Tuesday, November 9, 2004, fifth letter
I am sorry if I sound accusatory in my letters. If I sound
as if I am blaming you personally as the penultimate or ultimate
narcissist and thus an easy target, please excuse me. (Rule no.
1 for victims: never apologize to a narcissist, they take it
as a sign of weakness, unless you want something from them ;-)
The majority of people who I think are suffering from narcissist
have never pardoned themselves or asked for forgiveness. It is
a fight to remain sane while in the blender of a narcissist mad
playhouse. Perhaps I owe narcissists a debt for making me stronger
and wiser. As Nietzsche said, "What does not kill you makes
As far as insisting on the dyad nature of narcissist, it
takes two to tango, and narcissist do not exist in a social vacuum.
There are two sides to the coin of a narcissist, the other side
being the victim. You speak eloquently of the narcissist, and
seek attention by doing so, but the victims suffer in silence.
Until now. My site is an attempt at filling those lacunae, and
it is part of my self-therapy, and it joins a wealth of other
sites I have found that speak for the victims.
Just to put the record straight, of the 1019 pages on my narcissism Web site,
well over 400 are dedicated exclusively to the victims and their
plight. I also run large support groups for victims of narcissists
- on Yahoo
Groups and Suite101.
My work is based on correspondence
since 1996 with hundreds of people suffering from the Narcissistic
Personality Disorder (narcissists), and with thousands of their
family members, friends, therapists, and colleagues.
Why is that important? Why talk of the dyad and not just
the narcissist? Look at the memorials to the dead, to the tortured,
to the voiceless ones (I am being melodramatic here for effect)
who could not speak for themselves. The slaves will bear a lot
of abuse, but ever so often a 'Spartacus' or other hero throws
off the yoke and takes up the challenge. Why do we love going
to see hero movies, fighting the bad guys? narcissist bad guys
versus the humble victim good guy? So I will continue to hammer
away at this theme, and not glorify the narcissist. In my book
a victim who is educated and aware, is no longer a victim.
What you are saying may have been true 5 or 6 years ago. It
is no longer the case. There are dozens of support
groups for victims of narcissists - and literally thousands
sites dedicated to the victims' predicament. Victims definitely
have a voice now. So much so that narcissists banded together
and formed their
own support groups to counterbalance the victims' lists!!!
Yes the Stockholm syndrome is now recognized as a legitimate
type of defense/development between the aggressor and the victim.
You can check out the experiments that were carried out at Stanford
at this site to find out more about how people can be easily
turned into monsters and victims:
In my last letter I described the narcissist as someone
who invades other people's personal "space". A more
salient metaphor would be the actions of a parasite or predator.
The definition of a parasite is:
1.A plant or animal that lives on or in another, usually
larger, host organism in a way that harms or is of no advantage
to the host.
2.Somebody who lives off the generosity of others and does
nothing in return.
In other words a narcissist! In my last letter I also mentioned
the dyad that forms between the narcissist and the victim. It
can also be described as a co-dependency.
The two people involved develop a sort of self-supporting
couple, with one who is stronger. They do this because each has
something the other wants. In the case of a narcissist/victim
dyad, the narcissist is sucking out the admiration and support
of the victim, while the victim gets what? As a victim, from
experience, I think one can be raised by narcissists to feed
them and other narcissists. They tell you to never say anything
aggressive, impolite nor disturbing. In other words they blind
you to your own pain and need to be whole. They convince you,
when young, that you are the person at fault for all that happens
Therefore the narcissist practices hypocrisy; where they
can say what they want, do what they want, while you are held
to a higher standard than they are. They shackle you with words
and morality - while they reserve the right to say whatever they
want and to be amoral. The victim has to turn a blind eye to
this behavior, learns how to, in order to survive the insanity
that they are living in.
Only later do they realize the abuse they have put up with.
In work situations the narcissist sometimes has to toe the line,
unless they are high enough in the hierarchy or smart enough,
to feel they are untouchable.
You raise the interesting subject of how narcissists make
use of language.
In the narcissist's surrealistic world, even language is pathologized.
It mutates into a weapon of self-defence, a verbal fortification,
a medium without a message, replacing words with duplicitous
and ambiguous vocables.
Narcissists (and, often, by contagion, their unfortunate victims)
don't talk, or communicate. They fend off. They hide and evade
and avoid and disguise. In their planet of capricious and arbitrary
unpredictability, of shifting semiotic and semantic dunes - they
perfect the ability to say nothing in lengthy, Castro-like speeches.
The ensuing convoluted sentences are arabesques of meaninglessness,
acrobatics of evasion, lack of commitment elevated to an ideology.
The narcissist prefers to wait and see what waiting brings. It
is the postponement of the inevitable that leads to the inevitability
of postponement as a strategy of survival.
It is often impossible to really understand a narcissist.
The evasive syntax fast deteriorates into ever more labyrinthine
structures. The grammar tortured to produce the verbal Doppler
shifts essential to disguise the source of the information, its
distance from reality, the speed of its degeneration into rigid
Buried under the lush flora and fauna of idioms without an
end, the language erupts, like some exotic rash, an autoimmune
reaction to its infection and contamination. Like vile weeds
it spread throughout, strangling with absent minded persistence
the ability to understand, to feel, to agree, to disagree and
to debate, to present arguments, to compare notes, to learn and
Narcissists, therefore, never talk to others - rather, they
talk at others, or lecture them. They exchange subtexts, camouflage-wrapped
by elaborate, florid, texts. They read between the lines, spawning
a multitude of private languages, prejudices, superstitions,
conspiracy theories, rumors, phobias and hysterias. Theirs is
a solipsistic world - where communication is permitted only with
oneself and the aim of language is to throw others off the scent
or to obtain Narcissistic Supply.
This has profound implications. Communication through unequivocal,
unambiguous, information-rich symbol systems is such an integral
and crucial part of our world - that its absence is not postulated
even in the remotest galaxies which grace the skies of science
fiction. In this sense, narcissists are nothing short of aliens.
It is not that they employ a different language, a code to be
deciphered by a new Freud. It is also not the outcome of upbringing
or socio-cultural background.
It is the fact that language is put by narcissists to a different
use - not to communicate but to obscure, not to share but to
abstain, not to learn but to defend and resist, not to teach
but to preserve ever less tenable monopolies, to disagree without
incurring wrath, to criticize without commitment, to agree without
appearing to do so. Thus, an "agreement" with a narcissist
is a vague expression of intent at a given moment - rather than
the clear listing of long term, iron-cast and mutual commitments.
The rules that govern the narcissist's universe are loopholed
incomprehensibles, open to an exegesis so wide and so self-contradictory
that it renders them meaningless. The narcissist often
hangs himself by his own verbose Gordic knots, having stumbled
through a minefield of logical fallacies and endured self inflicted
inconsistencies. Unfinished sentences hover in the air, like
vapor above a semantic swamp.
In the case of the inverted narcissist, who was suppressed
and abused by overbearing caregivers, there is the strong urge
not to offend. Intimacy and inter-dependence are great. Parental
or peer pressures are irresistible and result in conformity and
self-deprecation. Aggressive tendencies, strongly repressed in
the social pressure cooker, teem under the veneer of forced civility
and violent politeness. Constructive ambiguity, a non-committal
"everyone is good and right", an atavistic variant
of moral relativism and tolerance bred of fear and of contempt
- are all at the service of this eternal vigilance against aggressive
drives, at the disposal of a never ending peacekeeping mission.
With the classic narcissist, language is used cruelly and
ruthlessly to ensnare one's enemies, to saw confusion and panic,
to move others to emulate the narcissist ("projective identification"),
to leave the listeners in doubt, in hesitation, in paralysis,
to gain control, or to punish. Language is enslaved and forced
to lie. The language is appropriated and expropriated. It is
considered to be a weapon, an asset, a piece of lethal property,
a traitorous mistress to be gang raped into submission.
With cerebral narcissists, language is a lover. The infatuation
with its very sound leads to a pyrotechnic type of speech which
sacrifices its meaning to its music. Its speakers pay more attention
to the composition than to the content. They are swept by it,
intoxicated by its perfection, inebriated by the spiraling complexity
of its forms. Here, language is an inflammatory process. It attacks
the very tissues of the narcissist's relationships with artistic
fierceness. It invades the healthy cells of reason and logic,
of cool headed argumentation and level headed debate.
Language is a leading indicator of the psychological and institutional
health of social units, such as the family, or the workplace.
Social capital can often be measured in cognitive (hence, verbal-lingual)
terms. To monitor the level of comprehensibility and lucidity
of texts is to study the degree of sanity of family members,
co-workers, friends, spouses, mates, and colleagues. There can
exist no hale society without unambiguous speech, without clear
communications, without the traffic of idioms and content that
is an inseparable part of every social contract. Our language
determines how we perceive our world. It IS our mind and our
consciousness. The narcissist, in this respect, is a great social
The second way a narcissist operates, in the short term,
is in the predator mode. A predator is defined as:
1.A carnivorous animal that hunts, kills, and eats other
animals in order to survive, or any other organism that behaves
in a similar manner.
2.A person, group, company, or state that steals from others
or destroys others for gain.
3.Somebody who is extremely aggressive, determined, or
In the context of evolution, the narcissist predator will
meet some approval and success. In companies there is talk of
crushing the competition, and the market is considered a jungle
where they have to get to a customer before the competition does.
On an individual basis, the somatic and intellectual narcissist
has the same idea, find and latch onto narcissistic supply. They
are constantly looking for victims; in fact narcissists rarely
keep friends for long, because once they drain them dry of narcissistic
supply, they look for new victims. Of course this contradicts
the former definition of the parasitic narcissist. And it should,
because I am talking of two different modes of operation. In
the firs mode I have described the invading narcissist and in
the second case, the hit and run narcissist tactics of obtaining
supply from victims. "I don't know what hit me" exclaims
the victim of a predator narcissist after waking up alone after
sleeping with one, describing the man or woman who came onto
them the night before at the bar, who seduced them and slept
with them and left them. Only afterwards when you get the test
back for STD do you realize what a mistake you have made. That
is long lasting pain, especially if you have a case of HIV from
that one night of passion.
In lesser degrees, the predator narcissist will give you
pain, from just a mild irritation of pinching your bottom to
the boardroom back stabber.
Now (you know what is coming Sam) I also believe that narcissist
can 'screw' other narcissists. In other words, in short or long
term relationships, two or more can band together. A case in
point are cliques. They are part of normal development and of
our society, but when the ringleader is a narcissist, watch out
for a lot of pain being inflicted on others. The case for two
narcissist dyad is this; a weaker narcissist will follow around
the big narcissist to get the morsels of supply that fall from
his or his mouth. Think of the pilot fish that follow around
the shark! The smaller narcissist rubs the big narcissist's ego,
and also benefit from their reflected glory.
Think of the handlers of the big stars and of their hanger
on's. I call such people "anal appendages" and you
find them in work situations, they are the brown nosers and office
gossips. Not the boss, but the boss narcissist's best buddies.
A narcissist may need a hatchet man or woman, so they find a
smaller narcissist who they use to do the dirty work (this person
is not always a narcissist, just gullible because they believe
they are doing the right thing.) By the way, if the hatchet man
or women quits the position they will get dumped on as well;
a narcissist never forgets a slight and rarely rewards others
So now that I have elucidated some of my previous comments,
I hope, now the DSM IV has listed the characteristics of a narcissist
and I think I can hang on the pain that each behavior elicits
The DSM IV diagnostic sets out the characteristics of Narcissistic
Personality Disorder and I will try to show how each one causes
a corresponding pain in the victim. Here are examples for each.
(1) Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates
achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior
without commensurate achievements)
The reverse of this characteristics is the submerging of
healthy discussion, of more intelligent comments, and finally
of common sense. The man on the soapbox has his opinion, but
when it drowns out all others, then it becomes a diatribe. Narcissists
are in essence non-democratic because they do not care or do
they need other's opinions. They are the center of the world,
and like all dictators, they dictate. They make horrible team
players, and mediocre bosses only interested in advancing themselves.
The self-important need excessive admiration. In a professional
capacity, if someone tells everyone he or she is capable of doing
something but is incapable of doing it, this may lead to dangerous
situations. The classic scene in the movie, Gone with the Wind,
where the maid tells Scarlet O'Hara that she knows all about
birthing babies, leads to the next scene where the maid is crying
that she knows nothing about birthing babies as the baby is born,
illustrates this point. If you get on board a private airplane
and the pilot takes off, saying he is qualified, then when night
falls and the weather turns bad, this pilot admits to being qualified
at instrument flying and soon plunges the airplane into the ocean
killing all aboard. The narcissist is always exaggerating their
abilities and knowledge. They are amusing at times, because people
enjoy hearing stories like this. The Baron Munchausen's was a
well-known figure of ancient times who told tall tales. He has
received the dubious honor of having a disease named after him.
Munchausen's syndrome is diagnosed in a parent or guardian of
a child, or children, who deliberately makes the child sick by
administering poison or other toxins, so to get the sympathy
and admiration of the emergency and hospital staff. Many children
die. Now are people suffering from Munchausen's syndrome also
narcissists? I am not qualified to say, but there are parallel
behaviors; attention seeking, lying, use and abuse of innocent
(2) Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success,
power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
Now it is your turn Sam, what can you see as the inverted
side of this characteristic? How does this narcissist characteristic
cause pain? You can also add the positive things that result
from this as well; great romantic novels, artwork, and love stories
We discussed the narcissist's fantasies - and what is does
to his victims - in the third
dialog. But I take this opportunity to expound on the terminology
and sharpen some of the observations I made there.
As I repeatedly say, it is healthy to daydream
and fantasise. It is the antechamber of life and often anticipates
its circumstances. It is a process of preparing for eventualities.
But healthy daydreaming is different from grandiosity.
Grandiosity has four components.
The narcissist believes in his omnipotence.
"Believe" in this context is a weak word. He knows.
It is a cellular certainty, almost biological, it flows in his
blood and permeates every niche of his being. The narcissist
"knows" that he can do anything he chooses to do and
excel in it. What the narcissist does, what he excels at, what
he achieves, depends only on his volition. To his mind, there
is no other determinant.
Hence his rage when confronted with disagreement
or opposition ñ not only because of the audacity of his,
evidently inferior, adversaries. But because it threatens his
world view, it endangers his feeling of omnipotence. The narcissist
is often fatuously daring, adventurous, experimentative and curious
precisely due to this hidden assumption of "can-do".
He is genuinely surprised and devastated when he fails, when
the "universe" does not arrange itself, magically,
to accommodate his unbounded fantasies, when it (and people in
it) does not comply with his whims and wishes.
He often denies away such discrepancies,
deletes them from his memory. As a result, he remembers his life
as a patchy quilt of unrelated events and people.
The narcissist often pretends to know everything,
in every field of human knowledge and endeavour. He lies and
prevaricates to avoid the exposure of his ignorance. He resorts
to numerous subterfuges to support his God-like omniscience.
Where his knowledge fails him ñ
he feigns authority, fakes superiority, quotes from non-existent
sources, embeds threads of truth in a canvass of falsehoods.
He transforms himself into an artist of intellectual prestidigitation.
As he gets older, this invidious quality may recede, or, rather,
metamorphose. He may now claim more confined expertise.
He may no longer be ashamed to admit his
ignorance and his need to learn things outside the fields of
his real or self-proclaimed expertise. But this "improvement"
is merely optical. Within his "territory", the narcissist
is still as fiercely defensive and possessive as ever.
Many narcissists are avowed autodidacts,
unwilling to subject their knowledge and insights to peer scrutiny,
or, for that matter, to any scrutiny. The narcissist keeps re-inventing
himself, adding new fields of knowledge as he goes. This creeping
intellectual annexation is a round about way of reverting to
his erstwhile image as the erudite "Renaissance man".
Even the narcissist cannot pretend to actually
be everywhere at once in the PHYSICAL sense. Instead,
he feels that he is the centre and the axis of his "universe",
that all things and happenstances revolve around him and that
cosmic disintegration would ensue if he were to disappear or
to lose interest in someone or in something.
He is convinced, for instance, that he
is the main, if not the only, topic of discussion in his absence.
He is often surprised and offended to learn that he was not even
mentioned. When invited to a meeting with many participants,
he assumes the position of the sage, the guru, or the teacher/guide
whose words carry a special weight. His creations (books, articles,
works of art) are extensions of his presence and, in this restricted
sense, he does seem to exist everywhere. In other words, he "stamps"
his environment. He "leaves his mark" upon it. He "stigmatises"
Narcissist the Omnivore (Perfectionism and Completeness)
There is another "omni" component
in grandiosity. The narcissist is an omnivore. He devours and
digests experiences and people, sights and smells, bodies and
words, books and films, sounds and achievements, his work and
his leisure, his pleasure and his possessions. The narcissist
is incapable of ENJOYING anything because he is
in constant pursuit of perfection and completeness.
Classic narcissists interact with the world
as predators do with their prey. They want to own it all, be
everywhere, experience everything. They cannot delay gratification.
They do not take "no" for an answer. And they settle
for nothing less than the ideal, the sublime, the perfect, the
all-inclusive, the all-encompassing, the engulfing, the all-pervasive,
the most beautiful, the cleverest, the richest, and the most
The narcissist is shattered when he discovers
that a collection he possesses is incomplete, that his colleague's
wife is more glamorous, that his son is better than he is in
math, that his neighbour has a new, flashy car, that his roommate
got promoted, that the "love of his life" signed a
recording contract. It is not plain old jealousy, not even pathological
envy (though it is definitely a part of the psychological make-up
of the narcissist). It is the discovery that the narcissist is
NOT perfect, or ideal, or complete that does him
Ask anyone who shared a life with a narcissist,
or knew one and they are likely to sigh: "What a waste".
Waste of potential, waste of opportunities, waste of emotions,
a wasteland of arid addiction and futile pursuit.
Narcissists are as gifted as they come.
The problem is to disentangle their tales of fantastic grandiosity
from the reality of their talents and skills. They always either
over-estimate or devalue their potency. They often emphasise
the wrong traits and invest in their mediocre or less than average
capacities at the expense of their true and promising potential.
Thus, they squander their advantages and under-rate their natural
The narcissist decides which aspects of
his self to nurture and which to neglect. He gravitates towards
activities commensurate with his pompous auto-portrait. He suppresses
these tendencies and aptitudes in him which don't conform to
his inflated view of his uniqueness, brilliance, might, sexual
prowess, or standing in society. He cultivates these flairs and
predilections which he regards as befitting his overweening self-image
and ultimate grandeur.
But, the narcissist, no matter how self-aware
and well-meaning, is accursed. His grandiosity, his fantasies,
the compelling, overriding urge to feel unique, invested with
some cosmic significance, unprecedentedly bestowed ñ these
thwart his best intentions. These structures of obsession and
compulsion, these deposits of insecurity and pain, the stalactites
and stalagmites of years of abuse and then abandonment ñ
they all conspire to frustrate the gratification, however circumspect,
of the narcissist's true nature.
An utter lack of self-awareness is typical
of the narcissist. He is intimate only with his False Self, constructed
meticulously from years of lying and deceit. The narcissist's
True Self is stashed, dilapidated and dysfunctional, in the furthest
recesses of his mind. The False Self is omnipotent, omniscient,
omnipresent, creative, ingenious, irresistible, and glowing.
The narcissist often isn't.
Add combustible paranoia to the narcissist's
divorce from himself ñ and his constant and recurrent
failure to assess reality fairly is more understandable. The
narcissist overpowering sense of entitlement is rarely commensurate
with his accomplishments in his real life or with his traits.
When the world fails to comply with his demands and to support
his grandiose fantasies, the narcissist suspects a plot against
him by his inferiors.
The narcissist rarely admits to a weakness,
ignorance, or deficiency. He filters out information to the contrary
ñ a cognitive impairment with serious consequences. Narcissistic
are likely to unflinchingly make inflated and inane claims about
their sexual prowess, wealth, connections, history, or achievements.
All this is mighty embarrassing to the
narcissist's nearest, dearest, colleagues, friends, neighbours,
or even mere on-lookers. The narcissist's tales are so patently
absurd that he often catches people off-guard. Behind his back,
the narcissist is derided and mockingly imitated. He fast makes
a nuisance and an imposition of himself in every company.
But the narcissist's failure of the reality
test can have more serious and irreversible consequences. Narcissists,
unqualified to make life-and-death decisions often insist on
rendering them. Narcissists pretend to be economists, engineers,
or medical doctors ñ when they are not. But they are not
con-artists in the classic, premeditated sense. They firmly believe
that, though self-taught at best, they are more qualified than
even the properly accredited sort. Narcissists believe in magic
and in fantasy. They are no longer with us.
