To better understand evil, it is worthwhile to consider the conclusions of scholars, such as M. Scott Peck, Erich Fromm, Martin Buber and others who devoted a good part of their lives to the study of the nature of the workings of the minds of evil people. Although many thinkers, ethicists, theologians and behavioral scientists have written volumes on the subject and many of those have influenced my thinking, I gained my clearest perspective after reading Peck’s book, “People of the Lie.” [i]
The following description of narcissism from Classification 301.81 in the Fourth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM IV) of the American Psychiatric Association.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is characterized by “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning in early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
(1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
(2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
(3) believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
(4) requires excessive admiration
(5) has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
(6) is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
(7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings or needs of others
(8) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
(9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.
Jon Krakauer in his book Under the Banner of Heaven makes these further comments:
Although an exaggerated desire to mete out justice is not listed among the defining characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder in DSM-IV, it probably should be. Narcissists erupt with self-righteous indignation whenever they believe others are breaking rules, acting unfairly, or getting more than their fair share of the pie. They have no compunction about breaking the rules themselves, however, because they know they’re special and the rules don’t apply to them….When narcissists are confronted by people who disparage the legitimacy of their extravagant claims, they tend to react badly. They may plunge into depression — or become infuriated…Their reaction to criticism is intense. [ii]
Malignant Narcissism has been described as “an extreme form of antisocial personality disorder that is manifest in a person who is pathologically grandiose, lacking in conscience and behavioral regulation, and with characteristic demonstrations of joyful cruelty and sadism”.
Malignant narcissism is a theoretical or ‘experimental’ diagnostic category; although narcissistic personality disorder is found in the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), malignant narcissism is not. Individuals with malignant narcissism would be diagnosed under narcissistic personality disorder. Malignant narcissism can be partially treated with medications and therapy, helping to reduce aggravating symptoms. As a syndrome, it may include aspects of schizoid and narcissistic personality disorder, as well as paranoia — recent “contributions have confirmed the importance of malignant narcissism and the defense of projection” in the latter syndrome, as well as “the patient’s vulnerability to malignant narcissistic regression”.
Social psychologist Erich Fromm first coined the term malignant narcissism in 1964, describing it as a “severe mental sickness” representing “the quintessence of evil”. He characterized the condition as “the most severe pathology and the root of the most vicious destructiveness and inhumanity”.
Otto Kernberg pointed out that the antisocial personality was fundamentally narcissistic and without morality. Malignant narcissism includes a sadistic element, creating, in essence, a sadistic psychopath. In this essay, “malignant narcissism” and psychopathy are employed interchangeably. Kernberg first proposed malignant narcissism as a psychiatric diagnosis in 1984.
Kernberg described malignant narcissism as a syndrome characterized by a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), antisocial features, paranoid traits, and egosyntonic aggression. Other symptoms may include an absence of conscience, a psychological need for power, and a sense of importance (grandiosity).
The writer and psychiatrist M. Scott Peck thought that the primary root of most human evil is ‘malignant narcissism’ and further characterized it as ‘militant ignorance’. Malignant narcissism is characterized by an unsubmitted will. All adults who are mentally healthy submit themselves one way or another to something higher than themselves, be it God or truth or love or some other ideal….They believe in what is true rather than what they would like to be true. The malignant narcissist believes that he or she is the higher of any order, subordinate to no one or any entity such as God. The malignant narcissist is totally without any empathy or concern for the feelings or needs of others. Placing themselves first above everyone. Dr. Peck refers to this as a variety of Autism;
As I defined it in (my book) The Road Less Traveled Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.” /The utter failure to submit oneself to reality is called autism. The word comes from the Greek root auto, meaning “self.” The person who is autistic is oblivious to certain essential dimensions of reality. Such people literally live “in a world of their own” in which the self reigns supreme. [iv]
Malignant narcissism can be distinguished from psychopathy, according to Kernberg, because of the malignant narcissist’s capacity to internalize “both aggressive and idealized superego precursors, leading to the idealization of the aggressive, sadistic features of the pathological grandiose self of these patients”. According to Kernberg, the psychopath’s paranoid stance against external influences makes him or her unwilling to internalize even the values of the “aggressor”, while malignant narcissists “have the capacity to admire powerful people, and can depend on sadistic and powerful but reliable parental images”. Malignant narcissists, in contrast to psychopaths, are also said to be capable of developing “some identification with other powerful idealized figures as part of a cohesive ‘gang’…which permits at least some loyalty and good object relations to be internalized”. “Some of them may present rationalized antisocial behavior – for example, as leaders of sadistic gangs or terrorist groups…with the capacity for loyalty to their own comrades”.
