Excerpts from the Archives of the Narcissism List - Part 53

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. Interview granted to the National Post, Canada

Q: How would you define a narcissist? I read in the web site material a quote: "A narcissist is a drug addict whose drug is attention." Very interesting. True?

A: A narcissist is someone who suffers from pathological narcissism - a life-long 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.

 

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

Q: What are some of the traits of a narcissist? Someone who feels self-important, superior, entitled, needs to be recognized constantly?

A: The Diagnostic and statistical Manual (DSM-IV-TR), the profession's bible, defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as "an all-pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), 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.


The DSM specifies nine diagnostic criteria. Five (or more) of these criteria must be met for a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) to be rendered. 

Q: How does the narcissist's behavior present itself at work? Will he lie and think he can get away with it? Will he exaggerate his accomplishments and minimize others' ? Will he constantly need recognition for completing tasks?

A:  To a narcissist other people, bosses, underlings, co-workers, are Sources of Narcissistic Supply. Their role is to adore the narcissist, admire him, agree with him, provide him with adulation, attention and approval, and, generally, serve as an audience to him.

 

The narcissist is not interested in anything but the simplest function of mirroring. When the mirror acquires a personality and a life of its own, the narcissist is incensed. Independent minded employees might be in danger of being sacked by a narcissistic employer (an act which demonstrates the employer's omnipotence). Narcissists frequently bully others in the workplace in order to buttress their own inflated and grandiose self-image.

Trying to befriend the narcissist is doomed to fail. Friendship is possible only among equals. Such presumption of equality injures the narcissist and provokes him to rage. This haughty superiority also precludes teamwork.

The narcissist's grandiosity is so tenuous and rests on such fragile foundations, that any hint of equality, disagreement or need (any intimation that the narcissist "needs" friends or help, for instance) threatens the narcissist profoundly. The narcissist is exceedingly insecure. It is easy to destabilize his impromptu "personality". His reactions are merely in self-defence. Hence his constant demands to be recognized as superior, accomplished, and talented, usually without the commensurate achievements to warrant such acclaim.

The narcissist is notorious for his low threshold of resistance to boredom. His behavior is impulsive and his biography tumultuous precisely because of his drive to introduce uncertainty and risk to what he regards as "stagnation" or "slow death" (i.e., routine). Most interactions in the workplace are part of the rut - and thus constitute a reminder of this routine - deflating the narcissist's grandiose fantasies.

Narcissists do many unnecessary, wrong and even dangerous things in pursuit of the stabilization of their inflated self-image.

Narcissists feel suffocated by intimacy, or by the constant reminders of the REAL, nitty-gritty world out there. It reduces them, makes them realize the Grandiosity Gap between their fantasies and reality. It is a threat to the precarious balance of their personality structures ("false" and invented) and treated by them as a menace. They are, therefore, unreliable, unpredictable, capricious, "drama queens", and lack perseverance and attention to detail.

(continued below)


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Narcissists forever shift the blame, pass the buck, and engage in cognitive dissonance. They "pathologize" the other, foster feelings of guilt and shame in her, demean, debase and humiliate in order to preserve their sense of superiority.

Narcissists are pathological liars. They think nothing of it because their very self is false, their own confabulation.

Q: True 75 percent of all narcissists are men? Why?

A: According to the DSM IV-TR, most narcissists (50-75%, according to the DSM-IV-TR) are men.

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 labeled "Acquired Situational Narcissism".

Men are more susceptible to pathological narcissism because of the narcissistic foundations of our patriarchal civilization. We hold narcissistic "male" traits (such as ambitiousness, individualism, and competitiveness) in high esteem and regard them as desirable.

Q: Narcissists can be high achievers, yes?

A: Narcissists are obsessed by 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, fail, or slump. Why is that? Narcissists are prone to self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors.

Can the narcissist be harnessed? Can his energies be channeled productively?

This would be a deeply flawed – and even dangerous – "advice". Various management gurus purport to teach us how to harness this force of nature known as malignant or pathological narcissism. Narcissists are driven, visionary, ambitious, exciting and productive, says Michael Maccoby, for instance. To ignore such a resource is a criminal waste. All we need to do is learn how to "handle" them.

Yet, this prescription is either naive or disingenuous. Narcissists cannot be "handled", or "managed", or "contained", or "channeled". They are, by definition, incapable of team work. They lack empathy, are exploitative, envious, haughty and feel entitled, even if such a feeling is commensurate only with their grandiose fantasies and when their accomplishments are meager.

Narcissists dissemble, conspire, destroy and self-destruct. Their drive is compulsive, their vision rarely grounded in reality, their human relations a calamity. In the long run, there is no enduring benefit to dancing with narcissists – only ephemeral and, often, fallacious, "achievements".

Q: Can you be "cured" of narcissism? or at least learn to manage it?

A: 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 behavior patterns.

Being a narcissist is akin to being an alcoholic but much more so. Alcoholism is an impulsive behavior. Narcissists exhibit dozens of similarly reckless behaviors, 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 color 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.

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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