Narcissism and Cluster B: Evil hiding in plain sight

When the most common psychological defense mechanism — denial — hardens into an outer shell so impenetrable as to be worn like armor, you have yourself a clinical narcissist. They may not — and probably will never — be diagnosed as members of a group of personality disorders known in psychology as Cluster B; but unmistakably, you cannot seem to find empathy in them no matter how high or low you look.

They think of themselves as special; chosen; beyond the fray — rules do not generally apply to them, but oh do they ever to you. They tend to see the world in black and white terms, a Manichaean struggle of hierarchy vs. fairness, with strict social status to abide by and perpetuate — a world of dominance and submission, with themselves at the top.

The higher on the Cluster B scale you go (with psychopathy at the top), the less empathy these individuals possess. Without empathy, there is no basis for forming a conscience. One could say the classic defining hallmark of this group of personality disorders is that the people exhibiting them have little to no conscience.

Cluster B includes:

  • Narcissism — This is the root trait of all the Cluster B personality disorders. We all exhibit narcissism to some degree, and it’s a large part of childhood and teen development to learn how to balance it with sociality. As with all life skills, some develop it more or less well — if the narcissistic phase is never fully outgrown, adults can be emotionally immature in surprising and at times dangerous ways. When the self-absorption is so severe as to profoundly disturb aspects of their lives, that is when clinicians might say a person has a narcissistic personality disorder.
  • Borderline — Perhaps best known culturally from the movie Girl, Interrupted (1999), borderline personality disorder of BPD is characterized by intense mood swings, impulse behavior, fear of abandonment, unstable self-image, dissociation, and self-harm.
  • Histrionic — The least well-known of Cluster B, histrionic personality is extremely dramatic and over the top, well out of proportion to the magnitude of events or circumstances. They have an overwhelming desire to be noticed, and will behave extremely or inappropriately to get attention.
  • Sociopath — Sociopathy takes narcissism and adds more sadism into the mix. A narcissist could hurt you and not really care either way, while a sociopath will derive from pleasure from it and often go out of his or her way to cause harm for the purpose of reaping that enjoyment. Though not as unfettered as psychopaths, sociopaths can be prone to violence and criminality at the worst, and are commonly cruel and mean-spirited at best.
  • Psychopath — The psychopath is the scariest of the bunch. Unbelievably horrific folks like Ted Bundy and Hannibal Lecter were almost certainly psychopathic — committing horrific and murderous crimes that have shocked generations in their brutality and stomach-churling details.

Common traits and behaviors:

  • Projection — blaming others for your own misdeeds
  • Scapegoating — blaming the wrong party for a transgression
  • Gaslighting — consciously attempting to make the target doubt their own sanity
  • Stonewalling — refusing to speak or dilvulge information
  • Grandiosity; extremely high self-regard, often out of proportion to actual achievements
  • Splitting; black and white thinking
  • Malignant envy
  • Denial
  • Black and white thinking
  • Narcissistic rage
  • Cruelty
  • Bullying
  • Sadism
  • Right-wing authoritarianism

See also: