Malignant

Self Love

Narcissism Revisited

 

1st EDITION

8th Revised Printing

 

 

Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

The Author is NOT a Mental Health Professional.

The Author is certified in Counselling Techniques by Brainbench.

 

 

Editing and Design:

Lidija Rangelovska

 

 

A Narcissus Publications Imprint

Prague & Skopje 2007

 

 

 

 

© 1999-2007 Copyright Lidija Rangelovska

All rights reserved. This book, or any part thereof, may not be used or

reproduced in any manner without written permission from:

Lidija Rangelovska – write to:

[email protected] or to

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Literary agents and publishers, please contact Lidija Rangelovska.

 

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ISBN: 978-9989-929-02-1

Print ISBN: 978-80-238-3384-3

 

Created by:

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REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA

 

"Sam Vaknin is the world's leading expert on narcissism."

Tim Hall, New York Press, Volume 16, Issue 7, February 12, 2003

 

"Vaknin's a respected expert on malignant narcissists… He set about to know everything there is about the psychopathic narcissist."

Ian Walker, ABC Radio National Background Briefing, July 18, 2004

 

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Lisa Angelettie M.S.W., BellaOnline's Mental Health Editor "What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder"

 

"If you wish to get under the skin of a narcissist, if you wish to get to know how he thinks and feels and why he behaves as he does, then this is the book for you."

Dr. Anthony Benis, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York

Author "Towards Self and Sanity – On the Genetic Origins of the Human Character"

 

"… This book has an important purpose. I am sure it will be appreciated in a library, classroom or among the mental health profession."

Katherine Theriault, Inscriptions Magazine, Vol. 2, Issue 20

 

"Sam Vaknin has written THE book on narcissism. Read 'Malignant Self Love' so you will understand that you are NOT crazy, you are just embedded in a crazy making relationship."

Liane J. Leedom, M.D., psychiatrist and Author of "Just Like His Father?"

 

"If you want to understand Narcissistic Personality Disorder from the best, don't look any further. I cannot recommend this book enough to those of you who have this disorder, to families and friends who are trying to understand. Dr. Vaknin has this disorder himself and examines this disorder closely."

Patty Pheil, MSW, Webmistress www.mental-health-today.com

 

"Sam Vaknin's study of narcissism is truly insightful. The author has done probably more than anyone else to educate others to this poorly understood condition. In this, his twelfth book, he shares his considerable knowledge and experience of narcissism in a comprehensive yet easy to read style."

Tim Field, late Author and Webmaster http://www.bullyonline.org/workbully

 

"Sam has plugged all the loopholes, exposed all the plots, and introduced a new language to confront the narcissist. Vaknin has composed OVER 100 Frequently Asked Questions, Essays and more, contained in a volume of 600 pages! Sam has designed Malignant Self Love as a 'hands-on' tool that can immediately bring relief. If you want to breathe again, if you are at your wits end, if everything has been tried and failed, if you NEED a change, then Malignant Self Love can give you your life back. This book is a lifesaver!"

Kathy Stringer, Webmistress of "Kathy's Mental Health Review" http://www.toddlertime.com

 

"I love to read Dr. Sam's material. He lets you into his mind (and what a mind he has!). This book is required reading for any co-dependent – to understand how the other side works."

Dr. Irene Matiatos, Webmisress of Verbal Abuse http://drirene.com

 

"For many years narcissism was extremely difficult to describe. But now, for the first time, Dr. Vaknin offers much-needed first hand account of what Narcissistic Personality Disorder is like. Malignant Self Love offers insight and clarity into a complex and difficult to describe disorder."

Howard Brown, Webmaster www.4therapy.com

 

"The 6000+ members at our MSN learning, resource and discussion forums enthusiastically and unanimously recommend Dr. Vaknin's book Malignant Self Love Narcissism Revisited. It is an essential and crucial 'Must Read'. Dr. Vaknin dissects and describes not only the mind of the narcissist but what the narcissist's targets/victims can do about it. The result: Our members go zooming up the learning curve of understanding the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Our members say the knowledge gained is essential for their lawyers who successfully counsel and litigate in cases where narcissists are involved, and our members' therapists who treat both narcissists and their victims and families."

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C  O  N  T  E  N  T  S

 

Throughout this book click on blue-lettered text to navigate

to different chapters or to access online resources.

 

Foreword

 

Prologue

 

Introduction – The Habit of Identity

 

The Narcissistic Personality Disorder

A Primer on Narcissism and the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

Bibliography

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Narcissism – The Disorder

FAQ # 1:

The Narcissist's Poor Prognosis

FAQ # 2:

Pathological Narcissism – A Dysfunction or a Blessing?

FAQ # 3:

The Energy of Self

FAQ # 4:

Self-Love and Narcissism

FAQ # 5:

Self-Defeating and Self-Destructive Behaviours

FAQ # 6:

Ideas of Reference

FAQ # 7:

Grandiose Fantasies

FAQ # 8:

Grandiosity Hangover and Narcissist Baiting

FAQ # 9:

Depression and the Narcissist

FAQ # 10:

Narcissistic Rage – Anger as a Source of Personality Disorder

FAQ # 11:

Gender and the Narcissist

FAQ # 12:

Homosexual  and Transsexual Narcissists

FAQ # 13:

Addiction to Fame and Celebrity

FAQ # 14:

Conspicuous Existence

FAQ # 15:

The Narcissist's Reaction to Deficient Narcissistic Supply

FAQ # 16:

The Delusional Way Out

FAQ # 17:

The Compulsive Acts of the Narcissist

FAQ # 18:

Narcissistic Routines

FAQ # 19:

The Unstable Narcissist

FAQ # 20:

Do Narcissists Have Emotions?

FAQ # 21:

The Inappropriate Affect

FAQ # 22:

The Ubiquitous Narcissist

FAQ # 23:

The Narcissist as a Sadist

FAQ # 24:

Other People's Pain

FAQ # 25:

The Psychology of Torture

FAQ # 26:

Multiple Grandiosity

FAQ # 27:

False Modesty

FAQ # 28:

Warped Reality and Retroactive Emotional Content

FAQ # 29:

Narcissistic Signal, Stimulus and Hibernation Mini-Cycles

FAQ # 30:

The Narcissistic Pendulum and the Pathological Narcissistic Space

FAQ # 31:

The Inanimate as a Source of Narcissistic Supply – Narcissistic Branding and Narcissistic Contagion

FAQ # 32:

The Dual Role of the False Self

FAQ # 33:

The Stripped Ego

FAQ # 34:

The Split-off Ego

FAQ # 35:

The Serious Narcissist

FAQ # 36:

Narcissists, Disagreements and Criticism

FAQ # 37:

Transformations of Aggression

FAQ # 38:

Narcissistic Humiliation

FAQ # 39:

The Midlife Narcissist

FAQ # 40:

To Age with Grace

FAQ # 41:

The Narcissist and Introspection

FAQ # 42:

The Losses of the Narcissist

FAQ # 43:

Waiting for Him to Get Better

FAQ # 44:

Can a Narcissist Help Himself?

FAQ # 45:

Reconditioning the Narcissist

FAQ # 46:

Treatment Modalities and Therapies

FAQ # 47:

Narcissistic Mirroring

FAQ # 48:

The Development of the Narcissist

FAQ # 49:

The Narcissist's Mother

FAQ # 50:

The Inverted Narcissist

FAQ # 51:

Narcissists, Inverted Narcissists and Schizoids

FAQ # 52:

Narcissists, Medications and Chemical Imbalances

FAQ # 53:

Myths about Narcissism

FAQ # 54:

The Selfish Gene – The Genetic Underpinnings of Narcissism

FAQ # 55:

Narcissism – The Psychopathological Default

FAQ # 56:

Narcissism, Other Mental Health Disorders, Substance Abuse, and Reckless Behaviours

(Co-Morbidity and Dual Diagnosis)

FAQ # 57:

Eating Disorders and the Narcissist

FAQ # 58:

Can the Narcissist Have a Meaningful Life?

FAQ # 59:

A Case Study of an Adolescent Narcissist

FAQ # 60:

The Narcissist's Reaction to This Text

 

Narcissism and Society

FAQ # 61:

A Dream Interpreted

FAQ # 62:

How to Recognize a Narcissist?

FAQ # 63:

Interacting with a Narcissist

FAQ # 64:

The Weapon of Language

FAQ # 65:

Exploitation by a Narcissist

FAQ # 66:

The Narcissist's Victims

FAQ # 67:

Narcissism by Proxy

FAQ # 68:

Facilitating Narcissism

FAQ # 69:

Narcissists in Positions of Authority

FAQ # 70:

For the Love of God

FAQ # 71:

The Narcissist and Social Institutions

FAQ # 72:

Collective Narcissism – Narcissism, Culture and Society

FAQ # 73:

The Narcissists in Court

FAQ # 74:

The Narcissist in the Workplace

FAQ # 75:

Responsibility and Other Matters

FAQ # 76:

The Accountable Narcissist

FAQ # 77:

Crime and Punishment: The Never Repenting Narcissist

FAQ # 78:

Narcissists, Group Behaviour and Terrorism

FAQ # 79:

Is the Narcissist Ever Sorry?

FAQ # 80:

A Letter about Trust

FAQ # 81:

Traumas as Social Interactions

FAQ # 82:

The Guilt of Others

FAQ # 83:

Narcissistic Confinement

FAQ # 84:

Narcissistic Allocation

FAQ # 85:

Narcissistic Immunity

FAQ # 86:

Narcissists, Love and Healing

FAQ # 87:

Vindictive Narcissists

FAQ # 88:

Narcissists as Mass and Serial Killers

FAQ # 89:

Narcissists, Narcissistic Supply and Sources of Supply

 

Narcissists and Family

FAQ # 90:

How to Cope with a Narcissist?

FAQ # 91:

Narcissists and Women

FAQ # 92:

The Spouse/Mate/Partner of the Narcissist

FAQ # 93:

Investing in a Narcissist

FAQ # 94:

The Double Reflection – Narcissistic Couples and Narcissistic Types

FAQ # 95:

Narcissistic Parents

FAQ # 96:

Narcissists and Children

FAQ # 97:

The Narcissist and His Family

FAQ # 98:

Narcissists, Sex and Fidelity – The Somatic and the Cerebral Narcissist

FAQ # 99:

The Extra-Marital Narcissist

FAQ # 100:

Mourning the Narcissist

FAQ # 101:

Surviving the Narcissist

FAQ # 102:

The Dead Parents

 

The Mind of the Narcissist

Chapter One:

The Soul of a Narcissist – The State of the Art

Chapter Two:

Being Special

Chapter Three:

Uniqueness and Intimacy

Chapter Four:

The Workings of a Narcissist – A Phenomenology

Chapter Five:

The Tortured Self – The Inner World of the Narcissist

Chapter Six:

The Emotional Involvement Preventive Measures

 

The Author

 

 

Online index

Go here: http://samvak.tripod.com/siteindex.html

 

 

F O R E W O R D

 

 

Hello. Recognize me? No? Well, you see me all the time. You read my books, watch me on the big screen, feast on my art, cheer at my games, use my inventions, vote me into office, follow me into battle, take notes at my lectures, laugh at my jokes, marvel at my successes, admire my appearance, listen to my stories, discuss my politics, enjoy my music, excuse my faults, envy me my blessings. No? Still doesn't ring a bell? Well, you have seen me. Of that I am positive. In fact, if there is one thing I am absolutely sure of, it is that. You have seen me.

Perhaps our paths crossed more privately. Perhaps I am the one who came along and built you up when you were down, employed you when you needed a job, showed the way when you were lost, offered confidence when you were doubting, made you laugh when you were blue, sparked your interest when you were bored, listened to you and understood, saw you for what you really are, felt your pain and found the answers, made you want to be alive. Of course you recognize me. I am your inspiration, your role model, your saviour, your leader, your best friend, the one you aspire to emulate, the one whose favour makes you glow.

But I can also be your worst nightmare. First I build you up because that's what you need. Your skies are blue. Then, out of the blue, I start tearing you down. You let me do it because that's what you are used to. You are dumfounded. But I was wrong to take pity on you. You really are incompetent, disrespectful, untrustworthy, immoral, ignorant, inept, egotistical, constrained, disgusting. You are a social embarrassment, an unappreciative partner, an inadequate parent, a disappointment, a sexual flop, a financial liability. I tell you this to your face. I must. It is my right, because it is. I behave, at home and away, in any way I want to, with total disregard for conventions, mores, or the feelings of others. It is my right, because it is. I lie to your face, without a twitch or a twitter, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. In fact, my lies are not lies at all. They are the truth, my truth. And you believe them, because you do, because they do not sound or feel like lies, because to do otherwise would make you question your own sanity, which you have a tendency to do anyway, because from the very beginning of our relationship you placed your trust and hopes in me, derived your energy, direction, stability, and confidence from me and from your association with me. So what's the problem if the safe haven I provide comes with a price? Surely I am worth it and then some.

Run to our friends. Go. See what that will get you. Ridicule. People believe what they see and what they see is the same wonderful me that you also saw and still do. What they also see is the very mixed up person that you have obviously become. The more you plead for understanding, the more convinced they are that the crazy one is you, the more isolated you feel, and the harder you try to make things right again, not by changing me but by accepting my criticisms and by striving to improve yourself. Could it be that you were wrong about me in the beginning? So wrong as that? How do you think our friends will react if you insist that they are also wrong about me? After all, they know that it really is you who have thwarted my progress, tainted my reputation, and thrown me off course.

I disappoint you? Outrageous! It is you who have disappointed me. Look at all he frustrations you cause me. Lucky for you, I have an escape from all this, and fortunately my reputation provides enough insulation from the outside world so I can indulge in this escape with impunity. What escape? Why, those eruptions of rage you dread and fear. Ah, it feels so good to rage. It is the expression of and the confirmation of my power over you, my absolute superiority. Lying feels good too, for the same reason, but nothing compares to the pleasure of exploding for no material reason and venting my anger with total abandon, all the time a spectator at my own show and at your helplessness, pain, fear, frustration, and dependence. In fact my raging is precisely what allows me to stay with you. Go ahead. Tell our friends about it. See if they can imagine what it's like, let alone believe it. The more outrageous the things you say about me, the more convinced they are that it is you who have taken a turn for the worse. And don't expect much more from your therapist either. You may tell him this or that, but what he sees when I visit him is something quite different. So what's the therapist to believe? After all, it was you who came for help. No! That's what this is all about. No! That simple two-letter word that, regardless of how bad I am, you simply cannot say. Who knows? You might even acquire some of my behaviour yourself.

But you know what? This may come as a shock, but I can also be my own worst nightmare. I can and I am. You see, at heart my life is nothing more than illusion-clad confusion. I have no idea why I do what I do, nor do I care to find out. In fact, the mere notion of asking the question is so repulsive to me that I employ all of my resources to repel it. I reconstruct facts, fabricate illusions, act them out, and thus create my own reality. It is a precarious state of existence indeed, so I am careful to include enough demonstrable truth in my illusions to ensure their credibility. And I am forever testing that credibility on you and on the reactions of others. Fortunately my real attributes and accomplishments are in sufficient abundance to fuel my illusions seemingly forever. And modern society, blessed/cursed modern society, values most what I do best and thus serves as my accomplice. Even I get lost in my own illusions, swept away by my own magic.

So, not to worry if you still do not recognize me. I don't recognize me either. In fact, I am not really sure who I am. That's probably a question you never ask of yourself. Yet I wonder about it all the time. Perhaps I am not too different from everyone else, just better. After all, that's the feedback I get. My admirers certainly wish they were me. They just don't have the gifts I have, nor the courage I have to express them. That's what the universe is telling me.

Then again, the universe or my universe? As long as the magic of my illusions works on me too, there really is no need for distinction. All I need is an abundant fan club to stay on top of it all. So I am constantly taking fan club inventory, testing the loyalty of present members with challenges of abuse, writing off defectors with total indifference, and scouting the landscape for new recruits. Do you see my dilemma? I use people who are dependent on me to keep my illusions alive. So really it is I who am dependent on them. I need them to tell me that I don't need them. Sound crazy? It is. And at times it throws me into a rage. But even the rage, that orgasmic release of pain and anger, works better with an audience. On some level I am aware of my illusions, but to admit that would spoil the magic. And that I couldn't bear. So I proclaim that what I do is of no consequence and no different from what others do, and thus I create an illusion about my creating illusions. So, no, I don't recognize me any better than you do. I wouldn't dare. Like my fans, I marvel at my own being. Then again, sometimes I wish that I were not the person I am. You find that confusing? How do you think it makes me feel? I need my own magic to stay afloat. Sometimes others like me recruit me into their magic. But that's ok. As long as we feed off of each other, who's the worse for wear? It only confirms my illusion about my illusions: that I am no different from most other people, just a bit better.

But I am different and we both know it, although neither one of us dares to admit it. Therein lies the root of my hostility. I tear you down because in reality I am envious of you because I am different. At some haunting level, I see my magic for what it is and realize that people around me function just fine without any "magic". This terrifies me. Panic stricken, I try all my old tricks: displays of my talents, unnecessary deceptions, self-serving distortions, skilful seductions, ludicrous projections, frightening rages, whatever. Normally, that works. But if it fails, watch out. Like a solar-powered battery in darkness, my fire goes out and I cease to exist. Destruction sets in.

That is the key to understanding me. Most people strive for goals and feel good when they approach them. They move toward something positive. If they get there, or even close, receive recognition, enjoy the moment, and show their enjoyment, it is the genuine celebration of genuine self-worth. Even though it may invoke envy or criticism of self-aggrandizement, it is still a real expression of what they really appreciate in who they are and what they do. It is, in a word, real.

Not so for me. I move in the same direction but my movement is not toward something positive but away from something negative, something unreal. That's why I never stop, am never content, no matter what I achieve. I never get "there" because there is no "there" for me to get. That negative thing seems to follow me around like a shadow. I dowse myself in the light of praise and the light fades, but that's all it does. Like a moth, I renew the chase, again and again, and each time I succumb to it, again and again.

Can you tell the difference between the real thing and me, between people who genuinely enjoy celebrating themselves and someone like me who merely pretends to? Usually not. The difference, you see, is not in the behaviour you observe. It's in the motivation. Sure, I look like them and they look like me. But we are not the same. Not at all.

If by chance you are witness to one of my inexplicable Jeckyll-and-Hyde personality changes, you might suspect that something is amiss. But you quickly pass it off as an exception to the rule, for I am quick to revert to "normal". Witnessing several changes might make you pause a little longer. But it takes an awful lot before you truly entertain the frightening possibility that these abrupt changes might not be the exception, rather the rule. But then what? You – a self-doubter by nature – might be the only one to see behind the mask. Alone with your secret, it will drive you mad.

Where did it come from, this negativity? Probably from before I learned to talk. When you were exploring your world for the first time, with the usual little toddler mishaps, your mother kept a careful eye on you, intervened when she saw you heading for danger, and comforted you when you made a mistake, even if you cried. Well, that's not how it was for me. My mother's expectations of me were much higher. Mistakes were mistakes and crying was not the way to get her approval. That required being perfect, so that's exactly what I become. Not the little awkward toddler that I was, but my mother's model child. Not the brave and curious little person that I really was, but the fearful personification of my mother's ideal.

What you were experiencing through your little mishaps and mistakes were small doses of shame. What you were learning from your quick recoveries was shame repair. At first your mother did most of the repairing. Through repetition, you gradually learned how to do it by yourself. Shame repair brain circuitry was being laid down that would carry you for the rest of your life. I had no such luck. I simply did not acquire that skill when nature had intended my brain to acquire it.

Instead I acquired something else: a sense of needlessness. That's right, needlessness. Since Mother wouldn't help me where I needed it most, I learned to pretend that I did not need her. I became tough, self-assured, a know-it-all, a do-it-all, an achiever, a leader. And you know what? It worked. By pretending not to need Mother, I got what I needed from her, her love. Well, at least a semblance of love, in the form of approval and encouragement. Naturally, I tried this out on the rest of the world, and it worked again. All I needed to do was show others that I did not need them. How? By pretending, of course. Pretending that I knew more and could do more than they did, that I was above the rules of accepted behaviour, that I was special, that I, like Peter Pan, could do and get away with anything I wanted to.

And they played along, perfectly, with all the affirmations needed to sustain the show. It didn't work on everybody, of course. It was usually the neediest who were drawn to my needlessness, so I became an expert at sniffing them out within seconds. An illusion? Sure. But by then that's what I had become. Exploitation? Right again. But they were exploiting me too. I gave them what they needed and they followed behind me like obedient sheep. Just as you do to this day! Little did they know that I needed them every bit as much as they needed me. But there was no way I could ever admit that. For most people, to need others is normal, an accepted part of who they are, of being human. For me, to need anything is to accept that my needlessness is all a sham. If that dissolves, there is nothing left. At least that's what I fear. The sense of needlessness is my addiction. Am I ashamed of that? Yes, I am. But even greater is my fear of the shame I might experience in facing life without it. No one enjoys shame. But most people can deal with it. Not me. I fear it the way you fear snakes. You will go to great lengths to avoid stepping on a snake. I go to great lengths to avoid stepping on shame.

How many others like me are there? More than you might think, and our numbers are increasing. Take twenty people off the street and you might well find one whose mind ticks so much like mine that you could consider us clones. Impossible, you say. It is simply not possible for that many people – highly accomplished, respected, and visible people – to be out there replacing reality with illusions, each in the same way and for reasons they know not why. It is simply not possible for so many shame-phobic robots of havoc and chaos, all fitting the same description, to function daily midst other educated, intelligent, and experienced individuals, and pass for normal. It is simply not possible for such an aberration of human cognition and behaviour to infiltrate and infect the population in such numbers and such similarity, virtually undetected by the radar of mental health professionals. It is simply not possible for so much similar visible positive to contain so much concealed similar negative. It is simply not possible.

But it is. That is the enlightenment of Narcissism Revisited by Sam Vaknin. Sam is himself one such clone. What distinguishes him is his uncharacteristic courage to confront, and his uncanny understanding of, that which makes us tick, himself included. Not only does Sam dare ask and then answer the question we clones avoid like the plague, he does so with relentless, laser-like precision. Read his book. Take your seat at the double-headed microscope and let Sam guide you through the dissection. Like a brain surgeon operating on himself, Sam explores and exposes the alien among us, hoping beyond hope for a resectable tumour but finding instead each and every cell teeming with the same resistant virus. The operation is long and tedious, and at times frightening and hard to believe. Read on. The parts exposed are as they are, despite what may seem hyperbolic or farfetched. Their validity might not hit home until later, when coupled with memories of past events and experiences.

I am, as I said, my own worst nightmare. True, the world is replete with my contributions, and I am lots of fun to be around. And true, most contributions like mine are not the result of troubled souls. But many more than you might want to believe are. And if by chance you get caught in my web, I can make your life a living hell. But remember this. I am in that web too. The difference between you and me is that you can get out.

Ken Heilbrunn, M.D.

Seattle, Washington, USA

[email protected]

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P R O L O G U E

 

 

I met Sam on an Internet list about 5 years ago. I'd been studying personality disorders and narcissism at the time, looking at it from Jungian, spiritual, and literary points of view as well as psychological, and I was just not too terribly impressed with the psychological state of the art on those topics.

Sam invited me to visit his site, and without knowing him from Adam, I just wrongly assumed that he was one more run-of-the-mill shrink writing standard stuff about narcissism. I replied something like, "No, that won't be necessary, I am the only person in the whole world who truly understands narcissism" – a supremely narcissistic reply, in other words.

I went ahead and visited his site anyway, and was most impressed. I e-mailed him back then, and told him of my mistake, and said I thought his work was way ahead of the standard psychological writings on the subject. You just can't understand something as complex and subtle as narcissism without integrating your feelings, your soul and your heart with it, and the supposedly "objective" stuff written by professionals was just missing key dimensions that made it flat and cold "dead information" instead of "living knowledge".

Sam's writing on the subject pulsated with heat, it ran red with blood, it crackled with flames of passion, it cried out in agony. Sam KNEW narcissism like the fish knows the water and the eagle knows the air, because he had lived it. He described it's small insignificant currents, he knew what it does when the weather changes, he knew exactly what happens to little frogs, snakes and crickets whenever they fall into the stream. Most psychologists only know ABOUT narcissism – Sam UNDERSTANDS it.

Paul Shirley, MSW

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I N T R O D U C T I O N

 

The Habit of Identity

 

 

Warning and Disclaimer

The contents of this book are not meant to substitute for professional help and counselling. The readers are discouraged from using it for diagnostic or therapeutic ends. The diagnosis and treatment of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder can only be done by professionals specifically trained and qualified to do so – which the author is not. The author is NOT a mental health professional, though he is certified by Brainbench in Mental Health Counselling Techniques.

In a famous experiment, students were asked to take a lemon home and to get used to it. Three days later, they were able to single out "their" lemon from a pile of rather similar ones. They seemed to have bonded. Is this the true meaning of love, bonding, coupling? Do we simply get used to other human beings, pets, or objects?

Habit forming in humans is reflexive. We change ourselves and our environment in order to attain maximum comfort and well being. It is the effort that goes into these adaptive processes that forms a habit. The habit is intended to prevent us from constant experimenting and risk taking. The greater our well being, the better we function and the longer we survive.

Actually, when we get used to something or to someone – we get used to ourselves. In the object of the habit we see a part of our history, all the time and effort we had put into it. It is an encapsulated version of our acts, intentions, emotions and reactions. It is a mirror reflecting that part in us which formed the habit in the first place. Hence, the feeling of comfort: we really feel comfortable with our own selves through the agency of our habitual objects.

Because of this, we tend to confuse habits with identity. When asked WHO they are, most people resort to communicating their habits. They describe their work, their loved ones, their pets, their hobbies, or their material possessions. Yet, surely, all of these do not constitute identity! Removing them does not change who we are. They are habits and they make people comfortable and relaxed. But they are not part of one's identity in the truest, deepest sense.

Still, it is this simple mechanism of deception that binds people together. A mother feels that her offspring are part of her identity because she is so used to them that her well-being depends on their existence and availability. Thus, any threat to her children is perceived by her as a threat to her own Self. Her reaction is, therefore, strong and enduring and can be recurrently elicited.

The truth, of course, is that her children ARE a part of her identity in a superficial manner. Removing them will make her a different person, but only in the shallow, phenomenological sense of the word. Her deep-set, true identity will not change as a result. Children do die at times and the mother does go on living, essentially unchanged.

But what is this kernel of identity that I am referring to? This immutable entity which is who we are and what we are and which, ostensibly, is not influenced by the death of our loved ones? What can resist the breakdown of habits that die hard?

It is our personality. This elusive, loosely interconnected, interacting, pattern of reactions to our changing environment. Like the Brain, it is difficult to define or to capture. Like the Soul, many believe that it does not exist, that it is a fictitious convention.

Yet, we know that we do have a personality. We feel it, we experience it. It sometimes encourages us to do things – at other times, it prevents us from doing them. It can be supple or rigid, benign or malignant, open or closed. Its power lies in its networked looseness. It is able to combine, recombine and permute in hundreds of unforeseeable ways. It metamorphoses and the constancy of these changes is what gives us a sense of identity.

Actually, when the personality is rigid to the point of being unable to change in reaction to shifting circumstances – we say that it is disordered. One has a personality disorder when one's habits substitute for one's identity. Such a person identifies himself with his environment, taking behavioural, emotional, and cognitive cues exclusively from it. His inner world is, so to speak, vacated, his True Self merely an apparition.

Such a person is incapable of loving and of living. He is incapable of loving because to love another one must first love oneself. And, in the absence of a Self that is impossible. And, in the long-term, he is incapable of living because life is a struggle towards multiple goals, a striving, a drive at something. In other words: life is change. He who cannot change, does not live.

What is Personality and What is Normal?

In their opus magnum "Personality Disorders in Modern Life", Theodore Millon and Roger Davis define personality as:

"(A) complex pattern of deeply embedded psychological characteristics that are expressed automatically in almost every area of psychological functioning." [p. 2]

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)) IV-TR [2000], published by the American Psychiatric Association, defines personality traits as:

"(E)nduring patterns of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and oneself that are exhibited in a wide range of social and personal contexts." [p. 686]

Laymen often confuse and confute "personality" with "character" and "temperament".

Our temperament is the biological-genetic template that interacts with our environment.

Our temperament is a set of in-built dispositions we are born with. It is mostly unalterable (though recent studies demonstrate that the brain is far more plastic and elastic than we thought).

In other words, our temperament is our nature.

Our character is largely the outcome of the process of socialization, the acts and imprints of our environment and nurture on our psyche during the formative years (0-6 years and in adolescence).

Our character is the set of all acquired characteristics we posses, often judged in a cultural-social context.

Sometimes the interplay of all these factors results in an abnormal personality.

Personality disorders are dysfunctions of our whole identity, tears in the fabric of who we are. They are all-pervasive because our personality is ubiquitous and permeates each and every one of our mental cells.

In the background lurks the question: what constitutes normal behaviour? Who is normal?

There is the statistical response: the average and the common are normal. But it is an unsatisfactory and incomplete answer. Conforming to social edicts and mores does not guarantee normalcy. Think about anomic societies and periods of history such as Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Russia. Model citizens in these hellish environments were the criminal and the sadist.

Rather than look to the outside for a clear definition, many mental health professionals ask: is the patient functioning and happy (ego-syntonic)? If he or she is both then all is well and normal. Abnormal traits, behaviours, and personalities are, therefore defined as those traits, behaviours, and personalities that are dysfunctional and cause subjective distress.

But, of course, this definition falls flat on its face at the slightest scrutiny. Many evidently mentally ill people are rather happy and reasonably functional.

Some scholars reject the concept of "normalcy" altogether. The anti-psychiatry movement object to the medicalization and pathologization of whole swathes of human conduct. Others prefer to study the disorders themselves rather to "go metaphysical" by trying to distinguish them from an imaginary and ideal state of being "mentally healthy".

I subscribe to the later approach. I much prefer to delve into the phenomenology of mental health disorders: their traits, characteristics, and impact on others.

Appendix for Mental Health Professionals

The Myth of Mental Illness

"You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird… So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing – that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something."

[Richard Feynman, Physicist and 1965 Nobel Prize laureate (1918-1988)]

"You have all I dare say heard of the animal spirits and how they are transfused from father to son etcetera etcetera – well you may take my word that nine parts in ten of a man's sense or his nonsense, his successes and miscarriages in this world depend on their motions and activities, and the different tracks and trains you put them into, so that when they are once set a-going, whether right or wrong, away they go cluttering like hey-go-mad."

[Lawrence Sterne (1713-1758), "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman", 1759]

Overview

Someone is considered mentally "ill" if:

1. His conduct rigidly and consistently deviates from the typical, average behaviour of all other people in his culture and society that fit his profile (whether this conventional behaviour is moral or rational is immaterial), or

2. His judgement and grasp of objective, physical reality is impaired, and

3. His conduct is not a matter of choice but is innate and irresistible, and

4. His behaviour causes him or others discomfort, and is

5. Dysfunctional, self-defeating, and self-destructive even by his own yardsticks.

Descriptive criteria aside, what is the ESSENCE of mental disorders? Are they merely physiological disorders of the brain, or, more precisely of its chemistry? If so, can they be cured by restoring the balance of substances and secretions in that mysterious organ? And, once equilibrium is reinstated – is the illness "gone" or is it still lurking there, "under wraps", waiting to erupt? Are psychiatric problems inherited, rooted in faulty genes (though amplified by environmental factors) – or brought on by abusive or wrong nurturance?

These questions are the domain of the "medical" school of mental health.

Others cling to the spiritual view of the human psyche. They believe that mental ailments amount to the metaphysical discomposure of an unknown medium – the soul. Theirs is a holistic approach, taking in the patient in his or her entirety, as well as his milieu.

The members of the functional school regard mental health disorders as perturbations in the proper, statistically "normal", behaviours and manifestations of "healthy" individuals, or as dysfunctions. The "sick" individual – ill at ease with himself (ego-dystonic) or making others unhappy (deviant) – is "mended" when rendered functional again by the prevailing standards of his social and cultural frame of reference.

In a way, the three schools are akin to the trio of blind men who render disparate descriptions of the very same elephant. Still, they share not only their subject matter – but, to a counter intuitively large degree, a faulty methodology.

As the renowned anti-psychiatrist, Thomas Szasz, of the State University of New York, notes in his article "The Lying Truths of Psychiatry", mental health scholars, regardless of academic predilection, infer the aetiology of mental disorders from the success or failure of treatment modalities.

This form of "reverse engineering" of scientific models is not unknown in other fields of science, nor is it unacceptable if the experiments meet the criteria of the scientific method. The theory must be all-inclusive (anamnetic), consistent, falsifiable, logically compatible, monovalent, and parsimonious. Psychological "theories" – even the "medical" ones (the role of Serotonin and Dopamine in mood disorders, for instance) – are usually none of these things.

The outcome is a bewildering array of ever-shifting mental health "diagnoses" expressly centred around Western civilization and its standards (example: the ethical objection to suicide). Neurosis, a historically fundamental "condition" vanished after 1980. Homosexuality, according to the American Psychiatric Association, was a pathology prior to 1973. Seven years later, narcissism was declared a "personality disorder", almost seven decades after it was first described by Freud.

The Biochemistry and Genetics of Mental Health

Certain mental health afflictions are either correlated with a statistically abnormal biochemical activity in the brain – or are ameliorated with medication. Yet the two FACTS are not ineludibly facets of THE SAME underlying phenomenon. In other words, that a given medicine reduces or abolishes certain symptoms does not necessarily mean they were CAUSED by the processes or substances affected by the drug administered. Causation is only one of many possible connections and chains of events.

To designate a pattern of behaviour as a mental health disorder is a value judgement, or at best a statistical observation. Such designation is effected regardless of the facts of brain science.

Moreover, correlation is not causation. Deviant brain or body biochemistry (once called "polluted animal spirits") do exist – but are they truly the roots of mental perversion? Nor is it clear which triggers what: do the aberrant neurochemistry or biochemistry cause mental illness – or the other way around?

That psychoactive medication alters behaviour and mood is indisputable. So do illicit and legal drugs, certain foods, and all interpersonal interactions. That the changes brought about by prescription are desirable – is debatable and involves tautological thinking. If a certain pattern of behaviour is described as (socially) "dysfunctional" or (psychologically) "sick" – clearly, every change would be welcomed as "healing" and every agent of transformation would be called a "cure".

The same applies to the alleged heredity of mental illness. Single genes or gene complexes are frequently "associated" with mental health diagnoses, personality traits, or behaviour patterns. But too little is known to establish irrefutable sequences of causes-and-effects. Even less is proven about the interaction of nature and nurture, genotype and phenotype, the plasticity of the brain and the psychological impact of trauma, abuse, upbringing, role models, peers, and other environmental elements.

Nor is the distinction between psychotropic substances and talk therapy that clear-cut. Words and the interaction with the therapist also affect the brain, its processes and chemistry – albeit more slowly and, perhaps, more profoundly and irreversibly. Medicines – as David Kaiser reminds us in "Against Biologic Psychiatry" [Psychiatric Times, Volume XIII, Issue 12, December 1996] – treat symptoms, not the underlying processes that yield them.

The Variance of Mental Disease

If mental illnesses are bodily and empirical, they should be invariant both temporally and spatially, across cultures and societies. This, to some degree, is, indeed, the case. Psychological diseases are not context dependent – but the pathologizing of certain behaviours is. Suicide, substance abuse, narcissism, eating disorders, antisocial ways, schizotypal symptoms, depression, even psychosis are considered sick by some cultures – and utterly normative or advantageous in others.

This was to be expected. The human mind and its dysfunctions are alike around the world. But values differ from time to time and from one place to another. Hence, disagreements about the propriety and desirability of human actions and inaction are bound to arise in a symptom-based diagnostic system.

As long as the PSEUDO-MEDICAL definitions of mental health disorders continue to rely exclusively on signs and symptoms – i.e., mostly on observed or reported behaviours – they remain vulnerable to such discord and devoid of much-sought universality and rigour.

Mental Disorders and the Social Order

The mentally sick receive the same treatment as carriers of AIDS or SARS or the Ebola virus or smallpox. They are sometimes quarantined against their will and coerced into involuntary treatment by medication, psychosurgery, or electroconvulsive therapy. This is done in the name of the greater good, largely as a preventive policy.

Conspiracy theories notwithstanding, it is impossible to ignore the enormous interests vested in psychiatry and psychopharmacology. The multibillion dollar industries involving drug companies, hospitals, managed healthcare, private clinics, academic departments, and law enforcement agencies rely, for their continued and exponential growth, on the propagation of the concept of "mental illness" and its corollaries: treatment and research.

Mental Ailment as a Useful Metaphor

Abstract concepts form the core of all branches of human knowledge. No one has ever seen a quark, or untangled a chemical bond, or surfed an electromagnetic wave, or visited the unconscious. These are useful metaphors, theoretical entities with explanatory or descriptive power.

"Mental health disorders" are no different. They are shorthand for capturing the unsettling quiddity of "the Other". Useful as taxonomies, they are also tools of social coercion and conformity, as Michel Foucault and Louis Althusser observed. Relegating both the dangerous and the idiosyncratic to the collective fringes is a vital technique of social engineering.

The aim is progress through social cohesion and the regulation of innovation and creative destruction. Psychiatry, therefore, is reifies society's preference of evolution to revolution, or, worse still, to mayhem. As is often the case with human endeavour, it is a noble cause, unscrupulously and dogmatically pursued.

The Insanity Defence

"It is an ill thing to knock against a deaf-mute, an imbecile, or a minor. He that wounds them is culpable, but if they wound him they are not culpable."

[Mishna, Babylonian Talmud]

If mental illness is culture-dependent and mostly serves as an organizing social principle – what should we make of the insanity defence (NGRI – Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity)?

A person is held not responsible for his criminal actions if s/he cannot tell right from wrong ("lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality (wrongfulness) of his conduct" – diminished capacity), did not intend to act the way he did (absent "mens rea") and/or could not control his behaviour ("irresistible impulse"). These handicaps are often associated with "mental disease or defect" or "mental retardation".

Mental health professionals prefer to talk about an impairment of a "person's perception or understanding of reality". They hold a "guilty but mentally ill" verdict to be contradiction in terms. All "mentally-ill" people operate within a (usually coherent) worldview, with consistent internal logic, and rules of right and wrong (ethics). Yet, these rarely conform to the way most people perceive the world. The mentally-ill, therefore, cannot be guilty because s/he has a tenuous grasp on reality.

Yet, experience teaches us that a criminal maybe mentally ill even as s/he maintains a perfect reality test and thus is held criminally responsible (Jeffrey Dahmer comes to mind). The "perception and understanding of reality", in other words, can and does co-exist even with the severest forms of mental illness.

This makes it even more difficult to comprehend what is meant by "mental disease". If some mentally ill maintain a grasp on reality, know right from wrong, can anticipate the outcomes of their actions, are not subject to irresistible impulses (the official position of the American Psychiatric Association) – in what way do they differ from us, "normal" folks?

This is why the insanity defence often sits ill with mental health pathologies deemed socially "acceptable" and "normal" – such as religion or love.

Consider the following case:

A mother bashes the skulls of her three sons. Two of them die. She claims to have acted on instructions she had received from God. She is found not guilty by reason of insanity. The jury determined that she "did not know right from wrong during the killings".

But why exactly was she judged insane?

Her belief in the existence of God – a being with inordinate and inhuman attributes – may be irrational.

But it does not constitute insanity in the strictest sense because it conforms to social and cultural creeds and codes of conduct in her milieu. Billions of people faithfully subscribe to the same ideas, adhere to the same transcendental rules, observe the same mystical rituals, and claim to go through the same experiences. This shared psychosis is so widespread that it can no longer be deemed pathological, statistically speaking.

She claimed that God has spoken to her.

As do numerous other people. Behaviour that is considered psychotic (paranoid-schizophrenic) in other contexts is lauded and admired in religious circles. Hearing voices and seeing visions – auditory and visual delusions – are considered rank manifestations of righteousness and sanctity.

Perhaps it was the content of her hallucinations that proved her insane?

She claimed that God had instructed her to kill her boys. Surely, God would not ordain such evil?

Alas, the Old and New Testaments both contain examples of God's appetite for human sacrifice. Abraham was ordered by God to sacrifice Isaac, his beloved son (though this savage command was rescinded at the last moment). Jesus, the son of God himself, was crucified to atone for the sins of humanity.

A divine injunction to slay one's offspring would sit well with the Holy Scriptures and the Apocrypha as well as with millennia-old Judeo-Christian traditions of martyrdom and sacrifice.

Her actions were wrong and incommensurate with both human and divine (or natural) laws.

Yes, but they were perfectly in accord with a literal interpretation of certain divinely-inspired texts, millennial scriptures, apocalyptic thought systems, and fundamentalist religious ideologies (such as the ones espousing the imminence of "rupture"). Unless one declares these doctrines and writings insane, her actions are not.

We are forced to the conclusion that the murderous mother is perfectly sane. Her frame of reference is different to ours. Hence, her definitions of right and wrong are idiosyncratic. To her, killing her babies was the right thing to do and in conformity with valued teachings and her own epiphany. Her grasp of reality – the immediate and later consequences of her actions – was never impaired.

It would seem that sanity and insanity are relative terms, dependent on frames of cultural and social reference, and statistically defined. There isn't – and, in principle, can never emerge – an "objective", medical, scientific test to determine mental health or disease unequivocally.

Adaptation and Insanity

"Normal" people adapt to their environment – both human and natural.

"Abnormal" ones try to adapt their environment – both human and natural – to their idiosyncratic needs/profile.

If they succeed, their environment, both human (society) and natural is pathologized.

Sam Vaknin

Return

Malignant

Self Love

Narcissism Revisited

 

 

 

 

The Narcissistic Personality Disorder

 

 

A Primer on Narcissism

And the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

 

 

Most narcissists are men.

This is why I use male pronouns throughout this book.

 

What is Pathological Narcissism?

Pathological narcissism is a life-long pattern of traits and behaviours which signify infatuation and obsession with one's self to the exclusion of all others and the egotistic and ruthless pursuit of one's gratification, dominance and ambition.

As distinct from healthy narcissism which we all possess, pathological narcissism is maladaptive, rigid, persisting, and causes significant distress, and functional impairment.

Pathological narcissism was first described in detail by Freud in his essay "On Narcissism" [1915]. Other major contributors to the study of narcissism are: Melanie Klein, Karen Horney, Franz Kohut, Otto Kernberg, Theodore Millon, Elsa Roningstam, J.G. Gunderson, and Robert Hare.

What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)?

The Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a form of pathological narcissism. It is a Cluster B (dramatic, emotional, or erratic) Personality Disorder. Other Cluster B personality disorders are the Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), the Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD), and the Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD). The Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) first appeared as a mental health diagnosis in the DSM-III-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) in 1980.

Diagnostic Criteria

The Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is not a new psychological construct. In previous centuries it was called "egotism" or "megalomania". It is an extreme form of pathological narcissism.

The ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases), published by the World Health Organization in Geneva [1992], does not include the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). It regards it as "a personality disorder that fits none of the specific rubrics" and puts it together with other bizarre dysfunctions such as, "haltlose", immature, passive-aggressive, and psychoneurotic personality disorders and types in a catchall category: "Other Specific Personality Disorders".

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) [2000], published by the American Psychiatric Association, based in Washington D.C., USA, provides the diagnostic criteria for the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) [301.81] on page 717.

The DSM-IV-TR defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as "an all-pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration or adulation and lack of empathy, usually beginning by early adulthood and present in various contexts", such as family life and work.

Five or more of the DSM's nine diagnostic criteria must be met for a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) to be rendered.

[In the text below, I have proposed modifications to the language of these criteria to incorporate current knowledge about this disorder. My modifications appear in italics.]

[My amendments do not constitute a part of the text of the DSM-IV-TR, nor is the American Psychiatric Association (APA) associated with them in any way.]

[Click here to download a bibliography of the studies and research regarding the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) on which I based my proposed revisions.]

Proposed Amended Criteria for the

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

• Feels grandiose and self-important (e.g., exaggerates accomplishments, talents, skills, contacts, and personality traits to the point of lying, demands to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements);

• Is obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power or omnipotence, unequalled brilliance (the cerebral narcissist), bodily beauty or sexual performance (the somatic narcissist), or ideal, everlasting, all-conquering love or passion;

• Firmly convinced that he or she is unique and, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high-status people (or institutions);

• Requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation – or, failing that, wishes to be feared and to be notorious (Narcissistic Supply);

• Feels entitled. Demands automatic and full compliance with his or her unreasonable expectations for special and favourable priority treatment;

• Is "interpersonally exploitative", i.e., uses others to achieve his or her own ends;

• Devoid of empathy. Is unable or unwilling to identify with, acknowledge, or accept the feelings, needs, preferences, priorities, and choices of others;

• Constantly envious of others and seeks to hurt or destroy the objects of his or her frustration. Suffers from persecutory (paranoid) delusions as he or she believes that they feel the same about him or her and are likely to act similarly;

• Behaves arrogantly and haughtily. Feels superior, omnipotent, omniscient, invincible, immune, "above the law", and omnipresent (magical thinking). Rages when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted by people he or she considers inferior to him or her and unworthy.

Prevalence and Age and Gender Features

What is the difference between healthy narcissism and the pathological kind?

Luckily for us, we are all narcissists to some degree. But healthy narcissism is adaptive, flexible, empathic, causes elation and joy (happiness), and help us to function. Pathological narcissism is maladaptive, rigid, persisting, and causes significant distress, and functional impairment.

"The lifetime prevalence rate of NPD is approximately 0.5-1 percent; however, the estimated prevalence in clinical settings is approximately 2-16 percent. Almost 75 percent of individuals diagnosed with NPD are male (APA, DSM-IV-TR 2000)."

[Psychotherapeutic Assessment and Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorder by Robert C. Schwartz, Ph.D., DAPA and Shannon D. Smith, Ph.D., DAPA (American Psychotherapy Association, Article 3004 Annals July/August 2002)]

We must carefully distinguish between the narcissistic traits of adolescents – narcissism is an integral part of their healthy personal development – and the full-fledged disorder. Adolescence is about self-definition, differentiation, separation from one's parents, and individuation. These inevitably involve narcissistic assertiveness which is not to be conflated or confused with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is exacerbated by the onset of aging and the physical, mental, and occupational restrictions it imposes.

In certain situations, such as under constant public scrutiny and exposure, a transient and reactive form of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) has been observed by Robert Milman and labelled "Acquired Situational Narcissism".

There is only scant research regarding the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), but studies did not demonstrate any ethnic, social, cultural, economic, genetic, or professional predilection to it.

Co-Morbidity and Differential Diagnoses

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is often diagnosed with other mental health disorders ("co-morbidity"), such as mood disorders, eating disorders, and substance-related disorders. Patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are frequently abusive and prone to impulsive and reckless behaviours ("dual diagnosis").

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is also commonly diagnosed with other personality disorders, such as the Histrionic, Borderline, Paranoid, and Antisocial Personality Disorder.

The personal style of those suffering from the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) should be distinguished from the personal styles of patients with other Cluster B personality disorders. The narcissist is grandiose, the histrionic coquettish, the antisocial (psychopath) callous, and the borderline needy.

As opposed to patients with the Borderline Personality Disorder, the self-image of the narcissist is stable, he or she is less impulsive and less self-defeating or self-destructive and less concerned with abandonment issues (not as clinging).

Contrary to the histrionic patient, the narcissist is achievements-orientated and proud of his or her possessions and accomplishments. Narcissists also rarely display their emotions as histrionics do and they hold the sensitivities and needs of others in contempt.

According to the DSM-IV-TR, both narcissists and psychopaths are "tough-minded, glib, superficial, exploitative, and un-empathic". But narcissists are less impulsive, less aggressive, and less deceitful. Psychopaths rarely seek Narcissistic Supply. As opposed to psychopaths, few narcissists are criminals.

Patients suffering from the range of obsessive-compulsive disorders are committed to perfection and believe that only they are capable of attaining it. But, as opposed to narcissists, they are self-critical and far more aware of their own deficiencies, flaws, and shortcomings.

Clinical Features of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder

The onset of pathological narcissism is in infancy, childhood and early adolescence. It is commonly attributed to childhood abuse and trauma inflicted by parents, authority figures, or even peers. Pathological narcissism is a defence mechanism intended to deflect hurt and trauma from the victim's "True Self" into a "False Self" which is construed by the narcissist to be omnipotent, invulnerable, and omniscient. The narcissist uses the False Self to regulate his or her labile sense of self-worth by extracting from his environment Narcissistic Supply (any form of attention, both positive and negative).

There is a whole range of narcissistic reactions, styles, and personalities: from the mild, reactive and transient to the permanent personality disorder.

Patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) feel injured, humiliated and empty when criticized. They often react with disdain (devaluation), rage, and defiance to any slight, real or imagined. To avoid such situations, some patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) socially withdraw and feign false modesty and humility to mask their underlying grandiosity. Dysthymic and depressive disorders are common reactions to isolation and feelings of shame and inadequacy.

The interpersonal relationships of patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are typically impaired due to their lack of empathy, disregard for others, exploitativeness, sense of entitlement, and constant need for attention (Narcissistic Supply).

Though often ambitious and capable, inability to tolerate setbacks, disagreement, and criticism make it difficult for patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) to work in a team or to maintain long-term professional achievements. The narcissist's fantastic grandiosity, frequently coupled with a hypomanic mood, is typically incommensurate with his or her real accomplishments (the "Grandiosity Gap").

Patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are either "cerebral" (derive their Narcissistic Supply from their intelligence or academic achievements) or "somatic" (derive their Narcissistic Supply from their physique, exercise, physical or sexual prowess and romantic or physical "conquests").

Patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are either "classic" (meet five of the nine diagnostic criteria included in the DSM), or they are "compensatory" (their narcissism compensates for deep-set feelings of inferiority and lack of self-worth).

Some narcissists are covert, or inverted narcissists. As co-dependents, they derive their Narcissistic Supply from their relationships with classic narcissists.

Treatment and Prognosis

The common treatment for patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is talk therapy (mainly psychodynamic psychotherapy or cognitive-behavioural treatment modalities). Talk therapy is used to modify the narcissist's antisocial, interpersonally exploitative, and dysfunctional behaviours, often with some success. Medication is prescribed to control and ameliorate attendant conditions such as mood disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorders.

The prognosis for an adult suffering from the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is poor, though his adaptation to life and to others can improve with treatment.

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Bibliography

 

 

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15. Jung, C.G. Collected Works. G. Adler, M. Fordham and H. Read (Eds.). 21 volumes. Princeton University Press, 1960-1983

16. Kernberg O. Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism. New York, Jason Aronson, 1975

17. Klein, Melanie. The Writings of Melanie Klein. Roger Money-Kyrle (Ed.). 4 Vols. New York, Free Press, 1964-75

18. Kohut H. The Chicago Institute Lectures 1972-1976. Marian and Paul Tolpin (Eds.). Analytic Press, 1998

19. Kohut M. The Analysis of the Self. New York, International Universities Press, 1971

20. Lasch, Christopher. The Culture of Narcissism. New York, Warner Books, 1979

21. Levine, J. D., and Weiss, Rona H. The Dynamics and Treatment of Alcoholism. Jason Aronson, 1994

22. Lowen, Alexander. Narcissism: Denial of the True Self. Touchstone Books, 1997

23. Millon, Theodore (and Roger D. Davis, contributor). Disorders of Personality: DSM-IV and Beyond. 2nd ed. New York, John Wiley and Sons, 1995

24. Millon, Theodore. Personality Disorders in Modern Life. New York, John Wiley and Sons, 2000

25. Riso, Don Richard. Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery. Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1987

26. Roningstam, Elsa F. (Ed.). Disorders of Narcissism: Diagnostic, Clinical, and Empirical Implications. American Psychiatric Press, 1998

27. Rothstein, Arnold. The Narcissistic Pursuit of Reflection. 2nd revised Ed. New York, International Universities Press, 1984

28. Schwartz, Lester. Narcissistic Personality Disorders – A Clinical Discussion. Journal of American Psychoanalytic Association – 22 [1974]: 292-305

29. Salant-Schwartz, Nathan. Narcissism and Character Transformation. Inner City Books, 1985 – p. 90-91

30. Stern, Daniel. The Interpersonal World of the Infant: A View from Psychoanalysis and Developmental Psychology. New York, Basic Books, 1985

31. Vaknin, Sam. Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited. Skopje and Prague, Narcissus Publications, 1999-2007

32. Zweig, Paul. The Heresy of Self Love: A Study of Subversive Individualism. New York, Basic Books, 1968

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Malignant

Self Love

Narcissism Revisited

 

 

 

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 1

 

The Narcissist's Poor Prognosis

 

 

Question: What makes a narcissist tick?

Answer: Therapy, in most cases, cannot cure the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), only mitigate and ameliorate the condition by modifying some of the narcissist's behaviours.

Only narcissists, who go through a severe life crisis, tend to consider the possibility of therapy at all. When they attend the therapeutic sessions, they, usually, bring all their rigid defence mechanisms to the fore. The therapy quickly becomes a tedious – and useless – affair for both therapist and patient.

Most cerebral narcissists are very intelligent. They base their grandiose fantasies on this natural advantage. When faced with a reasoned analysis, which shows that they suffer from NPD, most of them accept and acknowledge the new information. But first they have to face it – and this is the difficult part: they all are deniers of reality.

Moreover, cognitively assimilating the information is a mere process of labelling. It has no psychodynamic effect. It does not affect the narcissist's behaviour patterns and interactions with his human environment. These are the products of well-entrenched and rigid mental mechanisms.

Narcissists are pathological liars. This means that they are either unaware of their lies – or feel completely justified and at ease when lying to others. Often, they believe their own confabulations and attribute to them "retroactive veracity". The very essence of the narcissist is a huge, contrived, lie: his FALSE Self, his grandiose FANTASIES, and his IDEALIZED objects.

Personality disorders are adaptative. This means that they help to resolve mental conflicts and the anxiety, which, normally, accompanies them.

Narcissists sometimes contemplate suicide (suicidal ideation) when they go through a crisis – but they are not very likely to follow through.

Narcissists are, in a way, sadists. They are likely to use verbal and psychological abuse and violence against their closest, nearest and "dearest".

The Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a newcomer to the zoo of mental disorders. It was not fully defined and described until the late 1980's. The discussion, analysis and study of narcissism are as old as psychology – but there is a great difference between being a "mere" narcissist and having a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). So, it is not clear how widespread this particular personality disorder is – or, even, how widespread personality disorders are (recent estimates range between 3 and 15% of the population).

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 2

 

Pathological Narcissism

A Dysfunction or a Blessing?

 

 

Is pathological narcissism a blessing or a malediction?

The answer is: it depends. Healthy narcissism is a mature, balanced love of oneself coupled with a stable sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Healthy narcissism implies knowledge of one's boundaries and a proportionate and realistic appraisal of one's achievements and traits. Pathological narcissism is wrongly described as too much healthy narcissism (or too much self-esteem). Yet, these are two absolutely unrelated phenomena which, regrettably, came to bear the same name. Confusing pathological narcissism with healthy self-esteem betrays a fundamental ignorance of both.

Pathological narcissism involves an impaired, dysfunctional, immature (True) Self coupled with a compensatory fiction (the False Self). The sick narcissist's sense of self-worth and self-esteem derive entirely from audience feedback. The narcissist has no self-esteem or self-worth of his own (no such ego functions). In the absence of observers, the narcissist shrivels to non-existence and feels dead. Hence the narcissist's preying habits in his constant pursuit of Narcissistic Supply. Pathological narcissism is an addictive behaviour.

Still, dysfunctions are reactions to abnormal environments and situations (e.g., abuse, trauma, smothering, etc.).

Paradoxically, his dysfunction allows the narcissist to function. It compensates for his lacks, deficits, and deficiencies by exaggerating certain tendencies and traits. It is like the overdeveloped tactile sense of a blind person. In short: pathological narcissism is a result of over-sensitivity, the repression of overwhelming memories and experiences, and the suppression of inordinately strong negative feelings (e.g., hurt, envy, anger, or humiliation).

That the narcissist functions at all is because of his pathology and thanks to it. The alternative is complete decompensation and integration.

In time, the narcissist learns how to leverage his pathology, how to use it to his advantage, how to deploy it in order to maximize benefits and utilities – in other words, how to transform his curse into a blessing.

Narcissists are obsessed with delusions of fantastic grandeur and superiority. As a result they are very competitive. They are strongly compelled – where others are merely motivated. They are driven, relentless, tireless, and ruthless. They often make it to the top. But even when they do not, they strive and fight and learn and climb and create and think and devise and design and conspire. Faced with a challenge, they are likely to do better than non-narcissists.

Yet, we often find that narcissists abandon their efforts in mid-stream, give up, vanish, lose interest, devalue former pursuits, or slump. Why is that?

Coping with a challenge, even with a guaranteed eventual triumph is meaningless in the absence of onlookers. The narcissist needs an audience to applaud, affirm, recoil, approve, admire, adore, fear, or even detest him. He craves the attention and depends on the Narcissistic Supply only others can provide. The narcissist derives sustenance only from the outside – his emotional innards are hollow and moribund.

The narcissist's enhanced performance is predicated on the existence of a challenge (real or imaginary) and of an audience.

 

First published on the Suite 101 Narcissistic Personality Disorders Topic.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 3

 

The Energy of Self

 

 

Question: The narcissists I know appear to be very lazy and laid-back. Is this part of the pathology?

Answer: The personality is not a static structure which immutably permeates our being. It is a dynamic, on-going, process. It is a series of cognitive and emotional interactions compounded by extraneous input and endogenous feedback. It is ever-evolving, though, following our formative years, all subsequent changes are subtle and infinitesimal. This labyrinthine complex of reactions, behaviour patterns, beliefs, and defence mechanisms consumes a lot of psychic energy. The more primitive the personality, the less organized, the more disordered, the greater the amount of energy required to maintain it in a semblance of balance, however precarious.

The predicament of the narcissist, the histrionic, and the borderline is even more multifarious. People suffering from these all-pervasive and pernicious personality disorders externalize most of their available energy in an effort to secure Narcissistic Supply and, thus, regulate a vicissitudinal sense of self-worth.

Normally, one's energy is expended on the proper functioning of one's personality. The personality disordered devote any shred of vitality to the projection and maintenance of a False Self, whose sole purpose is to elicit attention, admiration, approval, acknowledgement, fear, or adulation from others. The Narcissistic Supply thus obtained helps these unfortunates to calibrate a wildly fluctuating self-esteem and, thus, fulfils critical ego functions.

Yet, the constant pursuit of this drug, the need to stay permanently attuned to one's human environment and to manipulate it ceaselessly, inevitably depletes the narcissist's vigour. His emotional exoskeleton – derived and Sisyphically constructed from the outside – is far more demanding than the normal endoskeletons that healthy people possess. To borrow from Freud, we can say that the narcissist sublimates his libido. He is an artist with himself as his sole work. His entire energy is committed to the theatre production that is his False Self.

Hence the narcissist's constant fatigue and ennui, his short attention span, his tendency to devalue Sources of Supply, even his transformed aggression.

The narcissist can afford to dedicate resources only to the most promising founts of Narcissistic Supply. The "path of least investment" – criminal shortcuts, violence, cheating, con-artistry, lies and confabulations – is always preferred by the narcissist because his ιlan is so run down, his vitality so drenched, and his verve so exhausted by the unusual need to secure from the outside what most people effortlessly produce internally and take for granted.

 

First published on the Suite 101 Narcissistic Personality Disorders Topic.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 4

 

Self-Love and Narcissism

 

 

Question: What is the difference between self-love and narcissism and how does it affect the capacity to love others?

Answer: There are two differences between healthy self-love and pathological narcissism: (a) in the ability to tell reality from fantasy, and (b) in the ability to empathize and, indeed, to fully and maturely love others. As we said, the narcissist does not love himself because he has very little True Self to love. Instead, a monstrous, malignant construct – the False Self – encroaches upon his True Self and devours it.

The narcissist loves an image which he projects onto others who reflect it to the narcissist (the False Self). This process reassures the narcissist of both the objective existence of his False Self and of the boundaries of his Ego. It blurs all distinctions between reality and fantasy.

The False Self leads to false assumptions and to a contorted personal narrative, to a false worldview, and to a grandiose, inflated sense of being. The latter is rarely grounded in real achievements or merit. The narcissist's feeling of entitlement is all-pervasive, demanding and aggressive. It easily deteriorates into open verbal, psychological and physical abuse of others.

Maintaining a distinction between who we really are and what we dream of becoming, knowing our limits, our advantages and faults and having a sense of true, realistic accomplishments in our life are of paramount importance in the establishment and maintenance of our self-esteem, sense of self-worth and self-confidence.

Reliant as he is on outside judgement, the narcissist feels miserably inferior and dependent. He rebels against this degrading state of things by escaping into a world of make-belief, daydreaming, pretensions and delusions of grandeur. The narcissist knows little about himself and finds what he does know to be unacceptable.

Our familiarity with what it is like to be human – our very humanness – depends largely on our self-knowledge and on our experience of our selves. In other words: only through being oneself and through experiencing one's self can one fully appreciate the humanness of others.

The narcissist has precious little experience of his self. Instead, he lives in an invented world, of his own design, where he is a fictitious figure in a grandiose script. He, therefore, possesses no tools to enable him to cope with other human beings, share their emotions, put himself in their place (empathize) and, of course, love them – the most demanding task of interpersonal-relating.

The narcissist just does not know what it means to be human. He is a predator, rapaciously preying on others for the satisfaction of his narcissistic cravings and appetites for admiration, adoration, applause, affirmation and attention. Humans are Narcissistic Supply Sources and are (over- or de-) valued according to their contributions to this end.

Self-love is a precondition for the experience and expression of mature love. One cannot truly love someone else if one does not first love one's True Self. If we have never loved ourselves, we have never experienced unconditional love and, therefore, we do not know how to love.

If we keep living in a world of fantasy – how could we notice the very real people around us who ask for our love and who deserve it? The narcissist wants to love. In his rare moments of self-awareness, he feels ego-dystonic (unhappy with his situation and with his relationships with others). This is his predicament: he is sentenced to isolation precisely because his need of other people is so great.

Inner Dialog, Cognitive Deficits, and Introjects in Narcissism

"Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth."

[Jean Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, 1943]

The narcissist lacks empathy. He is, therefore, unable to meaningfully relate to other people and to truly appreciate what it is to be human. Instead, he withdraws inside, into a universe populated by avatars – simple or complex representations of parents, peers, role models, authority figures, and other members of his social milieu. There, in this twilight zone of simulacra, he develops "relationships" and maintains an on-going internal dialog with them.

All of us generate such representations of meaningful others and internalize these objects. In a process called introjection, we adopt, assimilate, and, later, manifest their traits and attitudes (the introjects).

But the narcissist is different. He is incapable of holding an external dialog. Even when he seems to be interacting with someone else – the narcissist is actually engaged in a self-referential discourse. To the narcissist, all other people are cardboard cut-outs, two dimensional animated cartoon characters, or symbols. They exist only in his mind. He is startled when they deviate from the script and prove to be complex and autonomous.

But this is not the narcissist's sole cognitive deficit.

The narcissist attributes his failures and mistakes to circumstances and external causes. This propensity to blame the world for one's mishaps and misfortunes is called "alloplastic defence". At the same time, the narcissist regards his successes and achievements (some of which are imaginary) as proofs of his omnipotence and omniscience. This is known in attribution theory as "defensive attribution".

Conversely, the narcissist traces other people's errors and defeats to their inherent inferiority, stupidity, and weakness. Their successes he dismisses as "being in the right place at the right time" – i.e., the outcome of luck and circumstance.

Thus, the narcissist falls prey to an exaggerated form of what is known in attribution theory as the "fundamental attribution error". Moreover, these fallacies and the narcissist's magical thinking are not dependent on objective data and tests of distinctiveness, consistency, and consensus.

The narcissist never questions his reflexive judgements and never stops to ask himself: are these events distinct or are they typical? Do they repeat themselves consistently or are they unprecedented? And what do others have to say about them?

The narcissist learns nothing because he regards himself as born perfect. Even when he fails a thousand times, the narcissist still feels the victim of happenstance. And someone else's repeated outstanding accomplishments are never proof of mettle or merit. People who disagree with the narcissist and try to teach him differently are, to his mind, biased or morons or both.

But the narcissist pays a dear price for these distortions of perception. Unable to gauge his environment with accuracy, he develops paranoid ideation and fails the reality test. Finally, he lifts the drawbridges and vanishes into a state of mind that can best be described as borderline psychosis.

[First published on the Suite 101 Narcissistic Personality Disorder Topic.]

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 5

 

Self-Defeating and Self-Destructive Behaviours

 

 

Question: The narcissist often engages in self-defeating and self-destructive behaviours. Can you tell me more about it?

Answer: The narcissist is besieged and tormented by a sadistic Superego which sits in constant judgement. It is an amalgamation of negative evaluations, criticisms, angry or disappointed voices, and disparagement meted out in the narcissist's formative years and adolescence by parents, peers, role models, and authority figures.

These harsh and repeated comments reverberate throughout the narcissist's inner landscape, berating him for failing to conform to his unattainable ideals, fantastic goals, and grandiose or impractical plans. The narcissist's sense of self-worth is, therefore, catapulted from one pole to another: from an inflated view of himself (incommensurate with real life accomplishments) to utter despair and self-denigration.

Hence the narcissist's need for Narcissistic Supply to regulate this wild pendulum. People's adulation, admiration, affirmation, and attention restore the narcissist's self-esteem and self-confidence.

The narcissist's sadistic and uncompromising Superego affects three facets of his personality:

1. The narcissist's sense of self-worth and worthiness (the deeply ingrained conviction that one deserves love, compassion, care, and empathy regardless of what one achieves). The narcissist feels worthless without Narcissistic Supply.

2. The narcissist's self-esteem (self-knowledge, the deeply ingrained and realistic appraisal of one's capacities, skills, limitations, and shortcomings). The narcissist lacks clear boundaries and, therefore, is not sure of his abilities and weaknesses. Hence his grandiose fantasies.

3. The narcissist's self-confidence (the deeply ingrained belief, based on lifelong experience, that one can set realistic goals and accomplish them). The narcissist knows that he is a fake and a fraud. He, therefore, does not trust his ability to manage his own affairs and to set practical aims and realize them.

