Excerpts from the Archives of the Narcissism List - Part 52

Narcissism, Pathological Narcissism, The Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), the Narcissist,

And Relationships with Abusive Narcissists and Psychopaths

Listowner: Dr. Sam Vaknin


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1. Keeping Secrets

Narcissists are always secretive and compartmentalize their lives. One of the best ways to keep important secrets is to flood your listeners with a torrent of utterly inconsequential data. Narcissists divert attention from issues that really mattered to them by being "open" about trivialities.

Narcissists regard former (discarded) Sources of Supply as potential (actual) enemies. Narcissists have a siege mentality. They deny information to people they consider to be hostile.

The narcissist cannot fathom or accept that he is no longer of interest to an erstwhile Source of Supply. He firmly believes that he is still the center of the Source's world, occupying her thoughts every minute.

Keeping things secret restores the narcissist's sense of personal safety and omnipotence. He feels that he is again in control. He feels that the Sources of Supply, humiliated and dumped unceremoniously, cannot threaten him. It is less about punishing them – and more about avoiding punishment himself.

2. The Pathological Charmer

The "pathological charmer" feels:

  1. Entitled to special treatment;
  1. Superior to the person s/he charms (charming someone means having power over him, controlling him, or even subjugating him);
  1. A grain of sadism (sexual arousal by inflicting the "pain" of subjugation on the charmed person who "cannot help" but be charmed);
  1. Magical Thinking (back to infancy). Charm help maintain object constancy (ensure that the charmed person won't vanish).

Pathological charmers react with rage and aggression to any resistance to their charm.

3. Shame and Guilt

Pathological narcissism is a defense mechanism. It is the reaction to overwhelming feelings of shame, guilt, and fear induced by constant abuse. These feelings have been repressed and are UNCONSCIOUS.

 

Moreover, there are many varieties of shame and guilt. For instance: the narcissist does not feel ashamed or guilty for hurting other people. Rather, he feels inadequate, deficient, not measuring up to his own, inflated self-image and self-concept.

 

CONSCIOUSLY, the narcissist feels no shame, guilt, or remorse. This is because his locus of control is external and his defenses are alloplastic. In other words, he attributes his own misbehavior to others and considers them to be the causes of  failures, defeats, and self-generated misfortune.

4. Healing vs. Behavior Modification

 

Healing is when the narcissistic personality has changed so that the narcissist - naturally and effortlessly - no longer harms other people and himself.

 

Behavior modification is when the narcissist consciously invests a lot of effort to control his impulses and propensities and to refrain from harming other people and himself.

5. Interview with the Toronto Sun

Q. In a nutshell, please explain the disorder...

A. Pathological narcissism is a pattern of traits and behaviors 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. It is characterized by a lack of empathy, grandiose fantasies, an overpowering sense of entitlement (incommensurate with the narcissist's accomplishments or skills), arrogance, pernicious envy, and exploitativeness.

2. How does this disorder lend itself to everyday life? Why should we be concerned?

A. Narcissism is all-pervasive. It permeates every aspect of the narcissist's personality, his conduct, and his choices. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a serious, often undiagnosed (or misdiagnosed) condition. Narcissists treat other people as objects, mere instruments of gratification, to be used, abused, and unceremoniously discarded. The victims of narcissists are traumatized and scarred for life.

This inability to empathize - to put oneself in another person's shoes - is the hallmark of pathological narcissism and psychopathy (antisocial personality disorder). Indeed, both mental health issues are frequently diagnosed in the same patient (this is called "co-morbidity").

Narcissists and psychopaths have no discernible conscience, are devoid of empathy and find it difficult to perceive other people's nonverbal cues, needs, emotions, and preferences. Consequently, the narcissist rejects other people's rights and his commensurate obligations. He is impulsive, reckless, irresponsible and unable to postpone gratification. He often rationalizes his behavior showing an utter absence of remorse for hurting or defrauding others.

Narcissism is a primitive defence mechanism - but narcissists have many others: splitting (narcissists view the world - and people in it - as "all good" or "all evil"), projection (they attribute their own shortcomings unto others) and projective identification (narcissists force others to behave the way they expect them to).

Most narcissists fail to comply with social norms. Hence the narcissistic psychopath's criminal acts, the deceitfulness and identity theft, the stalking, the use of aliases, the constant lying, and the conning of even his nearest and dearest for gain or pleasure.

Narcissists are unreliable and do not honor their commitments, obligations, contracts, and responsibilities. They rarely hold a job for long, maintain stable relationships, or repay their debts. They are vindictive, remorseless, ruthless, driven, dangerous, aggressive, violent, irritable, and, sometimes, prone to magical thinking. They seldom plan for the long and medium terms, believing themselves to be immune to the consequences of their own actions.

Once almost unheard of, pathological narcissism is now considered to be at the heart of phenomena as diverse as corporate malfeasance, workplace bullying, the emergence of murderous dictatorships, domestic violence, and serial killings.

4. Are we all narcissistic to some degree? Or are we all affected by it to some degree? Is there one in every family? Is our society as a whole narcissistic - especially our youth?

A. All of us have narcissistic traits. Some of us even develop a narcissistic personality, or a narcissistic style. Moreover, narcissism is a spectrum of behaviors - from the healthy to the utterly pathological (a condition known as the Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD).

Fortunately, narcissism is rare. Less than 1% of the population are thought to be affected by it.

Cultural narcissism is a ubiquitous global and universal phenomenon, though.

Every human being - regardless of the nature of his society and culture - develops healthy narcissism early in life. Healthy narcissism is rendered pathological by abuse - and abuse, alas, is a common human behavior. By "abuse" I mean any form of refusal to acknowledge the emerging boundaries of the individual. Thus, smothering, doting, and excessive expectations are as abusive as beating and incest.

There are malignant narcissists among subsistence farmers in Africa, nomads in the Sinai desert, day laborers in east Europe, and intellectuals and socialites in Manhattan. Malignant narcissism is all-pervasive and independent of culture and society.

It is true, though, that the way pathological narcissism manifests itself and is experienced is dependent on the particulars of societies and cultures. In some cultures, it is encouraged, in others suppressed. In some societies it is channeled against minorities - in others it is tainted with paranoia. In collectivist societies, narcissism may be the collective's trait, in individualistic societies, it is the individual's.

5. How do you distinguish healthy narcissism from unhealthy?

A. 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 empathise and, indeed, to fully and maturely love others.

Maintaining a distinction between what we really are and what we dream of becoming, knowing our limits, our advantages and faults and having 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 knows to be unacceptable.

Our experience of 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 himself and through experiencing his self – can a person fully appreciate the humanness of others.

(continued below)


This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"

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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 (empathise) and, of course, love them – the most demanding task of inter-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.

6. Please tell me about your past history and disorder? Why would you open your soul like this? Why write the book? Is it geared to the medical professional?

A. Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Re-Visited is mostly written for victims of abusive relationships with narcissists, though a small part of it is geared towards the professionals who treat them. It offers a detailed, first hand account of what it is like to have a Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

The posting of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Re-Visited on the Web has elicited a flood of excited, sad and heart rending responses, mostly from victims of Narcissists but also from people suffering from the NPD. My book is a true picture of the resulting correspondence with them.

I wrote the book under extreme conditions of duress. It was composed in jail as I was trying to understand what had hit me. My nine years old marriage dissolved, my finances were in a shocking condition, my family estranged, my reputation ruined, my personal freedom severely curtailed. Slowly, the realization that it was all my fault, that I was sick and needed help penetrated the decades-old defenses that I had erected around me.

So, the book is also a documentation of a road of self-discovery, a kind of do-it-yourself personal autopsy. It was a painful process, which led to nowhere. I am no different - and no healthier - today than I was when I wrote this book. My disorder is here to stay, the prognosis is poor and alarming.

7. What can the average person gain from your knowledge, experience and book?

A. The average victim can gain peace of mind. Labeling the incomprehensible and cruel behaviors of the abuser has a soothing effect. The book offers a plethora of coping techniques and tips as well as tools intended to help past victims avoid a future replay of their ordeal. How to spot a narcissist or psychopath, how to cope with maltreatment of all sorts, what to shun and what to seek - I like to think of my book and my Web sites as a guide through the hell of abusive relationships.

8. Ten traits to be on the lookout for that will reveal the true narcissist sitting next to you...(sort of a checklist to run on its own beside the main story)

1. Grandiose statements and frequent, unwarranted boasting and lying.

2. Feelings of unbounded entitlement and haughty superiority.

3. A consistent and energy-draining pattern of exploitation (give without take).

4. Blames every mistake of his, every failure, or mishap on others, or on the world at large.

5. Hypersensitive and hypervigilant - picks up fights, feels constantly slighted, injured, and insulted

6. Cruelty and lack of compassion.

7. A history of battering or violent offenses or behavior coupled with serial jobs and relationships.

8. Possessiveness, control freakery, and excessive, pathological, explosive jealousy

9. Lack of respect for your personal boundaries, wishes, and privacy.

10. Rapid cycling - between moods, between idealizing and devaluing you, between preferences and beliefs, etc.

If you have exclaimed "yes" to any of the above – stay away! He is a narcissistic abuser.

The narcissist's body language is described here.

9. How can we deal with narcissists at home/work and not get sucked into their web?

A. There is only one true and tried remedy: avoid them and abandon them. You can easily manipulate the narcissist by providing him with narcissistic supply (attention, admiration, adulation, affirmation). Narcissists are paranoids, so, you can also (legally) deter or frighten your narcissist. But by far the most effective strategy is to utterly ignore them. Narcissist can't stand being ignored and they go away.

If you are forced to remain in touch with the narcissist (for instance, if you have common children or common property) - reduce any future contact to a minimum. Be in contact through third party professionals: attorneys, accountants, law enforcement officials.

10 Should we avoid narcissists? Please comment?

A. Unless you are a masochist, you should. Narcissists are bad news. A relationship with a narcissist invariably ends in abuse and tears. Use the checklist I provided to dodge them.

11. What do you want people to know about this disorder and why?

A. Suspend your disbelief. Narcissists are really out there.

I often come across sad examples of the powers of self-delusion that the narcissist provokes in his victims. It is what I call "malignant optimism". People refuse to believe that some questions are unsolvable, some diseases incurable, some disasters inevitable. They see a sign of hope in every fluctuation. They read meaning and patterns into every random occurrence, utterance, or slip. They are deceived by their own pressing need to believe in the ultimate victory of good over evil, health over sickness, order over disorder. Life appears otherwise so meaningless, so unjust and so arbitrary...

This is magical thinking. The inner dialogs go:

"If only he tried hard enough", "If he only really wanted to heal", "If only we found the right therapy", "If only his defenses were down", "There must be something good and worthy under the hideous facade", "no one can be that evil and destructive", "He must have meant it differently" "God, or a higher being, or the spirit, or the soul is the solution and the answer to our prayers".

The Pollyanna defenses of the abused are aimed against the emerging and horrible understanding that humans are specks of dust in a totally indifferent universe, the playthings of evil and sadistic forces, of which the narcissist is one - as well as against the unbearable realization that their pain means nothing to anyone but themselves. Nothing whatsoever. It has all been in vain.

The narcissist holds such thinking in barely undisguised contempt. To him, it is a sign of weakness, the scent of prey, a gaping vulnerability. He uses and abuses this human need for order, good, and meaning - as he uses and abuses all other human needs. The victim's gullibility, selective blindness, malignant optimism - these are the weapons of the narcissist.

6. Don't Buy Love

Abuse coupled with sex is perhaps the most ubiquitous form of relationship between lovers, regardless of their gender, profession, level of education, predilections, or cultural background. The victims is often angry at herself for being who she is (codependent) and at her abuser for reminding her of it, time and again.

Some victims pay for love. They lavish gifts and money on their "lover". This doesn't work. When you pay for love, there is always a higher (and richer, and younger, and fitter) bidder. When you pay for love the only thing you buy is contempt or, in the best case, bored indifference.

Intimacy is a risky adventure - and some people are risk-averse, emotionally sedentary and conservative. There is nothing you can do about it. We live one day at a time - and, sometimes, not even that. It is what we expect of life and others that renders up hopeless.

7. Don't Fear Your Abuser

 

This fear to let your him out of sight (because he may do something horrible to you) is your abuser's main weapon. Your own imagination is your worst enemy and your prison cell. Children are terrified of monsters UNDER the bed or IN the cupboard - mainly because they cannot see them. As far as they are concerned, sight=control.

 

Remaining in touch with an abuser or stalker only GUARANTEES repeated abuse and stalking. It does not provide you with advance warning or with control over him.

 

8. Brain Injury and Narcissism

 

We should follow Millon in distinguishing between NPD - the full-fledged Narcissistic Personality Disorder - and having narcissistic traits, a narcissistic behavior, narcissistic style, or narcissistic personality.

 

The DSM clearly states in its differential diagnoses that personality disorders are only those disorders NOT caused by organic or medical conditions.

 

But medical (neurological and other) conditions can, of course, induce personality changes and enhance or suppress personality traits and personal style.

 

Thus, brain injury, BY DEFINITION, cannot create a personality disorder - but it can induce narcissistic or antisocial CONDUCT.

 

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