatred and fear of people with NPD.

The narcissism spectrum according to me.

Man looking at reflection in mirror

A friend and I were talking about where exactly different levels of narcissism would fall on the N-spectrum. Of course narcissism (or any psychological topic) isn’t an exact science so giving the different levels numerical values seems a little silly, but in my mind this is how I view the different levels on the spectrum, starting with a Baseline of O (on most narcissism spectrums, “healthy” narcissism is at baseline) and the transition to NPD at around 5, which is smack dab in the middle. Narcissism becomes pathological (causing the person or others problems) at around 4.
Please note these are just my own subjective ideas.  I’m a geek who likes to classify things.

The Narcissistic Spectrum according to Lucky Otter

A person at this level is almost indistinguishable from someone with ASPD (antisocial personality disorder), but an NPD sociopath is more concerned about image or obtaining supply than a pure ASPDer. Most cult leaders fall here. (Psychopathy appears similar to sociopathy in behaviors, but describes a condition that a person is born with instead of one that was acquired; many psychopaths were never abused and were always like that, but sociopaths were made).

Malignant Narcissism:
A person at this level has severe NPD with antisocial traits. A person at this level will show more emotion (usually rage) than a narcissistic sociopath. Usually fits all the DSM criteria or most of them.

Severe NPD:
Not malignant because there is no sadism present, but person is still highly dangerous and manipulative. Fits most or all of the 9 criteria and symptoms are severe.


Moderate NPD:
A person at this level may be barely tolerable, if contact with them is casual or seldom. Fits more than 5 of the 9 criteria.

Mild NPD:
A person at this level fits 5 of the 9 DSM criteria for NPD but symptoms are not too severe and they may have moments of acting like a decent human being. NPDers at this level may occasionally respond well to therapy or seek it out.


Narcissistic Personality (Destructive Narcissistic Pattern disorder or DNP):
  A person here fits fewer than 5 of the 9 NPD criteria in the DSM but has at least three.  Symptoms may not be that severe and the person at this level is more in touch with their true self and may seek therapy.  They usually have the capacity to feel empathy but it’s limited.

Non-Pathological Narcissistic Personality:
Your garden variety self-centered jerk but may genuinely care about those they love.  Not particularly dangerous. Has moments of insight into themselves or empathy for others, especially their loved ones.

“Healthy” narcissism.
Most normal people can be found here.

O (Baseline) and lower:
People down in the negative digits might as well be wearing a “KICK ME” sign. They are almost always victims of narcissists and sometimes even normal people give them a hard time or take advantage of them.

The simplified spectrum. Psychopathy does not belong here at all.

Covert (“fragile”) narcissists may be found anywhere on the spectrum, but because their narcissism is more hidden and arrogance and grandiosity may be absent, a covert narcissist at any level is harder to identify. They may appear to have BPD, Avoidant PD, or Aspergers Syndrome instead (these are the three disorders most often confused with Covert Narcissism).

High-functioning (successful) narcissists are more likely to be found high on the spectrum, and sociopaths are often extremely high-functioning. There are many sociopaths (and psychopaths, who were generally born with a different brain structure and may not have been abused) in politics, religion, and heading huge corporations. Sociopathic traits and most NPD traits are generally sought after in the higher echelons of business, politics and entertainment. A person with just the “right” combination of antisocial behavior and arrogance, entitlement, grandiosity, and fake confidence can be a devastating adversary or competitor, and they will have no scruples about crushing you into the ground to achieve their goals.

Most high-functioning narcissists tend to be the Grandiose (classic, or overt) type that best fits the DSM criteria.

Covert and overt narcissists all have the same disorder, but for most, one form or the other is dominant. That said, they can and do switch back and forth in the same person. I think temperament is partly to do with whether someone is overt or covert (the more timid or fearful types leaning toward covert narcissism), but I also think circumstances (such as a sudden loss or gain of supply) can cause a switch from overt to covert or vice versa.

Low-functioning narcissists are much more likely to be covert.  They tend to receive less supply than overt narcissists, so their false self is weaker (the “deflated” false self, according to Masterson). Because of their discontent with their lives and general lack of success, covert narcissists are more likely than overt ones to seek help. If a covert narcissist suddenly begins to receive a lot of supply, they can become much more overt-acting (grandiose, entitled and arrogant). If an overt/grandiose narcissist suffers a huge loss of supply, they can sink into depression and become covert (at which point they are more likely to seek help).

