The Narcissist as Sadist
Frequently Asked Question # 56
Narcissists act sadistically when behaving this way generates or yields Narcissistic Supply;
And in order to punish sources of narcissistic supply who are perceived by the narcissist to be intentionally frustrating and withholding.
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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You mention three different types of victims of the narcissist. What things would cause a narcissist to victimise a significant other sadistically versus just discarding them when no longer useful?
The narcissist simply discards people when he becomes convinced that they can no longer provide him with Narcissistic Supply. This conviction, subjective and emotionally charged, does not have to be grounded in reality. Suddenly because of boredom, disagreement, disillusion, a fight, an act, inaction, or a mood the narcissist wildly swings from idealisation to devaluation.
The narcissist then detaches immediately. He needs all the energy he can muster to obtain new Sources of Narcissistic Supply and would rather not spend these scarce resources over what he regards as human refuse, the waste left after the extraction of Narcissistic Supply.
A narcissist would tend to display the sadistic aspect of his personality in one of two cases:
The narcissist is not a full-fledged sadist, masochist, or paranoiac. He does not enjoy hurting his victims. He does not believe firmly that he is the focal point of persecution and the target of conspiracies.
But, he does enjoy punishing himself when it provides him with a sense of relief, exoneration and validation. This is his masochistic streak.
Because of his lack of empathy and his rigid personality, he often inflicts great (physical or mental) pain on meaningful others in his life and he enjoys their writhing and suffering. In this restricted sense he is a sadist.
To support his sense of uniqueness, greatness and (cosmic) significance, he is often hypervigilant. If he falls from grace he attributes it to dark forces out to destroy him. If his sense of entitlement is not satisfied and he is ignored by others he attributes it to the fear and inferiority that he provokes in them. So, to some extent, he is a paranoid.
The narcissist is as much an artist of pain as any sadist. The difference between them lies in their motivation. The narcissist tortures and abuses as means to punish and to reassert superiority, omnipotence, and grandiosity. The sadist does it for pure (usually, sexually-tinged) pleasure. But both are adept at finding the chinks in people's armours. Both are ruthless and venomous in the pursuit of their prey. Both are unable to empathise with their victims, self-centred, and rigid.
The narcissist abuses his victim verbally, mentally, or physically (often, in all three ways). He infiltrates her defences, shatters her self-confidence, confuses and confounds her, demeans and debases her. He invades her territory, abuses her confidence, exhausts her resources, hurts her loved ones, threatens her stability and security, enmeshes her in his paranoid state of mind, frightens her out of her wits, withholds love and sex from her, prevents satisfaction and causes frustration, humiliates and insults her privately and in public, points out her shortcomings, criticises her profusely and in a "scientific and objective" manner and this is a partial list.
Very often, the narcissist sadistic acts are disguised as an enlightened interest in the welfare of his victim. He plays the psychiatrist to her psychopathology (totally dreamt up by him). He acts the guru, the avuncular or father figure, the teacher, the only true friend, the old and the experienced. All this in order to weaken her defences and to lay siege to her disintegrating nerves. So subtle and poisonous is the narcissistic variant of sadism that it might well be regarded as the most dangerous of all.
Luckily, the narcissist's attention span is short and his resources and energy limited. In constant, effort consuming and attention diverting pursuit of Narcissistic Supply, the narcissist lets his victim go, usually before it had suffered irreversible damage. The victim is then free to rebuild her life from ruins. Not an easy undertaking, this but far better than the total obliteration which awaits the victims of the "true" sadist.
This article appears in my book "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"
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If one had to distil the quotidian existence of the narcissist in two pithy sentences, one would say:
The narcissist loves to be hated and hates to be loved.
Hate is the complement of fear and narcissists like being feared. It imbues them with an intoxicating sensation of omnipotence.
Many of them are veritably inebriated by the looks of horror or repulsion on people's faces: "They know that I am capable of anything."
The sadistic narcissist perceives himself as Godlike, ruthless and unscrupulous, capricious and unfathomable, devoid of emotions and asexual, omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, a plague, a devastation, an inescapable verdict.
