While all people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are driven continuously by a compassionless and insatiable need to feed their insufficient self-esteem, the malignant narcissist does so primarily through ruthless dominance and abuse. Such abuse may be emotional, psychological, physical, and/or sexual.

The Nonmalignant Narcissist

Lacking internal self-worth and empathy, all narcissists seek external validation by manipulating, exploiting, and abusing, so how is the malignant type different from your run-of-the-mill narcissist? According to Dr. Elinor Greenberg, personality disorder expert and author of Borderline, Narcissistic, and Schizoid Adaptations, nonmalignant narcissists prefer to moderate their self-esteem in relatively benign ways and resort to attack and abuse as a secondary strategy when they feel threatened, diminished, and/or disillusioned with those they formerly idealized.

The overt narcissist typically relies on extravagant, arrogant displays to scaffold his shaky self-esteem. He seeks to bolster himself by drawing admiring attention and domineering through his authority, power, wit, charm, intelligence, wealth, good looks, and so on. His grandiosity, braggadocio, and aggression may be beyond obnoxious, but he would rather occupy the center of any group by asserting his alpha status than by cutting others off at the knees.

The covert narcissist also is capable of abuse but is too insecure to assert herself in the limelight. She prefers to quietly demonstrate her specialness by associating herself with idealized people, institutions, or causes, and she may draw sympathy and attention by using guilt and playing the victim or martyr. Covert narcissists are easily impressed by the (false) bravado of overt narcissists and, like overts, are prone to idealize and devalue, seeing others as perfect or worthless and punishing and rejecting those who inevitably disappoint them.

The Malignant Narcissist

According to Dr. Greenberg, malignant narcissists are most commonly overt, but are sometimes covert. Overt malignant narcissists constantly assess social hierarchies and demand absolute dominance. They aggressively and viciously devalue others to feel superior, and they do not hesitate to destroy anyone or anything they view as a despised impediment or threat. In the case of covert malignant narcissists, they are more likely to keep their vicious impulses and behavior on the down low, using sneakier means to dominate and defeat anyone they regard as an enemy or even a mere obstacle. Dr. Greenberg points out that malignant narcissists often have sadistic inclinations but are not necessarily full-blown sadists.

The Sadist

While malignant narcissists often sadistically enjoy harming others, their primary motivation in life, as is the case with all people who suffer from NPD, is to drive away deep-seated, primitive feelings of worthlessness. While some malignant narcissists can be sadistic, sadists do not necessarily have NPD. Rather, sadists derive pleasure, often sexual, by willfully inflicting suffering or humiliation on others.

Julie L. Hall writes about narcissism for HuffPost and PsychCentral. She is the author of two forthcoming books: a memoir (read excerpts) and a book on narcissistic family dynamics.

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