The man you love to hate…or hate to love.

Originally posted on Lucky Otter’s Haven on January 5, 2015


For victims of narcissistic abuse, Sam Vaknin is the man you love to hate–or the man you hate to love. He’s a controversial figure in the field of narcissism. He has ardent fans within the community as well as seething haters. Just taking a quick scan of the comments under his many Youtube videos will give you an idea of just how polarizing Sam Vaknin really is.

Vaknin, self-professed malignant narcissist and possible borderline psychopath, is in the unlikely and highly ironic position of being a guru and hero for countless victims of narcissistic abuse, and remains one of the most famous voices on the subject.

Until narcissism became a thing a few years ago and blogs by survivors of narcissistic abuse began to proliferate like wildfire, Vaknin was one of the only voices on the Internet who delved deeply into the subject of narcissism and its effects on victims, outside of mental health professionals and psychologists–and not even many of them paid much attention to the problem of narcissistic abuse. Sam was a voice in the wilderness and offered hope to many who felt they had no hope at all. And yet Sam was exactly the kind of person they were trying to get away from.

Sam is a conundrum. If he’s a malignant narcissist who is also a self-professed misanthrope and psychopath, why on God’s green earth does he feel the need to write self help books for victims of abuse and run forums and discussion groups for them? Why does he warn us against people like himself?

When I first found out about Sam Vaknin, there was no way I thought he could be a real narcissist. I was already aware of his books and already knew he was a self professed narcissist, but other than that, knew very little about him. Later on, after watching “I, Psychopath,” I decided he was a narcissist wannabe who more likely had Borderline personality disorder (BPD) with some narcissistic and schizoid traits, and I wrote this article stating my case.

Sam found this article and apparently really liked it, because he disseminated it all over social media. It wasn’t particularly complimentary. I nearly accused him of being a huge fraud, and yet Sam began to visit this blog and share some of the other posts I wrote about him. I read in one of his interviews, that Sam loves to be hated and feared. He doesn’t like to be liked or thought well of. He hates to be loved. But he does like to be thought of as a guru and an expert. Maybe he liked the fact I was critical of him in that post, although I did say some nice things too. Whatever the reasons for his approval and attention, I was inadvertently feeding his narcissistic supply and in return, he was helping give my new blog much needed visibility. This quickly became a mutually beneficial arrangement (though due to his being much more famous than me, I’m sure I benefited more than he did).

Going back to the film “I, Psychopath,” Vaknin’s behavior toward the filmmaker and others, including his submissive, endlessly patient, high-empathy wife Lidija, was as whiney, argumentative and petulant as a three year old who needs a nap or maybe a spanking. He seemed impossible to please. Ian Walker (the filmmaker) who was also in the film, seemed to be losing his mind and it was clear there was no love lost between them. I wasn’t sure how much of Sam’s childish and explosive behavior was an act for the camera to appear more narcissistic than he actually was, but when Walker secretly filmed Vaknin at one point to prove it wasn’t just an act, Sam’s behavior remained just as abusive.


Walker, for his part, seemed to have bit off far more than he could chew in making this film, and seemed nearly destroyed by Vaknin’s abuse. (I read it took him two years to recover from the experience). But to be fair, Walker had chosen to make this film about a self professed malignant narcissist and possible psychopath, so what did he expect? Candy and roses?

Vaknin became petulant when one of the psychological tests he took (the one that scored in all known personality disorders) had him scoring higher in schizoid and avoidant traits than narcissistic ones. In fact, his N score wasn’t really all that high. Other tests he was given gave him much higher scores, and Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist (the test that’s given to criminals to make sentencing and judging decisions in courts of law) gave Vaknin a whopping score of 18 in psychopathy, which is extremely high, even for conscienceless criminals.

An intelligent man like Sam, of course, could be faking the answers. Having a lot of knowledge of personality disorders and general psychology, he could have answered the questions in the manner a psychopath would have answered them to get the results he wanted.

The brain scans were more telling. He was definitely missing some essential connections that people with a conscience possess. But I still didn’t buy it. I didn’t believe he was a psychopath and if he was a narcissist at all, he was a very weak one.

Sam seemed to be all over the place, but his behavior in the film, while mostly unpleasant, still didn’t scream “narcissist.” I was initially confused by him–and then I was fascinated, and finally mesmerized. Even though I had never met the man or spoken to him, I was falling under his spell, which I hear is legendary. This could prove he is dangerous.