By becoming a success (or at least by appearing to have become one) the narcissist hopes to quell the voices inside him that constantly question his veracity and aptitude. The narcissist's whole life is a two-fold attempt to both satisfy the inexorable demands of his inner tribunal and to prove wrong its harsh and merciless criticism.

It is this dual and self-contradictory mission, to conform to the edicts of his internal enemies and to prove their very judgement wrong that is at the root of the narcissist's unresolved conflicts.

On the one hand, the narcissist accepts the authority of his introjected (internalized) critics and disregards the fact that they hate him and wish him dead. He sacrifices his life to them, hoping that his successes and accomplishments (real or perceived) will ameliorate their rage.

On the other hand, he confronts these very gods with proofs of their fallibility. "You claim that I am worthless and incapable" – he cries – "Well, guess what? You are dead wrong! Look how famous I am, look how rich, how revered, and accomplished!"

But then much rehearsed self-doubt sets in and the narcissist feels yet again compelled to falsify the claims of his trenchant and indefatigable detractors by conquering another woman, giving one more interview, taking over yet another firm, making an extra million, or getting re-elected one more time.

To no avail. The narcissist is his own worst foe. Ironically, it is only when incapacitated that the narcissist gains a modicum of peace of mind. When terminally ill, incarcerated, or inebriated the narcissist can shift the blame for his failures and predicaments to outside agents and objective forces over which he has no control. "It's not my fault" – he gleefully informs his mental tormentors – "There was nothing I could do about it! Now, go away and leave me be."

And then – with the narcissist defeated and broken – they do and he is free at last.

We can group the narcissist's self-destructive and self-defeating behaviours according to their underlying motivation:

The Self-Punishing, Guilt-Purging Behaviours

Akin to compulsive rituals, these behaviours are intended to inflict punishment on the narcissist and thus instantly relieve him of his overwhelming anxiety.

The narcissist feels guilty. It could be an "ancient", early childhood, guilt, a "sexual" guilt (Freud), or a "social" guilt. In his infancy, the narcissist internalizes and introjects the voices of meaningful and authoritative others – parents, role models, peers, and authority figures – that consistently and convincingly judge him to be no good, blameworthy, deserving of punishment or retaliation, or corrupt.

The narcissist's life is thus transformed into an on-going trial. The constancy of this trial, the never adjourning tribunal IS the punishment. It is a Kafkaesque "process": meaningless, undecipherable and never-ending. It leads to no verdict, is subject to mysterious and fluid laws and presided over by a capricious tribunal.

Such a narcissist masochistically frustrates his deepest desires and drives, obstructs his own efforts, alienates his friends and sponsors, provokes figures of authority to punish, demote, or ignore him, actively seeks and solicits disappointment, failure, or mistreatment and relishes them, incites anger or rejection, bypasses or rejects opportunities, or engages in excessive self-sacrifice.

In their book "Personality Disorders in Modern Life", Theodore Millon and Roger Davis, describe the diagnosis of Masochistic or Self-Defeating Personality Disorder, found in the appendix of the DSM-III-R but excluded from the DSM-IV. While the narcissist is rarely a full-fledged masochist, many a narcissist exhibit some of the traits of this proposed personality disorder.

The Extracting Behaviours

Narcissists are very afraid of real, mature, intimacy. Intimacy forms not only within a couple, but also in a workplace, in a neighbourhood, with friends, or while collaborating on a project. Intimacy is another word for emotional involvement, which is the result of interactions with others in constant and predictable (safe) propinquity.

Narcissists interpret intimacy as co-dependence, emotional strangulation, the snuffing of freedom, a kind of death in instalments. They are terrorized by it. To avoid it, their self-destructive and self-defeating acts are intended to dismantle the very foundation of a successful relationship, a career, a project, or a friendship. Narcissists feel elated and relieved after they unshackle these "chains". They feel that they broke a siege, that they are liberated, free at last.

The Default Behaviours

We are all, to some degree, inertial, somewhat intimidated by new situations, new opportunities, new challenges, new circumstances and new demands. Being successful, getting married, becoming a mother, or someone's boss often entail abrupt breaks with the past. Some self-defeating behaviours are intended to preserve the past, to restore it, to protect it from the winds of change, to self-deceptively skirt promising opportunities while seeming to embrace them.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 6

 

Ideas of Reference

 

 

Question: My narcissist always suspects others of gossiping about him or mocking him. Is it paranoia?

Answer: The narcissist holds himself to be the centre of the world. He is not merely the centre of HIS world – as far as he can tell, he is the centre of THE world. This Archimedean delusion is one of the narcissist's most predominant and all-pervasive cognitive distortions. The narcissist feels certain that he is the source of all events around him, the origin of all the emotions of his nearest or dearest, the fount of all knowledge, both the first and the final causes, the beginning as well as the end.

The narcissist derives his sense of being, his experience of his own existence, and his self-worth from the outside. He mines others for Narcissistic Supply – adulation, attention, reflection, fear. Their reactions stalk his furnace. Absent Narcissistic Supply, the narcissist disintegrates and self-annihilates. When unnoticed, he feels empty and worthless. The narcissist MUST delude himself into believing that he is persistently the focus and object of the attentions, intentions, plans, feelings, and stratagems of other people. The narcissist faces a stark choice: either be (or become) the permanent centre of the world, or cease to be altogether.

This constant obsession with one's locus, with one's centrality, with one's position as a hub leads to referential ideation ("ideas of reference"). This is the conviction that one is at the receiving end of other people's behaviours, speech, and even thoughts. The person suffering from delusional ideas of reference is at the self-appointed centre of imaginary constant attention.

When people talk among themselves, the narcissist is convinced that he is the topic of discussion. When they quarrel – he is most probably the cause. When they smirk – he is the victim of their ridicule. If they are unhappy – he must have made them so. If they are happy – they are egotists for ignoring him. He is convinced that his behaviour is continuously monitored, criticized, compared, dissected, approved of, or imitated by others. He deems himself so indispensable and important, such a pivotal component of other people's lives, that his every act, his every word, his every omission is bound to upset, hurt, uplift, or satisfy his audience.

And, to the narcissist, everyone is a member of his audience. Everything emanates from him and reverts to him. The narcissist's is a circular and closed universe. His ideas of reference are a natural extension of his primitive defence mechanisms (omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, projection, and narcissism).

Being omnipresent explains why everyone, everywhere is concerned with him. Being omnipotent and omniscient renders him the sole deserving recipient of the admiration, adulation, and attention of people.

Yet, the attrition afforded by years of tormenting ideas of reference inevitably yields paranoiac thinking.

To preserve his egocentric cosmology, the narcissist is compelled to attribute fitting motives and psychological dynamics to others. Such motives and dynamics have little to do with reality. They are PROJECTED by the narcissist UNTO others so as to maintain his personal mythology.

In other words, the narcissist attributes to others and projects onto them HIS OWN motives and psychodynamics. Since narcissists are mostly besieged by transformations of aggression (rage, hatred, envy, fear), these they often ascribe to others as well. Thus, the narcissist tends to interpret other people's behaviour as motivated by anger, fear, hatred, or envy and as directed at him or revolving around him. The narcissist (often erroneously) believes that people discuss him, gossip about him, hate him, defame him, mock him, berate him, underestimate him, envy him, or fear him. He is (often rightly) convinced that he is, to others, the source of hurt, humiliation, impropriety, and indignation. The narcissist "knows" that he is a wonderful, powerful, talented, and entertaining person – but this only explains why people are so jealous of him and why they seek to undermine and destroy him.

Thus, since the narcissist is unable to secure the long-term love, admiration, or even attention of his Sources of Supply, he resorts to a mirror strategy: he becomes paranoid. Better to be the object of (often imaginary and always self-inflicted) derision, scorn, and bile than to be ignored. Being envied is preferable to being treated with indifference. If he cannot be loved, the narcissist would rather be feared or hated. His biggest nightmare is to be forgotten or ignored.

 

First published on the Suite 101 Narcissistic Personality Disorders Topic.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 7

 

Grandiose Fantasies

 

 

Question: What happens to a narcissist who lacks even the basic potential and skills to realize some of his grandiose fantasies?

Answer: Such a narcissist resorts to deferred Narcissistic Supply which generates an effect of deferred grandiosity. He forgoes his grandiose schemes and gives up on the present. He supports his inflated Ego by postponing the fulfilment of his fantasies to the (indefinite) future.

Such narcissists engage in activities (or in daydreaming), which they fervently believe, will make them famous, powerful, influential, or superior in some unspecified future time. These keep their minds occupied and off their failures.

Such frustrated and bitter narcissists hold themselves answerable only to History, God, Eternity, Future Generations, Art, Science, the Church, the Country, the Nation and so on. They entertain notions of grandeur which are dependent upon the judgement or assessment of a fuzzily defined collective in an unspecified future. Thus, these narcissists find solace in the embrace of Chronos.

Deferred grandiosity is an adaptive mechanism which ameliorates dysphorias and Grandiosity Gaps. [See the next chapters for more on these]

It is healthy to daydream and fantasize. It is the antechamber of life and often anticipates its circumstances. It is a process of preparing for eventualities. But healthy daydreaming is different from grandiosity.

Grandiosity has four components:

Omnipotence

The narcissist believes in his omnipotence. "Believes" in this context is a weak word. The narcissist knows that he is omnipotent. It is a cellular, biological, certainty, it flows in his blood and permeates every niche of his being. The narcissist "knows" that he can do anything he chooses to do and excel in it. What the narcissist does, what he excels at, what he achieves, depends only on his volition. To his mind, there is no other determinant.

Hence his rage when confronted with disagreement or opposition – not only because of the audacity of his, evidently inferior, adversaries. But because it threatens his world view, it challenges his feeling of omnipotence. The narcissist is often fatuously daring, adventurous, experimentative and curious precisely due to this hidden assumption of "can-do". He is genuinely surprised and devastated when he fails, when the "universe" does not arrange itself, magically, to accommodate his unbounded fantasies, when the world (and people in it) does not comply with his whims and wishes.

He often denies away such discrepancies, deletes them from his memory. As a result of these selective erasures, the narcissist remembers his life as a patchy quilt of unrelated events and people.

Omniscience

The narcissist often pretends to know everything, in every field of human knowledge and endeavour.

He lies and prevaricates to avoid the exposure of his ignorance. He resorts to numerous subterfuges to support his God-like omniscience.

Where his knowledge fails him, he feigns authority, fakes superiority, quotes from non-existent sources, weaves threads of truth in a canvass of falsehoods. He transforms himself into an artist of intellectual prestidigitation. As he gets older, this invidious quality may recede, or, rather, metamorphose. He may now claim more limited (but deeper) expertise.

He may no longer be ashamed to admit his ignorance and his need to learn things outside the fields of his real or self-proclaimed knowledge. But this "improvement" is merely optical. Within his self-appropriated intellectual "territory", the narcissist is still as fiercely defensive and possessive as ever.

Many narcissists are avowed autodidacts, unwilling to subject their knowledge and insights to peer scrutiny, or, for that matter, to any scrutiny. The narcissist keeps re-inventing himself, adding new fields of knowledge as he goes. This creeping intellectual annexation is a round about way of reverting to his erstwhile image as the erudite "Renaissance man".

Omnipresence

Even the narcissist cannot pretend to actually physically be everywhere at once. Instead, he feels that he is the centre and the axis of his "universe", that all things and happenstances revolve around him, and that cosmic disintegration would ensue if he were to disappear or to lose interest in someone or in something.

The narcissist is convinced, for instance, that he is the main, if not the only, topic of conversation in his absence. He is often surprised and offended to learn that he was not even mentioned. When invited to a meeting with many participants, he assumes the position of the sage, the guru, or the teacher/guide whose words carry a special weight. His creations (books, articles, works of art) are widely-distributed and copied extensions of his self and, in this restricted sense, he does seem to exist everywhere. In other words, through his creative endeavours, the narcissist "stamps" his environment. He "leaves his mark" upon it. He "stigmatizes" it.

Narcissist the Omnivore (Perfectionism and Completeness)

There is another "omni" component in grandiosity. The narcissist is an omnivore. He devours and digests experiences and people, sights and smells, bodies and words, books and films, sounds and achievements, his work and his leisure, his pleasure and his possessions. The narcissist is incapable of ENJOYING anything because he is in constant pursuit of perfection and completeness.

Classic narcissists interact with the world as predators do with their prey. They want to own it all, be everywhere, to experience everything. They cannot delay gratification. They do not take "no" for an answer. And they settle for nothing less than the ideal, the sublime, the perfect, the all-inclusive, the all-encompassing, the engulfing, the all-pervasive, the most beautiful, the cleverest, the richest, and the most brilliant.

The narcissist is shattered when he discovers that a collection he possesses is incomplete, that his colleague's wife is more glamorous, that his son is better than he is in math, that his neighbour has a new, flashy car, that his roommate got promoted, that the "love of his life" signed a recording contract. It is not plain old jealousy, not even pathological envy (though these are definitely a part of the psychological makeup of the narcissist). It is the discovery that the narcissist is NOT perfect, or ideal, or complete that does him in.

Ask anyone who shared a life with a narcissist, or knew one and they are likely to sigh: "What a waste". Waste of potential, waste of opportunities, waste of emotions, a wasteland of arid addiction and futile pursuit.

Narcissists are as gifted as they come. The problem is to disentangle their tales of fantastic grandiosity from the reality of their talents and skills. They always either over-estimate or devalue their potency. They often emphasize the wrong traits and invest in their mediocre or less than average capacities at the expense of their true and promising potential. Thus, they squander their advantages and under-rate their natural gifts.

The narcissist decides which aspects of his self to nurture and which to neglect. He gravitates towards activities commensurate with his pompous auto-portrait. He suppresses these tendencies and aptitudes in him which don't conform to his inflated view of his own uniqueness, brilliance, might, sexual prowess, or standing in society. He cultivates these flairs and predilections which he regards as befitting his overweening self-image and ultimate grandeur.

But, the narcissist, no matter how self-aware and well-meaning, is accursed. His grandiosity, his fantasies, the compelling, overriding urge to feel unique, invested with some cosmic significance, unprecedentedly bestowed – these thwart his best intentions. These structures of obsession and compulsion, these deposits of insecurity and pain, the stalactites and stalagmites of years of abuse and then abandonment, they all conspire to frustrate the gratification, however circumspect, of the narcissist's true nature.

An utter lack of self-awareness is typical of the narcissist. He is intimate only with his False Self, constructed meticulously from years of lying and deceit. The narcissist's True Self is stashed, dilapidated and dysfunctional, in the furthest recesses of his mind. The False Self is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, creative, ingenious, irresistible, and glowing. The real narcissist – the True Self – often isn't.

Add combustible paranoia to the narcissist's divorce from himself, and his constant and recurrent failure to assess reality accurately becomes more understandable. The narcissist's overpowering sense of entitlement is rarely commensurate with his real life accomplishments or with his traits or skills. When the world fails to comply with his demands and to support his grandiose fantasies, the narcissist suspects a plot against him by his inferiors.

The narcissist rarely admits to a weakness, an ignorance, or a deficiency. He filters out information that contradicts his self-image – a cognitive impairment with serious consequences. Narcissists are likely to unflinchingly make inflated and inane claims about their sexual prowess, wealth, connections, history, or achievements.

All this is mighty embarrassing to the narcissist's nearest, dearest, colleagues, friends, neighbours, or even mere onlookers. The narcissist's tales are so patently absurd that he often catches people off-guard. Behind his back, the narcissist is derided and mockingly imitated. He fast makes a nuisance and an imposition of himself in every company.

But the narcissist's failure of the reality test can have more serious and irreversible consequences. Narcissists, unqualified to make life-and-death decisions often insist on rendering them. Narcissists pretend to be economists, engineers, or medical doctors when they are not. But they are not con-artists in the classic, premeditated sense. They firmly believe that, though self-taught at best, they are more qualified than even the properly accredited sort. Narcissists believe in magic and in fantasy. They are no longer with us.

Grandiosity Bubbles

As one Source of Narcissistic Supply dwindles, the narcissist finds himself trapped in a frantic (though, at times, unconscious) effort to secure alternatives. As one Pathological Narcissistic Space (the narcissist's stomping grounds) is rendered "uninhabitable" (too many people "see through" the narcissist's manipulation and machinations), the narcissist wanders off to find another.

These hysterical endeavours sometimes lead to boom-bust cycles which involve, in the first stage, the formation of a Grandiosity Bubble.

A Grandiosity Bubble is an imagined, self-aggrandising, narrative involving the narcissist and elements from his real life: people around him, places he frequents, or conversations he is having. The narcissist weaves a story incorporating these facts, inflating them in the process and endowing them with bogus internal meaning and consistency. In other words: he confabulates – but, this time, his confabulation is loosely based on reality.

In the process, the narcissist re-invents himself and his life to fit the new-fangled tale. He re-casts himself in newly adopted roles. He suddenly fancies himself an actor, a guru, a political activist, an entrepreneur, or an irresistible hunk. He modifies his behaviour to conform to these new functions. He gradually morphs into the fabricated character and "becomes" the fictitious protagonist he has created.

All the mechanisms of pathological narcissism are at work during the bubble phase. The narcissist idealizes the situation, the other "actors", and the environment. He tries to control and manipulate his milieu into buttressing his false notions and perceptions. Faced with an inevitable Grandiosity Gap, he becomes disillusioned and bitter and devalues and discards the people, places, and circumstances involved in the bubble.

Still, Grandiosity Bubbles are not part of the normal narcissistic mini-cycle. They are rare events, much like trying on a new outfit for size and comfort. They fizzle out rapidly and the narcissist reverts to his regular pattern: idealizing new Sources of Supply, devaluing and discarding them, pursuing the next victims to be drained of emotional energy.

Actually, the deflation of a Grandiosity Bubble is met with relief by the narcissist. It does not involve a narcissistic injury. The narcissist views the bubble as merely an experiment at being someone else for a while. It is a safety valve, allowing the narcissist to effectively cope with negative emotions and frustration. Thus cleansed, the narcissist can go back to doing what he does best: projecting a False Self and garnering attention from others.

[First published on the Suite 101 Narcissistic Personality Disorder Topic.]

The Narcissist's Confabulated Life

Confabulations are an important part of life. They serve to heal emotional wounds or to prevent ones from being inflicted in the first place. They prop-up the confabulator's self-esteem, regulate his (or her) sense of self-worth, and buttress his (or her) self-image. They serve as organizing principles in social interactions.

Father's wartime heroism, mother's youthful good looks, one's oft-recounted exploits, erstwhile alleged brilliance, and past purported sexual irresistibility are typical examples of white, fuzzy, heart-warming lies wrapped around a shrivelled kernel of truth.

But the distinction between reality and fantasy is rarely completely lost. Deep inside, the healthy confabulator knows where facts end and wishful thinking takes over. Father acknowledges he was no war hero, though he did his share of fighting. Mother understands she was no ravishing beauty, though she may have been attractive. The confabulator realizes that his recounted exploits are overblown, his brilliance exaggerated, and his sexual irresistibility a myth.

Such distinctions never rise to the surface because everyone – the confabulator and his audience alike – have a common interest to maintain the confabulation. To challenge the integrity of the confabulator or the veracity of his confabulations is to threaten the very fabric of family and society. Human intercourse is built around such entertaining deviations from the truth.

This is where the narcissist differs from others (from "normal" people).

His very Self is a piece of fiction concocted to fend off hurt and to nurture the narcissist's grandiosity. The narcissist fails his "reality test": the ability to distinguish the actual from the imagined. He fervently believes in his own infallibility, brilliance, omnipotence, heroism, and perfection. He doesn't dare confront the truth and admit it even to himself.

Moreover, he imposes his personal mythology on his nearest and dearest. Spouse, children, colleagues, friends, neighbours – sometimes even perfect strangers – must abide by the narcissist's narrative or face his wrath. The narcissist countenances no disagreement, alternative points of view, or criticism. To him, confabulation IS reality.

The coherence of the narcissist's dysfunctional and precariously-balanced personality depends on the plausibility of his stories and on their acceptance by his Sources of Narcissistic Supply. The narcissist invests an inordinate time in substantiating his tales, collecting "evidence", defending his version of events, and in re-interpreting reality to fit his scenario. As a result, most narcissists are self-delusional, obstinate, opinionated, and argumentative.

The narcissist's lies are not goal-orientated. This is what makes his constant dishonesty both disconcerting and incomprehensible. The narcissist lies at the drop of a hat, needlessly, and almost ceaselessly. He lies in order to avoid the Grandiosity Gap – when the abyss between fact and (narcissistic) fiction becomes too gaping to ignore.

The narcissist lies in order to preserve appearances, uphold fantasies, support the tall (and impossible) tales of his False Self and extract Narcissistic Supply from unsuspecting sources, who are not yet on to him. To the narcissist, confabulation is not merely a way of life – it is life itself.

We are all conditioned to let other indulge in pet delusions and get away with white, not too egregious, lies. The narcissist makes use of our socialization. We dare not confront or expose him, despite the outlandishness of his claims, the improbability of his stories, the implausibility of his alleged accomplishments and conquests. We meekly avert our eyes, often embarrassed.

Moreover, the narcissist makes clear, from the very beginning, that it is his way or the highway. His aggression – his violent streak – are close to the surface. He may be charming in a first encounter – but even then there are telltale signs of pent-up abuse. His interlocutors sense this impending threat and avoid conflict by acquiescing with the narcissist's fairy tales. Thus he imposes his private universe and virtual reality on his milieu – sometimes with disastrous consequences.

[First published on the Suite 101 Narcissistic Personality Disorder Topic.]

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 8

 

Grandiosity Hangover and Narcissist Baiting

 

 

Question: My mother doesn't want to grow up. She wears my stuff, flirts with my boyfriends, and insists on going out with us everywhere. What's wrong with her?

Answer: The grandiose fantasies of the narcissist inevitably and invariably clash with his drab, routine, and mundane reality. We call this constant dissonance the Grandiosity Gap. Sometimes the gap is so yawning that even the narcissist, however dimly, recognizes its existence. Still, this insight into his real situation fails to alter his behaviour. The narcissist knows that his grandiose fantasies are incommensurate with his accomplishments, knowledge, qualities, qualifications, skills, status, actual wealth (or lack thereof), physical constitution, or sex appeal – yet, he keeps behaving as though this were not the case.

The situation is further exacerbated by periods of relative success in the narcissist's past. Has-been and also-ran narcissists suffer from a Grandiosity Hangover. They may have once been rich, famous, powerful, brilliant, or sexually irresistible, but they no longer are. Still, they continue to behave as though little has changed.

The balding, potbellied, narcissist still courts women aggressively. The impoverished tycoon sinks deeper into debt, trying to maintain an unsustainable and lavish lifestyle. The one-novel author or one-discovery scholar still demands professional deference and expects attention by media and superiors. The once-potent politician maintains regal airs and holds court in great pomp. The wizened actress demands special treatment and throws temper tantrums when rebuffed. The ageing beauty wears her daughter's clothes and regresses emotionally as she progresses chronologically.

Human collectives – firms, nations, clubs – develop Grandiosity Hangovers as easily and as frequently as do individuals. It is not uncommon to come across a group of people who still live in a bygone glorious past. This mass pathology is self-reinforcing. Members feed on each other's delusions, pretensions, and lies. Ostrich-like, they bury their collective head in the sands of time, harking back to happier moments of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence.

The Grandiosity Hangover and the Grandiosity Gap are the two major vulnerabilities of the narcissist. By exploiting them, the narcissist can be effortlessly manipulated. This is especially true when the narcissist is confronted with authority, finds himself in an inferior position, or when his Narcissistic Supply is deficient or uncertain.

Abusing the Gullible Narcissist

"Such a one (the narcissist – SV) is encased, is he not, in an armour – such an armour! The armour of the crusaders was nothing to it – an armour of arrogance, of pride, of complete self-esteem. This armour, it is in some ways a protection, the arrows, the everyday arrows of life glance off it. But there is this danger; Sometimes a man in armour might not even know he was being attacked. He will be slow to see, slow to hear – slower still to feel."

["Dead Man's Mirror" by Agatha Christie in "Hercule Poirot – The Complete Short Stories", Great Britain, HarperCollins Publishers, 1999]

The irony is that narcissists, who consider themselves worldly, discerning, knowledgeable, shrewd, erudite, and astute are actually more gullible than the average person. This is because the narcissist is a fake. His self is false, his life a confabulation, his reality test gone. Narcissists live in a fantasy land all their own in which they are the centre of the universe, admired, feared, held in awe, and respected for their omnipotence and omniscience.

Narcissists are prone to magical thinking. They hold themselves immune to the consequences of their actions (or inaction) and, therefore, beyond punishment and the laws of Man. Narcissists are easily persuaded to assume unreasonable risks and expect miracles to happen. They often find themselves on the receiving end of investment scams, for instance.

Narcissists feel entitled to money, power, and honours incommensurate with their accomplishments or toil. The world, or God, or the nation, or society, or their families, co-workers, employers, even neighbours owe them a trouble-free, exalted, and luxurious existence. They are rudely shocked when they are penalized for their misconduct or when their fantasies remain just that.

The narcissist believes that he is destined to greatness – or at least the easy life. He wakes up every morning fully ready for a fortuitous stroke of luck. That explains the narcissist's reckless behaviours and his lazed lack of self-discipline. It also explains why he is so easily duped.

By playing on the narcissist's grandiosity and paranoia, it is possible to deceive and manipulate him effortlessly. Just offer him Narcissistic Supply – admiration, affirmation, adulation – and he is yours. Harp on his insecurities and his persecutory delusions, and he is likely to trust only you and cling to you for dear life.

Narcissists attract abuse. Haughty, exploitative, demanding, insensitive, and quarrelsome, they tend to draw opprobrium and provoke anger and even hatred. Sorely lacking in interpersonal skills, devoid of empathy, and steeped in irksome grandiose fantasies, they invariably fail to mitigate the irritation and revolt that they induce in others.

Successful narcissists are frequently targeted by erotomaniacs – usually mentally ill people who develop a fixation of a sexual and emotional nature on the narcissist. When these stalkers are inevitably rebuffed, they become vindictive and even violent.

Less prominent narcissists end up sharing life with co-dependents and inverted narcissists.

The narcissist's situation is exacerbated by the fact that, often, the narcissist himself is an abuser. Like the boy who cried "wolf", people do not believe that the perpetrator of egregious deeds can himself fall prey to maltreatment. They tend to ignore and discard the narcissist's cries for help and disbelieve his protestations.

The narcissist reacts to abuse as would any other victim. Traumatized, he goes through the phases of denial, helplessness, rage, depression, and acceptance. But, the narcissist's reactions are amplified by his shattered sense of omnipotence. Abuse breeds humiliation. To the narcissist, helplessness is a novel experience.

The narcissistic defence mechanisms and their behavioural manifestations – diffuse rage, idealization and devaluation, exploitation – are useless when confronted with a determined, vindictive, or delusional stalker. That the narcissist is flattered by the attention he receives from the abuser, renders him more vulnerable to the latter's manipulation.

Nor can the narcissist come to terms with his need for help or acknowledge that wrongful behaviour on his part may have contributed somehow to the situation. His self-image as an infallible, mighty, all-knowing person, far superior to others, won't let him admit to shortfalls or mistakes.

As the abuse progresses, the narcissist feels increasingly cornered. His conflicting emotional needs – to preserve the integrity of his grandiose False Self even as he seeks much needed support – place an unbearable strain on the precarious balance of his immature personality. Decompensation (the disintegration of the narcissist's defence mechanisms) leads to acting out and, if the abuse is protracted, to withdrawal and even to psychotic micro-episodes.

 

First published on the Suite 101 Narcissistic Personality Disorders Topic.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 9

 

Depression and the Narcissist

 

 

Question: My husband is a narcissist and is constantly depressed. Is there any connection between these two problems?

Answer: There is no proven high correlation between pathological narcissism and depression.

Depression is a form of aggression coupled with a self-defeating negative perception of oneself. Transformed, this aggression is directed at the depressed person rather than at his environment. This regime of repressed and mutated aggression is characteristic of both narcissism and depression.

Originally, the narcissist experiences "forbidden" thoughts and urges (sometimes to the point of an obsession). His mind is full of "dirty" words, curses, the remnants of magical thinking ("If I think or wish something it just might happen"), and denigrating and malicious thinking concerned with authority figures (mostly parents or teachers).

These are all proscribed by the narcissist's sadistic and capricious Superego (a result of the wrong kind of parenting). These thoughts and wishes do not fully surface. The individual is only aware of them in passing and vaguely. But they are sufficient to provoke intense guilt feelings and to set in motion a chain of self-flagellation and self-punishment.

The result is a constant feeling of imminent threat. This is what we call anxiety. It has no discernible external triggers and, therefore, it is unlike fear. It is the echo of a battle between one part of the personality, which viciously wishes to destroy the individual through excessive punishment and the individual’s instinct of self-preservation.

Anxiety is not, as some scholars have it, an irrational reaction to internal dynamics involving imaginary threats and conflicts. Actually, anxiety is more rational than many fears. The powers unleashed by the Superego are so enormous, its intentions so fatal, the self-loathing and self-degradation that it brings with it so intense that the threat to the individual is real and the conflict ferocious.

The overly strict Superego is usually coupled with weaknesses and vulnerabilities in all other personality structures. Thus, there is no psychic structure able to fight back, to take the side of the depressed person. Small wonder that depressive patients manifest constant suicidal ideation (they toy with ideas of self-mutilation and suicide), or worse, commit such acts.

Confronted with a horrible internal enemy, lacking in defences, falling apart at the seams, depleted by previous inner turmoil, the depressed patient wishes himself dead. His anxiety is about survival, the alternatives being, usually, self-torture or self-annihilation.

Depression is how such people experience their overflowing reservoirs of aggression. They are like volcanoes, which are about to explode and bury them under their own ashes. Anxiety is how these patients experience the war raging inside them. Sadness is the name that they give to the resulting wariness, to the knowledge that the battle is lost and personal doom is at hand.

Depression is the acknowledgement by the depressed individual that something is so fundamentally wrong that there is no way he can win. The individual is depressed because he is fatalistic. As long as he believes that there is a chance, however slim, to better his position, he moves in and out of depressive episodes.

True, anxiety disorders and depression (mood disorders) do not belong in the same diagnostic category. But they are very often co-morbid. In many cases, the patient tries to exorcize his depressive demons by adopting ever more bizarre rituals. These are the compulsions, which, by diverting energy and attention away from the "bad" content in more or less symbolic (though totally arbitrary) ways, bring temporary relief and an easing of the anxiety. It is very common to come across all four: a mood disorder, an anxiety disorder, an obsessive-compulsive disorder and a personality disorder in one patient.

Depression is the most varied of all psychological illnesses. It assumes a myriad of guises and disguises. Many people are chronically depressed without even knowing it and without corresponding cognitive or affective contents. Some depressive episodes are part of a cycle of ups and downs (as is the  case in the bipolar disorder as well as in a milder form, the cyclothymic disorder).

Other depressive illnesses are "built into" the characters and the personalities of the patients (e.g., the dysthymic disorder or what used to be known as depressive neurosis). One type of depression is even seasonal and can be cured by photo-therapy (gradual exposure to carefully timed artificial lighting). We all experience "adjustment disorders with depressed mood" (used to be called reactive depression, which occurs after a stressful life event and as a direct and time-limited reaction to it).

These poisoned garden varieties are all-pervasive. Not a single aspect of the human condition escapes them, not one element of human behaviour evades their grip. It is not wise (it has no predictive or explanatory value) to differentiate "good" or "normal" depressions from "pathological" ones. There are no "good" depressions.

Whether provoked by misfortune or endogenously (from the inside), whether during childhood or later in life, all depressive illnesses are one and the same. A depression is a depression is a depression no matter what its precipitating causes are or which stage in life it appears in.

The only valid distinction seems to be phenomenological: some depressives slow down (psychomotor retardation), their appetite, sex life (libido) and sleep (known together as the vegetative) functions are notably perturbed. Behaviour patterns change or disappear altogether. These patients feel dead: they are anhedonic (find pleasure or excitement in nothing) and dysphoric (sad).

The other type of depressive is psychomotorically active (at times, hyperactive). These are the patients that I described above: they report overwhelming guilt feelings, anxiety, even to the point of having delusions (delusional thinking, not grounded in reality but in a thwarted logic of an outlandish world).

The most severe cases exhibit paranoia (delusions of systematic conspiracies to persecute them), and seriously entertain ideas of self-destruction and the destruction of others (nihilistic delusions).

They hallucinate. Their hallucinations reveal their hidden contents: self-deprecation, the need to be (self) punished, humiliation, "bad" or "cruel" or "permissive" thoughts about authority figures. Depressives are almost never psychotic (psychotic depression does not belong to this family of afflictions). Depression does not necessarily entail a marked change in mood. "Masked depression" is, therefore, difficult to diagnose if we stick to the strict definition of depression as a "mood" disorder.

Depression can happen at any age, to anyone, with or without a preceding stressful event. It can set on gradually or erupt dramatically. The earlier it occurs, the more likely it is to recur. This apparently arbitrary and shifting nature of depression only enhances the guilt feelings of the patient. He refuses to accept that the source of his problems is beyond his control and could be biological, for instance. The depressive patient always blames himself, or events in his immediate past, for his "misconduct".

This is a vicious and self-fulfilling prophetic cycle. The depressive feels worthless, doubts his future and his abilities, feels guilty. This constant brooding alienates his dearest and nearest. His interpersonal relationships become distorted and disrupted and this dysfunction, in turn, exacerbates his depression.

The patient finally finds it most convenient and rewarding to avoid human contact altogether. He resigns from his job, shies away from social settings, sexually abstains, shuts out his few remaining friends and family members. Hostility, avoidance, histrionics all emerge and the co-existence of personality disorders only makes matters worse.

Freud said that the depressive person had lost a love object (was deprived of a properly functioning parent). The psychic trauma suffered early on can be alleviated only by inflicting self-punishment (thus implicitly "punishing" and devaluing the internalized version of the disappointing love object).

The development of the Ego is conditioned upon a successful resolution of the loss of these love objects (a phase all of us have to go through). When the love object fails, the child is furious, revengeful, and aggressive. Unable to direct these negative emotions at the frustrating parent, the child directs them at himself.

Narcissistic Identification means that the child prefers to love himself (direct his libido at himself) rather than to love an unpredictable, abandoning parent (mother, in most cases). Thus, the child becomes his own parent and directs his aggression at himself (at the parent that he has become). Throughout this wrenching process, the Ego feels helpless and this is another major source of depression.

When depressed, the patient becomes an artist of sorts. He tars his life, people around him, his experiences, places, and memories with a thick brush of maudlin, sentimental, and nostalgic longing. The depressive imbues everything with sadness: a tune, a sight, a colour, another person, a situation, a memory.

In this sense, the depressive is cognitively distorted. He interprets his experiences, evaluates his self and assesses the future totally negatively. He behaves as though he is constantly disenchanted, disillusioned, and hurting (dysphoric affect) and this helps to sustain the distorted perceptions.

No success, accomplishment, or support can break this cycle because it is so self-contained and self-enhancing. Dysphoric affect supports distorted perceptions, which enhance dysphoria, which encourages self-defeating behaviours, which bring about failure, which justifies depression.

This is a cosy little circle, charmed and emotionally protective because it is unfailingly predictable. Depression is addictive because it is a strong love substitute. Much like drugs, it has its own rituals, language and worldview. It imposes rigid order and behaviour patterns on the depressive. This is learned helplessness: the depressive prefers to avoid certain situations even if they hold the promise of improvement and pleasure.

The depressive patient has been conditioned by repeated aversive stimuli to freeze – he does not even have the energy needed to exit this cruel world by committing suicide. The depressive is devoid of the positive reinforcements, which are the building blocks of our self-esteem.

He is filled with negative thinking about his self, his (lack of) goals, his (lack of) achievements, his emptiness and loneliness and so on. And because his cognition and perceptions are deformed, no cognitive or rational input can alter the situation. Everything is immediately reinterpreted to fit the paradigm.

People often mistake depression for emotion. They say about the narcissist: "He is sad" and they mean: "He is human because he has emotions". This is wrong. True, depression is a big component in the narcissist's emotional makeup. But it mostly has to do with the absence of Narcissistic Supply. It mostly has to do with nostalgia for more plentiful days, full of adoration and attention and applause. It mostly occurs after the narcissist has depleted his Secondary Sources of Narcissistic Supply (spouse, mate, girlfriend, colleagues) with his constant demands for the "re-enactment" of his days of glory. Some narcissists even cry, but they cry exclusively for themselves and for their lost paradise. And they do so conspicuously and publicly, in order to attract attention.

The narcissist is a human pendulum hanging by the thread of the void that is his False Self. He swings between brutal and vicious abrasiveness and mellifluous, maudlin, and saccharine sentimentality. It is all an emotional simulacrum, a verisimilitude, a facsimile. Enough to fool the casual observer. Enough to extract the coveted drug: other people's attention, that reflection that somehow sustains his mental house of cards.

But the stronger and more rigid the defences – and nothing is more resilient than pathological narcissism – the greater and deeper the hurt the narcissist aims to compensate for. One's narcissism stands in direct relation to the seething abyss and the devouring vacuum that one harbours in one's True Self.

Perhaps narcissism is, indeed, as some scholars say, a reversible choice. But it is also a rational choice, guaranteeing self-preservation and survival. The paradox is that being a self-loathing narcissist may be the only act of true self-love the narcissist ever commits.

The Depressive Narcissist

Many scholars consider pathological narcissism to be a form of depressive illness. This is the position of the authoritative magazine "Psychology Today". The life of the typical narcissist is, indeed, punctuated with recurrent bouts of dysphoria (ubiquitous sadness and hopelessness), anhedonia (loss of the ability to feel pleasure), and clinical forms of depression (cyclothymic, dysthymic, or other). This picture is further obfuscated by the frequent presence of mood disorders, such as Bipolar I (co-morbidity).

While the distinction between reactive (exogenous) and endogenous depression is obsolete, it is still useful in the context of narcissism. Narcissists react with depression not only to life crises but to fluctuations in Narcissistic Supply.

The narcissist's personality is disorganized and precariously balanced. He regulates his sense of self-worth by consuming Narcissistic Supply from others. Any threat to the uninterrupted flow of said supply compromises his psychological integrity and his ability to function. It is perceived by the narcissist as life threatening.

Loss Induced Dysphoria

This is the narcissist's depressive reaction to the loss of one or more Sources of Narcissistic Supply, or to the disintegration of a Pathological Narcissistic Space (PN Space, his stalking or hunting grounds, the social unit whose members lavish attention or admiration on the narcissist).

Deficiency Induced Dysphoria

Deep and acute depression which follows the aforementioned losses of Supply Sources or a PN Space. Having mourned these losses, the narcissist now grieves their inevitable outcome – the absence or deficiency of Narcissistic Supply. Paradoxically, this dysphoria energises the narcissist and moves him to find new Sources of Supply to replenish his dilapidated stock (thus initiating a Narcissistic Cycle).

Self-Worth Dysregulation Dysphoria

The narcissist reacts with depression to criticism or disagreement, especially from a trusted and long-term Source of Narcissistic Supply. He fears the imminent loss of the source and the damage to his own, fragile, mental balance. The narcissist also resents his vulnerability and his extreme dependence on feedback from others. This type of depressive reaction is, therefore, a mutation of self-directed aggression.

Grandiosity Gap Dysphoria

The narcissist's firmly, though counterfactually, perceives himself as omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, brilliant, accomplished, irresistible, immune, and invincible. Any data to the contrary is usually filtered out, altered, or discarded altogether. Still, sometimes reality intrudes and creates a Grandiosity Gap. The narcissist is forced to face his mortality, limitations, ignorance, and relative inferiority. He sulks and sinks into an incapacitating but short-lived dysphoria.

Self-Punishing Dysphoria

Deep inside, the narcissist hates himself and doubts his own worth. He deplores his desperate addiction to Narcissistic Supply. He judges his actions and intentions harshly and sadistically. He may be unaware of these dynamics – but they are at the heart of the narcissistic disorder and the reason the narcissist had to resort to narcissism as a defence mechanism in the first place.

This inexhaustible well of ill will, self-chastisement, self-doubt, and self-directed aggression yields numerous self-defeating and self-destructive behaviours – from reckless driving and substance abuse to suicidal ideation and constant depression.

It is the narcissist's ability to confabulate that saves him from himself. His grandiose fantasies remove him from reality and prevent recurrent narcissistic injuries. Many narcissists end up delusional, schizoid, or paranoid. To avoid agonizing and gnawing depression, they give up on life itself.

Persecutory Anxiety – Note to Mental Health Practitioners

Positive feelings (about oneself or pertaining to one's accomplishments, assets, etc.) are never gained merely through conscious endeavour. They are the outcome of insight. Insight has a cognitive component (factual knowledge regarding one's achievements, assets, qualities, skills, etc.) plus an emotional correlate that is heavily dependent on past experience, the presence of defence mechanisms, and personality style or structure ("character").

People who consistently feel worthless or unworthy usually overcompensate cognitively for the lack of the aforementioned emotional component.

Such a person doesn't love himself, yet is trying to convince himself that he is loveable. He doesn't trust himself, yet he lectures to himself on how trustworthy he is (replete with supporting evidence from his experiences).

But such cognitive substitutes to emotional self-acceptance won't do.

The root of the problem is the inner dialog between disparaging voices and countervailing "proofs". Such self-doubting is, in principle, a healthy thing. It serves as an integral and critical part of the "checks and balances" that constitute the mature personality.

But, normally, some ground rules are observed and some facts are considered indisputable. When things go awry, however, the consensus breaks. Chaos replaces structure and the regimented update of one's self-image (via introspection) gives way to recursive loops of self-deprecation with diminishing insights.

In other words, normally, the dialog serves to augment some self-assessments and mildly modify others. When things go wrong, the dialog concerns itself with the very narrative, rather than with its content.

The dysfunctional dialog deals with questions that are far more fundamental (and typically settled early on in life):

"Who am I?"

"What are my traits, my skills, my accomplishments?"

"How reliable, loveable, trustworthy, qualified, truthful am I?"

"How can I separate fact from fiction?"

The answers to these questions consist of both cognitive (empirical) and emotional components. They are mostly derived from our social interactions, from the feedback we get and give. An inner dialog that is still concerned with these qualms indicates a problem with socialization.

It is not one's "psyche" that is delinquent but one's social functioning. One should direct one's efforts to "heal" outwards (to remedy one's interactions with others), not inwards (to cure one's "psyche").

Moreover, the disordered dialog is not time-synchronic.

The healthy internal discourse is between concurrent, equipotent, and same-age "entities" (psychological constructs). Its aim is to negotiate conflicting demands and reach a compromise based on a rigorous test of reality.

The pathological dialog, on the other hand, involves wildly disparate interlocutors. These are in different stages of maturation and possessed of unequal faculties. They are more interested to give monologues than to participate in a dialog. Because they are "stuck" in various ages and periods, they do not all relate to the same "host", "person", or "personality". They require time- and energy-consuming constant mediation. It is this depleting process of arbitration and "peacekeeping" that is consciously felt as nagging insecurity or, even, in extremis, self-loathing.

A constant and consistent lack of self-confidence and a fluctuating sense of self-worth are the conscious "translation" of the unconscious threat posed by the precariousness of the disordered personality. It is, in other words, a warning sign.

Thus, the first step is to clearly identify the various segments that, together, however incongruently, constitute the personality. This can be surprisingly easily done by noting down the "stream of consciousness" dialog and assigning "names" or "handles" to the various "voices" in it.

The next step is to "introduce" the voices to each other and form an internal consensus (a "coalition", or an "alliance"). This requires a prolonged period of "negotiations" and mediation, leading to the compromises that underlie such a consensus. The mediator can be a trusted friend, a lover, or a therapist.

The very achievement of such internal "ceasefire" reduces anxiety considerably and removes the "imminent threat". This, in turn, allows the patient to develop a realistic "core" or "kernel", wrapped around the basic understanding reached earlier between the contesting parts of his personality.

The development of such a nucleus of stable self-worth, however, is dependent on two things:

1. Sustained interactions with mature and predictable people who are aware of their boundaries and of their true identity (their traits, skills, abilities, limitations, and so on), and

2. The emergence of a nurturing and "holding" emotional correlate to every cognitive insight or breakthrough.

The latter is inextricably bound with the former.

Here is why:

Some of the "voices" in the internal dialog of the patient are bound to be disparaging, injurious, belittling, sadistically critical, destructively sceptical, mocking, and demeaning. The only way to silence these voices – or at least "discipline" them and make them conform to a more realistic emerging inner consensus – is by gradually (and sometimes surreptitiously) introducing countervailing "players".

Protracted exposure to the right people, in the framework of mature interactions, negates the pernicious effects of what Freud called a Superego gone awry. It is, in effect, a process of reprogramming and deprogramming.

There are two types of beneficial, altering, social experiences:

1. Structured – interactions that involve adherence to a set of rules embedded in authoritative structures, institutions, and enforcement mechanisms (example: attending psychotherapy, going through a spell in prison, convalescing in a hospital, serving in the army, being an aid worker or a missionary, studying at school, growing up in a family, participating in a 12-steps group), and

2. Non-structured – interactions which involve a voluntary exchange of information, opinion, goods, or services with others.

The problem with the disordered person is that, usually, his (or her) chances of freely interacting with mature adults (interactions of the non-structured kind) are limited to start with and dwindle with time. This is because few potential partners – interlocutors, lovers, friends, colleagues, neighbours – are willing to invest the time, effort, energy, and resources required to effectively cope with the patient and manage the often-arduous relationship. Disordered patients are typically hard to get along with, demanding, petulant, paranoid, and narcissistic.

Even the most gregarious and outgoing patient finally finds himself isolated, shunned, and misjudged.

This only adds to his initial misery and amplifies the wrong kind of voices in the internal dialog.

Hence my recommendation to start with structured activities and in a structured, almost automatic manner. Therapy is only one – and at times not the most efficient – choice.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 10

 

Narcissistic Rage

Anger as a Source of Personality Disorder

 

 

Question: Do all personality disorders have a common psychodynamic source? To what stage of personal development can we attribute this common source? Can the paths leading from that common source to each of these disorders be charted? Will positive answers to the above endow us with a new understanding of these pernicious conditions?

Answer:

Acute Anger

Anger is a compounded phenomenon. It has dispositional properties, expressive and motivational components, situational and individual variations, cognitive and excitatory interdependent manifestations and psycho-physiological (especially neuroendocrine) aspects. From the psychobiological point of view, it probably had its survival utility in early evolution, but it seems to have lost a lot of it in modern societies. Actually, in most cases it is counterproductive, even dangerous. Dysfunctional anger is known to have pathogenic effects (mostly cardiovascular).

Most narcissists are prone to be angry. Their anger is always sudden, raging, frightening and without an apparent provocation by an outside agent. It would seem that narcissists are in a CONSTANT state of rage, which is effectively controlled most of the time. It manifests itself only when the narcissist's defences are down, incapacitated, or adversely affected by circumstances, inner or external.

In a nutshell, a person presenting with such acute rage was, usually, unable to express anger and direct it at "forbidden" targets in his early, formative years (his parents, in most cases). The anger, however, was a justified reaction to abuses and mistreatment. The patient was, therefore, left to nurture a sense of profound injustice and frustrated rage. Healthy people experience anger, but as a transitory state. This is what sets the personality disordered apart: their anger is always acute, permanently present, often suppressed or repressed. Healthy anger has an external inducing agent (a reason). It is directed at this agent (coherence).

Pathological anger is neither coherent, not externally induced. It emanates from the inside and it is diffuse, directed at the "world" and at "injustice" in general. The narcissist is capable of identifying the IMMEDIATE cause of his fury. Still, upon closer scrutiny, the cause is likely to be found lacking and the anger excessive, disproportionate, and incoherent.

It might be more accurate to say that the narcissist is expressing (and experiencing) TWO layers of anger, simultaneously and always. The first layer, of superficial ire, is indeed directed at an identified target, the alleged cause of the eruption. The second layer, however, incorporates the narcissist's self-aimed wrath.

The patient is angry at himself for being unable to normally vent off normal anger. He feels like a miscreant. He hates himself. This second layer of anger also comprises strong and easily identifiable elements of frustration, irritation and annoyance.

Yet, normal anger results in taking some action regarding the source of frustration (or, at the very least, the planning or contemplation of such action). In contrast, pathological rage is mostly directed at oneself, displaced, or even lacks a target altogether.

The personality disordered are afraid to show to meaningful others that they are angry because they are afraid to lose them. The borderline personality disordered is terrified of being abandoned, the narcissist (NPD) needs his Narcissistic Supply Sources, the paranoid – his persecutors and so on. These people prefer to direct their anger at people who are meaningless to them, people whose withdrawal will not constitute a threat to their precariously balanced personalities. They yell at a waitress, berate a taxi driver, or explode at an underling. Alternatively, they sulk, feel anhedonic or pathologically bored, drink or do drugs – all forms of self-directed aggression.

From time to time, no longer able to pretend and to suppress their rage, they have it out with the real source of their anger. Then they lose all vestiges of self-control and rave like lunatics. They shout incoherently, make absurd accusations, distort facts, and air long-suppressed grievances, allegations and suspicions.

These episodes are followed by periods of saccharine sentimentality and excessive flattering and submissiveness towards the victim of the latest rage attack. Driven by the mortal fear of being abandoned or ignored, the narcissist debases and demeans himself to the point of provoking repulsion in the beholder. These pendulum-like emotional swings make life with the personality disordered difficult.

It is not clear whether action diminishes anger or anger is used up in action – but anger in healthy persons is diminished through action and expression. It is an aversive, unpleasant emotion. It is intended to generate action in order to reduce frustration. Anger is coupled with physiological arousal. But it is not clear whether action diminishes anger or anger is used up in action. Similarly, it is not clear whether the consciousness of anger is dependent on a stream of cognition expressed in words? Do we become angry because we say that we are angry (we identify the anger and capture it) – or do we say that we are angry because we are angry to start with?

Anger is induced by numerous factors. It is almost a universal reaction. Any threat to one's welfare (physical, emotional, social, financial, or mental) is met with anger. So are threats to one's affiliates, nearest, dearest, nation, favourite football club, pet and so on. The territory of anger includes not only the angry person himself, but also his real and perceived environment and social milieu.

This does not sound like a very adaptative strategy. Threats are not the only situations met with anger. Anger is also the reaction to injustice (perceived or real), to disagreements, to inconvenience. But the two main sources of anger are the existence of a threat (even a disagreement is potentially threatening) and injustice (even inconvenience is injustice inflicted on the angry person by the world).

These are also the two sources of personality disorders. The personality disordered is moulded by recurrent and frequent injustice and he is constantly threatened both by his internal and by his external universes. No wonder that there is a close affinity between the personality disordered and the acutely angry person.

And, as opposed to common opinion, the angry person becomes angry whether he believes that what was done to him was deliberate or not. If we lose a precious manuscript, even unintentionally, we are bound to become angry at ourselves. If his home is devastated by an earthquake, the owner will surely rage, though the devastation was not premeditated. When we perceive an injustice in the distribution of wealth or love, we become angry because of moral reasoning, whether the injustice was deliberate or not. We retaliate and we punish as a result of our ability to morally reason and to get even. Sometimes even moral reasoning is lacking, as in when we simply wish to alleviate a diffuse anger.

What the personality disordered does is: he suppresses his anger, but has no effective mechanisms of redirecting it in order to correct the inducing conditions. His hostile expressions are not constructive – they are destructive because they are diffuse, excessive and, therefore, unclear. He does not lash out at people in order to restore his lost self-esteem, his prestige, his sense of power and control over his life, to recover emotionally, or to restore his well-being. He rages because he cannot help it and is in a self-destructive and self-loathing mode. His anger does not contain a signal, which could alter his environment in general and the behaviour of those around him, in particular. His anger is primitive, maladaptive, pent up.

Anger is a primitive, limbic emotion. Its excitatory components and patterns are shared with sexual excitation and with fear. It is cognition that guides our behaviour, aimed at avoiding harm and aversion or at minimizing them. Our cognition is in charge of attaining certain kinds of mental gratification. We cognitively analyse future values of relief-gratification versus repercussions (reward to risk ratio). Anger is provoked by aversive treatment, deliberately or unintentionally inflicted. Such treatment must violate either prevailing conventions regarding social interactions or some otherwise deeply ingrained sense of what is fair and what is just. The judgement of fairness or justice (namely, the appraisal of the extent of compliance with conventions of social exchange) is also cognitive.

Angry people – narcissists or not – suffer from a cognitive deficit and are worried and anxious. They are unable to conceptualize, to design effective strategies, and to execute them. They dedicate all their attention to the here and now and ignore the future consequences of their actions. Recent events are judged more relevant and weighted more heavily than any earlier ones. Anger impairs cognition, including the proper perception of time and space.

In other words, their attention and information processing faculties are distorted, skewed in favour of the here and now, biased on both the intake and the output. Time is "relativistically dilated": the present feels more protracted, "longer" than any future. Immediate facts and actions are judged more relevant and weighted more heavily than any remote aversive conditions. Anger impairs cognition.

The angry person is a worried person. The personality disordered patient is also excessively preoccupied with himself. Worry and anger are the cornerstones of the edifice of anxiety. This is where it all converges: people become angry because they are excessively concerned with bad things which might happen to them. Anger is a result of anxiety (or, when the anger is not acute, of fear).

In all people, whether narcissists or normal, anger is associated with a suspension of empathy. Irritated people cannot empathize. Actually, "counter-empathy" develops in a state of aggravated anger. All mitigating circumstances related to the source of the anger are taken as intended to devalue and belittle the suffering of the angry person. His anger thus increases the more mitigating circumstances are brought to his attention. The faculties of judgement and risk evaluation are also altered by anger. Later provocative acts are judged to be more serious than earlier ones – just by "virtue" of their chronological position. All this is also very typical of the personality disordered. An impairment of empathic sensitivities is a prime symptom in the narcissistic, antisocial, schizoid and schizotypal personality disorders, to mention but four.

Moreover, the aforementioned impairment of judgement (impairment of the proper functioning of the mechanism of risk assessment) appears in both acute anger and in many personality disorders. The illusion of omnipotence (power), immunity, and invulnerability, the partiality of judgement are typical of both states. Acute anger (rage attacks in personality disorders) is always incommensurate with the magnitude of the source of the emotion and is fuelled by extraneous experiences. An acutely angry person usually reacts to an ACCUMULATION, an amalgamation of aversive experiences, all enhancing each other in vicious feedback loops, many of them not directly related to the cause of the specific episode. The angry person may be reacting to stress, agitation, disturbance, drugs, violence or aggression witnessed by him, to a social or national conflict, to elation and even to sexual excitation.

The same is true of the personality disordered. His inner world is fraught with unpleasant, ego-dystonic, discomfiting, unsettling, worrisome experiences. His external environment – influenced and moulded by his distorted personality – is also transformed into a source of aversive, repulsive, or plainly unpleasant experiences. The personality disordered explodes in rage because he implodes AND reacts to outside stimuli, simultaneously. Because he is a slave to magical thinking and, therefore, regards himself as omnipotent, omniscient and protected from the consequences of his own acts (immune), the personality disordered often acts in a self-destructive and self-defeating manner. The similarities are so numerous and so striking that it seems safe to say that the personality disordered is in a constant state of acute anger.

Finally, acutely angry people perceive anger to have been the result of intentional (or circumstantial) provocation with a hostile purpose (by the target of their anger). Their targets, on the other hand, invariably regard acutely angry people as incoherent, acting arbitrarily, in an unjustified manner.

Narcissistic Rage

Narcissists can be imperturbable, resilient to stress, and sangfroid. Narcissistic rage is not a reaction to stress – it is a reaction to a perceived slight, insult, criticism, or disagreement (in other words, to narcissistic injury). It is intense and disproportional to the "offence".

Narcissistic rage has two forms:

1. Explosive – The narcissist flares up, attacks everyone in his immediate vicinity, causes damage to objects or people, and is verbally and psychologically abusive.

2. Pernicious or Passive-Aggressive (P/A) – The narcissist sulks, gives the silent treatment, and is plotting how to punish the transgressor and put her in her proper place. These narcissists are vindictive and often become stalkers. They harass and haunt the objects of their frustration. They sabotage and damage the work and possessions of people whom they regard to be the sources of their mounting wrath.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 11

 

Gender and the Narcissist

 

 

Question: Are female narcissists any different from male narcissists?

Answer: Throughout this book I keep using the male third person singular because most narcissists (75%) are males and more so because there is little difference between the male and female narcissist.

In the manifestations of their narcissism, female and male narcissists, inevitably, do tend to differ. They emphasize different things. They transform different elements of their personalities and of their lives into the cornerstones of their disorder.

Women concentrate on their body (many also suffer from eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa). They flaunt and exploit their physical charms, their sexuality, and their socially and culturally determined "femininity". They often secure their Narcissistic Supply through their more traditional gender roles: home making, child rearing, suitable careers, tending to their husbands ("the wife of…"), their feminine traits, taking part in social functions, charity work, etc.

It is no wonder than narcissists – both men and women – are chauvinistic and conservative. They depend to such an extent on the opinions of people around them that, with time, they are transformed into ultra-sensitive seismographs of public opinion, barometers of prevailing fads and fashions, and guardians of conformity. The narcissist cannot afford to seriously alienate his "constituency", those people who reflect his False Self back to him. The very functioning of the narcissist's Ego depends on the goodwill and the collaboration of his human environment.

True, besieged and consumed by pernicious guilt feelings, many a narcissist finally seek to be punished. Such self-destructive narcissists pose as "bad guys" (or "bad girls"). But even then they make themselves fit traditional, widely-accepted stereotypes. To ensure social opprobrium (read: attention), the narcissist exaggerates these roles to the point of a caricature.

A self-destructive female narcissist is likely to label herself a "whore" and her male counterpart to style himself a "vicious, unrepentant criminal". Yet, these again are traditional social roles. Even as they seek their masochistic punishment, men are likely to emphasize intellect, power, aggression, money, or social status. Women are likely to emphasize body, looks, charm, sexuality, feminine "traits", homemaking, children and childrearing.

Another difference between the genders is in the way they react to treatment. Women are more likely to resort to therapy because they are more likely to admit to having psychological problems. Women are also generally more likely to ask for help than men.

But while men may be less inclined to DISCLOSE or to expose their problems to others (the macho-man factor), this does not necessarily imply that they are less prone to acknowledge the existence of these issues to themselves.

Yet, the prime rule of narcissism must never be forgotten: the narcissist uses everything around him or her to obtain his (or her) Narcissistic Supply. Children happen to be more attached to the female narcissist due to the way our society is still structured and to the fact that women are the ones to give birth and to serve as primary caretakers. It is easier for a woman to think of her children as her extensions because they once indeed were her physical extensions and because her on-going interaction with them is both more intensive and more extensive.

This means that the male narcissist is more likely to regard his children as a nuisance than as a Source of rewarding Narcissist Supply – especially as they grow older and become autonomous. With less alternatives than men, the narcissistic woman fights to maintain her most reliable Source of Supply: her children. Through insidious indoctrination, guilt formation, emotional sanctions and blackmail, deprivation and other psychological mechanisms, she tries to induce in her offspring dependence, which cannot be easily unravelled.

But, from the psychodynamic point of view, there is no difference between children, money, or intellect, as Sources of Narcissistic Supply. So, there is no psychodynamic difference between male and female narcissists. The only difference is in their choices of Sources of Narcissistic Supply.

There are mental disorders, which afflict a specific sex more often. This has to do with hormonal or other physiological dispositions, with social and cultural conditioning (socialization), and with role assignment through the gender differentiation process. None of these seem to be strongly correlated to the formation of malignant narcissism. The Narcissistic Personality Disorder (as opposed, for instance, to the Borderline or the Histrionic Personality Disorders, which affect women more than men) seems to conform to social mores and to the prevailing ethos of capitalism. Social thinkers like Lasch speculated that modern American culture – a narcissistic, self-centred one – increases the rate of incidence of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. As Kernberg observed:

"The most I would be willing to say is that society can make serious psychological abnormalities, which already exist in some percentage of the population, seem to be at least superficially appropriate."

Quotes from the Literature

"Specifically, past research suggests that exploitive tendencies and open displays of feelings of entitlement will be less integral to narcissism for females than for males. For females such displays may carry a greater possibility of negative social sanctions because they would violate stereotypical gender-role expectancies for women, who are expected to engage in such positive social behaviour as being tender, compassionate, warm, sympathetic, sensitive, and understanding.

In females, Exploitiveness/Entitlement is less well-integrated with the other components of narcissism as measured by the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) – Leadership/Authority, Self-absorption/Self-admiration, and Superiority/Arrogance – than in males – though 'male and female narcissists in general showed striking similarities in the manner in which most of the facets of narcissism were integrated with each other'."

[Gender differences in the structure of narcissism: a multi-sample analysis of the narcissistic personality inventory – Brian T. Tschanz, Carolyn C. Morf, Charles W. Turner – Sex Roles: A Journal of Research – Issue: May, 1998]

"Women leaders are evaluated negatively if they exercise their authority and are perceived as autocratic."

[Eagly, A. H., Makhijani, M. G., & Klonsky, B. G. (1992). Gender and the evaluation of leaders: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 111, 3-22, and…

Butler, D., & Gels, F. L. (1990). Nonverbal affect responses to male and female leaders: Implications for leadership evaluations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 48-59.]

"Competent women must also appear to be sociable and likable in order to influence men – men must only appear to be competent to achieve the same results with both genders."

[Carli, L. L., Lafleur, S. J., & Loeber, C. C. (1995). Nonverbal behaviour, gender, and influence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 1030-1041.]

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 12

 

Homosexual and Transsexual Narcissists

 

 

Question: What is the typical profile of a homosexual narcissist? Why is he always on a lookout for new victims? Is he lying or is he telling the truth when he says that he "wants to get laid" by one and all? If he is not suicidal, is he not afraid of AIDS?

Answer: I am a heterosexual and thus deprived of an intimate acquaintance with certain psychological processes, which allegedly are unique to homosexuals. It is doubtful whether there are such processes, to begin with. Research failed to find any substantive difference between the psychological makeup of a narcissist who happens to have homosexual preferences and a heterosexual narcissist.

They both are predators, devouring Narcissistic Supply Sources as they go. Narcissists look for new victims for the same reason tigers look for prey: they are hungry. Hungry for adoration, admiration, acceptance, approval, and any other kind of attention. Old Sources of Supply (suppliers) die easy: once taken for granted, the narcissistic element of conquest vanishes.

Conquest is important because it proves the superiority of the narcissist. The very act of subduing, subjugating, or acquiring the power to influence someone provides the narcissist with Narcissistic Supply. The newly conquered idolize the narcissist and serve as trophies.

The act of conquering and subordinating is epitomized by the sexual encounter: an objective and atavistic interaction. Making love to someone means that the consenting partner finds the narcissist (or one or more of his traits, such as his intelligence, his physique, even his money) irresistible.

The distinction between passive and active sexual partners is mechanical, false, superfluous and superficial. Penetration does not make one of the parties "the stronger one". To cause someone to have sex with you is a powerful stimulus and always provokes a sensation of omnipotence. Whether one is physically passive or active, one is always psychosexually active.

Anyone who practices unsafe sex is gambling with his life, though the odds are much smaller than public hysteria would have us believe. Reality does not matter, though – it is the perception of reality that matters. Getting this close to (perceived) danger is the equivalent of engaging in self-destruction (suicide). Indeed, narcissists are, at times, suicidal and are always self-destructive.

There is, however, one element, which might be unique to homosexuals: the fact that their self-definition hinges on their sexual identity. Few heterosexuals would use their sexual preference to comprehensively define themselves. Homosexuality has been inflated to the level of a sub-culture, a distinct psychology, or a myth. This kind of grandiose defence is typical of persecuted minorities and it has an all-pervasive influence on the individual. Preoccupation with body and sex makes most homosexual narcissists SOMATIC narcissists.

Moreover, the homosexual makes love to a person of the SAME sex – in a way, to his REFLECTION. In this respect, homosexual relations are highly narcissistic and autoerotic affairs.

The somatic narcissist directs his libido at his body (as opposed to the cerebral narcissist, who concentrates upon his intellect). He cultivates it, nourishes and nurtures it, is often a hypochondriac, dedicates an inordinate amount of time to its needs (real and imaginary). It is through his body that this type of narcissist tracks down and captures his Supply Sources.

The supply that the somatic narcissist so badly requires is derived from his sex appeal, shape, his build, his profile, his beauty, his physical attractiveness, his health, his age, and his fitness. He downplays Narcissistic Supply directed at other traits. He uses sex to reaffirm his prowess, his attractiveness, his irresistibility, his omnipotence, or his youth. Love, to him, is synonymous with sex and he focuses his learning skills on the sexual act, the foreplay and the coital aftermath.

The act of seduction becomes addictive because it leads to a quick succession of Supply Sources. Naturally, boredom (a form of transmuted aggression) sets in once the going gets routine. Routine is counter-narcissistic by definition because it threatens the narcissist's sense of uniqueness.

An interesting side issue relates to transsexuals.

Philosophically, there is little difference between a narcissist who seeks to avoid his True Self (and positively to become his False Self) and a transsexual who seeks to discard his true gender. But this similarity, though superficially appealing, is questionable.

People sometimes seek sex reassignment because of advantages and opportunities which, they believe, are enjoyed by the other sex. This rather unrealistic (fantastic) view of the other is faintly narcissistic. It includes elements of idealized over-valuation, of self-preoccupation, and of objectification of one's self. It demonstrates a deficient ability to empathize and some grandiose sense of entitlement ("I deserve to be taken care of") and omnipotence ("I can be whatever I want to be, despite nature/God").

This feeling of entitlement is especially manifest in some gender dysphoric individuals who aggressively pursue hormonal or surgical treatment. They feel that it is their inalienable right to receive it on demand and without any strictures or restrictions. For instance, they oftentimes refuse to undergo psychological evaluation or treatment as a condition for the hormonal or surgical intervention.

It is interesting to note that both narcissism and gender dysphoria are early childhood phenomena. This could be explained by problematic Primary Objects, dysfunctional families, or a common genetic or biochemical problem. It is too early to say which. As yet, there isn't even an agreed typology of gender identity disorders, let alone an in-depth comprehension of their sources.

A radical view, proffered by Ray Blanchard, seems to indicate that pathological narcissism is more likely to be found among non-core, ego-dystonic, autogynephilic transsexuals and among heterosexual transvestites. It is less manifest in core, ego-syntonic, homosexual transsexuals.

Autogynephilic transsexuals are subject to an intense urge to become the opposite sex and, thus, to be rendered the sexual object of their own desire. In other words, they are so sexually attracted to themselves that they wish to become both lovers in the romantic equation: the male and the female. It is the fulfilment of the ultimate narcissistic fantasy with the False Self as a fetish ("narcissistic fetish").

Autogynephilic transsexuals start off as heterosexuals and end up as either bisexual or homosexual. By shifting his/her attentions to men, the male autogynephilic transsexual "proves" to himself that he has finally become a "true" and desirable woman.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 13

 

Addiction to Fame and Celebrity

 

 

Question: Are narcissists addicted to being famous?

Answer: Yes, they are. Narcissists are addicted to being famous. This, by far, is their predominant drive. Being famous encompasses a few important functions: it endows the narcissist with power, provides him with a constant Source of Narcissistic Supply (admiration, adoration, approval, awe), and fulfils important ego functions.

The image that the narcissist projects is hurled back at him, reflected by those exposed to his celebrity or fame. This way he feels alive, his very existence is affirmed and he acquires a sensation of clear boundaries (where he ends and the world begins).

There is a set of narcissistic behaviours typical to the pursuit of fame and celebrity. The narcissist will do almost anything and cross all boundaries achieve renown. To him, there is no such thing as "bad publicity" – what matters is to be in the public eye.

Because the narcissist equally enjoys all types of attention and likes as much to be feared as to be loved, for instance – he doesn't mind if what is published about him is wrong ("As long as they spell my name correctly"). Fame and notoriety are equally welcome. The narcissist's only bad emotional stretches are when he lacks attention, publicity, or exposure.

The narcissist then feels empty, hollowed out, negligible, humiliated, wrathful, discriminated against, deprived, neglected, treated unjustly and so on. At first, he tries to obtain attention from ever narrowing groups of reference ("supply scale down"). But the feeling that he is compromising gnaws at his anyhow fragile self-esteem.

Sooner or later, the spring bursts. The narcissist plots, contrives, plans, conspires, thinks, analyses, synthesizes and does whatever else is necessary to regain the lost exposure and bask in it. The more he fails to secure the attention of his target group, the more daring, eccentric and outlandish he becomes. A firm decision to become well-known is transformed into resolute action and then to a panicky pattern of attention seeking behaviours.

The narcissist is not really interested in publicity per se. Narcissists are misleading. The narcissist appears to love himself – and, really, he abhors himself. Similarly, he appears to be interested in becoming a celebrity while, in reality, he is concerned with the REACTIONS to his fame: people watch him, notice him, talk about him, debate his actions – therefore he exists.

The narcissist goes around "hunting and collecting" the way the expressions on people's faces change when they notice him. He places himself at the centre of attention, or even as a figure of controversy. He constantly and recurrently pesters those nearest and dearest to him in a bid to reassure himself that he is not losing his fame, his magic touch, the attention of his social milieu.

Truly, the narcissist is not choosy. If he can become famous as a writer – he writes, if as a businessman – he conducts business. He switches from one field to the other with ease and without remorse because in all of them he is present without conviction, bar the conviction that he must (and deserves to) get famous.

He grades activities, hobbies and people not according to the pleasure that they give him but according to their utility: can they or can't they make him famous and, if so, to what extent. The narcissist is one-track minded (not to say obsessive). His is a world of black (being unknown and deprived of attention) and white (being famous and celebrated).

Acquired Situational Narcissism

The Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a systemic, all-pervasive condition, very much like pregnancy: either you have it or you don't. Once you have it, you have it day and night, it is an inseparable part of the personality, a recurrent set of behaviour patterns.

Recent research (1996) by E. Roningstam and others, however, shows that there is a condition which might be called "Transient or Temporary or Short-Term Narcissism" as opposed to the full-fledged version. Even prior to this discovery, "Reactive Narcissistic Regression" was well known: people regress to a transient narcissistic phase in response to a major life crisis which threatens their mental composure.

But can narcissism be acquired or learned? Can it be provoked by certain, well-defined, situations?

Robert B. Millman, professor of psychiatry at New York Hospital – Cornell Medical School thinks it can. In a paper published in 2000, he proposed to reverse the accepted chronology. According to him, pathological narcissism can be induced in adulthood by celebrity, wealth, and fame.

The "victims" – billionaire tycoons, movie stars, renowned authors, politicians, and other authority figures – develop grandiose fantasies, lose their erstwhile ability to empathize, react with rage to slights, both real and imagined and, in general, act like textbook narcissists.

But is the occurrence of Acquired Situational Narcissism (ASN) inevitable and universal – or are only certain people prone to it?

It is likely that ASN is merely an amplification of earlier narcissistic conduct, traits, style, and tendencies. Celebrities with ASN already possessed a narcissistic personality and have acquired it long before it "erupted". Being famous, powerful, or rich only "legitimized" and conferred immunity from social sanction on the unbridled manifestation of a pre-existing disorder. Indeed, narcissists tend to gravitate to professions and settings which guarantee fame, celebrity, power, and wealth.

As Millman correctly notes, the celebrity's life is abnormal. The adulation is often justified and plentiful, the feedback biased and filtered, the criticism muted and belated, social control either lacking or excessive and vitriolic. Such vicissitudinal existence is not conducive to mental health even in the most balanced person.

The confluence of a person's narcissistic predisposition and his pathological life circumstances gives rise to ASN. Acquired Situational Narcissism borrows elements from both the classic Narcissistic Personality Disorder – ingrained and all-pervasive – and from Transient or Reactive Narcissism.

Celebrities are, therefore, unlikely to "heal" once their fame or wealth or might are gone. Instead, their basic narcissism merely changes form. It continues unabated, as insidious as ever – but modified by life's ups and downs.

In a way, all narcissistic disturbances are acquired. Patients acquire their pathological narcissism from abusive or overbearing parents, from peers, and from role models. Narcissism is a defence mechanism designed to fend off hurt and danger brought on by circumstances – such as celebrity – beyond the person's control.

Social expectations play a role as well. Celebrities try to conform to the stereotype of a creative but spoiled, self-centred, monomaniacal, and emotive individual. A tacit trade takes place. We offer the famous and the powerful all the Narcissistic Supply they crave – and they, in turn, act the consummate, fascinating albeit repulsive, narcissists.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 14

 

Conspicuous Existence

 

 

Question: My boyfriend's behaviour is so exaggerated and unnatural. It's like he is acting all the time. Can't he just be himself?

Answer: The narcissist is a shell. Uncertain of his own reality, he engages in "conspicuous existence".

"Conspicuous existence" is a form of "conspicuous consumption", in which the consumed commodity is Narcissistic Supply. The narcissist elaborately stage manages his very being. His every movement, his tone of voice, his inflection, his poise, his text and subtext and context are carefully orchestrated to yield the maximum effect and to garner the most attention.

Narcissists appear to be unpleasantly deliberate. They are somehow "wrong", like automata gone awry. They are too human, or too inhuman, or too modest, or too haughty, or too loving, or too cold, or too empathic, or too stony, or too industrious, or too casual, or too enthusiastic, or too indifferent, or too courteous, or too abrasive.

Narcissists are excess reified. They act their part and their acting shows. Their show invariably unravels at the seams under the slightest stress. Their enthusiasm is always manic, their emotional expression unnatural, their body language defies their statements, their statements belie their intentions, their intentions are focused on the one and only drug: securing Narcissistic Supply from other people.

The narcissist authors his life and scripts it. To him, time is the medium upon which he, the narcissist, records the narrative of his recherchι biography. He is, therefore, always calculated, as though listening to an inner voice, to a "director", or a "choreographer" of his unfolding history. His speech is tumid. His motion stunted. His emotional palette, a mockery of true countenances.

But the narcissist's constant invention of his self is not limited to outward appearances.

The narcissist does nothing and says nothing – or even thinks nothing – without first having computed the quantity of Narcissistic Supply his actions, utterances, or thoughts may yield. The visible narcissist is the tip of a gigantic, submerged, iceberg of seething reckoning. The narcissist is incessantly engaged in energy draining gauging of other people and their possible reactions to him. He estimates, he counts, he weighs and measures, he determines, evaluates, and enumerates, compares, despairs, and re-awakens. His fatigued brain is bathed with the drowning noise of stratagems and fears, rage and envy, anxiety and relief, addiction and rebellion, meditation and pre-meditation. The narcissist is a machine which never rests, not even in his dreams, and it has one purpose only – the securing and maximization of Narcissistic Supply.

Small wonder the narcissist is tired. His exhaustion is all-pervasive and all-consuming. His mental energy depleted, the narcissist can hardly empathize with others, love, or experience emotions. "Conspicuous existence" malignantly replaces "real existence". The myriad, ambivalent, forms of life are supplanted by the single obsession-compulsion of being seen, being observed, being reflected, being by proxy, through the gaze of others. The narcissist ceases to exist when not in company. His being fades when not discerned. Yet, he is unable to return the favour. He is a captive, oblivious to everything but his preoccupation. Emptied from within, devoured by his urge, the narcissist blindly stumbles from one relationship to another, from one warm body to the next, forever in search of that elusive creature – himself.

 

First published on the Suite 101 Narcissistic Personality Disorders Topic.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 15

 

The Narcissist's Reaction to Deficient Narcissistic Supply

 

 

Question: How does the narcissist react when he fails to obtain enough Narcissistic Supply?

Answer: Very much as a drug addict reacts to the absence of his drug of choice.

The narcissist constantly consumes (really, preys upon) adoration, admiration, approval, applause, attention and other forms of Narcissistic Supply. When lacking or deficient, a Narcissistic Deficiency Dysphoria sets in. The narcissist then appears to be lethargic or (more rarely) agitated, depressed or (infrequently) manic, his movements slow down or become frantic, his sleep patterns are disordered (he either sleeps too much or becomes insomniac), his eating patterns change (he gorges on food or is avoids it altogether).

Typically, when deprived of Narcissistic Supply, the narcissist is constantly dysphoric (sad) and anhedonic (finds no pleasure in anything, including his former pursuits, hobbies, and interests). He is subjected to violent mood swings (mainly rage attacks) and all his (visible and painful) efforts at self-control fail. He may compulsively and ritually resort to an alternative addiction: alcohol, drugs, reckless driving, shopaholism.

This gradual disintegration is the narcissist's futile effort both to escape his predicament and to sublimate his aggressive urges. His whole behaviour seems constrained, artificial, and effortful. The narcissist gradually turns more and more mechanical, detached, and "unreal". His thoughts constantly wander or become obsessive and repetitive, his speech may falter, he appears to be far away, in a world of his narcissistic fantasies, where Narcissistic Supply is aplenty.

He withdraws from his painful existence, where others fail to appreciate his greatness, special skills and talents, potential, or achievements. The narcissist thus ceases to bestow himself upon a cruel universe, punishing the world for its shortcomings, its inability to realize how unique the narcissist is.

The narcissist goes into a schizoid mode: he isolates himself, a hermit in the kingdom of his hurt. He minimizes his social interactions and uses "messengers" to communicate with the outside. Devoid of energy, the narcissist can no longer pretend to succumb to social conventions. His former compliance gives way to open withdrawal (a rebellion of sorts). Smiles are transformed to frowns, courtesy becomes rudeness, emphasized etiquette used as a weapon, an outlet of aggression, an act of violence.

The narcissist, blinded by pain, seeks to restore his balance, to take another sip of the narcissistic nectar. In this quest, the narcissist turns both to and upon those nearest to him. His real attitude emerges: for him, his nearest and dearest are nothing but tools, one-dimensional instruments of gratification, Sources of Supply or pimps of such supply, catering to his narcissistic lusts.

Having failed to procure for him his "drug" (Narcissistic Supply), the narcissist regards friends, colleagues, and even family members as dysfunctional, frustrating objects. In his wrath, he tries to "mend" them by forcing them to perform again, to function.

This is coupled with merciless self-flagellation, a deservedly self-inflicted punishment, the narcissist feels. In extreme cases of deprivation, the narcissist entertains suicidal thoughts, this is how deeply he loathes his self and his dependence.

Throughout, the narcissist is beset by a pervading sense of malignant nostalgia, harking back to a past, which never existed except in the thwarted fantastic grandiosity of the narcissist. The longer the lack of Narcissistic Supply, the more the narcissist glorifies, re-writes, misses and mourns this past.

This nostalgia serves to enhance other negative feelings, together amounting to clinical depression. The narcissist proceeds to develop paranoia. He concocts a prosecuting world, incorporating in it his life's events and his social milieu. This gives meaning to what is erroneously perceived by the narcissist to be a sudden shift (from over-supply to no supply).

These theories of conspiracy account for the decrease in Narcissistic Supply. The narcissist then – frightened, in pain, and in despair – embarks upon an orgy of self-destruction intended to generate "alternative Supply Sources" (attention) at all costs. The narcissist is poised to commit the ultimate narcissistic act: self-destruction in the service of self-aggrandizement.

When deprived of Narcissistic Supply – both Primary AND Secondary – the narcissist feels annulled, hollowed out, or mentally disembowelled. This is an overpowering sense of evaporation, disintegration into molecules of terrified anguish, helplessly and inexorably.

Without Narcissistic Supply the narcissist crumbles like the zombies or the vampires one sees in horror movies. It is terrifying and the narcissist will do anything to avoid it. Again, like the drug addict, the narcissist’s withdrawal symptoms are: delusions, physiological effects, irritability, and emotional lability.

In the absence of regular Narcissistic Supply, narcissists often experience brief, decompensatory psychotic episodes. This also happens while in therapy or following a life-crisis accompanied by a major narcissistic injury.

These psychotic episodes may be closely allied to another feature of narcissism: magical thinking. Narcissists are like children in this sense. Many, for instance, fully believe in two things: that whatever happens, they will prevail and that good things will always happen to them. It is more than mere belief. Narcissists just KNOW it, the same way one "knows" about gravity: directly, immediately and assuredly.

The narcissist believes that, no matter what he does, he will always be forgiven, always prevail and triumph, always come on top. The narcissist is, therefore, fearless in a manner perceived by others to be both admirable and reckless. He attributes to himself divine and cosmic immunity: he cloaks himself in it, it renders him invisible to his enemies and to the powers of "evil". It is a childish phantasmagoria, but to the narcissist it is very real.

With equal certitude, the more self-aware narcissist knows that he will squander this good fortune time and again – a painful experience best avoided. So, no matter what serendipity or fortuity, what lucky circumstance, what blessing the narcissist receives, he always strives with blind fury to deflect them and, thus, to ruin his chances.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 16

 

The Delusional Way Out

 

 

"The man abandoned by all gods escapes completely from reality and creates for himself another world in which he … can achieve everything that he wants. as been unloved, even tormented, he now splits off from himself a part which in the form of a helpful, loving, often motherly minder commiserates with the tormented remainder of the self, nurses him and decides for him … with the deepest wisdom and most penetrating intelligence…"

[Ferenczi and Sandor – "Notes and Fragments" – International Journal of Psychoanalysis – Vol XXX (1949), p. 234]

 

Question: When my husband goes through a bad spot, he shuts himself in his den all day long, doesn't talk to anyone, just surfs the Web. Is this typical? Should I be worried?

Answer: The study of narcissism is a century old and the two scholarly debates central to its conception are still undecided. Is there such a thing as HEALTHY adult narcissism (Kohut) – or are all the manifestations of narcissism in adulthood pathological (Freud, Kernberg)? Moreover, is pathological narcissism the outcome of verbal, sexual, physical, or psychological abuse (the prevailing view) – or, on the contrary, the sad result of spoiling the child and idolizing it (Millon, Freud in his alter writings)?

The second debate is easier to resolve if one agrees to adopt a more comprehensive definition of "abuse". Overweening, smothering, spoiling, overvaluing, and idolizing the child are all forms of parental abuse.

This is because, as Horney pointed out, the child is dehumanized and instrumentalized. His parents love him not for what he really is but for what they wish and imagine him to be: the fulfilment of their dreams and frustrated wishes. The child becomes the vessel of his parents' discontented lives, a tool, the magic wand with which they can transform their failures into successes, their humiliation into victory, and their frustrations into happiness. The child is taught to ignore reality and to occupy the parental fantastic space. Such an unfortunate child feels omnipotent and omniscient, perfect and brilliant, worthy of adoration and entitled to special treatment. The faculties that are honed by constantly brushing against bruising reality – empathy, compassion, a realistic assessment of one's abilities and limitations, realistic expectations of oneself and of others, personal boundaries, team work, social skills, perseverance and goal-orientation, not to mention the ability to postpone gratification and to work hard to achieve it – are all lacking or missing altogether. This kind of child turned adult sees no reason to invest in his skills and education, convinced as he is that his inherent genius should suffice. He feels entitled for merely being, rather than for actually doing (rather as the nobility in days gone by felt entitled not by virtue of its merits but as an inevitable, foreordained birth right). In other words, the budding narcissist is not meritocratic but aristocratic.

But such a mental structure is brittle, susceptible to criticism and disagreement, vulnerable to incessant encounters with a harsh and intolerant world. Deep inside, narcissists of both kinds (those wrought by "classic" abuse and those yielded by being idolized) feel inadequate, phoney, fake, inferior, and deserving of punishment.

Millon makes a distinction between several types of narcissists. He wrongly assumes that the "classic" narcissist is the outcome of overvaluation, idolization, and spoiling and, thus, is possessed of supreme, unchallenged, self-confidence, and is devoid of all self-doubt. According to Millon, it is the "compensatory" narcissist that falls prey to nagging self-doubts, feelings of inferiority, and a masochistic desire for self-punishment. Yet, the distinction is both wrong and unnecessary. There is only ONE type of narcissist – though there are TWO developmental paths to it. And ALL narcissists are besieged by deeply ingrained (though at times not conscious) feelings of inadequacy, fears of failure, masochistic desires to be penalized, a fluctuating sense of self-worth (regulated by Narcissistic Supply), and an overwhelming sensation of fraudulence.

The Grandiosity Gap (between a fantastically grandiose self-image and actual, limited, accomplishments and achievements) is grating. Its recurrence threatens the precariously balanced house of cards that is the narcissistic personality. The narcissist finds, to his chagrin that people are much less admiring, accommodating and accepting than his parents. As he grows old, the narcissist often becomes the target of constant derision and mockery, a sorry sight indeed. His claims to superiority appear less plausible and substantial the more often and the longer he makes them.

Pathological narcissism – originally a defence mechanism intended to shield the narcissist from an injurious world – becomes the main source of hurt, a generator of injuries, counterproductive and dangerous. Overwhelmed by negative or absent Narcissistic Supply, the narcissist is forced to let go of it.

The narcissist then resorts to self-delusion. Unable to completely ignore contrarian opinion and data, he transmutes them. Unable to face the dismal failure that he is, the narcissist partially withdraws from reality. To soothe and salve the pain of disillusionment, he administers to his aching soul a mixture of lies, distortions, half-truths and outlandish interpretations of events around him. These solutions can be classified thus:

The Delusional Narrative Solution

The narcissist constructs a narrative in which he figures as the hero: brilliant, perfect, irresistibly handsome, destined for great things, entitled, powerful, wealthy, the centre of attention, etc. The bigger the strain on this delusional charade – the greater the gap between fantasy and reality – the more the delusion coalesces and solidifies.

Finally, if it is sufficiently protracted, it replaces reality and the narcissist's reality test deteriorates. He withdraws his bridges and may become schizotypal, catatonic, or schizoid.

The Antisocial Solution

The narcissist renounces reality. To his mind, those who pusillanimously fail to recognize his unbounded talents, innate superiority, overarching brilliance, benevolent nature, entitlement, cosmically important mission, perfection, etc. do not deserve consideration. The narcissist's natural affinity with the criminal – his lack of empathy and compassion, his deficient social skills, his disregard for social laws and morals, and his poor impulse control – now erupt and blossom. He becomes a full fledged antisocial (sociopath or psychopath). He ignores the wishes and needs of others, he breaks the law, he violates all rights, both natural and legal, he holds people in contempt and disdain, he derides society and its codes, he punishes the ignorant ingrates who, to his mind, drove him to this state by acting criminally and by jeopardising their safety, lives, or property.

The Paranoid Schizoid Solution

The narcissist develops persecutory delusions. He perceives slights and insults where none were intended. He becomes subject to ideas of reference (he becomes convinced that people are gossiping about him, mocking him, prying into his affairs, hacking his e-mail, etc.). He is convinced that he is the centre of malign and mal-intentioned attention. People are conspiring to humiliate him, punish him, abscond with his property, delude him, impoverish him, confine him physically or intellectually, censor him, impose on his time, force him to action (or to inaction), frighten him, coerce him, surround and besiege him, change his mind, part with his values, victimize or even murder him, and so on.

Some narcissists withdraw completely from a world populated with such minacious and ominous objects (really projections of internal objects and processes). They avoid all social contact, except the most necessary. They refrain from meeting people, falling in love, having sex, talking to others, or even corresponding with them. In short: they become schizoids – not out of social shyness, but out of what they feel to be their choice. "This evil, hopeless world does not deserve me" – goes the inner refrain – "and I shall waste none of my time and resources on it."

The Paranoid Aggressive (Explosive) Solution

Other narcissists, who develop persecutory delusions, resort to an aggressive stance, a more violent resolution of their internal conflict. They become verbally, psychologically, situationally (and, very rarely, physically) abusive. They insult, castigate, chastise, berate, demean, and deride their nearest and dearest (often well wishers and loved ones). They explode in unprovoked displays of indignation, self-righteousness, condemnation, and blame. Theirs is an exegetic Bedlam. They interpret everything – even the most innocuous, inadvertent, and innocent comment – as designed to provoke and humiliate them. They sow fear, revulsion, hate, and malignant envy. They flail against the windmills of reality – a pathetic, forlorn, sight. But often they cause real and lasting damage – fortunately, mainly to themselves.

The Masochistic Avoidant Solution

The narcissist is angered by the lack of Narcissistic Supply. He directs some of this fury inwards, punishing himself for his "failure". This masochistic behaviour has the added "benefit" of forcing the narcissist's closest to assume the roles of dismayed spectators or of persecutors and thus, either way, to pay him the attention that he craves.

Self-administered punishment often manifests as self-handicapping masochism – a narcissistic cop-out. By undermining his work, his relationships, and his efforts, the increasingly fragile narcissist avoids additional criticism and censure (negative supply). Self-inflicted failure is the narcissist's doing and thus proves that he is the master of his own fate.

Masochistic narcissists keep finding themselves in self-defeating circumstances which render success impossible and "an objective assessment of their performance improbable" [Millon, 2000]. They act carelessly, withdraw in mid-effort, are constantly fatigued, bored, or disaffected and thus passive-aggressively sabotage their lives. Their suffering is defiant and by "deciding to abort" they reassert their omnipotence.

The narcissist's pronounced and public misery and self-pity are compensatory and "reinforce (his) self-esteem against overwhelming convictions of worthlessness" [Millon, 2000]. His tribulations and anguish render him, in his eyes, unique, saintly, virtuous, righteous, resilient, and significant. They are, in other words, self-generated Narcissistic Supply.

Thus, paradoxically, the worst his anguish and unhappiness, the more relieved and elated such a narcissist feels!

[Additional reading: Millon, Theodore and Davis, Roger – Personality Disorders in Modern Life, 2nd Edition – New York, John Wiley and Sons, 2000]

Note: The Prodigy as Narcissistic Injury

The prodigy – the precocious "genius" – feels entitled to special treatment. Yet, his unrealistic expectations are rarely fulfilled. This frustrates him and renders him even more aggressive, driven, and overachieving than he is by nature.

Not all precocious prodigies end up under-accomplished and petulant. Many of them go on to attain great stature in their communities and great standing in their professions. But, even then, the gap between the kind of treatment they believe that they deserve and the one they are getting is unbridgeable.

This is because narcissistic prodigies often misjudge the extent and importance of their accomplishments and, as a result, erroneously consider themselves to be indispensable and worthy of special rights, perks, and privileges. When they find out otherwise, they are devastated and furious.

Moreover, people are envious of the prodigy. The genius serves as a constant reminder to others of their mediocrity, lack of creativity, and mundane existence. Naturally, they try to "bring him down to their level" and "cut him down to size". The gifted person's haughtiness and high-handedness only exacerbate his strained relationships.

In a way, merely by existing, the prodigy inflicts constant and repeated narcissistic injuries on the less endowed and the pedestrian. This creates a vicious cycle. People try to hurt and harm the overweening and arrogant genius and he becomes defensive, aggressive, and aloof. This renders him even more obnoxious than before and others resent him more deeply and more thoroughly. Hurt and wounded, he retreats into fantasies of grandeur and revenge. And the cycle re-commences.

Grandiosity and Intimacy – The Roots of Paranoia

Paranoid ideation – the narcissist's deep-rooted conviction that he is being persecuted by his inferiors, detractors, or powerful ill-wishers – serves two psychodynamic purposes. It upholds the narcissist's grandiosity and it fends off intimacy.

Grandiosity Enhancing Paranoia

Being the target of relentless, ubiquitous, and unjust persecution proves to the paranoid narcissist how important and feared he is. Being hounded by the mighty and the privileged validates his pivotal role in the scheme of things. Only vital, weighty, crucial, essential principals are thus bullied and intimidated, followed and harassed, stalked and intruded upon goes his unconscious inner dialog. The narcissist consistently baits authority figures into punishing him and thus into upholding his delusional self-image as worthy of their attention. This provocative behaviour is called Projective Identification.

The paranoid delusions of the narcissist are always grandiose, "cosmic", or "historical". His pursuers are influential and formidable. They are after his unique possessions, out to exploit his expertise and special traits, or to force him to abstain and refrain from certain actions. The narcissist feels that he is at the centre of intrigues and conspiracies of colossal magnitude.

Alternatively, the narcissist feels victimized by mediocre bureaucrats and intellectual dwarves who consistently fail to appreciate his outstanding – really, unparalleled – talents, skills, and accomplishments. Being hunted by his challenged inferiors substantiates the narcissist's comparative superiority. Driven by pathological envy, these pygmies collude to defraud him, badger him, deny him his due, denigrate, isolate, and ignore him.

The narcissist projects onto this second class of lesser persecutors his own deleterious emotions and transformed aggression: hatred, rage, and seething jealousy.

The narcissist's paranoid streak is likeliest to erupt when he lacks Narcissistic Supply. The regulation of his labile sense of self-worth is dependent upon external stimuli: adoration, adulation, affirmation, applause, notoriety, fame, infamy, and, in general, attention of any kind.

When such attention is deficient, the narcissist compensates by confabulating. He constructs ungrounded narratives in which he is the protagonist and uses them to force his human environment into complicity.

Put simply, he provokes people to pay attention to him by misbehaving or by behaving oddly.

Intimacy Retarding Paranoia

Paranoia is used by the narcissist to ward off or reverse intimacy. The narcissist is threatened by intimacy because it reduces him to ordinariness by exposing his weaknesses and shortcomings and by causing him to act "normally". The narcissist also dreads the encounter with his deep buried emotions – hurt, envy, anger, aggression – likely to be foisted on him in an intimate relationship.

The paranoid narrative legitimizes intimacy-retarding behaviours such as keeping one's distance, secrecy, aloofness, reclusion, aggression, intrusion on privacy, lying, desultoriness, itinerancy, unpredictability, and idiosyncratic or eccentric reactions. Gradually, the narcissist succeeds to alienate and wear down all his friends, colleagues, well-wishers, spouses, partners, and mates.

Even his closest, nearest, and dearest, his family, feel emotionally detached and "burnt out".

The paranoid narcissist ends life as an oddball recluse: derided, feared, and loathed in equal measures. His paranoia – exacerbated by repeated rejections and ageing – pervades his entire life and diminishes his creativity, adaptability, and functioning. The narcissist's personality, buffeted by paranoia, turns ossified and brittle. Finally, atomized and useless, it succumbs and gives way to a great void. The narcissist is consumed.

 

First published on the Suite 101 Narcissistic Personality Disorders Topic.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 17

 

The Compulsive Acts of the Narcissist

 

 

Question: Are there compulsive acts unique to the narcissist?

Answer: The short and the long of it is: no. In general, there is a strong compulsive strand in the narcissist's behaviour. He is driven to exorcize internal demons by means of ritualistic acts. The narcissist's very pursuit of Narcissistic Supply is compulsive. The narcissist seeks to recreate and re-enact old traumas, ancient, unresolved conflicts with figures of (primary) importance in his life.

The narcissist feels that he is "bad" and guilty (in a diffuse, vague sort of way) and that, therefore, he should be punished. So, he makes sure that he is disciplined. This Repetition Complex possesses the tint and hue of compulsion. In many respects, narcissism can be defined as an all-pervasive obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The narcissist is faced with difficult conditions in his childhood: neglect, abandonment, capriciousness, arbitrariness, strictness, sadistic behaviour, abuse (physical, psychological, or verbal) – or doting, smothering, "annexation" and "appropriation" by a narcissistic and frustrated parent.

The narcissist develops a unique defence mechanism: a story, a narrative, another self. This False Self is possessed of all the qualities that can insulate the child from an ominous and hostile world. It is perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. In short: it is divine.

The narcissist develops a private religion with the False Self at its centre. It is replete with rites, mantras, scriptures, and spiritual and physical exercises. The child worships this new deity. He succumbs to what he perceives to be its wishes and its needs. He caters to it and offers it sacrifices of Narcissistic Supply. He is awed by it because it possesses many of the traits of the hallowed tormentors, his parents.

The child reduces his True Self, minimizes it. He is looking to appease the new Divinity, not to incur its wrath. He does so by adhering to strict schedules and ceremonies, by reciting texts, by self-imposition of self-discipline. Henceforth, the child is transformed into the servant of his False Self. And he is rewarded for his efforts: he feels elated when in compliance with the creed, he emulates the characteristics of this entity.

Suffused with Narcissistic Supply, his False Self content, the child feels omnipotent, untouchable, invulnerable, immune to threats and insults and omniscient. On the other hand, when Narcissistic Supply is lacking, the child feels guilty, miserable, and unworthy. The Superego then takes over: sadistic, ominous, cruel, suicidal, it chastises the child for having failed, for having sinned, for being guilty. It demands a self-inflicted penalty to cleanse, to atone, to let go.

Caught between these two deities – the False Self and the Superego – the child is compulsively forced to seek Narcissistic Supply. Success in this pursuit holds both promises: an emotional reward, mediated by the False Self and protection from the murderous Superego.

Throughout, the child maintains the rhythms of regenerating his conflicts and traumas in order to try and resolve them. Such resolution can be either in the form of punishment or in the form of healing. But since healing means letting go of his system of beliefs and deities, the child is more likely to choose punishment.

The narcissist strives to re-enact old traumas and open old wounds. For instance, he behaves in ways that make people abandon him. Or he becomes rebellious in order to be chastised by figures of authority. Or he engages in criminal or antisocial activities. These types of self-defeating and self-destructive behaviours are in permanent interaction with and guided by the False Self. It is a marriage made in hell between dysfunctional impulse control and Projective Identification.

The False Self breeds compulsive acts. The narcissist seeks Narcissistic Supply compulsively. He wants to be punished compulsively. He generates resentment or hatred, switches sexual partners, becomes eccentric, writes articles and makes scientific discoveries – all compulsively. There is no joy in his life or in his actions – just relieved anxiety, the moment of liberation and soothing protection that he enjoys following a compulsive act.

As pressure builds inside the narcissist, threatening to upset the precarious balance of his personality, something warns him that danger is imminent. He reacts by developing an acute anxiety, which can be alleviated only with a compulsive act. If this act fails to materialize, the emotional outcome can be anything from absolute terror to deep-set depression.

The narcissist knows that his very life is at stake, that in his Superego lurks a mortal enemy. He knows that only his False Self stands between him and his Superego (the True Self is warped, depleted, immature and dilapidated).

Narcissists are characterized by reckless and impulsive behaviours: binge eating, compulsive shopping, pathological gambling, drinking, reckless driving. But what sets them apart from non-narcissistic compulsives is twofold:

1. With the narcissist, the compulsive acts constitute a part of a larger "grandiose" picture. When a narcissist shops, it is in order to build up a unique collection. If he gambles, it is to prove right a method that he has developed to defeat the casino, or to demonstrate his amazing mental or psychic powers. If he climbs mountains or races cars, it is to break records and if he binges, it is part of constructing a universal diet or bodybuilding and so on. The narcissist never does anything in a simple and straightforward manner for fear of becoming too mundane, not sufficiently grandiose. He invents a contextual narrative in order to lend outstanding proportions, perspectives, and purpose to his most common acts, including the compulsive ones. Where the regular compulsive patient feels that the compulsive act restores his control over himself and over his life, the narcissist feels that the compulsive act restores his control over his environment and secures his future Narcissistic Supply.

2. With the narcissist, the compulsive acts enhance the reward-penalty cycle. At their inception and for as long as they are committed, they reward the narcissist emotionally in the ways described above. But they also provide him with fresh ammunition against himself. His sins of indulgence lead the narcissist down the path of yet another self-inflicted punishment.

Finally, "normal" compulsions usually can be effectively treated. The (behaviourist or cognitive-behavioural) therapist reconditions the patient and helps him get rid of his constricting rituals, often with the aid of medication. This works only partly with the narcissist. His compulsive acts are merely an element in his complicated personality. They are the sick tips of very abnormal icebergs. Shaving them off does nothing to ameliorate the narcissist's titanic inner struggle.

The Cyber Narcissist

To the narcissist, the Internet is an alluring and irresistible combination of playground and hunting grounds, the gathering place of numerous potential Sources of Narcissistic Supply, a world where false identities are the norm and mind games the bon ton. And it is beyond the reach of the law, the pale of social norms, or the strictures of civilized conduct.

The somatic finds cyber-sex and cyber-relationships aplenty. The cerebral claims false accomplishments, sham skills, erudition and talents. Both, if minimally communicative, end up at the instantly gratifying epicentre of a cult of fans, followers, stalkers, erotomaniacs, denigrators, and plain nuts. The constant attention and attendant quasi-celebrity feed and sustain their grandiose fantasies and inflated self-image.

The Internet is an extension of the real-life Narcissistic Pathological Space but without its risks, injuries, and disappointments. In the virtual universe of the Web, the narcissist vanishes and reappears with ease, often adopting a myriad aliases and nicknames. He can thus fend off criticism, abuse, disagreement, and disapproval effectively and in real time while simultaneously preserving the precarious balance of his infantile personality. Narcissists are, therefore, prone to Internet addiction.

The positive characteristics of the Net are largely lost on the narcissist. He is not keen on expanding his horizons, fostering true relationships, or getting in real contact with other people. The narcissist is forever the provincial because he filters everything through the narrow lens of his addiction. He measures others – and idealizes or devalues them – according to one criterion only: how useful they might be as Sources of Narcissistic Supply.

The Internet is an egalitarian medium where people are judged by the consistency and quality of their contributions rather than by the content or bombast of their claims. But the narcissist is driven to distracting discomfiture by a lack of clear and commonly accepted hierarchy (with himself at the pinnacle). He fervently and aggressively tries to impose the "natural order" – either by monopolizing the interaction or, if that fails, by becoming a major disruptive influence.

But the Internet may also be the closest many narcissists get to psychodynamic therapy. Because it is still largely text-based, the Web is populated by disembodied entities. By interacting with these intermittent, unpredictable, ultimately unknowable, ephemeral, and ethereal voices the narcissist is compelled to project unto them his own experiences, fears, hopes, and prejudices.

Transference (and counter-transference) are quite common on the Net and the narcissist's defence mechanisms, notably projection and Projective Identification, are frequently aroused. The therapeutic process is set in motion by the unbridled, uncensored, and brutally honest reactions to the narcissist's repertory of antics, pretensions, delusions, and fantasies.

The narcissist – ever the intimidating bully – is not accustomed to such resistance. Initially, it may heighten and sharpen his paranoia and lead him to compensate by extending and deepening his grandiosity. Some narcissists withdraw altogether, reverting to the schizoid posture. Others become openly antisocial and seek to subvert, sabotage, and destroy the online sources of their frustration. A few retreat and confine themselves to the company of adoring sycophants and unquestioning groupies.

But a long exposure to the culture of the Net – irreverent, sceptical, and populist – usually exerts a beneficial effect even on the staunchest and most rigid narcissist. Far less convinced of his own superiority and infallibility, the online narcissist mellows and begins, albeit hesitantly, to listen to others and to collaborate with them.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 18

 

Narcissistic Routines

 

 

Question: Narcissists are so predictable! I can tell what he will do next, what he will say, how he will react. It's sometimes boring.

Answer: The behaviour of the narcissist is regulated by a series of routines developed by rote learning and by repetitive patterns of experience. The narcissist finds change extremely distasteful and unsettling. He is a creature of habit. The function of these routines is to reduce his anxiety by transforming a hostile and arbitrary world into a hospitable and manageable one.

Granted, many narcissists are unstable: they often change jobs, residences, spouses, and vocations. But even these changes are predictable. The narcissistic personality is disorganized, but also rigid. The narcissist finds solace in certainty, in recurrence, in the familiar and the anticipated. It balances his inner precariousness, lability, and volatility.

Narcissists often strike their interlocutors as "machine-like", "artificial", "fake", "forced", "insincere", or "spurious". This is because even the narcissist's ostensibly spontaneous behaviours are either planned or automatic. The narcissist is continuously preoccupied with his Narcissistic Supply: how to secure its sources and the next dose. This preoccupation restricts the narcissist's attention span. As a result, he often appears to be aloof, absent-minded, and uninterested in other people, in events around him, and in abstract ideas – unless, of course, they have a direct bearing on his Narcissistic Supply.

The narcissist develops some of his routines to compensate for his inability to attend to his environment. Automatic reactions require much less investment of mental resources.

Narcissists may fake personal warmth and an outgoing personality: this is the routine of the "narcissistic mask". But as one gets to know the narcissist better, his mask falls, his "narcissistic makeup" wears off, his muscles relax and he reverts to the Narcissistic Tonus. The Narcissistic Tonus is a bodacious air of superiority mixed with disdain.

While routines, such as the various masks, are extraneous and require an often conscious investment of energy, the Tonus is the default position: it is effortless and frequent.

Many narcissists are obsessive-compulsive as well. They conduct daily "rituals", they are overly punctilious, they do things in a certain order, and adhere to numerous "laws", "principles", and "rules". They have rigid and oft-repeated opinions, uncompromising rules of conduct, unalterable views and judgements. These compulsions and obsessions are ossified routines.

Other routines involve paranoid, repetitive, thoughts. Yet others induce shyness and Social Phobia. The whole range of narcissistic behaviours can be traced to these routines and the various phases of their evolutionary cycles.

When these routines break down and are violated, when they become no longer defensible, or when the narcissist can no longer exercise them, a narcissistic injury occurs. The narcissist expects the outside world to conform to his inner universe. When a conflict between these two realms erupts, thus unsettling the ill-poised mental balance so painstakingly achieved by the narcissist (mainly by exercising his routines), the narcissist unravels. The narcissist's very defence mechanisms are routines, and so he is left defenceless in a hostile, cold world: the true reflection of his inner landscape.

 

First published on the Suite 101 Narcissistic Personality Disorders Topic.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 19

 

The Unstable Narcissist

 

 

Question: Is the narcissist characterized by simultaneous instabilities in all the important aspects of his life?

Answer: The narcissist is a person who derives his Ego (and ego functions) from other people's reactions to an image he invents and projects, called the False Self (Narcissistic Supply). Since no absolute control over the quantity and quality of Narcissistic Supply is possible – it is bound to fluctuate – the narcissist's view of himself and of his world is correspondingly and equally volatile. As "public opinion" ebbs and flows, so do the narcissist's self-confidence, self-esteem, sense of self-worth, or, in other words, so does his Self. Even the narcissist's convictions are subject to a never-ending process of vetting by others.

The narcissistic personality is unstable in each and every one of its dimensions. It is the ultimate hybrid: rigidly amorphous, devoutly flexible, reliant for its sustenance on the opinion of people, whom the narcissist undervalues. A large part of this instability is subsumed under the Emotional Involvement Prevention Measures (EIPM), described in the Essay. The narcissist's lability is so ubiquitous and so dominant, that it might well be described as the ONLY stable feature of his personality.

The narcissist does everything with one goal in mind: to attract Narcissistic Supply (attention).

An example of this kind of behaviour:

The narcissist may study a given subject diligently and in great depth in order to impress people later with this newly acquired erudition. But, having served its purpose, the narcissist lets the knowledge thus acquired evaporate. The narcissist maintains a sort of a "short-term" cell or warehouse where he stores whatever may come handy in the pursuit of Narcissistic Supply. But he is almost never really interested in what he does, or studies, or experiences.

From the outside, this might be perceived as instability. But think about it this way: the narcissist is constantly preparing for life's "exams" and feels that he is on a permanent trial. It is common to forget material studied only in preparation for an exam or for a court appearance.

Short-term memory is perfectly normal. What sets the narcissist apart is the fact that, with him, this short-termism is a CONSTANT state of affairs and affects ALL his functions, not only those directly related to learning, or to emotions, or to experience, or to any single dimension of his life.

Thus, the narcissist learns, remembers and forgets not in line with his real interests or hobbies; he loves and hates not the real subjects of his emotions but one dimensional, utilitarian, cartoons constructed by him. He judges, praises and condemns – all from the narrowest possible point of view: the potential to extract Narcissistic Supply.

He asks not what he can do with the world and in it – but what can the world do for him as far as Narcissistic Supply is concerned. He falls in and out of love with people, workplaces, residences, vocations, hobbies, and interests because they seem to be able to provide more or less Narcissistic Supply and for no other reason.

Still, narcissists belong to two broad categories: the "compensatory stability" and the "enhancing instability" types.

Compensatory Stability ("Classic") Narcissists

These narcissists isolate one or more (but never most) aspects of their lives and "make these aspect/s stable". They do not really emotionally invest themselves in maintaining these areas of their lives stable. Rather, this stability is safeguarded by artificial means: money, celebrity, power, fear. A typical example is a narcissist who changes numerous workplaces, a few careers, myriad hobbies, value systems or faiths. At the same time, he maintains (preserves) a relationship with a single woman (and even remains faithful to her). She is his "island of stability". To fulfil this role, she just needs to be physically present around him.

The narcissist is dependent upon "his" woman to maintain the stability lacking in all other areas of his life (to compensate for his instability). Yet, emotional closeness and intimacy are bound to threaten the narcissist. Thus, he is likely to distance himself from her and to remain detached and indifferent to most of her needs.

Despite this cruel emotional treatment, the narcissist considers her to be a source of sustenance and a fountain of empowerment. This mismatch between what he wishes to receive and what he is able to give, the narcissist prefers to deny, repress and bury deep in his unconscious.

This is why he is always shocked and devastated to learn of his wife's estrangement, infidelity, or intentions to divorce him. Possessed of no emotional depth, being completely clueless and one track minded, he cannot fathom the needs of others. In other words, he cannot empathize.

Another, even more common case is the "career narcissist". This narcissist marries, divorces and remarries with dizzying speed. Everything in his life is in constant flux: friends, emotions, judgements, values, beliefs, place of residence, affiliations, hobbies. Everything, that is, except his work.

His career is the island of compensating stability in his otherwise mercurial existence. This kind of narcissist is dogged by unmitigated ambition and devotion. He perseveres in one workplace or one job, patiently, persistently and blindly climbing up the corporate ladder and treading the career path. In his pursuit of job fulfilment and achievements, the workaholic narcissist is ruthless and unscrupulous, and, very often, successful.

Enhancing Instability ("Borderline") Narcissist

The other kind of narcissist enhances instability in one aspect or dimension of his life by introducing instability in others. Thus, if such a narcissist resigns (or, more likely, is made redundant), he also relocates to another city or country. If he divorces, he is also likely to resign his job.

This added instability gives this type of narcissist the feeling that all the dimensions of his life are changing simultaneously, that he is being "unshackled", that a transformation is in progress. This, of course, is an illusion. Those who know the narcissist, no longer trust his frequent "conversions", "decisions", "crises", "transformations", "developments" and "periods". They see through his pretensions, protestations, and solemn declarations into the core of his instability. They know that he is not to be relied upon. They know that with narcissists, the temporary is the only permanence.

Narcissists hate routine. When a narcissist finds himself doing the same things over and over again, he gets depressed. He oversleeps, over-eats, over-drinks and, in general, engages in addictive, impulsive, reckless, and compulsive behaviours. This is his way of re-introducing risk and excitement into what he (emotionally) perceives to be a barren life.

The problem is that even the most exciting and varied existence becomes routine after a while. Living in the same country or apartment, meeting the same people, doing essentially the same things (even with changing content) all amount, in the eyes of the narcissist, to stultifying rote.

The narcissist feels entitled. He feels it is his right – due to his intellectual or physical superiority – to lead a thrilling, rewarding, kaleidoscopic life. He wants to force life itself, or at least people around him, to yield to his wishes and needs, supreme among them the need for stimulating variety.

This rejection of habit is part of a larger pattern of aggressive entitlement. The narcissist feels that the very existence of a sublime intellect (such as his) warrants concessions and allowances by others.

Thus, queuing in line is a waste of time better spent pursuing knowledge, inventing and creating. The narcissist feels that he deserves only the best medical treatment proffered by the most prominent medical authorities – lest the precious asset that he is should be lost to Mankind. The narcissist makes clear that he should not be bothered with trivial pursuits – these lowly functions are best assigned to the less gifted.

Entitlement is sometimes justified in a Picasso or an Einstein. But few narcissists are either. Their achievements are grotesquely incommensurate with their overwhelming sense of entitlement and with their grandiose self-image.

Of course, this overpowering sense of superiority often serves to mask and compensate for a cancerous complex of inferiority. Moreover, the narcissist infects others with his projected grandiosity and their feedback constitutes the edifice upon which he constructs his self-esteem. He regulates his sense of self-worth by rigidly insisting that he is above the madding crowd while deriving his Narcissistic Supply from the very people he holds in deep contempt.

But there is a second angle to this abhorrence of the predictable. Narcissists employ a host of Emotional Involvement Prevention Measures (EIPM's). Despising routine and avoiding it is one of these mechanisms. Their function is to prevent the narcissist from getting emotionally involved and, subsequently, hurt.

Their application results in an Approach-Avoidance Repetition Complex. The narcissist fears and loathes intimacy, stability and security and yet craves them. Consequently, he approaches and then avoids significant others or important tasks in a rapid succession of apparently inconsistent and disconnected cycles.

The Two Loves of the Narcissist

Narcissists "love" their spouses or other significant others – as long as they continue to reliably provide them with Narcissistic Supply (in one word, with attention). Inevitably, they regard others as mere "sources", objects, or functions. Lacking empathy and emotional maturity, the narcissist's love is pathological. But the precise locus of the pathology depends on the narcissist's stability or instability in different parts of his life.

We are, therefore, faced with two pathological forms of narcissistic "love".

One type of narcissist "loves" others as one attaches to objects. He "loves" his spouse, for instance, simply because she exists and is available to provide him with Narcissistic Supply. He "loves" his children because they are part of his self-image as a successful husband and father. He "loves" his "friends" because – and only as long as – he can exploit them.

Such a narcissist reacts with alarm and rage to any sign of independence and autonomy in his "charges". He tries to "freeze" everyone around him in their "allocated" positions and "assigned roles". His world is rigid and immovable, predictable and static, fully under his control. He punishes for "transgressions" against this ordained order. He thus stifles life as a dynamic process of compromises and growth rendering it instead a mere theatre, a tableau vivant.

The other type of narcissist abhors monotony and constancy, equating them, in his mind, with death. He seeks upheaval, drama, and change, but only when they conform to his plans, designs, and views of the world and of himself. Thus, he does not encourage growth in his nearest and dearest. By monopolizing their lives, he, like the other kind of narcissist, also reduces them to mere objects, props in the exciting drama of his life.

This narcissist likewise rages at any sign of rebellion and disagreement. But, as opposed to the first sub-species, he seeks to animate others with his demented energy, grandiose plans, and megalomaniacal self-perception. An adrenaline junkie, his world is a whirlwind of comings and goings, reunions and separations, loves and hates, vocations adopted and discarded, schemes erected and dismantled, enemies turned friends and vice versa. His Universe is equally a theatre, but a more ferocious and chaotic one.

Where is love in all this? Where is the commitment to the loved one's welfare, the self-discipline, the extension of oneself to incorporate the beloved, the mutual growth?

These are nowhere to be seen. The narcissist's "love" is hate and fear disguised: fear of losing control and hatred of the very people his precariously balanced personality so depends on. The narcissist is egotistically committed only to his own well-being. To him, the objects of his "love" are interchangeable and inferior.

He idealizes his nearest and dearest not because he is smitten by emotion, but because he needs to captivate them and to convince himself that they are worthy Sources of Supply, despite their flaws and mediocrity. Once he deems them useless, he discards and devalues them cold-bloodedly. A predator, always on the lookout, he debases the coin of "love" as he corrupts everything else in himself and around him.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 20

 

Do Narcissists Have Emotions?

 

 

Of course they do. All humans have emotions. It is how we choose to relate to our emotions that matters. The narcissist tends to repress them so deeply that, for all practical purposes, they play no conscious role in his life and conduct, though they play an extraordinarily large unconscious role in determining both.

The narcissist's positive emotions come bundled with very negative ones. This is the outcome of frustration and the consequent transformations of aggression. This frustration is connected to the Primary Objects of the narcissist's childhood (parents and caregivers).

Instead of being provided with the unconditional love that he craved, the narcissist was subjected to totally unpredictable and inexplicable bouts of temper, rage, searing sentimentality, envy, prodding, infusion of guilt and other unhealthy parental emotions and behaviour patterns.

The narcissist reacted by retreating to his private world, where he is omnipotent and omniscient and, therefore, immune to such vicious vicissitudes. He stashed his vulnerable True Self in a deep mental cellar and presented to the world a False Self in its stead.

But bundling is far easier than unbundling. The narcissist is unable to experience positive feelings without provoking negative emotions. Gradually, he becomes phobic: afraid to feel anything at all, lest it be accompanied by fearsome, guilt inducing, anxiety provoking, out of control emotional complements.

He is thus reduced to experiencing dull stirrings in his soul that he identifies to himself and to others as emotions. Even these are felt only in the presence of someone or something capable of providing the narcissist with his badly needed Narcissistic Supply.

Only when the narcissist is in the overvaluation (idealization) phase of his relationships, does he experience the convulsions that he calls "feelings". These are so transient and fake that they are easily replaced by rage, envy and devaluation. The narcissist thus recreates the behaviour patterns of his less than ideal Primary Objects.

Deep inside, the narcissist knows that something is amiss. He does not empathize with other people's feelings. Actually, he holds them in contempt and ridicule. He cannot understand how people are so sentimental, so "irrational" (he identifies being rational with being cool headed and cold blooded).

Often the narcissist believes that other people are "faking it", merely aiming to achieve a goal. He is convinced that their "feelings" are grounded in ulterior, non-emotional, motives. He becomes suspicious, embarrassed, feels compelled to avoid emotion-tinged situations, or, worse, experiences surges of almost uncontrollable aggression in the presence of genuinely expressed sentiments. They remind him how imperfect and poorly equipped he is.

The weaker variety of narcissist tries to emulate and simulate "emotions", or, at least their expression, the external facet (affect). Such narcissists mimic and replicate the intricate pantomime that they learn to associate with the existence of feelings. But there are no real emotions there, no emotional correlates.

The narcissist's is an empty affect, devoid of emotion. This being so, the narcissist quickly tires of it, becomes impassive and begins to display inappropriate affect (e.g., he remains indifferent when grief is the normal reaction). The narcissist subjects his feigned emotions to his cognition. He "decides" that it is appropriate to feel this or that way. His "emotions" are invariably the result of analysis, goal setting and planning.

The narcissist substitutes "remembering" for "sensing". He relegates his bodily sensations, feelings and emotions to a kind of memory vault. His short and medium-term memory is exclusively used to store his reactions to his (actual and potential) Narcissistic Supply Sources.

For the narcissist, as we saw, reacts only to such sources. The narcissist finds it hard to remember or recreate what he ostensibly – though ostentatiously – "felt" (even a short while back) towards a Narcissistic Supply Source once it has ceased to be one. In his attempts to recall his feelings, the narcissist draws mental blanks.

It is not that narcissists are incapable of expressing what we would tend to classify as "extreme emotional reactions". They mourn and grieve, rage and smile, excessively "love" and "care". But this is precisely what sets them apart: this rapid movement from one emotional extreme to another and the fact that they never occupy the emotional middle ground.

The narcissist is especially "emotional" when he is weaned off his drug of Narcissistic Supply. Breaking a habit is always difficult – especially one that defines (and engenders) oneself. Getting rid of an addiction is doubly taxing. The narcissist mistakes these psychological crises for emotional depth and his self-conviction is so immense, that he mostly succeeds to delude his environment, as well. But an "emotionally"-charged narcissistic crisis (losing a Source of Narcissistic Supply, obtaining an alternative one, moving from one Narcissistic Pathological Space to another) must never be confused with the real thing, which the narcissist never experiences: emotions.

Many narcissists have "emotional resonance tables". They use words as others use algebraic signs: with meticulousness, with caution, with the precision of the artisan. They sculpt in words the fine tuned reverberations of pain and love and fear. It is the mathematics of emotional grammar, the geometry of the syntax of passions. Devoid of all emotions, narcissists closely monitor people's reactions and adjust their verbal choices according to these cues, until their vocabulary resembles that of their listeners. This mimicry is as close as narcissists get to empathy.

To summarize, the emotional life of the narcissist is colourless and eventless, as rigidly blind as his disorder, as dead as he is. The narcissist does feel rage and hurt and inordinate humiliation, envy and fear. These are very dominant, prevalent and recurrent hues in the canvass of his emotional existence. But there is nothing there except these atavistic gut reactions.

Whatever the narcissist experiences as emotions, he experiences in reaction to slights and injuries, real or imagined. His emotions are all reactive, not active. He feels insulted – he sulks. He feels devalued – he rages. He feels ignored – he pouts. He feels humiliated – he lashes out. He feels threatened – he fears. He feels adored – he basks in glory. He is virulently envious of one and all.

The narcissist can appreciate beauty but in a cerebral, cold and "mathematical" way. Many have no mature, adult sex drive to speak of. Their emotional landscape is dim and grey, as though through a glass darkly.

Many narcissists can intelligently discuss emotions never experienced by them: empathy, love, or compassion. This is because they make it a point to read a lot and to communicate with people who claim to be experiencing them. Thus, they gradually construct working hypotheses as to what people feel. As far as the narcissist is concerned, it is pointless to try to really understand emotions, but at least these models he forms allow him to better predict people's behaviours and adjust to them.

Narcissists are not envious of others for having emotions. They disdain feelings and sentimental people because they deem them weak and vulnerable and they deride human frailties and vulnerabilities. Such derision makes the narcissist feel superior and is probably the ossified remains of a defence mechanism gone awry.

Narcissists are afraid of pain. Their pains do not come isolated: they constitute families of anguish, tribes of hurt, whole races of agony. The narcissist cannot experience various pains separately, only collectively.

Narcissism is an effort to contain the ominous onslaught of stale negative emotions, repressed rage, and one's childhood injuries.

Pathological narcissism is a useful survival strategy: this is why it is so resilient and resistant to change. When it is "conjured" by the tormented individual, it enhances his functionality and makes life bearable for him. Because it is so successful, it attains religious dimensions: it become rigid, doctrinaire, automatic and ritualistic.

In other words, pathological narcissism becomes a PATTERN of behaviour. This rigidity is like an outer shell, an exoskeleton. It constrains the narcissist and limits him. It is often prohibitive and inhibitive. As a result, the narcissist is afraid to do certain things. He is injured or humiliated when forced to engage in certain activities. He reacts with rage when the mental edifice underlying his disorder is subjected to scrutiny and criticism, no matter how benign or well-meaning.

Narcissism is ridiculous and embarrassing to behold. Narcissists are pompous, grandiose, repulsive and contradictory. There is a serious mismatch between who they really are, their true accomplishments, and how they regard themselves. The narcissist doesn't merely THINK that he is far superior to others. The perception of his superiority is ingrained in him, it is a part of his every mental cell, an all-pervasive sensation, an instinct and a drive.

He feels that he is entitled to special treatment and to outstanding consideration because he is such a unique specimen. He knows this to be true, the same way one knows that one is surrounded by air. It is an integral part of his identity.

This opens a gap – rather, an abyss – between the narcissist and other people. Because he considers himself so special and so superior, he has no way of knowing how it is to be human, neither the inclination to find out. In other words, the narcissist cannot and will not empathize with others.

Can you empathize with an ant? Empathy implies identity or equality with the empathized, both implications abhorrent to the narcissist. And being perceived by the narcissist to be so inferior, people are reduced to cartoonish, two-dimensional representations of functions. They become instrumental, or useful, or functional, or entertaining, gratifying or infuriating, frustrating or accommodating objects, rather than loving or emotionally responsive potential partners.

This state of mind leads to ruthlessness and exploitativeness. Narcissists are not "evil" – actually, the narcissist considers himself to be a good person. Many narcissists help people, professionally, or voluntarily. But narcissists are indifferent. They couldn't care less. The narcissist helps people because it is a way to secure attention, gratitude, adulation and admiration and because it is the fastest and surest method to get rid of them and their incessant nagging.

The narcissist may realize these unpleasant truths cognitively, but there is no corresponding emotional reaction (emotional correlate) to this realization. There is no resonance. To him, the act of introspection in order to gain psychological insight is like reading a boring users' manual pertaining to a computer you do not even own.

Still, to further insulate himself from the improbable possibility of confronting the inevitable gulf between reality and grandiose fantasy (the Grandiosity Gap), the narcissist comes up with the most elaborate mental structure, replete with mechanisms, levers, switches and flickering alarm lights.

Narcissism isolates the narcissist from the pain of facing reality and allows him to inhabit the fantasyland of ideal perfection and brilliance.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 21

 

The Inappropriate Affect

 

 

Question: Why is there no connection between the behaviour of the narcissist and his emotions?

Answer: There is a weak correlation between the narcissist's behaviour and his professed or proclaimed emotions. The reason is that his emotions are merely professed or proclaimed, but not felt. The narcissist fakes feelings and their outer expression in order to impress others, to gain their sympathy or to motivate them to act in a manner benefiting the narcissist and promoting his interests.

In this, as in many other simulated behaviour patterns, the narcissist seeks to manipulate his human environment. Inside, he is barren, devoid of any inkling of true emotion, and disdainful of feelings and emotional people. He looks down upon those who succumb to the weakness of sentiment and holds them in contempt. He berates and debases them.

This is the heartless mechanism of "simulated affect". It lies at the core of the narcissist's inability to empathize with his fellow human beings.

The narcissist constantly lies to himself and to others. He defensively distorts facts and circumstances and provides consonant interpretations so as to preserve his delusions of grandeur and feelings of (unmerited) self-importance. This is the mechanism of the "sliding of meanings". This mechanism is part of the much larger set of Emotional Involvement Prevention Measures (EIPMs).

The EIPMs are intended to prevent the narcissist from getting emotionally involved or committed. This way he insures himself against getting hurt and abandoned, or so he erroneously believes. Actually, these mechanisms are self-defeating and lead directly to the results they were intended to forestall. They mostly operate through emotional denial. The narcissist is estranged from his own emotions as a means of self-defence.

Another characteristic of the narcissistic personality is the use that it makes of "emotional delegation". The narcissist, appearances notwithstanding, is human and is possessed of emotions and of emotional content. But, in an effort to defend himself against a repetition of past hurts, he "delegates" his emotions to a fictitious construct, the False Self.

It is the False Self that interacts with the world. It is the False Self that suffers and enjoys, gets attached and detached, joins and separates, develops likes and dislikes, preferences and prejudices, loves and hates. Whatever happens to the narcissist, his experiences, the setbacks that he (unavoidably) suffers, the humiliations, the adoration, the fears and the hopes – happens to one self removed, to the False Self.

The narcissist is shielded by this construction. He lives in a padded cell of his own creation, an eternal observer, unharmed, embryo-like in the womb of his False Self. No wonder that this duality, so entrenched, so fundamental to the narcissistic personality is also so evident, so discernible. This delegation of emotions is what unsettles those who interact with the narcissist: the feeling that his True Self is absent and that all the emoting is done by a false emanation.

The narcissist himself experiences this dichotomy, this break between his False Self which is his interface with the true world and his True Self which is forever dormant in a no-man's land. The narcissist lives in this warped reality, divorced from his own emotions, constantly feeling that he is an actor in a film about his own life.

[A more detailed description of this emotional break can be found in "Warped Reality and Retroactive Emotional Content".]

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 22

 

The Ubiquitous Narcissist

 

 

Question: Nothing is sacred to him. He mocks everything and derides everyone. He does it publicly and privately and always loudly. It grates on my nerves. Is there anything I can do about it?

Answer: The narcissist feels omnipresent, all-pervasive, the prime mover and shaker, the cause of all things. Hence his constant projection of his own traits, fears, behaviour patterns, beliefs, and plans onto others. The narcissist is firmly convinced that he is the generator of other people's emotions, that they depend on him for their well-being, that without him their lives will degenerate into grey mediocrity. He regards himself as the most important part in the life of his nearest and dearest. To avoid painful realizations to the contrary, the narcissist aims to micromanage and control his human environment.

But this is only one aspect of the pathology.

The second aspect is malignant cynicism. A healthy modicum of doubt and caution is… well… healthy. But the narcissist is addicted to excess doses of both. He is convinced that everyone is a narcissist and that people are simply hypocritical when they pretend to be "normal". They are weak and fear society's reactions, so they adhere to its edicts and behavioural-moral codes. As opposed to these craven weaklings, the narcissist magically feels strong, immune to punishment, and invincible and thus able to express his true nature fearlessly and openly.

Consider generosity and altruism, the daughters of empathy – that which the narcissist is absolutely devoid of.

The narcissist cannot digest or fathom true generosity, especially when he is its recipient and beneficiary. He immediately suspects ulterior motives (though not necessarily sinister ones). He asks himself: "Why the helping hand?", "How come the trust placed in me?", "What do they really want from me?", "How (unbeknownst to me) do I benefit them?", "What is the disguised self-interest which drives their perplexing behaviour?", "Don't these people know better?", "Don't they realize that everyone is, without exception, self-centred, interest-driven, unnecessarily malevolent, ignorant, and abusive?"

In other words, the narcissist is surprised that his true nature doesn't show through instantly. He feels like an incandescent lamp. He is sure that people can see through his transparent defences and that what they see must horrify and repel them.

When this does not happen, he is shocked.

He is shocked because altruistic, loving, caring, and generous behaviours expose as false the hidden assumptions underlying his mental edifice. Not everyone is a narcissist. People do care for each other for no immediate reward. And, most damaging of all to his worldview, he is loveable.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 23

 

The Narcissist as a Sadist

 

 

Question: What would cause a narcissist to victimize a significant other sadistically versus just discarding her when no longer useful?

Answer: The narcissist discards people when he becomes convinced that they can no longer provide him with Narcissistic Supply. This conviction, subjective and emotionally charged, does not have to be grounded in reality. Suddenly, because of boredom, disagreement, disillusion, a fight, an act, inaction, or a mood, the narcissist wildly swings from idealization to devaluation.

The narcissist then detaches immediately. He needs all the energy he can muster to obtain new Sources of Narcissistic Supply and would rather not spend these scarce resources over what he regards as human refuse, the pulp left after the extraction of Narcissistic Supply.

The narcissist would tend to display the sadistic aspect of his personality in one of two cases:

1. That the very acts of sadism generate Narcissistic Supply to be consumed by the narcissist ("I inflict pain, therefore I am superior"), or

2. That the victims of his sadism are still his only or major Sources of Narcissistic Supply but are perceived by him to be intentionally frustrating and withholding. Sadistic acts are his way of punishing them for not being docile, obedient, admiring and adoring as he expects them to be in view of his uniqueness, cosmic significance, and special entitlement.

The narcissist is not a full-fledged sadist, masochist, or paranoiac. He does not enjoy hurting his victims. He does not believe firmly that he is the focal point of persecution and the target of conspiracies.

But, he does enjoy punishing himself when it provides him with a sense of relief, exoneration and validation. This is his masochistic streak.

Because of his lack of empathy and his rigid personality, he often inflicts great (physical or mental) pain on meaningful others in his life and he enjoys their writhing and suffering. In this restricted sense he is a sadist.

To support his sense of uniqueness, greatness and (cosmic) significance, he is often hypervigilant. If he falls from grace, he attributes it to dark forces out to destroy him. If his sense of entitlement is not satisfied and he is ignored by others, he attributes it to the fear and feelings of inferiority that he provokes in them. So, to some extent, he is a paranoid.

The narcissist is as much an artist of pain as any sadist. The difference between them lies in their motivation. The narcissist tortures and abuses others as means to punish and to reassert superiority, omnipotence, and grandiosity. The sadist does it for pure (usually, sexually-tinged) pleasure. But both are adept at finding the chinks in people's armours. Both are ruthless and venomous in the pursuit of their prey. Both are unable to empathize with their victims, and are self-centred, and rigid.

The narcissist abuses his victim verbally, mentally, or physically (often, in all three ways). He infiltrates her defences, shatters her self-confidence, confuses and confounds her, demeans and debases her. He invades her territory, abuses her confidence, exhausts her resources, hurts her loved ones, threatens her stability and security, enmeshes her in his paranoid state of mind, frightens her out of her wits, withholds love and sex from her, prevents satisfaction and causes frustration, humiliates and insults her privately and in public, points out her shortcomings, criticizes her profusely and in a "scientific and objective" manner – and this is a partial list.

Very often, the narcissist's sadistic acts are disguised as an enlightened interest in the welfare of his victim. He plays the psychiatrist to her psychopathology (totally dreamt up by him). He acts the guru, the avuncular or father figure, the teacher, the only true friend, the old and the experienced – all these in order to weaken her defences and to lay siege to her disintegrating nerves. So subtle and poisonous is the narcissistic variant of sadism that it might well be regarded as the most dangerous of all.

Luckily, the narcissist's attention span is short and his resources and energy limited. In constant, effort-consuming and attention-diverting pursuit of Narcissistic Supply, the narcissist lets his victim go, usually before it had suffered irreversible damage. The victim is then free to rebuild her life from ruins. Not an easy undertaking this, but far better than the total obliteration which awaits the victims of the "true" sadist.

If one had to distil the quotidian existence of the narcissist in two pithy sentences, one would say:

The narcissist loves to be hated and hates to be loved.

Hate is the complement of fear and narcissists like being feared. It imbues them with an intoxicating sensation of omnipotence.

Many of them are veritably inebriated by the looks of horror or repulsion on people's faces: "They know that I am capable of anything."

The sadistic narcissist perceives himself as Godlike, ruthless and unscrupulous, capricious and unfathomable, devoid of emotions and asexual, omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, a plague, a devastation, an inescapable verdict.

He nurtures his ill-repute, stoking it and fanning the flames of gossip. It is an enduring asset. Hate and fear are sure-fire generators of attention. It is all about Narcissistic Supply, of course: the drug which narcissists consume and which, in turn, consumes them.

Deep inside, it is the horrid future and inescapable punishment that await the narcissist that are irresistibly appealing. Sadists are often also masochists. In sadistic narcissists, there is, actually, a burning desire – nay, need – to be punished. In the grotesque mind of the narcissist, his punishment is equally his vindication.

By being permanently on trial, the narcissist defiantly claims the high moral ground and the position of the martyr: misunderstood, discriminated against, unjustly roughed, outcast due to his very towering genius or other outstanding qualities.

To conform to the cultural stereotype of the "tormented artist", the narcissist provokes his own suffering. He is thus validated. His grandiose fantasies acquire a modicum of substance. "If I were not so special, they surely wouldn't have persecuted me so." The persecution of the narcissist proves to him his self-imputed uniqueness. To have "deserved" or to have provoked it, he must have been different and unique, for better or for worse.

The narcissist's aforementioned streak of paranoia makes his persecution inevitable. The narcissist is in constant conflict with "lesser beings": his spouse, his shrink, his boss, his colleagues, the police, the courts, his neighbours. Forced to stoop to their intellectual level, the narcissist feels like Gulliver: a giant shackled by Lilliputians. His life is a constant struggle against the self-contented mediocrity of his milieu. This is his fate which he accepts, though never stoically. It is his calling and the mission of his stormy life.

Deeper still, the narcissist has an image of himself as a worthless, bad and dysfunctional extension of others. In constant need of Narcissistic Supply, he feels humiliated by his dependency. The contrast between his grandiose fantasies and the reality of his habit, neediness and, often, failure (the Grandiosity Gap) is an emotionally corroding experience. It is a perpetual background noise of devilish, demeaning scorn. His inner voices "say" to him: "You are a fraud", "You are a nobody, a loser", "You deserve nothing", "If only they knew how worthless you are".

The narcissist attempts to silence these tormenting voices not by fighting them but by agreeing with them. Unconsciously – sometimes consciously – he "responds" to them: "I do agree with you. I am bad and worthless and deserving of the most severe punishment for my rotten character, disgraceful habits, my addiction and the constant sham that is my life. I will go and seek my doom. Now that I have complied, will you leave me alone? Will you let me be?"

Of course, they never do.

Sadistic Personality Disorder

The Sadistic Personality Disorder made its last appearance in the DSM-III-TR and was removed from the DSM-IV and from its text revision, the DSM-IV-TR. Some scholars, notably Theodore Millon, regard its removal as a mistake and lobby for its reinstatement in future editions of the DSM.

The Sadistic Personality Disorder is characterized by a pattern of gratuitous cruelty, aggression, and demeaning behaviours which indicate the existence of deep-seated contempt for other people and an utter lack of empathy. Some sadists are "utilitarian": they leverage their explosive violence to establish a position of unchallenged dominance within a relationship. Unlike psychopaths, they rarely use physical force in the commission of crimes. Rather, their aggressiveness is embedded in an interpersonal context and is expressed in social settings, such as the family or the workplace.

This narcissistic need for an audience manifests itself in other circumstances. Sadists strive to humiliate people in front of witnesses. This makes them feel omnipotent. Power plays are important to them and they are likely to treat people under their control or entrusted to their care harshly: a subordinate, a child, a student, a prisoner, a patient, or a spouse are all liable to suffer the consequences of the sadist's "control freakery" and exacting "disciplinary" measures.

Sadists like to inflict pain because they find suffering, both corporeal and psychological, amusing. They torture animals and people because, to them, the sights and sounds of a creature writhing in agony are hilarious and pleasurable. Sadists go to great lengths to hurt others: they lie, deceive, commit crimes, and even make personal sacrifices merely so as to enjoy the cathartic moment of witnessing someone else's anguish.

Sadists are masters of abuse by proxy and ambient abuse. They terrorize and intimidate even their nearest and dearest into doing their bidding. They create an aura and atmosphere of unmitigated yet diffuse dread and consternation. This they achieve by promulgating complex "rules of the house" that restrict the autonomy of their dependants (spouses, children, employees, patients, clients, etc.). They have the final word and are the ultimate law. They must be obeyed, no matter how arbitrary and senseless are their rulings and decisions.

Most sadists are fascinated by gore and violence. They are vicarious serial killers: they channel their homicidal urges in socially acceptable ways by "studying" and admiring historical figures such as Hitler, for instance. They love guns and other weapons, are fascinated by death, torture, and martial arts in all their forms.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 24

 

Other People's Pain

 

 

Question: Do narcissists actually enjoy the taunting, the sadistic behaviour, and the punishment that always follows?

Answer: Most narcissists enjoy an irrational and brief burst of relief after having suffered emotionally ("narcissistic injury") or after having sustained a loss. It is a sense of freedom, which comes with being unshackled. Having lost everything, the narcissist often feels that he has found himself, that he has been re-born, that he has been charged with natal energy, able to take on new challenges and to explore new territories. This elation is so addictive, that the narcissist often seeks pain, humiliation, punishment, scorn, and contempt – as long as they are public and involve the attention of peers and superiors. Being penalized accords with the tormenting inner voices of the narcissist which keep telling him that he is bad, corrupt, and worthy of punishment.

This is the masochistic streak in the narcissist. But the narcissist is also a sadist, albeit an unusual one. The narcissist inflicts pain and abuse on others. He devalues Sources of Supply, callously and offhandedly abandons them, and discards people, places, partnerships, and friendships unhesitatingly. Some narcissists, though by no means the majority, actually ENJOY abusing, taunting, tormenting, and freakishly controlling others ("gaslighting"). But most of them do these things absentmindedly, automatically, and, often, even without good reason.

What is unusual about the narcissist's sadistic behaviours – premeditated acts of tormenting others while enjoying their anguished reactions – is that they are goal orientated. "Pure" sadists have no goal in mind except the pursuit of pleasure: pain as an art form (remember the Marquis de Sade?). Conversely, the narcissist haunts and hunts his victims for a reason: he wants them to reflect his inner state. It is all part of a psychological defence mechanism called Projective Identification.

When the narcissist is angry, unhappy, disappointed, injured, or hurt, he feels unable to express his emotions sincerely and openly since to do so would be to admit his frailty, his neediness, and his weaknesses. He deplores his own humanity: his emotions, his vulnerability, his susceptibility, his gullibility, his inadequacies, and his failures. So, he makes use of other people to express his pain and his frustration, his pent up anger and his aggression.

He achieves this by mentally torturing other people to the point of madness, by driving them to violence, by forcing them to search for an outlet, for closure, and, sometimes, revenge. He causes people to lose their own character traits and adopt his own instead.

In reaction to his constant and well-targeted abuse, they become abusive, vengeful, ruthless, lacking empathy, obsessed, and aggressive. They mirror him faithfully and thus relieve him of the need to express himself directly.

Having constructed this hall of writhing human mirrors, the narcissist withdraws. His goal achieved, he lets go. As opposed to the sadist, he is not in it, indefinitely, for the pleasure. He abuses and traumatizes, humiliates and abandons, discards and ignores, insults and provokes only for the purpose of purging his inner demons. By possessing others, he purifies himself, cathartically, and exorcizes his demented self.

This accomplished, he acts almost with remorse. An episode of extreme abuse is followed by an act of great care and by mellifluous apologies. The Narcissistic Pendulum swings between the extremes of torturing others and soothing the resulting pain.

This incongruous behaviour, these "sudden" shifts between sadism and compassion, abuse and "love", ignoring and caring, abandoning and clinging, viciousness and remorse, the harsh and the tender are, perhaps, the most difficult to comprehend and to accept.

These swings produce in people around the narcissist emotional insecurity, an eroded sense of self-worth, fear, stress, and anxiety (often described as "walking on eggshells"). Gradually, emotional paralysis sets in and they come to occupy the same emotional wasteland inhabited by the narcissist, in effect his prisoners and hostages in more ways than one and even when he is long out of their lives.

The Narcissism of Differences Big and Small

Freud coined the phrase "narcissism of small differences" in a paper titled "The Taboo of Virginity" that he published in 1917. Referring to earlier work by British anthropologist Ernest Crawley, he said that we reserve our most virulent emotions – aggression, hatred, envy – towards those who resemble us the most. We feel threatened not by the Other with whom we have little in common – but by the "nearly-we", who mirror and reflect us.

The "nearly-he" imperils the narcissist's selfhood and challenges his uniqueness, perfection, and superiority: the fundaments of the narcissist's sense of self-worth. It provokes in him primitive narcissistic defences and leads him to adopt desperate measures to protect, preserve, and restore his balance. I call it the Array of Gulliver Defence Mechanisms.

The very existence of the "nearly-he" constitutes a narcissistic injury. The narcissist feels humiliated, shamed, and embarrassed not to be unique after all and he reacts with envy and aggression towards this source of frustration.

In doing so, he resorts to splitting, projection, and Projective Identification. He attributes to other people personal traits that he dislikes in himself and he forces them to behave in conformity with his expectations. In other words, the narcissist sees in others those parts of himself that he cannot countenance. He forces people around him to become him and to reflect his shameful behaviours, hidden fears, and forbidden wishes.

But how does the narcissist avoid the realization that what he loudly decries and derides is actually part of him? By exaggerating, or even dreaming up and creatively inventing, differences between his qualities and conduct and other people's. The more hostile he becomes towards the "nearly-he", the easier it is to distinguish himself from "the Other".

To maintain this differentiating aggression, the narcissist stokes the fires of hostility by obsessively and vengefully nurturing grudges and hurts (some of them imagined). He dwells on injustice and pain inflicted on him by these stereotypically "bad or unworthy" people. He devalues and dehumanizes them and plots revenge to achieve closure. In the process, he indulges in grandiose fantasies, aimed to boost his feelings of omnipotence and magical immunity.

In the process of acquiring an adversary, the narcissist blocks out information that threatens to undermine his emerging self-perception as righteous and offended. He begins to base his whole identity on the brewing conflict which is by now a major preoccupation and a defining or even all-pervasive dimension of his existence.

Very much the same dynamic applies to coping with major differences between the narcissist and others. He emphasizes the large disparities while transforming even the most minor ones into decisive and unbridgeable.

Deep inside, the narcissist is continuously subject to a gnawing suspicion that his self-perception as omnipotent, omniscient, and irresistible is flawed, confabulated, and unrealistic. When criticized, the narcissist actually agrees with the critic. In other words, there are only minor differences of opinion between the narcissist and his detractors. But this threatens the narcissist's internal cohesion. Hence the wild rage at any hint of disagreement, resistance, or debate.

Similarly, intimacy brings people closer together: it makes them more similar. There are only minor differences between intimate partners. The narcissist perceives this as a threat to his sense of uniqueness. He reacts by devaluing the cause of his fears: the mate, spouse, lover, or partner. He re-establishes the boundaries and the distinctions that were removed by intimacy. Thus restored, he is emotionally ready to embark on another round of idealization (the Approach-Avoidance Repetition Complex).

 

First published on the Suite 101 Narcissistic Personality Disorders Topic.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 25

 

The Psychology of Torture

 

 

There is one place in which one's privacy, intimacy, integrity and inviolability are guaranteed: one's body, a unique temple and a familiar territory of sensa and personal history. The torturer invades, defiles and desecrates this shrine. He does so publicly, deliberately, repeatedly and, often, sadistically and sexually, with undisguised pleasure. Hence the all-pervasive, long-lasting, and, frequently, irreversible effects and outcomes of torture.

In a way, the torture victim's own body is rendered his worse enemy. It is corporeal agony that compels the sufferer to mutate, his identity to fragment, his ideals and principles to crumble. The body becomes an accomplice of the tormentor, an uninterruptible channel of communication, a treasonous, poisoned territory.

It fosters a humiliating dependency of the abused on the perpetrator. Bodily needs denied – sleep, toilet, food, water – are wrongly perceived by the victim as the direct causes of his degradation and dehumanization. As he sees it, he is rendered bestial not by the sadistic bullies around him but by his own flesh.

The concept of "body" can easily be extended to "family", or "home". Torture is often applied to kin and kith, compatriots, or colleagues. This intends to disrupt the continuity of "surroundings, habits, appearance, relations with others", as the CIA put it in one of its manuals. A sense of cohesive self-identity depends crucially on the familiar and the continuous. By attacking both one's biological body and one's "social body", the victim's psyche is strained to the point of dissociation.

Beatrice Patsalides describes this transmogrification thus in "Ethics of the Unspeakable: Torture Survivors in Psychoanalytic Treatment":

"As the gap between the 'I' and the 'me' deepens, dissociation and alienation increase… Thoughts and dreams attack the mind and invade the body."

Torture robs the victim of the most basic modes of relating to reality and, thus, is the equivalent of cognitive death. Space and time are warped by sleep deprivation. The self ("I") is shattered. The tortured have nothing familiar to hold on to: family, home, personal belongings, loved ones, language, name. Gradually, they lose their mental resilience and sense of freedom. They feel alien: unable to communicate, relate, attach, or empathize with others.

Torture splinters early childhood grandiose narcissistic fantasies of uniqueness, omnipotence, invulnerability, and impenetrability. But it enhances the fantasy of merger with an idealized and omnipotent (though not benign) other – the inflicter of agony. The twin processes of individuation and separation are reversed.

Torture is the ultimate act of perverted intimacy. The torturer invades the victim's body, pervades his psyche, and possesses his mind. Deprived of contact with others and starved for human interactions, the prey bonds with the predator. "Traumatic bonding", akin to the Stockholm Syndrome, is about hope and the search for meaning in the brutal and indifferent and nightmarish universe of the torture cell.

The abuser becomes the black hole at the centre of the victim's surrealistic galaxy, sucking in the sufferer's universal need for solace. The victim tries to "control" his tormentor by becoming one with him (introjecting him) and by appealing to the monster's presumably dormant humanity and empathy.

This bonding is especially strong when the torturer and the tortured form a dyad and "collaborate" in the rituals and acts of torture (for instance, when the victim is coerced into selecting the torture implements and the types of torment to be inflicted, or to choose between two evils).

The psychologist Shirley Spitz offers this powerful overview of the contradictory nature of torture in a seminar titled "The Psychology of Torture" [1989]:

"Torture is an obscenity in that it joins what is most private with what is most public… A further obscenity of torture is the inversion it makes of intimate human relationships."

Obsessed by endless ruminations, demented by pain and a continuum of sleeplessness, the victim regresses, shedding all but the most primitive defence mechanisms: splitting, narcissism, dissociation, Projective Identification, introjection, and cognitive dissonance. The victim constructs an alternative world, often suffering from depersonalization and derealization, hallucinations, ideas of reference, delusions, and psychotic episodes.

Sometimes the victim comes to crave pain – very much as self-mutilators do – because it is a proof and a reminder of his individuated existence otherwise blurred by the incessant torture. Pain shields the sufferer from disintegration and capitulation. It preserves the veracity of his unthinkable and unspeakable experiences.

This dual process of the victim's alienation and addiction to anguish complements the perpetrator's view of his quarry as "inhuman", or "subhuman". The torturer assumes the position of the sole authority, the exclusive fount of meaning and interpretation, the source of both evil and good.

Torture is about reprogramming the victim to succumb to an alternative exegesis of the world, proffered by the abuser. It is an act of deep, indelible, traumatic indoctrination. The abused also swallows whole and assimilates the torturer's negative view of him and often, as a result, is rendered suicidal, self-destructive, or self-defeating.

Thus, torture has no cut-off date. The sounds, the voices, the smells, the sensations reverberate long after the episode has ended, both in nightmares and in waking moments. The victim's ability to trust other people – i.e., to assume that their motives are at least rational, if not necessarily benign – has been irrevocably undermined. Social institutions are perceived as precariously poised on the verge of an ominous, Kafkaesque mutation. Nothing is either safe or credible anymore.

Victims typically react by undulating between emotional numbing and increased arousal: insomnia, irritability, restlessness, and attention deficits. Recollections of the traumatic events intrude in the form of dreams, night terrors, flashbacks, and distressing associations.

The tortured develop compulsive rituals to fend off obsessive thoughts. Other psychological sequelae reported include cognitive impairment, reduced capacity to learn, memory disorders, sexual dysfunction, social withdrawal, inability to maintain long-term relationships, or even mere intimacy, phobias, ideas of reference and superstitions, delusions, hallucinations, psychotic microepisodes, and emotional flatness.

Depression and anxiety are very common. These are forms and manifestations of self-directed aggression. The sufferer rages at his own victimhood and the resulting multiple dysfunctions. He feels shamed by his new disabilities and responsible, or even guilty, somehow, for his predicament and the dire consequences borne by his nearest and dearest. His sense of self-worth and self-esteem are crippled.

In a nutshell, torture victims suffer from a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Their strong feelings of anxiety, guilt, and shame are also typical of victims of childhood abuse, domestic violence, and rape. They feel anxious because the perpetrator's behaviour is seemingly arbitrary and unpredictable – or mechanically and inhumanly regular.

They feel guilty and disgraced because, to restore a semblance of order to their shattered world and a modicum of dominion over their chaotic life, they need to transform themselves into the cause of their own degradation and the accomplices of their tormentors.

The CIA, in its "Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual – 1983" [reprinted in the April 1997 issue of Harper's Magazine], summed up the theory of coercion thus:

"The purpose of all coercive techniques is to induce psychological regression in the subject by bringing a superior outside force to bear on his will to resist. Regression is basically a loss of autonomy, a reversion to an earlier behavioural level. As the subject regresses, his learned personality traits fall away in reverse chronological order. He begins to lose the capacity to carry out the highest creative activities, to deal with complex situations, or to cope with stressful interpersonal relationships or repeated frustrations."

Inevitably, in the aftermath of torture, its victims feel helpless and powerless. This loss of control over one's life and body is manifested physically in impotence, attention deficits, and insomnia. This is often exacerbated by the disbelief many torture victims encounter, especially if they are unable to produce scars, or other "objective" proof of their ordeal. Language cannot communicate such an intensely private experience as pain.

Spitz makes the following observation:

"Pain is also unsharable in that it is resistant to language… (W)hen we explore the interior state of physical pain we find that there is no object 'out there' – no external, referential content. Pain is not of, or for, anything. Pain is."

Bystanders resent the tortured because they make them feel guilty and ashamed for having done nothing to prevent the atrocity. The victims threaten their sense of security and their much-needed belief in predictability, justice, and rule of law. The victims, on their part, do not believe that it is possible to effectively communicate to "outsiders" what they have been through. The torture chambers are "another galaxy". This is how Auschwitz was described by the author K. Zetnik in his testimony in the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961.

Kenneth Pope in "Torture", a chapter he wrote for the "Encyclopaedia of Women and Gender: Sex Similarities and Differences and the Impact of Society on Gender", quotes Harvard psychiatrist Judith Herman:

"It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering."

But, more often, continued attempts to repress fearful memories result in psychosomatic illnesses (conversion). The victim wishes to forget the torture, to avoid re-experiencing the often life threatening abuse and to shield his human environment from the horrors. In conjunction with the victim's pervasive distrust, this is frequently interpreted as hypervigilance, or even paranoia. It seems that the victims can't win. Torture is forever.

Why Do People Torture?

We should distinguish functional torture from the sadistic variety. The former is calculated to extract information from the tortured or to punish them. It is measured, impersonal, efficient, and disinterested.

The latter – the sadistic variety – fulfils the emotional needs of the perpetrator.

People who find themselves caught up in anomic states – for instance, soldiers in war or incarcerated inmates – tend to feel helpless and alienated. They experience a partial or total loss of control. They have been rendered vulnerable, powerless, and defenceless by events and circumstances beyond their influence.

Torture amounts to exerting an absolute and all-pervasive domination over the victim's existence. It is a coping strategy employed by torturers who wish to reassert control over their lives and, thus, to re-establish their mastery and superiority. By subjugating the tortured, they regain their self-confidence and regulate their sense of self-worth.

Other tormentors channel their negative emotions – pent up aggression, humiliation, rage, envy, diffuse hatred – and displace them. The victim becomes a symbol of everything that's wrong in the torturer's life and the situation he finds himself caught in. The act of torture amounts to misplaced and violent venting.

Many perpetrate heinous acts out of a wish to conform. Torturing others is their way of demonstrating obsequious obeisance to authority, group affiliation, colleagueship, and adherence to the same ethical code of conduct and common values. They bask in the praise that is heaped on them by their superiors, fellow workers, associates, team mates, or collaborators. Their need to belong is so strong that it overpowers ethical, moral, or legal considerations.

Many offenders derive pleasure and satisfaction from sadistic acts of humiliation. To these, inflicting pain is fun. They lack empathy and so their victim's agonized reactions are merely cause for much hilarity.

Moreover, sadism is rooted in deviant sexuality. The torture inflicted by sadists is bound to involve perverted sex (rape, homosexual rape, voyeurism, exhibitionism, paedophilia, fetishism, and other paraphilias). Aberrant sex, unlimited power, excruciating pain, these are the intoxicating ingredients of the sadistic variant of torture.

Still, torture rarely occurs where it does not have the sanction and blessing of the authorities, whether local or national. A permissive environment is sine qua non. The more abnormal the circumstances, the less normative the milieu, the further the scene of the crime is from public scrutiny – the more is egregious torture likely to occur. This is especially true in totalitarian societies where the use of physical force to discipline or eliminate dissent is an acceptable practice.

 

First published on the Suite 101 Narcissistic Personality Disorders Topic.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 26

 

Multiple Grandiosity

 

 

Question: Is the narcissist confined in his grandiose fantasies to one subject?

Answer: The narcissist is bound to make use of his more pronounced traits and qualities in both the design of his False Self and the extraction of Narcissistic Supply from others. Thus, a cerebral narcissist is likely to emphasize his intellect, his brainpower, his analytical skills and his rich and varied fund of knowledge. A somatic narcissist accentuates his body, his physical strength, his appearance, his sex appeal and so on. But this is only one facet of the answer. It seems that narcissists engage in what could best be described as Narcissistic Hedges.

A Narcissistic Hedge is when a narcissist colours more than one field of activity (or one person) with his narcissistic hues. He infuses the selected subjects with narcissistic investment (cathexis). He prepares them as auxiliary Sources of Narcissistic Supply and as backup options in case of a major system failure.

These ostensibly redundant activities and interests constitute a fallback option during a life crisis. In the majority of cases, the chosen subjects or fields all belong to the same "family". A cerebral narcissist might select mathematics and art, but not mountain climbing. A sportsman might choose to be a radio sports commentator but not a philosopher of science, and so on. Still, the correlation between the various selections may not be very strong (which is why they can be used as hedges).

Experience shows that this hedging mechanism is not very effective. The narcissist responds to events in his life as a rigid unit. His reactions are not differentiated or scaled. A failure (or a success) in one domain contagiously spreads to all the others. This narcissistic contagion effect dominates the narcissist's life.

The narcissist measures his personal history in terms of fluctuations in Narcissistic Supply. He is blind to all other aspects, angles and points of view. He is like a thermometer which reacts to human warmth, admiration, adoration, approval, applause and attention.

The narcissist perceives his life in gradations of narcissistic temperature. When a Source of Supply ceases to exist or is threatened or diminished, all the other parts of the narcissist's world (including his backup options) are affected. The dysphoric and euphoric moods, which are related to the absence or to the presence of Narcissistic Supply, engulf the entire personality and consume it.

A case study to illustrate these economic principles of the narcissist's soul:

A narcissist has a successful career as an economic commentator in several mass media. As a result of his criticism of the policies of the government, he is threatened and there are signs that a book that he was about to publish, will not be published after all. The narcissist has other subjects from which he is able to derive Narcissistic Supply (Narcissistic Hedges). What would the likely reaction of such a narcissist be?

Being threatened endangers this narcissist's feelings of omnipotence and superiority. He is "reduced to size". The special treatment that he believed himself to be entitled to has all but evaporated. This is a narcissistic injury. Worse, it looks as if the very availability and existence of his main and "serious" Narcissistic Supply Sources (the media, the book) are at risk.

Dysphoria ensues. The narcissist reacts hysterically and with paranoia. The paranoid streaks in his reaction serve to re-establish the perturbed balance of his own grandiosity. Only important people are persecuted, he soothes himself: "I am being persecuted, therefore I must be important". The hysteria is the result of panic at the prospect of remaining bereft of Narcissistic Supply Sources. A drug addict would have reacted the same way.

In theory, this would be the perfect time to revert to the alternatives, to the hedges. But the narcissist's energy is too depleted to make this switch. He is depressed, dysphoric, anhedonic, in extreme cases even suicidal. He jumps to radical and sweeping conclusions ("If this happened to me once, it could well happen again"). His output and achievements deteriorate. As a result, his Narcissistic Supply is further reduced and a vicious circle is set in motion.

This is the absurdity of the narcissistic mental household: the hedges are brought into play only when they are not needed. Once a crisis erupts, the violently reduced narcissist, a faltering shadow of his former False Self, is too depleted to make use of them.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 27

 

False Modesty

 

 

Question: I met many narcissists who are modest – even self-effacing. This seems to conflict with your observations. How do you reconcile the two?

Answer: The "modesty" evinced by the narcissist is false. It is mostly and merely verbal. It is couched in flourishing phrases, emphasized to absurdity, repeated unnecessarily, usually to the point of causing gross inconvenience to the listener.

The real aim of such behaviour and its subtext are exactly the opposite of common modesty. It is intended to either aggrandize the narcissist or to protect his grandiosity from scrutiny and possible erosion. Such outbursts of "modesty" frequently precede inflated, grandiosity-laden statements made by the narcissist and pertaining to fields of human knowledge and activity in which his accomplishments are meagre.

Devoid of systematic and methodical education, the narcissist tries to make do with pompous, or aggressive mannerisms, bombastic announcements, and the unnecessary and wrong usage of professional jargon. He attempts to dazzle his surroundings with apparent "brilliance" and to put possible critics on the defence.

Beneath all this he is shallow, ignorant, improvising, and fearful of being exposed as deceitful. The narcissist is a conjurer of verbosity, using sleight of mouth rather than sleight of hand. He is ever possessed by the fear that he is really a petty crook about to be unearthed and reviled by society. This is a horrible feeling to endure and a taxing, onerous way to live. The narcissist has to protect himself from his own premonitions, from his internal semipternal trial, his guilt, shame, and anxiety. One of the more efficacious defence mechanisms is false modesty.

The narcissist publicly chastises himself for being unfit, unworthy, lacking, not trained and not (formally) schooled, not objective, cognisant of his own shortcomings and vain. This way, if (or, rather, when) exposed he could always say: "But I told you so in the first place, haven't I?" False modesty is, thus an insurance policy. The narcissist "hedges his bets" by placing a side bet on his own fallibility, weakness, deficiencies and proneness to err.

Yet another function is to extract Narcissistic Supply from the listener. By contrasting his own self-deprecation with a brilliant, dazzling display of ingenuity, wit, intellect, knowledge, or beauty, the narcissist aims to secure an adoring, admiring, approving, or applauding protestation from the listener.

The person to whom the narcissist addresses his statement of false modesty statement is expected to vehemently deny the narcissist's assertions: "But, really, you are more of an expert than you say!", or "Why did you tell me that you are unable to do (this or that)? Truly, you are very gifted!", "Don't put yourself down so much – you are a generous man!"

The narcissist then shrugs, smirks, blushes and moves uncomfortably from side to side. This was not his intention, he assures his interlocutor. He did not mean to fish for compliments (exactly what he did mean to do). He really does not deserve the praise. But the aim has, thus, been achieved: the Narcissistic Supply has been doled out and avidly consumed. Despite the narcissist's protestations, he feels much better now.

The narcissist is a dilettante and a charlatan. He glosses over complicated subjects and situations in life. He sails through them powered by shallow acquaintance with rapidly acquired verbal and behavioural vocabularies (which he then promptly proceeds to forget).

False modesty is only one of a series of feigned behaviours. The narcissist is a pathological liar, either implicitly or explicitly. His whole psychological existence is premised on a False Self, his deceitful invention and its reflections. With false modesty he seeks to involve others in his mind games, to co-opt them, to force them to collaborate while making ultimate use of social conventions of conduct.

The narcissist, above all, is a shrewd manipulator, well-acquainted with human nature and its fault lines. Still, no narcissist will ever admit to it. In this sense, narcissists are really modest.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 28

 

Warped Reality and Retroactive Emotional Content

 

 

Question: How does a narcissist experience his own life?

Answer: As a prolonged, incomprehensible, unpredictable, frequently terrifying and deeply saddening nightmare. This is a result of the functional dichotomy, fostered by the narcissist himself, between his False Self and his True Self.

The False Self is nothing but a concoction, a figment of the narcissist's disorder, a reflection in the narcissist's hall of mirrors. It is incapable of feeling, or experiencing anything. Yet, it is fully the master of the psychodynamic processes which rage within the narcissist's psyche.

This inner battle is so fierce that the True Self experiences it as a diffuse, though imminent and eminently ominous, threat. Anxiety ensues and the narcissist finds himself constantly ready for the next blow. He commits acts and he knows not why or wherefrom. He says things and behaves in ways, which, he knows, endanger him and put him in line for punishment and humiliation – but he can't control himself.

The narcissist hurts people around him, or breaks the law, or violates accepted morality. He knows that he is in the wrong and feels ill at ease on the rare moments that he does feel. He wants to stop but knows not how. Gradually, he is estranged from himself, possessed by some kind of demon, a puppet on invisible, mental strings. He resents this feeling, he wants to rebel, he is repelled by this part in him with which he is not acquainted. In his efforts to exorcize this devil from his soul, he sometimes dissociates.

An eerie sensation sets in and pervades the psyche of the narcissist. At times of crisis, of danger, of depression, of failure, and of narcissistic injury, the narcissist feels that he is watching himself from the outside (twin pathological mental processes known as depersonalization and derealization). This is not an out-of-body experience. The narcissist does not really "exit" his body. It is just that he assumes, involuntarily, the position of a spectator, a polite observer mildly interested in the whereabouts of one, Mr. Narcissist.

It is akin to watching a movie, the illusion is not complete, neither is it precise. This detachment continues for as long as the narcissist's ego-dystonic behaviour persists, for as long as the crisis goes on, for as long as the narcissist cannot face who he is, what he is doing and the consequences of his actions.

Since this is the case most of the time, the narcissist gets used to seeing himself in the role of the protagonist (usually the hero) of a motion picture or of a novel. It also sits well with his grandiosity and fantasies. Sometimes, he talks about himself in the third person singular. Sometimes he calls his "other", narcissistic, self by a different name.

The narcissist describes his life, its events, ups and downs, pains, elation and disappointments in the most remote, "professional" and coldly analytical voice, as though delineating (though with a modicum of involvement) the life of some exotic insect (echoes of Kafka's "Metamorphosis").

The metaphor of "life as a movie", gaining control by "writing a scenario" or by "inventing a narrative" is not a modern invention. Cavemen narcissists have, probably, done the same. But this is only the external, superficial, facet of the disorder.

The crux of the problem is that the narcissist really FEELS this way. He actually experiences his life as belonging to someone else, his body as dead weight (or as an instrument in the service of some entity), his deeds as a-moral and not immoral (he cannot be judged for something he didn't do, can he?).

As time passes, the narcissist accumulates a mountain of mishaps, conflicts unresolved, pains well hidden, abrupt separations and bitter disappointments. He is subjected to a constant barrage of social criticism and condemnation. He is ashamed and fearful. He knows that something is wrong but there is no correlation between his cognition and his emotions.

He prefers to run away and hide, as he did when he was a child. Only this time he hides behind another self, a false one. People reflect to him this mask of his making, until even he believes its existence and acknowledges its dominance, until he forgets the truth and knows no different. The narcissist is only dimly aware of the decisive battle, which rages inside him. He feels threatened, very sad, perhaps suicidal, but there seems to be no outside cause of all this and it makes it even more mysteriously menacing.

This dissonance, these negative emotions, these nagging anxieties, transform the narcissist's "motion picture" solution into a permanent one. It becomes a feature of the narcissist's life. Whenever confronted by an emotional or by an existential threat, he retreats into this haven, this mode of coping: he relegates responsibility, submissively assuming a passive role. He who is not responsible cannot be punished runs the subtext of this capitulation.

The narcissist is thus conditioned to annihilate himself, both in order to avoid (emotional) pain and to bask in the glow of his impossibly grandiose fantasies.

This he does with fanatic zeal and with efficacy. He assigns his very life (decisions to be made, judgements to be passed, agreements to be reached) to the False Self. He re-interprets his past life in a manner consistent with the current needs of the False Self.

It is no wonder that there is no connection between what the narcissist did feel in a given period in his life, or in relation to a specific event or person and the way he sees or remembers his emotions later on. He may describe certain occurrences or phases in his life as "tedious, painful, sad, burdening" even though he experienced them entirely differently at the time.

The same retroactive colouring occurs with regards to people. The narcissist completely distorts the way he regarded certain people and felt about them. This re-writing of his personal history is aimed to directly and fully accommodate the requirements of his False Self.

In sum, the narcissist does not occupy his own soul, nor does he inhabit his own body. He is the servant of an apparition, of a reflection, of an ego function. To please and appease his Master, the narcissist sacrifices to it his very essence. From that moment onwards, the narcissist lives vicariously, through the good offices of the False Self.

Throughout, the narcissist feels detached, alienated and estranged from his (False) Self. He constantly harbours the sensation that he is an actor a movie with a plot over which he has little control. It is with a certain interest – even fascination – that he watches it unfold. Still, mostly, he is a mere, passive observer.

Thus, not only does the narcissist relinquish control of his future life (the movie) – he gradually loses ground to the False Self in the battle to preserve the integrity and genuineness of his past experiences. Eroded by these two processes, the narcissist incrementally disappears and is replaced by his disorder to the fullest extent.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 29

 

Narcissistic Signal, Stimulus and Hibernation Mini-Cycles

 

 

Question: I know a narcissist intimately. Sometimes he is hyperactive, full of ideas, optimism, and plans. At other times, he is somnolent, almost zombie-like.

Answer: You are witnessing the narcissistic signal-stimulus-hibernation mini-cycle. Narcissists go through long euphoric and dysphoric cycles. These cycles are dilated, all-encompassing, all-pervasive, and all-consuming. They are different from manic-depressive cycles (in the bipolar disorder) in that they are reactive, caused by easily identifiable external events or circumstances.

For instance: the narcissist reacts with dysphoria and anhedonia when he loses his Pathological Narcissistic Space, or to major life crises (financial problems, divorce, imprisonment, loss of social status and peer appreciation, death in the family, crippling illness, etc.).

But the narcissist also goes through much shorter and much weaker cycles. He experiences brief periods of mania. Then he can be entertaining, charming, and charismatic. Then he is "full of ideas and plans", attractive and leader-like. In the manic phase, he is restless (often insomniac), full of pent up energy, explosive, dramatic, creative, an excellent performer and manager.

Suddenly, and often for no apparent reason, he becomes subdued, depressed, devoid of energy, pessimistic, and "zombie-like". He oversleeps, his eating patterns change, he is slow and pays no attention to his external appearance or to the impression that he leaves on others.

The contrast is very sharp and striking. While in the manic phase, the narcissist is talkative and gregarious. In the depressive phase he is passively-aggressively silent and schizoid. He vacillates between being imaginative and being dull, being social and being asocial or even antisocial, being obsessed with time management and achievement and lying in bed for hours, being a leader and being led.

These mini-cycles, though outwardly manic-depressive (or cyclothymic) are not. They are the result of subtle fluctuations in the volatile flow of Narcissistic Supply.

The narcissist is addicted to Narcissistic Supply: admiration, adoration, approval, and other forms of attention. All his activities, thoughts, plans, aspirations, inspiration, and daydreams – in short, all the aspects of his life – are dedicated to regulating the flow of such supply and to rendering it relatively stable and predictable.

The narcissist even resorts to Secondary Narcissistic Supply Sources (a spouse, his colleagues, or his business – SNSSs) in order to "accumulate" a reserve of past Narcissistic Supply for times of short supply. The SNSSs do this by witnessing the narcissist's accomplishments and moments of grandeur and recounting what they saw when he is down and low. Thus, the SNSSs smooth and regulate the vicissitudes of the supply emanating from the Primary Narcissistic Supply Sources (PNSSs).

But the very process of obtaining and securing Narcissistic Supply, in the first place, is complex and multi-phased.

First there is a depressive phase. To obtain Narcissistic Supply, the narcissist has to toil. He has to work hard to create Sources of Supply (PNSSs, SNSSs) and to maintain them. These are demanding tasks. They are often very tiring. Exhaustion plays a major role in the mini-cycles. His energy depleted, his creativity at an end, his resources stretched to the maximum, the narcissist reposes, "plays dead", withdraws from life. This is the phase of Narcissistic Hibernation.

The narcissist invariably goes into Narcissistic Hibernation before the emission of a Narcissistic Signal [see below]. He does so in order to gather the energies that he knows are going to be needed in the later phases. During his hibernation, he surveys the terrain, in an effort to determine the richest and most rewarding sources, veins and venues of Narcissistic Supply. He contemplates the possible content of various signals, in order to ensure that the most effective one is emitted.

Building up his energy reserves during the hibernation phase is crucial. The narcissist knows that even the manic phase of the mini-cycle, following the receipt of the Narcissistic Stimulus [see below] is taxing and laborious.

Having thus reposed, the narcissist is ready to proceed. He jump starts the cycle by emitting a Narcissistic Signal. It is a message – written, verbal, or behavioural – intended to foster the generation of Narcissistic Supply. The narcissist may send letters to magazines, offering to write for them (for free, if need be). He may dress, behave, or make statements intended to elicit admiration or opprobrium (in short, attention). He may consistently and continuously describe himself in glamorous and flattering terms (or, conversely, fish for compliments by berating himself and his achievements).

Anything goes in order to become well known and to impress people.

Narcissistic Signals are automatically triggered and emitted whenever an important element changes in a narcissist's life: his workplace, his domicile, his position, or his spouse. They are intended to re-establish the equilibrium between the uncertainty which inevitably follows such changes and the narcissist's inner turmoil which is the result of the disruption of the patterns and flows of Narcissistic Supply caused by said shifts.

Ideally, the Narcissistic Signal elicits a Narcissistic Stimulus. This is a positive sign or response from the recipients of the signal indicating their willingness to swallow the narcissist's bait and to provide him with Narcissistic Supply. Such a stimulus brings the narcissist back to life. It energizes him. Once more, he becomes a fountain of ideas, plans, visions and dreams.

The Narcissistic Stimulus pushes the narcissist into the manic phase of the mini-cycle.

Thus, caught between mini-cycles of mania and depression, and bigger cycles of euphoria and dysphoria the narcissist leads his tumultuous life. It is no wonder that he gradually evolves into a paranoid. It is easy to feel persecuted and at the mercy of forces mysterious, capricious and powerful when this, indeed, is the case.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 30

 

The Narcissistic Pendulum

And the Pathological Narcissistic Space

 

 

Question: The behaviour of the narcissist is very inconsistent. It is as though he has multiple personalities. How can you explain this?

Answer: The narcissist is chronically depressed and anhedonic (finds no pleasure in life). Unable to love and, in the long run (as a result), unloved, the narcissist is ever in the pursuit of excitement and drama intended to alleviate his all-pervasive boredom and melancholy. The narcissist is a drama queen.

Needless to say that both the pursuit itself and its goals must conform to the grandiose vision that the narcissist has of his (False) Self. They must be commensurate with his view of his own uniqueness and entitlement.

The process of seeking excitement and drama cannot be deemed by the narcissist or by others to be humiliating, belittling or common. The excitement and drama generated must be truly unique, ground breaking, breathtaking, overwhelming, unprecedented, and, under no circumstances, routine.

Actually, the very act of dramatization is intended to secure ego-syntony. "Surely, the dramatic is special, meaningful, eternal, and memorable, just like me" – says the narcissist to himself – "I, myself, am dramatic (therefore I exist)." The narcissist – always a pathological liar and the chief victim of his own stratagems and deceit – can (and does) convince himself that his antics and exploits are significant.

Thus, existential boredom, self-directed aggression (depression), and the compulsive quest for excitement and titillating drama lead to the relentless pursuit of Narcissistic Supply (NS).

The processes of obtaining, preserving, accumulating and recalling Narcissistic Supply take place in the Pathological Narcissistic Space (PN Space). This is an imaginary environment, a comfort zone, demarcated by the narcissist. The PN Space has clear geographical and physical boundaries: a home, a neighbourhood, a workplace, a club, a city, a country.

The narcissist strives to maximize the amount of Narcissistic Supply that he derives from people within the PN Space. There, he seeks admiration, adoration, approval, applause, or, as a minimum: attention. If not fame – then notoriety. If not real achievements – then contrived or imagined ones. If not real distinction – then concocted and forced "uniqueness".

Narcissistic Supply substitutes for having a real vocation or avocation and actual achievements. It displaces the emotional rewards of intimacy in mature relationships. The narcissist is ruefully aware of this substitutive nature, of his inability to have a go at "the real thing". His permanent existence in fantasyland, intended to shield him from his self-destructive urges, paradoxically only enhances them.

This state of things makes him feel sad, enraged at his helplessness in the face of his disorder, and at the discrepancy between his delusions of grandeur and reality (the Grandiosity Gap). It is the engine of his growing disappointment and disillusionment, his anhedonia and impotence, his degeneration and ultimate ugly decadence.

The narcissist ages disgracefully, ungraciously. He is not a becoming sight as his defences crumble and harsh reality intrudes: the reality of his self-imposed mediocrity and wasted life. These flickers of sanity, these reminders of his downhill path get more ubiquitous with every day of confabulated existence.

The more fiercely the narcissist fights this painfully realistic appraisal of himself, the more apparent its veracity. The narcissist's intellect overwhelms the narcissist's defences and this is followed by either spontaneous healing or a complete meltdown.

The narcissist's PN Space incorporates people whose role is to applaud, admire, adore, approve and attend to the narcissist. Extracting Narcissistic Supply from them calls for emotional and cognitive investments, stability, perseverance, long-term presence, attachment, collaboration, emotional agility, people skills and so on.

But all this inevitable toil contradicts the deeply ingrained conviction of the narcissist that he is entitled to special and immediate preferential treatment. The narcissist expects to be instantaneously recognized as outstanding, talented, and unique. He does not see why this recognition should depend on his achievements and efforts. He feels that he is unique by virtue of his sheer existence. He feels that his very life is meaningful, that it encapsulates some cosmic message, mission, or process.

Narcissistic Supply obtained through the mundane and grinding investment of efforts and resources, such as time, money and energy is nothing special or unexpected. This renders it useless. Useful Narcissistic Supply is obtained miraculously, dramatically, excitingly, surprisingly, shockingly, unexpectedly and simply by virtue of the narcissist being there. No action is called for, as far as the narcissist is concerned. Cajoling, requesting, initiating, convincing, demonstrating, and begging for supply are all acts which starkly contrast with the grandiose delusions of the narcissist.

Additionally, the narcissist is simply unable to behave in certain ways, even if he wanted to. He cannot get attached, be intimate, persevere, be stable, predictable, or reliable because such conduct contradicts the Emotional Involvement Prevention Measures (EIPM). This is a group of destabilising behaviours intended to forestall future emotional pain inflicted on the narcissist when he is abandoned or when he fails.

If the narcissist does not get attached – he cannot be hurt. If he is not intimate with anyone – he cannot be emotionally (or otherwise) blackmailed. If he does not persevere – he has nothing to lose. If he does not stay put – he cannot be expelled. If he rejects or abandons – he cannot be rejected or abandoned.

The narcissist anticipates the inevitable schisms and emotional abysses in a life fraught with gross dishonesty. He shoots first. Indeed, it is only when he is itinerant and besieged by problems that the narcissist has a respite from his maddeningly nagging addiction to Narcissistic Supply.

This is the basic conflict of the narcissist. The two mechanisms underlying his distorted personality are incompatible. One calls for the establishment of a PN Space and for continuous gratification. The other urges the narcissist not to embark on any long-term project, to move, to disconnect, and to dissociate.

Only others can provide the narcissist with his badly needed doses of Narcissistic Supply. But he is loath to communicate and to associate with them in an emotionally meaningful way. The narcissist lacks the basic skills required in order to obtain his drug. The very people who are supposed to sustain his grandiose fantasies through their adoration and attention – mostly find him too repulsive, eccentric (weird) or dangerous to interact with. This predicament can be aptly called The Narcissistic Condition.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 31

 

The Inanimate as a Source of Narcissistic Supply

Narcissistic Branding and Narcissistic Contagion

 

 

Question: Can inanimate objects serve as Sources of Narcissistic Supply?

Answer:

The Discarder

Any thing can serve as a Source of Narcissistic Supply, providing that it has the potential to attract people's attention and be the subject of their admiration. This is why narcissists are enamoured of status symbols, i.e., objects, which comprehensively encapsulate and concisely convey a host of data regarding their owners. These data generate a reaction in people: they make them look on, admire, envy, dream, compare, or aspire. In short: they elicit Narcissistic Supply.

But, generally, discarder narcissists do not like souvenirs and the memories they evoke. They are afraid to get emotionally attached to such mementos and then get hurt if the objects are lost or stolen or taken. Narcissists are sad people. Almost anything can depress them: a tune, a photograph, a work of art, a book, a mental image, or a voice. Narcissists are people who divorced their emotions because their emotions are mostly negative and painful, coloured by their basic trauma, by the early abuses that they had suffered.

Objects, situations, voices, sights, or colours provoke unwanted memories. The narcissist tries to avoid them. The discarder narcissist callously discards or gives away hard-won assets, memorabilia, gifts, and property. This behaviour sustains his sense of omnipotent control and lack of vulnerability. It also proves to him that he is unique, not like "other people", hoarders who are attached to their material belongings. He is above it.

The Accumulator

This kind of narcissist jealously guards his possessions: his collections, his furniture, his cars, his children, his women, his money, his credit cards…

Objects comfort this type of narcissist. They remind him of his status. They are linked to gratifying events and, thus, constitute Secondary Sources of Narcissistic Supply. They attest to the narcissist's wealth, his connections, his achievements, his friendships, his conquests, and his glorious past. No wonder he is so attached to them. Objects connected with failures or embarrassments have no place in his abode. They get cast out.

Moreover, owning the right objects often guarantees the uninterrupted flow of Narcissistic Supply. A flashy car or an ostentatious house help the somatic narcissist attract sexual partners. Owning a high powered computer and a broadband connection, or a sizable and expensive library, facilitate the intellectual pursuits of the cerebral narcissist. Sporting a glamorous wife and politically correct kids is indispensable in the careers of the narcissistic politician, or diplomat.

The narcissist parades his objects, flaunts them, consumes them conspicuously, praises them vocally, draws attention to them compulsively, and brags about them incessantly. When they fail to elicit Narcissistic Supply – admiration, adulation, marvel – the narcissist feels wounded, humiliated, deprived, discriminated against, the victim of a conspiracy, and generally unloved.

Objects make the accumulator narcissist. They are an integral part of his pathology. This type of narcissist is possessive. He obsesses about his belongings and collects them compulsively. He "brands" them as his own. He infuses them with his spirit and his personality (in other words, he cathexes them, he invest in them emotionally). He attributes to them his traits. He projects onto them his thwarted emotions, his fears, his hopes. They are an inseparable part of him and provide him with emotional succour.

Such a narcissist anthropomorphises objects (imbues them with human qualities). He is likely to say: "My car is daring and unstoppable", or "How clever is my computer!", or "My dog is cunning". He often compares people to the inanimate. Himself he regards, literally, not only figuratively or metaphorically, as a computer or sex machine. His wife he views as some kind of luxury good.

The narcissist loves objects and relates to them – which he fails to do with humans. This is why he objectifies people: it makes it easier for him to interact with them. Objects are predictable, reliable, always there, obedient, easy to control and manipulate, universally desired.

Accumulators and Narcissistic Handles

Still, not all narcissists are like this. Accumulator narcissists take to objects and memorabilia, to voices and tunes, to sights and to works of art as reminders of their past glory and of their potential future grandeur. Many narcissists collect proofs and trophies of their sexual prowess, dramatic talent, past wealth, or intellectual achievements. They file them away almost compulsively. These are the Narcissistic Handles.

The Narcissistic Handle operates through the mechanism of narcissistic branding.

An example: as far as the narcissist is concerned, objects, which belonged to former lovers, are "stamped" by them and become their full-fledged representations. They become fetishes. By interacting with these objects, the narcissist recreates the narcissistic-supply-rich situation, within which the objects were introduced into his life in the first place.

This is a form of magical thinking. Some clairvoyants claim to be able to extract from an object all the information regarding the present, past and future states of its successive owners. It is as though the object, the memory, or the sound carry the narcissist back to where and when Narcissistic Supply was abundant.

This powerful combination of branding and evidencing is what gives rise to the Narcissistic Contagion. This is the ability of the narcissist to objectify people and to anthropomorphise objects in order to derive the maximum Narcissistic Supply from both.

On the one hand, the narcissist invests as much affection and emotions in inanimate objects as healthier people do in human beings. On the other hand, he transforms people around him into functions, or objects.

In their effort to cater to the needs of the narcissist, his closest, nearest and dearest very often neglect their own. They feel that something is sorely amiss or even sick in their lives. But they are so entrapped, so much part of the narcissist's personal mythology that they cannot cut loose. Manipulated through guilt, leveraged through fear, they become a shadow of their former selves. They have contracted the disease of narcissism. They have been infected and poisoned. They have been branded.

The Misanthropic Altruist

Some narcissists are ostentatiously generous – they donate to charity, lavish gifts on their closest, abundantly provide for their nearest and dearest, and, in general, are open-handed and unstintingly benevolent. How can this be reconciled with the pronounced lack of empathy and with the pernicious self-preoccupation that is so typical of narcissists?

The act of giving enhances the narcissist's sense of omnipotence, his fantastic grandiosity, and the contempt he holds for others. It is easy to feel superior to the supplicating recipients of one's largesse. Narcissistic altruism is about exerting control and maintaining it by fostering dependence in the beneficiaries.

But narcissists give for other reasons as well.

The narcissist flaunts his charitable nature as bait. He impresses others with his selflessness and kindness and thus lures them into his lair, entraps them, and manipulates and brainwashes them into subservient compliance and obsequious collaboration. People are attracted to the narcissist's larger than life posture – only to discover his true personality traits when it is far too late. "Give a little to take a lot" – is the narcissist's creed.

This does not prevent the narcissist from assuming the role of the exploited victim. Narcissists always complain that life and people are unfair to them and that they invest far more than their "share of the profit". The narcissist feels that he is the sacrificial lamb, the scapegoat, and that his relationships are asymmetric and imbalanced. "She gets out of our marriage far more than I do" – is a common refrain. Or: "I do all the work around here – and they get all the perks and benefits!"

Faced with such (mis)perceived injustice – and once the relationship is clinched and the victim is "hooked" – the narcissist tries to minimize his contributions. He regards his input as a contractual maintenance chore and the unpleasant and inevitable price he has to pay for his Narcissistic Supply.

After many years of feeling deprived and wronged, some narcissists lapse into "sadistic generosity" or "sadistic altruism". They use their giving as a weapon to taunt and torment the needy and to humiliate them. In the distorted thinking of the narcissist, donating money gives him the right and license to hurt, chastise, criticize, and berate the recipient. His generosity, feels the narcissist, elevates him to a higher moral ground.

Most narcissists confine their giving to money and material goods. Their munificence is an abusive defence mechanism, intended to avoid real intimacy. Their "big-hearted" charity renders all their relationships – even with their spouses and children – "business-like", structured, limited, minimal, non-emotional, unambiguous, and non-ambivalent. By doling out bounteously, the narcissist "knows where he stands" and does not feel threatened by demands for commitment, emotional investment, empathy, or intimacy.

In the narcissist's wasteland of a life, even his benevolence is spiteful, sadistic, punitive, and distancing.

The Compulsive Giver

To all appearances, the compulsive giver is an altruistic, empathic, and caring person. Actually, he or she is a people-pleaser and a co-dependent. The compulsive giver is trapped in a narrative of his own confabulation: how his nearest and dearest need him because they are poor, young, inexperienced, lacking in intelligence or good looks, and are otherwise inferior to him. Compulsive giving, therefore, involves pathological narcissism.

In reality, it is the compulsive giver who coerces, cajoles, and tempts people around him to avail themselves of his services or money. He forces himself on the recipients of his ostentatious largesse and the beneficiaries of his generosity or magnanimity. He is unable to deny anyone their wishes or requests, even when these are not explicit or expressed and are mere figments of his own neediness and grandiose imagination.

Inevitably, he develops unrealistic expectations. He feels that people should be immensely grateful to him and that their gratitude should translate into a kind of obsequiousness. Internally, he seethes and rages against the lack of reciprocity he perceives in his relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. He mutely castigates everyone around him for being so ungenerous. To the compulsive giver, giving is perceived as sacrifice and taking is exploitation. Thus, he gives without grace, always with visible strings attached. No wonder he is always frustrated and often aggressive.

In psychological jargon, we would say that the compulsive giver has alloplastic defences with an external locus of control. This simply means that he relies on input from people around him to regulate his fluctuating sense of self-worth, his precarious self-esteem, and his ever shifting moods. It also means that he blames the world for his failures. He feels imprisoned in a hostile and mystifying universe, entirely unable to influence events, circumstances, and outcomes. He thus avoids assuming responsibility for the consequences of his actions.

Yet, it is important to realize that the compulsive giver cherishes and relishes his self-conferred victimhood and nurtures his grudges by maintaining a meticulous accounting of everything he gives and receives. This mental operation of masochistic bookkeeping is a background process of which the compulsive giver is sometimes unaware. He is likely to vehemently deny such meanness and narrow-mindedness.

The compulsive giver is an artist of Projective Identification. He manipulates his closest into behaving exactly the way he expects them to. He keeps lying to them and telling them that the act of giving is the only reward he seeks. All the while he secretly yearns for reciprocity. He rejects any attempt to rob him of his sacrificial status – he won't accept gifts or money and he avoids being the recipient or beneficiary of help or compliments. These false asceticism and fake modesty are mere baits. He uses them to prove to himself that his nearest and dearest are nasty ingrates. "If they wanted to (give me a present or help me), they would have insisted" – he bellows triumphantly, his worst fears and suspicions yet again confirmed.

Gradually, people fall into line. They begin to feel that they are the ones who are doing the compulsive giver a favour by succumbing to his endless and overweening charity. "What can we do?" – they sigh – "It means so much to him and he has put so much effort into it! I just couldn't say no." The roles are reversed and everyone is happy: the beneficiaries benefit and the compulsive giver goes on feeling that the world is unjust and people are self-centred exploiters. Just as he has always suspected.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 32

 

The Dual Role of the False Self

 

 

Question: Why does the narcissist conjure up another Self? Why not simply transform his True Self into a False one?

Answer: Once formed and functioning, the False Self stifles the growth of the True Self and paralyses it. Henceforth, the True Self is virtually non-existent and plays no role (active or passive) in the conscious life of the narcissist. It is difficult to "resuscitate" it, even with psychotherapy.

This substitution is not only a question of alienation, as Horney observed. She said that because the Idealized (False) Self sets impossible goals to the narcissist, the results are frustration and self hate which grow with every setback or failure. But the constant sadistic judgement, the self-berating, the suicidal ideation emanate from the narcissist's idealized, sadistic, Superego regardless of the existence or functioning of a False Self.

There is no conflict between the True Self and the False Self.

First, the True Self is much too weak to do battle with the overbearing False Self. Second, the False Self is adaptive (though maladaptive). It helps the True Self to cope with the world. Without the False Self, the True Self would be subjected to so much hurt that it will disintegrate. This happens to narcissists who go through a life crisis: their False Ego becomes dysfunctional and they experience a harrowing feeling of annulment.

The False Self has many functions. The two most important ones are:

1. It serves as a decoy, it "attracts the fire". It is a proxy for the True Self. It is tough as nails and can absorb any amount of pain, hurt and negative emotions. By inventing it, the child develops immunity to the indifference, manipulation, sadism, smothering, or exploitation – in short: to the abuse – inflicted on him by his parents (or by other Primary Objects in his life). It is a cloak, protecting him, rendering him invisible and omnipotent at the same time.

2. The False Self is misrepresented by the narcissist as his True Self. The narcissist is saying, in effect: "I am not who you think I am. I am someone else. I am this (False) Self. Therefore, I deserve a better, painless, more considerate treatment." The False Self, thus, is a contraption intended to alter other people's behaviour and attitude towards the narcissist.

These roles are crucial to survival and to the proper psychological functioning of the narcissist. The False Self is by far more important to the narcissist than his dilapidated, dysfunctional, True Self.

The two Selves are not part of a continuum, as the neo-Freudians postulated. Healthy people do not have a False Self which differs from its pathological equivalent in that it is more realistic and closer to the True Self.

It is true that even healthy people wear a mask (Goffman), or a persona (Jung), which they consciously present to the world. But these are a far cry from the False Self, which is mostly subconscious, depends on outside feedback, and is compulsive.

The False Self is an adaptive reaction to pathological circumstances. But its dynamics make it predominate, devour the psyche and prey upon the True Self. Thus, it prevents the efficient, flexible functioning of the personality as a whole.

That the narcissist possesses a prominent False Self as well as a suppressed and dilapidated True Self is common knowledge. Yet, how intertwined and inseparable are these two? Do they interact? How do they influence each other? And what behaviours can be attributed squarely to one or the other of these protagonists? Moreover, does the False Self assume traits and attributes of the True Self in order to deceive the world?

Let's start by referring to an oft-recurring question:

Why are narcissists not prone to suicide?

The simple answer is that they had died a long time ago. Narcissists are the true zombies of the world.

Many scholars and therapists tried to grapple with the void at the core of the narcissist. The common view is that the remnants of the True Self are so ossified, shredded, cowed into submission and repressed that, for all practical purposes, the True Self is dysfunctional and useless. In treating the narcissist, the therapist often tries to construct and nurture a completely new healthy self, rather than build upon the distorted wreckage strewn across the narcissist's psyche.

But what of the rare glimpses of True Self oft reported by those who interact with the narcissist?

Pathological narcissism is frequently co-morbid with other disorders. The narcissistic spectrum is made up of gradations and shades of narcissism. Narcissistic traits or style or even personality (overlay) often attach to other disorders (co-morbidity). A person may well appear to be a full-fledged narcissist – may well appear to be suffering from the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) – but is not, in the strict, psychiatric, sense of the word. In such people, the True Self is still there and can sometimes be observed.

In a full-fledged narcissist, the False Self imitates the True Self.

To do so artfully, it deploys two mechanisms:

Re-Interpretation

The False Self causes the narcissist to re-interpret certain emotions and reactions in a flattering, socially acceptable, light. The narcissist may, for instance, interpret fear as compassion. Example: if the narcissist hurts someone that he fears (e.g., an authority figure), he may feel bad afterwards and interpret his discomfort as empathy and compassion. To be afraid is humiliating, but to be compassionate is commendable and earns the narcissist acclamation and understanding (Narcissistic Supply).

Emulation

The narcissist is possessed of an uncanny ability to psychologically penetrate others. Often, this gift is abused and put at the service of the narcissist's control freakery and sadism. The narcissist uses it liberally to pulverize the natural defences of his victims by faking empathy.

This capacity is coupled with the narcissist's eerie ability to imitate emotions and their attendant behaviours (affect). The narcissist possesses "emotional resonance tables". He keeps records of every action and reaction, every utterance and consequence, every datum provided by others regarding their state of mind and emotional makeup. From these data he constructs a set of formulas, which often result in impeccably accurate renditions of emotional behaviour. This can be enormously deceiving.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 33

 

The Stripped Ego

 

 

Question: Sometimes you say that the narcissist's True Self had relegated its functions to the outside world and at other times you say that it is not in touch with the outside world (or that only the False Self is in touch with it). How do you settle this apparent contradiction?

Answer: The narcissist's True Self is introverted and dysfunctional. In healthy people, ego functions are generated from the inside, from the Ego. In narcissists, the Ego is dormant, comatose. The narcissist needs input from the outside to perform the most basic ego functions (examples of such functions: recognizing reality, setting boundaries, differentiation, self-esteem and regulation of a sense of self-worth). Only the False Self gets in touch with the world. The True Self is isolated, repressed, unconscious, a shadow.

Forcing the narcissist's False Self to acknowledge and interact with his True Self is not only difficult but may also be counterproductive and dangerously destabilizing. The narcissist's disorder is adaptive and functional, though rigid. The alternative to this (mal)adaptation can be self-destructive (suicidal). Bottled-up, self-directed venom is bound to resurface if the narcissist's various personality structures are coerced into making contact.

That a personality structure (such as the True Self) is in the unconscious does not automatically mean that it is conflict-generating, or that it is involved in conflict, or that it has the potential to provoke conflict. As long as the True Self and the False Self remain out of touch, conflict is avoided.

The False Self pretends to be the only Self and denies the existence of a True Self. It is also extremely useful (adaptive). Rather than risk constant conflict, the narcissist opts for a solution of "disengagement".

The classical Ego, as proposed by Freud, is partly conscious and partly preconscious and unconscious. The narcissist's Ego is completely submerged. The preconscious and conscious parts are detached from it by early traumas and form the False Ego.

The Superego in healthy people constantly compares the Ego to the Ego Ideal. The narcissist has a different psychodynamic. The narcissist's False Self serves as a buffer and as a shock absorber between the True Ego and the narcissist's sadistic, punishing, immature Superego. The narcissist aspires to become pure Ideal Ego.

The narcissist's Ego cannot develop because it is deprived of contact with the outside world and, therefore, endures no growth-inducing conflict. The False Self is rigid. The result is that the narcissist is unable to respond and to adapt to threats, illnesses, and to other life crises and circumstances. He is brittle and more likely to be broken than bent by life's trials and tribulations.

The Ego remembers, evaluates, plans, responds to the world and acts in it and on it. It is the locus of the "executive functions" of the personality. It integrates the inner world with the outer world, the Id with the Superego. It acts under a "reality principle" rather than a "pleasure principle".

This means that the Ego is in charge of delaying gratification. It postpones pleasurable acts until they can be carried out both safely and successfully. The Ego is, therefore, in an ungrateful position. Unfulfilled desires produce unease and anxiety. Reckless fulfilment of desires is diametrically opposed to self-preservation. The Ego has to mediate these tensions.

In an effort to thwart anxiety, the Ego deploys psychological defence mechanisms. On the one hand the Ego channels fundamental drives. It has to "speak their language". It must possess a primitive, infantile, component. On the other hand, the Ego is in charge of negotiating with the outside world and of securing realistic and optimal "bargains" for its "client", the Id. These intellectual and perceptual functions are supervised by the exceptionally strict court of the Superego.

Persons with a strong Ego can objectively comprehend both the world and themselves. In other words, they are possessed of insight. They are able to contemplate longer time spans, plan, forecast and schedule. They choose decisively among alternatives and follow their resolve. They are aware of the existence of their drives, but control them and channel them in socially acceptable ways. They resist pressures, social or otherwise. They choose their course and pursue it.

The weaker the Ego is, the more infantile and impulsive its owner, the more distorted his or her perception of self and reality. A weak Ego is incapable of productive work.

The narcissist is an extreme case. His Ego is non-existent. The narcissist has a fake, substitute Ego. This is why his energy is drained. He spends most of it on maintaining, protecting and preserving the warped, unrealistic images of his (False) Self and of his (fake) world. The narcissist is a person exhausted by his own absence.

The healthy Ego preserves some sense of continuity and consistency. It serves as a point of reference and of departure. It relates events of the past to actions at present and to plans for the future. It incorporates memory, anticipation, imagination and intellect. It defines where the individual ends and the world begins. Though not coextensive with the body or with the personality, it is a close approximation.

In the narcissistic condition, all these functions are relegated to the False Ego, essentially a confabulation, a falsity. Inevitably, the narcissist is bound to develop false memories, conjure up false fantasies, anticipate the unrealistic and work his intellect to justify them by dissembling.

The fraudulence of the False Self is dual: not only is it not "the real thing" – it also operates on false premises. It is a fake and wrong gauge of the world. It falsely and inefficiently regulates the drives. It fails to thwart anxiety.

The False Self provides a false sense of continuity and of a "personal centre". It weaves an enchanted and grandiose fable as a substitute to reality. The narcissist gravitates out of his self and into a plot, a narrative, a story. He continuously feels that he is a character in a film, a concocted figment of his own imagination, or a con artist to be momentarily exposed and summarily socially excommunicated.

Moreover, the narcissist cannot be consistent or coherent. His False Self is preoccupied with the pursuit of Narcissistic Supply. The narcissist has no boundaries because his Ego is not sufficiently defined or fully differentiated. The only constancy is the narcissist's feelings of diffusion or atomization. This is especially true in life crises, when the False Ego ceases to function.

From the developmental point of view, all this is easily accounted for. The child reacts to stimuli, both internal and external. He cannot, however, control, alter, or anticipate them. Instead, he develops mechanisms to regulate the resulting tensions and anxieties.

The child's pursuit of mastery of his environment is compulsive. He is obsessed with securing gratification. Any postponement of his actions and responses forces him to tolerate added tension and anxiety. It is very surprising that, as he grows older, the child ultimately learns to separate stimulus and response and delay the latter. This miracle of expedient self-denial has to do with the development of intellectual skills, on the one hand and with the socialization process, on the other hand.

The intellect is a representation of the world. Through it, the Ego examines reality vicariously without suffering the consequences of possible errors. The Ego uses the intellect to simulate various courses of action and their consequences and to decide how to achieve its ends and the attendant gratification.

The intellect is what allows the child to anticipate the world and what makes him believe in the accuracy and high probability of his own predictions. It is through the intellect that the concepts of the "laws of nature", "predictability", and "order" are introduced. Causality and consistency are all mediated through the intellect. But the intellect must be sustained by an emotional complement. Our picture of the world and of our place in it emerges from experience, both cognitive and emotional. Socialization has a verbal-communicative element but, decoupled from a strong emotional component, it remains a dead letter.

An example: the child is likely to learn from his parents and from other adults that the world is a predictable, law abiding place. However, if his Primary Objects (most importantly, his mother) behave in a capricious, discriminating, unpredictable, unlawful, abusive, or indifferent manner, it hurts and the conflict between cognition and emotion is powerful. It is bound to paralyse the ego functions of the child.

The accumulation and retention of past events is a prerequisite for both thinking and judgement. Both are impaired if one's personal history contradicts the content of the Superego and the lessons of the socialization process. Narcissists are victims of such a glaring discrepancy between what adult figures in their lives preached and their contradictory course of action.

Once victimized, the narcissist swears "no more". Henceforth, he will be the one doing the victimizing. And as a decoy, he presents to the world his False Self. But he falls prey to his own devices. Internally impoverished and undernourished, isolated and cushioned to the point of suffocation, the True Ego degenerates and decays. The narcissist wakes up one day to find that he is at the mercy of his False Self as much as his victims are.

Defence Mechanisms

According to Freud and his followers, our psyche is a battlefield between instinctual urges and drives (the Id), the constraints imposed by reality on the gratification of these impulses (the Ego), and the norms of society (the Superego). This constant infighting generates what Freud called "neurotic anxiety" (fear of losing control) and "moral anxiety" (guilt and shame).

But these are not the only types of anxiety. "Reality anxiety" is the fear of genuine threats and it combines with the other two to yield a morbid and surrealistic inner landscape.

These multiple, recurrent, "mini-panics" are potentially intolerable, overwhelming, and destructive. Hence the need to defend against them. There are dozens of defence mechanisms. An overview of the most common defence mechanisms:

Acting Out

When an inner conflict (most often, frustration) translates into aggression. It involves acting with little or no insight or reflection and in order to attract attention and disrupt other people's cozy lives.

Denial

Perhaps the most primitive and best known defence mechanism. People simply ignore unpleasant facts, they filter out data and content that contravene their self-image, prejudices, and preconceived notions of others and of the world.

Devaluation

Attributing negative or inferior traits or qualifiers to self or others. This is done in order to punish the person devalued and to mitigate his or her impact on and importance to the devaluer. When the self is devalued, it is a self-defeating and self-destructive act.

Displacement

When we cannot confront the real sources of our frustration, pain, and envy, we tend to pick a fight with someone weaker or irrelevant and, thus, less menacing. Children often do it because they perceive conflicts with parents and caregivers as life-threatening. Instead, they go out and torment the cat or bully someone at school or lash out at their siblings.

Dissociation

Our mental existence is continuous. We maintain a seamless flow of memories, consciousness, perception, and representation of both inner and external worlds. When we face horrors and unbearable truths, we sometimes "disengage". We lose track of space, time, and the continuum of our identity. We become "someone else" with minimal awareness of our surroundings, of incoming information, and of circumstances. In extreme cases, some people develop a permanently rent personality and this is known as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

Fantasy

Everyone fantasizes now and then. It helps to fend off the dreariness and drabness of everyday life and to plan for an uncertain future. But when fantasy becomes a central feature of grappling with conflict, it is pathological. Seeking gratification – the satisfaction of drives or desires – mainly by fantasizing is an unhealthy defence. Narcissists, for instance, often indulge in grandiose fantasies which are incommensurate with their accomplishments and abilities. Such fantasy life retards personal growth and development because it substitutes for true coping.

Idealization

Another defence mechanism in the arsenal of the narcissist (and, to lesser degree, the borderline and histrionic) is the attribution of positive, glowing, and superior traits to self and (more commonly) to others. Again, what differentiates the healthy from the pathological is the reality test. Imputing positive characteristics to self or others is good, but only if the attributed qualities are real and grounded in a firm grasp of what's true and what's not.

Isolation of Affect

Cognition (thoughts, concepts, ideas) is never divorced from emotion. Conflict can be avoided by separating the cognitive content (for instance, a disturbing or depressing idea) from its emotional correlate. The subject is fully aware of the facts or of the intellectual dimensions of a problematic situation but feels numb. Casting away threatening and discomfiting feelings is a potent way of coping with conflict in the short-term. It is only when it become habitual that it rendered self-defeating.

Omnipotence

When one has a pervading sense and image of oneself as incredibly powerful, superior, irresistible, intelligent, or influential. This is not an adopted affectation but an ingrained, ineradicable inner conviction which borders on magical thinking. It is intended to fend off expected hurt in having to acknowledge one's shortcomings, inadequacies, or limitations.

Projection

We all have an image of how we "should be". Freud called it the "Ego Ideal". But sometimes we experience emotions and drives or have personal qualities which don't sit well with this idealized construct. Projection is when we attribute to others these unacceptable, discomfiting, and ill-fitting feelings and traits that we possess. This way we disown these discordant features and secure the right to criticize and chastise others for having or displaying them. When entire collectives (nations, groups, organizations, firms) project, Freud calls it the "narcissism of small differences."

Projective Identification

Projection is unconscious. People are rarely aware that they are projecting onto others their own ego-dystonic and unpleasant characteristics and feelings. But, sometimes, the projected content is retained in the subject's awareness. This creates a conflict. On the one hand, the patient cannot admit that the emotions, traits, reactions, and behaviours that he so condemns in others are really his. On the other hand, he can't help but being self-aware. He fails to erase from his consciousness the painful realization that he is merely projecting.

So, instead of denying it, the subject explains unpleasant emotions and unacceptable conduct as reactions to the recipient's behaviour. "She made me do it!" is the battle cry of Projective Identification.

We all have expectations regarding the world and its denizens. Some people expect to be loved and appreciated – others to be feared and abused. The latter behave obnoxiously and thus force their nearest and dearest to hate, fear, and "abuse" them. Thus vindicated, their expectations fulfilled, they calm down. The world is rendered once more familiar by making other people behave the way they expect them to. "I knew you would cheat on me! It was clear I couldn't trust you!"

Rationalization or Intellectualization

To cast one's behaviour after the fact in a favourable light. To justify and explain one's conduct or, more often, misconduct by resorting to "rational, logical, socially-acceptable" explications and excuses. Rationalization is also used to re-establish ego-syntony (inner peace and self-acceptance).

Though not strictly a defence mechanism, cognitive dissonance may be considered a variant of rationalization. It involves the devaluation of things and people very much desired but frustratingly out of one's reach and control. In a famous fable, a fox, unable to snag the luscious grapes he covets, says: "These grapes are probably sour anyhow!" This is an example of cognitive dissonance in action.

Reaction Formation

Adopting a position and mode of conduct that defy personally unacceptable thoughts or impulses by expressing diametrically opposed sentiments and convictions. Example: a latent (closet) homosexual finds his sexual preference deplorable and acutely shameful (ego-dystonic). He resorts to homophobia. He public berates, taunts, and baits homosexuals. Additionally, he may flaunt his heterosexuality by emphasizing his sexual prowess, or by prowling singles bars for easy pick-ups and conquests. This way he contains and avoids his unwelcome homosexuality.

Repression

The removal from consciousness of forbidden thoughts and wishes. The removed content does not vanish and it remains as potent as ever, fermenting in one's unconscious. It is liable to create inner conflicts and anxiety and provoke other defence mechanisms to cope with these.

Splitting

This is a "primitive" defence mechanism. In other words, it begins to operate in very early infancy. It involves the inability to integrate contradictory qualities of the same object into a coherent picture. Mother has good qualities and bad, sometimes she is attentive and caring and sometimes distracted and cold. The baby is unable to grasp the complexities of her personality. Instead, the infant invents two constructs (entities), "Bad Mother" and "Good Mother". It relegates everything likable about mother to the "Good Mother" and contrasts it with "Bad Mother", the repository of everything it dislikes about her.

This means that whenever mother acts nicely, the baby relates to the idealized "Good Mother" and whenever mother fails the test, the baby devalues her by interacting, in its mind, with "Bad Mother". These cycles of idealization followed by devaluation are common in some personality disorders, notably the narcissistic and borderline.

Splitting can also apply to one's self. Patients with personality disorders often idealize themselves fantastically and grandiosely, only to harshly devalue, hate, and even harm themselves when they fail or are otherwise frustrated.

Sublimation

The conversion and channelling of unacceptable emotions into socially-condoned behaviour. Freud described how sexual desires and urges are transformed into creative pursuits or politics.

Undoing

Trying to rid oneself of gnawing feelings of guilt by compensating the injured party either symbolically or actually.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 34

 

The Split-off Ego

 

 

In the previous chapter ("The Stripped Ego") I have dealt with the classical, Freudian, concept of the Ego. It is partly conscious, partly preconscious and unconscious. It operates on a "reality principle" (as opposed to the Id's "pleasure principle"). It maintains an inner equilibrium between the onerous (and unrealistic, or ideal) demands of the Superego and the almost irresistible (and unrealistic) drives of the Id. It also has to fend off the unfavourable consequences of comparisons between itself and the Ego Ideal (comparisons that the Superego is only too eager to repeatedly make). In many respects, therefore, the Ego in Freudian psychoanalysis is the Self. Not so in Jungian psychology.

The famous, though controversial, psychoanalyst, C. G. Jung, postulated the existence of two "personalities" (actually, two selves), one of them being the Shadow. Technically, the Shadow is a part (though an inferior part) of one's overarching personality (one's chosen conscious attitude).

The Shadow develops thus:

Inevitably, some personal and collective psychic elements are found wanting or incompatible with one's personality (narrative). Their expression is suppressed and they coalesce into an almost autonomous "splinter personality".

This second personality is contrarian: it negates the official, chosen, personality, though it is totally relegated to the unconscious. Jung believes, therefore, in a system of "checks and balances": the Shadow balances the Ego (consciousness). This is not necessarily negative. The behavioural and attitudinal compensation offered by the Shadow can be positive.

Jung [all quotes from C.G. Jung. Collected Works. G. Adler, M. Fordham and H. Read (Eds.). 21 volumes. Princeton University Press, 1960-1983]:

"The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and yet is always thrusting itself upon him directly or indirectly – for instance, inferior traits of character and other incompatible tendencies."

[The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Collected Writings. Volume 9, i. p. 284 f.]

It would seem fair to conclude that there is a close affinity between the Jungian complexes (split-off materials) and the Shadow:

"Complexes are psychic fragments which have split off owing to traumatic influences or certain incompatible tendencies. As the association experiments prove, complexes interfere with the intentions of the will and disturb the conscious performance; they produce disturbances of memory and blockages in the flow of associations; they appear and disappear according to their own laws; they can temporarily obsess consciousness, or influence speech and action in an unconscious way."

[The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, Collected Writings, Volume 8, p. 121]

Perhaps the complexes (also the result of incompatibility with the conscious personality) are the negative part of the Shadow. Perhaps they just reside in it, on closely collaborate with it, in a feedback mechanism. Perhaps whenever the Shadow manifests itself in a manner obstructive, destructive or disruptive to the Ego, Jung calls it a complex. Complexes and the Shadow may really be one and the same, the result of a massive split-off of material and its relegation to the realm of the unconscious.

This is part and parcel of the individuation-separation phase of our early childhood development. Prior to this phase, the infant, in its exploration of the world, begins to differentiate between self and everything that is not self.

The child begins to form and store images of his self and of the World (initially, as represented by the Primary Object in his life, normally his mother). These images are distinct from the child himself. To the infant, this is revolutionary stuff, nothing short of a breakdown of an erstwhile unitary universe and its substitution with fragmented, unconnected, entities. It is traumatic.

Moreover, these images are themselves split. The child has separate images of a "good" mother and a "bad" mother, respectively associated with the gratification of his needs and desires and with their frustration. He also constructs separate images of a "good" self and a "bad" self, linked to the ensuing states of being gratified (by the "good" mother) and being frustrated (by the "bad" mother).

At this stage, the child is unable to see that people are both good and bad (that an entity with a single identity can be both gratifying and frustrating). He derives his own sense of being good or bad from the outside. The "good" mother inevitably and invariably leads to a "good", satisfied, self and the "bad", frustrating mother always engenders the "bad", frustrated, self.

But the image of the "bad" mother is very threatening. It is anxiety provoking. The child is afraid that, if he is found out by his mother, she will abandon him. Moreover, the "bad" mother is a forbidden subject of negative feelings (one must not think about mother in bad terms!).

Thus, the child splits the bad images off and uses them to form a separate collage of "bad objects". This process is called "object splitting". It is the most primitive defence mechanism. When still used by adults it is an indication of pathology.

This is followed by the phases of "separation" and "individuation" (18-36 months). The child no longer splits his objects (bad objects to one, repressed side and good objects to another, conscious, side). He learns to relate to objects (people) as integrated wholes, with the "good" and the "bad" aspects coalesced. An integrated self-concept inevitably follows.

The child internalizes the mother (he memorizes her roles). He becomes his own parent (mother) and performs her functions by himself. He acquires "object constancy" (he learns that the existence of objects does not depend on his presence or on his vigilance). Mother always returns to him after she disappears from sight. A major reduction in anxiety follows and this permits the child to dedicate his energy to the development of stable, consistent, and independent senses of self and introjects (internalized images) of others.

This is the juncture at which personality disorders form. Between the ages of 15 months and 22 months, a sub-phase in this stage of separation-individuation is known as "rapprochement".

The child, at this stage, is still exploring the world. This is a terrifying and anxiety-inducing process. The child needs to know that he is protected, that he is doing the right thing, and that he is gaining the approval of his mother. The child periodically returns to his mother for reassurance, affirmation, and admiration, as if making sure that his mother endorses his newfound autonomy and independence and accepts his separate individuality.

When the mother is immature, narcissistic, or suffers from a mental pathology, she withholds from the child what he needs: approval, admiration, and reassurance. She feels threatened by his independence. She feels that she is losing him. She does not let go sufficiently. She smothers him with over-protection and indulgence. She offers him overpowering emotional incentives to remain "mother-bound", dependent, undeveloped, a part of a mother-child symbiotic dyad.

The child, in turn, develops mortal fears of being abandoned, of losing his mother's love and support. His unspoken dilemma is: to become independent and lose mother – or to retain mother and never have a self?

The child is enraged (because he is frustrated in his quest for his self). He is anxious (fearful of losing mother), he feels guilty (for being angry at mother), he is attracted and repelled. In short, he is in a chaotic state of mind.

Whereas healthy people experience such eroding dilemmas now and then, to the personality disordered they are a constant, characteristic emotional state.

To defend himself against this intolerable vortex of emotions, the child bars them from his consciousness. The "bad" mother and the "bad" self plus all the negative feelings of abandonment, anxiety, and rage are "split-off".

But the child's over-reliance on this primitive defence mechanism obstructs his orderly development: he fails to integrate the split images. The Bad parts are so laden with negative emotions that they remain virtually untouched throughout life (in the Shadow, as complexes). It proves impossible to integrate such explosive Bad material with the more benign Good parts.

Thus, some adults remain fixated at this earlier stage of development. Such a person is unable to integrate and to see people as whole objects. They are either all "good" or all "bad" (idealization and devaluation cycles). He is terrified (unconsciously) of abandonment, actually feels abandoned, or under threat of being abandoned and subtly plays it out in his/her interpersonal relationships.

Is the reintroduction of split-off material in any way helpful? Is it likely to lead to an integrated Ego (or self)?

To ask this is to confuse two issues. With the exception of schizophrenics and some types of psychotics, the Ego (or self) is always integrated. That the patient cannot integrate the images of objects, both libidinal and non-libidinal, does not mean that he has a non-integrated or a disintegrative Ego.

The inability to integrate the world (as is the case in the Borderline or in the Narcissistic personality disorders) relates to the patient's choice of defence mechanisms. It is a secondary layer. The crux of the matter is not what state the self is in (integrated or not) but what is the state of one's perception of the self.

Thus, from the theoretical point of view, the reintroduction of split-off material does nothing to "increase" the Ego's integration. This is especially true if we adopt the Freudian concept of the Ego as inclusive of all split-off material.

But does the transfer of the split-off material from one part of the Ego (the unconscious) to another (the conscious) in any way affect the integration of the Ego?

Confronting split-off, repressed material is still an important part of many psychodynamic therapies. It has been shown to reduce anxiety, cure conversion symptoms and, generally, have a beneficial and therapeutic effect on the individual. Yet, this has nothing to do with integration. It has to do with conflict resolution.

That various parts of the personality are in constant conflict is an integral principle of all psychodynamic theories. Dredging split-off material to our consciousness reduces the scope or the intensity of these conflicts. This is so by definition: split-off material introduced to consciousness is no longer split-off material and, therefore, can no longer participate in the "war" raging in the unconscious.

But is it always recommended?

Consider personality disorders.

Personality disorders are adaptive solutions to given circumstances. It is true that, as circumstances change, these "solutions" usually don't and, thus, prove to be rigid straitjackets, maladaptive rather than adaptive. But the patient has no substitutive coping strategies available. No therapy can provide him with such substitutes because the whole personality is affected by his pathology, not just an aspect or an element of it.

Bringing up split-off material may constrain or even eliminate the patient's personality disorder. And then what? How is the patient supposed to cope with the world then, a world that has suddenly reverted to being hostile, abandoning, capricious, whimsical, cruel and devouring – just like it was in the patient's infancy, before he stumbled across the magic of his personality disorder?

The Narcissist's Object Constancy

Narcissists often carry on talking (rather, lecturing) long after their interlocutors, bored stiff and resentful, have physically departed or mentally switched off. They are shocked to discover that they have been conversing with thin air for awhile. They are equally astounded when they are abandoned or shunned by spouses, friends, colleagues, the media, their fans, or audiences.

The root of this recurrent astonishment is the narcissist's perverse object constancy.

According to the great developmental psychologist, Margaret Mahler, between the ages of 24 and 36 months of life, the infant is finally able to cope with the mother's absence (by finding appropriate substitutes to her presence). It knows that she will return and trusts her to do so time and again.

The psychic image of the mother is internalized as a stable, reliable, and predictable object. As the infant's sense of time and verbal skills evolve, it becomes more immune to delayed gratification and tolerant of inevitable separation.

Piaget, the renowned child psychologist, concurred with Mahler and coined the term "object constancy" to describe the dynamics she observed.

As opposed to Mahler, Daniel Stern, another prominent psychoanalyst, proposes that the child is born with a sense of Self:

"Infants begin to experience a sense of an emergent self from birth. They are pre-designed to be aware of self – organizing processes. They never experience a period of total self / other lack of differentiation. There is no confusion of self and other in the beginning or at any point during infancy."

But even Stern accepts the existence of a distinct and separate "other" versus the nascent "self".

Pathological narcissism is a reaction to deficient bonding and dysfunctional attachment (Bowlby). Object relations in narcissists are infantile and chaotic (Winnicott, Guntrip). Many narcissists have no psychological-object constancy at all. In other words, many of them do not feel that other people are benign, reliable, helpful, constant, predictable, and trustworthy.

To compensate for this lack in ability (or willingness) to relate to real, live people, the narcissist invents and moulds substitute-objects or surrogate-objects.

These are mental representations of meaningful or significant others (Sources of Narcissistic Supply). They have little or nothing to do with reality. These imagoes – images – are confabulations, works of fiction. They respond to the narcissist's needs and fears and do not correspond to the persons they purport to stand for.

The narcissist internalizes these pliable representations, manipulates them, and interacts with them – not with the originals. The narcissist is entirely immersed in his world, talking to these "figurines", arguing with these substitutes, contracting with these surrogates, being admired by them.

Hence his dismay when confronted with real people, their needs, feelings, preferences, and choices.

Thus, the typical narcissist refrains from any meaningful discourse with his spouse and children, friends and colleagues. Instead, he spins a narrative in which these people – represented by mental avatars – admire him, find him fascinating, fervently wish to oblige him, love him, or fear him.

These "avatars" have little or nothing to do with the way his kin and kith REALLY feel about him. The protagonists in the narcissist's yarns do not incorporate veritable data about his wife, or offspring, or colleagues, or friends. They are mere projections of the narcissist's inner world. Thus, when the narcissist faces the real thing – he refuses to believe and accept the facts:

"My wife has always been so cooperative – whatever happened to her lately?"

She was never cooperative – she was subservient or frightened into submission. But the narcissist didn't notice because he never actually "saw her".

"My son always wanted to follow in my footsteps – I don't know what possesses him!"

The narcissist's poor son never wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor. He always dreamed of being an actor or an artist. But the narcissist was not aware of it.

"My friends used to listen to my stories enraptured – I have no idea why they no longer do so!"

At first, his friends politely listened to the narcissist's interminable rants and ravings. Finally, they dropped from his social circle, one by one.

"I was admired by the media – now I am constantly ignored!"

At first, an object of derision and morbid fascination, the novelty wore off and the media moved on to other narcissists.

Puzzled, hurt, and clueless – the narcissist withdraws further and further with every narcissistic injury. Finally, he is forced into choosing the delusional way out.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 35

 

The Serious Narcissist

 

 

Question: Do narcissists have an exceptional sense of humour?

Answer: I am sure that some of them do. In this, they are no different to healthier specimen of the human species. The narcissist, though, rarely engages in self-directed, self-deprecating humour. If he does, he expects to be contradicted, rebuked and rebuffed by his listeners ("Come on, you are actually quite handsome!"), or to be commended or admired for his courage or for his wit and intellectual acerbity ("I envy your ability to laugh at yourself!"). As everything else in a narcissist's life, his sense of humour is deployed in the interminable pursuit of Narcissistic Supply.

The absence of Narcissistic Supply (or the impending threat of such an absence) is, indeed, a serious matter. It is the narcissistic equivalent of mental death. If prolonged and unmitigated, such absence can lead to the real thing: physical death, a result of suicide, or of a psychosomatic deterioration of the narcissist's health.

Yet, to obtain Narcissistic Supply, one must be taken seriously and to be taken seriously one must be the first to take oneself seriously. Hence the gravity with which the narcissist contemplates himself. These lacks of levity and of perspective and proportion characterize the narcissist and set him apart.

The narcissist firmly believes that he is unique and that he has a mission to fulfil, a destined life. The narcissist's biography is part of Mankind's legacy, spun by a cosmic plot which constantly thickens. Such a life deserves only the most somber consideration.

Moreover, every particle of the narcissist's existence, every action or inaction, every utterance, creation, or composition, indeed every thought, are bathed in this self-imputed universal significance. The narcissist treads the paths of glory, of achievement, of perfection, or of brilliance. It is all part of a design, a pattern, a plot, which inexorably lead the narcissist on to the fulfilment of his task.

The narcissist may subscribe to a religion, to a belief, or to an ideology in his effort to understand the source of this ubiquitous conviction of uniqueness. He may attribute his sense of direction to God, to history, to society, to culture, to a calling, to his profession, to a value system, or even to his life's circumstances. But he always does it with a straight face and with deadly seriousness.

And because, to the narcissist, the part is a reflection of the whole, he tends to generalize, to resort to stereotypes, to induct (to learn about the whole from the detail), to exaggerate, finally to pathologically lie to himself and to others. This self-importance, this belief in a grand design, in an all embracing and all-pervasive pattern make him an easy prey to all manner of logical fallacies and con artistry. Despite his avowed and proudly expressed rationality the narcissist is besieged by superstition and prejudice. Above all, he is a captive of the false conviction that his uniqueness destines him to fulfil a mission of cosmic significance.

All these make the narcissist a volatile person. Not merely mercurial, but labile, fluctuating, histrionic, unreliable, and disproportional. That which has cosmic implications calls for cosmic reactions. A person with an inflated sense of self-importance reacts with exaggeration to threats, greatly inflated by his imagination and by his personal mythology.

On the narcissist's cosmic scale, the daily vagaries of life, the mundane, the routine are not important, even damagingly distracting. This is the source of his feeling of exceptional entitlement. Surely, engaged as he is in benefiting humanity through the exercise of his unique faculties, the narcissist deserves special treatment!

This is the source of his violent swings between opposite behaviour patterns and between devaluation and idealization of others. To the narcissist, every minor development is nothing less than a portentous omen, every adversity is a conspiracy to upset his progress, every setback an apocalyptic calamity, every irritation the cause for outlandish outbursts of rage.

He is a man of the extremes and only the extremes. He may learn to efficiently suppress or hide his feelings or reactions, but never for long. In the most inappropriate and inopportune moment, you can count on the narcissist to explode, like a wrongly wound time bomb. And in between eruptions, the narcissistic volcano daydreams, indulges in delusions, plans his victories over an increasingly hostile and alienated environment. Gradually, the narcissist becomes paranoid, aloof, detached and dissociative.

In such a personal setting, one must admit, there is not much room for a sense of humour.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 36

 

Narcissists, Disagreements and Criticism

 

 

Question: How do narcissists react to criticism?

Answer: Narcissistic injury is any threat (real or imagined) to the narcissist's grandiose and fantastic self-perception (False Self) as brilliant, perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, and entitled to special treatment and recognition, regardless of his actual accomplishments (or lack thereof).

The narcissist is forever trapped in the unresolved conflicts of his childhood (including the famous Oedipus Complex). This compels him to seek resolution by re-enacting these conflicts with significant others. But he is likely to return to the Primary Objects in his life (parents, authority figures, role models, or caregivers) to do either of two:

1. To "re-charge" the conflict "battery", or

2. When he fails to re-enact the conflict with another person.

The narcissist relates to his human environment through his unresolved conflicts. The energy of the tension thus created sustains him.

The narcissist is a person driven by parlously imminent eruptions, by the unsettling prospect of losing his precarious balance. Being a narcissist is a tightrope act. The narcissist must remain alert and on-edge. Only in a constant state of active conflict does he attain the requisite levels of mental arousal.

This periodical interaction with the objects of his conflicts sustains his inner turmoil, keeps the narcissist on his toes, infuses him with the intoxicating feeling that he is alive.

The narcissist perceives every disagreement, let alone criticism, as nothing short of a threat. Most narcissists react defensively to criticism and disagreement. They become conspicuously indignant, aggressive, and cold. They detach emotionally for fear of yet another (narcissistic) injury. They devalue the person who made the disparaging remark, the critical comment, the unflattering observation, the innocuous joke at the narcissist's expense.

By holding the critic in contempt, by diminishing the stature of the discordant conversant, the narcissist minimizes the impact of the disagreement or criticism on himself. This is known as cognitive dissonance.

The narcissist actively solicits Narcissistic Supply – adulation, compliments, admiration, subservience, attention, being feared – from others in order to sustain his fragile and dysfunctional Ego. Thus, he constantly courts possible rejection, criticism, disagreement, and even mockery.

The narcissist is, therefore, dependent on other people. He is aware of the risks associated with such all-pervasive and essential dependence. He resents his weakness and dreads possible disruptions in the flow of his drug: Narcissistic Supply. He is caught between the rock of his habit and the hard place of his frustration. No wonder he is prone to raging, lashing and acting out, and to pathological, all-consuming envy (all of these being expressions of pent-up aggression).

Like a trapped animal, the narcissist is constantly on the lookout for slights. He is hypervigilant: was this comment meant to demean him? Was this utterance a deliberate attack? He perceives every disagreement as criticism and every critical remark as complete and humiliating rejection – nothing short of a threat or a challenge. Gradually, his mind turns into a chaotic battlefield of paranoia and ideas of reference until he loses touch with reality and retreats to his own world of fantasized and unchallenged grandiosity.

When the disagreement or criticism or disapproval or approbation are public, though, the narcissist tends to regard them as Narcissistic Supply! Only when they are expressed in private does the narcissist rage against them.

The cerebral narcissist is as competitive and intolerant of criticism or disagreement as his somatic counterpart. The subjugation and subordination of others demand the establishment of his undisputed intellectual superiority or professional authority.

Alexander Lowen wrote an excellent exposition of this "hidden or tacit competition". The cerebral narcissist aspires to perfection. Thus, even the slightest and most inconsequential challenge to his authority is inflated by him. Hence, the disproportionateness of his reactions.

When confronting adversity fails, some narcissists resort to denial, which they apply to their "extensions" (family, business, workplace, friends) as well.

Take, for example, the narcissist's family. Narcissists often instruct, order, or threaten their children into hiding the truth of abuse, malfunction, maladaptation, fear, pervasive sadness, violence, mutual hatred and mutual repulsion which are the hallmarks of the narcissistic family.

"Not to wash the family's dirty linen in public" is a common exhortation. The whole family conforms to the fantastic, grandiose, perfect and superior narrative invented by the narcissist. The family becomes an extension of the False Self. This is an important function of these Sources of Secondary Narcissistic Supply.

Criticizing, disagreeing, or exposing these fictions and lies, penetrating the family's facade, are considered to be mortal sins. The sinner is immediately subjected to severe and constant emotional harassment, guilt trips and blame games, and to abuse, including physical abuse. This state of things is especially typical of families with sexual abuse.

Behaviour modification techniques are liberally used by the narcissist to ensure that the skeletons do stay in the family closets. An unexpected by-product of this atmosphere of concealment and falsity is mutiny. The narcissist's spouse or his adolescent children are likely to exploit the narcissist's vulnerabilities – his proneness to secrecy, self-delusion, and aversion to the truth – to rebel against him. The first thing to crumble in the narcissist's family is this shared psychosis: the mass denial and the secretiveness so diligently cultivated by him.

[Learn more about Narcissistic Rage]

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 37

 

Transformations of Aggression

 

 

Question: Why is he so aggressive? Is it pent-up sadism? Is he born this way? It's like he hates everyone, all the time. How can I avoid this aspect of his personality?

Answer: Prone to magical thinking, the narcissist is deeply convinced of the transcendental meaning of his life. He fervently believes in his own uniqueness and "mission". He constantly searches for clues regarding the hidden, though inevitable, meaning of his personal life. The narcissist is forever a "public persona", even when alone, in the confines of his bedroom. His every move, his every act, his every decision and every scribbling is of momentous consequence. The narcissist often documents his life with vigil, for the benefit of future biographers. His every utterance and shred of correspondence are carefully orchestrated as befitting a historical figure of import.

This grandiose background leads to an exaggerated sense of entitlement. The narcissist feels that he is worthy of special and immediate treatment by the most qualified persons. His time is too precious to be wasted on bureaucratic trifles, misunderstandings, underlings, and social conventions. His mission is urgent. Other people are expected both to share the narcissist's self-assessment and to behave accordingly: to accommodate his needs, instantly comply with his wishes, and succumb to his whims.

But the world does not always accommodate, comply, and succumb. It often resists the wishes of the narcissist, mocks his comportment, or, worst of all, ignores him. The narcissist reacts to this with a cycle of frustration and aggression.

Still, it is not always possible to express naked aggression. It may be dangerous, or counterproductive, or plain silly. Even the narcissist cannot attack his boss, or a policeman, or the neighbourhood bully with impunity. So, the narcissist's aggression wears many forms. The narcissist suddenly becomes brutally "honest", or bitingly "humorous", or smotheringly "helpful", or sexually "experimental", or socially "reclusive", or behaviourally "different", or finds yet another way to express his scathing and repressed hostility.

The narcissist's favourite sadistic cocktail is brutal honesty coupled with "helpful advice" and "concern" for the welfare of the person thus attacked. The narcissist blurts out, often unprovoked, hurtful observations. These statements are invariably couched in a socially impeccable context.

For instance, "Do you know you have bad breath? You will be much more popular had you treated it", "You are really too fat, you should take care of yourself, you are not young, you know, who knows what this is doing to your heart", "These clothes do not complement you. Let me give you the name of my tailor…", "You are behaving very strangely lately, I think that talk therapy combined with medication may do wonders", and so on.

The misanthropic and schizoid narcissist at once becomes sociable and friendly when he spots an opportunity to hurt someone or to avenge himself. He then resorts to humour: black, thwarted, poignant, biting, sharpened and agonizing. Thinly disguises barbs follow thinly disguised threats cloaked in "jokes" or "humorous anecdotes".

Another favourite trick is to harp on the insecurities, fears, weaknesses, and deficiencies of the target of aggression. If married to a jealous spouse, the narcissist emphasizes his newfound promiscuity and need to experiment sexually. If his business partner has been traumatized by a previous insolvency, the narcissist berates him for being too cautious or insufficiently entrepreneurial while forcing the partnership to assume outlandish and speculative business risks. If co-habiting with a gregarious mate, the narcissist acts the recluse, the hermit, the social misfit, or the misunderstood visionary, thus forcing the partner to give up her social life.

The narcissist is seething with enmity and venom. He is a receptacle of unbridled hatred, animosity, and hostility. When he can, the narcissist often turns to physical violence. But the non-physical manifestations of his pent-up bile are even more terrifying, more all-pervasive, and more lasting. Beware of narcissists bearing gifts. They are bound to explode in your face, or poison you. The narcissist hates you wholeheartedly and thoroughly simply because you are. Remembering this has a survival value.

The Adrenaline Junkie

Narcissistic Supply is exciting. When it is available, the narcissist feels elated, omnipotent, omniscient, handsome, sexy, adventurous, invincible, and irresistible. When it is missing, the narcissist first enters a manic phase of trying to replenish his supply and, if he fails, the narcissist shrivels, withdraws and is reduced to a zombie-like state of numbness.

Some people – and all narcissists – are addicted to excitement, to the adrenaline rush, to the danger inevitably and invariably involved. They are the adrenaline junkies. All narcissists are adrenaline junkies, but not all adrenaline junkies are narcissists.

Narcissistic Supply is the narcissist's particular sort of thrill. Deficient Narcissistic Supply is tantamount to the absence of excitement and thrills in non-narcissistic adrenaline junkies.

Originally, in early childhood, Narcissistic Supply is meant to help the narcissist regulate his volatile sense of self-worth and self-esteem. But Narcissistic Supply, regardless of its psychodynamic functions, also simply feels good. The narcissist grows addicted to the gratifying effects of Narcissistic Supply. He reacts with anxiety when constant, reliable provision is absent or threatened.

Thus, Narcissistic Supply always comes with excitement, on the one hand and with anxiety on the other hand.

When unable to secure "normal" Narcissistic Supply – adulation, recognition, fame, celebrity, notoriety, infamy, affirmation, or mere attention – the narcissist resorts to "abnormal" Narcissistic Supply. He tries to obtain his drug – the thrills, the good feeling that comes with Narcissistic Supply – by behaving recklessly, by succumbing to substance abuse, or by living dangerously.

Narcissists faced with a chronic state of deficient Narcissistic Supply become criminals, or race car drivers, or gamblers, or soldiers, or investigative journalists. They defy authority. They avoid safety, routine and boredom: no safe sex, no financial prudence, no stable marriage or career. They become peripatetic and itinerant. They change jobs, or lovers, or vocations, or avocations, or residences, or friendships often.

But sometimes even these extreme and demonstrative steps are not enough. When confronted with a boring, routine existence, with a chronic and permanent inability to secure Narcissistic Supply and excitement, these people compensate by inventing thrills where there are none.

They become paranoid, full of delusional persecutory notions and ideas of reference. Or they develop phobias: fear of flying, of heights, of enclosed or open spaces, of cats or spiders. Fear is a good substitute to the excitement they so crave and that eludes them.

Anxiety leads to the frenetic search for Narcissistic Supply. Obtaining the supply causes a general, albeit transient, sense of wellbeing, relief and release as the anxiety is alleviated. This cycle is addictive.

But what generates the anxiety in the first place? Are people born adrenaline junkies or do they become ones?

No one knows for sure. It may be genetically determined. We may discover one day that adrenaline junkies, conditioned by defective genes, develop special neural and biochemical paths, an unusual sensitivity to adrenaline. Or, it may indeed be the sad outcome of abuse and trauma during the formative years. The brain is plastic and easily influenced by recurrent bouts of capricious and malicious treatment.

 

First published on the Suite 101 Narcissistic Personality Disorders Topic.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 38

 

Narcissistic Humiliation

 

 

Question: How do narcissists react to humiliation?

Answer: As do normal people – only more so. The narcissist feels regularly and strongly humiliated by things, which, normally, do not amount to slights or insults. It would be safe to say that the emotional life of the narcissist is tinted with ubiquitous and recurrent humiliation.

Any event, action, inaction, utterance, or thought, which negate or can be construed to negate the uniqueness or the grandiose superiority of the narcissist humiliate him. Living in a big city, belonging to a group of peers, any sign of disapproval, disagreement, criticism, or remonstrance reduce him to a state of sulking petulance and agitation.

The narcissist interprets everything as addressed to his person ("ad hominem") rather than to his actions. The list of things, real or imagined, which might slight the narcissist is dizzying indeed. When contradicted, when deprived of special treatment, when subjected to an attitude or comment which he judges to contravene his grandiose, superior self-image or his sense of entitlement, he is beside himself with indignant rage.

It is as though the narcissist has a need to be humbled, reduced, minimized and otherwise trampled upon. It is the eternal quest for punishment that is thus satisfied. The narcissist is on a never-ending trial, which, itself, constitutes his punishment.

The initial reaction of the narcissist to a perceived humiliation is a conscious rejection of the humiliating input. The narcissist tries to ignore it, talk it out of existence, or belittle its importance. If this crude mechanism of cognitive dissonance fails, the narcissist resorts to denial and repression of the humiliating material. He "forgets" all about it and, when reminded of it, denies it.

But these are usually merely stopgap measures. The disturbing data are bound to impinge on the narcissist's tormented consciousness. Once aware of their re-emergence, the narcissist uses fantasy to counteract and counterbalance it. He imagines all the horrible things that he would do to the sources of his frustration.

It is through fantasy that the narcissist seeks to redeem his pride and dignity and to re-establish his damaged sense of uniqueness and grandiosity. Paradoxically, the narcissist does not mind being humiliated if this were to make him more unique or draw more attention to his person.

For instance: if the injustice involved in the process of humiliation is unprecedented, or if the humiliating acts or words place the narcissist in a unique position, or if they transform him into a public figure, the narcissist tries to encourage such behaviours and to elicit them from others.

In this case, he fantasizes how he would defiantly demean and debase his opponents by forcing them to behave even more barbarously than before, so that their unjust conduct is universally recognized as such and condemned and the narcissist is publicly vindicated and his self-respect restored. In short: martyrdom is as good a method of obtaining Narcissist Supply as any.

Fantasy, though, has its limits and once reached, the narcissist is likely to experience waves of self-hatred and self-loathing, the outcomes of helplessness and of realizing the depths of his dependence on Narcissistic Supply. These feelings culminate in severe self-directed aggression: depression, destructive, self-defeating behaviours or suicidal ideation.

These self-negating reactions, inevitably and naturally, terrify the narcissist. He tries to project them on to his environment. He may decompensate by developing obsessive-compulsive traits or by going through a psychotic microepisode.

At this stage, the narcissist is suddenly besieged by disturbing, uncontrollable violent thoughts. He develops ritualistic reactions to them: a sequence of motions, an act, or obsessive counter-thoughts. Or he might visualize his aggression, or experience auditory hallucinations. Humiliation affects the narcissist this deeply.

Luckily, the process is entirely reversible once Narcissistic Supply is resumed. Almost immediately, the narcissist swings from one pole to another, from being humiliated to being elated, from being put down to being reinstated, from being at the bottom of his own, imagined, pit to occupying the top of his own, imagined, Everest.

This metamorphosis is very typical: the narcissist has only an inner world. He does not accept, nor does he recognize reality. To him, reality is but a shadow cast by the fire, which burns inside him. He is consumed by it, by the wish to be loved, to be recognized, to control, to avoid hurt. And by succumbing to this internal conflagration, the narcissist all but cements his inability to attain even the modest goals that are achieved by others at a minimal cost and almost effortlessly.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 39

 

The Midlife Narcissist

 

 

Question: Are narcissists likely to go through a midlife crisis and, if so, to what extent does such a crisis ameliorate or exacerbate their condition?

Answer: The sometimes severe crises experienced by persons of both sexes in middle age (a.k.a. the "midlife crisis" or the "change of life") is a much discussed though little understood phenomenon. It is not even certain that the beast exists.

Women go through menopause between the ages of 42-55 (the average age of onset in the USA is 51.3). The amount of the hormone oestrogen in their bodies decreases sharply, important parts of the reproductive system shrink and menstruation ceases. Many women suffer from "hot flashes" and a thinning and fracturing of the bones (osteoporosis).

The "male menopause" is a more contentious issue. Men do experience a gradual decline in testosterone levels but nothing as sharp as the woman's deterioration of her oestrogen supply. No link has been found between these physiological and hormonal developments and the mythical "midlife crisis".

This fabled turning point has to do with the gap between earlier plans, dreams and aspirations and one's life and reality. Come middle age, men are supposed to be less satisfied with life, career, or spouse. People get disappointed and disillusioned. They understand that they are not likely to have a second chance, that they largely missed the train, and that their dreams will remain just that. They have nothing to look forward to. They feel spent, bored, fatigued and trapped.

Some adults embark on a transition. They define new goals, look for new partners, form new families, engage in new hobbies, change vocation and avocation alike, or relocate. They regenerate and reinvent themselves and the structures of their lives. Others just grow bitter. Unable to face the shambles, they resort to alcoholism, workaholism, emotional absence, abandonment, escapism, degeneration, or a sedentary lifestyle.

Another pillar of discontent is the predictability of adult life. Following a brief flurry, in early adulthood, of excitement and vigour, of dreams and hopes, fantasies and aspirations, we succumb to and sink into the mire of mediocrity. The mundane engulfs us and digests us. Routines consume our energy and leave us dilapidated and empty. We know with a dull certainty what awaits us and this ubiquitous rut is maddening.

Paradoxically, the narcissist is best equipped to successfully tackle these problems. The narcissist suffers from mental progeria. Subject to childhood abuse, he ages prematurely and finds himself in a time warp, in the throes of a constant midlife crisis.

On the one hand, the narcissist keeps dreaming, hoping, planning, conspiring, scheming and fighting all his life. As far as he is concerned, reality, with its sobering feedback, does not exist. He occupies a world of his own where hope springs eternal. It is a universe of recurrent serendipity, inevitable fortuity, auspiciousness, lucky chances, strikes, and coincidences, no downs and uplifting ups. It is an unpredictable, titillating, and exciting universe. The narcissist may feel bored for long stretches of time but only because he can't wait for the ultimate, inevitable thrill.

On the other hand, the narcissist experiences a constant midlife crisis. His reality is always way short of his dreams and aspirations. He suffers from a constant Grandiosity Gap: the same Gap that plagues the healthy midlife adult. But the narcissist has one advantage: he is used to being disappointed and disillusioned as he habitually inflicts setbacks and defeats upon himself by devaluing persons and situations that he had previously idealized.

The narcissist regularly employs a host of psychological mechanisms to cope with this simmering, festering incessant "crisis". Cognitive dissonance, over- and de- valuation cycles, abrupt mood swings, changes in behaviour patterns, goals, companions, mates, jobs and locations are the narcissist's daily bread and escapist weapons.

Whereas the healthy and mature adult confronts the abyss between his image of himself and his real self, his dreams and his achievements, his fantasyland and his reality only late in life, the narcissist straddles this chasm constantly and from an early age.

The healthy and mature adult recoils from the predictability of his routine and abhors it. The narcissist's life is not predictable or routine in any sense of the word.

The mature adult in his forties tries to remedy the structural and emotional deficits of his existence either by a renewed commitment to it or by a cataclysmic break with it. The narcissist regularly and habitually does both.

The narcissist's personality is rigid but his life is changeable and tumultuous, his typical day riddled with surprises and unpredictable, his grandiose fantasies so far removed from his reality that even his disillusionment and disappointments are fantastic and, thus, easily overcome.

Soon enough, the narcissist is engaged in a new project, as exciting, as grandiose and as impossible as the ones that came before. The gap between his confabulations and the truth is so yawning that he chooses to ignore his reality. He recruits people around him to affirm this choice and to confirm to him that reality is illusory and that his fantasyland is real.

Such pretensions are counterproductive and self-defeating, but they also serve as perfect defences. The narcissist does not go through a midlife crisis because he is forever the child, forever dreaming and fantasizing, forever enamoured with himself and with the narrative that is his life.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 40

 

To Age with Grace

 

 

"Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time."

[Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God, 1937]

"Do not go gentle into that good night, / Old age should burn and rave at close of day; / Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

[Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night]

"The permanent temptation of life is to confuse dreams with reality. Then permanent defeat of life comes when dreams are surrendered to reality."

[James Michener, Author]

 

The narcissist ages without mercy and without grace. His withered body and his overwrought mind betray him all at once. He stares with incredulity and rage at cruel mirrors. He refuses to accept his growing fallibility. He rebels against his decrepitude and mediocrity. Accustomed to being awe-inspiring and the recipient of adulation, the narcissist cannot countenance his social isolation and the pathetic figure that he cuts in his senescence.

As a child prodigy, a sex symbol, a stud, a public intellectual, an actor, an idol, the narcissist was at the centre of attention, the eye of his personal twister, a black hole which sucked people's energy and resources dry and spat out with indifference their mutilated carcasses. No longer. With old age comes disillusionment. Old charms wear thin.

Having been exposed for what he is – a deceitful, treacherous, malignant egotist – the narcissist's old tricks now fail him. People are on their guard, their gullibility reduced. The narcissist – being the rigid, precariously balanced structure that he is – can't change. He reverts to old forms, re-adopts hoary habits, succumbs to erstwhile temptations. He is made a mockery by his accentuated denial of reality, by his obdurate refusal to grow up, an eternal, malformed child in the sagging body of a decaying man.

It is the fable of the grasshopper and the ant revisited.

The narcissist – the grasshopper – having relied on supercilious stratagems throughout his life, is singularly ill-adapted to life's rigours and tribulations. He feels entitled, but fails to elicit Narcissistic Supply. Wrinkled time makes child prodigies lose their magic, lovers exhaust their potency, philanderers waste their allure, and geniuses lose their touch. The longer the narcissist lives, the more average he becomes. The wider the gulf between his pretensions and his accomplishments, the more he is the object of derision and contempt.

Yet, few narcissists save for rainy days. Few bother to study a trade, or get an academic degree, pursue a career, maintain a business, keep their jobs, or raise functioning families, nurture their friendships, or broaden their horizons. Narcissists are perennially ill-prepared. Those who succeed in their vocation, end up bitterly alone having squandered the love of spouse, off-spring, and mates. The more gregarious and family-orientated often flunk at work, leap from one job to another, relocate erratically, forever itinerant and peripatetic.

The contrast between his youth and prime and his dilapidated present constitutes a permanent narcissistic injury. The narcissist retreats deeper into himself to find solace. He withdraws into the penumbral universe of his grandiose fantasies. There, on the verge of psychosis, he salves his wounds and comforts himself with trophies of his past. A rare minority of narcissists accept their fate with fatalism or good humour. These precious few are healed mysteriously by the deepest offence to their megalomania: old age. They lose their narcissism and confront the outer world with the poise and composure that they lacked when they were captives of their own, distorted, narrative.

Such changed narcissists develop new, more realistic, expectations and hopes, commensurate with their talents, skills, accomplishments and education. Ironically, it is invariably too late. They are avoided and ignored, rendered transparent by their checkered past. They are passed over for promotion, never invited to professional or social gatherings, cold-shouldered by the media. They are snubbed and disregarded. They are never the recipients of perks, benefits, or awards. They are blamed when not blameworthy and rarely praised when deserving. They are being constantly and consistently punished for who they once were. It is poetic justice in more than one way. They are being treated narcissistically by their erstwhile victims. They are finally getting to taste their own medicine, the bitter harvest of their erstwhile wrath and arrogance.

 

First published on the Suite 101 Narcissistic Personality Disorders Topic.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 41

 

The Narcissist and Introspection

 

 

Question: Are narcissists capable of introspection? Can they distinguish their False Self from who they really are? Can this help them in the therapeutic process?

Answer: The Jungian scholar Nathan Salant-Schwartz wrote this in his book "Narcissism and Character Transformation" [p. 90-91. Inner City Books, 1985]:

"It is interesting and even psychotherapeutically useful to have persons suffering from NPD study their face in a mirror. Often they will see someone of great power and effectiveness, precisely the qualities they feel a lack of. For even though they may overwhelm others with their energy and personal qualities, they themselves feel ineffective."

This passage captures the basic relationship between the True Self and the False Self. No theoretician has ignored this dichotomy, most basic to malignant narcissism.

The True Self is synonymous with the (Freudian) Ego. It is shrivelled, dilapidated, stifled and marginalized by the False Self. The narcissist draws no distinction between his Ego and his Self. He is incapable of doing so. He relegates his ego functions to the outside world. His False Self is an invention and the reflection of an invention.

Narcissists, therefore, do not "exist". The narcissist is a loose coalition, based on a balance of terror, between a sadistic, idealized Superego and a grandiose and manipulative False Ego. These two interact only mechanically. Narcissists are Narcissistic Supply seeking androids. No robot is capable of introspection, not even with the help of mirroring.

Narcissists often think of themselves as machines (the "automata metaphor"). They say things like "I have an amazing brain" or "I am not functioning today, my efficiency is low". They measure things, and constantly compare performance. They are acutely aware of time and its use. There is a meter in the narcissist's head, it ticks and tocks, a metronome of self-reproach and grandiose, unattainable, fantasies.

The narcissist likes to consider himself in terms of automata because he finds that machines are aesthetically compelling in their precision, in their impartiality, in their harmonious reification of the abstract. Machines are so powerful and so emotionless, not hurting weaklings, like humans are.

The narcissist often talks to himself and about himself in the third person singular. He feels that it lends objectivity to his thoughts and makes them appear to be emanating from an external source. The narcissist's self-esteem is so low that, to be trusted, he feels that he has to disguise himself, to hide himself from himself. It is the narcissist's pernicious and all-pervasive art of un-being.

Thus, the narcissist carries within him his metal constitution, his robot countenance, his superhuman knowledge, his inner timekeeper, his theory of morality and his very own divinity: himself.

Sometimes the narcissist does gain self-awareness and knowledge of his predicament, typically in the wake of a life crisis (divorce, bankruptcy, incarceration, accident, serious illness, or the death of a loved one). But, in the absence of an emotional correlate, of feelings, such merely cognitive awakening is useless. It does not gel into an insight. The dry facts alone cannot bring about any transformation, not to mention healing.

Narcissists often go through "soul searching". But they do so only in order to optimize their performance, to maximize the number of Sources of Narcissistic Supply, and to better manipulate their environment. They regard introspection as an inevitable and intellectually enjoyable maintenance chore.

The introspection of the narcissist is emotionless, akin to an inventory of his "good" and "bad" sides and without any commitment to change. It does not enhance his ability to empathize, nor does it inhibit his propensity to exploit others and discard them when their usefulness is over. It does not tamper his overpowering and raging sense of entitlement, nor does it deflate his grandiose fantasies.

The narcissist's introspection is a futile and arid exercise at bookkeeping, a soulless bureaucracy of the psyche and, in its own way, even more chilling that the alternative: a narcissist blissfully unaware of his own disorder.

Still, if the narcissist becomes self-aware, if he accepts that he is a narcissist, isn't this the first, important step, towards healing?

Alas, No. self-awareness, though a necessary condition for healing, is not a sufficient one.

Narcissism defines the narcissist's waking moments and his nocturnal dreams. It is all-pervasive. Everything the narcissist does is motivated by it. Everything he avoids is its result. Every utterance, decision, his very body language are all manifestations of narcissism. It is rather like being abducted by an alien and ruthlessly indoctrinated ever since. The alien is the narcissist's False Self, a defence mechanism constructed in order to shield his True Self from hurt and inevitable abandonment.

Cognitive understanding of the disorder does not constitute a transforming INSIGHT. In other words, it has no emotional correlate. The narcissist does not INTERNALIZE what he understands and learns about his disorder. This new gained knowledge does not become a motivating part of the narcissist. It remains an inert and indifferent piece of knowledge, with minor influence on the narcissist's psyche.

Sometimes, when the narcissist first learns about the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), he really believes he could change (usually, following a period of violent rejection of the "charges" against him). He fervently wants to. This is especially true when his whole world is in shambles. Time in prison, a divorce, a bankruptcy, the death of a major Source of Narcissistic Supply are all transformative life crises. The narcissist admits to having a problem only when abandoned, when he has hit rock bottom, when he is destitute, and devastated. Then he feels that he had had enough. He wants to change. And often there are signs that he IS changing. And then it fades. He reverts to old form. The "progress" he had made evaporates virtually overnight. Many narcissists report the same process of progression followed by recidivist remission and many therapists refuse to treat narcissists because of the Sisyphean frustration involved.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 42

 

The Losses of the Narcissist

 

 

Question: Don't narcissists care that they may lose everything with their obnoxious behaviour? Aren't they scared of accumulating a lifetime's crop of enemies? Are they oblivious to the risks?

Answer: Narcissists are accustomed to loss. Their obnoxious personality and intolerable behaviours make them lose friends and spouses, mates and colleagues, jobs and family. Their peripatetic nature, their constant mobility and instability cause them to lose everything else: their place of residence, their property, their businesses, their country, and their mother tongue.

There is always a locus of loss in the narcissist's life. He may be faithful to his wife and a model family man – but then he is likely to change jobs frequently and renege on his financial and social obligations. Or, he may be a top achiever – scientist, doctor, CEO, actor, pastor, politician, or journalist – with a steady, long-term and successful career, but a lousy homemaker, thrice divorced, unfaithful, unstable, always on the lookout for better or more plentiful Narcissistic Supply.

The narcissist is aware of his propensity to lose everything of value, meaning, and significance in his life. If he is inclined to magical thinking and alloplastic defences, he blames life, or fate, or country, or his boss, or his nearest and dearest for his uninterrupted string of losses. Otherwise, he attributes it to people's inability to cope with his outstanding talents, towering intellect, or rare abilities. His losses, he convinces himself, are the outcomes of pettiness, pusillanimity, envy, malice, and ignorance. It would all have turned out the same even had he behaved differently, he consoles himself.

In time, the narcissist develops defence mechanisms against the inevitable pain and hurt that he incurs with every loss and defeat. He ensconces himself in an ever thicker skin, an impenetrable shell, a make belief environment in which his sense of in-bred superiority and entitlement is preserved. He appears indifferent to the most harrowing and agonizing experiences, inhuman in his unperturbed composure, emotionally detached and cold, inaccessible, and invulnerable. Deep inside, he, indeed, feels nothing.

The narcissist cruises through his life as a tourist would through an exotic island. He observes events and people, his own experiences and loved ones, as a spectator would a movie that at times is mildly exciting and at other times mildly boring. He is never fully there, entirely present, irreversibly committed. He is constantly with one hand on his emotional escape hatch, ready to bail out, to absent himself, to re-invent his life in another place, with other people. The narcissist is a coward, terrified of his True Self and protective of the deceit that is his existence. He feels no pain. He feels no love. He feels no life.

 

First published on the Suite 101 Narcissistic Personality Disorders Topic.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 43

 

Waiting for Him to Get Better

 

 

Question: Can a narcissist ever get better and, if not, how should his partner end a relationship with him?

Answer: The Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a systemic, all-pervasive condition, very much like pregnancy: either you have it or you don't. Once you have it, you have it day and night, it is an inseparable part of the personality, a recurrent set of behaviour patterns.

Recent research shows that there is a condition, which might be called "Transient or Temporary or Short-Term Narcissism" as opposed to the full-fledged Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), [Ronningstam, 1996]. The phenomenon of "reactive narcissistic regression" or Acquired Situational Narcissism is well known: people regress to a transient narcissistic phase in reaction to a major life crisis which threatens their mental composure.

There are narcissistic touches in every personality and in this sense all of us are narcissists to some extent. But this is a far cry from the full-fledged (NPD) pathology.

One bit of good news: no one knows why, but, in certain cases, though rarely, with age (in one's forties), the disorder seems to mutate into a subdued version of its former self. This does not universally occur, though.

Should a partner remain with a narcissist in the hope that his disorder will be ameliorated by ripe old age? This is a matter of value judgement, preferences, priorities, background, emotions and a host of other "non-scientific" matters. There could be no one "correct" answer. It would seem that the only valid criterion is the partner's well-being. If he or she feels bad in a relationship (and no amount of self-help or professional help changes that), then looking for the exit door sounds like a viable and healthy strategy.

A typical relationship with a narcissist has elements of dependence, even symbiosis. Moreover, the narcissist is a superb emotional manipulator and extortionist. In some cases, abandonment poses a real threat to his mental stability. Even "demonstrative" (failed) suicide cannot be ruled out in the repertory of narcissistic reactions to the dissolution of a relationship. And even a modest amount of residual love harboured by the narcissist's partner makes the separation very difficult for him or her.

But there is a magic formula.

The partner is the narcissist's pusher and the drug that she is proffering – Narcissistic Supply – is stronger than any other drug because it sustains the narcissist's very essence (his False Self).

Without Narcissistic Supply the narcissist disintegrates, crumbles and shrivels, very much as vampires do in horror movies when exposed to sunlight.

The narcissist teams up with his partner because he regards IT as a Source of Narcissistic Supply. He values the partner as such a source. Put differently: the minute the partner ceases to supply the narcissist with what he needs, the narcissist loses all interest in IT. (I use IT judiciously: the narcissist objectifies his partners, he treats them as one does inanimate objects.)

The transition from over-valuation (bestowed upon potential and actual Sources of Narcissistic Supply) to devaluation (reserved for other mortals) is so swift that it is likely to inflict pain upon the narcissist's partner, even if she previously prayed for the narcissist to depart and leave her alone.

Here lies the partner's salvation: if you wish to sever your relationship with the narcissist, stop providing him with what he needs. Do not adore, admire, approve, applaud, or confirm anything that he does or says. Disagree with his views, belittle him, reduce him to size, compare him to others, tell him that he is not unique, criticize him, make suggestions, offer help. In short, deprive him of that illusion which holds his personality together.

The narcissist is a delicately attuned piece of equipment. At the first sign of danger to his inflated, fantastic and grandiose self, he will quit and disappear on you.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 44

 

Can a Narcissist Help Himself?

 

 

In the book describing the fabulous tales of Baron Munchausen, there is a story about how the legendary nobleman succeeded to pull himself out of a quicksand marsh by his own hair. Such a miracle is not likely to recur. Narcissists cannot cure themselves.

It is not a question of determination or resilience. It is not a function of the time invested by the narcissist, the effort expended by him, the lengths to which he is willing to go, the depth of his commitment and his professional knowledge. All these are very important precursors and good predictors of the success of an eventual therapy. However, they are no substitutes for one.

The best – really, the only way – a narcissist can help himself is by seeing a mental health professional. Even then, sadly, the prognosis (the healing prospects) is dim. It seems that only time can bring on a limited remission (or, more often, an aggravation of the condition).

Therapy can tackle the more pernicious aspects of this disorder. It can help the patient adapt to his condition, accept it and learn to conduct a more functional life. Learning to live with one's disorder is a great achievement and the narcissist should be happy that even this modicum of success is, in principle, possible.

But just to get the narcissist to see a therapist is difficult. The therapeutic situation implies a superior-inferior relationship. The therapist is supposed to help him and, to the narcissist, this means that he is not as omnipotent as he imagines himself to be. The therapist is supposed to know more (in his field) than the narcissist – a presumption which seems to undermine the second pillar of narcissism, that of omniscience.

Attending therapy (of whatever nature) implies both imperfection (something is wrong) and need (read: weakness, inferiority). The therapeutic setting (the client visits the therapist, has to be punctual, and to pay for the service) implies subservience. The process itself is also threatening: it involves transformation, losing one's identity (read: uniqueness) and one's long cultivated and familiar defences.

The narcissist must shed his False Self and face the world naked, defenceless, and (to his mind) pitiful. He is inadequately equipped to deal with his old hurts, traumas and unresolved conflicts. His True Self is infantile, fossilized, incapable of confronting the almighty Superego (the narcissist's inner, chastising, voice). The narcissist knows this and recoils. Therapy demands of him to finally place full, unmitigated, trust in another human being.

Moreover, the transaction implicitly offered to him is the most unappealing imaginable. He is to give up decades of emotional investment in an elaborate, adaptive and, mostly, functioning, mental hyper structure. In return, he stands to become "normal" – an anathema to a narcissist. Being normal, to him, means, being average, not unique, non-existent. Why should the narcissist commit himself to such a move when it doesn't even guarantee him happiness (he sees many unhappy "normal" people around)?

But is there anything the narcissist can do by himself, "in the meantime", until he reaches a final decision whether to attend therapy or not?

The first step involves self-awareness. The narcissist often notices that something is wrong with him and with his life but he never owns up to his role in and responsibility for his misfortune and discomfort. He prefers to come up with elaborate rationalizations as to why that which is wrong with him is really quite OK and even cool!

Cognitive dissonance, rationalization, and intellectualization are the narcissist's allies in the task of insulating him from reality. The narcissist consistently convinces himself that everyone else is wrong, deficient, lacking, and incapable (in other words, he has alloplastic defences and an outside locus of control). He tells himself that he is exceptional and made to suffer for it – not that he is in the wrong. On the contrary, history will surely prove him right as it has done so many other towering figures.

This is the first and, by far, the most critical step on the way to coping with the disorder: will the narcissist admit, be forced, or convinced to concede that he is absolutely and unconditionally wrong, that something is very amiss in his life, that he is in need of urgent, professional, help and that, in the absence of such help, things will only get worse? Having crossed this Rubicon, the narcissist is more open and amenable to constructive suggestions and assistance.

The second important leap forward is when the narcissist begins to confront a more REALISTIC version of himself. A good friend, a spouse, a therapist, a parent, or a combination of these people can decide not to collaborate with the narcissist's confabulations anymore, to stop fearing the narcissist and not to acquiesce in his folly any longer.

When they confront the narcissist with the truth about himself, they help demolish the grandiose phantom that "runs" the narcissist. They no longer succumb to his whims or accord him special treatment. They reprimand him when needed. They disagree with him and show him why and where he is mistaken. In short: they deprive him of many of his Sources of Narcissistic Supply. They refuse to take part in the elaborate game that is the narcissist. They rebel.

The third Do It Yourself element involves the decision to commit to a regime of therapy. This is a tough one. The narcissist must not decide to embark on therapy only because he is (currently) feeling bad (mostly, owing to a life crisis), or because he is subjected to pressure by family or peers, or because he wants to get rid of a few disturbing issues while preserving the otherwise awesome totality.

His attitude towards the therapist must not be judgemental, cynical, critical, disparaging, competitive, or superior. He must not view the therapy as a contest or a tournament. There are many winners in therapy but only one loser if it fails. He must decide not to try to co-opt the therapist, not to threaten him, or humiliate him.

In short: he must adopt a humble frame of mind, open to the new experience of encountering one's self. Finally, he must resolve to be constructively and productively active in his own therapy, to assist the therapist without condescending, to provide information without distorting, to try to change without consciously resisting.

The end of therapy is really only the beginning of a new, more vulnerable life. This terrifies the narcissist. He knows that maybe he can get better, but he can rarely get well ("heal"). The reason is the narcissist's enormous life-long, irreplaceable and indispensable emotional investment in his disorder.

The narcissist's disorder serves two critical functions, which together maintain the precariously balanced house of cards that is his personality. His disorder endows the narcissist with a sense of uniqueness, of "being special" and it provides him with a rational explanation of his behaviour (an "alibi").

Most narcissists reject the notion or diagnosis that they are mentally disturbed. Absent powers of introspection and a total lack of self-awareness are part and parcel of the disorder. Pathological narcissism is founded on alloplastic defences: the firm conviction that the world or others are to blame for one's behaviour, misfortune, and failures.

The narcissist simply "knows" that his closest, nearest and dearest should be held responsible for his reactions because they have triggered them. With such an entrenched state of mind, the narcissist is constitutionally incapable of admitting that something is wrong with HIM.

But that is not to say that the narcissist does not experience the pernicious outcomes of his disorder. He does. But he re-interprets this experience. He regards his dysfunctional behaviours – social, sexual, emotional, mental – as conclusive and irrefutable proof of his superiority, brilliance, distinction, prowess, might, or success.

Rudeness to others and bullying are reinterpreted as efficiency. Abusive behaviours are cast as educational. Sexual abstinence as proof of preoccupation with higher functions. His rage is always justified and a reaction to injustice or to being misunderstood by intellectual dwarves.

Thus, paradoxically, the disorder becomes an integral and inseparable part of the narcissist's inflated self-esteem and vacuous grandiose fantasies.

His False Self (the pivot of his pathological narcissism) is a self-reinforcing mechanism. The narcissist believes that he is unique BECAUSE he has a False Self. His False Self IS the centre of his "specialness". Any therapeutic "attack" on the integrity and functioning of the False Self constitutes a threat to the narcissist's ability to regulate his wildly fluctuating sense of self-worth and an effort to "reduce" him to other people's mundane and mediocre existence.

The few narcissists who are willing to admit that something is terribly wrong with them, displace their alloplastic defences. Instead of blaming the world, other people, or circumstances beyond their control – they now blame their "disease". Their disorder becomes a catch-all, universal explanation for everything that is wrong in their lives and every derided, indefensible and inexcusable behaviour. Their narcissism becomes a "licence to kill", a liberating force which sets them outside and above human rules and codes of conduct. Such freedom is so intoxicating and empowering that it is difficult to give up.

The narcissist is emotionally attached to only one thing: his disorder. The narcissist loves his disorder, desires it passionately, cultivates it tenderly, he is proud of its "achievements". His emotions are misdirected. Where normal people love others and empathize with them, the narcissist loves his False Self and identifies with it to the exclusion of everything else, including his True Self.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 45

 

Reconditioning the Narcissist

 

 

Question: You seem to be very sceptical that someone with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be treated successfully.

Answer: The Narcissistic Personality Disorder has been recognized as a distinct mental health diagnosis a little more than two decades ago. There are few who can honestly claim expertise or even in-depth understanding of this complex condition.

No one knows whether therapy works. What is known is that therapists find narcissists repulsive, overbearing and unnerving. It is also known that narcissists try to co-opt, idolize, or humiliate the therapist.

But what if the narcissist really wants to improve? Even if complete healing is out of the question – behaviour modification is not.

To a narcissist, I would recommend a functional approach, along the following lines:

a. Know and accept yourself. This is who you are. You have good traits and bad traits and you are a narcissist. These are facts. Narcissism is an adaptive mechanism. It is dysfunctional now, but, once, it saved you from a lot more dysfunction or even non-function. Make a list: what does it mean to be a narcissist in your specific case? What are your typical behaviour patterns? Which types of conduct do you find to be counterproductive, irritating, self-defeating or self-destructive? Which are productive, constructive and should be enhanced despite their pathological origin?

b. Try to suppress the first type of behaviours and to promote the second. Construct lists of self-punishments, negative feedback and negative reinforcements. Impose them upon yourself when you have behaved negatively. Make a list of prizes, little indulgences, positive feedbacks and positive reinforcements. Use them to reward yourself when you adopt a behaviour of the second kind.

c. Keep doing this with the express intent of conditioning yourself. Be objective, predictable and just in the administration of both punishments and awards, positive and negative reinforcements and feedback. Learn to trust your "inner court". Constrain the sadistic, immature and ideal parts of your personality by applying a uniform codex, a set of immutable and invariably applied rules.

d. Once sufficiently conditioned, monitor yourself incessantly. Narcissism is sneaky and it possesses all your resources because it is you. Your disorder is intelligent because you are. Beware and never lose control. With time this onerous regime will become a second habit and supplant the narcissistic (pathological) superstructure.

You might have noticed that all the above can be amply summed by suggesting to you to become your own parent. This is what parents do and the process is called "education" or "socialization". Re-parent yourself. If therapy is helpful or needed, go ahead.

The heart of the beast is the inability of the narcissist to distinguish true from false, appearances from reality, posing from being, Narcissistic Supply from genuine relationships, and compulsive drives from true interests and avocations. Narcissism is about deceit. It blurs the distinction between authentic actions, true motives, real desires, and original emotions and their malignant verisimilitudes.

Narcissists are not capable of knowing themselves. Terrified by their internal apparitions, paralyzed by their lack of authenticity, suppressed by the weight of their repressed emotions, they occupy a hall of mirrors. Edvard Munch-like, their elongated figures stare at them, on the verge of a scream, yet somehow, soundless.

The narcissist's childlike, curious, vibrant, and optimistic True Self is dead. His False Self is, well, false. How can anyone on a permanent diet of echoes and reflections ever acquaint himself with reality? How can the narcissist ever love – he, whose essence is to devour meaningful others?

The answer is: discipline, decisiveness, clear targets, conditioning, and justice. The narcissist is the product of unjust, capricious and cruel treatment. He is the finished product off a production line of self-recrimination, guilt and fear. He needs to take the antidote to counter the narcissistic poison. Unfortunately, there is no drug which can ameliorate pathological narcissism.

Confronting one's parents about one's childhood is a good idea if the narcissist feels that he can cope with new and painful truths. But the narcissist must be careful. He is playing with fire. Still, if he feels confident that he can withstand anything revealed to him in such a confrontation, it is a good and wise move in the right direction.

My advice to the narcissist would then be: dedicate a lot of time to rehearsing this critical encounter and define well what is it exactly that you want to achieve. Do not turn this reunion into a monodrama, group therapy, or trial. Get some answers and get at the truth. Don't try to prove anything, to vindicate, to exact revenge, to win the argument, or to exculpate. Talk to your erstwhile abusers, heart to heart, as you would with yourself. Do not try to sound professional, mature, intelligent, knowledgeable and distanced. There is no "problem to solve" – just a condition to adjust yourself to.

More generally, try to take life and yourself much less seriously. Being immersed in one's self and in one's mental health condition is never the recipe for full functionality, let alone happiness. The world is an absurd place. It is indeed a theatre to be enjoyed. It is full of colours and smells and sounds to be treasured and cherished. It is varied and it accommodates and tolerates everyone and everything, even narcissists.

You, the narcissist, should try to see the positive aspects of your disorder. In Chinese, the ideogram for "crisis" includes a part that stands for "opportunity". Why don't you transform the curse that is your life into a blessing? Why don't you tell the world your story, teach people in your condition and their victims how to avoid the pitfalls, how to cope with the damage? Why don't you do all this in a more institutionalized manner?

For instance, you can start a discussion group or put up a Web site on the Internet. You can establish a "narcissists anonymous" in some community shelter. You can open a correspondence network, a help centre for men in your condition, for women abused by narcissists … the possibilities are endless. And it will instil in you a regained sense of self-worth, give you a purpose, endow you with self-confidence and reassurance. It is only by helping others that we help ourselves. This is, of course, a suggestion, not a prescription. But it demonstrates the ways in which you can draw strength from adversity.

It is easy for the narcissist to think about pathological narcissism as the source of all that is evil and wrong in his life. Narcissism is a catchphrase, a conceptual scapegoat, an evil seed. It conveniently encapsulates the predicament of the narcissist. It introduces logic and causal relations into his baffling, tumultuous world. But this is a trap.

The human psyche is too complex and the brain too plastic to be captured by a single, all-encompassing label, however all-pervasive the disorder is. The road to self-help and self-betterment passes through numerous junctions and stations. Except for pathological narcissism, there are many other elements in the complex dynamics that is the soul of the narcissist. The narcissist should take responsibility for his life and not relegate it to some hitherto rather obscure psychodynamic concept. This is the first and most important step towards healing.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 46

 

Treatment Modalities and Therapies

 

 

Question: Is the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) more amenable to Cognitive-Behavioural Therapies or to psychodynamic/psychoanalytic ones?

Answer: Narcissism pervades the entire personality. It is all-pervasive. Being a narcissist is akin to being an alcoholic. Alcoholism is an impulsive behaviour. Narcissists exhibit dozens of similarly reckless behaviours, some of them uncontrollable (like their rage, the outcome of their wounded grandiosity). Narcissism is not a vocation. Narcissism resembles depression or other disorders and cannot be changed at will.

Adult pathological narcissism is no more "curable" than the entirety of one's personality is disposable. The patient IS a narcissist. Narcissism is more akin to the colour of one's skin rather than to one's choice of subjects at the university.

Moreover, the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is frequently diagnosed with other, even more intractable personality disorders, mental illnesses, and substance abuse.

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapies (CBTs)

CBTs postulate that insight, even when merely verbal and intellectual, is sufficient to induce an emotional outcome. The therapist uses verbal cues, analyses the mantras we keep repeating ("I am ugly", "I am afraid that no one would like to be with me"), itemizes inner dialogues and narratives and notes repeated behavioural patterns (learned behaviours). He provides positive (and, rarely, negative) reinforcements to induce a cumulative emotional effect tantamount to healing.

Psychodynamic theories reject the notion that cognition can influence emotion. Healing requires access to and the study of much deeper strata by both patient and therapist. The very exposure of these strata to the therapeutic process is considered sufficient to induce a dynamic of healing.

The therapist's role is either to interpret the material revealed to the patient (psychoanalysis) by allowing the patient to transfer past experience and superimpose it on the therapist – or to provide a safe emotional and holding environment conducive to changes in the patient.

The sad fact is that no known therapy is effective with narcissism ITSELF, though a few therapies are reasonably successful in coping with some of its effects (behavioural modification).

Dynamic Psychotherapy

Or Psychodynamic Therapy, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy

This is NOT psychoanalysis. It is an intensive psychotherapy BASED on psychoanalytic theory WITHOUT the (very important) element of free association. This is not to say that free association is not used in these therapies, only that it is not a pillar of the technique. Dynamic therapies are usually applied to patients not considered "suitable" for psychoanalysis (such as those suffering from personality disorders, except the Avoidant Personality Disorder).

Typically, different modes of interpretation are employed and other techniques borrowed from other treatments modalities. But the material interpreted is not necessarily the result of free association or dreams and the psychotherapist is a lot more active than the psychoanalyst.

Psychodynamic therapies are open-ended. At the commencement of the therapy, the therapist (analyst) makes an agreement (a "pact" or "alliance") with the analysand (patient or client). The pact says that the patient undertakes to explore his problems for as long as may be needed. This is supposed to make the therapeutic environment much more relaxed because the patient knows that the analyst is at his/her disposal no matter how many meetings would be required in order to broach painful subject matter.

Sometimes, these therapies are divided to expressive versus supportive.

Expressive therapies seek to uncover (make conscious) the patient's conflicts and study his/her defences and resistances. The analyst interprets the conflict in view of the new knowledge gained and guides the therapy towards a resolution of the conflict. The conflict, in other words, is "interpreted away" through insight and the change in the patient motivated by his/her insights.

The supportive therapies seek to strengthen the Ego. Their premise is that a strong Ego can cope better (and later on, alone) with external (situational) or internal (instinctual, related to drives) pressures. Supportive therapies seek to increase the patient's ability to REPRESS conflicts (rather than bring them to the surface of consciousness).

When the patient's painful conflicts are suppressed, the attendant dysphorias and symptoms vanish or are ameliorated. This is somewhat reminiscent of behaviourism (the main aim is to change behaviour and to relieve symptoms). It usually makes no use of insight or interpretation (though there are exceptions).

Modern Therapy and Treatment of Personality Disorders

The dogmatic schools of psychotherapy (such as psychoanalysis, psychodynamic therapies, and behaviourism) more or less failed in ameliorating, let alone curing or healing personality disorders. Disillusioned, most therapists now adhere to one or more of three modern methods: brief therapies, the Common Factors approach, and eclectic techniques.

Conventionally, brief therapies, as their name implies, are short-term but effective. They involve a few rigidly structured sessions, directed by the therapist. The patient is expected to be active and responsive. Both parties sign a therapeutic contract (or alliance) in which they define the goals of the therapy and, consequently, its themes. As opposed to earlier treatment modalities, brief therapies actually encourage anxiety because they believe that it has a catalytic and cathartic effect on the patient.

Supporters of the Common Factors approach point out that all psychotherapies are more or less equally efficient (or rather similarly inefficient) in treating personality disorders. As Garfield noted in 1957, the first step perforce involves a voluntary action: the subject seeks help because he or she experiences intolerable discomfort, ego-dystony, dysphoria, and dysfunction. This act is the first and indispensable factor associated with all therapeutic encounters, regardless of their origins.

Another common factor is the fact that all talk therapies revolve around disclosure and confidences. The patient confesses his or her problems, burdens, worries, anxieties, fears, wishes, intrusive thoughts, compulsions, difficulties, failures, delusions, and, generally invites the therapist into the recesses of his or her innermost mental landscape.

The therapist leverages this torrent of data and elaborates on it through a series of attentive comments and probing, thought-provoking queries and insights. This pattern of give and take should, in time, yield a relationship between patient and healer, based on mutual trust and respect. To many patients this may well be the first healthy relationship they experience and a model to build on in the future.

Good therapy empowers the client and enhances her ability to properly gauge reality (her reality test). It amount to a comprehensive rethink of oneself and one's life. With perspective comes a stable sense of self-worth, well-being, and competence (self-confidence).

In 1961, a scholar, Frank, made a list of the important elements in all psychotherapies regardless of their intellectual provenance and technique:

1. The therapist should be trustworthy, competent, and caring;

2. The therapist should facilitate behavioural modification in the patient by fostering hope and "stimulating emotional arousal" (as Millon puts it). In other words, the patient should be re-introduced to his repressed or stunted emotions and thereby undergo a "corrective emotional experience";

3. The therapist should help the patient develop insight about himself: a new way of looking at himself and his world and of understanding who he is;

4. All therapies must weather the inevitable crises and demoralization that accompany the process of confronting oneself and one's shortcomings. Loss of self-esteem and devastating feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, hopelessness, alienation, and even despair are an integral, productive, and important part of the sessions if handled properly and competently.

Eclectic Psychotherapy

The early days of the emerging discipline of psychology were inevitably rigidly dogmatic. Clinicians belonged to well-demarcated schools and practiced in strict accordance with canons of writings by "masters" such as Freud, or Jung, or Adler, or Skinner. Psychology was less a science than an ideology or an art form. Freud's work, for instance, though incredibly insightful, is closer to literature and cultural studies than to proper, evidence-based, medicine.

Not so nowadays. Mental health practitioners freely borrow tools and techniques from myriad therapeutic systems. They refuse to be labelled and boxed in. The only principle that guides modern therapists is "what works": the effectiveness of treatment modalities, not their intellectual provenance. The therapy, insist these eclecticists, should be tailored to the patient, not the other way around.

This sounds self-evident but as Lazarus pointed out in a series of articles in the 1970s, it is nothing less than revolutionary. The therapist today is free to match techniques from any number of schools to presenting problems without committing himself to the theoretical apparatus (or baggage) that is associated with them. He can use psychoanalysis or behavioural methods while rejecting Freud's ideas and Skinner's theory, for instance.

Lazarus proposed that the appraisal of the efficacy and applicability of a treatment modality should be based on seven data: BASIC IB (Behaviour, Affect, Sensation, Imagery, Cognition, Interpersonal Relationships, and Biology). What are the patient's dysfunctional behaviour patterns? How is his sensorium? In what ways does the imagery connect with his problems, presenting symptoms, and signs? Does he suffer from cognitive deficits and distortions? What is the extent and quality of the patient's interpersonal relationships? Does the subject suffer from any medical, genetic, or neurological problems that may affect his or her conduct and functioning?

Once the answers to these questions are collated, the therapist should judge which treatment options are likely to yield the fastest and most durable outcomes, based on empirical data. As Beutler and Chalkin noted in a groundbreaking article in 1990, therapists no longer harbour delusions of omnipotence. Whether a course of therapy succeeds or not depends on numerous factors such as the therapist's and the patient's personalities and past histories and the interactions between the various techniques used.

So what's the use of theorizing in psychology? Why not simply revert to trial and error and see what works?

Beutler, a staunch supporter and promoter of eclecticism, provides the answer:

Psychological theories of personality allow us to be more selective. They provide guidelines as to which treatment modalities we should consider in any given situation and for any given patient. Without these intellectual edifices we would be lost in a sea of "everything goes". In other words, psychological theories are organizing principles. They provide the practitioner with selection rules and criteria that he or she would do well to apply if they don't want to drown in a sea of ill-delineated treatment options.

Group Therapies

Narcissists are notoriously unsuitable for collaborative efforts and team work of any kind, let alone group therapy. They immediately size up others as potential Sources of Narcissistic Supply or as potential competitors. They idealize the first (suppliers) and devalue the latter (competitors). This, obviously, is not very conducive to group therapy.

Moreover, the dynamic of the group is bound to reflect the interactions of its members. Narcissists are individualists. They regard coalitions with disdain and contempt. The need to resort to team work, to adhere to group rules, to succumb to a moderator, and to honour and respect the other members as equals is perceived by them to be humiliating and degrading (a contemptible weakness). Thus, a group containing one or more narcissists is likely to fluctuate between short-term, very small size, coalitions (based on "superiority" and contempt) and narcissistic outbreaks (acting outs) of rage and coercion.

Can Narcissism Be Cured?

ADULT narcissists can rarely be "cured", though some scholars think otherwise. Still, the earlier the therapeutic intervention, the better the prognosis. A correct diagnosis and a proper mix of treatment modalities in early adolescence guarantees success without relapse in anywhere between one third and one half the cases. Additionally, ageing moderates or even vanquishes some antisocial behaviours.

In their seminal tome, "Personality Disorders in Modern Life" [New York, John Wiley & Sons, 2000], Theodore Millon and Roger Davis write [p. 308]:

"Most narcissists strongly resist psychotherapy. For those who choose to remain in therapy, there are several pitfalls that are difficult to avoid… Interpretation and even general assessment are often difficult to accomplish…"

The third edition of the "Oxford Textbook of Psychiatry" [Oxford, Oxford University Press, reprinted 2000], cautions [p. 128]:

"…(P)eople cannot change their natures, but can only change their situations. There has been some progress in finding ways of effecting small changes in disorders of personality, but management still consists largely of helping the person to find a way of life that conflicts less with his character… Whatever treatment is used, aims should be modest and considerable time should be allowed to achieve them."

The fourth edition of the authoritative "Review of General Psychiatry" [London, Prentice-Hall International, 1995], says [p. 309]:

"(People with personality disorders) … cause resentment and possibly even alienation and burnout in the healthcare professionals who treat them… [p. 318] Long-term psychoanalytic psychotherapy and psychoanalysis have been attempted with (narcissists), although their use has been controversial."

The reason narcissism is under-reported and healing over-stated is that therapists are being fooled by smart narcissists. Most narcissists are expert manipulators and consummate actors and they learn how to deceive their therapists.

Even a complete battery of tests, administered by experienced professionals sometimes fails to identify abusers and their personality disorders. Offenders are uncanny in their ability to deceive their evaluators. They often succeed in transforming therapists and diagnosticians into four types of collaborators: the adulators, the blissfully ignorant, the self-deceiving, and those deceived by the narcissist's conduct or statements.

[See the FAQ 68: "Facilitating Narcissism"]

Narcissists co-opt mental health and social welfare workers and compromise them, even when the diagnosis is unequivocal, by flattering them, by emphasizing common traits or a common background, by forming a joint front against the victim of abuse ("shared psychosis"), or by emotionally bribing them. Abusers are master manipulators and exploit the vulnerabilities, traumas, prejudices, and fears of the practitioners to "convert" them to the offender's cause.

Here are some hard facts:

• There are gradations and shades of narcissism. The differences between two narcissists can be great. The existence of grandiosity and empathy or the lack thereof are not minor variations. They are serious predictors of future psychodynamics. The prognosis is much better if they do exist.

• There are cases of spontaneous healing, Acquired Situational Narcissism, and of "short-term NPD" [see Gunderson and Ronningstam's work (1996) as well as Milman, 2000].

• The prognosis for a classical narcissist (grandiosity, lack of empathy and all) is decidedly not good as far as long-term, lasting, and complete healing. Moreover, narcissists are intensely disliked by therapists.

BUT…

• Side effects, co-morbid disorders (such as obsessive-compulsive behaviours) and some aspects of NPD (the dysphorias, the persecutory delusions, the sense of entitlement, the pathological lying) can be modified (using talk therapy and, depending on the problem, medication). These are not long-term or complete solutions – but some of them do have long-term effects.

• The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) is a billing and administration oriented diagnostic tool. It is intended to "tidy" up the psychiatrist's desk. The Axis II personality disorders are ill demarcated. The differential diagnoses are vaguely defined. There are some cultural biases and judgements [see, for example, the diagnostic criteria of the Schizotypal and Antisocial personality disorders]. The result is sizeable confusion and multiple diagnoses ("co-morbidity"). NPD was introduced to the DSM in 1980 (DSM-III). There isn't enough research to substantiate any view or hypothesis about NPD. Future DSM editions may abolish it altogether within the framework of a cluster or a single "personality disorder" category. When we ask: "Can NPD be healed?" we need to realize that we don't know for sure what is NPD and what constitutes long-term healing in the case of NPD. There are those who seriously claim that NPD is a cultural disease (culture-bound) with a societal determinant. The ICD-10 (the DSM's equivalent outside the United States) does not recognize NPD as a distinct mental health disorder.

Narcissists in Therapy

The narcissist has a dilapidated and dysfunctional True Self, overtaken and suppressed by a False Self. In therapy, the general idea is to create the conditions for the True Self to resume its growth: safety, predictability, justice, love and acceptance. To achieve this ambience, the therapist tries to establish a mirroring, re-parenting, and holding environment. Therapy is supposed to provide these conditions of nurturance and guidance (through transference, cognitive re-labelling or other methods). The narcissist must learn that his bitter past experiences are not laws of nature, that not all adults are abusive, that relationships can be nurturing and supportive.

Some therapists try to stroke the narcissist's grandiosity. By doing so, they hope to modify or counter cognitive deficits, thinking errors, and the narcissist's victim-stance. They contract with the narcissist to alter his conduct. Psychiatrists tend to medicalize the disorder by attributing it to genetic or biochemical causes. Narcissists like this approach as it absolves them from responsibility for their actions.

Most therapists try to co-opt the narcissist's inflated Ego (False Self) and defences. They compliment the narcissist and challenge him to prove his omnipotence by overcoming his disorder. They appeal to his quest for perfection, brilliance, and eternal love – and his paranoid tendencies – in an attempt to get rid of counterproductive, self-defeating, and dysfunctional behaviour patterns.

But, the narcissist regards therapy as a competitive sport. In therapy the narcissist usually immediately insists that he (or she) is equal to the psychotherapist in knowledge, in experience, or in social status. To substantiate this claim and "level the playing field", the narcissist in the therapeutic session spices his speech with professional terms and lingo.

The narcissist sends a message to his psychotherapist: there is nothing you can teach me, I am as intelligent as you are, you are not superior to me, actually, we should both collaborate as equals in this unfortunate state of things in which we, inadvertently, find ourselves involved.

The narcissist at first idealizes and then devalues the therapist. His internal dialogue is:

"I know best, I know it all, the therapist is less intelligent than I, I can't afford the top level therapists who are the only ones qualified to treat me (as my equals, needless to say), I am actually as good as a therapist myself…"

"He (my therapist) should be my colleague, in certain respects it is he who should accept my professional authority, why won't he be my friend, after all I can use the lingo (psycho-babble) even better than he does? It's us (him and me) against a hostile and ignorant world (shared psychosis, folie a deux)…"

"Just who does he think he is, asking me all these questions? What are his professional credentials? I am a success and he is a nobody therapist in a dingy office, he is trying to negate my uniqueness, he is an authority figure, I hate him, I will show him, I will humiliate him, prove him ignorant, have his licence revoked (transference). Actually, he is pitiable, a zero, a failure…"

Therapists with unresolved issues and narcissistic defences of their own sometimes feel compelled to confront the narcissist head on and to engage in power politics, for instance by instituting disciplinary measures. They compete with the narcissist and try to establish their superiority: "I am cleverer than you are", "My will should prevail", and so on. This form of immaturity is decidedly unhelpful and could lead to rage attacks and a deepening of the narcissist's persecutory delusions, bred by his humiliation in the therapeutic setting.

These self-delusions and fantastic grandiosity are, really, the narcissist's defences and resistance to treatment. This abusive internal exchange becomes more vituperative and pejorative as therapy progresses.

The narcissist distances himself from his painful emotions by generalising and analyzing them, by slicing his life and hurt into neat packages of what he thinks are "professional insights".

Narcissists generally are averse to being medicated as this amounts to an admission that something is, indeed, wrong and "needs fixing". Narcissists are control freaks and hate to be "under the influence" of "mind altering" drugs prescribed to them by others.

Additionally, many of them believe that medication is the "great equalizer": it will make them lose their uniqueness, superiority and so on. That is unless they can convincingly present the act of taking their medicines as "heroism", a daring enterprise of self-exploration, part of a breakthrough clinical trial, and so on.

They often claim that the medicine affects them differently than it does other people, or that they have discovered a new, exciting way of using it, or that they are part of someone's (usually themselves) learning curve ("part of a new approach to dosage", "part of a new cocktail which holds great promise"). Narcissists must dramatize their lives to feel worthy and special. Aut nihil aut unique – either be special or don't be at all. Narcissists are drama queens.

Successes have been reported by applying 12-step techniques (as modified for patients suffering from the Antisocial Personality Disorder), and with treatment modalities as diverse as NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming), Schema Therapy, and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization).

Very much like in the physical world, change is brought about only through incredible powers of torsion and breakage. Only when the narcissist's elasticity gives way, only when he is wounded by his own intransigence – only then is there hope.

It takes nothing less than a real crisis to move the narcissist to tackle his problems. Ennui is not enough.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 47

 

Narcissistic Mirroring

 

 

Question: Do narcissists tend to react with paranoia when threatened (or when they feel threatened) and how long do these "attacks" last? Does the narcissist forever decry and fear the subjects of his paranoia (his "persecutors")?

Answer: Specific paranoid reactions tend to fade and the narcissist frequently homes in on new "agents of persecution".

Arguably the most hurtful thing about a relationship with a narcissist is the ultimate realization of how interchangeable one is, as far as the narcissist is concerned. The narcissist is hungry for Narcissistic Supply. Thus, even his paranoia is a "grandiose" fantasy aimed at regulating his sense of self-worth.

It is through his paranoia that the narcissist proves to himself that he is sufficiently important, interesting, and enough of a threat to be threatened back, to have people conspire and worry over him, in other words: to be the subject of incessant attention. Yet, this untoward mode of attracting Narcissistic Supply wanes easily if not fed constantly.

It is true, however, that many narcissists are paranoid by nature. Narcissism is the deformed emotional reaction to the narcissist's perception of the world as unpredictably hostile, precariously balanced, and illusory. In such a universe, the inclination to see enemies everywhere, to guard against them and to imagine the worst is almost adaptive and functional.

Moreover, the narcissist falls prey to delusions of grandeur. Important Men deserve Important Enemies. The narcissist attributes to himself influence and power much greater than he actually possesses. His claims for such overreaching power would look dubious without a proper set of opponents. The victories that the narcissist scores over his (mostly imagined) foes serve to emphasize his superiority. An unfriendly environment and the threats it poses, overcome by his superior skills and traits, are an integral part of the personal myth of the narcissist.

The narcissist's partner (mate, spouse) usually craves and encourages his (paranoid, or threatening) attention. Her behaviour and reactive patterns tend to reinforce his. This is a game of two.

But the narcissist is not a full-fledged paranoiac. He maintains his reality test. His paranoid reactions are triggered by reality itself, and egged on by the ostensibly innocent (the narcissist's partner or mate or spouse or colleague, etc.). Actually, the narcissist's partner is likely to feel barren and vacuous when these games are over (for instance, after she divorces him).

The paranoid lives in constant fear and tribulation. This fact and the deficient structure of the narcissistic personality allow the partner to assume a position of superiority, high moral ground and sound mental health. The partner feels justified in regarding the narcissist in inferior terms: a child, a monster, an invalid, or a misfit.

She tends to play the missing parent or, more often, the "psychologist" in the relationships. In this mind game (which passes for a relationship), the narcissist is assigned the role of the "patient" in need of care and of being "objectively mirrored" (for his own good) by the partner.

These emergent roles endow the partner with authority and provide her with a way to distance herself from her own emotions (and from the narcissist's). This presumption of superiority is, therefore, analgesic. The partner is permanently enmeshed in a battle to prove herself (both to the ever critical and humiliating narcissist and to herself) as worthwhile. To restore her shattered sense of security and self-esteem, the partner must resort to narcissistic techniques.

This phenomenon is "narcissistic mirroring". It happens because the narcissist succeeds in turning himself into the partner's preferred – or even exclusive – frame of reference, the axis around which all her judgements revolve, the fountain of common sense and prevailing logic, the source of all knowledge and an authority on everything of importance.

Finally, the partner gathers enough courage to confront the narcissist with the facts (as seen from the partner's vantage point). The threshold of tolerance is crossed, the measure of suffering exceeded.

The partner does not expect to induce changes in the narcissist (though, if asked, she is most likely to insist otherwise). Her motivation is more basic: to exact revenge for a period of mental slavery, subservience, subjugation, subordination, exploitation, humiliation and objectification. The aim is to rattle the narcissist, and, thus, to make him vulnerable, inferior for just a minute. It is a mini-rebellion (which does not last long), sometimes possessed of sadistic elements.

Living with a narcissist is a harrowing experience. It can tilt one's mind toward abnormal reactions (actually, normal reactions to an abnormal situation). The capriciousness, volatility, arbitrariness and vicissitudinal character of the narcissist's behaviour can facilitate the formation of paranoid reactions in both the narcissist and his closest.

The less predictable the world, the more ominous and precarious it is and the more paranoid the reactions to it are. Sometimes, through the mechanism of narcissistic mirroring, the partner reacts to a prolonged period of emotional deprivation and stress by emulating the narcissist himself. The narcissist is then likely to reproach the partner by saying: "You became I and I became you!!! I do not know you anymore!"

The narcissist has a way of getting under his partners' skin. They cannot evade him because he is part of their lives and part of their selves, as internalized as any parent is. Even after a long sought separation, his partners typically still care for the narcissist greatly, enough to be mulling over the expired relationship endlessly. The partner discovers to her horror that she may be able to exit the narcissist's life, but he is unlikely exit hers.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 48

 

The Development of the Narcissist

 

 

Question: Why does the narcissist behave childishly and immaturely?

Answer: "Puer Aeternus" – the eternal adolescent, the semipternal Peter Pan – is a phenomenon often associated with pathological narcissism. People who refuse to grow up strike others as self-centred and aloof, petulant and brattish, haughty and demanding – in short: as childish or infantile.

The narcissist is a partial adult. He seeks to avoid adulthood. Infantilization – the discrepancy between one's advanced chronological age and one's retarded behaviour, cognition, and emotional development – is the narcissist's preferred art form. Some narcissists even use a childish tone of voice occasionally and adopt a toddler's body language.

But most narcissist resort to more subtle means.

They reject or avoid adult chores and functions. They refrain from acquiring adult skills (such as driving) or an adult's formal education. They evade adult responsibilities towards others, including and especially towards their nearest and dearest. They hold no steady jobs, never get married, raise no family, cultivate no roots, maintain no real friendships or meaningful relationships.

Many a narcissist remains attached to his family of origin. By clinging to his parents, the narcissist continues to act in the role of a child. He thus avoids the need to make adult decisions and (potentially painful) choices. He transfers all adult chores and responsibilities – from laundry to baby-sitting – to his parents, siblings, spouse, or other relatives. He feels unshackled, a free spirit, ready to take on the world (in other words omnipotent and omnipresent).

Alternatively, by acting as surrogate caregiver to his siblings or parents, the narcissist displaces his adulthood into a fuzzier and less demanding territory. The social expectations from a husband and a father are clear-cut. Not so from a substitute, mock, or ersatz parent. By investing his efforts, resources, and emotions in his family of origin, the narcissist avoids having to establish a new family and face the world as an adult. His is an "adulthood by proxy", a vicarious imitation of the real thing.

The ultimate in dodging adulthood is finding God (long recognized as a father-substitute), or some other "higher cause". The believer allows the doctrine and the social institutions that enforce it to make decisions for him and thus relieve him of responsibility. He succumbs to the paternal power of the collective and surrenders his personal autonomy. In other words, he is a child once more. Hence the allure of faith and the lure of dogmas such as nationalism or communism or liberal democracy.

But why does the narcissist refuse to grow up? Why does he postpone the inevitable and regard adulthood as a painful experience to be avoided at a great cost to personal growth and self-realization? Because remaining essentially a toddler caters to all his narcissistic needs and defences and nicely tallies with the narcissist's inner psychodynamic landscape.

Pathological narcissism is an infantile defence against abuse and trauma, usually occurring in early childhood or early adolescence. Thus, narcissism is inextricably entwined with the abused child's or adolescent's emotional makeup, cognitive deficits, and worldview. To say "narcissist" is to say "thwarted, tortured child".

It is important to remember that overweening, smothering, spoiling, overvaluing, and idolizing the child are all forms of parental abuse. There is nothing more narcissistically-gratifying than the admiration and adulation (Narcissistic Supply) garnered by precocious child-prodigies (Wunderkinder). Narcissists who are the sad outcomes of excessive pampering and sheltering become addicted to it.

In a paper published in Quadrant in 1980 and titled "Puer Aeternus: The Narcissistic Relation to the Self", Jeffrey Satinover, a Jungian analyst, offers these astute observations:

"The individual narcissistically bound to (the image or archetype of the divine child) for identity can experience satisfaction from a concrete achievement only if it matches the grandeur of this archetypal image. It must have the qualities of greatness, absolute uniqueness, of being the best and … prodigiously precocious."

The simple truth is that children get away with narcissistic traits and behaviours. Narcissists know that. They envy children, hate them, try to emulate them and, thus, compete with them for scarce Narcissistic Supply.

Children are forgiven for feeling grandiose and self-important or even encouraged to develop such emotions as part of "building up their self-esteem". Kids frequently exaggerate with impunity accomplishments, talents, skills, contacts, and personality traits – exactly the kind of conduct that narcissists are chastised for!

As part of a normal and healthy development trajectory, young children are as obsessed as narcissists are with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power or omnipotence, and unequalled brilliance. Adolescent are expected to be preoccupied with bodily beauty or sexual performance (as is the somatic narcissist), or ideal, everlasting, all-conquering love or passion. What is normal in the first 16 years of life is deemed pathological later on.

Children are firmly convinced that they are unique and, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high-status people. In time, through the process of socialization, young adults learn the benefits of collaboration and acknowledge the innate value of each and every person. Narcissists never do. They remain fixated in the earlier stage.

Preteens and teenagers require excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation. It is a transient phase that gives place to the self-regulation of one's sense of inner worth. Narcissists, however, remain dependent on others for their self-esteem and self-confidence. They are fragile and fragmented and thus very susceptible to criticism, even if it is merely implied or imagined.

Well into pubescence, children feel entitled. As toddlers, they demand automatic and full compliance with their unreasonable expectations for special and favourable priority treatment. They grow out of it as they develop empathy and respect for the boundaries, needs, and wishes of other people. Again, narcissists never mature, in this sense.

Children, like adult narcissists, are "interpersonally exploitative", i.e., use others to achieve their own ends. During the formative years (0-6 years old), children are devoid of empathy. They are unable to identify with, acknowledge, or accept the feelings, needs, preferences, priorities, and choices of others.

Both adult narcissists and young children are envious of others and sometimes seek to hurt or destroy the sources of their frustration. Both groups behave arrogantly and haughtily, feel superior, omnipotent, omniscient, invincible, immune, "above the law", and omnipresent (magical thinking), and rage when frustrated, contradicted, challenged, or confronted.

The narcissist seeks to legitimize his child-like conduct and his infantile mental world by actually remaining a child, by refusing to mature and to grow up, by avoiding the hallmarks of adulthood, and by forcing others to accept him as the Puer Aeternus, the Eternal Youth, a worry-free, unbounded, Peter Pan.

 

Question: Isn't such infantile behaviour the result of extreme and unhealthy attachment to one's mother?

Answer: We are born with abilities of the first order (abilities to do) and of the second order (potentials, abilities to develop abilities to do). Our environment, though, is critical to the manifestation of these abilities. It is through socialization and comparison with others that we bring our capacities into full fruition and put them to use. We are further constrained by cultural and normative dictates. Generally speaking, we are faced with four scenarios as we grow up:

1. We possess an ability and society recognizes and encourages it. The result is a positive reinforcement of the capacity or talent.

2. We possess an ability but society is either indifferent to it, or outright hostile to it, or does not recognize it as such. Weak persons tend to suppress such socially undesirable potentials and talents as a result of social (peer and other) pressures. Stronger souls go on defiantly, adopting a nonconformist, or even rebellious stance.

3. We have no ability and our milieu insists that we do. We usually succumb to society's superior judgement and develop the talent in question, sliding inexorably into mediocrity.

4. We have no ability or talent, we know it and society concurs. This is the easiest case: no propensity to explore the irrelevant capacity will develop.

Parents (Primary Objects) and, more specifically, mothers are the first agents of socialization. It is through his mother that the child explores the answers to the most important existential questions, which shape his entire life: how loved one is, how loveable, how independent one becomes, how guilty one should feel for wanting to become autonomous, how predictable is the world, how much abuse should one expect in life and so on.

To the infant, the mother is not only an object of dependence (as his survival is at stake), love and adoration. She is a representation of the "universe" itself. It is through her that the child first exercises his senses: the tactile, the olfactory, and the visual. Later on, she becomes the subject of his nascent sexual cravings of her male offspring: a diffuse sense of wanting to merge, physically, as well as spiritually. This object of love is idealized and internalized and becomes part of the child’s conscience (Superego). For better or worse, she is the yardstick, the benchmark against which everything in his future is measured. One forever compares oneself, one's identity, one's actions and omissions, one's achievements, one's fears and hopes and aspirations to this mythical figure.

Growing up entails the gradual separation from one's mother. At first, the child begins to form a more realistic view of her and incorporates the mother's shortcomings and disadvantages into this modified version. The more ideal, less realistic and earlier picture of the mother is stored and becomes part of the child's psyche. The later, less cheerful, more realistic view enables the infant to define his own identity and gender identity and to "go out to the world".

Thus, partly "abandoning" mother is the key to an independent exploration of the world, to personal autonomy and to a strong sense of self. Resolving the sexual complex and the resulting conflict of being attracted to a forbidden figure is the second, determining, step.

The (male) child must realize that his mother is "off-limits" to him sexually (and emotionally, or psychosexually) and that she "belongs" to his father (or to other males). He must thereafter choose to imitate his father ("become a man") in order to win, in the future, someone like his mother.

The third (and final) stage of letting go of the mother is reached during the delicate period of adolescence. One then seriously ventures out and, finally, builds and secures one's own world, replete with a new "mother-lover". If any of these phases is thwarted, the process of differentiation is not successfully completed, no autonomy or coherent self are achieved and dependence and "infantilism" characterize the unlucky person.

What determines the success or failure of these phases in one's personal history? Mostly, one's mother. If the mother does not "let go", the child does not go. If the mother herself is the dependent, narcissistic type, the growth prospects of the child are, indeed, dim. There are numerous mechanisms, which mothers use to ensure the continued presence and emotional dependence of their offspring (of both sexes).

The mother can cast herself in the role of the eternal victim, a sacrificial figure, who dedicated her life to the child (with the implicit or explicit proviso of reciprocity: that the child dedicates his life to her). Another strategy is to treat the child as an extension of the mother or, conversely, to treat herself as an extension of the child.

Yet another tactic is to create a situation of shared psychosis or "folie-a-deux" (the mother and child united against external threats), or an atmosphere suffused with sexual and erotic insinuations, leading to an illicit psychosexual bonding between mother and child ("emotional incest").

In this, latter case, the adult's ability to interact with members of the opposite sex is gravely impaired and the mother is perceived as envious of any feminine influence other than hers. Such a mother is frequently critical of the women in her offspring's life pretending to do so in order to protect him from dangerous liaisons or from ones which are "beneath him" ("You deserve more").

Other mothers exaggerate their neediness: they emphasize their financial dependence and lack of resources, their health problems, their emotional barrenness without the soothing presence of the child, their need to be protected against this or that (mostly imaginary) enemy. Guilt is a prime mover in the perverted relationships of such mothers and their children.

The death of the mother is, therefore, both a devastating shock and a deliverance. It generates ambivalent emotional reactions. Even a "normal" adult who mourns his dead mother is usually exposed to such emotional duality. This ambivalence is the source of great guilt feelings.

With a person who is abnormally attached to his mother, the situation is more complicated. He feels that he has a part in her death, that he is to blame, somehow responsible, that he could have done more for her. He is glad to be liberated and feels guilty and punishable because of it. He feels sad and elated, naked and powerful, exposed to dangers and omnipotent, about to disintegrate and to be newly integrated. These, precisely, are the emotional reactions to a successful therapy. With the death of his mother, the narcissist embarks on a process of healing.

Return

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 49

 

The Narcissist's Mother

 

 

The Loved Enemies – An Introduction

An oft-overlooked fact is that the child is not sure that it exists. It avidly absorbs cues from its human environment. "Am I present?", "Am I separate?", "Am I being noticed?" – these are the questions that compete in his mind with his need to merge, to become an extension of his caregivers.

Granted, the infant (ages 0 to 2) does not verbally formulate these "thoughts" (which are part cognitive, part instinctual). His nagging uncertainty is more akin to a discomfort, like being thirsty or wet. The infant is torn between its need to differentiate and distinguish its self and its no less urgent urge to be assimilated and integrated.

"We … know … that (the child) requires an empathic environment, specifically, an environment that responds (a) to his need to have his presence confirmed by the glow of parental pleasure, and (b) to his need to merge into the reassuring calmness of the powerful adult, if he is to acquire a firm and resilient self."

[J. D. Levine and Rona H. Weiss. The Dynamics and Treatment of Alcoholism. Jason Aronson, 1994]

The child's nascent self must first overcome its feelings of diffusiveness, of being an extension of its caregivers (to include parents, in this text), or a part of them. Kohut says that parents perform the functions of the self for their child. More likely, a battle is joined from the child's first breath: a battle to gain autonomy, to usurp the power of the parents, to become a distinct entity.

The child refuses to let the parents continue to serve as its self. It rebels and seeks to depose them and take over their functions. The better the parents are at being self-objects (in lieu of the child's self), the stronger the child's self becomes, the more vigorously it fights for its independence.

The parents, in this sense, are like a benign, benevolent and enlightened colonial power, which performs the tasks of governance on behalf of the uneducated and uninitiated natives. The more lenient the colonial regime, the more likely it is to be supplanted by an indigenous, successful, government.

"The crucial question then is whether the parents are able to reflect with approval at least some of the child's proudly exhibited attributes and functions … to respond with genuine enjoyment to his budding skills … to remain in touch with him throughout his trials and errors …to provide the child with a reliable embodiment of calmness and strength into which he can merge and with a focus for his need to find a target for his admiration." [Ibid.]

The Narcissistic Personality

"When the habitual narcissistic gratifications that come from being adored, given special treatment, and admiring the self are threatened, the results may be depression, hypochondriasis, anxiety, shame, self-destructiveness, or rage directed toward any other person who can be blamed for the troubled situation. The child can learn to avoid these painful emotional states by acquiring a narcissistic mode of information processing. Such learning may be by trial-and-error methods, or it may be internalized by identification with parental modes of dealing with stressful information."

[Jon Mardi Horowitz. Stress Response Syndromes: PTSD, Grief and Adjustment Disorders. Third edition. New York, NY University Press, 1998]

Narcissism is fundamentally an evolved version of the psychological defence mechanism known as splitting. The narcissist does not regard people, situations, entities (political parties, countries, races, his workplace) as a compound of good and bad elements. He is an "all or nothing" primitive "machine" (a common self-metaphor among narcissists).

He either idealizes his objects or devalues them. At any given time, the objects are either all good or all bad. The bad attributes are always projected, displaced, or otherwise externalized. The good ones are internalized in order to support the inflated ("grandiose") self-concepts of the narcissist and his grandiose fantasies and to avoid the pain of deflation and disillusionment.

The narcissist's earnestness and his (apparent) sincerity make people wonder whether he is simply detached from reality, unable to appraise it properly or willingly and knowingly distorts reality and reinterprets it, subjecting it to his self-imposed censorship. The truth is somewhere in between: the narcissist is dimly aware of the implausibility of his own constructions. He has not lost touch with reality. He is just less scrupulous in remoulding it and in ignoring its uncomfortable angles.

"The disguises are accomplished by shifting meanings and using exaggeration and minimization of bits of reality as a nidus for fantasy elaboration … When the individual is faced with such stress events as criticism, withdrawal of praise, or humiliation, the information involved may be denied, disavowed, negated, or shifted in meaning to prevent a reactive state of rage, depression, or shame." [Ibid.]

The second psychological defence mechanism which characterizes the narcissist is the active pursuit of Narcissistic Supply. The narcissist seeks to secure a reliable and continuous stream of admiration, adulation, affirmation and attention. As opposed to common opinion, the narcissist is content to have any kind of attention, whether good or bad. If fame cannot be had, notoriety would do. The narcissist is obsessed with his Narcissistic Supply, he is addicted to it. His behaviour in its pursuit is impulsive and compulsive.

"(A)ny loss of a good and coherent self-feeling is associated with intensely experienced emotions such as shame and depression, plus an anguished sense of helplessness and disorientation. To prevent this state, the narcissistic personality slides the meanings of events in order to place the self in a better light … Persons who function as accessories to the self may also be idealized by exaggeration of their attributes. Those who counter the self are depreciated." [Ibid.]

Freud versus Jung

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was the first to present a coherent theory of narcissism. He described transitions from subject-directed libido to object-directed libido through the intermediation and agency of the parents. To be healthy and functional, these transitions must be smooth and unperturbed. Neuroses are the outcomes of bumpy or incomplete transitions.

Freud conceived of each stage as the default (or fallback) of the next one. Thus, if a child reaches out to his objects of desire and fails to attract their love and attention, it regresses to the previous phase, to the narcissistic phase.

The first occurrence of narcissism is adaptative. It "trains" the child to love an object, (his self). It secures gratification through the availability, predictability and permanence of the loved object (oneself). But regressing to "secondary narcissism" is maladaptive. It is an indication of failure to direct the libido at the "right" targets (at objects, such as the parents).

If this pattern of regression persists and prevails, it leads to a narcissistic neurosis. The narcissist stimulates his self habitually in order to derive pleasure. He prefers this mode of deriving gratification to others. He is "lazy" because he takes the "easy" route of resorting to his self and reinvesting his libidinal resources "in-house" rather than making an effort (and risking failure) to seek out libidinal objects other than his self. The narcissist prefers fantasyland to reality, grandiose self-conception to realistic appraisal, masturbation to mature adult sex and daydreaming to real life achievements.

Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) suggested a mental picture of the psyche as a repository of archetypes (the conscious representations of adaptative behaviours). Fantasies are just a way of accessing these archetypes and releasing them.

Jungian psychology does not allow for regression. Any reversion to earlier phases of mental life, to earlier coping strategies, or to earlier choices is interpreted by Jungians as simply the psyche's way of using yet another, hitherto untapped, adaptation strategy. Regressions are compensatory processes intended to enhance adaptation and not methods of obtaining or securing a steady flow of gratification.

It would seem, though, that there is only a semantic difference between Freud and his disciple-turned-adversary, Jung. When libido investment in objects (esp. the Primary Object) fails to produce gratification, the result is maladaptation. This is dangerous and the default option – secondary narcissism – is activated.

This default option enhances adaptation (is adaptative) and is functional. It triggers adaptative behaviours. As a by-product, it secures gratification. We are gratified when we exert reasonable control over our environment, i.e., when our behaviours are adaptative. Thus, the compensatory process has two results: enhanced adaptation and inevitable gratification.

Perhaps the more serious disagreement between Freud and Jung is with regards to introversion.

Freud regards introversion as an instrument in the service of a pathology (introversion is indispensable to narcissism, as opposed to extroversion which is a necessary condition for libidinal object-orientation).

As opposed to Freud, Jung regards introversion as a useful tool in the service of the psychic quest for adaptation strategies (narcissism being one such strategy). The Jungian adaptation repertoire does not discriminate against narcissism. To Jung narcissism is a legitimate choice.

But even Jung acknowledged that the very need to look for new adaptation strategies means that adaptation has failed. In other words, the search itself is indicative of a pathological state of affairs. It does seem that introversion per se is not pathological (because no psychological mechanism is pathological per se). Only the use made of it can be pathological. One tends to agree with Freud, though, that when introversion becomes a permanent feature of the psychic landscape of a person, it facilitates pathological narcissism.

Jung distinguished introverts (who habitually concentrate on their selves rather than on outside objects) from extroverts (the converse preference). According to him, not only is introversion a totally normal and natural function, it remains normal and natural even if it predominates one's mental life.

But surely the habitual and predominant focussing of attention upon one's self, to the exclusion of others, is the very definition of pathological narcissism. What differentiates the pathological from the normal and even the welcome is, of course, a matter of degree.

Pathological narcissism is all-pervasive. Other forms of narcissism are not. So, although there is no healthy state of habitual, predominant introversion, it remains a question of form and degree of introversion. Often a healthy, adaptative mechanism goes awry. When it does, as Jung himself recognized, neuroses form.

Last but not least, Freud regards narcissism as a point while Jung regards it as a continuum (from health to sickness). Modern views of narcissism tend to agree with Jung in this respect.

Kohut's Approach

In a way, Heinz Kohut took Jung a step further. He said that pathological narcissism is not the result of excessive narcissism, libido or aggression. It is the result of defective, deformed or incomplete narcissistic (self) structures. Kohut postulated the existence of core constructs which he named the "grandiose exhibitionistic self" and the "idealized parent imago" [see below].

Children entertain notions of greatness (primitive or naive grandiosity) mingled with magical thinking, feelings of omnipotence and omniscience and a belief in their immunity to the consequences of their actions. These elements and the child's feelings regarding its parents (whom it tars with the same brush of omnipotence and grandiosity) coalesce and form these constructs.

The child's feelings towards its parents are reactions to their responses (affirmation, buffering, modulation or disapproval, punishment, even abuse). The parents' responses help maintain the child's self-structures. Without appropriate parental responses, infantile grandiosity, for instance, cannot be transformed into healthy adult ambitions and ideals.

According to Kohut, grandiosity and idealization are positive childhood development mechanisms. Even their reappearance in transference should not be considered a pathological narcissistic regression.

Kohut's contention is nothing less than revolutionary. He says that narcissism (subject-love) and object-love coexist and interact throughout life. True, they wear different guises with age and psychological maturation, but they always cohabitate.

"It is not that the self-experiences are given up and replaced by … a more mature or developmentally more advanced experience of objects."

[H. Kohut. The Chicago Institute Lectures 1972-1976. Marian and Paul Tolpin (Eds.). Analytic Press, 1998]

This dichotomy inevitably leads to a dichotomy of disorders. Kohut agreed with Freud that neuroses are conglomerates of defence mechanisms, formations, symptoms, and unconscious conflicts. He even did not object to identifying unresolved Oedipal Conflicts (ungratified unconscious wishes and their objects) as the root of neuroses. But he identified a whole new class of disorders: the self-disorders. These are the results of the perturbed development of narcissism.

This is not a cosmetic or superficial distinction. Self-disorders are the outcomes of childhood traumas very much different to Freud's Oedipal, castration and other conflicts and fears. These are the traumas of a child that is either not being "seen" (not being affirmed by objects, especially the Primary Objects, his parents) – or is being regarded merely as an object for gratification or abuse.

Such children grow up to become adults who are not sure that they exist (lack a sense of self-continuity) or that they are worth anything (labile sense of self-worth and fluctuating or bipolar self-esteem). They suffer from depressions, as neurotics do. But the source of these depressions is existential (a gnawing sensation of emptiness) as opposed to the "guilty conscience" depressions of neurotics.

Such depressions: "…are interrupted by rages because things are not going their way, because responses are not forthcoming in the way they expected and needed. Some of them may even search for conflict to relieve the pain and intense suffering of the poorly established self, the pain of the discontinuous, fragmenting, undercathected self of the child not seen or responded to as a unit of its own, not recognized as an independent self who wants to feel like somebody, who wants to go its own way." [see Lecture 22]

[Paul and Marian Tolpin (Eds.). The Preface to the "Chicago Institute Lectures 1972-1976 of H. Kohut", 1996]

One note: "constructs" or "structures" are permanent psychological patterns. But this is not to say that they do not change, for they are capable of slow change. Kohut and his self-psychology disciples believed that the only viable constructs are comprised of self self-object experiences and that these structures are lifelong ones.

Melanie Klein regarded psychic structures as amalgams of archaic drives, splitting defences and archaic internal objects and part objects. Winnicott [and Balint and other, mainly British researchers] as well as other ego-psychologists thought that only infantile drive wishes and hallucinated oneness with archaic objects qualify as structures.

Karen Horney's Contributions

Horney is one of the precursors of the "object relations" school of psychodynamics. She observed that one's personality was shaped mostly by one's environment, society, or culture. She believed that one's relationships and interactions with others in one's childhood determine both the shape and functioning of one's personality.

She expanded the psychoanalytic repertoire. She added needs to drives. Where Freud believed in the exclusivity of the sex drive as an agent of transformation (to which he later added other drives) – Horney believed that people (children) needed to feel secure, to be loved, protected, emotionally nourished and so on.

She believed that the satisfaction of these needs or their frustration early in childhood are important determinants in shaping one's personality – as crucial as any drive. Horney said that society enters the process of personal development through the parental door. Biology converges with social injunctions to yield human values such as the nurturance of children.

Horney's great contribution was the concept of anxiety. Freudian anxiety is a rather primitive mechanism, a reaction to imaginary threats arising from early childhood sexual conflicts. Horney argued convincingly that anxiety is a primary reaction to the child's dependence on adults for his survival.

Children are uncertain (of love, protection, nourishment, nurturance), so they become anxious. They develop psychological defences to compensate for the intolerable and gradual realization that adults are merely human and are, at times, capricious, arbitrary, unpredictable, and unreliable. These defences provide both gratification and a sense of security. The problem of dangerous dependence still exists, but it is "one stage removed". When the defences are attacked or perceived to be attacked (such as in therapy), anxiety is reawakened.

Karen B. Wallant wrote in "Creating Capacity for Attachment: Treating Addictions and the Alienated Self" [Jason Aronson, 1999]:

"The addict has had so few loving attachments in his life that when alone he is returned to his detached, alienated self. This feeling-state can be compared to a young child's fear of monsters without a powerful other to help him, the monsters continue to live somewhere within the child or his environment."

So, the child learns to sacrifice a part of his autonomy and of his identity in order to feel secure.

Horney identified three neurotic strategies: submission, aggression and detachment. The choice of strategy determines the type of neurotic personality. The submissive (or compliant) type is a fake. He hides aggression beneath a facade of friendliness. The aggressive type is fake as well: at heart he is submissive. The detached neurotic withdraws from people. This cannot be considered an adaptative strategy.

Horney's is an optimistic outlook. Because biology is only one of the forces shaping our adulthood – culture and society being the predominant ones – she believes in reversibility and in the power of insight to heal. She believes that when an adult understands his problem (his anxiety) he also acquires the ability to eliminate it altogether.

Yet, clinical experience shows that childhood trauma and abuse are difficult to completely erase. Modern brain research tends to support this sad view and, yet, offer some hope. The brain seems to be more plastic than previously imagined, but no one knows when this "window of plasticity" shuts. What has been established is that the brain is physically impressed with abuse and trauma.

It is conceivable that the brain's plasticity continues well into adulthood and that later "reprogramming" (by loving, caring, compassionate and empathic experiences) remoulds the brain permanently. Clearly, the patient has to accept his disorder as a given and work around it rather than confront it directly.

After all, our disorders are adaptative and help us to function. Their removal may not always be wise or necessary to attain a full and satisfactory life. We should not all conform to the same mould and experience life the same. Idiosyncrasies are a good thing, both on the individual level and on the level of the species.

The Issue of Separation and Individuation

It is by no means universally accepted that children go through a phase of separation from their parents and through subsequent individuation. Yet, most psychodynamic theories (especially Klein, Mahler) are virtually constructed upon this foundation. The child is considered to be merged with his parents until it differentiates itself (through object-relations).

But researchers like Daniel N. Stern dispute this hypothesis. Based on many studies, it appears that, as always, what seems intuitively right is not necessarily right.

In "The Interpersonal World of the Infant: A View from Psychoanalysis and Developmental Psychology" [New York, Basic Books – 1985], Stern seems to, inadvertently, support Kohut by concluding that children possess selves and separate from their caregivers from the very start.

In effect, he says that the picture of the child, as proffered by psychodynamic theories, is biased by the way adults see children and childhood in retrospect. Adult disorders (for instance, the pathological need to merge) are attributed to children and to childhood.

This view is in stark contrast to the belief that children accept any kind of parents (even abusive) because they depend on them for their survival and self-definition. Attachment to and dependence on significant others is the result of the non-separateness of the child, go the classical psychodynamic/object-relations theories.

The self is a construct (within a social context, some add), an assimilation of the oft-imitated and idealized parents plus the internalization of the way others perceive the child in social interactions. The self is, therefore, an internalized reflection, an imitation, a series of internalized idealizations. This kind of self-ness sounds close to pathological narcissism. The difference between a healthy self and a narcissistically corrupted one may, indeed, be a matter of quantity rather than quality.

Childhood Traumas and the Development of the

Narcissistic Personality

Traumas are inevitable. They are an integral and important part of life. But in early childhood, especially in infancy (ages 0 to 4 years), they acquire an ominous aura and an evil interpretation. No matter how innocuous the event and the surrounding circumstances, the child's vivid imagination is likely to embed it in the framework of a highly idiosyncratic horror story.

Parents sometimes have to be absent due to medical or economic conditions. They may be too preoccupied to stay attuned at all times to the child's emotional needs. The family unit itself may be disintegrating with looming divorce or separation. The values of the parent may stand in radical contrast to those of society.

To adults, such mundane and common traumas do not amount to abuse. Verbal and psychological-emotional abuse or neglect are judged by us to be more serious "offences". But this distinction is lost on the child. To him, all traumas – deliberately inflicted or inevitable and inadvertent life crises – are of equal abusive standing, though their severity may differ together with the permanence of their emotional outcomes.

Sometimes even abuse and neglect are the results of circumstances beyond the abusive or neglecting parent's control. Consider a physically or mentally handicapped parent or caregiver, for instance. But the child cannot see this as a mitigating circumstance because he cannot appreciate it or even plainly understand the causal linkage.

Where even a child can tell the difference is with physical and sexual abuse. These are marked by a co-operative effort (offending parent and abused child) at concealment and strong emotions of shame and guilt, repressed to the point of producing anxiety and "neurosis". The child perceives the injustice of the situation, though it rarely dares to express its views, lest it be abandoned or severely punished by its abusers.

This type of trauma, which involves the child actively or passively, is qualitatively different and is bound to yield long-term effects such as dissociation or severe personality disorders. These are violent, premeditated traumas, not traumas by default, and the reaction is bound to be violent and active. The child becomes a reflection of its dysfunctional family: it represses emotions, denies reality, resorts to violence and escapism, disintegrates.

One of the abused and traumatized child's coping strategies is to withdraw inwards, to seek gratification from a secure, reliable and permanently-available source: from one's self. The child, fearful of further rejection and abuse, refrains from further interaction with others. Instead, it builds its own kingdom of grandiose fantasies where it is always loved, respected, and self-sufficient. This is the narcissistic strategy which leads to the development of a narcissistic personality.

The Narcissist's Family

"(According to) Cassidy's (1988) study … the construction of the self is derived from early daily experience with attachment figures … Bednar, Wells, and Peterson (1989) suggest that feelings of competence and the self-esteem associated with them are enhanced in children when their parents provide an optimum mixture of acceptance, affection, rational limits and controls, and high expectations."

[Lilian G. Katz – Distinctions between Self-Esteem and Narcissism: Implications for Practice, October 1993, ERIC/EECE Publications]

The Narcissist's Mother

A Suggestion for an Integrative Framework

The whole structure of the narcissistic disorder reflects a relationship with problematic and dysfunctional Primary Objects (usually, the mother or main caregiver).

The narcissist's mother is typically inconsistent and frustrating. She thus thwarts the narcissist's ability to trust others and to feel safe. By emotionally abandoning him, she fosters in him fears of being abandoned and the nagging sensation that the world is a dangerous, hostile, and unpredictable place. She becomes a negative, devaluing voice, which is duly incorporated into the narcissist's Superego.

But there is a less traditional view.

Our natural state is anxiety, the readiness – physiological and mental – to "fight or flee". Research indicates that the Primary Object (PO) is really the child, rather than its mother. The child identifies itself as an object almost at birth. It explores itself and reacts to and interacts with itself. The infant monitors its bodily reactions to internal and external inputs and stimuli: the flow of blood, the peristaltic movement, the swallowing reflex, the texture of saliva, the experience of excretion, being wet, thirsty, hungry or content.

The child assumes the position of observer and integrator early on. As Kohut said, it has both a self and the ability to relate to objects. This intimacy with a familiar and predictable object (oneself) is a primary source of security and the precursor to emerging narcissism. The mother is only a Secondary Object (SO). It is this Secondary Object that the child learns to relate to and it has the indispensable developmental advantage of being transcendental, external to the child. All meaningful others are Auxiliary Objects (AO).

A "good enough" SO helps the child to extend the lessons he had learned from his interaction with the PO (his self) and apply them to the world at large. The child learns that the external environment can be as predictable and safe as the internal one.

This titillating discovery leads to a modification of naive or primitive narcissism. It recedes to the background allowing more prominent and adaptative strategies to the fore. In due time, and subject to an accumulation of the right positively reinforcing experiences, a higher form of narcissism develops: self-love, a stable sense of self-worth, and self-esteem.

If, however, SO fails or is abusive, the child reverts back to the PO and to its primitive form of narcissism. This is regression in the chronological sense. But it is also an adaptative strategy.

The emotional consequences of rejection and abuse are harsh. Narcissism ameliorates them by providing a substitute object. This is an adaptative, survival-orientated defence mechanism. It provides the child with time to "come to grips with its thoughts and feelings" and perhaps to revert with a different strategy more suited to the new – unpleasant and threatening – data.

So the interpretation of this regression as a failure of object love may be wrong. The child merely deduces that the SO, the object chosen as the first target of object love, was the wrong object. Object love continues to look for a different, familiar, object. The child merely replaces one object (his mother) with another (his self). The child does not relinquish his capacity for object-love.

If this failure to establish a proper object-relation persists and is not alleviated, all future objects are perceived either as extensions of the Primary Object (the self), or as external objects to be merged with one's self, because they are perceived narcissistically.

There are, therefore, two modes of object perception:

The narcissistic (all objects are perceived as variations of the perceiving self) and the social (all objects are perceived as others or self-objects).

The core (narcissistic) self precedes language or interaction with others. As the core self matures it develops either into a True Self or into a False Self. The two are mutually exclusive (a person possessed by a False Self has no functioning True Self). The distinction of the False Self is that it perceives others narcissistically. As opposed to it, the True Self perceives others socially.

The child constantly compares his first experience with an object (with his internalized PO, his self) to his experience with his SO. The internalizations of both the PO and the SO are modified as a result of this process of comparison. The SO is idealized and internalized to form what I call the SEGO (loosely, the equivalent of Freud's Superego plus the internalized outcomes of social interactions throughout life). The internalized PO is constantly modified to conform to feedback from the SO (for example: "You are loved", or "You are a bad boy"). This is the process by which the Ideal Ego is created.

The internalizations of the PO, of the SO and of the outcomes of their interactions (for instance, of the results of the aforementioned constant comparison between them) form what Bowlby calls "working models". These are constantly updated representations of both the self and of Meaningful Others (what I call Auxiliary Others).

The narcissist's working models are defective. They pertain both to his self and to ALL others. As far as the narcissist is concerned, ALL people are meaningful because NO ONE really is.

The narcissist is forced to dehumanize, objectify, generalize, idealize, devalue, or stereotype in order to cope with the sheer volume of potential interactions with meaningful objects (i.e., with everyone!). Trying not to be overwhelmed, the narcissist feels superior and inflated – because he is the only REAL three-dimensional character in his mind.

Moreover, the narcissist's working models are rigid and never updated because he does not feel that he is interacting with real objects. How can one feel empathic, for instance, towards a representation or an abstraction or an object of gratification? How can such representations or abstractions grow or change?

Follows a matrix of possible axes (dimensions) of interaction between child and mother.

The first term in each of these equations of interaction describes the child, the second the mother.

The Mother can be:

• Accepting ("good enough");

• Domineering;

• Doting/Smothering;

• Indifferent;

• Rejecting;

• Abusive.

The Child can be:

• Attracted;

• Repelled (due to unjust mistreatment, for instance).

The possible axes or dimensions are:

Child / Mother

[How to read this table – an example: Attraction – Attraction/Accepting

Means that the child is attracted to his mother, his mother is attracted to him and she is a "good enough" (accepting) mother.]

1.  Attraction – Attraction/Accepting

(Healthy axis, leads to self-love)

2.  Attraction – Attraction/Domineering

(Could lead to Schizoid, Avoidant, or other personality disorders, or to Social Phobia)

3.  Attraction – Attraction/Doting or Smothering

(Could lead to Cluster B personality disorders)

4.  Attraction – Repulsion/Indifferent

[passive-aggressive, frustrating]

(Could lead to narcissism, Cluster B disorders)

5.  Attraction – Repulsion/Rejecting

(Could lead to Paranoid, Borderline, or other personality disorders)

6.  Attraction – Repulsion/Abusive

(Could lead to Dissociative Identity Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Narcissistic, Borderline, Antisocial, or Paranoid personality disorders)

7.  Repulsion – Repulsion/Indifferent

(Could lead to Avoidant, Schizoid, or Paranoid personality disorders)

8.  Repulsion – Repulsion/Rejecting

(Could lead to personality, mood, or anxiety disorders and to impulsive behaviours, such as eating disorders)

9.  Repulsion – Attraction/Accepting

(Could lead to unresolved Oedipal Conflicts and to neuroses)

10. Repulsion – Attraction/Domineering

(Could have the same results as axis 6)

11. Repulsion – Attraction/Doting

(Could have the same results as axis 9)

This, of course, is a very rough sketch. Many of the axes can be combined to yield more complex clinical pictures.

It provides an initial, coarse, map of the possible interactions between the PO and the SO in early childhood and the unsavoury results of internalized bad objects.

This PO/SO matrix continues to interact with AO to form the person's self-evaluation (self-esteem or sense of self-worth).

This process – the formation of a coherent sense of self-worth – starts with PO/SO interactions within the matrix and continues roughly till the age of 8, all the time gathering and assimilating interactions with AO (meaningful others).

First, the child forms a model of attachment in relationships (approximately captured by the matrix above). This model is based on the internalization of the Primary Object (later, the self). Attachment interactions with SO follow and in the wake of a critical mass of interactions with AO, the self is formed.

This process of the formation of self rests on a few critical principles:

1. The child, as we said earlier, develops a sense of "mother-constancy". This is crucial. If the child is unable to predict the behaviour (let alone the presence) of his mother from one moment to another, it finds it hard to trust anything or anyone, predict anything and expect anything. Because the self, to some extent (some say: to a large extent), is comprised of the internalized outcomes of the interactions with others, negative experiences are incorporated in the budding self as well as positive ones. In other words, a child feels loveable and desirable if it is indeed loved and wanted. If it is rejected, it is bound to feel worthless and worthy only of rejection. In due time, the child develops behaviours which yield rejection by others and the outcomes of which are thus soothingly familiar and conform to his self-perception.

2. The adoption and assimilation of the judgement of others and its incorporation into a coherent sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

3. The discounting or filtering-out of contrarian information. Once Bowlby's "working models" are formed, they act as selective membranes. No amount of external information to the contrary alters these models significantly. Granted, shifts in relative positions may and do occur in later stages of life. A person can feel more or less accepted, more or less competent, more or less integrated into a given social setting. But these are changes in the values of parameters within a set equation (the working model). The equation itself is rarely altered and only by very serious life crises.

Return

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 50

 

The Inverted Narcissist

 

With contributions by the members of the Narcissism List

 

The Clinical Picture and Developmental Roots – Opening Remarks

Terminology

Co-Dependents

There is great confusion regarding the terms co-dependent, counter-dependent, and dependent.

Like dependents (people with the Dependent Personality Disorder), co-dependents depend on other people for their emotional gratification and the performance of both inconsequential and crucial daily and psychological functions.

Co-dependents are needy, demanding, and submissive. They suffer from abandonment anxiety and, to avoid being overwhelmed by it, they cling to others and act immaturely. These behaviours are intended to elicit protective responses and to safeguard the "relationship" with their companion or mate upon whom they depend. Co-dependents appear to be impervious to abuse. No matter how badly they are mistreated, they remain committed.

This is where the "co" in "co-dependence" comes into play. By accepting the role of victims, co-dependents seek to control their abusers and manipulate them. It is a danse macabre in which both members of the dyad collaborate.

The Dependent Personality Disorder is a much disputed mental health diagnosis.

We are all dependent to some degree. We all like to be taken care of. When is this need judged to be pathological, compulsive, pervasive, and excessive? Clinicians who contributed to the study of this disorder use words such as "craving", "clinging", "stifling" (both the dependent and her partner), and "humiliating", or "submissive". But these are all subjective terms, open to disagreement and differences of opinion.

Moreover, virtually all cultures encourage dependency to varying degrees. Even in developed countries, many women, the very old, the very young, the sick, the criminal, and the mentally-handicapped are denied personal autonomy and are legally and economically dependent on others (or on the authorities). Thus, the Dependent Personality Disorder is diagnosed only when such behaviour does not conform to social or cultural norms.

Co-dependents, as they are sometimes known, are possessed with fantastic worries and concerns and are paralyzed by their abandonment anxiety and fear of separation. This inner turmoil renders them indecisive. Even the simplest everyday decision becomes an excruciating ordeal. This is why co-dependents rarely initiate projects or do things on their own.

Dependents typically go around eliciting constant and repeated reassurances and advice from myriad sources. This recurrent solicitation of succour is proof that the co-dependent seeks to transfer responsibility for his or her life to others, whether they have agreed to assume it or not.

This recoil and studious avoidance of challenges may give the wrong impression that the dependent is indolent or insipid. Yet, most dependents are neither. They are often fired by repressed ambition, energy, and imagination. It is their lack self-confidence that holds them back. They don't trust their own abilities and judgement.

Absent an inner compass and a realistic assessment of their positive qualities on the one hand and limitations on the other hand, dependents are forced to rely on crucial input from the outside. Realizing this, their behaviour becomes self-negating: they never disagree with meaningful others or criticizes them. They are afraid to lose their support and emotional nurturance.

Consequently, as I have written in the Open Site Encyclopedia entry on this disorder:

"The co-dependent moulds himself/herself and bends over backward to cater to the needs of his nearest and dearest and satisfy their every whim, wish, expectation, and demand. Nothing is too unpleasant or unacceptable if it serves to secure the uninterrupted presence of the co-dependent's family and friends and the emotional sustenance s/he can extract (or extort) from them.

The co-dependent does not feel fully alive when alone. S/he feels helpless, threatened, ill-at-ease, and child-like. This acute discomfort drives the co-dependent to hop from one relationship to another. The sources of nurturance are interchangeable. To the co-dependent, being with someone, with anyone, no matter whom – is always preferable to solitude."

Inverted Narcissist

Also called "covert narcissist", this is a co-dependent who depends exclusively on narcissists (narcissist-co-dependent). If you are living with a narcissist, have a relationship with one, if you are married to one, if you are working with a narcissist, etc. – it does NOT mean that you are an inverted narcissist.

To "qualify" as an inverted narcissist, you must CRAVE to be in a relationship with a narcissist, regardless of any abuse inflicted on you by him/her. You must ACTIVELY seek relationships with narcissists and ONLY with narcissists, no matter what your (bitter and traumatic) past experience has been. You must feel EMPTY and UNHAPPY in relationships with ANY OTHER kind of person. Only then, and if you satisfy the other diagnostic criteria of a Dependent Personality Disorder, can you be safely labelled an "inverted narcissist".

Counter-Dependents

Counter-dependents reject and despise authority (they are contumacious) and often clash with authority figures (parents, bosses, or the law). Their sense of self-worth and their very self-identity are premised on and derived from (in other words, are dependent on) these acts of bravura and defiance. Counter-dependents are fiercely independent, controlling, self-centred, and aggressive.

These behaviour patterns are often the result of a deep-seated fear of intimacy. In an intimate relationship, the counter-dependent feels enslaved, ensnared, and captive. Counter-dependents are locked into Approach-Avoidance Repetition Complex cycles. Hesitant approach is followed by avoidance of commitment. They are "lone wolves" and bad team players.

Most "classical" (overt) narcissists are counter-dependents. Their emotions and needs are buried under a "scar tissue" which had formed, coalesced, and hardened during years of one form of abuse or another. Grandiosity, a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and overweening haughtiness usually hide gnawing insecurity and a fluctuating sense of self-worth.

Counter-dependence is a reaction formation. The counter-dependent dreads his own weaknesses. He seeks to overcome them by projecting an image of omnipotence, omniscience, success, self-sufficiency, and superiority.

Introduction

Co-dependence is an important and integral part of narcissism. Narcissists are either counter-dependent or co-dependent (inverted).

The DSM-IV-TR uses 9 criteria to define the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). It is sufficient to show signs of 5 of them to be diagnosed as a narcissist. Thus, theoretically, it is possible to have NPD without being grandiose.

Many scholars (Alexander Lowen, Jeffrey Satinover, Theodore Millon and others) suggested a "taxonomy" of pathological narcissism. They divided narcissists to sub-groups (very much as I do with my somatic versus cerebral narcissist dichotomy).

Lowen, for instance, talks about the "phallic" narcissist versus others. Satinover and Millon make a very important distinction between narcissists who were raised by "classically" abusive parents and those who were raised by doting and smothering or domineering mothers.

Glenn O. Gabbard in "Psychodynamic Psychiatry in Clinical Practice" [The DSM-IV-TR Edition. Comments on Cluster B Personality Disorders – Narcissistic. American Psychiatric Press, Inc., 2000] we find this:

"…These criteria (the DSM-IV-TR's) identify a certain kind of narcissistic patient – specifically, the arrogant, boastful, 'noisy' individual who demands to be in the spotlight. However, they fail to characterize the shy, quietly grandiose, narcissistic individual whose extreme sensitivity to slights leads to an assiduous avoidance of the spotlight."

The DSM-III-R alluded to at least two types of narcissists, but the DSM-IV-TR committee chose to delete this portion of the text:

"…included criterion, 'reacts to criticism with feelings of rage, shame, or humiliation (even not if expressed)' due to lack of 'specificity'."

Other theoreticians, clinicians and researchers similarly suggested a division between "the oblivious narcissist" (a.k.a. overt) and "the hypervigilant narcissist" (a.k.a. covert).

The Inverted Narcissist

It is clear that there is, indeed, a hitherto neglected type of narcissist. It is the "self-effacing" or "introverted" narcissist. I call it the "inverted narcissist" (hereinafter: IN). Others call it "narcissist-co-dependent", “co-narcissist”, or "N-magnet" (which erroneously implies the inverted narcissist's passivity and victimhood).

The Inverted Narcissist is a narcissist who, in many respects, is the mirror image of the "classical" narcissist. The psychodynamics of the inverted narcissist are not clear, nor are its developmental roots. Perhaps it is the product of an overweening Primary Object (parent) or caregiver. Perhaps excessive abuse leads to the repression of even the narcissistic and other defence mechanisms. Perhaps the IN's parents suppress every manifestation of grandiosity and of narcissism (very common in early childhood and adolescence), so that the narcissistic defence mechanism is "inverted" and internalized in this unusual form.

These narcissists are self-effacing, sensitive, emotionally fragile, and sometimes socially phobic. They derive all their self-esteem and sense of self-worth from the outside (from others), are pathologically envious (a transformation of aggression), are likely to intermittently engage in aggressive/violent behaviours, and are more emotionally labile than the classic narcissist.

There are, therefore, three "basic" types of narcissists:

1. The offspring of neglecting parents who default to narcissism as the predominant form of object relations (with themselves as the exclusive love object);

2. The offspring of doting or domineering parents (often narcissists themselves) – These children internalize their parents' voices in the form of a sadistic, ideal, immature Superego and spend their lives trying to be perfect, omnipotent, omniscient and to be judged "a success" by these parent-images and their later representations and substitutes (authority figures);

3. The offspring of abusive parents internalize the abusing, demeaning and contemptuous voices and spend their lives in an effort to elicit "counter-voices" from other people and thus to regulate their labile self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

All three types experience recurrent and Sisyphean failures. Shielded by their defence mechanisms, they constantly gauge reality wrongly, their actions and reactions become more and more rigid and the damage inflicted by them on themselves and on others is ever greater.

The narcissistic parent seems to employ a myriad primitive defence in his or her dealings with his or her children:

1. Splitting, idealization, and devaluation – Idealizing the child and devaluing him in cycles, which reflect the internal dynamics of the parent rather than anything the child does.

2. Projective Identification – Forcing the child to behave in a way which vindicates the parent's fears regarding himself or herself, his or her self-image and his or her self-worth. This is a particularly powerful and pernicious mechanism. If the narcissist parent fears his or her own deficiencies ("defects"), vulnerability, perceived weaknesses, susceptibility, gullibility, or emotions, he or she is likely to force the child to "feel" these rejected and (to him or her) repulsive emotions, to behave in ways strongly abhorred by the parent, to exhibit character traits the parent strongly rejects in himself or herself.

3. Projection – The child, in a way, becomes the "trash bin", the reflecting mirror of the parents' inhibitions, fears, self-loathing, self-contempt, perceived lack of self-worth, sense of inadequacy, rejected traits, repressed emotions, failures and emotional reticence. They attribute all these unwanted traits and emotions to the child.

Coupled with the parent's treatment of the child as the parent's extension, these psychological defences totally inhibit the psychological growth and emotional maturation of the child. The child becomes a reflection of the parent, a conduit through which the parent experiences and realizes himself or herself for better (hopes, aspirations, ambition, life goals) and for worse (weaknesses, "undesirable" emotions, "negative" traits).

Relationships between such parents and their progeny easily deteriorate to sexual or other modes of abuse because there are no functioning boundaries between them.

It seems that the child's reaction to a narcissistic parent can be either accommodation and assimilation, or rejection.

Accommodation and Assimilation

The child accommodates, idealizes and internalizes (introjects) the narcissistic and abusive Primary Object (parent) successfully. This means that the child's "internal voice" is also narcissistic and abusive. The child tries to comply with its directives and with its explicit and perceived wishes.

The child becomes a masterful provider of Narcissistic Supply, a perfect match to the parent's personality, an ideal source, an accommodating, understanding and caring caterer to all the needs, whims, mood swings and cycles of the narcissist parent. The child learns to endure devaluation and idealization with equanimity and adapt to the narcissist's cultish world view. The child, in short, becomes the ultimate extension. This is what we call an inverted narcissist.

We must not neglect the abusive aspect of such a relationship. The narcissistic parent always alternates between idealization and devaluation of his or her offspring. The child is likely to internalize these devaluing, abusive, critical, demeaning, berating, diminishing, minimizing, upbraiding, chastising voices.

The abusive parent (or caregiver) goes on to survive inside the child-turned-adult (as part of a sadistic and ideal Superego and an fantastic Ego Ideal). These internalized voices are so powerful that they inhibit even the development of reactive narcissism, the child's typical defence mechanism.

The child-turned-adult keeps looking for narcissists in order to feel whole, alive and wanted. He craves to be treated by a narcissist narcissistically. What others call abuse is, to him or her, familiar territory and constitutes Narcissistic Supply. To the inverted narcissist, the classic narcissist is a Source of Supply (Primary or Secondary) and his narcissistic behaviours constitute Narcissistic Supply. The IN feels dissatisfied, empty and unwanted when not "loved" by a narcissist.

The roles of Primary Source of Narcissistic Supply (PSNS) and Secondary Source of Narcissistic Supply (SSNS) are reversed. To the inverted narcissist, her narcissistic spouse is a Source of PRIMARY Narcissistic Supply.

But the child can also reject the narcissistic parent rather than accommodate him or her.

Rejection

The child may react to the narcissism of the Primary Object (parent) with a peculiar type of rejection. He develops his own narcissistic personality, replete with grandiosity and lack of empathy – but his personality is antithetical to that of the narcissistic parent.

If the parent were a somatic narcissist, the child is likely to grow up to be a cerebral one. If his father prided himself on being virtuous, the son turns out sinful. If his narcissistic mother bragged about her frugality, her daughter would tend towards profligacy.

An Attempted DSM-Style List of Criteria

It is possible to compose a DSM-IV-TR-like set of criteria for the inverted narcissist, using the classic narcissist's as a template. The two are, in many ways, flip sides of the same coin, or "the mould and the moulded" – hence the neologisms "mirror narcissist" or "inverted narcissist".

The narcissist tries to merge with an idealized but badly internalized object. He does so by "digesting" the meaningful others in his life and transforming them into extensions of his self. He uses various techniques to achieve this.

The inverted narcissist (IN), on the other hand, does not attempt, except in fantasy or in dangerous, masochistic sexual practice, to merge with an idealized external object. This is because she so successfully internalized the narcissistic Primary Object to exclude everyone else. The IN feels ill at ease in her relationships with non-narcissists because these dalliances are unconsciously perceived by her to constitute "betrayal", "cheating", an abrogation of the exclusivity clause she has with the narcissistic Primary Object.

This is the big difference between classical narcissists and their inverted sisters.

Classic narcissists of all stripes reject the Primary Object in particular (and object relations in general) in favour of a handy substitute: themselves.

Inverted narcissists accept the (narcissist) Primary Object and internalize it to the exclusion of all others (unless they are perceived to be faithful renditions, replicas of the narcissistic Primary Object).

Criterion ONE

Possesses a rigid sense of lack of self-worth.

The classic narcissist has a badly regulated sense of self-worth. However this is not conscious. He goes through cycles of self-devaluation (and experiences them as dysphorias).

The IN's sense of self-worth does not fluctuate. It is rather stable – but it is very low. Whereas the narcissist devalues others – the IN devalues herself as an offering, a sacrifice to the narcissist. The IN pre-empts the narcissist by devaluing herself, by actively berating her own achievements, or talents. The IN is exceedingly distressed when singled out because of actual accomplishments or a demonstration of superior skills.

The inverted narcissist is compelled to filter all of her narcissistic needs through the primary narcissist in her life. Independence or personal autonomy are not permitted. The IN feels amplified by the narcissist's running commentary (because nothing can be accomplished by the IN without the approval of a primary narcissist in her life).

Criterion TWO

Pre-occupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance and beauty or of an ideal love.

This is the same as the DSM-IV-TR criterion for Narcissistic Personality Disorder but, with the IN, it manifests absolutely differently, i.e. the cognitive dissonance is sharper here because the IN is so absolutely and completely convinced of her worthlessness that these fantasies of grandeur are extremely painful "dissonances".

With the classical narcissist, the dissonance exists on two levels:

1. Between the unconscious feeling of lack of stable self-worth and the grandiose fantasies;

2. AND between the grandiose fantasies and reality (the Grandiosity Gap).

In comparison, the inverted narcissist can only vacillate between a sense of lack of self-worth and reality. No grandiosity is permitted, except in dangerous, forbidden fantasy. This shows that the IN is psychologically incapable of fully realizing her inherent potentials without a primary narcissist to filter the praise, adulation or accomplishments through. She must have someone to whom praise can be redirected.

The dissonance between the IN's certainty of self-worthlessness and genuine praise that cannot be deflected is likely to emotionally derail the inverted narcissist every time.

Criterion THREE

Believes that she is absolutely un-unique and un-special (i.e., worthless and not worthy of merger with the fantasized ideal) and that no one at all could understand her because she is innately unworthy of being understood. The IN becomes very agitated the more one tries to understand her because that also offends against her righteous sense of being properly excluded from the human race.

A sense of worthlessness is typical of many other personality disorders (as well as the feeling that no one could ever understand them). The narcissist himself endures prolonged periods of self-devaluation, self-deprecation and self-doubt. This is part of the Narcissistic Cycle.

In this sense, the inverted narcissist is a partial narcissist. She is permanently fixated in a part of the Narcissistic Cycle, never to experience its complementary half: the narcissistic grandiosity and sense of entitlement.

The "righteous sense of being properly excluded" comes from the sadistic Superego in concert with an "overbearing, externally reinforced, conscience".

Criterion FOUR

Demands anonymity (in the sense of seeking to remain excluded at all costs) and is intensely irritated and uncomfortable with any attention being paid to her – similar to the Avoidant or the Schizoid.

Criterion FIVE

Feels that she is undeserving and not entitled.

Feels that she is inferior to others, lacking, insubstantial, unworthy, unlikable, unappealing, unlovable, someone to scorn and dismiss, or to ignore.

Criterion SIX

Is extinguishingly selfless, sacrificial, even unctuous in her interpersonal relationships and avoids the assistance of others at all costs. Can only interact with others when she can be seen to be giving, supportive, and expending an unusual effort to assist.

Some narcissists behave the same way but only as a means to obtain Narcissistic Supply (praise, adulation, affirmation, attention). This must not be confused with the behaviour of the IN.

Criterion SEVEN

Lacks empathy. Is intensely attuned to others' needs, but only in so far as it relates to her own need to perform the required self-sacrifice, which in turn is necessary in order for the IN to obtain her Narcissistic Supply from the primary narcissist.

By contrast, narcissists are never empathic. They are intermittently attuned to others only in order to optimise the extraction of Narcissistic Supply from them.

Criterion EIGHT

Envies others. Cannot conceive of being envied and becomes extremely agitated and uncomfortable if even brought into a situation where comparison might occur. Loathes and avoids competition at all costs, if there is any chance of actually winning it, or being singled out.

Criterion NINE

Displays extreme shyness, lack of any real relational connections, is publicly self-effacing in the extreme, is internally highly moralistic and critical of others; is a perfectionist and engages in lengthy ritualistic behaviours, which can never be perfectly performed (is obsessive-compulsive, though not necessarily to the full extent exhibited in Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder). Notions of being individualistic are anathema.

The Reactive Patterns of the Inverted Narcissist

The inverted narcissist does not suffer from a "milder" form of narcissism. Like the "classic" narcissists, inverted narcissism has degrees and shades. But it is much rarer and the DSM-IV-TR classical variety is the more prevalent.

The inverted narcissist is liable to react with rage whenever threatened, or…

…When envious of other people's achievements, their ability to feel wholeness, happiness, to accept rewards and successes; when her sense of self-worthlessness is diminished by a behaviour, a comment, an event, when her lack of self-worth and voided self-esteem is threatened. Thus, this type of narcissist might surprisingly react violently or wrathfully to GOOD things: a kind remark, a mission accomplished, a reward, a compliment, a proposition, or a sexual advance.

…When thinking about the past, when emotions and memories are evoked (usually negative ones) by certain music, a given smell, or sight.

…When her pathological envy leads to an all-pervasive sense of injustice and being discriminated against or deprived by a spiteful world.

…When she believes that she failed (and she always entertains this belief), that she is imperfect and useless and worthless, a good for nothing half-baked creature.

…When she realizes to what extent her inner demons possess her, constrain her life, torment her, and deform her and the hopelessness of it all.

When the inverted narcissist rages, she becomes verbally and emotionally abusive. She uncannily spots and attacks the vulnerabilities of her target, and mercilessly drives home the poisoned dagger of despair and self-loathing until it infects her adversary.

The calm after such a storm is even eerier, a thundering silence. The inverted narcissist regrets her behaviour and admits her feelings while apologizing profusely.

The inverted narcissist nurtures her negative emotions as yet another weapon of self-destruction and self-defeat. It is from this repressed self-contempt and sadistic self-judgement that the narcissistic rage springs forth.

One important difference between inverted narcissists and non-narcissists is that the former are less likely to react with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) following the break-up of their relationships with their narcissists. They seem to be "desensitized" to the narcissist's unpredictable ways by their early upbringing.

Whereas the reactions of normal people to narcissistic behaviour patterns (and especially to the splitting and Projective Identification defence mechanisms and to the idealization devaluation cycles) is shock, profound hurt and disorientation – inverted narcissists show none of the above.

The Life of the Inverted Narcissist

The IN is, usually, exceedingly and painfully shy as a child. Despite this Social Phobia, her grandiosity (absorbed from the parent) might direct her to seek "limelight" professions and occupations, which involve exposure, competition, "stage fright" and social friction.

The setting can vary from the limited (family) to the expansive (national media) – but, whatever it is, the result is constant conflict and feelings of discomfort, even terror and extreme excitement and thrill ("adrenaline rush"). This is because the IN's grandiosity is "imported" and not fully integrated. It is, therefore, not supportive of her "grandiose" pursuits (as is the case with the classical narcissist). On the contrary, the IN feels awkward, pitted on the edge of a precipice, contrived, and deceitful.

The inverted narcissist grows up in a stifling environment, whether it is an orthodox, hyper-religious, collectivist, or traditionalist culture, a monovalent, "black and white", doctrinarian and indoctrinating society – or a family which manifests all the above in a microcosm.

The inverted narcissist is cast in a negative (emergent) role within her family. Her "negativity" is attributed to her gender, the order of her birth, religious, social, or cultural dictates and commandments, her "character flaws", her relation to a specific person or event, her acts or inaction and so on.

In the words of one such IN:

"In the religious culture I grew up in, women are SO suppressed, their roles are so carefully restricted. They are the representation, in the flesh, of all that is sinful, degrading, of all that is wrong with the world.

These are the negative gender/cultural images that were force fed to us the negative 'otherness' of women, as defined by men, was fed to me. I was so shy, withdrawn, unable to really relate to people at all from as early as I can remember."

The IN is subjected and exposed either to an overbearing, overvalued parent, or to an aloof, detached, emotionally unavailable one – or to both – at an early stage of her life:

"I grew up in the shadow of my father who adored me, put me on a pedestal, told me I could do or be anything I wanted because I was incredibly bright, BUT, he ate me alive, I was his property and an extension of him.

I also grew up with the mounting hatred of my narcissist brother who got none of this attention from our father and got no attention from our mother either. My function was to make my father look wonderful in the eyes of all outsiders, the wonderful parent with a genius Wunderkind as his last child, and the only child of the six that he was physically present to raise from the get go.

The overvaluation combined with being abjectly ignored or raged at by him when I stepped out of line even the tiniest bit, was enough to warp my personality."

The IN is prevented from developing full-blown secondary narcissism. The IN is so heavily preoccupied in her pre-school years with satisfying the narcissistic parent, that the traits of grandiosity and self-love, even the need for Narcissistic Supply, remain dormant or repressed.

The IN simply "knows" that only the narcissistic parent can provide the requisite amount of Narcissistic Supply. The narcissistic parent is so controlling that any attempt to garner praise or adulation from any other source (without the approval of the parent) is severely punished by swift devaluation and even the occasional spanking or abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual).

This is a vital part of the conditioning that gives rise to inverted narcissism. Where the classical narcissist exhibits grandiosity, the IN is intensely uncomfortable with personal praise, and always wishes to divert praise away from herself onto her narcissist. This is why the IN can only truly feel anything when she is in a relationship with another narcissist. The IN is conditioned and programmed from the very beginning to be the perfect companion to the narcissist: to feed his Ego, to be purely his extension, to seek only praise and adulation if it brings greater praise and adulation to her narcissist.

The Inverted Narcissist's Survival Guide

• Listen attentively to everything the narcissist says and agree with it all. Don't believe a word of it but let it slide as if everything is just fine, business as usual.

• Offer something absolutely unique to the narcissist which they cannot obtain anywhere else. Also be prepared to line up future Sources of Primary NS for your narcissist because you will not be IT for very long, if at all. If you take over the procuring function for the narcissist, they become that much more dependent on you which makes it a bit tougher for them to pull their haughty stuff – an inevitability, in any case.

• Be endlessly patient and go way out of your way to be accommodating, thus keeping the Narcissistic Supply flowing liberally, and keeping the peace (relatively speaking).

• Get tremendous personal satisfaction out of endlessly giving. This one may not be attractive to you, but it is a take it or leave it proposition.

• Be absolutely emotionally and financially independent of the narcissist. Take what you need: the excitement and engulfment (i.e., NS) and refuse to get upset or hurt when the narcissist does or says something dumb. Yelling back works really well but should be reserved for special occasions when you fear your narcissist may be on the verge of leaving you; the silent treatment is better as an ordinary response, but it must be devoid of emotional content, more with the air of boredom and "I'll talk to you later, when I am good and ready, and when you are behaving in a more reasonable fashion."

• If your narcissist is cerebral and not interested in having much sex, give yourself ample permission to have sex with other people. Your cerebral narcissist is not indifferent to infidelity, so discretion and secrecy is of paramount importance.

• If your narcissist is somatic and you don't mind, join in on group sex encounters but make sure that you choose properly for your narcissist. They are heedless and very undiscriminating in respect of sexual partners and that can get very problematic.

• If you are a "fixer", which most inverted narcissists are, focus on fixing situations, preferably before they become "situations". Don't for one moment delude yourself that you can actually fix the narcissist – it simply will not happen. Not because they are being stubborn – they just simply can't be fixed.

• If there is any fixing that can be done, it is to help your narcissist become aware of their condition, and (this is very important) with no negative implications or accusations in the process at all. It is like living with a physically handicapped person and being able to discuss, calmly, unemotionally, what the limitations and benefits of the handicap are and how the two of you can work with these factors, rather than trying to change them.

• Finally, and most important of all for the inverted narcissist: get to know yourself. What are you getting from the relationship? Are you actually a masochist? Why is this relationship attractive and interesting?

Define for yourself what good and beneficial things you believe you are receiving in this relationship. Define the things that you find harmful to you. Develop strategies to minimize the harm to yourself.

Don't expect that you will cognitively be able to reason with the narcissist to change who he is. You may have some limited success in getting your narcissist to tone down on the really harmful behaviours that affect you, which emanate from the unchangeable essence of the narcissist. This can only be accomplished in a very trusting, frank and open relationship.

The inverted narcissist can have a reasonably good, long lasting relationship with the narcissist. You must be prepared to give your narcissist a lot of space and leeway.

You don't really exist for him as a fully realized person – no one does. They are not fully realized people so they cannot possibly have the skills, no matter how smart or sexy, to be a complete person in the sense that most adults are complete.

Somatic versus Cerebral Inverted Narcissists

The inverted narcissist is really an erstwhile narcissist internalized by the IN. Inevitably, we are likely to find among the inverted the same propensities, predilections, preferences and inclinations that we do among proper narcissists.

The cerebral IN is an IN whose Source of vicarious Primary Narcissistic Supply lies – through the medium and mediation of a narcissist – in the exercise of his intellectual faculties. A somatic IN would tend to make use of her body, sex, shape or health in trying to secure NS for "her" narcissist.

The inverted narcissist feeds on the primary narcissist and this is her Narcissistic Supply. So these two typologies can essentially become a self-supporting, symbiotic system.

In reality though, both the narcissist and the inverted narcissist need to be quite well aware of the dynamics of this relationship in order to make it work as a successful long-term arrangement. It might well be that this symbiosis would only work between a cerebral narcissist and a cerebral invert. The somatic narcissist's incessant sexual dalliances would be far too threatening to the equanimity of the cerebral invert for there to be much chance of this succeeding, even for a short time.

It would seem that only opposing types of narcissist can get along when two classic narcissists are involved in a couple. It follows, syllogistically, that only identical types of narcissist and inverted narcissist can survive in a couple. In other words: the best, most enduring couples of narcissist and his inverted narcissist mate would involve a somatic narcissist and a somatic IN – or a cerebral narcissist and a cerebral IN.

Coping with Narcissists and Non-Narcissists

The inverted narcissist is a person who grew up enthralled by the narcissistic parent. This parent engulfed and subsumed the child's being to such an extent that the child's personality was irrevocably shaped by this immersion, damaged beyond hope of repair. The child was not even able to develop defence mechanisms such as narcissism to cope with the abusive parent.

The end result is an inverted narcissistic personality. The traits of this personality are primarily evident in the context of romantic relationships. The child was conditioned by the narcissistic parent to only be entitled to feel whole, useful, happy, and productive when the child augmented or mirrored to the parent the parent's False Self. As a result the child is shaped by this engulfment and cannot feel complete in any significant adult relationship unless they are with narcissists.

The Inverted Narcissist in Relationship with the Narcissist

The inverted narcissist is drawn to significant relationships with other narcissists in her adulthood. These relationships are usually spousal primary relationships but can also be friendships with narcissists outside of the primary love relationship.

In a primary relationship, the inverted narcissist attempts to re-create the parent-child relationship. The IN thrives on mirroring to the narcissist his grandiose fantasies and in so doing the IN obtains her own Narcissistic Supply (which is the dependence of the narcissist upon the IN for his Secondary Narcissistic Supply).

The IN must have this form of relationship with a narcissist in order to feel whole. The IN goes as far as needed to ensure that the narcissist is happy, cared for, properly adored, as she feels is the narcissist's right. The IN glorifies and lionizes her narcissist, places him on a pedestal, endures any and all narcissistic devaluation with calm equanimity, impervious to the overt slights of the narcissist.

Narcissistic rage is handled deftly by the inverted narcissist. The IN is exceedingly adept at managing every aspect of her life, tightly controlling all situations, so as to minimize the potential for the inevitable narcissistic rages of her narcissist.

The IN wishes to be subsumed by the narcissist. The IN only feels truly loved and alive in this kind of relationship. The IN is loath to abandon her relationships with narcissists. The relationship only ends when the narcissist withdraws completely from the symbiosis. Once the narcissist has determined that the IN is of no further use, and withholds all Narcissistic Supply from the IN, only then does the IN reluctantly move on to another relationship.

The IN is most likely to equate sexual intimacy with engulfment. This can be easily misread to mean that the IN is herself a somatic narcissist, but it would be incorrect. The IN can endure years of minimal sexual contact with her narcissist and still be able to maintain the self-delusion of intimacy and engulfment. The IN finds a myriad of other ways to "merge" with the narcissist, becoming intimately, though only in support roles, involved with the narcissist's business, career, or any other activity where the IN can feel that they are needed by the narcissist and are indispensable.

The IN is an expert at doling out Narcissistic Supply and even goes as far as procuring Primary Narcissistic Supply for their narcissist (even where this means finding another lover for the narcissist, or participating in group sex with the narcissist).

Usually though, the IN seems most attracted to the cerebral narcissist and finds him easier to manage than the somatic narcissist. The cerebral narcissist is uninterested in sex and this makes life considerably easier for the IN, i.e., the IN is less likely to "lose" her cerebral narcissist to another primary partner. A somatic narcissist may be prone to changing partners with greater frequency or wish to have no partner, preferring to have multiple, casual sexual relationships of no apparent depth which never last very long.

The IN regards relationships with narcissists as the only true and legitimate form of primary relationship. The IN is capable of having primary relationships with non-narcissists. But without the engulfment and the drama, the IN feels unneeded, unwanted and emotionally uninvolved.

When Can a Classic Narcissist Become an Inverted Narcissist?

A classic narcissist can become an inverted narcissist in one (or more) of the following (typically cumulative) circumstances:

1. Immediately following a life crisis and a narcissistic injury (divorce, devastating financial loss, death of a parent, or a child, imprisonment, loss of social status and, in general, any other narcissistic injury); or

2. When the injured narcissist then meets another classic narcissist who restores a sense of meaning and superiority (uniqueness) to his life. The injured narcissist derives Narcissistic Supply vicariously, by proxy, through the "dominant" narcissist.

3. As part of an effort to secure a particularly desired Source of Narcissistic Supply. The conversion from classic to inverted narcissism serves to foster an attachment (bonding) between the narcissist and his source. When the narcissist judges that the source is his and can be taken for granted, he reverts to his former, classically narcissistic self.

Such a "conversion" is always temporary. It does not last and the narcissist reverts to his "default" or dominant state.

When Can an Inverted Narcissist Become a Classic Narcissist?

The inverted narcissist can become a classic narcissist in one (or more) of the following (typically cumulative) circumstances:

1. Immediately following a life crisis that involves the incapacitation or dysfunction of the inverted narcissist's partner (sickness, accident, demotion, divorce, devastating financial loss, death of a parent, or a child, imprisonment, loss of social status and, in general, any other narcissistic injury); or

2. When the inverted narcissist, injured and disillusioned, then meets another inverted narcissist who restores a sense of meaning and superiority (uniqueness) to her life. The injured narcissist derives Narcissistic Supply from the inverted narcissist.

3. As part of an effort to secure a particularly desired Source of Narcissistic Supply. The conversion from inverted to classic narcissism serves to foster an attachment (bonding) between the narcissist and her source. When the narcissist judges that the source is hers and can be taken for granted, she reverts to her former, inverted narcissistic self.

Such a "conversion" is always temporary. It does not last and the narcissist reverts to her "default" or dominant state.

Relationships between the Inverted Narcissist and Non-Narcissists

The inverted narcissist can maintain relationships outside of the symbiotic primary relationship with a narcissist. But the IN does not "feel" loved because she finds the non-narcissist not "engulfing" or not "exciting". Thus, the IN tends to devalue her non-narcissistic primary partner as less worthy of the IN's love and attention.

The IN may be able to sustain a relationship with a non-narcissist by finding other narcissistic symbiotic relationships outside of this primary relationship. The IN may, for instance, have a narcissistic friend or lover, to whom she pays extraordinary attention, ignoring the real needs of the non-narcissistic partner.

Consequently, the only semi-stable primary relationship between the IN and the non-narcissist occurs where the non-narcissist is very easy going, emotionally secure and not needing much from the IN at all by way of time, energy or commitment to activities requiring the involvement of both parties. In a relationship with this kind of non-narcissist, the IN may become a workaholic or very involved in outside activities that exclude the non-narcissist spouse.

It appears that the inverted narcissist in a relationship with a non-narcissist is behaviourally indistinguishable from a true narcissist. The only important exception is that the IN does not rage at his non-narcissist partner – she instead withdraws from the relationship even further. This passive-aggressive reaction has been noted, though, with narcissists as well.

 

Inverted and Other Atypical / Partial (NOS) Narcissists

Inverted Narcissists Talk about Themselves

Competition and (Pathological) Envy

"I have a dynamic that comes up with every single person I get close to, where I feel extremely competitive toward and envious of the other person. But I don't ACT competitive, because at the very outset, I see myself as the loser in the competition. I would never dream of trying to beat the other person, because I know deep in my heart that they would win and I would be utterly humiliated. There are fewer things on earth that feel worse to me than losing a contest and having the other person gloat over me, especially if they know how much I cared about not losing. This is one thing that I actually feel violent about. I guess I tend to project the grandiosity part of the NPD package onto the other person rather than on a False Ego of my own. So most of the time I'm stuck in a state of deep resentment and envy toward her. To me, she's always far more intelligent, likable, popular, talented, self-confident, emotionally developed, morally good, and attractive than I am. And I really hate her for that, and feel humiliated by it. So it's incredibly hard for me to feel happy for this person when she has a success, because I'm overcome with humiliation about myself. This has ruined many a close relationship. I tend to get this way about one person at a time, usually the person who is playing the role of 'my better half', best friends or lovers/partners. So it's not like I'm unable to be happy for anyone, ever, or that I envy every person I meet. I don't get obsessed with how rich or beautiful movie stars are or anything like that. It only gets projected onto this partner-person, the person I'm depending on the most in terms of supplies (attention, reassurance, security, building up my self-esteem, etc.)…

…The really destructive thing that happens is, I see her grandiose traits as giving her the power to have anything and anyone she wants. So I feel a basic insecurity, because why should she stay with a loser like me, when she's obviously so out of my league? So really, what I'm envious of is the power that all that talent, social ability, beauty, etc., gives her to have CHOICES – the choice to stay or leave me. Whereas I am utterly dependent on her. It's this emotional inequality that I find so humiliating."

"I agree with the inverted narcissist designation – sometimes I've called myself a 'closet narcissist'. That is, I've internalized the value system of grandiosity, but have not applied the grandiose identity to myself.

I believe I SHOULD BE those grandiose things, but at the same time, I know I'm not and I'm miserable about it. So people don't think of me as having an inflated Ego – and indeed I don't – but scratch the surface, and you'll find all these inflated expectations. I mean to say that perhaps the parents suppressed every manifestation of grandiosity (very common in early childhood) and of narcissism – so that the defence mechanism that narcissism is was 'inverted' and internalized in this unusual form."

"Maybe there aren't two discrete states (NPD vs. 'regular' low self-esteem) – maybe it's more of a continuum. And maybe it's just the degree and depth of the problem that distinguishes one from the other.

My therapist describes NPD as 'the inability to love oneself'. As she defines it, the 'narcissistic wound' is a deep wounding of the sense of self, the image of oneself. That doesn't mean that other disorders – or for that matter, other life stressors – can't also cause low self-esteem. But I think NPD IS low self-esteem…

That's what the disorder is really about – an image of yourself that is profoundly negative, and the inability to attain a normal and healthy self-image…"

"Yes, I'm a survivor of child abuse. But remember that not all abuse is alike. There are different kinds of abuse, and different effects. My XXX's style of abuse had to do with trying to annihilate me as a separate person. It also had to do with the need to put all his negative self-image onto me – to see in me what he hated in himself. So I got to play the role of the loser that he secretly feared he was. I was flipped back and forth in those roles – sometimes I'd be a Source of NS for him, and other times I was the receptacle of all his pain and rage. Sometimes my successes were used to reflect back on him, to show off to the rest of the family. Other times, my successes were threatening to my father, who suddenly feared that I was superior to him and had to be squelched.

I experience emotions that most people I know don't feel. Or maybe they do feel them, but to far less extreme intensity. For example, the envy and comparison/competition I feel toward others. I guess most of us have experienced rivalry, jealousy, being compared to others. Most of us have felt envy at another's success. Yet most people I know seem able to overcome those feelings to some extent, to be able to function normally. In a competition, for example, they may be driven to do their best so they can win. For me, the fear of losing and being humiliated is so intense that I avoid competition completely. I am terrified of showing people that I care about doing well, because it's so shaming for me if I lose. So I underachieve and pretend I don't care. Most people I know may envy another person's good luck or success, but it doesn't prevent them from also being happy for them and supporting them. But for me, when I'm in a competitive dynamic with someone, I can't hear about any of their successes, or compliments they've received, etc. I don't even like to see the person doing good things, like bringing Thanksgiving leftovers to the sick old guy next door, because those things make me feel inferior for not thinking of doing that myself (and not having anyone in my life that I'd do that for). It's just so incredibly painful for me to see evidence of the other person's good qualities, because it immediately brings up my feeling of inferiority. I can't even stand to date someone, who looks really good, because I'm jealous of their good looks! So this deep and obsessive envy has destroyed my joy in other people. All the things about other people that I love and take pleasure in is a double-edged sword because I also hate them for it, for having those good qualities (while, presumably, I don't).

I don't know – do you think this is garden-variety low self-esteem? I know plenty of people who suffer from lack of confidence, from timidity, social awkwardness, hatred of their body, feeling unlovable, etc. But they don't have this kind of hostile, corrosive resentment of another person for being all the wonderful things that they can't be, or aren't allowed to be, etc. And one thing I hate is when people are judgemental of me about how I feel, as though I can help it. It's like, 'You shouldn't be so selfish, you should feel happy for her that she's successful', etc. They don't understand that I would love to feel those things, but I can't. I can't stop the incredible pain that explodes in me when these feelings get triggered, and I often can't even HIDE the feelings. It's just so overwhelming. I feel so damaged sometimes. There's more, but that's the crux of it for me, anyway."

Getting Compliments

"I love getting compliments and rewards, and do not react negatively to them. In some moods, when my self-hate has gotten triggered, I can sometimes get to places where I'm inconsolable, because I get stuck in bitterness and self-pity, and so I doubt the sincerity or the reliability of the good thing that someone is saying to me (to try to cheer me up or whatever). But, if I'm in a reasonable mood and someone offers me something good, I'm all too happy to accept it! I don't have a stake in staying miserable."

The Partiality of the Condition

"I do agree that it's (atypical or inverted narcissism) not MILDER. But how I see it is that it's PARTIAL. The part that's there is just as destructive as it is in the typical narcissist. But there are parts missing from that total, full-blown disorder – and I see that as healthy, actually. I see it as parts of myself that WEREN'T infected by the pathology, that are still intact.

In my case, I did not develop the overweening Ego part of the disorder. So in a sense, what you have with me is the naked pathology, with no covering: no suaveness, no charm, no charisma, no confidence, no persuasiveness, but also no excuses, no lies, no justifications for my feelings. Just the ugly self-hate, for all to see. And the self-hate part is just as bad as it is with a full-blown narcissist, so again, it's not milder.

But because I don't have the denial part of the disorder, I have a lot more insight, a lot more motivation to do something about my problems (i.e., I 'self-refer' to therapy), and therefore, I think, a lot more hope of getting better than people whose defence involves totally denying they even have a problem."

"When my full-blown XXX's pathological envy would get triggered, he would respond by putting down the person he was envious of – or by putting down the accomplishment itself, or whatever good stuff the other person had. He'd trivialize it, or outright contradict it, or find some way to convince the other person (often me) that the thing they're feeling good about isn't real, or isn't worthwhile, or is somehow bad, etc. He could do this because the inflated ego defence was fully formed and operating with him.

When MY pathological envy gets triggered, I will be bluntly honest about it. I'll say something self-pitying, such as: 'You always get the good stuff, and I get nothing'; 'You're so much better than I'; 'People like you better – you have good social skills and I'm a jerk'; and so on. Or I might even get hostile and sarcastic: 'Well, it must be nice to have so many people worshipping you, isn't it?' I don't try to convince myself that the other person's success isn't real or worthwhile, etc. Instead, I'm totally flooded with the pain of feeling utterly inferior and worthless – and there's no way for me to convince myself or anyone else otherwise. I'm not saying that the things I say are pleasant to hear – and it is still manipulative of me to say them, because the other person's attention is drawn away from their joy and onto my pain and hostility. And instead of doubting their success's worth or reality, they feel guilty about it, or about talking about it, because it hurts me so much. So from the other person's point of view, maybe it's not any easier to live with a partial narcissist than with a full-blown, in that their joys and successes lead to pain in both cases. It's certainly not easier for me, being flooded with rage and pain instead of being able to hide behind a delusion of grandeur. But from my therapist's point of view, I'm much better off because I know I'm unhappy – it's in my face all the time. So I'm motivated to work on it and change it. And time has borne her words out.

Over the past several years that I've worked on this issue, I have changed a great deal in how I deal with it. Now when the envy gets triggered, I don't feel so entwined with the other person – I recognize that it's my OWN pain getting triggered, not something they are doing to me. And so I can acknowledge the pain in a more responsible way, taking ownership of it by saying, 'The jealousy feelings are getting triggered again, and I'm feeling worthless and inferior. Can you reassure me that I'm not?' That's a lot better than making some snide, hostile, or self-pitying comment that puts the other person on the defensive or makes them feel guilty… I do prefer the term 'partial' because that's what it feels like to me. It's like a building that's partially built – the house of narcissism. For me, the structure is there, but not the outside, so you can see inside the skeleton to all the junk that's inside. It's the same junk that's inside a full-blown narcissist, but their building is completed, so you can't see inside. Their building is a fortress, and it's almost impossible to bring it down. My defences aren't as strong … which makes my life more difficult in some ways because I REALLY feel my pain. But it also means that the house can be brought down more easily, and the junk inside cleaned out…"

Thinking about the Past and the World

"I don't usually get rageful about the past. I feel sort of emotionally cut-off from the past, actually. I remember events very clearly, but usually can't remember the feelings. When I do remember the feelings, my reaction is usually one of sadness, and sometimes of relief that I can get back in touch with my past. But not rage. All my rage seems to get displaced on the current people in my life."

"…When I see someone being really socially awkward and geeky, passive-aggressive, indirect and victim-like, it does trigger anger in me because I identify with that person and I don't want to. I try to put my negative feelings onto them, to see that person as the jerk, not me – that's what a narcissist does, after all. But for me it doesn't completely work because I know, consciously, what I'm trying to do. And ultimately, I'm not kidding anyone, least of all myself."

Self-Pity and Depression

"More self-pity and depression here – not so much rage. One of the things that triggers my rage more than anything else is the inability to control another person, the inability to dominate them and force my reality on them. I feel impotent, humiliated, forced back on my empty self. Part of what I'm feeling here is envy: that person who can't be controlled clearly has a self and I don't, and I just hate them for it. But it's also a power struggle – I want to get Narcissistic Supply by being in control and on top and having the other person submissive and compliant…"

Regretting, Admitting Mistakes

"I regret my behaviour horribly, and I DO admit my feelings. I am also able, in the aftermath, to have empathy for the feelings of the person I've hurt, and I'm horribly sad about it, and ashamed of myself. It's as though I'd been possessed by a demon, acted out all this abusive horrible stuff, and then, after the departure of the demon, I'm back in my right mind and it's like, 'What have I DONE???' I don't mean I'm not responsible for what I did (i.e., a demon made me do it). But when I'm triggered, I have no empathy – I can only see my projection onto that person, as a huge threat to me, someone who must be demolished. But when my head clears, I see that person's pain, hurt, fear – and I feel terrible. I want to make it up to them. And that feeling is totally sincere – it's not an act. I'm genuinely sorry for the pain I've caused the other person."

Rage

"I wouldn't say that my rage comes from repressed self-contempt (mine is not repressed – I'm totally aware of it). And it's not missing atonement either, since I do atone. The rage comes from feeling humiliated, from feeling that the other person has somehow sadistically and gleefully made me feel inferior, that they're getting off on being superior, that they're mocking me and ridiculing me, that they have scorn and contempt for me and find it all very amusing. That – whether real or imagined (usually imagined) – is what causes my rage."

Pursuing Relationships with Narcissists

"There are some very few of us who actually seek out relationships with narcissists. We do this with the full knowledge that we are not wanted, despised even. We persist and pursue no matter the consequences, no matter the cost.

I am an 'inverted narcissist'. It is because as a child I was 'imprinted/fixated' with a particular pattern involving relationships. I was engulfed so completely by my father's personality and repressed so severely by various other factors in my childhood that I simply didn't develop a recognisable personality. I existed purely as an extension of my father. I was his genius Wunderkind. He ignored my mother and poured all his energy and effort into me. I did not develop full-blown secondary narcissism… I developed into the perfect 'other half' of the narcissists moulding me. I became the perfect, eager co-dependent. And this is an imprint, a pattern in my psyche, a way of (not) relating to the world of relationships by only being able to truly relate to one person (my father) and then one kind of person – the narcissist.

He is my perfect lover, my perfect mate, a fit that is so slick and smooth, so comfortable and effortless, so filled with meaning and actual feelings – that's the other thing. I cannot feel on my own. I am incomplete. I can only feel when I am engulfed by another (first it was my father) and now – well now it has to be a narcissist. Not just any narcissist either. He must be exceedingly smart, good looking, have adequate reproductive equipment and some knowledge on how to use it and that's about it.

When I am engulfed by someone like this I feel completed, I can actually FEEL. I am whole again. I function as a sibyl, an oracle, an extension of the narcissist. His fiercest protector, his purveyor/procurer of NS, the secretary, organizer, manager, etc. I think you get the picture and this gives me INTENSE PLEASURE.

So the answer to your question: 'Why would anyone want to be with someone who doesn't want them back?' The short answer is, 'Because there is no one else remotely worth looking at.'"

Making Amends

"I mostly apologize, and I give the person space to talk about what hurt them so that (1) they get to express their anger or hurt to me, and (2) I can understand better and know better how not to hurt them (if I can avoid it) the next time there's a conflict. Sometimes the hurt I cause is unintentional – maybe I've been insensitive or forgetful or something, in which case I feel more certain that I can avoid repeating the hurtful behaviour, since I didn't want to hurt them in the first place. If the hurt I caused has to do with my getting my trigger pulled and going into a rage, then that hurt was quite deliberate, although at the time I was unable to experience the other person as vulnerable or capable of being hurt by me. And I do realize that if that trigger is pulled again, it might happen again. But I also hope that there'll be a LITTLE TINY window where the memory of the conversation will come back to me while I'm in my rage, and I'll remember that the person really IS vulnerable. I hope that by hearing over and over that the person actually does feel hurt by what I say while in rages, that I might remember that when I am triggered and raging. So, mostly I apologize and try to communicate with the other person. I don't verbally self-flagellate, because that's manipulative. Not to say I never do that – in fact I've had a dynamic with people where I verbally put myself down and try to engage the other person into arguing me out of it.

But if I'm in the middle of apologizing to the other person for hurting them, then I feel like this is their moment, and I don't want to turn the focus toward getting them to try to make me feel better. I will talk about myself, but only in an attempt to communicate, so that we can understand each other better. I might say, 'I got triggered about such-and-such, and you seemed so invulnerable that it enraged me', etc. – and the other person might react with, 'But I was feeling vulnerable, I just couldn't show it', etc. – and we'll go back and forth like that. So it's not like I don't think my feelings count, and I do want the other person to UNDERSTAND my feelings, but I don't want to put the other person in the role of taking care of my feelings in that moment, because they have just been hurt by me and I'm trying to make it up to them, not squeeze more stuff OUT of them…"

"So when I've been a real jerk to someone, I want them to feel like it's OK to be pissed off at me, and I want them to know that I am interested in and focused on how they feel, not just on how I feel. As for gifts – I used to do that, but eventually I came to feel that that was manipulative, too, that it muddled things because then the other person would feel like they couldn't be angry anymore, since after all, I've just brought them this nice gift. I also feel that in general, gift-giving is a sweet and tender thing to do, and I don't want to sully that tenderness by associating it with the hurt that comes from abusive behaviour."

Why Narcissists?

"I am BUILT this way. I may have overstated it by saying that I have 'no choice' because, in fact I do.

The choice is – live in an emotionally deadened monochrome world where I can reasonably interact with normal people OR I can choose to be with a narcissist in which case my world is Technicolor, emotionally satisfying, alive and wondrous (also can be turbulent and a real roller coaster ride for the unprepared, not to mention incredibly damaging for people who are not inverted narcissists and who fall into relationships with narcissists). As I have walked on both sides of the street, and because I have developed coping mechanisms that protect me really quite well, I can reasonably safely engage in a primary, intimate relationship with a narcissist without getting hurt by it.

The real WHY of it all is that I learned, as a young child, that being 'eaten alive' by a narcissist parent, to the point where your existence is but an extension of his own, was how all relationships ought to work. It is a psychological imprint – my 'love map', it is what feels right to me intrinsically. A pattern of living – I don't know how else to describe it so you and others will understand how very natural and normal this is for me. It is not the torturous existence that most of the survivors of narcissism are recounting on this list.

My experiences with narcissists, to me, ARE NORMAL for me. Comfortable like an old pair of slippers that fit perfectly. I don't expect many people to attempt to do this, to 'make themselves into' this kind of person. I don't think anyone could, if they tried.

It is my need to be engulfed and merged that drives me to these relationships and when I get those needs met I feel more normal, better about myself. I am the outer extension of the narcissist. In many ways I am a vanguard, a public two-way warning system, fiercely defending my narcissist from harm, and fiercely loyal to him, catering to his every need in order to protect his fragile existence. These are the dynamics of my particular version of engulfment. I don't need anyone to take care of me. I need only to be needed in this very particular way, by a narcissist who inevitably possesses the ability to engulf in a way that normal, fully realized adults cannot. It is somewhat paradoxical – I feel freer and more independent with a narcissist than without one. I achieve more in my life when I am in this form of relationship. I try harder, work harder, am more creative, think better of myself, excel in most every aspect of my life."

"…I go ahead and cater to him and pretend that his words don't hurt, and later, I engage in an internal fight with myself for being so damned submissive. It's a constant battle and I can't seem to decide which voice in my head I should listen to… I feel like a fool, yet, I would rather be a fool with him than a lonely, well-rounded woman without him. I've often said that the only way that we can stay together is because we feed off of each other. I give him everything he needs and he takes it. Seeing him happy and pleased is what gives me pleasure. I feel very successful then."

Partial NPD

"I do think it's uncommon for girls to develop these patterns, as they are usually trained to be self-effacing. I certainly was! However, I have a lot of the very same underlying patterns that full-blown, obnoxiously egotistical NP's have, but I am not egotistical because I didn't develop the pattern of inflated Ego and grandiosity. All the rest of it is there, though: fragile Ego, lack of a centre or self, super-sensitive to criticism and rejections, pathological, obsessive envy, comparisons and competitive attitudes toward others, a belief that everyone in the world is either superior or inferior to me, and so on.

Sometimes I kind of wish I had developed the inflated Ego of a complete NP, because then I would at least be able to hide from all the pain I feel.

But at the same time, I'm glad I didn't, because those people have a much lower chance of recovery – how can they recover if they don't acknowledge anything is wrong? Whereas it's pretty clear to me I have problems, and I've spent my life working on them and trying to change myself and heal."

Narcissist-Non Narcissist

And Narcissist-Inverted Narcissist Couples

"Can a N and a non-N ever maintain a long lasting marriage? It would seem that a non-N would have too much self-esteem to lend himself to a lifetime of catering and pandering to an N's unending need for unearned adoration and glory. I, as a non-N… got tired of these people and their unremitting attempts to drain my psyche within a relatively short period of time and abandoned them as soon as I realized what I was dealing with to preserve my own sanity."

"It depends on the non-narcissist, really. Narcissism is a RIGID, systemic pattern of responses. It is so all-pervasive and all-encompassing that it is a PERSONALITY disorder. If the non-narcissist is co-dependent, for instance, then the narcissist is a perfect match for him and the union will last…"

"You have to pimp for the narcissist, intellectually, and sexually. If your narcissist is somatic, you are much better off lining up the sex partners than leaving it to him. Intellectual pimping is more varied. You can think of wonderful things and then subtly string out the idea, in the most delicate of packages and watch the narcissist cogitate their way to 'their' brilliant discovery whilst you bask in the glow of their perfection and success… The point of this entire exercise is to assure YOUR supply, which is the narcissist himself, not to punish yourself by giving away a great idea or abase yourself because, of course, YOU are not worthy of having such a great idea on your own – but who knows, it may seem that way to the inverted narcissist. It really depends on how self-aware the inverted is."

"The only rejection you need to fear is the possibility of losing the narcissist and if one is doing everything else right, this is very unlikely to happen! So by 'emotionally independent' I am talking about being self-assured, doing your own thing, having a life, feeling strong and good about yourself, getting emotional sustenance from other people. I mean, let's face it, a drug is a drug is a habit. Habits just are, and what they ARE NOT are the be all and end all of love, commitment and serene symmetrical, balanced emotional perfection that is the ideal of the romanticized 'love-for-a-lifetime' all-American relationship dream."

"(I am) terribly turned on by narcissists. The most exciting moments of my life in every venue have been with narcissists. It is as if living and loving with normal people is a grey thing by comparison, not fuelled by sufficient adrenaline. I feel like a junkie, now, that I no longer permit myself the giddy pleasure of the RUSH I used to know when I was deeply and hopelessly involved with an N. I am like a lotus-eater. And I always felt guilty about this and also sorry that I ever succumbed that first time to my first narcissist lover."

"I am exactly this way and I feel exactly as you do, that the world is a sepia motion picture but when I am intimately involved with a narcissist, it breaks out into three-dimensional Technicolor and I can see and feel in ways that are not available to me otherwise. In my case I developed this (inverted narcissism) as a result of being the favourite of my father who so completely absorbed me into his personality that I was not able to develop a sense of separation. So I am stuck in this personality matrix of needing to be engulfed, adored by and completely taken over by a narcissist in my life. In turn, I worship, defend, regulate and procure Narcissistic Supply for my narcissist. It is like the mould and the moulded."

"In my case, I realize that while I can't stop loving my current narcissist, it isn't necessary for me to avoid as long as I can understand. In my way of looking at it, he is deserving of love, and since I can give him love without it hurting me, then as long as he needs it, he shall have it."

"My personal theory is that dogmatic religious culture is a retarding influence on the growth and maturation of those heavily involved – more and more autonomy (and hence personal responsibility) seems to be blithely sacrificed to the group mind/spirit. It is as though the church members become one personality and that personality is narcissistic and the individual just folds under the weight of that kind of group pressure – particularly if you are a child."

"If I displayed behaviour that made my XXX look good to others, I was insipidly overvalued. When I dared be something other than who she wanted me to be, the sarcastic criticism and total devaluation was unbelievable. So, I learned to be all things to all people. I get a heavenly high from surrendering my power to a narcissist, to catering to them, in having them overvalue and need me, and it is the only time that I truly feel alive…"

"We have very little choice in all of this. We are as vacant and warped as the narcissist. XXX is wont to say, 'I don't HAVE a personality disorder, I AM a personality disorder.' It defines who we are and how we will respond. You will always and ONLY have real feelings when you are with a narcissist. It is your love map, it is the programming within your psyche. Does it need to control your behaviour? Not necessarily. Knowing what you are can at least give you the opportunity to forecast the effect of an action before you take it. So, loveless black and white may be the very healthiest thing for you for the foreseeable future. I tend to think of these episodes with narcissists as being cyclic. You will likely need to cut loose for a while when your child is older.

DO NOT feel ashamed please! Should a physically handicapped person feel ashamed of their handicap? No and neither should we. The trouble with us is that we are fooled into thinking that these relationships are 'guilty pleasures'. They feel so very good for a time but they are more akin to addiction satisfaction rather than being the 'right match' or an 'appropriate relationship'. I am still very conflicted myself about this. I wrote a few months ago that it was like having a caged very dangerous animal inside of me. When I get near narcissists, the animal smells its own kind and it wants out. I very carefully 'micro-manage' my life. This means that I daily do fairly regular reality checks and keep a very tight reign on my self and my behaviours. I am also obsessive-compulsive."

"I feel as though I'm constantly on an emotional roller coaster. I may wake up in a good mood, but if my N partner does or says something, which is hurtful to me, my mood changes immediately. I now feel sad, empty, afraid. All I want to do at this point is anything that will make him say something NICE to me.

Once he does, I'm back on top of the world. This pattern of mood changes, or whatever you may call them, can take place several times a day. Each and every day. I've gotten to the point where I'm not sure that I can trust myself to feel any one way, because I know that I have no control over myself. He has the control. It's scary, yet I've sort of come to depend on him determining how I am going to feel."

"When I was first involved with my cerebral narcissist I was like this but after awhile I just learned to become more emotionally distant (the ups and downs were just too much) and find emotional gratification with other people, mostly girl friends and one of two male friends. I make a point of saying … that the invert must be or become emotionally and financially independent (if you don't do this he will eat you up and when he has finished with you and you are nothing but a husk, you will be expelled from his life in one big vomit). It is really important for you to start to take responsibility for your own emotional wellness without regard to how he treats you. Remember that the narcissist has the emotional maturity of a two-year old! Don't expect much in the way of emotional depth or support in your relationship – he simply is not capable of anything that sophisticated."

Return

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 51

 

Narcissists, Inverted Narcissists and Schizoids

 

 

Question: Some narcissists are not gregarious. They avoid social events and are stay-at-home recluses. Doesn't this behaviour go against the grain of narcissism?

Answer: Schizoids enjoy nothing and seemingly never experience pleasure (they are anhedonic). Even their nearest and dearest often describe them as "automata", "robots", or "machines". But the schizoid is not depressed or dysphoric, merely indifferent. Schizoids are uninterested in social relationships and bored or puzzled by interpersonal interactions. They are incapable of intimacy and have a very limited range of emotions and affect. Rarely does the schizoid express feelings, either negative (anger) or positive (happiness).

Schizoids never pursue an opportunity to develop a close relationship. Schizoids are asexual – not interested in sex. Consequently, they appear cold, aloof, bland, stunted, flat, and "zombie"-like. They derive no satisfaction from belonging to a close-knit group: family, church, workplace, neighbourhood, or nation. They rarely marry or have children.

Schizoids are loners. Given the option, they invariably pursue solitary activities or hobbies. Inevitably, they prefer mechanical or abstract tasks and jobs that require such skills. Many computer hackers, crackers, and programmers are schizoids, for instance – as are some mathematicians and theoretical physicists. Schizoids are inflexible in their reactions to changing life circumstances and developments – both adverse and opportune. Faced with stress they may disintegrate, decompensate, and experience brief psychotic episodes or a depressive illness.

Schizoids have few friends or confidants. They trust only first-degree relatives – but, even so, they maintain no close bonds or associations, not even with their immediate family.

Schizoids pretend to be indifferent to praise, criticism, disagreement, and corrective advice (though, deep inside, they are not). They are creatures of habit, frequently succumbing to rigid, predictable, and narrowly restricted routines. From the outside, the schizoid's life looks "rudderless" and adrift.

Like people with Asperger's Syndrome, schizoids fail to respond appropriately to social cues and rarely reciprocate gestures or facial expressions, such as smiles. As the DSM-IV-TR puts it: "They seem socially inept or superficial and self-absorbed".

Or, as the Howard H. Goldman (Ed.) in the "Review of General Psychiatry" [4th Edition. London, Prentice Hall International, 1995] puts it:

"The person with Schizoid Personality Disorder sustains a fragile emotional equilibrium by avoiding intimate personal contact and thereby minimising conflict that is poorly tolerated."

Intuitively, a connection between SPD and the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) seems plausible. After all, narcissists are people who self-sufficiently withdraw from others. They love themselves in lieu of loving others. Lacking empathy, they regard others as mere instruments, objectified "Sources" of Narcissistic Supply.

The inverted narcissist (IN) is a narcissist who "projects" his narcissism onto another narcissist. The mechanism of Projective Identification allows the IN to experience his own narcissism vicariously, through the agency of a classic narcissist. But the IN is no less a narcissist than the classical one. She is no less socially dysfunctional.

A distinction must be made between social interactions and social relationships. The schizoid, the narcissist and the inverted narcissist all interact socially. But they fail to form human and social relationships (bonds). The schizoid is uninterested and the narcissist is both uninterested and incapable due to his lack of empathy and pervasive sense of haughty superiority.

The psychologist H. Deutsch first suggested the construct of "as-if personality" in the context of schizoid patients (in an article, published in 1942 and titled "Some forms of emotional disturbance and their relationship to schizophrenia"). A decade later, Winnicott named the very same idea: the "False-self Personality". The False Self has thus been established as the driving engine of both pathological narcissism and pathological schizoid states.

Both C. R. Cloninger and N. McWilliams (in "Psychoanalytic Diagnosis", 1994) observed the "faintly contemptuous (attitude) … (and) isolated superiority" of the schizoid – clearly narcissistic traits.

Theodore Millon and Roger Davis summed it up in their seminal tome, "Personality Disorders in Modern Life" (2000):

"Where withdrawal has an arrogant or oppositional quality, fantasy in a schizoidlike person sometimes betrays the presence of a secret grandiose self that longs for respect and recognition while offsetting fears that the person is really an iconoclastic freak. These individuals combine aspects of the compensating narcissist with the autistic isolation of the schizoid, while lacking the asocial and anhedonic qualities of the pure prototype." [p. 328]

Cultural and Social Considerations

The ethno-psychologist George Devereux [Basic Problems of Ethno-Psychiatry, University of Chicago Press, 1980] proposed to divide the unconscious into the Id (the part that is instinctual and unconscious) and the "ethnic unconscious" (repressed material that was once conscious). The latter includes all the defence mechanisms and most of the Superego.

Society dictates what is to be repressed. Mental illness is either idiosyncratic (cultural directives are not followed and the individual is unique, eccentric, and schizophrenic) – or conformist, abiding by the cultural dictates of what is allowed and disallowed.

Our culture, according to Christopher Lasch, teaches us to withdraw inwards when confronted with stressful situations. It is a vicious circle. One of the main stressors of modern society is alienation and a pervasive sense of isolation. The solution our culture offers – to further withdraw – only exacerbates the problem.

Richard Sennett expounded on this theme in "The Fall of Public Man: On the Social Psychology of Capitalism" [Vintage Books, 1978]. One of the chapters in Devereux's aforementioned tome is entitled "Schizophrenia: An Ethnic Psychosis, or Schizophrenia without Tears". To him, the United States is afflicted by what came later to be called a "schizoid disorder".

C. Fred Alford [in Narcissism: Socrates, the Frankfurt School and Psychoanalytic Theory, Yale University Press, 1988] enumerates the symptoms:

"…withdrawal, emotional aloofness, hyporeactivity (emotional flatness), sex without emotional involvement, segmentation and partial involvement (lack of interest and commitment to things outside oneself), fixation on oral-stage issues, regression, infantilism and depersonalization. These, of course, are many of the same designations that Lasch employs to describe the culture of narcissism. Thus, it appears, that it is not misleading to equate narcissism with schizoid disorder." [p. 19]

Common Psychodynamic Roots

The first to seriously consider the similarity, if not outright identity, between the schizoid and the narcissistic disorders was Melanie Klein. She broke ranks with Freud in that she believed that we are born with a fragile, brittle, weak and unintegrated Ego. The most primordial human fear is the fear of disintegration (death), according to Klein.

Thus, the infant is forced to employ primitive defence mechanisms such as splitting, projection and introjection to cope with this fear (actually, with the aggression generated by the Ego). The Ego splits and projects both its constituent parts: the part that includes death, disintegration, and aggression and the part that is life-related, constructive, and integrative.

As a result of all these mechanics, the infant views the world as either utterly "good" (satisfying, complying, responding, gratifying) or universally "bad" (frustrating). Klein called it the good and the bad "breasts". The child then proceeds to introject (internalize and assimilate) the good object while keeping out (defending against) the bad object. The good object becomes the nucleus of the forming Ego. The bad object is felt as fragmented. But it has not vanished, it is there.

The fact that the bad object is "out there", persecutory and threatening gives rise to the first schizoid defence mechanisms, foremost amongst them the mechanism of Projective Identification (so often employed by narcissists). The infant projects parts of himself (his organs, his behaviours, his traits) unto the bad object. This is the famous Kleinian "paranoid-schizoid position". The Ego is split.

This is as terrifying as it sounds but it allows the baby to make a clear distinction between the "good object" (inside him) and the "bad object" (out there, split from him). If this phase is not transcended the individual develops schizophrenia and a fragmentation of the self.

Around the third or fourth month of life, the infant realizes that the good and the bad objects are really facets of one and the same object. He develops the depressive position. This depression (Klein believes that the two positions continue throughout life) is a reaction of fear and anxiety.

The infant feels guilty (at his own rage) and anxious (lest his aggression harms the object and eliminates the source of good things). He experiences the loss of his own omnipotence since the object is now outside his self. The infant wishes to erase the results of his own aggression by "making the object whole again". By recognizing the wholeness of other objects, the infant comes to realize and to experience his own wholeness. The Ego re-integrates.

But the transition from the paranoid-schizoid position to the depressive one is by no means smooth and assured. Excess anxiety and envy can delay it or prevent it altogether. Envy seeks to destroy all good objects, so that other people don't have them. It, therefore, hinders the split between the good and the bad "breasts". Envy destroys the good object but leaves the persecutory, bad object intact.

Moreover, envy does not allow re-integration ("reparation" in Kleinian jargon) to take place. The more whole the object, the greater the destructive envy. Thus, envy feeds on its own outcomes. The more envy, the less integrated the Ego is, the weaker and more inadequate it is and the more reason for envying the good object and other people.

Both the narcissist and the schizoid are examples of development arrested due to envy and other transformations of aggression.

Consider pathological narcissism.

Envy is the hallmark of narcissism and the prime source of what is known as narcissistic rage. The schizoid self – fragmented, weak, and primitive – is intimately connected with narcissism through envy. Narcissists prefer to destroy themselves and to deny themselves rather than endure someone else's happiness, wholeness and "triumph".

The narcissist fails his exams in order to frustrate the teacher he adores and envies. He aborts his therapy in order not to give the therapist a reason to feel gratified. By self-defeating and self-destructing, narcissists deny the worth of others. If the narcissist fails in therapy – his analyst must be inept. If he destroys himself by consuming drugs – his parents are blameworthy and should feel guilty and bad. One cannot exaggerate the importance of envy as a motivating power in the narcissist's life.

The psychodynamic connection is obvious. Envy is a rage reaction to not controlling or "having" or engulfing the good, desired object. Narcissists defend themselves against this acidulous, corroding sensation by pretending that they do control, possess, subsume, and engulf the good object. These are the narcissist's "grandiose fantasies (of omnipotence or omniscience)".

But, in so doing, the narcissist must deny the existence of any good outside himself. The narcissist defends himself against raging, all consuming envy by solipsistically claiming to be the only good object in the world. This is an object that cannot be had by anyone, except the narcissist and, therefore, is immune to the narcissist's threatening, annihilating envy.

In order to refrain from being "owned" by anyone (and, thus, avoid self-destruction at the hands of his own envy), the narcissist reduces others to "non-entities" (the narcissistic solution), or completely avoids all meaningful contact with them (the schizoid solution).

The suppression of envy is at the core of the narcissist's being. If he fails to convince his self that he is the only good object in the universe, he is bound to be exposed to his own murderous envy. If there are others out there who are better than him, he envies them, he lashes out at them ferociously, uncontrollably, madly, hatefully and spitefully, he tries to eliminate them.

If someone tries to get emotionally intimate with the narcissist, she threatens the grandiose belief that no one but the narcissist can possess the good object (that is the narcissist himself). Only the narcissist can own himself, have access to himself, possess himself. This is the only way to avoid seething envy and certain self-annihilation. Perhaps it is clearer now why narcissists react as raving madmen to anything, however minute, however remote that seems to threaten their grandiose fantasies, the only protective barrier between themselves and their lethal, seething envy.

There is nothing new in trying to link narcissism to schizophrenia. Freud did as much in his "On Narcissism" (1914). Klein's contribution was the introduction of immediately post-natal internal objects. Schizophrenia, she proposed, was a narcissistic and intense relationship with internal objects (such as fantasies or images, including fantasies of grandeur).

Freud suggested a transition from (primary, object-less) narcissism (self-directed libido) to objects relations (objects directed libido). Klein suggested a transition from internal objects to external ones. While Freud thought that the denominator common to narcissism and schizoid phenomena is a withdrawal of libido from the world – Klein suggested it was a fixation on an early phase of relating to internal objects.

But is the difference not merely semantic?

"The term 'narcissism' tends to be employed diagnostically by those proclaiming loyalty to the drive model (Otto Kernberg and Edith Jacobson, for instance – SV) and mixed model theorists (Kohut), who are interested in preserving a tie to drive theory. 'Schizoid' tends to be employed diagnostically by adherents of relational models (Fairbairn, Guntrip), who are interested in articulating their break with drive theory… These two differing diagnoses and accompanying formulations are applied to patients who are essentially similar, by theorists who start with very different conceptual premises and ideological affiliations."

[Greenberg and Mitchell. Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory. Harvard University Press, 1983]

Klein, in effect, said that drives (e.g., the libido) are relational flows. A drive is the mode of relationship between an individual and his objects (internal and external). Thus, a retreat from the world (Freud) into internal objects (as postulated by object relations theorists and especially the British school of Fairbairn and Guntrip) – is the drive itself.

Drives are orientations (to external or internal objects). Both narcissism and schizoid phenomena are orientations (preferences, actually) towards internal objects. This is why narcissists feel empty, fragmented, "unreal", and diffuse. It is because their Ego is still split (never integrated) and because they had withdrawn from the world (of external objects).

Kernberg identifies these internal objects with which the narcissist maintains a special relationship with the idealized, grandiose images of the narcissist's parents. He believes that the narcissist's very Ego (self-representation) had fused with these parental images.

Fairbairn's work – even more than Kernberg's, not to mention Kohut's – integrates all these insights into a coherent framework. Guntrip elaborated on it and together they created one of the most impressive theoretical bodies in the history of psychology.

Fairbairn incorporated Klein's insights that drives are object-orientated and their goal is the formation of relationships and not primarily the attainment of pleasure. Pleasurable sensations are the means to achieve relationships. The Ego does not seek to be stimulated and pleased but to find the right, "good", supporting object.

The infant is fused with his Primary Object, the mother. Life is not about using objects for pleasure under the supervision of the Ego and Superego, as Freud suggested. Life is about separating, differentiating, individuating, and achieving independence from the Primary Object and the initial state of fusion with it. Dependence on internal objects is narcissism. Freud's post-narcissistic (anaclitic) phase of life can be either dependent (immature) or mature.

The newborn's Ego is looking for objects with which to form relationships. Inevitably, some of these objects and some of these relationships frustrate the infant and disappoint him. He compensates for these setbacks by creating compensatory internal objects. The initially unitary Ego thus fragments into a growing group of internal objects. Reality breaks our hearts and minds, according to Fairbairn. The Ego and its objects are "twinned" and the Ego is split in three (or four, according to Guntrip, who introduced a fourth Ego). A schizoid state ensues.

The "original" (Freudian or libidinal) Ego is unitary, instinctual, needy and object seeking. It then fragments as a result of the three typical interactions with the mother (gratification, disappointment and deprivation). The central Ego idealizes the "good" parents. It is conformist and obedient. The antilibidinal Ego is a reaction to frustrations. It is rejecting, harsh, unsatisfying, dead set against one's natural needs. The libidinal Ego is the seat of cravings, desires and needs. It is active in that it keeps seeking objects to form relationships with. Guntrip added the regressed Ego, which is the True Self in "cold storage", the "lost heart of the personal self".

Fairbairn's definition of psychopathology is quantitative. How much of the Ego is dedicated to relationships with internal objects rather than with external ones (e.g., real people)? In other words: how fragmented (how schizoid) is the Ego?

To achieve a successful transition from focusing on internal objects to seeking external ones, the child needs to have the right parents (in Winnicott's parlance, the "good enough mother" – not perfect, but "good enough"). The child internalizes the bad aspects of his parents in the form of internal, bad objects and then proceeds to suppress them, together ("twinned") with portions of his Ego.

Thus, his parents become a part of the child (though a repressed part). The more bad objects are repressed, the "less Ego is left" for healthy relationships with external objects. To Fairbairn, the source of all psychological disturbances is in these schizoid phenomena. Later developments (such as the Oedipus Complex) are less crucial.

Fairbairn and Guntrip think that if a person is too attached to his compensatory internal objects, he finds it hard to mature psychologically. Maturing is about letting go of internal objects. Some people just don't want to mature, or are ambivalent about it. This reluctance, this withdrawal to an internal world of representations, internal objects and broken Ego – is narcissism itself. Narcissists simply don't know how to be themselves, how to be and act independent while managing their relationships with other people.

Fred Alford in "Narcissism: Socrates, the Frankfurt School and Psychoanalytic Theory" [Yale University Press, 1988]:

"That narcissism is such a confusing category is in large part because its drive-theoretic definition, the libidinal cathexis of the self – in a word, self-love – seems far removed from the experience of narcissism, as characterized by a loss of, or split-in, the self. Fairbairn's and Guntrip's view of narcissism as an excessive attachment of the Ego to internal objects (roughly analogous to Freud's narcissistic, as opposed to object, love), resulting in various splits in the Ego necessary to maintain these attachments, allows us to penetrate this confusion." [p. 67]

Both Otto Kernberg and Franz Kohut contended that narcissism is somewhere between neurosis and psychosis. Kernberg thought that it was a borderline phenomenon, on the verge of psychosis (where the Ego is completely shattered). In this respect Kernberg, more than Kohut, identifies narcissism with schizoid phenomena and with schizophrenia. This is not the only difference between them.

They also disagree on the developmental locus of narcissism. Kohut thinks that narcissism is an early phase of development, fossilized, and doomed to be repeated (a Repetition Complex) while Kernberg maintains that the narcissistic self is pathological from its very inception.

Kohut believes that the narcissist's parents failed to provide him with assurances that he does possess a self (in his words, they failed to endow him with a self-object). They did not explicitly recognize the child's nascent self, its separate existence, and its boundaries. The child learned to have a schizoid, split, fragmented self, rather than a coherent and integrated one. To Kohut, narcissism is really all-pervasive, at the very core of being (whether in its mature form, as self-love, or in it regressive, infantile form as a narcissistic disorder).

Kernberg regards "mature narcissism" (also espoused by neo-Freudians like Grunberger and Chasseguet-Smirgel) as a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron. He observes that narcissists are already grandiose and schizoid (they are detached, cold, aloof, asocial) at an early age (three years old, according to him!).

Like Klein, Kernberg believes that narcissism is a last ditch effort (defence) to halt the emergence of the paranoid-schizoid position described by Klein. In an adult, such an emergence is known as "psychosis" and this is why Kernberg classifies narcissists as borderline (almost) psychotics.

Even Kohut, who is an opponent of Kernberg's classification, uses Eugene O'Neill's famous sentence (in "The Great God Brown"): "Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue." Kernberg himself sees a clear connection between schizoid phenomena (such as alienation in modern society and subsequent withdrawal) and narcissistic phenomena (inability to form relationships or to make commitments or to empathize).

Fred Alford wrote in "Narcissism: Socrates, the Frankfurt School and Psychoanalytic Theory" [Yale University Press, 1988]:

"Fairbairn and … see a schizoid split in the self as characteristic of virtually all-emotional disorder … Greenberg and Mitchell … (pointed) out that what American analysts label 'narcissism', British analysts tend to call 'Schizoid Personality Disorder'. This insight allows us to connect the symptomatology of narcissism – feelings of emptiness, unreality, alienation and emotional withdrawal – with a theory that sees such symptoms as an accurate reflection of the experience of being split-off from a part of oneself." [p. 67]

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 52

 

Narcissists, Medications and Chemical Imbalances

 

 

Question: Can pathological narcissism be induced by substance abuse or biochemical imbalances in the brain?

Answer: The narcissist's moods change abruptly in the wake of a narcissistic injury. One can easily manipulate the moods of a narcissist by making a disparaging remark, by disagreeing with him, by criticizing him, or by doubting his grandiosity or fantastic claims.

Such REACTIVE mood shifts are not provoked by the fluctuations in the narcissist's body chemistry (for instance, his blood sugar levels), or by the presence or absence of any substance or chemical in his brain. It is possible to reduce the narcissist to a state of rage and depression AT ANY MOMENT, simply by employing the above "techniques". He can be elated, even manic – and in a split second, following a narcissistic injury, depressed, sulking or raging.

The opposite is also true. The narcissist can be catapulted from the bleakest despair to utter euphoric mania (or at least to an increased and marked feeling of well-being) by being provided with the flimsiest Narcissistic Supply (attention).

These swings are totally correlated to external events (narcissistic injury or Narcissistic Supply) and not to cycles of hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters, sugar, or other substances in the body.

It is conceivable, though, that a third, unrelated problem causes chemical imbalances in the brain, metabolic diseases such as diabetes, pathological narcissism, and other mental health syndromes. There may be a common cause, a hidden common denominator (perhaps a group of genes).

Certain medical conditions can activate the narcissistic defence mechanism. Chronic ailments are likely to lead to the emergence of narcissistic traits or a narcissistic personality style. Traumas (such as brain injuries) have been known to induce states of mind akin to full-blown personality disorders.

Phineas Gage was a 25 years old construction foreman who lived in Vermont in the 1860s. While working on a railroad bed, he packed powdered explosives into a hole in the ground, using tamping iron. The powder heated and blew in his face. The tamping iron rebounded and pierced the top of his skull, ravaging the frontal lobes.

In 1868, Harlow, his doctor, reported the changes to his personality following the accident:

"He became fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his customs), manifesting but little deference to his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinate yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans for future operation which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible… His mind was radically changed, so that his friends and acquaintances said he was no longer Gage."

In other words, his brain injury turned him into a psychopathic narcissist.

Similarly startling transformations have been recorded among soldiers with penetrating head injuries suffered in World War I. Orbitomedial wounds made people "pseudopsychopathic": grandiose, euphoric, disinhibited, and puerile. When the dorsolateral convexities were damaged, those affected became lethargic and apathetic ("pseudodepressed"). As Geschwind noted, many had both syndromes.

Such "narcissism", though, is reversible and tends to be ameliorated or disappear altogether when the underlying medical problem does.

The DSM is clear: the brain-injured may acquire traits and behaviours typical of certain personality disorders but head trauma never results in a full-fledged personality disorder.

From the general diagnostic criteria for a personality disorder:

"The enduring pattern is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or a general medical condition (e.g., head trauma)." [DSM-IV-TR, p. 689]

Other disorders, like the Bipolar Disorder (mania-depression) are characterized by mood swings that are not brought about by external events (endogenous, not exogenous). But the narcissist's mood swings are strictly the results of external events (as he perceives and interprets them, of course).

Narcissists are absolutely insulated from their emotions. They are emotionally flat or numb.

The narcissist does not have pendular (cyclical) mood swings on a regular, almost predictable basis, from depression to euphoria (mania), as is the case in biochemically induced mental disorders.

Additionally, the narcissist goes through mega-cycles which last months or even years. These cannot, of course, be attributed to blood sugar levels or to Dopamine and Serotonin secretions in the brain.

The Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) per se is not treated with medication.

But phenomena, which are often associated with NPD, such as depression or OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), are treated with medication. Rumour has it that SSRI's (such as Fluoxetine, known as Prozac) might have adverse effects if the primary disorder is NPD. They sometimes lead to the Serotonin Syndrome, which includes agitation and exacerbates the rage attacks typical of a narcissist. The use of SSRI's is associated at times with delirium and the emergence of a manic phase and even with psychotic microepisodes.

This is not the case with the heterocyclics, MAO and mood stabilizers, such as lithium. Blockers and inhibitors are regularly applied without discernible adverse side effects (as far as NPD is concerned).

To summarise:

Not enough is known about the biochemistry of NPD. There seems to be some vague link to Serotonin but no one knows for sure. There isn't a reliable non-intrusive method to measure brain and central nervous system Serotonin levels anyhow, so it is mostly guesswork at this stage.

Thus, as of now, the typical and recommended treatment for pathological narcissism and the co-morbid depression and OCD is talk therapy of one kind (psychodynamic) or another (cognitive-behavioural).

Antidepressants can be used moderately (with SSRI being currently under critical scrutiny).

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 53

 

Myths about Narcissism

 

 

Question: Is there such a thing as a "typical narcissist"? Is narcissism a "pure" mental disorder or a "cocktail" of psychological problems? Is there a typical way in which narcissists react to life crises? Is it true that they are prone to suicide?

Answer: There is no such thing as a typical narcissist. One must always specify whether one is referring to a cerebral narcissist or to a somatic one, a classical narcissist or an inverted one.

The cerebral narcissist uses his intelligence, intellect, and knowledge to obtain Narcissistic Supply. The somatic narcissist uses his body, his looks and his sexuality towards the same end. Inevitably, each type is likely to react very differently to life and its changing circumstances.

Somatic narcissists are a variation on the HPD (Histrionic Personality Disorder). They are seductive, provocative and obsessive-compulsive when it comes to their bodies, their sexual activities and their health (they are likely to be hypochondriacs as well).

Still, certain behavioural and character traits are common to all narcissists.

Pathological lying seems to be such a trait. Even the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) defines the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) with words such as "fantasy", "grandiose" and "exploit", which imply the usage of half-truths, inaccuracies and lies on a regular basis. Kernberg, Winnicott, and others coined the term False Self not in vain.

Narcissists are not gregarious. Actually, many narcissists are schizoid (recluses) and paranoid.

Naturally, narcissists love to have an audience – but only because and as long as it provides them with Narcissistic Supply. Otherwise, they are not interested in people. All narcissists lack empathy which makes others much less fascinating than they appear to be to empathic people.

Narcissists are terrified of introspection. I am not referring to intellectualization or rationalization or the straightforward application of their intelligence to themselves: these do not constitute introspection. Proper introspection must include an emotional element, an insight and the ability to emotionally integrate the insight so that it affects behaviour.

Some people are narcissists and they know it (cognitively). They even think about it from time to time. But this does not amount to useful introspection. Narcissists do some real introspection and even attend therapy following a life crisis, though.

So, while there are no "typical" narcissists, there are traits and behaviour patterns typical to all narcissists.

The second "myth" is that pathological narcissism is a pure phenomenon that can be dealt with experimentally. This is not the case. Actually, due to the fuzziness of the whole field, diagnosticians are both forced and encouraged to render multiple diagnoses ("co-morbidity"). NPD usually appears in tandem with some other Cluster B personality disorders (such as the Antisocial, Histrionic, and, most often, the Borderline Personality Disorder).

Regarding the third myth (that narcissists are prone to suicide, especially in the wake of a life crisis involving a grave narcissistic injury):

Narcissists very rarely commit suicide. They may well react with suicidal ideation and reactive psychosis to severe stress, but to commit suicide runs against the grain of narcissism. Suicide and self-mutilation are Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) behaviours. The differential diagnosis of NPD (as distinct from BPD) rests on the absence of attempted suicide and self-mutilation in NPD.

In response to a life crisis (divorce, public disgrace, imprisonment, accident, bankruptcy, terminal or disfiguring illness) the narcissist is likely to adopt either of two reactions:

1. The narcissist may finally refer himself to therapy, realizing that something is dangerously wrong with him. Statistics show that talk therapies are rather ineffective with narcissism. Soon enough, the therapist is bored, fed up or actively repelled by the grandiose fantasies and open contempt of the narcissist. The therapeutic alliance crumbles and the narcissist emerges "triumphant" having sucked the therapist's energy dry.

2. The narcissist frantically gropes for alternative Sources of Narcissistic Supply. Narcissists are very creative. If all else fails, they exhibitionistically make use of their own misery. Or they lie, create a fantasy, confabulate, harp on people's emotions, fake a medical condition, pull a stunt, fall in ideal love, make a provocative move or commit a crime… The narcissist is bound to come up with a surprising angle to extract his Narcissistic Supply from a begrudging and mean world.

Experience shows that most narcissists go through (1) and then through (2).

The exposure of the False Self for what it is – false – is a major narcissistic injury. The narcissist is likely to react with severe self-deprecation and self-flagellation even to the point of suicidal ideation. This – on the inside.

On the outside, he is likely to appear assertive and confident. This is his way of channelling his life-threatening aggression. Rather than endure its assault and its frightening outcomes, he redirects his aggression, transforms it and hurls it at others.

What form this conversion assumes is nigh impossible to predict without knowing the narcissist in question intimately. It could be anything from cynical humour, through brutal honesty, verbal abuse, passive-aggressive behaviours (frustrating others) and down to actual physical violence.

Narcissism and Evil

In his bestselling "People of the Lie", Scott Peck claims that narcissists are evil. Are they?

The concept of "evil" in this age of moral relativism is slippery and ambiguous. The "Oxford Companion to Philosophy" [Oxford University Press, 1995] defines it thus:

"The suffering which results from morally wrong human choices."

To qualify as evil a person (Moral Agent) must meet these requirements:

a. That he can and does consciously choose between the (morally) right and wrong and constantly and consistently prefers the latter;

b. That he acts on his choice irrespective of the consequences to himself and to others.

Clearly, evil must be premeditated. Francis Hutcheson and Joseph Butler argued that evil is a by-product of the pursuit of one's interest or cause at the expense of other people's interests or causes. But this ignores the critical element of conscious choice among equally efficacious alternatives. Moreover, people often pursue evil even when it jeopardizes their well-being and obstructs their interests. Sadomasochists even relish this orgy of mutual assured destruction.

Narcissists satisfy both conditions only partly. Their evil is utilitarian. They are evil only when being malevolent secures a certain outcome. Sometimes, they consciously choose the morally wrong – but not invariably so. They act on their choice even if it inflicts misery and pain on others. But they never opt for evil if they are to bear the consequences. They act maliciously because it is expedient to do so, not because it is "in their nature".

The narcissist is able to tell right from wrong and to distinguish between good and evil. In the pursuit of his interests and causes, he sometimes chooses to act wickedly. Lacking empathy, the narcissist is rarely remorseful. Because he feels entitled, exploiting others is second nature. The narcissist abuses others absent-mindedly, offhandedly, as a matter of fact.

The narcissist objectifies people and treats them as expendable commodities to be discarded after use. Admittedly, that, in itself, is evil. Yet, it is the mechanical, thoughtless, heartless face of narcissistic abuse – devoid of human passions and of familiar emotions – that renders it so alien, so frightful and so repellent.

We are often shocked less by the actions of narcissist than by the way he acts. In the absence of a vocabulary rich enough to capture the subtle hues and gradations of the spectrum of narcissistic depravity, we default to habitual adjectives such as "good" and "evil". Such intellectual laziness does this pernicious phenomenon and its victims little justice.

Why are We Fascinated by Evil and Evildoers?

The common explanation is that one is fascinated with evil and evildoers because, through them, one vicariously expresses the repressed, dark, and evil parts of one's own personality. Evildoers, according to this theory, represent the "shadow" nether lands of our selves and, thus, they constitute our antisocial alter egos. Being drawn to wickedness is an act of rebellion against social strictures and the crippling bondage that is modern life. It is a mock synthesis of our Dr. Jekyll with our Mr. Hyde. It is a cathartic exorcism of our inner demons.

Yet, even a cursory examination of this account reveals its flaws.

Far from being taken as a familiar, though suppressed, element of our psyche, evil is mysterious. Though preponderant, villains are often labelled "monsters" – abnormal, even supernatural aberrations. It took Hanna Arendt two thickset tomes to remind us that evil is banal and bureaucratic, not fiendish and omnipotent.

In our minds, evil and magic are intertwined. Sinners seem to be in contact with some alternative reality where the laws of Man are suspended. Sadism, however deplorable, is also admirable because it is the reserve of Nietzsche's Supermen, an indicator of personal strength and resilience. A heart of stone lasts longer than its carnal counterpart.

Throughout human history, ferocity, mercilessness, and lack of empathy were extolled as virtues and enshrined in social institutions such as the army and the courts. The doctrine of Social Darwinism and the advent of moral relativism and deconstruction did away with ethical absolutism. The thick line between right and wrong thinned and blurred and, sometimes, vanished.

Evil nowadays is merely another form of entertainment, a species of pornography, a sanguineous art. Evildoers enliven our gossip, colour our drab routines and extract us from dreary existence and its depressive correlates. It is a little like collective self-injury. Self-mutilators report that parting their flesh with razor blades makes them feel alive and reawakened. In this synthetic universe of ours, evil and gore permit us to get in touch with real, raw, painful life.

The higher our desensitized threshold of arousal, the more profound the evil that fascinates us. Like the stimuli-addicts that we are, we increase the dosage and consume added tales of malevolence and sinfulness and immorality. Thus, in the role of spectators, we safely maintain our sense of moral supremacy and self-righteousness even as we wallow in the minutest details of the vilest crimes.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 54

 

The Selfish Gene

The Genetic Underpinnings of Narcissism

 

 

Question: Is pathological narcissism the outcome of inherited traits – or the sad result of abusive and traumatizing upbringing? Or, maybe it is the confluence of both? It is a common occurrence, after all, that, in the same family, with the same set of parents and an identical emotional environment – some siblings grow to be malignant narcissists, while others are perfectly "normal". Surely, this indicates a predisposition of some people to developing narcissism, a part of one's genetic heritage.

Answer: To identify the role of heredity, researchers have resorted to a few tactics: they studied the occurrence of similar psychopathologies in identical twins separated at birth, in twins and siblings who grew up in the same environment, and in relatives of patients (usually across a few generations of an extended family).

Tellingly, twins – both those raised apart and together – show the same correlation of personality traits, 0.5 [Bouchard, Lykken, McGue, Segal, and Tellegan, 1990]. Even attitudes, values, and interests have been shown to be highly affected by genetic factors [Waller, Kojetin, Bouchard, Lykken, et al., 1990].

A review of the literature demonstrates that the genetic component in certain personality disorders (mainly the Antisocial and Schizotypal) is strong [Thapar and McGuffin, 1993]. Nigg and Goldsmith found a connection in 1993 between the Schizoid and Paranoid personality disorders and schizophrenia.

The three authors of the Dimensional Assessment of Personality Pathology (Livesley, Jackson, and Schroeder) joined forces with Jang in 1993 to study whether 18 of the personality dimensions were heritable. They found that 40 to 60% of the recurrence of certain personality traits across generations can be explained by heredity: anxiousness, callousness, cognitive distortion, compulsivity, identity problems, oppositionality, rejection, restricted expression, social avoidance, stimulus seeking, and suspiciousness. Each and every one of these qualities is associated with a personality disorder. In a roundabout way, therefore, this study supports the hypothesis that personality disorders are hereditary.

This would go a long way towards explaining why in the same family, with the same set of parents and an identical emotional environment, some siblings grow to have personality disorders, while others are perfectly "normal". Surely, this indicates a genetic predisposition of some people to developing personality disorders.

Still, this oft-touted distinction between nature and nurture may be merely a question of semantics.

When we are born, we are not much more than the sum of our genes and their manifestations. Our brain – a physical object – is the residence of mental health and its disorders. Mental illness cannot be explained without resorting to the body and, especially, to the brain. And our brain cannot be contemplated without considering our genes. Thus, any explanation of our mental life that leaves out our hereditary makeup and our neurophysiology is lacking. Such lacking theories are nothing but literary narratives. Psychoanalysis, for instance, is often accused of being divorced from corporeal reality.

Our genetic baggage makes us resemble a personal computer. We are an all-purpose, universal, machine. Subject to the right programming (conditioning, socialization, education, upbringing), we can turn out to be anything and everything. A computer can imitate any other kind of discrete machine, given the right software. It can play music, screen movies, calculate, print, paint. Compare this to a television set: it is constructed and expected to do one, and only one, thing. It has a single purpose and a unitary function. We, humans, are more like computers than like television sets.

True, single genes rarely account for any behaviour or trait. An array of coordinated genes is required to explain even the minutest human phenomenon. "Discoveries" of a "gambling gene" here and an "aggression gene" there are derided by the more serious and less publicity-prone scholars. Yet, it would seem that even complex behaviours such as risk taking, reckless driving, and compulsive shopping have genetic underpinnings.

What about the Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

It would seem reasonable to assume – though, at this stage, there is not a shred of proof – that the narcissist is born with a propensity to develop narcissistic defences. These are triggered by abuse or trauma during the formative years in infancy or during early adolescence [see FAQ: Narcissist's Mother].

By "abuse" I am referring to a spectrum of behaviours which objectify the child and treat it as an extension of the caregiver (parent) or as an instrument. Dotting and smothering are as abusive as beating and starving. And abuse can be dished out by peers as well as by adult role models.

Still, the development of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is attributed mostly to nurture. The Narcissistic Personality Disorder is an extremely complex battery of phenomena: behaviour patterns, cognitions, emotions, conditioning, and so on. NPD is a PERSONALITY disorder and even the most ardent proponents of the school of genetics do not attribute the development of the whole personality to genes.

From my article "The Interrupted Self":

"'Organic' and 'mental' disorders (a dubious distinction at best) have many characteristics in common (confabulation, antisocial behaviour, emotional absence or flatness, indifference, psychotic episodes and so on)."

From an essay I wrote "On Dis-ease":

"Moreover, the distinction between the psychic and the physical is hotly disputed, philosophically. The psychophysical problem is as intractable today as it ever was (if not more so). It is beyond doubt that the physical affects the mental and the other way around. This is what disciplines like psychiatry are all about. The ability to control 'autonomous' bodily functions (such as heartbeat) and mental reactions to pathogens of the brain are proof of the artificialness of this distinction. It is a result of the reductionist view of nature as divisible and summable…

The distinction between the patient and the outside world is superfluous and wrong. The patient AND his environment are ONE and the same. Disease is a perturbation in the operation and management of the complex ecosystem known as patient-world. Humans absorb their environment and feed it in equal measures. This on-going interaction IS the patient. We cannot exist without the intake of water, air, visual stimuli and food. Our environment is defined by our actions and output, physical and mental.

Thus, one must question the classical differentiation between 'internal' and 'external'. Some illnesses are considered 'endogenic' (generated from the inside). Natural, 'internal', causes – a heart defect, a biochemical imbalance, a genetic mutation, a metabolic process gone awry – cause disease. Aging and deformities also belong in this category.

In contrast, problems of nurturance and environment – early childhood abuse, for instance, or malnutrition – are 'external' and so are the 'classical' pathogens (germs and viruses) and accidents.

But this, again, is a counter-productive approach. Exogenic and Endogenic pathogenesis is inseparable. Mental states increase or decrease the susceptibility to externally induced disease. Talk therapy or abuse (external events) alter the biochemical balance of the brain (an internal event).

The inside constantly interacts with the outside and is so intertwined with it that all distinctions between them are artificial and misleading. The best example is, of course, medication: it is an external agent, it influences internal processes and it has a very strong mental correlate (its efficacy is influenced by mental factors as in the placebo effect).

The very nature of dysfunction and sickness is highly culture-dependent.

Societal parameters dictate right and wrong in health (especially mental health). It is all a matter of statistics. Certain diseases are accepted in certain parts of the world as a fact of life or even a sign of distinction (e.g., the paranoid schizophrenic as chosen by the gods). If there is no dis-ease there is no disease. That the physical or mental state of a person CAN be different – does not imply that it MUST be different or even that it is desirable that it should be different. In an over-populated world, sterility might be the desirable thing – or even the occasional epidemic. There is no such thing as ABSOLUTE dysfunction. The body and the mind ALWAYS function. They adapt themselves to their environment and if the latter changes – they change. Personality disorders are the best possible responses to abuse."

 

First published on the Suite 101 Narcissistic Personality Disorders Topic.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 55

 

Narcissism

The Psychopathological Default

 

 

Question: Many of the symptoms and signs that you describe apply to other personality disorders as well (for instance, the Histrionic, the Antisocial and the Borderline Personality Disorder). Are we to think that all personality disorders are interrelated?

Answer: Are all personality disorders the outcomes of frustrated narcissism?

During our formative years (6 months to 6 years old), we are all "narcissists". As infants, we feel that we are the centre of the universe, omnipotent and omniscient. Our parents, those mythical figures, immortal and awesomely powerful, are there only to protect and serve us. Both self and others are viewed immaturely, as idealizations.

Primary narcissism is a useful and critically important defence mechanism. As the infant separates from his mother and becomes an individual, it is likely to experience great apprehension, fear, and pain. Narcissism shields the child from these negative emotions. By pretending to be omnipotent, the toddler fends off the profound feelings of isolation, unease, pending doom, and helplessness that are attendant on the individuation-separation phase of personal development.

Well into early adolescence, the empathic support of parents, caregivers, role models, authority figures, and peers is indispensable to the evolution of a stable sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and self-confidence. Traumas and abuse, smothering and doting, and the constant breach of emerging boundaries yield the entrenchment of rigid adult narcissistic defences.

What happens when we face disappointments, setbacks, failures, criticism and disillusionment?

Some people "resolve" these recurrent frustrations by developing personality disorders.

Back to infancy:

Inevitably, the inexorable processes and conflicts of life grind the ideal images of our parents into the fine dust of the real. Disappointments follow disillusionment. When these are gradual and tolerable, they are adaptative. If abrupt, capricious, arbitrary, and intense, the injuries sustained by the child's tender, budding self-esteem, are irreversible.

Moreover, the empathic support of the caretakers (the Primary Objects, the parents) is crucial. In its absence, self-esteem in adulthood tends to fluctuate, to alternate between over-valuation (idealization) and devaluation of both self and others.

Narcissistic adults are the result of bitter disappointments, of radical disillusionment with parents, role models, or peers. Healthy adults accept their limitations (the boundaries of their selves). They accept disappointments, setbacks, failures, criticism and disillusionment with grace and tolerance. Their sense of self-worth is constant and positive, minimally affected by outside events, no matter how severe.

The common view is that we go through the stages of a linear development. We are propelled forward by various forces: the Libido (force of life) and the Thanatos (force of death) in Freud's tripartite model, Meaning in Frenkel's work, socially mediated phenomena in both Adler's thinking and in Behaviourism, our cultural context in Horney's opera, or by interpersonal relations (Sullivan) and neurobiological and neurochemical processes, to mention but a few schools of developmental psychology.

Some scholars say that personal development ends in childhood, others – during adolescence. Yet others say that development is a process which continues throughout the life of the individual.

Common to all these schools of thought are the mechanics and dynamics of the process of personal growth. Forces – inner or external – facilitate the development of the individual. When an obstacle to development is encountered, development is stunted or arrested – but not for long. A distorted pattern of development, a bypass appears.

Psychopathology is the outcome of perturbed growth. Humans can be compared to trees. When a tree encounters a physical obstacle to its expansion, its branches or roots curl around it. Deformed and ugly, they still reach their destination, however late and partially.

Psychopathologies are, therefore, adaptative mechanisms. They allow the individual to continue to grow around obstacles. The nascent personality twists and turns, deforms itself, and is transformed until it reaches a functional equilibrium, which is not too ego-dystonic.

Having reached that point, it settles down and continues its more or less linear pattern of growth. The forces of life (as expressed in the development of the personality) are stronger than any hindrance. The roots of trees crack mighty rocks, microbes live in the most poisonous and extreme environments.

Similarly, humans form those personality structures which are optimally suited to their needs and outside constraints. Such personality configurations may be abnormal, but their mere existence proves that they have triumphed in the delicate task of successful adaptation.

Only death puts a stop to personal growth and development. Life's events, crises, joys and sadness, disappointments and surprises, setbacks and successes, all contribute to the weaving of the delicate fabric called "personality".

When an individual (at any age) encounters an obstacle to the orderly progression from one stage of development to another, he retreats at first to his early childhood's narcissistic phase rather than circumvent or "go around" the hindrance.

The process is three-phased:

1. The person encounters an obstacle;

2. The person regresses to the infantile narcissistic phase;

3. Thus having recuperated, the person confronts the obstacle again.

While in step (2), the person displays childish, immature behaviours. He feels that he is omnipotent and misjudges his powers and the strength of the opposition. He underestimates challenges facing him and pretends to be "Mr. Know-All". His sensitivity to the needs and emotions of others and his ability to empathize with them deteriorate sharply. He becomes intolerably haughty with sadistic and paranoid tendencies.

Above all, he then demands unconditional admiration, even when he does not deserve it. He is preoccupied with fantastic, magical, thinking and daydreams. He tends to exploit others, to envy them, to be edgy and explode with unexplained rage.

To put it succinctly: whenever we experience a major life crisis (which hinders our personal growth and threatens it), we suffer from a mild and transient form of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

This fantasy world, full of falsity and hurt feelings, serves as a springboard from which the rejuvenated individual resumes his progress towards the next stage of personal growth. This time around, faced with the same obstacle, he feels sufficiently potent to ignore it or to tackle it.

In most cases, the chances of success of this second onslaught are enhanced by the delusional assessment that the obstacle's fortitude and magnitude are diminished. This, indeed, is the main function of this reactive, episodic, and transient narcissism: to encourage magical thinking, to wish the problem away or to enchant it or to confront and overcome it from a position of omnipotence.

A structural abnormality of personality arises only when recurrent attacks fail constantly and consistently to eliminate the obstacle, or to overcome the hindrance. The contrast between the fantastic world (temporarily) occupied by the individual and the real world in which he keeps being frustrated is too acute to countenance for long without a resulting deformity.

This dissonance – the gap between grandiose fantasy and frustrating reality – gives rise to the unconscious "decision" to go on living in the world of fantasy, grandiosity and entitlement. It is better to feel special than to feel inadequate. It is better to be omnipotent than psychologically impotent. To (ab)use others is preferable to being (ab)used by them. In short: it is better to remain a pathological narcissist than to face harsh, unyielding reality.

Not all personality disorders are fundamentally narcissistic. Yet, I think that the default, when growth is stunted by the existence of a persistent obstacle, is remission to the narcissistic phase of early personal development. I further believe that this is the ONLY default available to the individual: whenever he comes across an obstacle, he regresses to the narcissistic phase. How can this be reconciled with the diversity of mental illnesses?

"Narcissism" is the substitution of a False Self for the True Self. This, arguably, is the predominant feature of narcissism: the True Self is repressed, relegated to irrelevance and obscurity, left to degenerate and decay. In its stead, a psychological structure is formed and projected unto the outside world: the False Self.

The narcissist's False Self is reflected at him by other people. This "proves" to the narcissist that the False Self indeed exists independently, that it is not entirely a figment of the narcissist's imagination and, therefore, that it is a legitimate successor to the True Self. It is this characteristic which is common to all psychopathologies: the emergence of false psychic structures which usurp the powers and capacities of the previous, legitimate and authentic ones.

Horrified by the absence of a clearly bounded, cohesive, coherent, reliable, and self-regulating self, the mentally abnormal person resorts to one of the following solutions, all of which involve reliance upon sham and invented personality constructs:

a. The Narcissistic Solution – The patient creates and projects an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent False Self that largely replaces and represses the discredited and dilapidated True Self. He uses the False Self to garner Narcissistic Supply (attention, both positive and negative) and thus support his inflated fantasies. Both the Narcissistic and the Schizotypal personality disorders belong here because both involve grandiose, fantastic, and magical thinking. When the narcissistic solution fails, we have the Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The Borderline patient's awareness that the solution that she had opted for is "not working" generates in her an overwhelming separation anxiety (fear of abandonment), an identity disturbance, affective and emotional lability, suicidal ideation, and suicidal action, chronic feelings of emptiness, rage attacks, and transient (stress related) paranoid ideation.

b. The Appropriation Solution – This solution involves the appropriation of someone else's imagined (and, therefore, confabulated and false) self instead of one's dysfunctional True Self. Such people live vicariously, through others, and by proxy. Consider the Histrionic Personality Disorder. Histrionics sexualize and objectify others and then internalize (introject) them. Lacking an inner reality (True Self) they over-rate and over-emphasize their bodies. Histrionics and other "appropriators" misjudge the intimacy of their faux relationships and the degree of commitment involved. They are easily suggestible and their senses of self and self-worth shift and fluctuate with input from the outside (Narcissistic Supply). Another example of this type of solution is the Dependent Personality Disorder (co-dependents). Manipulative mothers who "sacrifice" their lives for their children, "drama queens", and people with factitious disorders (for instance, Munchausen Syndrome) also belong to this category.

c. The Schizoid Solution – Sometimes the emergence of the False Self is stunted or disrupted. The True Self remains immature and dysfunctional but it is not replaced by a functioning narcissistic defence mechanism. Such patients are mental zombies, trapped forever in the no-man's land between infancy and adulthood. They lack empathy, their psychosexual life is impoverished, they prefer to avoid contact with others, and withdraw from the world. The Schizotypal Personality Disorder is a mixture of the narcissistic and the schizoid solutions. The Avoidant Personality Disorder is a close kin.

d. The Aggressive Destructive Solution – These people suffer from hypochondriasis, depression, suicidal ideation, dysphoria, anhedonia, compulsions and obsessions and other expressions of internalized and transformed aggression directed at a self which is perceived to be inadequate, guilty, disappointing and worthy of nothing but elimination. Many of the narcissistic elements are present in an exaggerated form. Lack of empathy becomes reckless disregard for others, irritability, deceitfulness and criminal violence. Undulating self-esteem is transformed into impulsiveness and failure to plan ahead. The Antisocial Personality Disorder is a prime example of this solution, whose essence is: the total control of a False Self, without the mitigating presence of a shred of True Self.

Perhaps this common feature – the replacement of the original structures of the personality by new, invented, ersatz ones – is what causes one to see narcissists everywhere. This common denominator is most accentuated in the Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

The interaction, really, the battle, between the struggling original remnants of the personality and the malignant and omnivorous new structures can be discerned in all forms of psychic abnormality. The question is: if many phenomena have one thing in common, should they be considered one and the same, or, at least, caused by the same?

The answer in the case of personality disorders may well be in the affirmative. All the known personality disorders are forms of malignant self-love. In each personality disorder, different attributes are differently emphasized, different weights attach to different behaviour patterns. But these are all matters of quantity, not of quality. The myriad deformations of the reactive patterns collectively known as "personality" all belong to the same family.

Return

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION # 56

 

Narcissism, Other Mental Health Disorders,

Substance Abuse, and Reckless Behaviours

Co-Morbidity and Dual Diagnosis

 

 

Question: The symptoms that you describe are common to so many people that I know… Does this mean that they are all narcissists?

Answer: The classification of Axis II personality disorders – deeply ingrained, maladaptive, lifelong behaviour patterns – in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fourth edition, text revision [American Psychiatric Association. DSM-IV-TR, Washington, 2000] – or the DSM-IV-TR for short – has come under sustained and serious criticism from its inception in 1952.

The DSM-IV-TR adopts a categorical approach, postulating that personality disorders are "qualitatively distinct clinical syndromes" [p. 689]. This is widely doubted. Even the distinction made between "normal" and "disordered" personalities is increasingly being rejected. The "diagnostic thresholds" between normal and abnormal are either absent or weakly supported.

The polythetic form of the DSM's Diagnostic Criteria – only a subset of the criteria is adequate grounds for a diagnosis – generates unacceptable diagnostic heterogeneity. In other words, people diagnosed with the same personality disorder may have only one diagnostic criterion in common.

The DSM fails to clarify the exact relationship between Axis II and Axis I disorders and the way chronic childhood and developmental problems interact with personality disorders.

The differential diagnoses are vague and the personality disorders are insufficiently demarcated. The result is excessive co-morbidity (multiple Axis II diagnoses in the same patient).

The DSM contains little discussion of what distinguishes normal character (personality), personality traits, or personality style (Millon) from personality disorders. The DSM does not incorporate personality disorders induced by circumstances (reactive personality disorders, such as Milman's proposed "Acquired Situational Narcissism"). Nor does it efficaciously cope with personality disorders that are the result of medical conditions (such as brain injuries, metabolic conditions, or protracted poisoning).

The DSM suffers from a dearth of documented clinical experience regarding both the disorders themselves and the utility of various treatment modalities.

A few personality disorders are "not otherwise specified": a catchall, basket "category".

Cultural bias is evident in certain personality disorders (such as the Antisocial and the Schizotypal).

The emergence of dimensional alternatives to the categorical approach is acknowledged in the DSM-IV-TR itself:

"An alternative to the categorical approach is the dimensional perspective that personality disorders represent maladaptive variants of personality traits that merge imperceptibly into normality and into one another." [p. 689]

The following issues – long neglected in the DSM – are likely to be tackled in future editions as well as in current research:

• The longitudinal course of the disorder(s) and their temporal stability from early childhood onwards;

• The genetic and biological underpinnings of personality disorder(s);

• The development of personality psychopathology during childhood and its emergence in adolescence;

• The interactions between physical health and disease and personality disorders;

• The effectiveness of various treatments: talk therapies as well as psychopharmacology.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual [American Psychiatric Association. DSM-IV-TR, Washington, 2000] defines "personality" as:

"…enduring patterns of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and oneself … exhibited in a wide range of important social and personal contexts."

Patients suffering from personality disorders have these things in common:

They are persistent, relentless, stubborn, and insistent (except those suffering from the Schizoid or the Avoidant personality disorders).

They feel entitled to – and vociferously demand – preferential treatment and privileged access to resources and personnel. They often complain about multiple symptoms. They get involved in "power plays" with authority figures (such as physicians, therapists, nurses, social workers, bosses, and bureaucrats) and rarely obey instructions or observe rules of conduct and procedure.

They hold themselves to be superior to others or, at the very least, unique. Many personality disorders involve an inflated self-perception and grandiosity. Such subjects are incapable of empathy (the ability to appreciate and respect the needs and wishes of other people). In therapy or medical treatment, they alienate the physician or therapist by treating her as inferior to them.

Patients with personality disorders are self-centred, self-preoccupied, repetitive, and, thus, boring.

Subjects with personality disorders seek to manipulate and exploit others. They trust no one and have a diminished capacity to love or intimately share because they do not trust or love themselves. They are socially maladaptive and emotionally unstable.

No one knows whether personality disorders are the tragic outcomes of nature or the sad follow-up to a lack of nurture by the patient's environment.

Generally speaking, though, most personality disorders start out in childhood and early adolescence as mere problems in personal development. Exacerbated by repeated abuse and rejection, they then become full-fledged dysfunctions. Personality disorders are rigid and enduring patterns of traits, emotions, and cognitions. In other words, they rarely "evolve" and are stable and all-pervasive, not episodic. By "all-pervasive", I mean to say that they affect every area in the patient's life: his career, his interpersonal relationships, his social functioning.

Personality disorders cause unhappiness and are usually co-morbid with mood and anxiety disorders. Most patients are ego-dystonic (except narcissists and psychopaths). They dislike and resent who they are, how they behave, and the pernicious and destructive effects they have on their nearest and dearest. Still, personality disorders are defence mechanisms writ large. Thus, few patients with personality disorders are truly self-aware or capable of life transforming introspective insights.

Patients with personality disorder typically suffer from a host of other psychiatric problems (example: depressive illnesses, or obsessions-compulsions). They are worn-out by the need to reign in their self-destructive and self-defeating impulses.

Patients with personality disorders have alloplastic defences and an external locus of control. In other words: rather than accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions, they tend to blame other people or the outside world for their misfortune, failures, and circumstances. Consequently, they fall prey to paranoid persecutory delusions and anxieties. When stressed, they try to pre-empt (real or imaginary) threats by changing the rules of the game, introducing new variables, or by trying to manipulate their environment to conform to their needs. They regard everyone and everything as mere instruments of gratification.

Patients with Cluster B personality disorders (Narcissistic, Antisocial, Borderline, and Histrionic) are mostly ego-syntonic, even though they are faced with formidable character and behavioural deficits, emotional deficiencies and lability, and overwhelmingly wasted lives and squandered potentials. Such patients do not, on the whole, find their personality traits or behaviour objectionable, unacceptable, disagreeable, or alien to their selves.

There is a clear distinction between patients with personality-disorders and patients with psychoses (schizophrenia-paranoia and the like). As opposed to the latter, the former have no hallucinations, delusions or thought disorders. At the extreme, subjects who suffer from the Borderline Personality Disorder experience brief psychotic "microepisodes", mostly during treatment. Patients with personality disorders are also fully oriented, with clear senses (sensorium), good memory and a satisfactory general fund of knowledge.

 

Question: Does narcissism often occur with other mental health disorders (co-morbidity) or with substance abuse (dual diagnosis)?

Answer: NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) is often diagnosed with other mental health disorders (such as the Borderline, Histrionic, or Antisocial Personality Disorders). This is called "co-morbidity". NPD is also often accompanied by substance abuse and other reckless and impulsive behaviours and this co-occurrence is called "dual diagnosis".

The Schizoid and Paranoid Personality Disorders

The basic dynamic of this particular brand of co-morbidity goes like this:

1. The narcissist feels superior, unique, entitled and better than his fellow men. He thus tends to despise them, to hold them in contempt and to regard them as lowly and subservient beings.

2. The narcissist feels that his time is invaluable, his mission of cosmic importance, his contributions to humanity priceless. He, therefore, demands total obedience and catering to his ever-changing needs. Any demands on his time and resources are deemed to be both humiliating and wasteful.

3. But the narcissist is DEPENDENT on input from other people for the performance of certain ego functions (such as the regulation of his sense of self-worth). Without Narcissistic Supply (adulation, adoration, attention), the narcissist shrivels and withers and is dysphoric (depressed).

4. The narcissist resents this dependence. He is furious at himself for his neediness and – in a typical narcissistic manoeuvre (called "alloplastic defence") – he blames OTHERS for his anger. He displaces his rage and its roots.

5. Many narcissists are also paranoid. This means that they are afraid of people and of what people might do to them. Wouldn't you be scared and paranoid if your very life depended continually on the goodwill of others? The narcissist's very life depends on others providing him with Narcissistic Supply. He becomes suicidal if they stop doing so.

6. To counter this overwhelming feeling of helplessness (dependence on Narcissistic Supply), the narcissist becomes a control freak. He sadistically manipulates others to satisfy his needs. He derives pleasure from the utter subjugation of his human environment.

7. Finally, the narcissist is a latent masochist. He seeks punishment, castigation and ex-communication. This self-destruction is the only way to validate powerful voices he had internalized as a child ("You are a bad, rotten, hopeless child").

The narcissistic landscape is fraught with contradictions. The narcissist depends on people – but hates and despises them. He wants to control them unconditionally – but is also looking to punish himself savagely. He is terrified of persecution ("persecutory delusions") – but seeks the company of his own "persecutors" compulsively.

The narcissist is the victim of incompatible inner dynamics, ruled by numerous vicious circles, pushed and pulled simultaneously by irresistible forces. A minority of narcissists choose the Schizoid Solution. They choose, in effect, to disengage, both emotionally and socially.

[Read more about the narcissist's reactions to deficient Narcissistic Supply: The Delusional Way Out]

[Read more about Schizoid Narcissists in FAQ 51]

HPD (Histrionic Personality Disorder) and Somatic NPD

Somatic narcissists acquire their Narcissistic Supply by making use of their bodies, of sex, of physical of physiological achievements, traits, health, exercise, or relationships. They possess many Histrionic features.

[Read the DSM-IV-TR (2000) definition of the Histrionic Personality Disorder]

Narcissists and Depression

[Read Frequently Asked Question 9 to learn more about depression and the narcissist]

Dissociative Identity Disorder and NPD

Is the True Self of the narcissist the equivalent of the host personality in the DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) – and the False Self one of the fragmented personalities, also known as "alters"?

The False Self is a mere construct rather than a full-fledged self. It is the locus of the narcissist's fantasies of grandiosity, his feelings of entitlement, omnipotence, magical thinking, omniscience and magical immunity. But it lacks many other functional and structural elements.

Moreover, it has no "cut-off" date. DID alters have a date of inception, usually as a reaction to trauma or abuse (they have an "age"). The False Self is a process, not an entity, it is a reactive pattern and a reactive formation. The False Self is not a self, nor is it false. It is very real, more real to the narcissist than his True Self.

As Kernberg observed, the narcissist actually vanishes and is replaced by a False Self. There is NO True Self inside the narcissist. The narcissist is a hall of mirrors – but the hall itself is an optical illusion created by the mirrors. Narcissism is reminiscent of a painting by Escher.

In DID, the patient's emotions are segregated into personality-like internal constructs ("entities"). The notion of "unique separate multiple whole personalities" is untrue. DID is a continuum. The subject's inner language breaks down into polyglottal chaos. In DID, emotions cannot communicate with each other for fear of provoking overwhelming pain (and its fatal consequences). So, they are being kept apart by various mechanisms (a host or birth personality, a facilitator, a moderator and so on).

All personality disorders involve a modicum of dissociation. But the narcissistic solution is to emotionally disappear altogether. Hence, the tremendous, insatiable need of the narcissist for external approval. The narcissist exists ONLY as a reflection. Since he is forbidden to love his True Self, he chooses to have no self at all. It is not dissociation – it is a vanishing act.

NPD is a total, "pure" solution: self-extinguishing, self-abolishing, and entirely fake.

NPD and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

NPD has been associated with Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD, or ADD) and with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). The rationale is that children suffering from ADHD are unlikely to develop the attachment necessary to prevent a narcissistic regression (Freud) or adaptation (Jung).

Bonding and object relations ought to be affected by ADHD. Research to supports this intuitive linkage has yet to come to light, though. Still, many psychotherapists and psychiatrists use it as a working hypothesis. Another proposed dynamic is between autistic disorders (such as Asperger's Syndrome) and narcissism.

Narcissism and Bipolar Disorder

The manic phase of Bipolar I Disorder is often misdiagnosed as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

Bipolar patients in the manic phase exhibit many of the signs and symptoms of pathological narcissism: hyperactivity, self-centredness, lack of empathy, and control freakery. During this recurring chapter of the disease, the patient is euphoric, has grandiose fantasies, spins unrealistic schemes, and has frequent rage attacks (is irritable) if her or his wishes and plans are (inevitably) frustrated.

The manic phases of the bipolar disorder, however, are limited in time while NPD is not. Furthermore, the mania is followed by – usually protracted – depressive episodes. The narcissist is also frequently dysphoric. But whereas the bipolar sinks into deep self-deprecation, self-devaluation, unbounded pessimism, all-pervasive guilt and anhedonia, the narcissist, even when depressed, never forgoes his narcissism: his grandiosity, sense of entitlement, haughtiness, and lack of empathy.

Narcissistic dysphorias are much shorter and reactive: they constitute a response to the Grandiosity Gap. In plain words, the narcissist is dejected when confronted with the abyss between his inflated self-image and grandiose fantasies and the drab reality of his life: his failures, lack of accomplishments, disintegrating interpersonal relationships, and low status. Yet, one dose of Narcissistic Supply is enough to elevate the narcissists from the depth of misery to the heights of manic euphoria.

Not so with the bipolar. The source of her or his mood swings is assumed to be brain biochemistry – not the availability of Narcissistic Supply. Whereas the narcissist is in full control of his faculties, even when maximally agitated, the bipolar often feels that s/he has lost control of his/her brain ("flight of ideas"), his/her speech, his/her attention span (distractibility), and his/her motor functions.

The bipolar is prone to reckless behaviours and substance abuse only during the manic phase. The narcissist does drugs, drinks, gambles, shops on credit, indulges in unsafe sex or in other compulsive behaviours both when elated and when deflated.

As a rule, the bipolar's manic phase interferes with his/her social and occupational functioning. Many narcissists, in contrast, reach the highest rungs of their community, church, firm, or voluntary organization. Most of the time, they function flawlessly – though the inevitable blowups and the grating extortion of Narcissistic Supply usually put an end to the narcissist's career and social liaisons.

The manic phase of bipolar sometimes requires hospitalization and, more frequently than admitted, involves psychotic features. Narcissists are never hospitalized as the risk for self-harm is minute. Moreover, psychotic microepisodes in narcissism are decompensatory in nature and appear only under unendurable stress (e.g., in intensive therapy).

The bipolar's mania provokes discomfort in both strangers and in the patient's nearest and dearest. His/her constant cheer and compulsive insistence on interpersonal, sexual, and occupational, or professional interactions engenders unease and repulsion. Her/his lability of mood – rapid shifts between uncontrollable rage and unnatural good spirits – is downright intimidating. The narcissist's gregariousness, by comparison, is calculated, "cold", controlled, and goal-orientated (the extraction of Narcissistic Supply). His cycles of mood and affect are far less pronounced and less rapid.

The bipolar's swollen self-esteem, overstated self-confidence, obvious grandiosity, and delusional fantasies are akin to the narcissist's and are the source of the diagnostic confusion. Both types of patients purport to give advice, carry out an assignment, accomplish a mission, or embark on an enterprise for which they are uniquely unqualified and lack the talents, skills, knowledge, or experience required.

But the bipolar's bombast is far more delusional than the narcissist's. Ideas of reference and magical thinking are common and, in this sense, the bipolar is closer to the schizotypal than to the narcissistic.

There are other differentiating symptoms:

Sleep disorders – notably acute insomnia – are common in the manic phase of bipolar and uncommon in narcissism. So is "manic speech": pressured, uninterruptible, loud, rapid, dramatic (includes singing and humorous asides), sometimes incomprehensible, incoherent, chaotic, and lasts for hours. It reflects the bipolar's inner turmoil and his/her inability to control his/her racing and kaleidoscopic thoughts.

As opposed to narcissists, bipolar in the manic phase are often distracted by the slightest stimuli, are unable to focus on relevant data, or to maintain the thread of conversation. They are "all over the place" – simultaneously initiating numerous business ventures, joining a myriad organization, writing umpteen letters, contacting hundreds of friends and perfect strangers, acting in a domineering, demanding, and intrusive manner, totally disregarding the needs and emotions of the unfortunate recipients of their unwanted attentions. They rarely follow up on their projects.

The transformation is so marked that the bipolar is often described by his/her closest as "not himself/herself". Indeed, some bipolars relocate, change name and appearance, and lose contact with their "former life". Antisocial or even criminal behaviour is not uncommon and aggression is marked, directed at both others (assault) and oneself (suicide). Some biploars describe an acuteness of the senses, akin to experiences recounted by drug users: smells, sounds, and sights are accentuated and attain an unearthly quality.

As opposed to narcissists, bipolars regret their misdeeds following the manic phase and try to atone for their actions. They realize and accept that "something is wrong with them" and seek help. During the depressive phase they are ego-dystonic and their defences are autoplastic (they blame themselves for their defeats, failures, and mishaps).

Finally, pathological narcissism is already discernible in early adolescence. The full-fledged bipolar disorder – including a manic phase – rarely occurs before the age of 20. The narcissist is consistent in his pathology – not so the bipolar. The onset of the manic episode is fast and furious and results in a conspicuous metamorphosis of the patient.

[More about this topic here:

Stormberg, D., Roningstam, E., Gunderson, J., & Tohen, M. (1998) Pathological Narcissism in Bipolar Disorder Patients. Journal of Personality Disorders, 12, 179-185;

Roningstam, E. (1996), Pathological Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder in Axis I Disorders. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 3, 326-340]

Narcissism and Asperger's Disorder

Asperger's Disorder is often misdiagnosed as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), though evident as early as age 3 (while pathological narcissism cannot be safely diagnosed prior to early adolescence).

In both cases, the patient is self-centred and engrossed in a narrow range of interests and activities. Social and occupational interactions are severely hampered and conversational skills (the give and take of verbal intercourse) are primitive. The Asperger's patient's body language – eye to eye gaze, body posture, facial expressions – is constricted and artificial, akin to the narcissist's. Nonverbal cues are virtually absent and their interpretation in others lacking.

Yet, the gulf between Asperger's and pathological narcissism is vast.

The narcissist switches between social agility and social impairment voluntarily. His social dysfunctioning is the outcome of conscious haughtiness and the reluctance to invest scarce mental energy in cultivating relationships with inferior and unworthy others. When confronted with potential Sources of Narcissistic Supply, however, the narcissist easily regains his social skills, his charm, and his gregariousness.

Many narcissists reach the highest rungs of their community, church, firm, or voluntary organization. Most of the time, they function flawlessly – though the inevitable blowups and the grating extortion of Narcissistic Supply usually put an end to the narcissist's career and social liaisons.

The Asperger's patient often wants to be accepted socially, to have friends, to marry, to be sexually active, and to sire offspring. He just doesn't have a clue as to how to go about it. His affect is limited. His initiative – for instance, to share his experiences with nearest and dearest or to engage in foreplay – is thwarted. His ability to divulge his emotions stilted. He is incapable or reciprocating and is largely unaware of the wishes, needs, and feelings of his interlocutors or counterparties.

Inevitably, Asperger's patients are perceived by others to be cold, eccentric, insensitive, indifferent, repulsive, exploitative or emotionally-absent. To avoid the pain of rejection, they confine themselves to solitary activities – but, unlike the schizoid, not by choice. They limit their world to a single topic, hobby, or person and dive in with the greatest, all-consuming intensity, excluding all other matters and everyone else. It is a form of hurt-control and pain regulation.

Thus, while the narcissist avoids pain by excluding, devaluing, and discarding others, the Asperger's patient achieves the same result by withdrawing and by passionately incorporating in his universe only one or two people and one or two subjects of interest. Both narcissists and Asperger's patients are prone to react with depression to perceived slights and injuries, but Asperger's patients are far more at risk of self-harm and suicide.

The use of language is another differentiating factor.

The narcissist is a skilled communicator. He uses language as an instrument to obtain Narcissistic Supply or as a weapon to obliterate his "enemies" and discarded sources with. Cerebral narcissists derive Narcissistic Supply from the consummate use they make of their innate verbosity.

Not so the Asperger's patient. He is equally verbose at times (and taciturn on other occasions) but his topics are few and, thus, tediously repetitive. He is unlikely to obey conversational rules and etiquette (for instance, to let others speak in turn). Nor is the Asperger's patient able to decipher nonverbal cues and gestures or to monitor his own misbehaviour on such occasions. Narcissists are similarly inconsiderate – but only towards those who cannot possibly serve as Sources of Narcissistic Supply.

[More about Autism Spectrum Disorders here:

McDowell, Maxson J. (2002) The Image of the Mother's Eye: Autism and Early Narcissistic Injury, Behavioural and Brain Sciences (Submitted);

Benis, Anthony – "Toward Self & Sanity: On the Genetic Origins of the Human Character" – Narcissistic-Perfectionist Personality Type (NP) with special reference to infantile autism;

Stringer, Kathi (2003) An Object Relations Approach to Understanding Unusual Behaviours and Disturbances;

James Robert Brasic, MD, MPH (2003) Pervasive Developmental Disorder: Asperger Syndrome]

Narcissism and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Anxiety disorders – and especially Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – are often misdiagnosed as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

Anxiety is uncontrollable and excessive apprehension. Anxiety disorders usually come replete with obsessive thoughts, compulsive and ritualistic acts, restlessness, fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and somatic manifestations (such as an increased heart rate, sweating, or, in Panic Attacks, chest pains).

By definition, narcissists are anxious for social approval or attention (Narcissistic Supply). The narcissist cannot control this need and the attendant anxiety because he requires external feedback to regulate his labile sense of self-worth. This dependence makes most narcissists irritable. They fly into rages and have a very low threshold of frustration.

Like patients who suffer from panic attacks and Social Phobia (another Anxiety Disorder), narcissists are terrified of being embarrassed or criticized in public. Consequently, most narcissists fail to function well in various settings (social, occupational, romantic, etc.).

Many narcissists develop obsessions and compulsions. Like sufferers of GAD, narcissists are perfectionists and preoccupied with the quality of their performance and the level of their competence. As the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual [DSM-IV-TR, pp. 473] puts it, GAD patients (especially children):

"… (A)re typically overzealous in seeking approval and require excessive reassurance about their performance and their other worries."

This applies equally well to narcissists. Both classes of patients are paralyzed by the fear of being judged as imperfect or lacking. Narcissists as well as patients with anxiety disorders constantly fail to measure up to an inner, harsh, and sadistic critic and a grandiose, inflated self-image.

The narcissistic solution is to avoid comparison and competition altogether and to demand special treatment. The narcissist's sense of entitlement is incommensurate with the narcissist's true accomplishments. He withdraws from the rat race because he does not deem his opponents, colleagues, or peers worthy of his efforts. As opposed to narcissists, patients with anxiety disorders are invested in their work and their profession. To be exact, they are over-invested. Their preoccupation with perfection is counter-productive and, ironically, renders them underachievers.

It is easy to mistake the presenting symptoms of certain anxiety disorders as pathological narcissism. Both types of patients are worried about social approbation and seek it actively. Both present a haughty or impervious facade to the world. Both are dysfunctional and weighed down by a history of personal failure on the job and in the family. But the narcissist is ego-dystonic: he is proud and happy of who he is. The anxious patient is distressed and is looking for help and a way out of his or her predicament. Hence the differential diagnosis.

[Bibliography:

Goldman, Howard G. – Review of General Psychiatry, 4th ed. – London, Prentice-Hall International, 1995 – p. 279-282;

Gelder, Michael et al., eds. – Oxford Textbook of Psychiatry, 3rd ed. – London, Oxford University Press, 2000 – p. 160-169;

Klein, Melanie – The Writings of Melanie Klein – Ed. Roger Money-Kyrle, 4 vols. – New York, Free Press, 1964-75;

Kernberg O. – Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism – New York, Jason Aronson, 1975;

Millon, Theodore (and Roger D. Davis, contributor) – Disorders of Personality: DSM IV and Beyond, 2nd ed. – New York, John Wiley and Sons, 1995;

Millon, Theodore – Personality Disorders in Modern Life – New York, John Wiley and Sons, 2000;

Schwartz, Lester – Narcissistic Personality Disorders – A Clinical Discussion – Journal of American Psychoanalytic Association, 22 (1974) – p. 292-305;

Vaknin, Sam – Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited, 8th revised impression – Skopje and Prague, Narcissus Publications, 2007]

BPD, NPD and Other Cluster B Personal Disorders

In the DSM, there are 10 distinct personality disorders (Paranoid, Schizoid, Schizotypal, Antisocial, Borderline, Histrionic, Narcissistic, Avoidant, Dependent, Obsessive-Compulsive) and one catchall category, Personality Disorders NOS (Not Otherwise Specified).

Personality disorders with marked similarities are grouped into clusters.

Cluster A (the Odd or Eccentric Cluster) includes the Paranoid, Schizoid, and Schizotypal personality disorders.

Cluster B (the Dramatic, Emotional, or Erratic Cluster) is comprised of the Antisocial, Borderline, Histrionic, and Narcissistic personality disorders.

Cluster C (the Anxious or Fearful Cluster) encompasses the Avoidant, Dependent, and Obsessive-Compulsive personality disorders.

The Clusters are not valid theoretical constructs and have never been verified or rigorously tested. They constitute merely convenient shorthand and so provide little additional insight into their component personality disorders.

The personality disorders in Cluster B are ubiquitous. You are far more likely to have come across a Borderline or a Narcissist or a Psychopath than across a Schizotypal, for instance.

First, an overview of Cluster B:

Borderline Personality Disorder is marked by instability. The patient is a roller-coaster of emotions (this is called emotional lability). She (most Borderlines are women) fails to maintain stable relationships and dramatically attaches to, clings, and violently detaches from a seemingly inexhaustible stream of lovers, spouses, intimate partners, and friends. Self-image is volatile, one's sense of self-worth is fluctuating and precarious, affect is unpredictable and inappropriate, and impulse control is impaired (the patient's threshold of frustration is low).

The Antisocial Personality Disorder involves contemptuous disregard for others. The psychopath ignores or actively violates other people's rights, choices, wishes, preferences, and emotions.

The Narcissistic Personality Disorder is founded on a sense of fantastic grandiosity, brilliance, perfection, and power (omnipotence). The narcissist lacks empathy, is exploitative, and compulsively seeks Narcissistic Supply (attention, admiration, adulation, being feared, etc.) to buttress his False Self – a confabulated "person" aimed at inspiring awe and extracting compliance and subservience from others.

Finally, the Histrionic Personality Disorder also revolves around attention-seeking but is usually confined to sexual conquests and displays of the histrionic's capacity to irresistibly seduce others.

Each personality disorder (PD) has its own form of Narcissistic Supply: