Consider the extreme example of a person exerting all efforts to defame people around them, whether in work or their own social group, collecting innocent emails and letters from people and later trying to use them as an evidence that those people have lied and are corrupt or 'unworthy'.

However, they go to all lengths to protect their own integrity and 'uprightness' by comparing themselves to the so-called liars and unworthy people by always mentioning their own good points etc.

I thought about 'Character assassin' or 'defamer' but it doesn't seem to give the full meaning.

Is their not a word / term used by psychiatrists to describe such a person?


11 Answers 11


A pair of words, that would be more descriptive than an accurate label, could be insecure narcissist. Further, it snugs in under the guise of an "oxymoron", seemingly.

  • I don't think insecure conveys the malicious nature illustrated in the question. sociopath is much more applicable. Especially the first 4 bullet points in particular.
    – user10126
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 18:06

Such a person could be called self righteous.

Although someone could be self righteous without necessarily also being a slanderer, it is often the case that a self righteous person is also critical of the flaws they perceive in others.


That person would be a twofaced, duplicitous, double-dealing, underhanded, backstabbing snake in the grass.


A calumniator or slanderer is defined as someone who maliciously and without reason imputes a crime or fault to another, of which he is innocent. To calumniate means to make maliciously or knowingly false statements about someone.

What you describe is known as "building yourself up by tearing others down." People who engage in that behavior are probably suffering from low self-esteem, but I don't know if there is a psychiatric term that applies to such a person (or if you really should label someone with a psychiatric term).

  • "Calumniator". I like it. Plus it has the advantage that this calumniator probably doesn't know what it means, so will not retaliate when I call him that...
    – GEdgar
    Commented May 1, 2012 at 14:40

At the risk of being dramatic, they sound sociopathic.


"Sneaky" is the best I can think of (behaving in a secret and sometimes dishonest or unpleasant way).


I would call that person a disparager.


  1. To speak of in a slighting or disrespectful way; belittle. See Synonyms at decry.
  2. To reduce in esteem or rank.

dis·parage·ment n. dis·parag·er n. dis·parag·ing·ly adv.

EDIT: Thank you, jwpat7, I did copy this from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/disparager

disparager. (n.d.) The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. (2003). Retrieved May 1 2012 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/disparager

  • 1
    If you copied this from someplace, edit the question and say where the definition is from. Commented May 1, 2012 at 13:31

I agree that "sociopathic" may come closest to an accurate psychological label for the behavior described, but I think that a metaphorical characterization may be even more apt. In that spirit, I recommend "sanctimonious viper." According to Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003), "sanctimonious" means "hypocritically pious or devout," which captures the aspect of false virtuousness, and a "viper" is a venomous snake.


A snake in the grass is an unethical person, someone who is harmful but who does not seem to be.



I think the right word is "Machiavellian", per Thesaurus.com,

...being or acting in accordance with the principles... in which political expediency is placed above morality and the use of craft and deceit to maintain the authority... characterized by subtle or unscrupulous cunning, deception, expediency, or dishonesty...

In the situation you describe, it isn't political ambition, but rather, social rivalry that motivates the offender to discredit others while simultaneously making themselves look like a star. Oh, they get away with it for a while, but it often backfires since...

  1. Most people eventually see through their charade.
  2. Being "social" implies being mutually pleasant, and is the opposite of being cruel or malicious.
  3. There's always one more person to discredit on their constant struggle to rise ahead of others. Eventually, there are enough people that #1 happens.

Maybe "mean" would sum it all up.

  • 1
    I don't think this is a specific enough meaning for the above description. Someone who is mean could be exhibiting any number of cruel behaviours. Commented May 1, 2012 at 11:56

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