Many narcissists can be quite charming, and Sam, for all his toolish and childish behavior, certainly could turn on the charm. He was intelligent, incredibly so, and sometimes funny. He was self aware and quick to admit how much of a bastard he was. Sometimes he was nice. He was always brutally honest, something most narcissists are not. He was definitely unpredictable and moody. He wasn’t someone I’d want to spend much time alone with, and part of me wanted to protect his sweet little wife Lidija from her unstable husband, whatever his psychological problem was. He was a ticking time bomb, and although he has never been physically abusive, he was clearly verbally abusive and the poor woman seemed to have “settled” for a disordered man who could never really return the love she constantly showered on him, as much as he sometimes appeared to try.

In the film, she said she wanted to have a baby with him but knew it probably wouldn’t happen (partly due to her age but also because they have barely any sex life. Sam is not interested in sex. He lives inside his head). What a sterile, joyless life any normally wired woman would have to endure to be married to him. But Lidija, in her codependent way, seems happy and satisfied. It’s very dysfunctional but apparently works for both of them. She’s his constant supply and she’s more than happy to fulfill that role, or says she is.

So, moving on…I think it’s a very good thing that they never had children. I read somewhere (I can’t find the link now) they mutually decided not to reproduce, in order to protect any potential child from either becoming NPD or a victim of its effects, which to my way of thinking shows a side of Sam that does not want to inflict his disorder on a child–so does that mean he has some semblance of a conscience? In another video, I saw how impatient Sam seemed toward some children playing nearby. “Why can’t they just be born adults?” he said. Clearly Sam would not be an ideal father to a child.

It didn’t take long for Sam’s brilliant but disordered mind became my latest Aspie obsession (we do get obsessed over things). I wanted to find out what really made Sam Vaknin tick. I wanted to get inside Sam’s mind and feel what it felt like to be him, and maybe that would give me some answers in solving the puzzle of him. By now, having read more of his writings and seen his interviews, I was becoming convinced that Sam was really a narcissist, but probably not a malignant one.

I read everything I could about him. Interviews, articles, his own stuff. I read blog posts and articles by both his fans and his haters. I watched his videos. I read the comments under them. I read his personal journals and poetry, which are publicly available on his website

Sam’s poetry and personal journals show a side of him that cannot be detected in his almost robot-like Youtube videos where his face is nearly devoid of expression or emotion. It’s my belief this intellectual automaton he wants everyone to believe is the real him is a mask he wears to fool everyone into thinking he is just a walking, talking brain with no emotions, a person who cannot feel anything, a person with no vulnerabilities. I believe these creative writings are the only windows we have into Sam’s true character–his lost self.

Sam’s emotionality can’t be directly detected in “Malignant Self-Love,” although he does write with passion and there’s an odd underlying mood of darkness and pain I’m picking up that I don’t get from watching his videos. I can’t explain why I feel this underlying anger and pain emanating from the pages because it’s not really present in the words themselves. He’s a powerful writer and it just comes through, whether he intended it to or not. Other people have said the same thing about this book.

It’s taking me longer to read than I anticipated, partly due to its length, but also because I’m finding I need to put it down from time to time, because the rage and hurt I can detect that underlies his intellectual, scholarly prose can make me feel depressed. I feel like I’m being drawn against my will into a dark night of the soul. It’s nothing I can put my finger on, just a mood of bottomless sadness and hopelessness that filters through his words. I haven’t reviewed his book yet but I will say this. In spite of his having written “Malignant Self Love” primarily to obtain narcissistic supply for himself, it’s actually one of the most insightful books on narcissism I’ve ever read. Who better than a narcissist to be able to write about what the disorder feels like and what really causes it? But if you’re sensitive at all, it’s not a fun book to read.


Sam has said even in his videos that he often feels sad and depressed. There are flashes of humanity occasionally too. In one of them he is being questioned about something he did to another boy when they were about 12. He had tried to brainwash this other boy, and the boy was so damaged by the psychological abuse that he had to be hospitalized. When the interviewer asked if Sam felt any remorse, he replied he knew it was wrong on an intellectual level but couldn’t feel any remorse or shame. But his face told another story. For just a moment, Sam’s face changed. It seemed to clench and then softened and he looked away quickly from the interviewer, as if he didn’t want his humanity to be seen. I saw him grimace a little, as if remembering this was causing him a jolt of pain.

