The World of the Narcissist (Essay)

(Fifth, Revised Impression, 2003)

Narcissism, Pathological Narcissism, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), the Narcissist,

and Relationships with Abusive Narcissists and Psychopaths

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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We all face a choice: we can become horizontal expanders or vertical climbers.

We can either select a profession, a vocation, an avocation, a geographic region, a spouse, a lifestyle, stick to them and climb up the proverbial ladder. This calls for incessant studies, specialisation, focused energy, in depth involvement. Such people are the achiever (A) types.

The alternative is to frequently change professions, travel, accumulate experiences, memories, and encounters with people and with landscapes. In short, to learn a little about a lot. The price to pay: lack of socially recognised accomplishments.

Most narcissists belong to the second type in most fields of their life. They often maintain one island of stability (for instance, their marriage or career) – but other realms of their life are highly unstable. To invest hard work and study in depth and laboriously is to admit that one is deficient, less than omniscient and omnipotent. Narcissists don't admit to difficulties, challenges, ignorance, or shortcomings.

Narcissists cannot delay gratification. They are creatures of the here and now, because they feel boundlessly entitled. When forced to specialise or persist, they feel stagnation and "death". It is not a matter of choice but a structural constraint. This is the way a narcissist is built, this is his modus operandi, and his vacillating style of life and dizzying array of activities are written into his operations manual.

As a direct result, the narcissist cannot form a stable marital relationship, or reasonably devote himself to his family, or maintain an on going business, or reside in one place for long, or dedicate himself to a single profession or to one career, or complete his academic studies, or accumulate material wealth.

Narcissists are often described as indolent, labile, unstable, unreliable, unable and unwilling to undertake long-term commitments and obligations, or to maintain a job, or a career path. The narcissist's life is characterised by jerky, episodic careers, relationships, marriages, and domiciles. He is volatile, erratic, flexible, and ephemeral.

Hitherto we have touched upon the less malignant dimensions. There is worse to come.

The narcissist is possessed of a low self-esteem. In public, the narcissist presents himself as the quintessential winner. But deep inside, he judges himself to be a good-for-nothing loser, a permanent, irreversible failure. He hates himself for being so, and he constantly envies everyone around him for various reasons.

His discontent is often transformed into depression. Unable to love himself, the narcissist is unable to love another. He regards and treats people as though they were objects: exploits and discards them. He mistreats people around him by asserting his superiority at all times, by being emotionally cold or absent, by constantly bickering, verbally humiliating, incessantly (mostly unjustly) criticising, and by actively rejecting or ignoring them, thus provoking uncertainty.

The narcissist's interpersonal relationships are deformed and sick. The longer the relationship, the more it is tinted by the pathological hue of narcissism. In his marriage, the narcissist recreates the conflicts with his Primary Objects (parents or caregivers). He is immature in every walk of life, sex included. He tends to select the wrong partners or spouse. He does everything to bring about his greatest horror: abandonment. Even his staunchest supporters and lovers ultimately leave him.

In the wake of such abandonment, the narcissist experiences the horrifying and complete breakdown of his defences. He feels lonely, but his loneliness is of the existential, almost solipsist type. The whole world seems unreal to him, possessed of a nightmarish quality. He either feels disproportionately guilty and assumes all the burden of blame, allocating none to his partner – or blames her for everything, denying any personal responsibility.

These moments may be the only occasions in which the narcissist is in touch with his emotions – an experience he has been trying to avoid all his life and at all costs to his mental health. Learning the truth about his emotional infirmity, the narcissist often entertains suicidal ideation. He cannot countenance deforming his body, so he is inclined to use sleeping pills.

But, soon enough, the narcissist recovers and escapes into a new psychosexual liaison. Another toy, another object of gratification enters his world. His emotional wounds are shallow and they heal fast. Only his Ego is scarred, a memory repressed by the narcissist.

Because he is detached from his self, the narcissist tends to ignore his body altogether – or to idolise and idealise it. The cerebral narcissist may indulge in smoking, abuse drugs, consume unhealthy foods, and lead a sedentary life. Though ill at health, he treats himself only when and if it is absolutely inevitable.

