Ever wondered what it would be like to live with, work for, or be governed by someone who is both narcissistic and paranoid? I was asked this question after I wrote an article at Psychology Today on how narcissists see themselves. Having spent four decades apprehending and researching the kinds of people who do the most harm to society, I believe that a closer look at these individuals merits our attention.
I have combined here, in no particular order, some of the key traits of the narcissistic personality and the paranoid personality as defined in my book Dangerous Personalities (Rodale 2014 written with Toni Sciarra Poynter). This list of descriptive statements is simple to use in learning more about whether an individual such as this may be present in your life. If a statement applies because you have personally witnessed the behavior in the person you have in mind, put a check mark next to it. There are 80 statements, and not every statement will necessarily apply to any one individual. Some statements may seem similar—that is intentional. Read each statement carefully but only check the ones that apply and that you have personally witnessed.
If you have ever suspected your boss, partner, or a leader of having both paranoid and narcissistic traits, you may find this checklist useful in validating your suspicions. As I noted in Dangerous Personalities, the detailed checklists I developed and shared in the book came from studying abnormal behavior for four decades—but even more importantly from interviewing those who have been victimized by these individuals who, in Dr. Stuart C. Yudofsky’s view, are “severely flawed of character.”
Here is the combined checklist that describe key traits of the narcissistic personality and the paranoid personality. Ponder each statement carefully before including it in your final tally:
Projects self-importance beyond position, experience, or what has been duly earned or deserved.
Has a grandiose idea of who he is and what he thinks he can achieve.
Often talks about his need to lead, to be in charge, or to exercise power.
Requires and seeks excessive admiration from others.
Has a sense of entitlement, expecting to be treated as someone special or given priority at all times.
Is interpersonally exploitative of others for personal gain.
Lacks empathy and is unable to recognize the needs or suffering of others.
Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him.
Is arrogant and haughty in behavior or attitude.
Has a tendency to see his problems as unique or more acute than anyone else’s.
Has an exaggerated sense of privilege that allows him to bend rules and break laws.
Is hypersensitive to how he is seen or perceived by others.
Interacting with this individual leaves you irritated, troubled, worried, upset, or anxious.
Tends to overvalue himself and his capabilities in almost all things.
Makes a point of devaluing others as being inferior, incapable, or not worthy.
Has demonstrated little sympathy or empathy for others; nevertheless, expects others to show him endless empathy and support.
Is considered to be or acts like a bully.
Deep emotions appear to be difficult for him to comprehend. Seems emotionally detached at times when deeply felt emotions are most needed.
Has a need to control others and demands total loyalty at all times.
Repeatedly has violated boundaries of rules, privacy, secrecy, or social decorum.
Only sees his own problems and repeatedly ignores the problems or struggles others may have.
Has angry reactions to minor slights—seems to always have an ax to grind.
Seems to lack altruistic qualities—everything is done for a selfish purpose; rarely does anything for the good of others.
Is very thin-skinned, and any criticism is considered a personal attack.
Sees goodness as a weakness.
Has a need to habitually inflate personal accomplishments, deeds, or experiences.
When criticized, seems insecure and tends to lash out with anger or rage.
Acts imperious, not wishing to know what others think, have planned, or are concerned about.
Devalues people who work for him without consideration for their feelings, loyalty, or sacrifices.
Is disinterested in knowing more about you and others and lacks normal curiosity in others. In essence, he only likes to talk about himself.
At times, displays a certain coldness or aloofness that makes you think you really don’t know the true measure of this person.
Is inappropriately boastful of accomplishments and does so with frequency.
Doesn’t ever seem to feel guilty about anything he has done wrong and is unlikely to apologize or to show remorse.
Sees those who disagree with him as “enemies.”
Has resorted to cheating, conning, scheming, embezzling, or othercriminal activity to achieve success.
Is a "wound collector"—constantly looking for and ruminating on social slights and grievances, which he never forgets.
Is often rigid, unbending, and insensitive in his thinking and speaking.
Tries to over-control what others do or think.
Demonstrations of empathy are short-term, superficial, or self-serving.
Doesn’t seem to reciprocate the attention, gratitude, or kindness of others.
Seems to lack tenderness, passion, or softness; everything is seemingly tension-producing or threatening in his life.
Uses insults to establish superiority, dominance, or control.
Becomes indignant when others fail to show absolute loyalty or when they publicly disagree with him.
One of these words usually applies to him: snobbish, disdainful, arrogant, patronizing.
Is unwilling to acknowledge his own mistakes, wrongdoings, bad ideas, or perilous actions.
Believes that others are always seeking to exploit or harm him in some way.
Sees nothing wrong with lying and coopts others to lie for him— lying for him is a way of life.
Holds grudges for a long time and is not forgiving of slights, even after many years.
He habitually questions the intentions of others and has shown to be distrustful of: a spouse, intimate relations, family, or workmates.
Is quick to anger or has been described as having a “very short fuse.”
At times is jealous with little or no justification.
Feels a need to be guarded, secretive, devious, and scheming, or thinks others around him are that way.
Is reluctant or unwilling to entertain alternative views; readily dismisses them.
Sees self as a victim of one or more of these things: life, society, foreigners, minorities, government, family, workers, conspiracies, cabals, et cetera.
Does not hesitate to insult others publicly, to debase them, or to engage in ad hominem attacks.
Is incapable of truly relaxing and seems to be constantly guarded, almost always serious, lacking in humor and joy.
Constantly looks for signs that others are conspiring or planning something against him.
Claims that past failings at work or in relationships have been the fault of others—he is never at fault.
Claims to have perfect recall of events and facts when in fact the information is often faulty, exaggerated, or biased.
His thoughts, beliefs, and prejudices are rigid and inflexible, and he becomes truculent or combative when challenged.