His journals and poetry are where I believe is Sam’s true self really comes out. Creative writing is the only form of expression it has. Even with all the honesty and insight he has into his disorder (and what I believe a strong desire to be rid of it too) his true self is eternally dissociated from the hostile, volatile, intellectual mask of protection he shows to the world. I no longer have any doubt Sam is a narcissist on the higher end of the spectrum, if not malignant, but even for such an insightful intelligent narcissist as Sam, a cure is probably not going to happen.

Sam’s journals, short fiction, and poetry are so filled with sadness, rage, hopelessnes and pain it takes my breath away. It’s almost too painful to read them. His writing, as emotional as his videos are intellectual, makes you feel like you’ve been punched several times in the gut. People have accused him of being a fake, but there’s nothing fake in the raw emotion he is able to express in his creative writing and journals. No one could fake that.

His words tell what it really feels like to have NPD–from the inside of a sufferer who really does suffer and at the same time is all too aware of it. And it’s pure hell, worse than anything you can imagine. Knowing you can never escape, wanting to be human but not knowing how. Knowing you can never give or receive love like a normal person. That you long to be good but don’t know how. That you feel superior and worthless at the same time. That you want to be hated and feared because deep inside you feel like you don’t deserve any love because of what was done to you by your mother as a child. That you hate and envy others for what you want but can’t have. It’s like being possessed. Maybe it is being possessed. Maybe when one chooses to become a narcissist (Vaknin said he chose to become one at a very young age to protect himself from further hurt) you are drawn into darkness, and once you’ve entered you can’t ever escape.


I read an interview where he admitted he has memories of himself as a very young child, and these are indicative of a person who may have been an empath had he not been subjected to horrific abuse. I think Sam is actually a deeply emotional man with very sensitive feelings but these are unfortunately limited to just himself. Any ability he once had to feel empathy and love for others was cut off like a leg that was amputated for no good reason other than his mother’s malignant envy of him. Sam’s overreaction to a slight on this blog proved to me just how sensitive he actually is. It’s tragic that sensitivity was not allowed to develop into empathy for others. Here is an excerpt from that interview (because I found it posted on another blog with no link, I don’t know where it came from or who was interviewing him):

Q: So can you remember not being a narcissist?

A: That is a really good question. I do remember a period before I became a narcissist, that must have been around age 3 or 4, I do remember forming my narcissism as a conscious effort. I remember I’ve been diagnosed with 180+ IQ, very high, which allowed me to achieve results which were not age-appropriate, advanced. Also my memories are unusual for a child of three, I remember as a child of ¾ inventing the narratives, the stories that became my narcissism later. Inventing the stories of my omniscience, how I knew everything, and inventing fictitious figments of me that are very powerful. Telling myself I would not feel pain if I told myself not to. I remember assembling it like Lego. Before that, I remember being a spoiled child, admired and loved because I was achieving things that were not typical for a child, the entire neighborhood was there first, then the whole nation. So I became a spoiled brat. Later I was subjected to horrific physical abuse up until the age of 16. The answer to the question is yes – I remember the exact moment where I decided to be a narcissist.

Q: So you remember the empathic abilities you have lost in this process?

A: No, I was too young to develop real empathy.

Q: A little compassion, do you remember that at least?

A: I remember being compassionate, that I cried when my mother was sad, that I was a good-hearted kid, I used to give away my things, tried to understand other peoples emotions. But these are just flickers of memory, they have receded so fare. It’s like the shades on the wall of Plato’s cave. I do not relive them, do not have access to them. I just know of them.

Sam is a paradox, an enigma, a person too complicated for anyone to ever be able to really understand, and he is just as flummoxed by his complexities as those who try to understand him. I believe he’s a good person trapped forever in a disordered mind that betrays him and makes him lash out at a world that never gave him a chance to become fully human. Having so much insight just makes it all so much harder.

Do I think he’s dangerous? Yes, without a doubt. Even if he doesn’t want to, he can draw you into his illness. He can infect you with his misery and darkness. I don’t think it was necessarily Sam’s abuse of Ian Walker that made him feel the need to symbolically wash himself clean at the end of the film and that changed him for the worse for two years hence. After all, Walker chose to make that film and knew what he was getting into. I think it was the darkness that surrounds Sam that infected Walker and threatened to engulf him. Sam has to live with that every day of his life and can’t free himself from it like Walker can.

When I think about Sam Vaknin, I’m reminded of “Demons” by Imagine Dragons. The protagonist is warning us of his malignancy.

