Narcissism, Narcissists, and Abusive Relationships - Epistolary Dialog

Letter I

Letter II

Letter III

Letter IV

Letter V

Letter VI

Letter VII

Letter VIII

Letter IX

Letter X

Letter XI

Letter XII

©Stephen McDonnell and Sam Vaknin

All text is copyrighted and is published here with the permission of the authors.

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Saturday, January 22, 2005, Eighth Letter to Sam Vaknin from Stephen McDonnell

NPD: the good, the bad and the ugly or is it an addiction?

Dear Sam,

Where would we be without narcissists? There would probably be no great works of art, or of science. Great empires would not exist. The ego and self esteem necessary for creating something new is found partially in the mirror of a narcissist's soul; they need to be admired and only by creating or destroying, can they attain that goal.

"Though there is plenty of narcissism without greatness, there is no greatness without narcissism." Albert Bernstein author of Emotional Vampires

Dr Bernstein points out in his books that narcissists are very competitive, they are driven to be admired and if they do not stay a 'legend in their own mind' (many NPDs believe their own publicity, but others actually can go beyond their own hype) they may well become a legend in their time by dent of hard work and intelligence. For better or worse we are stuck with them, so must learn to live with their foibles. They can be good citizens and contribute to society.


I have often grappled with this question. Is pathological narcissism a blessing or a malediction?

The answer is: it depends. Healthy narcissism is a mature, balanced love of oneself coupled with a stable sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Healthy narcissism implies knowledge of one's boundaries and a proportionate and realistic appraisal of one's achievements and traits.

Pathological narcissism is wrongly described as too much healthy narcissism (or too much self-esteem). These are two absolutely unrelated phenomena which, regrettably, came to bear the same title. Confusing pathological narcissism with self- esteem betrays a fundamental ignorance of both.

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

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

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

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

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

Narcissists are obsessed 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".


Your last letter was great. I wonder if anyone who is ignorant of the DSM IV, and the different diagnostic criteria in it, would understand what we are talking about? Only seven years ago, I would have thought what you and I have written as so much "hog wash." Having brought up to not believe in mental disorders, and even after I had attended medical school, it took a great mental leap and effort to open my mind to the labeling of people with mental disease. Having also been brought up by people who label others very easily, something NPDs do because they only see in black and white, I am reluctant to put someone in a box and say he or she is such and such a thing. My change in outlook happened when I saw that several people, male and female and from different age brackets and cultures, all were acting the same way. A light went on in my head, and a lot of preconceived ideas - and nightmares- disappeared.

Therefore I hope that a reader of these letters will indulge us, and hopefully will have attained enlightenment, before reading them. Or maybe he or she will suddenly see the light; there is an intellectual component to understanding, as well as an emotional one. The realization that Narcissistic Personality Disorder was real, that such people did exist and it wasn't me who was crazy but them, changed my life forever. Knowledge is power. It started me on a journey to understand more of how the mind works and how it can be derailed by mental and personality disorders. I can understand most of the concepts you write about, but there are always new surprises along the way.

Fortunately one of my first stops was your web site, Sam. When you started writing about Inverted Narcissism, it resonated with me. How often had I seen such behavior? More than I would like to admit. When I broached the subject of BDSM, in the last letter, I envisioned the same kind of relationship existed between a narcissist and a victim. You set me straight on that. Though I believe that the invisible bonds that form and the verbal abuse that occurs in a NPD victim dyad is just as binding as a slave master relationship.


Don't misunderstand me: I found your idea of comparing narcissistic abuser-victim dyads to BDSM dyads thought-provoking and fascinating. I just am not sure that it holds true for the majority of victims. It is a fact, after all, that a vast number of the abused are unhappy (ego-dystonic) and do their best to extricate themselves from the abusive relationship. Having said that, the model you proposed in dialog 7 is, in my view, surprisingly useful in comprehending the dynamics of abusive relationships!

(continued below)

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

Click HERE to buy the print edition from Amazon (click HERE to buy a copy dedicated by the author)

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

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And thank you for your kind words regarding my work. A moment of self-congratulatory reminiscing (what else could you expect from a narcissist):

When I started writing "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited" in 1996, I went online to search for "narcissism" and the "Narcissistic Personality Disorder". Google wasn't invented yet. Infoseek, the reigning search engine of the time, spewed out 150 Web sites containing the word narcissism. That was it. There was not a single mailing or discussion group dedicated to narcissism. Alt.narcissism, the Usenet group, was defunct.

Fast forward to 2005. Type the word "narcissism" into Google or Yahoo and you get 500,000 results. There are more than 50 discussion, study, and mailing groups dedicated to pathological narcissism, with well over 15,000 active members in total. Even the media is beginning to pay attention. It is gratifying.


Is there a chemical addiction involved? In a book I am reading by Dr. Susan Greenfield, The Private Life of the Brain in which she details the actions of drugs on the brain. As well, she talks of how we often seek strong physical and emotional situations that obliterate our consciousness - she says we are seeking to recreate our childhood mental state. I wonder if the NPD victim is seeking a parent child relationship? The feelings of joy and pain we felt when growing up are engrained in our minds.


This is the orthodoxy, the prevailing view.

The narcissist is a person who is irreparably traumatized by the behavior of the most important people in his life: his parents, role models, or peers. By being capricious, arbitrary, and sadistically judgmental, they molded him into an adult, who fervently and obsessively tries to recreate the trauma in order to, this time around, resolve it (repetition complex).

Thus, on the one hand, the narcissist feels that his freedom depends upon re-enacting these early experiences. On the other hand, he is terrified by this prospect. Realizing that he is doomed to go through the same traumas over and over again, the narcissist distances himself by using his aggression to alienate, to humiliate and in general, to be emotionally absent.

This behavior brings about the very consequence that the narcissist so fears - abandonment. But, this way, at least, the narcissist is able to tell himself (and others) that HE was the one who fostered the separation, that it was fully his choice and that he was not surprised. The truth is that, governed by his internal demons, the narcissist has no real choice. The dismal future of his relationships is preordained.

I know very little about brain chemistry, but I want to offer these observations:

The narcissist's moods change abruptly in the wake of a narcissistic injury. One can easily manipulate the moods of a narcissist by making a disparaging remark, by disagreeing with him, by criticising him, by doubting his grandiosity or fantastic claims, etc.

Such REACTIVE mood shifts are not provoked by the fluctuations in the narcissist's body chemistry (for instance, his blood sugar levels), or with the presence or absence of any substance or chemical in his brain. It is possible to reduce the narcissist to a state of rage and depression AT ANY MOMENT, simply by employing the above "technique". He can be elated, even manic – and in a split second, following a narcissistic injury, depressed, sulking or raging.

The opposite is also true. The narcissist can be catapulted from the bleakest despair to utter mania (or at least to an increased and marked feeling of well-being) by being provided with the flimsiest Narcissistic Supply (attention, adulation, etc.).

These swings are totally correlated to external events (narcissistic injury or Narcissistic Supply) and not to cycles of hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters, sugar, or other substances in the body.

It is conceivable, though, that a third, unrelated problem causes chemical imbalances in the brain, metabolic diseases such as diabetes, pathological narcissism, and other mental health syndromes. There may be a common cause, a hidden common denominator (perhaps a group of genes).

Other disorders, like the Bipolar Disorder (mania-depression) are characterised by mood swings that are not brought about by external events (endogenous, not exogenous). But the narcissist's mood swings are strictly the results of external events (as he perceives and interprets them, of course).

Narcissists are absolutely insulated from their emotions. They are emotionally flat or numb.

The narcissist does not have pendular (cyclical) mood swings on a regular, almost predictable basis, from depression to euphoria (mania), as is the case in biochemically induced mental disorders.

Additionally, the narcissist goes through mega-cycles which last months or even years. These cannot, of course, be attributed to blood sugar levels or to Dopamine and Serotonin secretions in the brain.

The Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) per se is not treated with medication. The underlying disorder is treated by one of the long-term psychodynamic or cognitive-behavioural therapies. Other Personality Disorders (NPD is usually comorbid - diagnosed with other PDs) are treated separately and according to their own characteristics.

But phenomena, which are often associated with NPD, such as depression or OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), are treated with medication. Rumour has it that SSRI's (such as Fluoxetine, known as Prozac) might have adverse effects if the primary disorder is NPD. They sometimes lead to the Serotonin syndrome, which includes agitation and exacerbates the rage attacks typical of a narcissist. The use of SSRI's is associated at times with delirium and the emergence of a manic phase and even with psychotic microepisodes.

This is not the case with the heterocyclics, MAO and mood stabilisers, such as lithium. Blockers and inhibitors are regularly applied without discernible adverse side effects (as far as NPD is concerned).

Additionally, cognitive-behavioural therapies are often used to treat the attendant OCD and depression.

To summarise:

Not enough is known about the biochemistry of NPD. There seems to be some vague link to Serotonin but no one knows for sure. There isn't a reliable non-intrusive method to measure brain and central nervous system Serotonin levels anyhow, so it is mostly guesswork at this stage.

Thus, as of now, the typical and recommended treatment for pathological narcissism and the comorbid depression and OCD is talk therapy of one kind (psychodynamic) or another (cognitive-behavioural).

Antidepressants can be used moderately (with SSRI being currently under critical scrutiny).


One of the elements we left out in my discussion of the dyads is what happens in the brain during and afterward - I am not discounting what you wrote and agree with you. But why do people becoming addicted to such behavior - is there a chemical component? Both the NPD and the victims show signs of addiction to each other; as you pointed out in your letters this is a sign of codependency, Stockholm syndrome etc. I posit that just as there is a "runners high" caused by brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), in both a BDSM and an NPD/victim relationship the victim becomes addicted to the high of the pain and abuse. The brain has neurons with have receptors for chemicals that either are produced internally or come from the exterior - that is why morphine and other drugs work so well, they fit into pre-existing sites in the brain.

Watching the interaction of NPDs and victims, I would surmise that they are addicted to each other; both are giving each other some kind of supply of chemicals. Take the case of cigarette smokers; there is both a social and a chemical component to nicotine addiction. We can suppose there is a predisposition to smoking in all of us, yet many of us never develop an addiction to cigarettes. Is the same true for addiction to the pain of a NPD relationship? The parties in involve, no matter how much they protest to the contrary, are enmeshed to the point where the victim as to detoxify after leaving a NPD. On the other hand, I have recently read a newspaper article, unfortunately without any reference, that alleged people with NPD and Borderline personality disorders often become stalkers - they cannot accept that their object of desire either is not interested in them or would reject them.


I suggested long ago that the narcissist is the mental equivalent of the alcoholic. He is insatiable. He directs his whole behaviour, in fact his life, to obtain the pleasurable titbits of attention called "Narcissistic Supply". He embeds them in a coherent, completely biased, picture of himself. He uses them to regulates his labile sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

In other words, we both think that the narcissist is an addict. But I postulate that he is addicted to narcissistic supply - and not to the SOURCES of narcissistic supply, as you propose. The sources (his victims) are interchangeable. His dependence on narcissistic supply is invariable.

Are the victims addicted to "their" narcissistic abusers?

Some are undoubtedly (the ones who are Inverted Narcissists and the straightforward codependents). But I still maintain that the majority are not.

Regardless of whether the victim is addicted to her abuser or not, it is an intriguing idea to apply therapeutic modalities borrowed from the treatment of addictive behaviours to the treatment of victims of abuse.


The NPD relationship is about power, the power to charm, to control and eventually to receive 'narcissistic supply' in all of its various forms. The supply can begin with just compliments, to admiration, to 'love', to subjugation and finally complete control; the victim becomes a puppet mimicking and providing what the master or mistress wants. In mild forms, most people enjoy the charm of NPDs and do not mind paying them attention; only later is there a flip flop of interaction, whereby the NPD demands an in-ordinate quantity of attention for the little he or she gives you. (I am not sure how many times I have heard a NPD say to the victim that they belong to the NPD - all the benefits they receive are due to the NPD's generosity.)

Even with all I have read all about NPDs, I still do not understand them.

Intellectually, I can see what type of behavior is indicative of narcissism taken to a higher level, but I still wonder why? They are monsters who think differently than normal people even while they mimic normal behavior. What I do know is that we - as adults - must learn about them in order to avoid them, or at least cope with their destructive behavior. We cross paths with NPDs daily, we work and live with them and we suffer from what they do. Most of all, children suffer from NPDs, because they do not have the maturity or intelligence to understand what is going on. A NPD mother or father is like an emotional cancer, what they do as parents is infect their children. Only later will the seeds of their sickness blossom. Not always, but often an adult child will wonder why they do certain things, why they react in certain ways, and wonder what went wrong? Why are they Floccinaucinihilipilification?

Emotionally abused children of NPD

I was just thinking about how I have always been obsessed with the truth. Not knowing if all victims of narcissists share this characteristic, I do know some who do, it struck me that if a child grows up surrounded by liars who live in a fantasy world (the narcissist who creates a world based on three things; me, myself and I) then it would follow that a child would either imitate the narcissist or would reject the lies, and try to discover the 'truth'. The first instance of this world that I found in reading about narcissists was in Alice Miller's Book, "The Drama of the Gifted Child, The Search for the True Self" in which she describes the house one of her clients lived in as a child. Her patient said that it was a glass house (he could have said one made of mirrors) and that all the bad things were hidden; this is the world a narcissist creates for themselves and their families. Ever noticed that some people's houses are perfect? The houses don't look lived in? Their children are perfect, or if they are too loud or difficult the parents put their children on drugs to make them perfect? I wonder if these kinds of people are NPD, if not Compulsive Obsessive? What is it like to live with such people? Perfectionists who nit pick everything and everyone, who are never happy, who fall apart whenever something goes wrong are difficult to live with.

What if a child sees the world one way then is told by parents that it is not real because the world is filtered through the adult NPD's anxieties and warped vision. Can this cause anxiety in the child? A child has to interpret what is real and what is fake; see Piaget for the stages of development of a child's brain/consciousness. The NPD's worldview is hell for children but it may provoke anxiety in other adults. Are we not all are raised to be fooled - it this what makes us adult - in order to survive? The transition to adulthood requires that we go along with the lies; learn how to tell white lies and to see a white lie. Children are cruel in that they will say what is on their minds, without a 'filter', what they see is the good bad or ugly truth. Only later do they realize the tooth fairy did not bring them a gift for their tooth (I know of a banker who used to give his child a hundred dollar bill and made sure everyone knew it) and the child becomes a skeptic and cynic. When a child learns how to lie, they enter the adult world, I believe.

Narcissists continue to believe in fantasies - especially about them selves. They are fun to be around for this very reason - they are the tooth fairies that fulfill our dreams. A narcissist warps reality; making lies into truths and vice versa.

If you live in such an atmosphere, it seems that nothing is real, all emotions are studied and acted, and all make believe. A child depending on an adult for emotional and moral comfort finds that the NPD parent is not there; either the parent is acting, or absent. Firstly the parent acts as if they are the greatest parent in the world, with ostentatious signs of love and caring; only the best schools, the best clothes, the best of everything. They will shower their child with 'material' love in a show for the watching audience. For a NPD, their child is an extension of the NPD adult, like their car or house, and so much reflect back their glory. Go to a soccer game and watch the parents who want their kids to win, no mater what, even if they end up hating the game. Is this because the parents 'care' for their children? Or is it because they see the child winning for the greater glory of the parent? Love that is conditional, that comes with instructions and all kinds of rules is a NPD love.

(continued below)

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

Click HERE to buy the print edition from Amazon (click HERE to buy a copy dedicated by the author)

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




Follow me on Twitter, Facebook (my personal page or the book’s), YouTube


The other side of NPD parenting is the total rejection of the child. The child is loved, from a distance, but never held, nor listened to. The child is a thing; hopefully it will grow up to be civilized. The NPD parent who is absent has no idea what to do has no inner voice to guide them. So the child believes they are unlovable. This is probably as bad as being 'loved to death' by the exhibitionist NPD parent. Do NPD parents spend time with their child? As Kat Stevens sang, in the song Cats and the cradle:

My son turned ten just the other day He said, "Thanks for the ball dad, come on let's play Can you teach me to throw?"

I said, "Not today, I've got a lot to do"

The child who is raised by NPDs is at a loss to understand the parent's actions. The NPD parent is probably as clueless. And so our society continues to encourage such behavior, keeping up with the Jones etc. The treadmill of conformity leads to the therapist's office.


My mother suffered from a severe case of pathological narcissism (as well as other Axis II and Axis I disorders). I described my experiences as a child in this segment (titled "Abuse"), in my poetry, in my short fiction, and in my journal. Despite years of writing, helping others, and interacting with both narcissists and victims (not to mention two bouts of failed therapy) - I failed to exorcise my childhood demons.

I wrote a very extensive essay about the way the narcissist is molded by his faulty upbringing. You can find it here:

There is very little to add to the concise and accurate way you described the pernicious effects of growing up in a household of narcissists.

A few more insights and observations, though:

As you poignantly pointed out, the atmosphere in the narcissist's family unit is outlandish and sinister.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).

(continued below)

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

Click HERE to buy the print edition from Amazon (click HERE to buy a copy dedicated by the author)

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




Follow me on Twitter, Facebook (my personal page or the book’s), YouTube


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.

The narcissist sees enemies and conspiracies everywhere. He often casts himself as the heroic victim (martyr) of dark and stupendous forces. In every deviation from his tenets he espies malevolent and ominous subversion. He, therefore, is bent on disempowering his devotees. By any and all means.

The narcissist does not require – nor does he seek – his parents' or his siblings' love, or to be loved by his children. He casts them as the audience in the theatre of his inflated grandiosity. He wishes to impress them, shock them, threaten them, infuse them with awe, inspire them, attract their attention, subjugate them, or manipulate them.

He emulates and simulates an entire range of emotions and employs every means to achieve these effects. He lies (narcissists are pathological liars – their very self is a false one). He acts the pitiful, or, its opposite, the resilient and reliable. He stuns and shines with outstanding intellectual, or physical capacities and achievements, or behavior patterns appreciated by the members of the family. When confronted with (younger) siblings or with his own children, the narcissist is likely to go through three phases:

At first, he perceives his offspring or siblings as a threat to his Narcissistic Supply, such as the attention of his spouse, or mother, as the case may be. They intrude on his turf and invade the Pathological Narcissistic Space. The narcissist does his best to belittle them, hurt (even physically) and humiliate them and then, when these reactions prove ineffective or counter productive, he retreats into an imaginary world of omnipotence. A period of emotional absence and detachment ensues.

His aggression having failed to elicit Narcissistic Supply, the narcissist proceeds to indulge himself in daydreaming, delusions of grandeur, planning of future coups, nostalgia and hurt (the Lost Paradise Syndrome). The narcissist reacts this way to the birth of his children or to the introduction of new foci of attention to the family cell (even to a new pet!).

Whomever the narcissist perceives to be in competition for scarce Narcissistic Supply is relegated to the role of the enemy. Where the uninhibited expression of the aggression and hostility aroused by this predicament is illegitimate or impossible – the narcissist prefers to stay away. Rather than attack his offspring or siblings, he sometimes immediately disconnects, detaches himself emotionally, becomes cold and uninterested, or directs transformed anger at his mate or at his parents (the more "legitimate" targets).

Other narcissists see the opportunity in the "mishap". They seek to manipulate their parents (or their mate) by "taking over" the newcomer. Such narcissists monopolise their siblings or their newborn children. This way, indirectly, they benefit from the attention directed at the infants. The sibling or offspring become vicarious sources of Narcissistic Supply and proxies for the narcissist.

An example: by being closely identified with his offspring, a narcissistic father secures the grateful admiration of the mother ("What an outstanding father/brother he is"). He also assumes part of or all the credit for baby's/sibling's achievements. This is a process of annexation and assimilation of the other, a strategy that the narcissist makes use of in most of his relationships.

As siblings or progeny grow older, the narcissist begins to see their potential to be edifying, reliable and satisfactory Sources of Narcissistic Supply. His attitude, then, is completely transformed. The former threats have now become promising potentials. He cultivates those whom he trusts to be the most rewarding. He encourages them to idolise him, to adore him, to be awed by him, to admire his deeds and capabilities, to learn to blindly trust and obey him, in short to surrender to his charisma and to become submerged in his follies-de-grandeur.

It is at this stage that the risk of child abuse - up to and including outright incest - is heightened. The narcissist is auto-erotic. He is the preferred object of his own sexual attraction. His siblings and his children share his genetic material. Molesting or having intercourse with them is as close as the narcissist gets to having sex with himself.

Moreover, the narcissist perceives sex in terms of annexation. The partner is "assimilated" and becomes an extension of the narcissist, a fully controlled and manipulated object. Sex, to the narcissist, is the ultimate act of depersonalization and objectification of the other. He actually masturbates with other people's bodies.

Minors pose little danger of criticizing the narcissist or confronting him. They are perfect, malleable and abundant sources of Narcissistic Supply. The narcissist derives gratification from having coital relations with adulating, physically and mentally inferior, inexperienced and dependent "bodies".

These roles – allocated to them explicitly and demandingly or implicitly and perniciously by the narcissist – are best fulfilled by ones whose mind is not yet fully formed and independent. The older the siblings or offspring, the more they become critical, even judgemental, of the narcissist. They are better able to put into context and perspective his actions, to question his motives, to anticipate his moves.

As they mature, they often refuse to continue to play the mindless pawns in his chess game. They hold grudges against him for what he has done to them in the past, when they were less capable of resistance. They can gauge his true stature, talents and achievements – which, usually, lag far behind the claims that he makes.

This brings the narcissist a full cycle back to the first phase. Again, he perceives his siblings or sons/daughters as threats. He quickly becomes disillusioned and devaluing. He loses all interest, becomes emotionally remote, absent and cold, rejects any effort to communicate with him, citing life pressures and the preciousness and scarceness of his time.

He feels burdened, cornered, besieged, suffocated, and claustrophobic. He wants to get away, to abandon his commitments to people who have become totally useless (or even damaging) to him. He does not understand why he has to support them, or to suffer their company and he believes himself to have been deliberately and ruthlessly trapped.

He rebels either passively-aggressively (by refusing to act or by intentionally sabotaging the relationships) or actively (by being overly critical, aggressive, unpleasant, verbally and psychologically abusive and so on). Slowly – to justify his acts to himself – he gets immersed in conspiracy theories with clear paranoid hues.

To his mind, the members of the family conspire against him, seek to belittle or humiliate or subordinate him, do not understand him, or stymie his growth. The narcissist usually finally gets what he wants and the family that he has created disintegrates to his great sorrow (due to the loss of the Narcissistic Space) – but also to his great relief and surprise (how could they have let go someone as unique as he?).

This is the cycle: the narcissist feels threatened by arrival of new family members – he tries to assimilate or annex of siblings or offspring – he obtains Narcissistic Supply from them – he overvalues and idealizes these newfound sources – as sources grow older and independent, they adopt anti narcissistic behaviours – the narcissist devalues them – the narcissist feels stifled and trapped – the narcissist becomes paranoid – the narcissist rebels and the family disintegrates.

This cycle characterises not only the family life of the narcissist. It is to be found in other realms of his life (his career, for instance). At work, the narcissist, initially, feels threatened (no one knows him, he is a nobody). Then, he develops a circle of admirers, cronies and friends which he "nurtures and cultivates" in order to obtain Narcissistic Supply from them. He overvalues them (to him, they are the brightest, the most loyal, with the biggest chances to climb the corporate ladder and other superlatives).

But following some anti-narcissistic behaviours on their part (a critical remark, a disagreement, a refusal, however polite) – the narcissist devalues all these previously idealized individuals. Now that they have dared oppose him - they are judged by him to be stupid, cowardly, lacking in ambition, skills and talents, common (the worst expletive in the narcissist's vocabulary), with an unspectacular career ahead of them.

The narcissist feels that he is misallocating his scarce and invaluable resources (for instance, his time). He feels besieged and suffocated. He rebels and erupts in a serious of self-defeating and self-destructive behaviours, which lead to the disintegration of his life.

Doomed to build and ruin, attach and detach, appreciate and depreciate, the narcissist is predictable in his "death wish". What sets him apart from other suicidal types is that his wish is granted to him in small, tormenting doses throughout his anguished life.

This is a very destructive pattern because parents (Primary Objects) and, more specifically, mothers are the first agents of socialisation. It is through his mother that the child explores the answers to the most important existential questions, which shape his entire life. How loved one is, how loveable, how independent one becomes, how guilty one should feel for wanting to become autonomous, how predictable is the world, how much abuse should one expect in life and so on.

To the infant, the mother, is not only an object of dependence (as his survival is at stake), love and adoration. It is a representation of the "universe" itself. It is through her that the child first exercises his senses: the tactile, the olfactory, and the visual.

Later on, she becomes the subject of his nascent sexual cravings (if a male) – a diffuse sense of wanting to merge, physically, as well as spiritually. This object of love is idealised and internalised and becomes part of his conscience (Superego). For better or for worse, she is the yardstick, the benchmark against which everything in his future is measured. One forever compares oneself, one's identity, one's actions and omissions, one's achievements, one's fears and hopes and aspirations to this mythical figure.

Growing up entails the gradual separation from one's mother. At first, the child begins to shape a more realistic view of her and incorporates the mother's shortcomings and disadvantages in this modified version. The more ideal, less realistic and earlier picture of the mother is stored and becomes part of the child's psyche. The later, less cheerful, more realistic view enables the infant to define his own identity and gender identity and to "go out to the world".

Thus, partly "abandoning" mother is the key to an independent exploration of the world, to personal autonomy and to a strong sense of self. Resolving the sexual complex and the resulting conflict of being attracted to a forbidden figure – is the second, determining, step.

The (male) child must realise that his mother is "off-limits" to him sexually (and emotionally, or psychosexually) and that she "belongs" to his father (or to other males). He must thereafter choose to imitate his father ("become a man") in order to win, in the future, someone like his mother.

The third (and final) stage of letting go of the mother is reached during the delicate period of adolescence. One then seriously ventures out and, finally, builds and secures one's own world, replete with a new "mother-lover". If any of these phases is thwarted – the process of differentiation is not be successfully completed, no autonomy or coherent self are achieved and dependence and "infantilism" characterise the unlucky person.

What determines the success or failure of these phases in one's personal history? Mostly, one's mother. If the mother does not "let go" – the child does not go. If the mother herself is the dependent, narcissistic type – the growth prospects of the child are, indeed, dim.

There are numerous mechanisms, which mothers use to ensure the continued presence and emotional dependence of their offspring (of both sexes).

The mother can cast herself in the role of the eternal victim, a sacrificial figure, who dedicated her life to the child (with the implicit or explicit proviso of reciprocity: that the child dedicate his life to her). Another strategy is to treat the child as an extension of the mother or, conversely, to treat herself as an extension of the child.

Yet another tactic is to create a situation of shared psychosis or "folie a deux" (the mother and child united against external threats), or an atmosphere suffused with sexual and erotic insinuations, leading to an illicit psychosexual bonding between mother and child.

In this, latter case, the adult's ability to interact with members of the opposite sex is gravely impaired and the mother is perceived as envious of any feminine influence other than hers. Such a mother is frequently critical of the women in her offspring's life pretending to do so in order to protect him from dangerous liaisons or from ones which are "beneath him" ("You deserve more").

Other mothers exaggerate their neediness: they emphasise their financial dependence and lack of resources, their health problems, their emotional barrenness without the soothing presence of the child, their need to be protected against this or that (mostly imaginary) enemy. Guilt is a prime mover in the perverted relationships of such mothers and their children.

The death of the mother is, therefore, both a devastating shock and a deliverance - ambivalent emotional reactions. Even a "normal" adult who mourns his dead mother is usually exposed to such emotional duality. This ambivalence is the source of great guilt feelings.

With a person who is abnormally attached to his mother, the situation is more complicated. He feels that he has a part in her death, that he is to blame, somehow responsible, that he could have done more. He is glad to be liberated and feels guilty and punishable because of it. He feels sad and elated, naked and powerful, exposed to dangers and omnipotent, about to disintegrate and to be newly integrated. These, precisely, are the emotional reactions to a successful therapy. With the death of his mother, the victim (often a narcissist himself) embarks on a process of healing.

Thank you, Stephen, for airing these important issues. Looking forward to our next exchange!

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