Are narcissists highly charming and intelligent?
Almost certainly you know about Sam Vaknin, the famous Internet narcissist who wrote Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited.
In Surviving the Narcissist he writes that most narcissists are "highly charming and intelligent." That's an example of a statement that should set your "Bzzt - Narcissist Talking" alarm off. Not that this statement has no value: you just must consider the source.
I knew a narcissist that virtually no one would have described as anything but anti-charming and stupid. For that reason, he was successful at bringing misery only upon his family. What goes on behind closed doors tends to stay behind closed doors. Since people like this never become popular or get promoted to positions of power and authority over others, they tend to fly beneath our radar in the neighborhood and workplace.
I think the most successful narcissists are (for obvious reasons) those who are intelligent and have learned how to be charming from an early age. After all, narcissism is a form of con artistry, and the smarter the con artist, the more dangerous he or she is. Smart ones exploit and abuse and slander, not just their families, but also their neighbors, co-workers, employees, and rivals. They are climbers. They climb the ladder by tearing those above them down. When they climb high, like Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, or Saddam Hussein, whole nations become their prey.
So I suspect that the conventional wisdom that most narcissists are intelligent is wrong. I think that the unintelligent ones just pass for normal outside the confines of their limited pathological space. Either that, or they are seen to be weird, but not recognized as narcissistic, because people must judge from much less information than when well-developed patterns of narcissistic behavior can be observed outside the home.
Moreover, experience often passes for intelligence. I originally mistook long experience (since early childhood) for brilliance in a narcissist. In a normal person, such cunning as narcissists show would indeed require great intelligence.
But when you consider how a narcissist's mind works and consider that they have been manipulating people ALL THEIR LIVES, even while yet little children, you can see how they have learned by trial and error what tactics produce the results they want. These behavior patterns become ingrained, hard-wired, and are knee-jerk reflexes rather than cunningly devised stratagems.
I always say that it takes intelligence to recognize it in others. Idiots never do. Nevertheless, be as careful to avoid overestimating the intelligence of your narcissist as you are to avoid underestimating it.