Sam is warning us too. That’s why I don’t think he should be demonized and dismissed as a fraud or someone with malignant intentions, even if they’re primarily self-serving and intended to procure narcissistic supply for himself. There’s a good core in Sam that wants to separate himself from the rest of humanity. That’s why he went into exile by moving to Macedonia and lives a life as a near recluse. He knows what he has become and I think he hates it. But he’s helping people. People look up to him for advice about how to deal with their abusers, and the advice he gives is good. So does it really matter if his primary motives are selfish? I don’t think it does. Just don’t get too close.

My envy.


I wrote this before I became self-aware. I have struggled with envy my entire life because I always felt defective and yet entitled at the same time (due to mixed messages I received as a child of being both “special” and “unique” but at the same time “bad” and “incompetent.”). Such parenting is a recipe for covert narcissism, in my opinion. If you do not want your child to become a narcissist, DO NOT give them messages from either extreme–your child is not perfect nor is she all bad. Have realistic expectations. I think inconsistent messages and impossible expectations are especially dangerous to the development of a growing child’s real self. At they very least she could develop BPD.

While I’ve never attempted to sabotage the good fortune of another person (at least not consciously), the bitterness of envy tends to fester inside me and colors my entire outlook on everything, most of all myself. It fosters self-hatred and ensuing overcompensation which can lead to grandiose and entitled behavior. In the past, when I envied someone, I used to do things like change the subject, pretend I didn’t hear (similar to the silent treatment), make snide or passive aggressive remarks, and one time I even flew into a BPD rage. 😳 That was a long time ago. I’ve become much more mindful when I’m envious but it’s still an emotion I struggle with and do not want in my life. It’s getting better. Besides mindfulness (to control my reactions), prayer seems to help me a lot with actually lessening the pain of envy (and it is VERY painful).

My Envy
Originally posted on Lucky Otter’s Haven on February 6, 2015

“Envy” by Marta Dahlig, Deviantart

I have a trait I’m ashamed of, and I’ve been struggling with it my entire life: envy.

It’s been getting a lot better since I went No Contact and started blogging. I’m generally less envious than I used to be, but today it reared its ugly head again.

What distinguishes my envy from narcissistic envy though, is the fact I have never, no matter how much I envied someone, wanted to take away what they had or ruin it for them. Sometimes (not often enough, but sometimes) envy has a plus side: it sometimes inspires us to want to improve our own lot.

When I’m envious, I brood about it and feel resentful that I don’t have the same.

I clean houses part time (this is actually not an awful job) and some of the houses belong to very wealthy people. There’s one family whose house I clean every two weeks–it’s a damned McMansion–who seem to have everything and then some. I had to clean their house today.

The wife, Wendy, is actually very sweet, and always gives generous tips. She’s probably in her 40s and very attractive, with a perfect body and always dresssed in new designer outfits. Her husband is some kind of high level executive and obviously earns a high income. They have three very attractive daughters, one who is going to be going away to college soon. The other two are 16 and 8. This family can pay for their daughters to go to the best schools. Wendy takes lessons in Tai Kwando, and the daughters all get music and dance lessons. They are all involved in sports. Wendy drives a late model SUV and this is just one of their three cars. They go on vacations several times a year. Their Christmas tree was 12 feet tall and scattered all over the house, in every room, are photos of the three girls at different ages, on vacation, or at some sporting event, at a party, or dressed in Christmas dresses and seated under their huge tree. Wendy seems very maternal and nurturing from everything I can see.

Grrrrr. (These aren’t Wendy’s daughters, but this picture looks like them and that looks like the type of house they live in).

I’m extremely envious of Wendy and her family. I compare myself to her, and of course I come up far shorter in just about every area: I’m not married anymore; I struggle to support myself, my daughter and my pets (I’m what most people would consider poor); my son is gay (which is not a problem for me at all but probably means he won’t ever have children); and my daughter is disordered (probably BPD) and shows no interest in getting a higher education although she is very intelligent. I drive a 13 year old car which is in need of repairs. I don’t get to take vacations or even getaway weekends. I’m attractive but Wendy is much more so. I am not athletic or particularly musical. I can’t dance. I’m uncoordinated.

I would never do anything to try to make Wendy’s life miserable though. I like her as a person. The envy I feel may not even be true envy. It’s almost an admiring, slightly awestruck feeling, that someone can be as fortunate as Wendy and her family. I marvel at how lives can turn out so vastly different.