Is needlessly preoccupied with unjustified doubts about the loyalty of others.
Sees himself as excessively self-important or believes he is infallible—completely lacking humility or self-awareness.
There is a generalized anxious feeling of pending doom or that some sort of unspecified harm will befall him.
Seems to view the world in general as a place where one needs to be “on guard” at all times and that others are generally out to “get you” or will lie and deceive.
Often has an unrelenting, one-track mind about this or that issue and can’t seem to let go.
Insists that only he has a clear understanding of the threats that are out there, and in his view there are many.
Is overly demanding, pedantic, or arrogant.
Is highly inflexible in his thinking and stubbornly refuses at times to recognize facts.
Tends to be unromantic, lacking tenderness or empathy in his interpersonal relations.
Is distrustful of people who are different because of religion, ethnicity, place of birth, socioeconomic status, or because they are minorities.
Is all too often hostile, stubborn, or defensive.
Seeks to surround himself with people who only think as he does (other “True Believers” as defined by Eric Hoffer) or who contribute to “groupthink.”
Makes it a habit to frighten others or to make others fear for their safety or well-being by vilifying someone or a group of people.
Often and systematically overvalues himself at the expense of devaluing others.
For him, propaganda and deception are more important and useful than truth.
Is not above using or permitting others to use violence to quell dissent.
Relishes having an enemy to focus on and blame for when things go wrong.
Believes there is always a conspiracy or an individual trying to undermine him.
Recognizes, almost instinctively, that hate is useful, as it unites people in a common cause.
Truth and facts are whatever he spews out at any given moment without regard for facts, reality, truth, or actuality. Mendacity is not an occasional occurrence; it is a way of life.
Add up the traits you have checked off. If you have checked off sixty or more, in all likelihood you are looking at an individual who is inherently distrustful and rigid in his thinking and who also tends to overvalue himself at the expense of others. That is a very toxic combination. Both Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler scored very high in these traits.
What if you work for someone like this, are in a relationship with such a person, you report to someone like this, or this type of individual is in a leadership position over you? Let me be blunt. People like this, severely flawed of character, are not introspective. They think they are flawless. They in fact need a lot of help, obviously—just look at how they behave and what they believe. But they will not seek it, nor will they appreciate your telling them to seek it. I am not a clinician, but most clinicians will tell you that it generally takes “heroic efforts” to help these individuals. With that I concur. But there is another reality: there is no pill, no single guaranteed cure, for these individuals.
Where does that leave us? In a precarious position—because it is we, the rest of us, who in the end must adapt, endure, or distance ourselves so that we do not end up victimized emotionally, psychologically, mentally, spiritually, or financially, as so many people I interviewed were.
People this flawed of character behave in ways that in the end wear us down. Some will say it is unfair to label such individuals, to which I respond: it is axiomatic that we are what we do each day. These individuals are the sum total of their behaviors and their effect on others. If they need help they should get it, but I must remind readers that we, most of us, are not clinicians, and what people severely flawed of character need is professional help. Having said that, I will also remind the reader that you are not on this earth to be a “human chew-toy” for someone who habitually mistreats you. Nor, I might add, do you have a social responsibility in any way to be victimized. Ever.
Someone who has a preponderance of the above traits is going to be at a minimum difficult to live with. As mentioned, they will wear you down. They will not treat you as an equal, and they will curtail your happiness as you know it. Even a small constellation of these behaviors should make you wince.
Now that you know the facts and have a way to validate what you may have experienced, you have to consider your reality. These individuals will not change over time — their behaviors tend to be pervasive and enduring. In a way, this checklist is a warning and now you cannot say you were not warned.
This may seem rather jarring, but the victims usually know best and they taught me over time that you either gird yourself to have a finger constantly in your eye if you are in a relationship with one of these individuals or in the end you will resolve to distance yourself from them and their unctuous anti-social behaviors. Why, what is at stake? Your happiness and well-being. Period. Reason enough.
Evans, Paricia. 2010. The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond. Avon, MA: Adams Media Corporation.
Hoffer, Eric. 1989. The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. New York: Harper & Row.
Hotchkiss, Sandy. 2003. Why is it always about you?: the seven deadly sins of narcissism. New York: Free Press.
Kantor, Martin. 2008. Understanding paranoia: a guide for professionals, families, and sufferers. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
Kernberg, Otto F. 1985. Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism. Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson Inc.
Kernberg, Otto F. 1993. The Psychopathology of hatred: In rage, power and aggression. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Langer, Walter. C. 1972. The mind of Adolf Hitler: The secret wartime report. New York: Basic Books Inc.
Navarro, Joe with Toni Sciarra Poynter. 2014. Dangerous Personalities. Rodale, New York: NY.
Meloy, J. Reid. 1997. Violent Attachments. New Jersey: Jason Aronson, Inc.
Millon, Theodore, & Roger D. Davis. 1996. Disorders of personality: DSM-IV and beyond. New York: Wiley and Sons.
Post, Jerrold M. 2003. The psychological assessment of political leaders. Ann Arbor, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.
Radzinsky, Evard. 1996. Stalin: The first in-depth biography based explosive new documents from Russia’s secret archive. New York: Anchor Books.
Robins, Robert S. & Post, Jerrold M. 1997. Political paranoia: the psychopolitics of hatred. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Twenge, Jean M. & W. Keith Campbell. 2009. Living in the age of entitlement: the narcissism epidemic. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Wilson, K. J. Ed.D. 2006. When Violence Begins at Home: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Ending Domestic Abuse. Alameda, CA: Hunter House, Inc.
Yudofsky, Stuart C. 2005. “Fatal Flaws: Navigating Destructive Relationships with People with Disorders of Personality and Character. American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc. Arlington, VA.