Dr. Watson and Mr. Hastings: The Narcissist and His Friends
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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"Who's the fairest of them all?" asks the Bad Queen in the fairy tale. Having provided the wrong answer, the mirror is smashed to smithereens. Not a bad allegory for how the narcissist treats his "friends".
Literature helps us grasp the intricate interactions between the narcissist and members of his social circle.
Both Sherlock Holmes and Hercules Poirot, the world's most renowned fiction detectives, are quintessential narcissists. Both are also schizoids: they have few friends and are largely confined to their homes, engaged in solitary activities. Both have fatuous, sluggish, and anodyne sidekicks who slavishly cater to their whims and needs and provide them with an adulating gallery: Holmes' Dr. Watson and Poirot's poor Hastings.
Both Holmes and Poirot assiduously avoid the "competition": sharp minds who seek their company for a fertilising intellectual exchange among equals. They feel threatened by the potential need to admit to ignorance and confess to error. Both gumshoes are self-sufficient and consider themselves peerless.
The Watsons and Hastings of this world provide the narcissist with an obsequious, unthreatening, audience and with the kind of unconditional and unthinking obedience that confirms to him his omnipotence. They are sufficiently vacuous to make the narcissist look sharp and omniscient – but not so asinine as to be instantly discernible as such. They are the perfect backdrop, never likely to attain centre stage and overshadow their master.
Moreover, both Holmes and Poirot sadistically – and often publicly – taunt and humiliate their Sancho Panzas, explicitly chastising them for being dim-witted. Narcissism and sadism are psychodynamic cousins and both Watson and Hastings are perfect victims of abuse: docile, understanding, malignantly optimistic, self-deluding, and idolising.
Narcissists can't empathise or love and, therefore, have no friends. The narcissist is one track minded. He is interested in securing Narcissistic Supply from Narcissistic Supply Sources. He is not interested in people as such. He is incapable of empathising, is a solipsist, and recognises only himself as human. To the narcissist, all others are three dimensional cartoons, tools and instruments in the tedious and Sisyphean task of generating and consuming Narcissistic Supply.
The narcissist over-values people (when they are judged to be potential sources of such supply), uses them, devalues them (when no longer able to supply him) and discards them nonchalantly. This behaviour pattern tends to alienate and distance people.
Gradually, the social circle of the narcissist dwindles (and ultimately vanishes). People around him who are not turned off by the ugly succession of his acts and attitudes are rendered desperate and fatigued by the turbulent nature of the narcissist's life. The narcissist especially resents his benefactors and sponsors because they remind him of his inferiority, neediness, and helplessness. Diderot, the 18th century French encyclopedist, wrote: “Rousseau is a monster ... He said he hated all those he had reason to be grateful to and he has proved it.” Rousseau, of course, was a prime narcissist.
Those few still loyal to the narcissist gradually abandon him because they can no longer withstand and tolerate the ups and downs of his career, his moods, his confrontations and conflicts with authority, his chaotic financial state and the dissolution of his emotional affairs. The narcissist is a human roller coaster: fun for a limited time, nauseating in the long run.
This article appears in my book "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"
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This is the process of narcissistic confinement.
Anything which might – however remotely – endanger the availability, or the quantity of the narcissist's Narcissistic Supply is excised. The narcissist avoids certain situations (for instance: where he is likely to encounter opposition, or criticism, or competition). He refrains from certain activities and actions (which are incompatible with his projected False Self). And he steers clear of people he deems insufficiently amenable to his charms.
To avoid narcissistic injury, the narcissist employs a host of Emotional Involvement Prevention Measures (EIPMs). He becomes rigid, repetitive, predictable, boring, limits himself to "safe subjects" (such as, endlessly, himself) and to "safe conduct", and often rages hysterically (when confronted with unexpected situations or with the slightest resistance to his preconceived course of action).
The narcissist's rage is not so much a reaction to offended grandiosity as it is the outcome of panic. The narcissist maintains a precarious balance, a mental house of cards, poised on a precipice. His equilibrium is so delicate that anything and anyone can upset it: a casual remark, a disagreement, a slight criticism, a hint, or a fear.
The narcissist magnifies it all into monstrous, ominous, proportions. To avoid these (not so imagined) threats, the narcissist prefers to "stay at home". He limits his social intercourse. He abstains from daring, trying, or venturing out. He is crippled. This, indeed, is the very essence of the malignancy that is at the heart of narcissism: the fear of flying.
Note: Gregariousness and (lack of) Self-confidence
When one's sense of self-worth is unstable, a good way to regulate it is by obtaining narcissistic supply (attention, affirmation, adulation, admiration, being feared, or hated). The narcissistic individual acquires a sense of reality and roots and counters his desultory groundlessness and inherent instability by feeding on reactions to his False Self. Thus, the narcissist's gregariousness is instrumental in buttressing his grandiose, fantastic, and inflated self-image and self-esteem.
Still, such behavior is not confined to narcissists. In anomic societies and periods, when institutions are rendered suspect by incompetence, corruption, and insularity, people tend to react by forming mobs and crowds. This mass-gregariousness sustains their sense of identity and aids in the regulation of their perceived self-worth. It is a narcissistic defence against dislocation and alienation.
A prime example of such reaction can be found online. As experts, scholars, institutions, and gatekeepers failed to ride the tigers of modern technology and the new media, users congregated and formed their own social networks and repositories of "knowledge" (mostly culled from raw data and primary sources, as in the case of Wikipedia, the "encyclopaedia" that anyone can edit). In a way, they "crowdsourced" their self-esteem.
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