Narcissistic Routines

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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The behaviour of the narcissist is regulated by a series of routines developed by rote learning and by repetitive patterns of experience. The narcissist finds change extremely distasteful and unsettling. He is a creature of habit. The function of these routines is to reduce his anxiety by transforming a hostile and arbitrary world into a hospitable and manageable one.

Granted, many narcissists are unstable - they often change jobs, apartments, spouses, and vocations. But even these changes are predictable. The narcissistic personality is disorganized - but also rigid. The narcissist finds solace in certainty, in recurrence, in the familiar and the anticipated. It balances his inner precariousness and volatility.

Narcissists often strike their interlocutors as "machine-like", "artificial", "fake", "forced", "insincere", or "spurious". This is because even the narcissist's ostensibly spontaneous behaviours are either planned or automatic. The narcissist is continuously preoccupied with his Narcissistic Supply - how to secure its sources and the next dose. This preoccupation restricts the narcissist's attention span. As a result, he often appears to be aloof, absent-minded, and uninterested in other people, in events around him, and in abstract ideas - unless, of course, they have a direct bearing on his Narcissistic Supply.

The narcissist develops some of his routines to compensate for his inability to attend to his environment. Automatic reactions require much less investment of mental resources (think driving).

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Narcissists may fake personal warmth and an outgoing personality - this is the routine of the "Narcissistic Mask". But as one gets to know the narcissist better, his mask falls, his "narcissistic make-up" wears off, his muscles relax and he reverts to the "Narcissistic Tonus". The Narcissistic Tonus is a bodacious air of superiority mixed with disdain.

While routines (such as the various Masks) are extraneous and require an (often conscious) investment of energy - the Tonus is the default position: effortless and frequent.

Many narcissists are obsessive-compulsive as well. They conduct daily "rituals", they are overly punctilious, they do things in a certain order, and adhere to numerous "laws", "principles", and "rules". They have rigid and oft-repeated opinions, uncompromising rules of conduct, unalterable views and judgments. These compulsions and obsessions are ossified routines.

Other routines involve paranoid, repetitive, thoughts. Yet others induce shyness and social phobia. The whole range of narcissistic behaviours can be traced to these routines and the various phases of their evolutionary cycles.

It is when these routines break down and are violated - when they become no longer defensible, or when the narcissist can no longer exercise them - that a narcissistic injury occurs. The narcissist expects the outside world to conform to his inner universe. When a conflict between these two realms erupts, thus unsettling the ill-poised mental balance so painstakingly achieved by the narcissist (mainly by exercising his routines) - the narcissist unravels. The narcissist's very defence mechanisms are routines, and so he is left defenceless in a hostile, cold world - the true reflection of his inner landscape.

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