Excerpts from the Archives of the Narcissism List - Part 10

Listowner: Dr. Sam Vaknin


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1. The Exposure of the Narcissist

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 react aggressively. This is his way of channeling life-threatening aggression.

Rather than endure its assault and its frightening outcomes - he redirects the aggression, transforms it and hurls it at others.

What form his aggression assumes is nigh impossible to predict without knowing the narcissist in question intimately. It could be anything from cynical humour, through cruel honesty, verbal abuse, passive aggressive behaviours (frustrating others), and to actual physical violence. I would consider it unwise to leave a child alone with him in such a condition.

2. Could Negative Input be Narcissistic Supply?

Yes, it could. I make clear that NS includes attention, fame, notoriety, adulation, fear, applause, approval - a mixed bag. If the narcissist gets attention - positive or negative - it constitutes NS. If he succeeds to manipulate people or influence them - positively or negatively - it qualifies as NS.

The ability to influence other people, to induce feelings in them, to manipulate them emotionally, to make them do something or refrain from doing it is what counts.

The receipt of NS releases libido (increases the sexual drive) - see my http://narcissism.cjb.net/msla.html

3. Narcissists, Disagreements and Criticism

The narcissist perceives every disagreement - let alone criticism - as nothing short of a THREAT. He reacts defensively. He becomes indignant, aggressive and cold. He detaches emotionally for fear of yet another (narcissistic) injury. He devalues the person who made the disparaging remark. By holding the critic in contempt, by diminishing the stature of the discordant conversant - he minimizes the impact on himself of the disagreement or criticism. Like a trapped animal, the narcissist is forever on the lookout: was this remark meant to demean him? was this sentence a deliberate attack? Gradually, his mind turns into a chaotic battlefield of paranoia and ideas of reference until he loses touch with reality as we know it and retreats to his own world of fantasized grandiosity.

The cerebral narcissist is competitive and intolerant of criticism or disagreement. To him, subjugation and subordination establish his undisputed intellectual superiority or professional authority over others. Lowen has an excellent exposition of this "hidden or tacit competition" in his books. The cerebral narcissist aspires to perfection. Thus, even the slightest and most inconsequential challenge to his authority is inflated by him to cosmic proportion. Hence, the disproprtion of his reactions.

4.  Unresolved Conflicts

The narcissist is forever entrapped 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 in his life. But he is likely to return to the Primary Objects in his life (his parents, other caregivers in the absence of parents, peers) to do either of two:

a.      "Re-charge" the conflict "battery", or

b.     When unable to do (a) - enact the old conflict with another person.

The narcissist relates to his human environment through his unresolved conflicts. It is the energy of the tension thus created that sustains him.

He is a person driven by the imminent danger of eruption, by the unsettling prospect of losing his precarious balance. It is a tightrope act. The narcissist must remain alert and on-edge. Only if the conflict is fresh in his mind can he attain such levels of mental arousal.

Periodically interacting with the objects of his conflicts, sustains the inner turmoil, keeps the narcissist on his toes, endows him with the feeling that he is alive.

5. The Narcissist Wants to be Liked?

Would you wish to be liked by your television set? To the narcissist, people are instruments, Sources of Supply. If he has to be liked by them in order to secure this supply - he will strive to ensure their liking. If he has to be feared - he will make sure they fear him. He does not really care either way as long as he is being attended to. Attention - whether in the form of fame or infamy - is what it's all about. His world revolves around his constant mirroring. I am seen therefore I exist, sayeth the narcissist.

But the classic narcissist is also looking to get punished. His actions are aimed to elicit social or other sanctions from his environment. His life is a Kafkaesque ongoing trial and the open-endedness of the trial is itself the punishment. A punishment (a reprimand, an imprisonment, an abandonment) serves to vindicate and validate the internal damning voices of his sadistic, ideal and immature Superego (really, the voices of his parents or other caregivers). They confirm his worthlessness. They relieve him from the burden of the inner conflict he endures when successful: the conflict between the gnawing sense of guilt and shame for having invalidated his parents' judgement - and the need to secure Narcissistic Supply.

Thus, free of his past "chains" - his world in ruins - the narcissist embarks on a new voyage, to conquer a new land, to keep new promises, riding into the horizon of a continent of boundless new Narcissistic Supply, unadulterated by the quotidian and the routine and by his past.

6. Old Sources of Narcissistic Supply (NS)

One should not romanticise the narcissist. His regrets are forever linked to his fears of losing his sources. His loneliness vanishes when he is awash with Narcissistic Supply.

Narcissists have no enemies. They have only Sources of Narcissistic Supply. An enemy means attention means supply. One holds sway over one's enemy. If the narcissist has the power to provoke emotions in you - you are still a Source of Supply, regardless of WHICH emotions these are.

He seeks you out probably because he has absolutely no other NS Sources at this stage. Narcissists frantically try to recycle their old and wasted sources in such a situation. But he would NOT have done even this had he not felt that he could still successfully extract a modicum of NS from you (even to attack someone is to recognize his existence and to attend to him!!!).

So, what should you do?

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First, get over the excitement of seeing him again. To be courted is flattering, perhaps sexually arousing. Try to overcome these feelings.

Then, simply ignore him. Don't bother to respond in any way to his offer to get together. If he talks to you - keep quiet, don't answer. If he calls you - listen politely and then say goodbye and hang up. Indifference is what the narcissist cannot stand. It indicates a lack of attention and interest that constitutes the kernel of negative NS.

7. Hurting Others

Narcissists do feel bad about hurting others and about the unsavoury course their lives tend to assume. Their ego-dystony (feeling bad about themselves) was only recently discovered and described. But my suspicion is that a narcissist feels bad only when his Supply Sources are threatened because of his behaviour, or following a narcissistic injury (such as a major life crisis: divorce, bankruptcy, etc.)

The narcissist equate emotions with weakness. He regards the sentimental and the emotional with contempt. He looks down on the sensitive and the vulnerable. He derides and despises the dependent and the loving. He mocks expressions of compassion and passion. He is devoid of empathy. He is so afraid of his True Self that he would rather demean it all than admit to his own faults and "soft spots". He likes to talk about himself in mechanical terms ("machine", "efficient", "punctual", "output", "computer").

He slaughters his human side diligently and with a dedication derived from his drive to survive. To him, to be human and to survive are mutually exclusive. He must choose and his choice is clear. The narcissist never looks back, unless and until forced to by life itself.

8. Narcissists and Intimacy

ALL narcissists fear intimacy. But the cerebral narcissist deploys excellent defences: "scientific detachment" (the narcissist as the eternal observer), intellectualizing and rationalizing his emotions away, intellectual cruelty (see my FAQ regarding inappropriate affect), intellectual "annexation" (regarding the other person as his extension, or territory), objectifying the other and so on. Even emotions which are expressed (pathological envy, neurotic or other rage, etc.) have the not totally unintended effect of alienating.

9. Personality Disorders are Culture-Dependent?

There is a debate in psychology ever since Freud whether mental disorders are culture dependent. Could some "personality disorders" be the norm in a different, non-Western, culture?

Could some behaviours be mandatory in one culture while derided in another? I was born in a culture which regarded the ABSENCE of physical abuse as parental neglect and indifference, for instance. Michele Foucault and Louis Althusser (the Marxist philosophers) said that mental health is used as a tool by the prevailing power structures in an effort to perpetuate their power and to propagate it. Lasch claimed that Western society in general is narcissistic. Peck suggested that modern day narcissists are "possessed" by inner demons. Many theoreticians dispute the very theoretical construct known as "personality". They say that there is no such thing.

10. Fortress Narcissism

It is not the maintenance of a double life that is at stake. It is the maintenance of LIFE itself. The personality of the narcissist is a precariously balanced house of cards, symbiotically attached to its Sources of Narcissistic Supply. Any negative input (indifference, disagreement, criticism) - however minute - shatters it, shakes it to its lacking foundations and casts an ominous pall over the narcissist's very existence. This is enormously energy consuming, so the narcissist has no energy left for others.

When it all comes crushing down (a life crisis which results in a major narcissistic injury) - a tiny and passing window of opportunity opens. The narcissist - no longer defended by his crumbling defences, finally experiences the seething abyss of his negative emotions. Many narcissists then entertain suicidal ideas. Some resort to therapy. But the window closes and the opportunity passes and the narcissist reverts to his old, time proven methods. A precious few benefit from the upheaval in their lives.

Others just keep plodding on in the grey world that is fortress narcissism.

11. Inverted Narcissists

The inverted narcissist is not "milder" than the other forms of narcissism.

Like them, it has degrees and shades. But I would agree that it is much more rare and that the DSM IV variety is the more prevalent.

The inverted narcissist is liable to react with rage whenever threatened (as all of us do)...

...when envious of other people's achievements, ability to feel, wholeness, happiness, rewards and successes.

...when his sense of self-worthlessness is enhanced by a behaviour, a comment, an event.

...when his lack of self-worth and void of self-esteem is THREATENED (so this narcissist might surprisingly react violently or with rage to GOOD things: a kind remark, a mission accomplished, a reward, a compliment, a proposition, a sexual advance).

...when thinking about the past, when emotions and memories are evoked (usually negative ones) by certain music, a given smell, a sight.

...when his pathological envy leads to an all-pervasive sense of injustice and being discriminate against by a spiteful world.

...when he encounters stupidity, avarice, dishonesty, bigotry - it is these qualities in him that the narcissist really fears and rejects so vehemently in others.

...when he believes that he failed (and he always entertains this belief), that he is imperfect and useless and worthless, a good for nothing half-baked creature.

...when he realizes to what extent his inner demons possess him, constrain his life, torment him, deform him and the hopelessness of it all.

Then even the inverted narcissist rebels. He becomes verbally and emotionally abusive. He raises unfairly things told to him in confidence. He uncannily pierces the soft spots of his target, and mercilessly drives home the poisoned dagger of despair and self loathing until it infects his adversary.

The calm after such a storm is even eerier, a thundering silence, indeed.

The narcissist regrets his behaviour but would rarely admit his feelings. He simply nurtures them in him as yet another weapon of self-destruction and self-defeat. It is from this very suppressed self-contempt, from the very repressed and introverted judgement, from this missing atonement, that the narcissistic rage springs forth. Thus the vicious cycle is established.

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