Narcissistic Personality Disorder - Self Love and Self Destruction
Self-punishment, guilt-purging behaviour patterns, extracting behaviours, and inertly reverting to default, counterproductive conduct.
The narcissist hates, envies and loathes himself, having introjected sadistic, vindictive voices in his childhood which told him he was “bad”.
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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If narcissists love themselves and are so self-centered, why do they have all these self-destructive and self-defeating behaviors? Isn't it a contradiction?
There are two important differences between healthy self-love and malignant narcissism:
(a) in the ability to tell reality from fantasy, and (b) in the ability to empathise and, indeed, to fully and maturely love others. As we said, the narcissist possesses no self-love. It is because he has very little True Self to love. Instead, a monstrous, malignant construct – the False Self – encroaches upon his True Self and devours it.
The narcissist loves an image which he projects unto others and which is affirmed by them. The projected image is reflected by others to the narcissist and, thus, he is reassured both of its existence and of the boundaries of his Ego. This continuous process blurs all distinctions between reality and fantasy.
A False Self leads to false assumptions and to a contorted personal narrative, a false worldview, and to a grandiose, inflated sense of being. The latter is rarely grounded in real achievements or merit. The narcissist’s feeling of entitlement is all-pervasive, demanding and aggressive. It easily deteriorates into open verbal, psychological and physical abuse of others.
Maintaining the distinction between what we really are and what we dream of becoming, knowing our limits, our advantages and faults and having a sense of true, realistic accomplishments in our life are of paramount importance in the establishment and maintenance of our self-esteem, sense of self-worth and self-confidence.
Reliant as he is on outside judgment – the narcissist feels miserably inferior and dependent. He rebels against this degrading state of things by partly escaping into a world of make-belief, daydreaming, pretensions and delusions of grandeur. The narcissist knows little about himself – and finds what he knows to be unacceptable.
Moreover, our experience of what it is like to be human – our very humanness – depends largely on our self-knowledge and on our experience of our selves. In other words: only through being himself and through experiencing his self – can a human being fully appreciate the humanness of others.
This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"
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The narcissist has precious little experience of his self. Instead, he lives in an invented world, of his own design, where he is a fictitious figure in a grandiose script. He, therefore, possesses no tools which enable him to cope with other human beings, share their emotions, put himself in their place (empathise) and, of course, engage in the most demanding task of inter-relating, love them.
The narcissist just does not know what it means to be human. He is a predator, rapaciously preying on others for the satisfaction of his narcissistic cravings and appetites for admiration, adoration, applause, affirmation and attention. Humans are Narcissistic Supply Sources and are (over- or de-) valued according to their contributions to this end.
Self-love is a precondition for the experience and expression of mature love. One cannot truly love someone else if one does not first love one's True Self. If we never loved ourselves – we never experienced unconditional love and, therefore, do not know how to love.
If we keep living in a world of fantasy – how are we to notice the very real people around us who require our love and who deserve it? The narcissist wants to love. In the rare moments of self-awareness that he has he feels ego-dystonic (unhappy with his circumstances and with his relationships with others). This is his predicament: he is sentenced to eternal isolation precisely because he needs people so much.
These internal agonizing conflicts lead the narcissist to hate his tormenting self. As a form of self-punishment he then engages in self-destructive and self-defeating behaviors.
We can classify these behavior patterns according to their underlying motivation:
The Self-Punishing, Guilt-Purging Behaviours
These are intended to inflict punishment and to provide the punished party with a feeling of instant relief.
This is very reminiscent of a compulsive-ritualistic behavior. The narcissist harbors guilt. It could be an "ancient" guilt, a "sexual" guilt (Freud), or a "social" guilt. In his formative years, he internalized and introjected the voices of meaningful others that consistently and convincingly and from positions of authority informed him that he is no good, guilty, deserving of punishment or retaliation, and corrupt.
His life is thus transformed into an on-going trial. The constancy of this trial, this never adjourning tribunal IS the punishment. It is a Kafkaesque "trial": meaningless, undecipherable, never-ending, leading to no verdict, subject to mysterious and fluid laws and presided over by capricious judges.
The Extracting Behaviors
People with Personality Disorders (PDs) are very afraid of real, mature, intimacy. Intimacy is formed not only within a couple, but also in the workplace, in a community, with friends, while collaborating on a project. Intimacy is another word for emotional involvement, which is the outcome of interacting with others in constant and predictable (safe) proximity.
PDs interpret intimacy as dependence, strangulation, the snuffing of freedom, death in installments. They are terrorized by it. The aforementioned self-destructive and self-defeating acts are intended to dismantle the very foundations of a successful relationship, a career, a project, or a friendship. NPDs (narcissists), for instance, feel elated and relieved after they unshackle these "chains". They feel that they broke a siege, that they are liberated, free at last.
The Default Behaviors
We are all afraid of new situations, new possibilities, new challenges, new circumstances and new demands. Being successful, getting married, becoming a mother, or someone's boss – are often abrupt breaks with the past. Some self-defeating behaviors are intended to preserve the past, to restore it, to protect it from the winds of change, to inertly avoid opportunities.
Narcissists seek to avoid the pain of abandonment, or the death of loved ones. Moreover, narcissists are terrified even of their positive emotions lest they open the cesspool of their negative feelings. Thus, the narcissist always strives to destroy, or devalue the objects of his love. Narcissists experience this inner conflict as pathological and primitive envy (the wish to eliminate the desired object because it is also, potentially, a source of frustration and pain).
But what happens when the object of the narcissist's affection and tenderness - emotions much derided by him - is the narcissist himself?
The narcissist then "envies" his self. He seeks to destroy and devalue his own self. He seeks to punish himself and to motivate others to punish him ("projective identification").
It is just one of the paradoxes of this disorder, a veritable mirror hall, where nothing is what it seems to be. Love is reason for envy and destruction. Self-love leads to self-annihilation and self-defeat. Welcome to the narcissist's topsy-turvy universe.
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