Let's consider one situation - the narcissist in the workplace
- to illustrate how the confluence of unbridled grandiosity,
inane fantasies, and incessant confabulation leads to pain and
Consider the perpetrators of the recent spate of financial
frauds in the USA.
They acted with callous disregard for both their employees
and shareholders - not to mention other stakeholders. Psychologists
have often remote-diagnosed them as "malignant, pathological
Narcissists are driven by the need to uphold and maintain
a false self - a concocted, grandiose, and demanding psychological
construct typical of the narcissistic personality disorder. The
false self is projected to the world in order to garner "narcissistic
supply" - adulation, admiration, or even notoriety and infamy.
Any kind of attention is usually deemed by narcissists to be
preferable to obscurity.
The false self is suffused with fantasies of perfection, grandeur,
brilliance, infallibility, immunity, significance, omnipotence,
omnipresence, and omniscience. To be a narcissist is to be convinced
of a great, inevitable personal destiny. The narcissist is preoccupied
with ideal love, the construction of brilliant, revolutionary
scientific theories, the composition or authoring or painting
of the greatest work of art, the founding of a new school of
thought, the attainment of fabulous wealth, the reshaping of
a nation or a conglomerate, and so on. The narcissist never sets
realistic goals to himself. He is forever preoccupied with fantasies
of uniqueness, record breaking, or breathtaking achievements.
His verbosity reflects this propensity.
Reality is, naturally, quite different and this gives rise
to a "grandiosity gap". The demands of the false self
are never satisfied by the narcissist's accomplishments, standing,
wealth, clout, sexual prowess, or knowledge. The narcissist's
grandiosity and sense of entitlement are equally incommensurate
with his achievements.
To bridge the grandiosity gap, the malignant (pathological)
narcissist resorts to shortcuts. These very often lead to fraud.
The narcissist cares only about appearances. What matters
to him are the facade of wealth and its attendant social status
and narcissistic supply. Witness the travestied extravagance
of Tyco's Denis Kozlowski. Media attention only exacerbates the
narcissist's addiction and makes it incumbent on him to go to
ever-wilder extremes to secure uninterrupted supply from this
The narcissist lacks empathy - the ability to put himself
in other people's shoes. He does not recognize boundaries - personal,
corporate, or legal. Everything and everyone are to him mere
instruments, extensions, objects unconditionally and uncomplainingly
available in his pursuit of narcissistic gratification.
This makes the narcissist perniciously exploitative. He uses,
abuses, devalues, and discards even his nearest and dearest in
the most chilling manner. The narcissist is utility- driven,
obsessed with his overwhelming need to reduce his anxiety and
regulate his labile sense of self-worth by securing a constant
supply of his drug - attention. American executives acted without
compunction when they raided their employees' pension funds -
as did Robert Maxwell a generation earlier in Britain.
The narcissist is convinced of his superiority - cerebral
or physical. To his mind, he is a Gulliver hamstrung by a horde
of narrow-minded and envious Lilliputians. The dotcom "new
economy" was infested with "visionaries" with
a contemptuous attitude towards the mundane: profits, business
cycles, conservative economists, doubtful journalists, and cautious
Yet, deep inside, the narcissist is painfully aware of his
addiction to others - their attention, admiration, applause,
and affirmation. He despises himself for being thus dependent.
He hates people the same way a drug addict hates his pusher.
He wishes to "put them in their place", humiliate them,
demonstrate to them how inadequate and imperfect they are in
comparison to his regal self and how little he craves or needs
The narcissist regards himself as one would an expensive present,
a gift to his company, to his family, to his neighbours, to his
colleagues, to his country. This firm conviction of his inflated
importance makes him feel entitled to special treatment, special
favors, special outcomes, concessions, subservience, immediate
gratification, obsequiousness, and lenience. It also makes him
feel immune to mortal laws and somehow divinely protected and
insulated from the inevitable consequences of his deeds and misdeeds.
