Narcissists, or “narcs,” as they are not-so-affectionally called on social media, have a great deal of similarities with the other Cluster B “disorders.” To make things more complicated, narcs are seen through the eyes of professional psychiatrists/psychologists as defined in the DSM and subject to clinical diagnosis. But narcs are also seen through the eyes of the victims/survivors and through the eyes of psychopaths and, I guess, other narcs.
Sam Vaknin, not, himself a professional, wrote the first book on narcissism to be taken seriously by professionals and lay persons alike. He coined such expressions that are now household terms such as “malignant narcissist” (although I believe Eric Fromme used the term first) and “narcissistic supply.” His book, Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited (1999), is proof-positive that those professionals who claim narcissists are not “self-aware” are mistaken.
Psychopaths and Love is one of those victims’ websites that see both narcs and psychopaths as the enemy. Adelyn Birch recognizes that narcs have a conscience and need, therefore, to rationalize their behavior.
We all know the myth from which the word, “narcissism” is derived. A youth see his reflection in a body of water and became instantly enamored, to the point of losing interest in all others, even the goddess, Echo. The myth is at variance with the definition commonly in use. Unlike the youth in the story, a narc does engage with the world, needing admiration or “narcissistic supply.”
Some people, for example, Otto F. Kernberg, see psychopathy and narcissism as points on a single spectrum, with psychopathy the most extreme end. But that doesn’t explain why narcs are so dependent on other people’s opinions of them while psychopaths are so sublimely indifferent to the opinions of others. A psychopath is a psychopath wherever we are on the spectrum between 30 and 40 (on the PCL-R). The fact that this checklist is made specifically for psychopaths and not narcs suggests that Robert Hare doesn’t see the two “disorders” as on a continuum. Narcs have a conscience and psychopaths don’t. A psychopath with a score of 30 is just as conscienceless as one with a score of 40. Even a “malignant” narc probably has some pricks of guilt.
Narcissism has strong relationships with the other Cluster B “disorders.” They share with histrionics the need for attention, to be in center place in every scene. Hardly odd when one considers that narcs see themselves as being the center of the universe. Their lives are a thrilling narrative all about them and with themselves as the heroes/heroines. Narcs share with borderlines a lot of destructive behavior. Joan Crawford is considered a borderline but she was so mean and destructive to her adopted daughter, Christina, many see her as a narc. The blogosphere is full of tales of vicious, destructive narcs, particularly when they are parents. That borderlines can equal that behavior shows what a thin line divides these Cluster B “disorders.” And, of course, there’s psychopathy or “ASPD.” So many “victims” of narcs use the term “narcissist” and “psychopath” interchangeably while discussing “their” narc. There is a truism that “every psychopath is a narcissist but not every narcissist is a psychopath.” But “being a narcissist” isn’t the same thing as “suffering from narcissistic personality disorder.” I think all Bees are narcissistic. It just isn’t their central defining feature as it is in the case of NPD. Of course, non-Bees can also be pretty narcissistic.
Narcs are more grandiose than any of the other Bees and can’t help but talk about themselves whenever they can find a (semi) willing listener. Psychopaths are more likely to encourage the other person to talk in order to learn all about him/her. Sam Vaknin observed that the narc sits somewhat removed from the other as if to avoid contamination. The psychopath draws closer (as if zeroing in on the prey).
Psych-Central has forums both for narcissists and for people with ASPD. The narcs talk a lot more about seeing help. Their posts are very long and involved. The ASPD forum is more full of banter with some serious posts. Nevertheless, of all the Cluster B “disorders,” narcs are the most hated. That’s rather unjust as narcs don’t really mean much harm. They just can’t seem to help the way they come across.