Idealization, Grandiosity, Cathexis, and Narcissistic Progress
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By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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When I re-read articles I have written only a month ago and had deemed, at the time of composing, to be the epitome of incisiveness and proficiency, I invariably find them woefully lacking, verbose, and obscure.
What causes this dramatic shift in judgement within an inordinately short period of time? How could I have so misperceived my own work? What new have I learned and how was I thus enlightened?
The narcissist cathexes (emotionally invests) with grandiosity everything he owns or does: his nearest and dearest, his work, his environment. But, as time passes, this pathologically intense aura fades. The narcissist finds fault with things and people he had first thought impeccable. He energetically berates and denigrates that which he equally zealously exulted and praised only a short while before.
This inexorable and (to the outside world) disconcerting roller-coaster is known as the "Idealisation-Devaluation Cycle". It involves serious cognitive and emotional deficits and a formidable series of triggered defence mechanisms.
The Cycle starts with the narcissist's hunger for Narcissistic Supply – the panoply of reactions to the narcissist's False Self (his feigned facade of omnipotence and omniscience). The narcissist uses these inputs to regulate his fluctuating sense of self-worth.
It is important to distinguish between the various components of the process of Narcissistic Supply:
1. The Trigger of Supply is the person or object that provokes the source into yielding Narcissistic Supply by confronting the source with information about the narcissist's False Self;
2. The Source of Narcissistic Supply is the person that provides the Narcissistic Supply;
3. Narcissistic Supply is the reaction of the source to the trigger.
The narcissist homes in on Triggers and Sources of Narcissistic Supply – people, possessions, creative works, money – and imbues these sources and triggers with attributed uniqueness, perfection, brilliance, and grandiose qualities (omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience). He filters out any data that contradict these fantastic misperceptions. He rationalises, intellectualises, denies, represses, projects – and, in general, defends against – contrarian information.
Back to my writing:
My articles are triggers. The readers of my articles are my Sources of Narcissistic Supply. The fact that my articles are read and that they influence my readership is Narcissistic Supply to me – as are my readers' written and verbal reactions (both negative and positive).
When I produce an essay, I am proud of it. I am emotionally invested in it. I regard it as reified perfection. Though I try very hard, I can see nothing wrong with my vocabulary, grammar, syntax, turn of phrase, and ideas. In other words, I idealise my creative effort.
Why is it, then, that when I revert to it a mere few weeks later, I find the syntax tortured, the grammar shoddy, the choice of words forced, the whole piece repulsively bloviated, and the ideas hopelessly tangled and dim? In other words, why do I devalue my work?
This article appears in my book "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"
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The narcissist realises and resents his dependence on Narcissistic Supply. Moreover, deep inside, he is aware of the fact that his False Self is an untenable sham. Still, omnipotent as he holds himself to be, the narcissist believes in his ability to make it all come true, to asymptotically approximate his grandiose fantasies. He is firmly convinced that, given enough time and practice, he can and will become his lofty False Self.
Hence the narcissist's idea of progress: the frustrating and masochistic pursuit of an ever-receding mirage of perfection, brilliance, omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. The narcissist dumps old sources and triggers of supply because he is convinced that he is perpetually improving and that he deserves better and that "better" is just around the corner. He is driven by his own impossible Ego Ideal.
An article I write tomorrow is, therefore, bound to be far superior to yesterday's output. Miraculously, my grammar and syntax will have mended, my vocabulary will have expanded, my ideas will have resolved themselves coherently. Last month's essays are bound to be inferior in comparison to later pieces.
I am a work in progress, reaching ever closer to flawless consummation. The chronology of my articles merely reflects my increasingly elevated state of being.
Note: Cathexis and Emotional Reversal
The narcissist converts negative emotions – such as envy – into enjoyable experiences by cathexing them with a conviction of his superiority. In other words: he gets used and attached to his negative emotions and renders them pleasurably habit-forming. Within this comfort zone, he actually enjoys being envious of others, for instance. He derives masochistic solace from being the butt of injustice, being discriminated against, and from underachieving – all good reasons to be envious and to maintain the high moral ground. The narcissists’ inner dialog goes something like this: “I am superior to everyone, but this is exactly why I am left behind. Society rewards mediocrity and fears true genius and integrity.” This “martyr complex” is especially pronounced in conditions of deficient narcissistic supply.
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