Narcissistic Allocation: Over-valuation (Idealization) and Devaluation
Frequently Asked Question # 44
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What is the mechanism behind the cycles of over-valuation (idealization) and devaluation in the narcissist's life?
Cycles of over-valuation (idealisation) followed by devaluation characterise many personality disorders (they are even more typical of Borderline Personality Disorder than of the Narcissistic one, for instance). They reflect the need to be protected against the whims, needs, and choices of others, shielded from the hurt that they can inflict on the narcissist.
The ultimate and only emotional need of the narcissist is to be the subject of attention and, thus, to support his volatile self-esteem and to regulate his sense of self worth. The narcissist is dependent on others for the performance of critical Ego functions. While healthier people overcome disappointment or disillusionment with relative ease – to the narcissist they are the difference between Being and Nothingness.
The quality and reliability of Narcissistic Supply are, therefore, of paramount importance. The more the narcissist convinces himself that his sources are perfect, grand, comprehensive, authoritative, omniscient, omnipotent, beautiful, powerful, rich, brilliant, and so on – the better he feels. The narcissist has to idealise his Supply Sources in order to highly value the supply that he derives from them. This leads to over-valuation. The narcissist forms a fantastic picture of his sources of Narcissistic Supply.
The fall is inevitable. Disillusionment and disappointment set in. The slightest criticism, disagreement, or differences of opinion are interpreted by the narcissist as an all out assault against the foundations of his existence. The previous appraisal is sharply reversed: the same people are judged stupid who were previously deemed to possess genius, for instance.
This is the devaluation part of the cycle and it is very painful to both the narcissist and the devalued (for very different reasons, of course). The narcissist mourns the loss of a promising "investment opportunity" (Source of Narcissistic Supply). The "investment opportunity" mourns the loss of the narcissist. Sometimes, the narcissist idealizes a new source of supply or a source of superior, hi-grade supply by comparing it unfavourably to another source (“comparative devaluation” of an “idealization-devaluation couplet”.)
But what is the mechanism behind this cycling? What drives the narcissist to such extremes? Why didn't the narcissist develop a better (more efficient) coping technique?
The answer is that the over-valuation-devaluation mechanism is the most efficient one available. To understand why, one needs to take stock of the narcissist's energy, or, rather, the lack thereof.
The narcissist's personality is a precariously balanced affair and it requires inordinate amounts of energy to maintain. So overwhelmingly dependent on the environment for mental sustenance, the narcissist must optimise (rather, maximise) the use of the scarce resources at his disposal.
Not one iota of effort, time and emotion must be wasted lest the narcissist finds his emotional balance severely upset. The narcissist attains this goal by sudden and violent shifts between foci of attention. This is a highly efficacious mechanism of allocation of resources in constant pursuit of the highest available emotional yields.
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After emitting a narcissistic signal (see The Narcissistic Mini-Cycle), the narcissist receives a host of narcissistic stimuli. The latter are, simply, messages from people who are willing to provide then narcissist with Narcissistic Supply. But mere readiness is not sufficient.
The narcissist now faces the daunting task of evaluating the potential content, quality, and extent of Narcissistic Supply each and every one of the potential collaborators has to offer. He does so by rating each one of them. The stimulus with the highest rating is, naturally, selected. It represents "the best value for money", the most cost/reward efficient proposition.
In a variant of splitting, the narcissist then proceeds to generate two representations of the potential source: one “all good” (idealized) and one “all bad” (devalued). This way, he hedges against being spurned by the potential source of supply. If he is rejected by the source and sustains a narcissistic injury, the narcissist can just ignore the good representation and relate only to the bad one (i.e., devalue the frustrating object).
The two avatars (imagoes, introjects) are kept distinct and dissociated and give birth to two equally autonomous stream-of-consciousness internal dialogs. Unlike codependents, narcissists cannot erase representations once they are formed. Hence the narcissist’s subjective feeling that the idealization and devaluation just “happen” and are fully justified (represent an accurate assessment of reality).
The narcissist immediately over-values and idealises this source. It is the narcissistic equivalent of getting emotionally involved. The narcissist "bonds" with the new source. The narcissist feels attracted, interested, curious, magically rewarded, reawakened. Healthier people recognise this phenomenon: it is called infatuation.
To remove doubt: the Source of Narcissistic Supply thus chosen need not be human. The narcissist is equally interested in inanimate objects (for example: as status symbols), in groups of people (the nation, the Church, the army, the police), and even in the abstract ("history", "destiny", "mission").
A process of courting then commences. The narcissist knows how to charm, how to simulate emotions, how to flatter. Many narcissists are gifted actors, having acted the role of their False Self for so long. They wine the targeted Supply Source (whether primary or secondary) and dine it. They compliment and sweet-talk, intensely present, deeply interested.
Their genuine and keen (though selfish) immersion in the other, their overt high regard for him or her (a result of idealisation), their almost submissiveness – are alluring. It is nigh impossible to resist a narcissist on the prowl for Sources of Supply. At this stage, his energies are all focused and dedicated to the task.
During this phase of narcissistic courting or narcissistic pursuit, the narcissist is full of vitality, of dreams and hopes and plans and vision. And his energy is not dissipated: he resembles a laser beam. He attempts (and in many cases, succeeds to achieve) the impossible. If he targeted a publishing house, or a magazine, as his future Source of Supply (by publishing his work) – he produces incredible amounts of material in a short period of time.
If it is a potential mate, he floods her with attention, gifts and inventive gestures. If it is a group of people that he wishes to impress, he identifies with their goals and beliefs to the point of ridicule and discomfort. The narcissist has the frightening capacity to turn himself into a weapon: focused, powerful, and lethal.
He lavishes all his energies, capabilities, talents, charms and emotions on the newly selected Source of Supply. This has a great effect on the intended source and on the narcissist. This also serves to maximise the narcissist's returns in the short run.
Once the Source of Supply is captured, preyed upon and depleted, the reverse process (of devaluation) sets in. The narcissist instantaneously (and startlingly abruptly) loses all interest in his former (and now useless or judged to be so) Source of Narcissistic Supply. He dumps and discards it.
He becomes bored, lazy, slow, devoid of energy, absolutely uninterested. He conserves his energies in preparation for the attack on, and the siege of, the next selected Source of Supply. These tectonic shifts are hard to contemplate, still harder to believe.
The narcissist has no genuine interests, loves, or hobbies. He likes that which yields the most Narcissistic Supply. A narcissist can be a gifted artist for as long as his art rewards him with fame and adulation. Once public interest wanes, or once criticism mounts, the narcissist, in a typical act of cognitive dissonance, immediately ceases to create, loses interest in art, and does not miss his old vocation for a second. He is likely to turn around and criticize his erstwhile career even as he pursues another, totally unrelated one.
The narcissist has no genuine emotions. He can be madly in "love" with a woman (Secondary Narcissistic Supply Source) because she is famous, or wealthy, or a native and can help him obtain legal residence through marriage, or because she comes from the right family, or because she is unique in a manner positively reflecting on the narcissist's perceived uniqueness, or because she had witnessed past successes of the narcissist, or merely because she admires him.
Yet, this "love" dissipates immediately when her usefulness runs its course or when a better "qualified" Source of Supply presents herself.
The over-valuation and devaluation cycles are mere reflections and derivatives of these ups and downs of the narcissist's pools of energy and flows of supply. Efficient (that is, abrupt) energy shifts are more typical of automata than of human beings. But then the narcissist likes to brag of his inhumanity and machine-like qualities.
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