Expert view on Cluster B Personalities
Comment on 'Web of Lies'
Dr David A Holmes
Senior Lecturer in Psychology
Director of the Forensic Research Group
Manchester Metropolitan University
During my many years immersed in forensic and clinical psychology, I have always emphasised the importance of
real life case histories to the true understanding of dangerously disordered individuals. Being able to see their
behaviour and thinking played out in the context of daily life enables untrained individuals to become slowly aware
of the uneasy seam between their reality and our own. This is rarely more important than it is in the case of
individuals who are what is termed ‘Cluster B’ personality disordered or even in those whose personality
distortions are just below the level of clinical diagnosis making them less salient but still dangerously
dysfunctional. Often the devil is literally hidden in the detail of the reactions and behaviour of such
individuals, as the inevitable trail of chaos and harm builds in the wake of these self-serving sharks as they
serially manipulate their innocent victims.
The concept of personality assumes that we have a robust and unchanging way of dealing with the world as we move
from situation to situation. Some ‘situationists’ have argued that we are different people in different contexts
with chameleon-like changes to our reactions. However, the evidence for stable personality traits throughout our
lives and situations is overwhelming. In the case of personality disorders, personality traits are very strong and
highly resistant to change to the point of causing distress and undermining the ability to function normally in
occupational and social contexts. Personality disorders can have a profoundly damaging effect on relationships, to
the extent that personal relationship problems are viewed as the ‘litmus test’ for disorders in the
The damage within personal relationships can be very serious with what are termed the Cluster ’B’ disorders,
which include antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder and
narcissistic personality disorder. With this group of disorders, distress and suffering tends to be endured by
those in contact with the disordered, not the personality disordered individual themselves. There is normally
remarkable overlap between the different personality disorders with most sufferers qualifying for two or more
personality disorder diagnoses at the same time, although more often than not these are from the same cluster.
Although, personality disorders as a whole are common at just over 10% of the general population, Cluster B
disorders are rarer, but account for a large proportion of the prison population. Fortunately, narcissistic
personality disorder is possibly the rarest of these. As the name suggests, individuals with this disorder are
highly self-centred, having an unrealistically high opinion of themselves and their status, a pervasive and
persistent grandiosity in all areas of their lives and is not simply showing off to a few friends. They require
constant attention and compliments, but lack genuine empathy for others and thus select acquaintances on the basis
of utility or attentiveness and exploit them without consideration for the other’s feelings or welfare. Thinking
they can only relate to people with high status, which is how they see themselves, and ignore those they perceive
as ordinary. Narcissists will fabricate their lives and lie continually in order to maintain false status.
Most of those with personality disorders know their behaviour is odd but narcissistic individuals lack insight
and are surprised if they fail to get special treatment, attention or praise. They are self-obsessed and devalue
the achievements of others against their own as well as having a serious lack of empathy that is highly destructive
to any relationships they may have, which also suffer from their jealousy and an arrogant sense that they deserve
superior treatment at all times, based on their self proclaimed uniqueness. A bizarre sense of entitlement can lead
to usurping the recognition of others or even their possessions accompanied by aloof arrogance and snobbishness
towards others, including friends. Very sensitive to criticism of themselves, they will retaliate with rage or a
false humility to protect their pride. Narcissistic rage can and has led to homicide.
Elements of this disorder are woven into the character portrayed in this book with aspects of another
personality state also familiar to forensic psychologists, psychopathy. Many psychopathic individuals have
superficial charm and lack the ‘emotional baggage’ of more sensitive people, making the psychopath socially
attractive in the short-term. Having disarmed potential victims with ‘charm’, they will proceed to entertain
themselves by manipulating their prey to gain what they want, be that material, sexual or sadistic satisfaction.
Having indifference to the actual feelings of others, but an acute intellectual awareness of the effects of their
manipulation or intimidation, gives psychopaths a predatory advantage over other criminals as well as the many
innocent victims. In 1835, Pritchard’s use of the phrase ‘moral insanity’ was as apt as the later book title by
Cleckley ‘the mask of sanity’ in capturing the nature of psychopathy.
In courtrooms ‘not being of good character’ tends to refer to the personality disorders described above.
However, the more dangerous personality disordered individual is unlikely to come to the attention of clinicians by
asking for treatment. It is only when their behaviour results in criminal charges that they enter the clinical
forensic radar, usually as prisoners. This is inevitably too late for the poor individuals sucked up into their
world who may suffer for many years unable to comprehend what is wrong with their relationship until desperation
forces escape for the lucky. Thus, it is up to those many innocent and often generous victims to recognise their
situation in order to pull the escape chord. Real life examples such as that contained in this book can reach in to
these situations and perhaps avoid human suffering. Many of the aspects of what is now termed dangerous and severe
personality disorder (DSPD) are evident in the pages of this book, from the characteristic disregard for the truth,
law and feelings of others, to dismissal of the rights of those standing in his way. It may not be necessary to
meet the full criteria for narcissistic personality disorder or psychopathy in order to wreck the lives of others,
but it is vital that potential victims are very aware of all of these warning signs.