The somatic narcissist worships his body, cultivating it like a rare flower, feeding it a special diet, refraining from any hint of bodily malpractice. Such a narcissist wastes hours inspecting himself in mirrors and applying a myriad of lotions, creams and medicines to his precious temple. He is also likely to be a hypochondriac.

The narcissist always prefers his image to his self. He goes a long way towards inventing himself, lying if needed, believing his own lies where expedient. To maintain this spectre, the narcissist resorts to chronic, pathological, misrepresentations and non-truths ("pseudologica fantastica").

The narcissist tries to compulsively replicate this invented image by becomeing famous, a celebrity. Like his other obsessive-compulsive acts, it does not make the narcissist happier by any lasting measure, neither does it alleviate his anxiety. When faced with the choice, the narcissist always prefers his invented self to his true one. For instance, he draws attention to figments of his imagined biography and not at who he really is.

The narcissist engages in a host of self-defeating and reckless behaviours. He might, for instance, gamble or shop compulsively and lose all his possessions, time and again. Ironically, this lands him in economic uncertainty – which is what he dreads and loathes most.

These behaviours – pathological gambling, compulsive shopping, reckless driving – result in great personal and financial instability. Such a narcissist seems always to be in debts and harried, no matter how much money he makes. This, sometimes, is compounded by frequent changes of profession and by the lack of a stable career. Some narcissists, though, are at the top of their profession and earn the money, which goes with such a professional status.

(continued below)

This article appears in my book "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"

Click HERE to buy the print edition from Amazon (click HERE to buy a copy dedicated by the author)

Click HERE to buy the print edition from Barnes and Noble

Click HERE to buy the print edition from the publisher and receive a BONUS PACK

Click HERE to buy electronic books (e-books) and video lectures (DVDs) about narcissists, psychopaths, and abuse in relationships

Click HERE to buy the ENTIRE SERIES of sixteen electronic books (e-books) about narcissists, psychopaths, and abuse in relationships




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Money is not the narcissist's only compulsion. Many narcissists are inordinately orderly and clean, or they may be addicted to knowledge, or obsessed with time. Some suffer from compulsive ticks and more complex repetitive, ritualistic movements. They might even become criminally compulsive, kleptomaniacs, for instance.

Narcissists are very misleading. They are possessed of undeniable personal charm and, usually, of sparkling intellect. Other people tend to associate these traits with maturity, authority and responsibility. Yet, as far as narcissists go, this association is a grave mistake.

The Dorian Grays of this world are eternal children (puer aeternus, Peter Pans), immature, puerile even, irresponsible, morally inconsistent (and in certain areas of life, morally non-existent). Narcissists actively encourage people to form expectations – only to disappoint and frustrate them later. They lack many adult skills and tend to rely on people around them to make up for these deficiencies.

That people will obey him, cater to his needs, and comply with his wishes is taken for granted by the narcissist, as a birth right. At times the narcissist socially isolates himself, exuding an air of superiority, expressing disdain, or a patronising attitude. At times he verbally lashes his nearest and dearest. Yet the narcissist expects total allegiance, loyalty, and submissiveness in all circumstances.

Abuse has many forms apart from the familiar ones sexual, verbal, emotional, psychological, and physical (battering and assault). Some narcissists are the outcomes of insufficient or erratic love – others the sad consequences of too much love.

Forcing a child into of adult pursuits is one of the subtlest varieties of soul murder. Very often we find that the narcissist was deprived of his childhood. He may have been a Wunderkind, the answer to his mother's prayers and the salve to her frustrations. A human computing machine, a walking-talking encyclopaedia, a curiosity, a circus freak – he may have been observed by developmental psychologists, interviewed by the media, endured the envy of his peers and their pushy mothers.

Consequently, such narcissists constantly clash with figures of authority because they feel entitled to special treatment, immune to prosecution, with a mission in life, destined for greatness, and, therefore, inherently superior.

The narcissist refuses to grow up. In his mind, his tender age formed an integral part of the precocious miracle that he once was. One looks much less phenomenal and one's exploits and achievements are much less awe-inspiring at the age of 40 – than at the age of 4. Better stay young forever and thus secure one's Narcissistic Supply.

So, the narcissist refuses to grow up. He never takes out a driver's licence. He does not have children. He rarely has sex. He never settle-down in one place. He rejects intimacy. In short, he refrains from adulthood and adult chores. He has no adult skills. He assumes no adult responsibilities. He expects indulgence from others. He is petulant and haughtily spoiled. He is capricious, infantile and emotionally labile and immature. The narcissist is frequently a 40 years-old brat.

Narcissists suffer from repetition complexes. Like certain mythological figures, they are doomed to repeat their mistakes and failures, and the wrong behaviours which led to them. They refrain from planning and conceive of the world as a menacing, unpredictable, failure-prone, and hostile place, or, at best, a nuisance.

This culminates in self-destruction. Narcissists engage in conscious – and unconscious – acts of violence and aggression aimed at restricting their choices, gains, and potentials. Some of them end up as criminals. Their criminality usually satisfies two conditions:

  1. It is Ego enhancing. The act(s) are – or must be perceived as – sophisticated, entailing the use of special traits or skills, incredible, memorable, unique. The narcissist is very likely to be involved in "white collar crime". He harnesses his leadership charisma, personal charm, and natural intelligence to do the "job".
  1. The criminal act includes a mutinous and contumacious element. The narcissist, after all, is mostly recreating the relationship that he has had with his parents. He rejects authority the way an adolescent does. He regards any kind of intrusion on his privacy and his autonomy – however justified and called for – as a direct and total threat to his psychic integrity. He tends to interpret the most mundane and innocuous gestures, sentences, exclamations, or offers – as such threats. The narcissist is paranoiac when it comes to a breach of his splendid isolation. He reacts with disproportionate aggression and is thought of by his environment to be a dangerous type or, at the very least, odd and eccentric.

Any offer of help is immediately interpreted by the narcissist to imply that he is not omnipotent and omniscient. The narcissist reacts with rage to such impudent allegations and, thus, rarely asks for succour, unless he finds himself in a critical condition.

A narcissist can roam the streets for hours, looking for an address, before conceding his inferiority by asking a passer-by for guidance. He suffers physical pain, hunger and fear, rather than ask for help. The mere ability to help is considered proof of superiority and the mere need for help – a despicable state of inferiority and weakness.

This is precisely why narcissists appear, at times, to be outstanding altruists. They enjoy the sense of power which goes with giving. They feel superior when they are needed. They encourage dependence of any kind. They know – sometimes, intuitively – that help is the most addictive drug and that relying on someone dependable fast becomes an indispensable habit.

Their exhibitionistic and "saintly" altruism disguises their thirst for admiration and accolades, and their propensity to play God. They pretend that they are interested only in the well-being of the happy recipients of their unconditional giving. But this kind of representation is patently untrue and misleading. No other kind of giving comes with more strings attached. The narcissist gives only if and when he receives adulation and attention.

If not applauded or adulated by the beneficiaries of his largesse, the narcissist loses interest, or deceives himself into believing that he is, in fact, revered. Mostly, the narcissist prefers to be feared or admired rather than loved. He describes himself as a "strong, no nonsense" man, who is able to successfully weather extraordinary losses and exceptional defeats and to recuperate. He expects other people to respect this image that he projects.

Thus, the beneficiaries are objects, silent witnesses to the narcissist's grandiosity and magnanimity, the audience in his one-man show. He is inhuman in that he needs no one and nothing – and he is superhuman in that he showers and shares the cornucopia of his wealth or talents abundantly and unconditionally. Even the narcissist's charity reflects his sickness.

Even so, the narcissist is more likely to donate what he considers to be the greatest gift of all – himself, his time, his presence. Where other altruists contribute money – he avails of his time and of his knowledge. He needs to be in personal touch with those aided by him, so as to be immediately rewarded (narcissistically) for his efforts.

When the narcissist volunteers he is at his best. He is often cherished as a pillar of civic behaviour and a contributor to community life. Thus, he is able to act, win applause, and reap Narcissistic Supply – and all with full legitimacy.




We dealt until now only with appearances. The narcissist's behaviour is indicative of a severe pathology which lies at the heart of his psyche and which deforms almost all his mental processes. A permanent dysfunction permeates and pervades all the strata of his mind and all his interactions with others and with himself.

What makes a narcissist tick? What is his hidden psychodynamic landscape like?

It is a terrain guarded zealously by defence mechanisms as old as the narcissist himself. More than to others, entrance to this territory is barred to the narcissist himself. Yet, to heal, however marginally, he needs this access most.

Narcissists are bred by other narcissists. To treat others as objects, one must first be treated as such. To become a narcissist, one must feel that one is nothing but an instrument used to satisfy the needs of a meaningful (maybe the most meaningful) figure in his life. One must feel that the only source of reliable, unconditional, total love is himself. One must, thus, lose faith in the existence or in the availability of other sources of emotional gratification.

This is a sorry state to which the narcissist is driven by long years of denial of his separate existence and his boundaries, by a volatile, or arbitrary milieu, and by constant emotional self-reliance. The narcissist – not daring to face the imperfection of the frustrating figure (usually, his mother), not able to direct his aggression at it – resorts to destroying himself.

The narcissist thus catches two birds with one stone of self-directed aggression: he vindicates the meaningful figure and her negative judgement of himself and he relieves his anxiety. Narcissistic parents tend to perniciously mould their offspring in the formative years of early infanthood, well into the sixth year of age.

An adolescent, while still applying the finishing touches to his or to her personality, is already out of harm's way. The 10 year olds are more susceptible to narcissistic pathology, but not in the subtle irreversible manner which is the precondition for the formation of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The seed of pathological narcissism is planted earlier than that.

It often happens that children are exposed to only one narcissistic parent. If you are the other parent, you would do well to simply be yourself. Do not directly confront or counteract the narcissistic parent. This will transform him or her into a martyr or a role model (especially to rebellious teenagers). Simply show them that there is another way. They will make the right choice. All people do – except narcissists.

Narcissists are born to narcissistic, depressive, obsessive-compulsive, alcoholic, drug addicted, hypochondriac, passive-aggressive and, in general, mentally disturbed parents. Alternatively, they may be born into chaotic circumstances. Delinquent parents are not the exclusive vehicle of deprivation. War, disease, famine, a particularly nasty divorce, or sadistic peers and role models (teachers, for instance) can do the job as efficiently.

It is not the quantity of deprivation but its quality that breeds narcissism. The most important questions are: is the child accepted and loved as he is, unconditionally? Is his treatment consistent, predictable and just? Capricious behaviour and arbitrary judgement, contradicting directives, or emotional absence are the elements which constitute the narcissist's menacing, whimsically unexpected, dangerously cruel world.

In such a world, emotions are negatively rewarded. The development of emotions requires long-term, repeated, and safe interactions. Such interactions call for stability, predictability and a lot of goodwill. When these prerequisites are absent, the child prefers to escape into a world of his own making to minimise the hurt. Such a world combines an "analytical ratio" coupled with repressed emotions.

This invented, highly elaborate, universe is not devoid of emotions. Quite the contrary: it is infused with them, they colour every act, however automatic and basic. But they are tagged differently. The narcissist does not lose his ability to feel – he loses his ability to realise that he is feeling and to recognise his feelings as such. In other words: he is out of touch with his emotions. At best, the narcissist experiences a "binary", shallow, emotional state: (generally) good – as opposed to (generally) bad, or relative calm contrasted with unease.

(continued below)

This article appears in my book "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"

Click HERE to buy the print edition from Amazon (click HERE to buy a copy dedicated by the author)

Click HERE to buy the print edition from Barnes and Noble

Click HERE to buy the print edition from the publisher and receive a BONUS PACK

Click HERE to buy electronic books (e-books) and video lectures (DVDs) about narcissists, psychopaths, and abuse in relationships

Click HERE to buy the ENTIRE SERIES of sixteen electronic books (e-books) about narcissists, psychopaths, and abuse in relationships




Follow me on Twitter, Facebook (my personal page or the book’s), YouTube


The narcissist objectifies himself as well. He invests an enormous amount of psychic energy in this conversion process and – to avoid a destructive dissonance – he feels proud of his achievements. He brags about his "razor-like, totally unbiased, absolutely objective" judgement, which is expressly unaffected by emotions. He might nickname himself "the brain", or "the machine", and call himself a "wondrous instrument". It is as though his analytic skills acquire a life of their own and shield him from his labile emotions.

The narcissist, out of touch with his emotions, finds it impossible to communicate them. He disavows their very existence and the existence or prevalence or incidence of emotions in others. He finds the task of emoting so daunting, that he repudiates his feelings and their content and denies that he is capable of feeling at all.

When forced to communicate his emotions – usually by some kind of threat to his image or to his imaginary world, or by a looming abandonment – the narcissist uses an alienating and alienated, "objective" language. He makes profligate use of this emotionless speech also in therapy sessions, where direct contact is made with his feelings.

The narcissist does everything not to express directly and in plain language what he feels. He generalises, compares, analyses, justifies, uses objective or objective-looking data, theorises, intellectualises, rationalises, hypothesises – anything but acknowledge his emotions.

Even when genuinely attempting to convey his feelings, the narcissist, who is normally verbally adept, sounds mechanic, hollow, disingenuous, or as though he is referring to someone else. This "observer stance" is favoured by narcissists. In an attempt to help the inquirer (the therapist, for instance) they assume a detached, "scientific" poise and talk about themselves in the third person.

Some of them even go to the extent of getting acquainted with psychological jargon to sound more convincing (though a few actually go to the trouble of studying psychology in-depth). Another narcissistic ploy is to pretend to be a "tourist" in one's own internal landscape: politely and mildly interested in the geography and history of the place, sometimes amazed, at times amused – but always uninvolved.

All this makes it difficult to penetrate the impregnable: the narcissist's inner world.

The narcissist himself has limited access to it. Humans rely on communication to get to know each other and they empathise through comparison. Communication absent or lacking, we cannot truly feel the "humanness" of the narcissist.

The narcissist is, thus, often described by others as "robotic", "machine-like", "inhuman", "emotionless", "android", "vampire", "alien", "automatic", "artificial", and so on. People are deterred by the narcissist's emotional absence. They are wary of him and keep their guard up at all times.

Certain narcissists are good at simulating emotions and can easily mislead people around them. Yet, their true colours are exposed when they lose interest in someone because he no longer serves a narcissistic (or other) purpose. Then they no longer invest energy in what, to others, comes naturally: emotional communication.

This is the essence of the narcissist's exploitativeness. To a certain degree, we all exploit each other. But, the narcissist abuses people. He misleads them into believing that they mean something to him, that they are special and dear to him, and that he cares about them. When they discover that it was all a sham and a charade, they are devastated.

The narcissist's problem is exacerbated by being constantly abandoned. It is a vicious cycle: the narcissist alienates people and they leave him. This, in turn, convinces him that he was always right in thinking that people are selfish and always prefer their self-interest to his welfare. His antisocial and asocial behaviours are, thus, amplified, leading to yet more serious emotional ruptures with his closest, nearest, and dearest.

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Narcissism, Pathological Narcissism, The Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), the Narcissist,

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Also Read

Narcissism at a Glance

Narcissistic Personality Disorder at a Glance

Narcissistic Personality Disorder Tips

What is Abuse

Warped Reality

Telling Them Apart

Narcissistic Parents

Narcissistic Immunity

From Abuse to Suicide

Physique Dysmorphique

Crime and Punishment

Pseudologica Fantastica

Narcissist, the Machine

The Narcissist's Mother

The Misanthropic Altruist

Narcissism in the Boardroom

Narcissists, Sex and Fidelity

Exploitation by a Narcissist

Depression and the Narcissist

How to Recognise a Narcissist

Responsibility and Other Matters

Do Narcissists Have Emotions?

The Dual Role of the False Self

 Narcissists - Stable or Unstable?

Addiction to Fame and Celebrity

The Narcissist's Reality Substitutes

The Narcissist's Confabulated Life

The Compulsive Acts of a Narcissist

Narcissists, Narcissistic Supply and Sources of Supply

Narcissism, Substance Abuse, and Reckless Behaviours

How Can I Save My Child from His Father's Narcissism?


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