NOTE: Some of the authors and sources quoted below often refer to the Malignant Narcissist as being the leader of a cult. This “cult” designation does not always have to be a reference to a religious or ideological group, but can also be a reference to a family group or social group.
The People of the Lie
The People of the Lie, a study of malignant narcissism by Dr. M. Scott Peck. In the course of his career as a psychiatrist, Dr. Peck encountered several clients whose malignant narcissism didn’t quite fit the categories of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual . In People of the Lie he looks in depth at the characteristics of these individuals. [iii] (the author of this excerpt quotes the page numbers in Dr. Peck’s book: The People Of The Lie) [iv]
Although a professing Christian, Peck’s purpose is not to present a biblical study of evil. Rather, he proposes evil as a diagnosis of pathology for these people. His concept of evil clarifies the nature of malignant narcissism and offers a useful paradigm for understanding abusive people. Here are quotations from the book, organized under the main characteristics of the people Dr. Peck calls “evil”.
The Narcissist: Refusal to acknowledge sin
It is necessary that we first draw the distinction between evil and ordinary sin. It is not their sins per se that characterize evil people…The central defect of the evil is not the sin but the refusal to acknowledge it. p 69
If evil people cannot be defined by the illegality of their deeds or the magnitude of their sins, then how are we to define them? The answer is by the consistency of their sins. While usually subtle, their destructiveness is remarkably consistent. This is because those who have “crossed over the line” are characterized by their absolute refusal to tolerate the sense of their own sinfulness. p 71
The evil hate the light–the light of goodness that shows them up, the light of scrutiny that exposes them, the light of truth that penetrates their deception.p 179 Rather than blissfully lacking a sense of morality, like the sociopath, they are continually engaged in sweeping the evidence of their evil under the rug of their own consciousness.p 76
The poor in spirit do not commit evil. Evil is not committed by people who feel uncertain about their righteousness, who question their own motives, who worry about betraying themselves. The evil in this world is committed by the spiritual fat cats, by the Pharisees of our own day, the self-righteous who think they are without sin because they are unwilling to suffer the discomfort of significant self-examination. Unpleasant though it may be, the sense of personal sin is precisely that which keeps our sin from getting out of hand. It is quite painful at times, but it is a very great blessing because it is our one and only effective safeguard against our own proclivity for evil. p 71-72
The Narcissist: Self Image of Perfection
Utterly dedicated to preserving their self-image of perfection, [the evil] are unceasingly engaged in the effort to maintain the appearance of moral purity. They worry about this a great deal. They are acutely sensitive to social norms and what others might think of them. Outwardly [they] seem to live lives that are above reproach. The words “image.” “appearance,” and “outwardly” are crucial to understanding the morality of the evil. p 75
The Narcissist: Excessive intolerance of criticism
In Martin Buber’s words, the malignantly narcissistic insist upon “affirmation independent of all findings.” p 80 Self-criticism is a call to personality change…The evil are pathologically attached to the status quo of their personalities, which in their narcissism they consciously regard as perfect. I think it is quite possible that the evil may perceive even a small degree of change in their beloved selves as representing total annihilation. p 74
The Narcissist: Scapegoating
[Evil is] the use of power to destroy the spiritual growth of others for the purpose of defending and preserving the integrity of our own sick selves. In short, it is scapegoating. 119 A predominant characteristic…of the behavior of those I call evil is scapegoating. Because in their hearts they consider themselves above reproach, they must lash out at any one who does reproach them. They sacrifice others to preserve their self-image of perfection. p 73
Since the evil, deep down, feel themselves to be faultless, it is inevitable that when they are in conflict with the world they will invariably perceive the conflict as the world’s fault. Since they must deny their own badness, they must perceive others as bad.
They project their own evil onto the world. They never think of themselves as evil; on the other hand, they consequently see much evil in others…Evil, then, is most often committed in order to scapegoat, and the people I label as evil are chronic scapegoaters….The evil attack others instead of facing their own failures. p 73-74
The Narcissist: Disguise and pretense
While they seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good. Their “goodness” is all on a level of pretense. It is, in effect, a lie. That is why they are the “people of the lie”. The wickedness of the evil is not committed directly, but indirectly as a part of this cover-up process. p 76
Those who are evil are masters of disguise; they are not apt to wittingly disclose their true colors–either to others or to themselves. p 104 Because they are such experts at disguise, it is seldom possible to pinpoint the maliciousness of the evil. The disguise is usually impenetrable p 76….Naturally, since it is designed to hide its opposite, the pretense chosen by the evil is most commonly the pretense of love. p 106
The Narcissist: Intellectual deviousness
[A] reaction that the evil frequently engender in us is confusion. Describing an encounter with an evil person, one woman wrote, it was “as if I’d suddenly lost my ability to think”….This reaction is quite appropriate. Lies confuse. The evil are “the people of the lie”, deceiving others as they also build layer upon layer of self-deception.
I know now that one of the characteristics of evil is its desire to confuse. p 179
The Narcissist: Greed
[The evil] are, in my experience, remarkably greedy people. Thus, they are cheap. p 72.
The Narcissist: Unsubmitted will
If the central defect of the evil is not one of conscience, then where does it reside? The essential psychological problem of human evil, I believe is a particular variety of narcissism….The particular brand of narcissism that characterizes evil people seems to be one that particularly afflicts the will. p 80
Malignant narcissism is characterized by an unsubmitted will. All adults who are mentally healthy submit themselves one way or another to something higher than themselves, be it God or truth or love or some other ideal….They believe in what is true rather than what they would like to be true. In summary, to a greater or lesser degree, all mentally healthy individuals submit themselves to the demands of their own conscience. Not so the evil, however….They are men and women of obviously strong will, determined to have their own way. p 78 Such people literally live “in a world of their own” in which the self reigns supreme. p 162
The Narcissist: Coercion and control of others
[Evil is] the exercise of political power–that is, the imposition of one’s will upon others by overt or covert coercion–in order to avoid…spiritual growth…Because their willfulness is so extraordinary–and always accompanied by a lust for power–I suspect that the evil are more likely than most to politically aggrandize themselves…..There is a remarkable power in the manner in which they attempt to control others.p 78
[In describing one of his patients, Peck says] Charlene’s desire to make a conquest of me….to utterly control our relationship, knew no bounds. It seemed to be a desire for power purely for its own sake. p 176 She wanted the reigns in her hands every moment. p 158
The Narcissist: Lack of empathy
Theirs is a brand of narcissism so total that they seem to lack, in whole or in part, the capacity for empathy…Their narcissism makes the evil dangerous not only because it motivates them to scapegoat others but also because it deprives them of the restraint that results from empathy and respect for others.
In addition to the fact that the evil need victims to sacrifice to their narcissism, their narcissism permits them to ignore the humanity of their victims as well….The blindness of the narcissist to others can extend even beyond a lack of empathy; narcissists may not “see” others at all.
There are boundaries to the individual soul. And in our dealings with each other we generally respect these boundaries. It is characteristic of–and prerequisite for–mental health both that our own ego boundaries should be clear and that we should clearly recognize the boundaries of others. We must know where we end and others begin. p 136-137
The Narcissist: Symbiotic relationship
Another form of devastation that narcissistic intrusiveness can create is the symbiotic relationship. “Symbiosis”–as we use the term in psychiatry–is not a mutually beneficial state of interdependence. Instead it refers to a mutually parasitic and destructive coupling. In the symbiotic relationship neither partner will separate from the other even though it would obviously be beneficial to each if they could. p 137
I doubt that it is possible for two utterly evil people to live together in the close quarters of a sustained marriage. They would be too destructive for the necessary cooperation….In every evil couple, if we could examine them closely enough, I image we would find one partner at least slightly in thrall to the other. p 119 For adults to be the victims of evil, they too must be powerless to escape….They may be powerless by virtue of their own failure of courage….bound by chains of laziness and dependency. p 119-120
Evil in families
It is my experience that evil seems to run in families. p 80 If evil were easy to recognize, identify and manage, there would be no need for this book. But the fact of the matter is that it is the most difficult of all things with which to cope. p 130 [Evil] will contaminate or otherwise destroy a person who remains too long in its presence. p 65 The evil deny the suffering of their guilt–the painful awareness of their sin, inadequacy, and imperfection–by casting their pain onto the other through projection and scapegoating. They themselves may not suffer, but those around them do. The evil cause suffering. The evil create for those under their dominion a miniature sick society. p 123-124 It happens then, that the children of evil parents enter adulthood with very significant psychiatric disturbances. ….It is doubtful that some can be wholly healed of their scars from having had to live in close quarters with evil without correctly naming the source of their problems.
To come to terms with evil in one’s parentage is perhaps the most difficult and painful psychological task a human being can be called on to face. Most fail and so remain its victims. Those who fully succeed in developing the necessary searing vision are those who are able to name it. p 130
The Cult of the Narcissist
The narcissist is the guru at the centre of a cult. Like other gurus, he demands complete obedience from his flock: his spouse, his offspring, other family members, friends, and colleagues. He feels entitled to adulation and special treatment by his followers. He punishes the wayward and the straying lambs. He enforces discipline, adherence to his teachings, and common goals. The less accomplished he is in reality – the more stringent his mastery and the more pervasive the brainwashing.
Cult leaders are narcissists who failed in their mission to “be someone”, to become famous, and to impress the world with their uniqueness, talents, traits, and skills. Such disgruntled narcissists withdraw into a “zone of comfort” (known as the “Pathological Narcissistic Space”) that assumes the hallmarks of a cult.
The – often involuntary – members of the narcissist’s mini-cult inhabit a twilight zone of his own construction. He imposes on them a shared psychosis, replete with persecutory delusions, “enemies”, mythical narratives, and apocalyptic scenarios if he is flouted.
The narcissist’s control is based on ambiguity, unpredictability, fuzziness, and ambient abuse. His ever-shifting whims exclusively define right versus wrong, desirable and unwanted, what is to be pursued and what to be avoided. He alone determines the rights and obligations of his disciples and alters them at will.
The narcissist is a micro-manager. He exerts control over the minutest details and behaviors. He punishes severely and abuses withholders of information and those who fail to conform to his wishes and goals.
The narcissist does not respect the boundaries and privacy of his reluctant adherents. He ignores their wishes and treats them as objects or instruments of gratification. He seeks to control both situations and people compulsively.
He strongly disapproves of others’ personal autonomy and independence. Even innocuous activities, such as meeting a friend or visiting one’s family require his permission. Gradually, he isolates his nearest and dearest until they are fully dependent on him emotionally, sexually, financially, and socially.
He acts in a patronizing and condescending manner and criticizes often. He alternates between emphasizing the minutest faults (devalues) and exaggerating the talents, traits, and skills (idealizes) of the members of his cult. He is wildly unrealistic in his expectations – which legitimizes his subsequent abusive conduct.
The narcissist claims to be infallible, superior, talented, skilful, omnipotent, and omniscient. He often lies and confabulates to support these unfounded claims. Within his cult, he expects awe, admiration, adulation, and constant attention commensurate with his outlandish stories and assertions. He reinterprets reality to fit his fantasies.
His thinking is dogmatic, rigid, and doctrinaire. He does not countenance free thought, pluralism, or free speech and doesn’t brook criticism and disagreement. He demands – and often gets – complete trust and the relegation to his capable hands of all decision-making.
He forces the participants in his cult to be hostile to critics, the authorities, institutions, his personal enemies, or the media – if they try to uncover his actions and reveal the truth. He closely monitors and censors information from the outside, exposing his captive audience only to selective data and analyses.
The narcissist’s cult is “missionary” and “imperialistic”. He is always on the lookout for new recruits – his spouse’s friends, his daughter’s girlfriends, his neighbors, new colleagues at work. He immediately attempts to “convert” them to his “creed” – to convince them how wonderful and admirable he is. In other words, he tries to render them Sources of Narcissistic Supply.
Often, his behavior on these “recruiting missions” is different to his conduct within the “cult”. In the first phases of wooing new admirers and proselytising to potential “conscripts” – the narcissist is attentive, compassionate, empathic, flexible, self-effacing, and helpful. At home, among the “veterans” he is tyrannical, demanding, wilful, opinionated, aggressive, and exploitative.
As the leader of his congregation, the narcissist feels entitled to special amenities and benefits not accorded the “rank and file”. He expects to be waited on hand and foot, to make free use of everyone’s money and dispose of their assets liberally, and to be cynically exempt from the rules that he himself established (if such violation is pleasurable or gainful).
In extreme cases, the narcissist feels above the law – any kind of law. This grandiose and haughty conviction leads to criminal acts, incestuous or polygamous relationships, and recurrent friction with the authorities.
Hence the narcissist’s panicky and sometimes violent reactions to “dropouts” from his cult. There’s a lot going on that the narcissist wants kept under wraps. Moreover, the narcissist stabilizes his fluctuating sense of self-worth by deriving Narcissistic Supply from his victims. Abandonment threatens the narcissist’s precariously balanced personality.
Add to that the narcissist’s paranoid and schizoid tendencies, his lack of introspective self-awareness, and his stunted sense of humor (lack of self-deprecation) and the risks to the grudging members of his cult are clear.
The narcissist sees enemies and conspiracies everywhere. He often casts himself as the heroic victim (martyr) of dark and stupendous forces. In every deviation from his tenets he espies malevolent and ominous subversion. He, therefore, is bent on disempowering his devotees. By any and all means. The narcissist is dangerous.
Scott Peck says, in his book, People of the Lie, “For adults to be the victims of evil, they must be powerless to escape. They may be powerless when a gun is held to their head…Or they may be powerless by virtue of their own failure of courage…Whenever adults not at gunpoint become victims of evil it is because they have–one way or another–bound [themselves] by chains of laziness and dependency….settling for a child’s impotence.” 119-120
Peck likens human good and evil to a continuum and says, “As individuals we can move ourselves one way or the other along the continuum.” He quotes from Erich Fromm, The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good and Evil :
The longer we continue to make the wrong decisions, the more our heart hardens; the more often we make the right decisions, the more our heart softens–or better perhaps, comes alive…Most people fail at the art of living not because they are inherently bad or so without will that they cannot lead a better life; they fail because they do not wake up and see when they stand at a fork in the road and have to decide. They are not aware when life asks them a question, and when they still have alternative answers. Then with each step along the wrong road it becomes increasingly difficult for them to admit that they are on the wrong road. 81-82
Peck also makes this statement: “Evil…is dangerous. It will contaminate or otherwise destroy a person who remains too long in its presence.”
As we stated first above; We agree with the findings of some mental health professionals that malignant narcissism is evil—in any light—and we as a society and Christians should do everything we can to aid those who needs assistance dealing with or overcoming malignant narcissism. This does not mean that everyone who displays multiple symptoms of Malignant Narcissism is demonically possessed, but rather simply suffering from a condition that might require spiritual therapy as well as treatment from Mental Health Professionals.
A careful study of personalities in our immediate circle of family and friends as well as those that we often deal with in the process of business or social intercourse, will reveal an amazing number of individuals that can be diagnosed with some degree of Narcissism. Some authorities on the subject have observed that this condition is not only rampant in our modern society but quite possibly of epidemic proportions.
It is important that the deliverance minister understand the ramifications of psychological disorders, such as Malignant Narcissism, to recognize the potential for mental, spiritual, and physical damages that the Narcissist can directly or indirectly inflict on his/her self or victims, as well as the long term harm done to the community.
The minister must use the utmost care in dealing with those suffering from the effects of narcissism, often relying on the input of mental health professionals and other authorities, while doing his/her best in the process of bringing deliverance, peace, and spiritual well being to those in need.
[i] Studies from the book, People of the Lie, by M. Scott Peck http://samredman.com
[ii] Reflections…on Spiritual Abuse http://www.geftakysassembly.com/Articles/Perspectives/Narcissism.htm Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
[iii] Narcissism Part 2: Quotes from Peck’s People of the Lie on Malignant Nar… http://www.geftakysassembly.com/Articles/Perspectives/MalignantNarcis…
[iv] People of the Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil, copyright 1983 by M. Scott Peck, Simon and Schulster New York NY
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malignant_narcissism Richard N. Kocsis, Criminal Profiling (2006) p. 75
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malignant_narcissism Fromm, Erich, The Heart of Man, 1964
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malignant_narcissism Otto Kernberg, in Elsa Ronningstam, Disorders of Narcissism (1997) p. 45
 Kernberg O. Factors in the psychoanalytic treatment of narcissistic personalities J. Am. Psychoanal. Assoc. 18:51-85 1970
- So as to give the Deliverance Minister an overview of the symptoms of the psychological condition known as Narcissism; we have collected excerpts from web pages on the Internet and compiled them herein, in keeping with the accords of Title 17 USC. We believe—that as this material is being disseminated with no compensation and for educational purposes only—it is a “Fair Use” of any material that might be copyrighted.
- Those that might exhibit the symptoms of Narcissism or Malignant Narcissism, or have been diagnosed by mental health professionals as having the condition, as well as those that suffer from a state of “co-dependency” (a close friend or relative that is placed in the position of having to deal with the Narcissist’s condition) are not necessarily possessed, oppressed or in any other manner under demonic attack, however they—by the necessity created by the severity of the neurosis—may be in need of spiritual counseling, prayer, or deliverance.
- We agree with the findings of some mental health professionals that malignant narcissism is evil—in any light—and we as a society and Christians should do everything we can to aid those who needs assistance dealing with or overcoming malignant narcissism. Therefore we pray that you will read this paper and recognize the inherent evil in extreme cases of narcissism and resolve to aid all who solicit your ministry.
- We agree with mental Health professionals such as M. Scott Peck (and others) that most people who display or suffer from certain psychopathologies are not demonically possessed, but some who are possessed display symptoms that are certainly similar if not identical to known psychological conditions. This makes the job of the deliverance minister extremely difficult, the task of differentiating from the mentally ill from the demonically possessed.