The funny thing is, I probably would dislike living Wendy’s sort of life. It’s way too conventional for me and I can’t stand their house, which is too big, too cold, and it’s a f*cking McMansion and I would rather live in a cabin in the woods.

Of course I don’t know what may be going on behind closed doors. Wendy does seem a bit like the codependent type, and there’s a slightly sad look in her eyes. I wonder about that. Her husband doesn’t seem to be home a lot because he travels so much. In the family photos that include him, he looks a little reptilian. Sometimes I wonder if he’s a narc and Wendy might be being abused in some way. But I prefer my envy and imagine they have the perfect marriage and the family is functional and happy all the time. I like to think of them as the family I wanted to be raised in and the family I wanted to have.

Sometimes I remind myself of the late Robin Williams’ character in the 2002 psychological thriller “One Hour Photo.” Sy (played by Williams) is a pathetic, lonely photo-developing technician with no life to speak of who experiences pathological envy over a family whose photos he develops. His envy eventually turns into a dangerous obsession. It’s an interesting psychological profile of a man who is most likely a malignant covert narcissist who has become sociopathic in his envious obsession with an innocent family (I’m not as bad as he is, and would never go to these extremes, but I can relate to what he’s feeling just the same). “One Hour Photo” is a dark and creepy thriller, and is definitely worth watching for anyone interested in the way a sociopath thinks. Of course Williams’ acting is superb.

Here’s the trailer for “One Hour Photo.”

If you liked Marta Dahlig’s beautiful depiction of Envy at the beginning of this article, please check out the rest of her “Seven Deadly Sins” series in this article.

What is the “Dark Triad”?

Originally posted on Lucky Otter’s Haven on July 28, 2015

“The Dark Triad” by ShadOw-wOlf on Deviantart

I’ve heard this term before, so I decided to look it up. According to Wikipedia:

The Dark Triad is a group of three personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. Use of the term “dark” implies that these traits have malevolent qualities:

Narcissism is characterized by grandiosity, pride, egotism, and a lack of empathy.
Machiavellianism is characterized by manipulation and exploitation of others; a cynical disregard for morality, and a focus on self-interest and deception.
Psychopathy is characterized by enduring antisocial behavior, impulsivity, selfishness, callousness, and remorselessness.

People high in Dark Triad traits are correlated with those who show an increased tendency toward racism, aggression, and bullying. Studies have shown that Internet trolls are high in Dark Triad traits, which include sadism, antisocial behavior, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.

Dark Triad traits also are correlated with an accelerated mating strategy. Again, from Wikipedia:

[…]studies have suggested that on average, those who exhibit the dark triad of personality traits have an accelerated mating strategy, reporting more sex partners, more favorable attitudes towards casual sex, lowered standards in their short-term mates, a tendency to steal or poach mates from others, more risk-taking in the form of substance abuse, a tendency to prefer immediate but smaller amounts of money over delayed but larger amounts of money, limited self-control and greater incidence of ADHD symptoms, and a pragmatic and game-playing love style. These traits have been identified as part of a fast life strategy that appears to be enacted by an exploitative, opportunistic, and protean approach to life in general and at work.

A variation on The Dark Triad is the Vulnerable Dark Triad, comprised of three related (but more vulnerable) traits: vulnerable (covert) narcissism, Factor 2 Psychopathy (a high score in the second–aggressive as opposed to manipulative–set of traits in the Hare Psychopathy Checklist), and borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Extrapolating from this information, it would seem that a typical Dark Triad person would be a high-functioning malignant narcissist with sadistic traits and very cunning and manipulative, while a VDT (Vulnerable Dark Triad) person would be a hypersensitive, paranoid borderline/cNPD with poor impulse control and prone to frequent rages. (Yikes! this sounds a lot like me until pretty recently!)

On a lighter note (pun intended), here is Ruji’s “Bright Triad”: ADHD + Autism + Bipolar.


It’s a nice antidote for the unsettling creepiness of the Dark Triad. (Click to enlarge graphic).

Here’s a test that will show you how high you score in Dark Triad traits:

My results:
If there was a test for VDT traits, I’m sure my score would be much higher than this.

I think age of NPD onset correlates with malignancy and curability.


Because of a recent conversation I was having on Psychforums about age of onset and prognosis for a cure, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this.

I do think how old you were when Ground Zero occurred–that would be the primary traumatic event that forced you to create a False Self–determines the difficulty/ease of healing, and also how low or high you fall on the spectrum.

Here’s what I came up with.

Age of onset of Trauma/stage of child development (Piaget, Freud):

0-2 (Piaget’s Sensorimotor stage; establishing boundaries, physical and comfort needs met; Freudian Oral/Anal stage):


High spectrum, malignant narcissism and/or psychopathy/sociopathy (if as an infant)– not curable except under extreme circumstances in very rare cases. May be self aware but has no incentive to change.

3-6 (Piaget’s Concrete Operations; Freudian Anal–Oedipal/Electra stage )


Mid-high spectrum narcissist who may or may not be malignant. May become self aware but will be resistant to a cure. In unusual circumstances (total loss of supply or primary supply), a narcissist this high on the spectrum might seek therapy. They are unlikely to be willing to do all the work required for healing due to its difficulty for someone this high, but there might be a few exceptions.
In my opinion, this is where I think Sam Vaknin falls — in fact I think his primary trauma did occur at ages 3-4 because this is when he said he shut off his vulnerable feelings.

7-11 (Piaget’s Formal Operational stage; abstract learning, competence; Freudian “latency” period)


Mid-spectrum narcissist. Could become self aware and if so, there’s a good chance of them seeking therapy or treatment. They’re more likely to be cured, but it’s not a guarantee.
Therapy would be difficult at the higher end (onset before 8-9), moderately easy at lower end (onset between 9-11).

12-21 (adolescence)


Low-mid spectrum narcissist. Likely to become self aware and good chance of being cured.
This was when my narcissism developed over my preexisting BPD/avoidant.
It took two events for my NPD to get set in motion: the wholesale rejection by a group of girls in my sophomore year when I was 14; and the rejection/tossout by my mother at age 17. After that my NPD was set in stone.
Low spectrum at the higher ages (onset after 15/16), mid spectrum at the lower ages (younger than 15). The ages between 14 and 15 would put me at the lower end of mid-spectrum or upper end of low-spectrum.
Good prognosis for a cure and self awareness. May be able to heal him or herself without outside help (hopefully I’m right!) 🙂

21 +

How's my hair?
How’s my hair?

A person cannot become a true narcissist after age 21 or so. They may instead have a lot of narcissistic traits, have DNP (Destructive Narcissistic Pattern disorder–just below NPD on the spectrum), or in rare cases they could develop “acquired narcissism” (this is something a lot of celebrities and famous people get) which is temporary and lasts only as long as the adulation or fame lasts.

ETA: I got a rebuttal to this on Psychforums. I think this poster’s argument may be valid too, so I’m going to post it:

I believe the PD occurs in the first 5-6 years due to abuse/trauma, the critical level of which differs for each person depending on genetics (temperament, sensitivity).

I think NPD-like traits resulting from abuse/trauma after age 6 would be cPTSD to a normally developed personality.

I suspect traits from coddling/overvaluation after age 6 would be easier to “return to earth” from than something like sexual abuse and humiliation (say, having to testify in court) after age 6. I think the former might be unwind’able to a level of stable narcissism. I think the latter could be a more permanent scar/condition.


But, I don’t know much about. That’s just the way I think of it. It doesn’t seem feasible that PD could occur after the P(personality) is developed. I thought the whole point of a PD was that the P stopped developing, became a defective structure. Not merely unresolved trauma (like PTSD is?) but structural and permanent.

Basically his argument is that after age 6, true narcissism won’t develop but complex PTSD (C-PTSD) could. This could mean a child acquires a lot of narcissistic traits (what ACONs call “fleas”) that could resemble NPD in many ways but is more treatable/curable. I think this would be the same thing as the spectrum condition called the Destructive Narcissistic Pattern (DNP)
This would also take into account type of abuse inflicted and level of severity.

Not every narcissist has NPD

Originally posted on Lucky Otter’s Haven on March 28, 2015


As has been done with autism spectrum disorders, it’s becoming increasingly common to think of NPD as falling on a spectrum of narcissism, ranging from normal or healthy narcissism (which most of us have to some degree) all the way to psychopathy/sociopathy (variations of Antisocial Personality Disorder or ASPD) at the top. What we call malignant narcissism is actually NPD shading into ASPD.

Narcissism is a normal trait that helps us survive, but it becomes pathological when there is too much of it. On the narcissism spectrum, just below NPD and above healthy narcissism is a disorder called The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern, or DNP. It’s not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), but Dr. Nina Brown has written books about the disorder, which I haven’t read yet (I never even heard of DNP until a few days ago), but here is a description of DNP:

The destructive narcissistic pattern (DNP) is a term used to describe a constellation of characteristics generally associated with pathological narcissism, but which are fewer and less severe. Nonetheless, these characteristics negatively impact relationships. The destructive narcisist’s typical interaction produces negative reactions in others. For example, the individual devalues others, lacks empathy, has a sense of entitlement, and is emotionally shallow. He may function very well and be successful economically, but is unable to form and maintain stable relationships, as evidenced by numerous partners or marriages. The DNP, Brown asserts, is often unrecognized. Although others may find him frustrating and difficult, the individual with DNP can be charming when charm is perceived to be to his benefit.

Dr. Brown’s book “The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern” can be purchased on Amazon.

The blogger CZBZ has also written about DNP on her blog, “The Narcissistic Continuum” and has devised a detailed graph that shows the placement of disorders on the narcissistic spectrum: http://n-continuum.blogspot.com/2013/11/narcissism-key-from-healthy-to.html

DNP is probably much more common than full-blown NPD. These people can be very difficult to deal with but because their symptoms are less severe they would be more likely to respond to (and seek) therapy and may not be completely without empathy and have a stunted or limited conscience instead of an absent one.

The only problem I have with this continuum is that almost everyone would be on the narcissism spectrum, since most people (except for those whose self esteem has been all but obliterated) have some degree of healthy narcissism.

Narcissists *can* love…but run!

This article by psychotherapist Ross Rosenberg makes a surprising claim about non-pathological narcissists (those who are not malignant or psychopathic, which means high spectrum Ns having ASPD traits)–they CAN love. But the “love” is shortlived because it’s really intense infatuation (limerence) and depends on the other person fulfilling the idealized image of the person the narcissist has formed in their mind, and such a relationship is doomed to fail.

Narcissists Can Love–But Run! Understanding Narcissistic Codependent Love
By Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC, CSAT


Considering Narcissists have hurt and damaged the lives of so many people, it makes a great deal of sense why there is a proliferation of information, advice, articles and books on the subject of narcissism. There seems to be a surplus of people on Facebook, YouTube and other social networking sites who are making it their life’s mission to vilify narcissists, while making themselves out to be specialists (or even experts) on the subject. Those who contribute are often victims of narcissistic abuse and want to help others avoid their mistakes. I am thankful for their efforts, especially since it is connected to codependency recovery, which is where I spend a great deal of my personal and professional effort. It seems to be one of the biggest psychological movements I have seen in recent years.

And there are well-researched and experienced experts in the area who have and are making valuable contributions to the understanding of narcissism. Sam Vaknin is one such expert on narcissism who, just by his own efforts, has almost made the term “Malignant Narcissist” a household term. But even with his contributions, and perhaps because of them, there has been a backlash of misunderstanding on the subject. By focusing on Malignant Narcissism (which happens to be the condition he purports to have), he has accidentally and unintentionally given the impression that “Malignant Narcissism” is the same clinical condition or psychopathology as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). The truth of the matter is Malignant Narcissism is a subcategory of NPD. Moreover, those with NPD, or what I call “garden variety narcissists,” do not display many of the same characteristics as those with Malignant Narcissism.

One common mistake about Narcissism, which I see frequently on the Internet, about which there is now a deluge of articles, posts and blogs is that those with NPD cannot love and do not have empathy. This subject was discussed in detail in a recent YouTube collaboration video with me and Sam Vaknin entitled, “Can Narcissists Love and Do They Have Empathy?” Although Vaknin and I agreed it was a complicated question that has an equally complicated answer, we agreed for the most part that narcissists can, in fact, feel and express love and can be empathetic.

We also mostly agreed that Malignant Narcissists and those with Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD or Sociopaths) cannot feel or experience love. Because Malignant Narcissism is often confused with ASPD, it is necessary to simply define it as a subcategory of NPD, which is not only a pathologically narcissistic disorder, but also combines traits of Paranoid Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder. For more information on Malignant Narcissism, consider reading Vaknin’s book, “Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited” (2015). It is, therefore, correct to assume that Malignant Narc’s and ASPD’s cannot love as it is understood in our general culture. But it is incorrect to make that same leap for those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which will henceforth be referred to as “narcissists.”

Please read the rest of Dr. Rosenberg’s article here: