Narcissism, Narcissists, and Abusive Relationships - Epistolary Dialog
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I think we have hit our stride. I don't know if anyone reads these letters, but they certainly let me let off some steam in a constructive way, instead of destructive manner. In fact that is what I would like to talk about in this letter. A TV producer who had chanced upon my web site contacted me recently. We talked over the phone and she wanted to know how I had suffered from dealing with NPDs. I tried to answer as best I could but felt a lump in my throat of self-pity. Thinking about the pain and trauma brings back the pain and trauma.
So instead I started to wonder how I could illustrate what narcissists' actions do to people. In order to do so, I think a division has to be made between ordinary people and people who are apt to suffer from co-dependency or victimhood.
An ordinary person who meets a narcissist will find them to be marvelous and exciting people, and narcissists will work at being just that, projecting an aura of power, sex, intellect or whatever, to lure in their victim/supply. Now (I hate using now but it is a way of saying wake up and smell the coffee as Oprah likes to say) we all like to put our best foot forward. How many people go and insult someone, or tell him or her what he or she really feels about the person he or she just met or even old friends? It is not in human nature to be truthful (or at least to tell white lies). How then is a narcissist different? Do you hear that sucking sound, that is their black hole of an ego drawing you into their world where they will then manipulate and play with you. It can be a small sucking sound or a tornado depending on the individual narcissist and how they are feeling that day. On off days, a narcissist will be a bit cranky, but when they hit their stride, Casey lower the boom! So the ordinary person, if they don't suspect anything abnormal, will say, "Gee whiz, what a nice person!" And the narcissist will draw them slowly into their web of lies and deceit.
Most normal people have the option of walking away at this point. Like the one that got away, narcissists don't always get a bite on their lure as they fish for victims. In some cases, the narcissist will place themselves in such a position of power so that they force people to pay attention to them, and the narcissist can "play" with the normal person knowing full well they have this power over another. In social situations, the normal person can walk away but in work or in a situation where there is a need to obtain something from the narcissist, then the dyad is in place. Unwittingly, normal people can cooperate with narcissists. I could give you lots of cases of this, but the more dramatic ones make a bigger impact. Ted Bundy was defended by his fellow students and teachers when he was accused of rape in Colorado. He escaped to Florida where he went on a rampage of killing.
Another rapist killer in Houston who they calculate sometimes took only 15 seconds to find and kill his victims is soon to be paroled. The system was used by this monster and no one seems to want to stand up and say, no way Josι is this monster going to be let loose to kill again! In Canada a young couple drugged, tortured and killed young girls. The wife pleaded that her husband had abused her, but later evidence contradicted her story. Soon she will be released because normal people believed her, even now the prison psychologists say she has shown no remorse for allegedly helping rape and kill her own sister! All of this is on video tape, by the way. But there is a blind spot on Canadian culture that prevents it from looking at itself - does this sound familiar?
Now victims who are predisposed to be used by narcissists react two different ways.
They either immediately bond with the NPD, without the need for a long drawn our seduction, or they react violently or refuse the narcissist's advances. I saw the later reaction in someone I know and we finally analyzed it as revulsion towards the primary narcissist in their lives, who they could not leave because of co-dependency, even when they saw in another person the same type of actions and seduction. Once the victim is locked into a narcissist-victim dyad/couple, then it takes years of therapy or death to rid the victim of this dependency. Why dependency?
You and others have called Narcissistic Supply what a victim give the narcissist: attention, subjugation, submission, adoration etc. The victim must also have some kind of satisfaction from being the supplier? How can we not see this in the adulation of stars and even politicians? Is there something in the human brain that is triggered by the narcissist? In dogs, the leader is adulated and followed around, and the lower pack members find this satisfying, as if they are puppies and the alphas are the mother and father. Is this then the reason? I call the narcissist a big child, but when he or she bullies and commands others, the group they are in may see them as being mature and powerful. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. As always.
In both cases of victimhood, either the transitory one of the normal person and the more long term or imbricated one of the victim, can we speak of "pain and suffering"? In Europe and especially France the concept of emotional harassment in the work place has gained acceptance. At the same time in France a crime de passion, where someone goes crazy temporarily - even a Narcissistic Rage episode, is still accepted as a defense for someone who has committed murder. The crime of passion in France is normal, as they are a passionate people, or so they say. Statistics from Durex condoms point to a lot of passion. Back to harassment or 'harcellement' as the French call it. They have established certain norms of behavior that constitute behavior that is toxic to the worker.
If we consider the toxic nature of pain and suffering, I think we are firmer ground. A toxic substance will eventually lead to death. In other words, the narcissist is trying to kill people with his or her behavior - to put it bluntly. If we look at larger than life psychotic narcissists like Adolph Hitler then it becomes obvious what this means. The total control of a dictator or a narcissist means every one is an extension to be cut off, or destroyed if found lacking. The self-hate of a narcissist ends up being transferred to the other, and the other is you and I. Am I right Sam? Or is this an overstatement?
We discussed the dyad that the narcissist forms with his victim at length in our second dialogue.
Still, I would like to add a few aspects and dimensions to this abnormal - yet often protracted and seemingly mutually gratifying! - interaction of predator and prey.
Like you, I believe that narcissism is a clarion call. The narcissists responds to and resonates with the deepest emotional needs of his hapless victims. The healthier the potential prey, the more he or she are able to resist the narcissist's lure.
Sharing one's life with a narcissist is often akin to undergoing torture - it has the same psychodynamic outcomes, even if the abuse is merely verbal or emotional.
Let me explain what I mean. I draw a parallel between one's physiological body and one's private spaces (home, family, workplace). Violating the latter is very much like violating the former.
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.
As I said, 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. The subject that, under torture, was forced into the position of pure object has lost his or her sense of interiority, intimacy, and privacy. Time is experienced now, in the present only, and perspective that which allows for a sense of relativity is foreclosed. Thoughts and dreams attack the mind and invade the body as if the protective skin that normally contains our thoughts, gives us space to breathe in between the thought and the thing being thought about, and separates between inside and outside, past and present, me and you, was lost."
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.
Which leads back to your observations - to the peculiar and powerful bond between abuser and abused.
The Stockholm Syndrome
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 center 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. Torture entails all the isolation and extreme solitude of privacy with none of the usual security embodied therein... Torture entails at the same time all the self-exposure of the utterly public with none of its possibilities for camaraderie or shared experience. (The presence of an all powerful other with whom to merge, without the security of the other's benign intentions.)
A further obscenity of torture is the inversion it makes of intimate human relationships. The interrogation is a form of social encounter in which the normal rules of communicating, of relating, of intimacy are manipulated. Dependency needs are elicited by the interrogator, but not so they may be met as in close relationships, but to weaken and confuse. Independence that is offered in return for 'betrayal' is a lie. Silence is intentionally misinterpreted either as confirmation of information or as guilt for 'complicity'.
Torture combines complete humiliating exposure with utter devastating isolation. The final products and outcome of torture are a scarred and often shattered victim and an empty display of the fiction of power."
Obsessed by endless ruminations, demented by pain and a continuum of sleeplessness the victim regresses, shedding all but the most primitive defense 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 resulting multiple dysfunction. 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 behavior 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 behavioral 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... All our interior states of consciousness: emotional, perceptual, cognitive and somatic can be described as having an object in the external world... This affirms our capacity to move beyond the boundaries of our body into the external, sharable world. This is the space in which we interact and communicate with our environment. But when 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. And it draws us away from the space of interaction, the sharable world, inwards. It draws us into the boundaries of our body."
This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"
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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 "Encyclopedia 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.
But "trauma bonding" is only one aspect of the complex interaction between the narcissist and his victims. Relationships with narcissists are cult-like: a charismatic leader surrounded by obedient, robotic, and admiring followers whose judgment is suspended.
Shared Psychosis (folie a deux)
The narcissist is the guru at the center of a cult. Like other gurus, he demands complete obedience from his flock: his spouse, his offspring, other family members, friends, and colleagues. He feels entitled to adulation and special treatment by his followers. He punishes the wayward and the straying lambs. He enforces discipline, adherence to his teachings, and common goals. The less accomplished he is in reality the more stringent his mastery and the more pervasive the brainwashing.
The often involuntary members of the narcissist's mini-cult inhabit a twilight zone of his own construction. He imposes on them a shared psychosis, replete with persecutory delusions, "enemies", mythical narratives, and apocalyptic scenarios if he is flouted.
The narcissist's control is based on ambiguity, unpredictability, fuzziness, and ambient abuse. His ever-shifting whims exclusively define right versus wrong, desirable and unwanted, what is to be pursued and what to be avoided. He alone determines the rights and obligations of his disciples and alters them at will.
The narcissist is a micro-manager. He exerts control over the minutest details and behaviors. He punishes severely and abuses withholders of information and those who fail to conform to his wishes and goals.
The narcissist does not respect the boundaries and privacy of his reluctant adherents. He ignores their wishes and treats them as objects or instruments of gratification. He seeks to control both situations and people compulsively.
He strongly disapproves of others' personal autonomy and independence. Even innocuous activities, such as meeting a friend or visiting one's family require his permission. Gradually, he isolates his nearest and dearest until they are fully dependent on him emotionally, sexually, financially, and socially.
He acts in a patronizing and condescending manner and criticizes often. He alternates between emphasizing the minutest faults (devalues) and exaggerating the talents, traits, and skills (idealizes) of the members of his cult. He is wildly unrealistic in his expectations which legitimizes his subsequent abusive conduct.
The narcissist claims to be infallible, superior, talented, skillful, omnipotent, and omniscient. He often lies and confabulates to support these unfounded claims. Within his cult, he expects awe, admiration, adulation, and constant attention commensurate with his outlandish stories and assertions. He reinterprets reality to fit his fantasies.
His thinking is dogmatic, rigid, and doctrinaire. He does not countenance free thought, pluralism, or free speech and doesn't brook criticism and disagreement. He demands and often gets complete trust and the relegation to his capable hands of all decision-making.
He forces the participants in his cult to be hostile to critics, the authorities, institutions, his personal enemies, or the media if they try to uncover his actions and reveal the truth. He closely monitors and censors information from the outside, exposing his captive audience only to selective data and analyses.
The narcissist's cult is "missionary" and "imperialistic". He is always on the lookout for new recruits his spouse's friends, his daughter's girlfriends, his neighbors, new colleagues at work. He immediately attempts to "convert" them to his "creed" to convince them how wonderful and admirable he is. In other words, he tries to render them Sources of Narcissistic Supply.
Often, his behavior on these "recruiting missions" is different to his conduct within the "cult". In the first phases of wooing new admirers and proselytizing to potential "conscripts" the narcissist is attentive, compassionate, empathic, flexible, self-effacing, and helpful. At home, among the "veterans" he is tyrannical, demanding, willful, opinionated, aggressive, and exploitative.
As the leader of his congregation, the narcissist feels entitled to special amenities and benefits not accorded the "rank and file". He expects to be waited on hand and foot, to make free use of everyone's money and dispose of their assets liberally, and to be cynically exempt from the rules that he himself established (if such violation is pleasurable or gainful).
In extreme cases, the narcissist feels above the law any kind of law. This grandiose and haughty conviction leads to criminal acts, incestuous or polygamous relationships, and recurrent friction with the authorities.
Hence the narcissist's panicky and sometimes violent reactions to "dropouts" from his cult. There's a lot going on that the narcissist wants kept under wraps. Moreover, the narcissist stabilizes his fluctuating sense of self-worth by deriving Narcissistic Supply from his victims. Abandonment threatens the narcissist's precariously balanced personality.
Add to that the narcissist's paranoid and schizoid tendencies, his lack of introspective self-awareness, and his stunted sense of humor (lack of self-deprecation) and the risks to the grudging members of his cult are clear.
As we discussed in our second dialog, victims can expect very little help from society. Being traumatized, they are often rendered dysfunctional and are labeled by the system as "problematic".
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
We react to serious mishaps, life altering setbacks, disasters, abuse, and death by going through the phases of grieving. Traumas are the complex outcomes of psychodynamic and biochemical processes. But the particulars of traumas depend heavily on the interaction between the victim and his social milieu.
It would seem that while the victim progresses from denial to helplessness, rage, depression and thence to acceptance of the traumatizing events - society demonstrates a diametrically opposed progression. This incompatibility, this mismatch of psychological phases is what leads to the formation and crystallization of trauma.
Victim phase I - DENIAL
The magnitude of such unfortunate events is often so overwhelming, their nature so alien, and their message so menacing - that denial sets in as a defence mechanism aimed at self preservation. The victim denies that the event occurred, that he or she is being abused, that a loved one passed away.
Society phase I - ACCEPTANCE, MOVING ON
The victim's nearest ("Society") - his colleagues, his employees, his clients, even his spouse, children, and friends - rarely experience the events with the same shattering intensity. They are likely to accept the bad news and move on. Even at their most considerate and empathic, they are likely to lose patience with the victim's state of mind. They tend to ignore the victim, or chastise him, to mock, or to deride his feelings or behavior, to collude to repress the painful memories, or to trivialize them.
Summary Phase I
The mismatch between the victim's reactive patterns and emotional needs and society's matter-of-fact attitude hinders growth and healing. The victim requires society's help in avoiding a head-on confrontation with a reality he cannot digest. Instead, society serves as a constant and mentally destabilizing reminder of the root of the victim's unbearable agony (the Job syndrome).
Victim phase II - HELPLESSNESS
Denial gradually gives way to a sense of all-pervasive and humiliating helplessness, often accompanied by debilitating fatigue and mental disintegration. These are among the classic symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). These are the bitter results of the internalization and integration of the harsh realization that there is nothing one can do to alter the outcomes of a natural, or man-made, catastrophe. The horror in confronting one's finiteness, meaninglessness, negligibility, and powerlessness - is overpowering.
Society phase II - DEPRESSION
The more the members of society come to grips with the magnitude of the loss, or evil, or threat represented by the grief inducing events - the sadder they become. Depression is often little more than suppressed or self-directed anger. The anger, in this case, is belatedly induced by an identified or diffuse source of threat, or of evil, or loss. It is a higher level variant of the "fight or flight" reaction, tampered by the rational understanding that the "source" is often too abstract to tackle directly.
Summary Phase II
Thus, when the victim is most in need, terrified by his helplessness and adrift - society is immersed in depression and unable to provide a holding and supporting environment. Growth and healing is again retarded by social interaction. The victim's innate sense of annulment is enhanced by the self-addressed anger (=depression) of those around him.
Both the victim and society react with RAGE to their predicaments. In an effort to narcissistically reassert himself, the victim develops a grandiose sense of anger directed at paranoidally selected, unreal, diffuse, and abstract targets (=frustration sources). By expressing aggression, the victim re-acquires mastery of the world and of himself.
Members of society use rage to re-direct the root cause of their depression (which is, as we said, self directed anger) and to channel it safely. To ensure that this expressed aggression alleviates their depression - real targets must are selected and real punishments meted out. In this respect, "social rage" differs from the victim's. The former is intended to sublimate aggression and channel it in a socially acceptable manner - the latter to reassert narcissistic self-love as an antidote to an all-devouring sense of helplessness.
In other words, society, by itself being in a state of rage, positively enforces the narcissistic rage reactions of the grieving victim. This, in the long run, is counter-productive, inhibits personal growth, and prevents healing. It also erodes the reality test of the victim and encourages self-delusions, paranoidal ideation, and ideas of reference.
Victim Phase IV - DEPRESSION
As the consequences of narcissistic rage - both social and personal - grow more unacceptable, depression sets in. The victim internalizes his aggressive impulses. Self directed rage is safer but is the cause of great sadness and even suicidal ideation. The victim's depression is a way of conforming to social norms. It is also instrumental in ridding the victim of the unhealthy residues of narcissistic regression. It is when the victim acknowledges the malignancy of his rage (and its anti-social nature) that he adopts a depressive stance.
Society Phase IV - HELPLESSNESS
People around the victim ("society") also emerge from their phase of rage transformed. As they realize the futility of their rage, they feel more and more helpless and devoid of options. They grasp their limitations and the irrelevance of their good intentions. They accept the inevitability of loss and evil and Kafkaesquely agree to live under an ominous cloud of arbitrary judgment, meted out by impersonal powers.
Summary Phase IV
Again, the members of society are unable to help the victim to emerge from a self-destructive phase. His depression is enhanced by their apparent helplessness. Their introversion and inefficacy induce in the victim a feeling of nightmarish isolation and alienation. Healing and growth are once again retarded or even inhibited.
Victim Phase V - ACCEPTANCE AND MOVING ON
Depression - if pathologically protracted and in conjunction with other mental health problems - sometimes leads to suicide. But more often, it allows the victim to process mentally hurtful and potentially harmful material and paves the way to acceptance. Depression is a laboratory of the psyche. Withdrawal from social pressures enables the direct transformation of anger into other emotions, some of them otherwise socially unacceptable. The honest encounter between the victim and his own (possible) death often becomes a cathartic and self-empowering inner dynamic. The victim emerges ready to move on.
Society Phase V - DENIAL
Society, on the other hand, having exhausted its reactive arsenal - resorts to denial. As memories fade and as the victim recovers and abandons his obsessive-compulsive dwelling on his pain - society feels morally justified to forget and forgive. This mood of historical revisionism, of moral leniency, of effusive forgiveness, of re-interpretation, and of a refusal to remember in detail - leads to a repression and denial of the painful events by society.
Summary Phase V
This final mismatch between the victim's emotional needs and society's reactions is less damaging to the victim. He is now more resilient, stronger, more flexible, and more willing to forgive and forget. Society's denial is really a denial of the victim. But, having ridden himself of more primitive narcissistic defenses - the victim can do without society's acceptance, approval, or look. Having endured the purgatory of grieving, he has now re-acquired his self, independent of society's acknowledgement.
This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"
Click HERE to buy the print edition from Barnes and Noble
Click HERE to buy the print edition from the publisher and receive a BONUS PACK
Click HERE to buy electronic books (e-books) and video lectures (DVDs) about narcissists, psychopaths, and abuse in relationships
Click HERE to buy the ENTIRE SERIES of sixteen electronic books (e-books) about narcissists, psychopaths, and abuse in relationships
Ok, I said I would talk about pain with you. No doubt you know how to inflict it on others, and if so, how? My experiences are different from other victims, but I think there is common ground. When I read the e-mails people send me and the tons of mail they send you, I get the distinct impression there is a lot of suffering going on.
Maybe I can break it down into different categories. Let us start with self esteem which should be linked with the concept of self as a space. Narcissists invade you and destroy you from within like termites! (Like that Metaphor, Sam?)
1) Loss of self esteem and pain from exposure to someone with NPD:
a) Negative influence of the narcissist on your self-esteem. Think of them as the eternal critic, but only of others. The narcissist is essentially a person with a negative force, i.e. they feed on other people's goodness and efforts and suck them dry emotionally, financially and spiritually. They give back a negative image of yourself to you so you are left thinking that you are a bad person, while they are good people.
a. If they commit a crime, they will shift the blame to someone else.
b. If they feel bad about something, they will find someone to kick.
c. They enjoy criticizing others even humiliating them in public but will never allow that to happen to them.
d. As in the story of Cinderella, the ugly stepdaughters will bring down the beautiful or more intelligent person with snide remarks and off color comments, so that they will look better.
e. They will take credit for someone else's work while they denounce or discredit the person behind their back.
f. They will steal your ideas, your life, your wife and kids by seduction and pure malice.
g. They will physically intimidate you, pushing or kicking you but only when other people are not looking. They may also have other people do their dirty work, so that they look good.
b) NPDs do not respect your personal space. Think of them as little Hitlers, invading every country around them. The narcissist does not respect anyone's boundaries or privacy. Your life, thoughts and needs are unimportant. Only what you can do for them is noticed and rewarded, rarely. The invasion of your privacy can take the form of information sharing, of forced physical intimacy, and of down right control. You are expected to think like them, to dress like them, even to talk and walk like them. You are essentially a slave to their whims, and you have no consent to give them, and they will give you no apologies for their behavior. You are at fault, never the narcissist. The pain of loss, of money and of social standing, feeling of worth is devastating for victims who are at a loss as to why the narcissist has gone from wonderful to wicked.
a. In religious cult communities, the leader is all knowing and all good - the leader can sin and fornicate and order you to take poison if they so wish - while you are just an adjunct to their ego trip. Example; Jonestown where the reverend Jones ordered his followers, men, women and children to take cyanic laced lemonade. The comet cult people who self castrated themselves and then committed mass suicide. The UFO cult leader requires his followers to tithe to him their incomes, and practice free sex - reserving the best looking women for him.
b. They believe that you are attracted to them, they will force their attentions on you to the point where you may think they are actually border line, but in the case of a narcissist, they do not go into the I want you go away cycle of emotional intercourse. For the somatic, or sexual narcissist, you must do what they want, you must want them, and they will not accept a no for an answer.
c. The narcissist neighbor who comes over to borrow or lend you tools soon starts to tell you how to take care of your lawn, then your house and soon he is indispensable, even taking care of your house while you are gone, with you leaving the keys with him or her. An example of this behavior happened recently in Georgia where a woman went off for two weeks vacation to Greece and returned to find a woman had moved into her house, lock stock and barrel.
d. A narcissist thief believes they are owed by society, because they are so wonderful, so they take from other people, from their houses, and eventually they will shop lift goods from stores. Remember, everything is just an extension of them, so a NPD is not stealing, just taking what is owed them.
e. A thief breaks into your home and steals the movies of your child growing up, as well as the TV and camera. The narcissist tells you not to mention this to her, because it doesn't fit into the picture of the life she has created. The narcissist neighbor tells you not to blame 'his' neighborhood (he knew about the rash of break-ins but didn't want anyone to know because he did not want the neighborhood to get a bad reputation that would reflect onto him).
f. If you tell a neighbor a secret, it will soon be all over the neighborhood or workplace. They are invertebrate gossips, but only of other people's failings, never their own. They will warm up to you, and wheedle out a juicy tidbit to use against you later. They see no wrong in this ruining other people's reputations. They are sunshine friends - gone when the going gets tough.
I am running out of pain, and I think you have enough to reply to for now.
You paint the narcissist as a closet sadist - and, in a way, you are right. You are again correct in observing that narcissists have alloplastic defenses - they tend to blame others for their failures and misfortunes. The list you have compiled is far from being exhaustive. Narcissists are very creative in devising novel methods to torture others.
So, yes, the narcissist inflicts pain and abuse on others. He devalues Sources of Supply, callously and off-handedly 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", ambient abuse, abuse by proxy). But most of them do these things absentmindedly, automatically, and, often, even without good reason.
What is unusual about the narcissist's sadistic behaviors - 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?). The narcissist, on the other hand, haunts and hunts his victims for a reason - he wants them to reflect his inner state. It is all part of a defense 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 reducing them to scar tissue in search of outlet, closure, and, sometimes, revenge. He forces 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. Narcissism is contagious!
Having constructed this writhing hall of human mirrors, the narcissist withdraws. The goal achieved, he lets go. As opposed to the sadist, he is not in it, indefinitely, for the pleasure of it. 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, the narcissist purifies himself, cathartically, and exorcises 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 empathically soothing the resulting pain. This incongruous behavior, these "sudden" shifts between sadism and altruism, 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 ("walking on eggshells"). Gradually, emotional paralysis ensues and they come to occupy the same emotional wasteland inhabited by the narcissist, his prisoners and hostages in more ways than one - and even when he is long out of their life.
Thus, self-flagellation is a characteristic of those who choose to live with a narcissist (for a choice it is). Constant feelings of guilt, self-reproach, self-recrimination and, thus, self-punishment characterize the relationships formed between the sadist-narcissist and the masochistic-dependent mate or partner.
As I said, the narcissist is sadistic because, early on, he was forced into expressing his own guilt and self-reproach in this manner. His Superego is unpredictable, capricious, arbitrary, judgemental, cruel, and self-annihilating (suicidal). Externalising these internal traits is a way of alleviating internal conflicts and fears generated by the narcissist's inner turmoil.
The narcissist projects this "civil war" and drags everyone around him into a swirl of bitterness, suspiciousness, meanness, aggression and pettiness. His life is a reflection of his psychological landscape: barren, paranoiac, tormented, guilt ridden. He feels compelled to do unto others what he inflicts upon himself. He gradually transforms his closest, nearest and dearest into replicas of his conflictive, punishing personality structure.
It is important to understand that, to the narcissist, intimacy IS abuse! Love IS abuse! Emotions ARE abusive!
It is an established fact that abuse verbal, psychological, emotional, physical, and sexual co-occurs with intimacy. Most reported offenses are between intimate partners and between parents and children. This defies common sense. Emotionally, it should be easier to batter, molest, assault, or humiliate a total stranger. It's as if intimacy CAUSES abuse, incubates and nurtures it.
And, in a way, it does.
Many abusers believe that their abusive conduct fosters, enhances, and cements their intimate relationships. To them, pathological jealousy is proof of love, possessiveness replaces mature bonding, and battering is a form of paying attention to the partner and communicating with her.
Such habitual offenders do not know any better. They were often raised in families, societies, and cultures where abuse is condoned outright or, at least, not frowned upon. Maltreatment of one's significant others is part of daily life, as inevitable as the weather, a force of nature.
Intimacy is often perceived to include a license to abuse. The abuser treats his nearest, dearest, and closest as mere objects, instruments of gratification, utilities, or extensions of himself. He feels that he "owns" his spouse, girlfriend, lovers, children, parents, siblings, or colleagues. As the owner, he has the right to "damage the goods" or even dispose of them altogether.
Most abusers are scared of real intimacy and deep commitment. They lead a "pretend", confabulated life. Their "love" and "relationships" are gaudy, fake imitations. The abuser seeks to put a distance between himself and those who truly love him, who cherish and value him as a human being, who enjoy his company, and who strive to establish a long-term, meaningful relationship with him.
Abuse, in other words, is a reaction to the perceived threat of looming intimacy, aimed at fending it off, intended to decimate closeness, tenderness, affection, and compassion before they thrive and consume the abuser. Abuse is a panic reaction. The batterer, the molester, are scared out of their wits they feel entrapped, imprisoned, shackled, and insidiously altered.
Lashing out in blind and violent rage they punish the perceived perpetrators of intimacy. The more obnoxiously they behave, the less the risk of lifelong bondage. The more heinous their acts, the safer they feel. Battering, molesting, raping, berating, taunting are all forms of reasserting lost control. In the abuser's thwarted mind, abuse equals mastery and continued, painless, emotionally numbed, survival.
Granted, some narcissists are more subtle than others. They disguise their sadism. For instance, they "educate" their family members or friends (for their sake, as they present it). This education is compulsive, obsessive, incessantly, harshly and unduly critical. Its effect is to erode the subject, to humiliate, to create dependence, to intimidate, to restrain, to control, to paralyse.
The victim of such "edification" internalises the endless hectoring and humiliating criticism and makes them his own. She begins to see justice where there is only twisted logic based on crooked assumptions. She begins to self-punish, to withhold, to request approval prior to any action, to forgo her preferences and priorities, to erase her own identity hoping to thus avoid the excruciating pains of the narcissist's destructive analyses.
Other narcissists are less sophisticated and they use all manner of abuse to domesticate their kin and partners in life. This includes physical violence, verbal violence (during intensive rage attacks), psychological abuse, brutal "honesty", sick or offending humour, and so on.
And then there is the inexorable economics of Narcissistic Supply.
The narcissist simply 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 idealisation 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 waste left after the extraction of Narcissistic Supply.
The narcissist would tend to display the sadistic aspect of his personality in one of two cases:
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 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 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 empathise with their victims, 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, criticises her profusely and in a "scientific and objective" manner and this is a partial list.
Very often, the narcissist 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 this 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 consumes them in return.
I have composed my own list of abusive behaviors to augment yours:
Narcissistic abusers exploit, lie, insult, demean, ignore (the "silent treatment"), manipulate, and control.
There are many ways to abuse. To love too much is to abuse. It is tantamount to treating someone as an extension, an object, or an instrument of gratification. To be over-protective, not to respect privacy, to be brutally honest, with a sadistic sense of humor, or consistently tactless is to abuse.
To expect too much, to denigrate, to ignore are all modes of abuse. There is physical abuse, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse. The list is long. Most abusers abuse surreptitiously. They are "stealth abusers". You have to actually live with one in order to witness the abuse.
There are three important categories of abuse:
The open and explicit abuse of another person. Threatening, coercing, beating, lying, berating, demeaning, chastising, insulting, humiliating, exploiting, ignoring ("silent treatment"), devaluing, unceremoniously discarding, verbal abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse are all forms of overt abuse.
Covert or Controlling Abuse
Abuse is almost entirely about control. It is often a primitive and immature reaction to life circumstances in which the abuser (usually in his childhood) was rendered helpless. It is about re-exerting one's identity, re-establishing predictability, mastering the environment human and physical.
The bulk of abusive behaviors can be traced to this panicky reaction to the remote potential for loss of control. Many abusers are hypochondriacs (and difficult patients) because they are afraid to lose control over their body, its looks and its proper functioning. They are obsessive-compulsive in an effort to subdue their physical habitat and render it foreseeable. They stalk people and harass them as a means of "being in touch" another form of control.
To the abuser, nothing exists outside himself. Meaningful others are extensions, internal, assimilated, objects not external ones. Thus, losing control over a significant other is equivalent to losing control of a limb, or of one's brain. It is terrifying.
Independent or disobedient people evoke in the abuser the realization that something is wrong with his worldview, that he is not the centre of the world or its cause and that he cannot control what, to him, are internal representations.
To the abuser, losing control means going insane. Because other people are mere elements in the abuser's mind being unable to manipulate them literally means losing it (his mind). Imagine, if you suddenly were to find out that you cannot manipulate your memories or control your thoughts... Nightmarish!
In his frantic efforts to maintain control or re-assert it, the abuser resorts to a myriad of fiendishly inventive stratagems and mechanisms. Here is a partial list:
Unpredictability and Uncertainty
The abuser acts unpredictably, capriciously, inconsistently and irrationally. This serves to render others dependent upon the next twist and turn of the abuser, his next inexplicable whim, upon his next outburst, denial, or smile.
The abuser makes sure that HE is the only reliable element in the lives of his nearest and dearest by shattering the rest of their world through his seemingly insane behavior. He perpetuates his stable presence in their lives by destabilizing their own.
One of the favorite tools of manipulation in the abuser's arsenal is the disproportionality of his reactions. He reacts with supreme rage to the slightest slight. Or, he would punish severely for what he perceives to be an offence against him, no matter how minor. Or, he would throw a temper tantrum over any discord or disagreement, however gently and considerately expressed. Or, he would act inordinately attentive, charming and tempting (even over-sexed, if need be).
This ever-shifting code of conduct and the unusually harsh and arbitrarily applied penalties are premeditated. The victims are kept in the dark. Neediness and dependence on the source of "justice" meted and judgment passed on the abuser are thus guaranteed.
Dehumanization and Objectification (Abuse)
People have a need to believe in the empathic skills and basic good-heartedness of others. By dehumanizing and objectifying people the abuser attacks the very foundations of human interaction. This is the "alien" aspect of abusers they may be excellent imitations of fully formed adults but they are emotionally absent and immature.
Abuse is so horrid, so repulsive, so phantasmagoric that people recoil in terror. It is then, with their defenses absolutely down, that they are the most susceptible and vulnerable to the abuser's control. Physical, psychological, verbal and sexual abuse are all forms of dehumanization and objectification.
Abuse of Information
From the first moments of an encounter with another person, the abuser is on the prowl. He collects information. The more he knows about his potential victim the better able he is to coerce, manipulate, charm, extort or convert it "to the cause". The abuser does not hesitate to misuse the information he gleaned, regardless of its intimate nature or the circumstances in which he obtained it. This is a powerful tool in his armory.
The abuser engineers impossible, dangerous, unpredictable, unprecedented, or highly specific situations in which he is sorely needed. The abuser makes sure that his knowledge, his skills, his connections, or his traits are the only ones applicable and the most useful in the situations that he, himself, wrought. The abuser generates his own indispensability.
If all else fails, the abuser recruits friends, colleagues, mates, family members, the authorities, institutions, neighbours, the media, teachers in short, third parties to do his bidding. He uses them to cajole, coerce, threaten, stalk, offer, retreat, tempt, convince, harass, communicate and otherwise manipulate his target. He controls these unaware instruments exactly as he plans to control his ultimate prey. He employs the same mechanisms and devices. And he dumps his props unceremoniously when the job is done.
Another form of control by proxy is to engineer situations in which abuse is inflicted upon another person. Such carefully crafted scenarios of embarrassment and humiliation provoke social sanctions (condemnation, opprobrium, or even physical punishment) against the victim. Society, or a social group become the instruments of the abuser.
The fostering, propagation and enhancement of an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, instability, unpredictability and irritation. There are no acts of traceable explicit abuse, nor any manipulative settings of control. Yet, the irksome feeling remains, a disagreeable foreboding, a premonition, a bad omen. This is sometimes called "gaslighting".
In the long term, such an environment erodes the victim's sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Self-confidence is shaken badly. Often, the victim adopts a paranoid or schizoid stance and thus renders himself or herself exposed even more to criticism and judgment. The roles are thus reversed: the victim is considered mentally deranged and the abuser the suffering soul.