On malignant personalities and camouflage

published Oct 11, 2023

The most rabid fans of "fighting for what's true and right" are often the most malevolent people.

On malignant personalities and camouflage

This is a transcript of a thread written by Jonathan Shedler on Twitter, with minor changes made.

One of most important things I've learned:

Severe personality problems find camouflage. No one thinks "I'm a sadist" or "I'm a malignant narcissist".  Rather, they find a belief system / social group that validates their most hateful, destructive impulses, then construes them as virtues.

The most toxic and hateful people in the world are 100% convinced they fight for what is true and right.  They find a way to give free rein to their cruelty, to attack, to treat others cruelly and viciously. And they find allies to cheer them on who also believe they are on the side of all that is true and good.

For psychologists looking for a more theoretical explanation, the psychological processes are:

  • splitting,
  • projection, and
  • projective identification.

Splitting means not recognizing one's own capacity for hate, cruelty, and destructiveness. The person is blind to the bad in themselves.  Instead, they project the badness onto some designated other.

And this other person, via the defense of projection, is now seen as the repository of all that is bad and evil and necessary to destroy. That's the projection. The person now feels fully justified in unleashing their viciousness and hate on the other person, who is now seen (via projection) as someone monstrous who must be destroyed.

If the person who is projected on responds to the provocation with anger, this is now seen as further confirmation of how hateful and destructive they are (this is what is called is projective identification).

The end result is that the person can deny their own sadism, cruelty, and hate—while simultaneously acting it out without restraint — and feel themselves to be 100% on the side of truth and righteousness as they do it.