Can the Narcissist Become Violent?
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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I am afraid of my ex-Narcissist. He stalks me, harasses me, threatens me verbally. Can he become real violent? Am I at risk? I am mostly worried about my children. Will he do something bad to them to get back at me?
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Pathological narcissism is a spectrum of disorders. People suffering from the full blown, all-pervasive, personality distorting mental health disorder known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are, indeed, more prone to violence than others.
Actually, the differential diagnosis (=the difference) between NPD and AsPD (Antisocial PD, psychopaths) is very blurred. Most psychopaths have narcissistic traits and many a narcissist are also sadists. Both types are devoid of empathy, are remorseless, ruthless, and relentless in their pursuit of their goals (the narcissist's goal is narcissistic supply or the avoidance of narcissistic injury).
Narcissists often use verbal and psychological abuse and violence against those closest to them. Some of them move from abstract aggression (the emotion leading to violence and permeating it) to the physically concrete sphere of violence. As they dehumanize and objectify even their nearest and dearest, their aggression shift from inanimate objects (throwing cups of coffee, breaking furniture, slashing tyres) to animate “objects” (people around them).
Many narcissists are also paranoid and vindictive. They aim to punish (by tormenting) and destroy the source of their frustration and pain.
There are only two ways of coping with vindictive narcissists:
1. To Frighten Them
Narcissists live in a state of constant rage, repressed aggression, envy and hatred. They firmly believe that everyone is like them. As a result, they are paranoid, suspicious, scared and erratic. Frightening the narcissist is a powerful behavior modification tool. If sufficiently deterred – the narcissist promptly disengages, gives up everything he was fighting for and sometimes make amends.
To act effectively, one has to identify the vulnerabilities and susceptibilities of the narcissist and strike repeated, escalating blows at them – until the narcissist lets go and vanishes.
If a narcissist is hiding a personal fact – one should use this to threaten him. One should drop cryptic hints that there are mysterious witnesses to the events and recently revealed evidence. The narcissist has a very vivid imagination. Let his paranoia do the rest.
The narcissist may have been involved in tax evasion, in malpractice, in child abuse, in infidelity – there are so many possibilities, which offer a rich vein of attack. If done cleverly, noncommittally, gradually, in an escalating manner – the narcissist crumbles, disengages and disappears and lowers his profile thoroughly in the hope of avoiding hurt and pain.
Most narcissists have been known to disown and abandon a whole PNS (pathological narcissistic space) in response to a well-focused campaign by their victims. Thus, a narcissist may leave town, change a job, desert a field of professional interest, avoid friends and acquaintances – only to secure relief from the unrelenting pressure exerted on him by his victims.
I repeat: most of the drama takes place in the paranoid mind of the narcissist. His imagination runs amok. He finds himself snarled by horrifying scenarios, pursued by the vilest "certainties". The narcissist is his own worst persecutor and prosecutor.
You don't have to do much except utter a vague reference, make an ominous allusion, delineate a possible turn of events. The narcissist will do the rest for you. He is like a little child in the dark, generating the very monsters that paralyze him with fear.
Needless to add that all these activities have to be pursued legally, preferably through the good services of law offices and in broad daylight. If done in the wrong way – they might constitute extortion or blackmail, harassment and a host of other criminal offences.
2. To Lure Them
The other way to neutralize a vindictive narcissist is to offer him continued narcissistic supply until the war is over and won by you. Dazzled by the drug of narcissistic supply – the narcissist immediately becomes tamed, forgets his vindictiveness and triumphantly takes over his "property" and "territory".
Under the influence of narcissistic supply, the narcissist is unable to tell when he is being manipulated. He is blind, dumb and deaf to all but the song of the NS sirens. You can make a narcissist do ANYTHING by offering, withholding, or threatening to withhold narcissistic supply (adulation, admiration, attention, sex, awe, subservience, etc.).
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Healthy narcissism is common in adolescents. Their narcissistic defenses help them cope with the anxieties and fears engendered by the demands and challenges of modern society: leaving home, going to college, sexual performance, marriage, and other rites of passage. There is nothing wrong with healthy narcissism. It sustains the adolescent in a critical time of his life and shields him or her from emotional injuries.
Still, in certain circumstances, healthy narcissism can transform into a malignant form, destructive to self and to others.
Adolescents who are consistently mocked and bullied by peers, role models, and socialization agents (such as teachers, coaches, and parents) are prone to find succor in grandiose fantasies of omnipotence and omniscience. To sustain these personal myths, they may resort to violence and counter-bullying.
The same applies to youths who feel deprived, underestimated, discriminated against, or at a dead end. They are likely to evoke narcissistic defenses to fend off the constant hurt and to achieve self-sufficient and self-contained emotional gratification.
Finally, pampered adolescents, who serve as mere extensions of their smothering parents and their unrealistic expectations are equally liable to develop grandiosity and a sense of entitlement incommensurate with their real-life achievements. When frustrated they become aggressive.
This propensity to other-directed violence is further exacerbated by what Lasch called "The Culture of Narcissism". We live in a civilization which condones and positively encourages malignant individualism, bad hero worship (remember "Born Killers"?), exploitativeness, inane ambitiousness, and the atomization of social structures and support networks. Alienation is a hallmark of our age, not only among youngsters.
When societies turn anomic, under both external and internal pressures (terrorism, crime, civil unrest, religious strife, economic crises, immigration, widespread job insecurity, war, rampant corruption, and so on), narcissists tend to become violent. This is because communities in anomic states offer little by way of externally-imposed impulse control and regulation, penal discipline, and rewards for conformity and 'good behavior". Narcissists in such settings of disintegration become serial and mass killers on a greater (Hitler) or smaller scale.
Q: What is your background with NPD?
A: The content of my Web site are based on correspondence since 1996 with hundreds of people suffering from the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (narcissists) and with thousands of their family members, friends, therapists, and colleagues.
I am the author of Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited. (number 1 bestseller in its category in Barnes and Noble).
I served as the editor of Mental Health Disorders categories in the Open Directory Project and on Mentalhelp.net. I maintain my own websites about the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and about relationships with abusive narcissists here and in HealthyPlace. You can read my work on many other Web sites: Mental Health Matters, Mental Health Sanctuary, Mental Health Today, Kathi's Mental Health Review and others.
I am also the editor of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder topic, the Verbal and Emotional Abuse topic, and the Spousal Abuse and Domestic Violence topic, all three on Suite101, as well as the moderator of the Narcissistic Abuse List and other mailing lists (c. 6000 members). I write a column for Bellaonline on Narcissism and Abusive Relationships.
Q: Have you ever encountered someone with NPD who had extreme violent behavior as a result of the disorder?
This article appears in my book "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"
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A: It is difficult to say whether as a direct result of the disorder or of other psychological dynamics but, yes, I came across people who were either diagnosed with NPD, or struck me as suffering from NPD and who were also violent. They inhabited the seam between the narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders (between pathological narcissism and psychopathy).
Q: If so, what often triggered this behavior? Could you perhaps provide some examples?
A: Invariably, violent behavior was triggered by frustration, perceived to be a threat to the integrity and veracity of the False Self. In other words, if the narcissist could not achieve gratification, or was criticized, or encountered resistance and disagreement - he tended to turn violent. He felt that his grandiose fantasies were being undermined and that his sense of entitlement due to his uniqueness is challenged. this often happens in prison where the atmosphere is paranoid and every slight, real or imaginary, is magnified to the point of narcissistic injury.
Q: How easy is it for most narcissists to be pushed into violence?
A: Pathological narcissism rarely appears in isolation. It is usually co-morbid with other personality or mental health disorders. Substance abuse and other forms of reckless behavior are common. The best predictor is past violence. But it is safe to say that narcissists who also abuse alcohol or drugs and who have been diagnosed with psychopathy or the antisocial personality disorder are very likely to be consistently violent in different settings.
Q: After committing a violent act, how will the narcissist deal with his/her actions?
A: The narcissist has alloplastic defences. He does not accept responsibility for his actions. He accuses others or the world at large for provoking or aggravating his outbursts of violent behaviour. He feels immune to the consequences of his actions by virtue of his inbred superiority and entitlement. Narcissists are also mildly dissociative. They sometimes go through depersonalization and derealization. In other words, some narcissists sort of "watch themselves" and their life from the outside, as one would a movie. Such narcissists do not feel fully and truly responsible for their acts of violence. "I don't know what came over me" - is their frequent refrain.
Q: Do you know of any instances where a person with NPD has murdered as a result of his/her outbursts?
A: Many serial killers have been diagnosed as narcissists - but I personally am not acquainted with one personally (laughing).
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Q: What kind of background shapes a violent narcissists? Is there any difference to that of a narcissist with less violent tendencies? Is there such a thing?
A: There is no research pertaining to this question. From my experience, violent narcissists come from dysfunctional and abusive families.
There are a million 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.
Narcissists who have been exposed in childhood to abusive behaviours by parents, caregivers, teachers, other role models, or even by peers would tend to propagate the abuse and behave aggressively, if not violently.
Q: What about the victims of crimes committed by narcissists? Is it often someone they know?
A: Not necessarily. Any person - known to the narcissist or not - who is perceived by the narcissist to be a source of frustration is in danger of becoming the victim of violence. If you disagree with the narcissist, criticize him, or deny him the unfettered and instantaneous fulfillment of his wishes - you become his enemy and the target of his unwelcome attentions.
Q: Are the treatments for violent narcissists different from those of non-violent narcissists?
A: Only in adding specific medication to the mix of talk therapy and medicines which are used in treating NPD.
Q: To your knowledge, has the presence of NPD ever been used as a defence for criminals in the court system?
A: Suffering from a personality disorder does not constitute a defence in any country I know of. It is often raised as a mitigating circumstance but never as a defence. Nor, at least in the case of pathological narcissism, can be used as one. Narcissists are fully aware of the difference between right and wrong and are fully capable of controlling their impulses. They simply do not care enough about their victims to do so. They lack empathy, are exploitative, feel entitled and superior and thus regard other people as objects or as extensions of themselves.
Q: Should I tell my narcissist that I have a concealed weapon? I want to deter him.
A: My advice is to conceal the weapon both physically and verbally.
For two reasons:
One, narcissists are paranoids. NPD is often co-morbid with PPD (Paranoid PD). The presence of a weapon confirms their worst persecutory delusions and often tips them over the edge.
The second reason has to do with the balance of power (or rather balance of terror) complex.
In his mind, the narcissist is superior in every way. This fantasized and grandiose superiority is what maintains the precarious equilibrium of his personality.
A gun - the virile symbol that it is - upsets the power relations in favor of the victim. It is a humiliation, a failure, a mockery, a defying challenge. The narcissist will likely seek to restore the previous poise by "diminishing" his opponent and "containing" the menace.
In other words, the presence of a gun guarantees conflict - sometimes a potentially lethal one. As the narcissist - now terrified by his own deranged persecutory phantasms - seeks redress, he may resort to the physical elimination of the source of his frustration (to battering, or worse).
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