He nurtures his ill-repute, stoking it and fanning the flames of gossip. It is an enduring asset. Hate and fear are surefire generators of attention. It is all about Narcissistic Supply, of course the drug which narcissists consume and which consumes them in return.
Deep inside, it is the horrid future and inescapable punishment that await the narcissist that are irresistibly appealing. Sadists are often also masochists. In sadistic narcissists, there is, actually, a burning desire nay, need to be punished. In the grotesque mind of the narcissist, his punishment is equally his vindication.
By being permanently on trial, the narcissist defiantly claims the high moral ground and the position of the martyr: misunderstood, discriminated against, unjustly roughed, outcast due to his very towering genius or other outstanding qualities.
To conform to the cultural stereotype of the "tormented artist", the narcissist provokes his own suffering. He is thus validated. His grandiose fantasies acquire a modicum of substance. "If I were not so special, they surely wouldn't have persecuted me so." The persecution of the narcissist proves his uniqueness. To "deserve" or provoke it, he must be different, for better or for worse.
The narcissist's aforementioned streak of paranoia makes his persecution inevitable. The narcissist is in constant conflict with "lesser beings": his spouse, his shrink, his boss, his colleagues, the police, the courts, his neighbours. Forced to stoop to their intellectual level, the narcissist feels like Gulliver: a giant shackled by Lilliputians. His life is a constant struggle against the self-contented mediocrity of his milieu. This is his fate which he accepts, though never stoically. It is his calling and the mission of his stormy life.
Deeper still, the narcissist has an image of himself as a worthless, bad and dysfunctional extension of others. In constant need of Narcissistic Supply, he feels humiliated by his dependency. The contrast between his grandiose fantasies and the reality of his habit, neediness and, often, failure (the Grandiosity Gap) is an emotionally corroding experience. It is a perpetual background noise of devilish, demeaning scorn. His inner voices "say" to him: "You are a fraud", "You are a zero", "You deserve nothing", "If only they knew how worthless you are".
The narcissist attempts to silence these tormenting voices not by fighting them but by agreeing with them. Unconsciously sometimes consciously he "responds" to them: "I do agree with you. I am bad and worthless and deserving of the most severe punishment for my rotten character, bad habits, addiction and the constant fakery that is my life. I will go out and seek my doom. Now that I have complied will you leave me alone? Will you let me be?"
Of course, they never do.
From My Correspondence
I find it difficult to accept that I am irredeemably evil, that I ecstatically, almost orgasmically enjoy hurting people and that I actively seek to inflict pain on others. It runs so contrary to my long-cultivated and tenderly nurtured self-image as a benefactor, a sensitive intellectual, and a harmless hermit. In truth, my sadism meshes well and synergetically with two other behavior patterns: my relentless pursuit of narcissistic supply and my self-destructive, self-defeating, and, therefore, masochistic streak.
The process of torturing, humiliating, and offending people provides proof of my omnipotence, nourishes my grandiose fantasies, and buttresses my False Self. The victims' distress and dismay constitute narcissistic supply of the purest grade. It also alienates them and turns them into hostile witnesses or even enemies and stalkers.
Thus, through the agency of my hapless and helpless victims, I bring upon my head recurrent torrents of wrath and punishment. This animosity guarantees my unraveling and my failure, outcomes which I avidly seek in order to placate my inner, chastising and castigating voices (what Freud called "the sadistic Superego").
Similarly, I am a fiercely independent person (known in psychological jargon as a "counterdependent"). But mine is a pathological variant of personal autonomy. I want to be free to frustrate myself by inflicting mental havoc on my human environment, including and especially my nearest and dearest, thus securing and incurring their inevitable ire.
Getting attached to or becoming dependent on someone in any way - emotionally, financially, hierarchically, politically, religiously, or intellectually - means surrendering my ability to indulge my all-consuming urges: to torment, to feel like God, and to be ruined by the consequences of my own evil actions.
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