The self-destructive narcissist plays the role of the "bad
guy" (or "bad girl"). But even this is within
the traditional social roles cartoonishly exaggerated by the
narcissist to attract attention. Men are likely to emphasise
intellect, power, aggression, money, or social status. Narcissistic
women are likely to emphasise body, looks, charm, sexuality,
feminine "traits", homemaking, children and childrearing.
Punishing the wayward narcissist is a veritable catch-22.
A jail term is useless as a deterrent if it only serves to
focus attention on the narcissist. Being infamous is second best
to being famous - and far preferable to being ignored. The only
way to effectively punish a narcissist is to withhold narcissistic
supply from him and thus to prevent him from becoming a notorious
Given a sufficient amount of media exposure, book contracts,
talk shows, lectures, and public attention - the narcissist may
even consider the whole grisly affair to be emotionally rewarding.
To the narcissist, freedom, wealth, social status, family, vocation
- are all means to an end. And the end is attention. If he can
secure attention by being the big bad wolf - the narcissist unhesitatingly
transforms himself into one. Lord Archer, for instance, seems
to be positively basking in the media circus provoked by his
The narcissist does not victimise, plunder, terrorise and
abuse others in a cold, calculating manner. He does so offhandedly,
as a manifestation of his genuine character. To be truly "guilty"
one needs to intend, to deliberate, to contemplate one's choices
and then to choose one's acts. The narcissist does none of these.
Thus, punishment breeds in him surprise, hurt and seething
anger. The narcissist is stunned by society's insistence that
he should be held accountable for his deeds and penalized accordingly.
He feels wronged, baffled, injured, the victim of bias, discrimination
and injustice. He rebels and rages.
Depending upon the pervasiveness of his magical thinking,
the narcissist may feel besieged by overwhelming powers, forces
cosmic and intrinsically ominous. He may develop compulsive rites
to fend off this "bad", unwarranted, persecutory influences.
The narcissist, very much the infantile outcome of stunted
personal development, engages in magical thinking. He feels omnipotent,
that there is nothing he couldn't do or achieve if only he sets
his mind to it. He feels omniscient - he rarely admits to ignorance
and regards his intuitions and intellect as founts of objective
Thus, narcissists are haughtily convinced that introspection
is a more important and more efficient (not to mention easier
to accomplish) method of obtaining knowledge than the systematic
study of outside sources of information in accordance with strict
and tedious curricula. Narcissists are "inspired" and
they despise hamstrung technocrats.
To some extent, they feel omnipresent because they are either
famous or about to become famous or because their product is
selling or is being manufactured globally. Deeply immersed in
their delusions of grandeur, they firmly believe that their acts
have - or will have - a great influence not only on their firm,
but on their country, or even on Mankind. Having mastered the
manipulation of their human environment - they are convinced
that they will always "get away with it". They develop
hubris and a false sense of immunity.
Narcissistic immunity is the (erroneous) feeling, harboured
by the narcissist, that he is impervious to the consequences
of his actions, that he will never be effected by the results
of his own decisions, opinions, beliefs, deeds and misdeeds,
acts, inaction, or membership of certain groups, that he is above
reproach and punishment, that, magically, he is protected and
will miraculously be saved at the last moment. Hence the audacity,
simplicity, and transparency of some of the fraud and corporate
looting in the 1990's. Narcissists rarely bother to cover their
traces, so great is their disdain and conviction that they are
above mortal laws and wherewithal.
What are the sources of this unrealistic appraisal of situations
The false self is a childish response to abuse and trauma.
Abuse is not limited to sexual molestation or beatings. Smothering,
doting, pampering, over-indulgence, treating the child as an
extension of the parent, not respecting the child's boundaries,
and burdening the child with excessive expectations are also
forms of abuse.
The child reacts by constructing false self that is possessed
of everything it needs in order to prevail: unlimited and instantaneously
available Harry Potter-like powers and wisdom. The false self,
this Superman, is indifferent to abuse and punishment. This way,
the child's true self is shielded from the toddler's harsh reality.
This artificial, maladaptive separation between a vulnerable
(but not punishable) true self and a punishable (but invulnerable)
false self is an effective mechanism. It isolates the child from
the unjust, capricious, emotionally dangerous world that he occupies.
But, at the same time, it fosters in him a false sense of "nothing
can happen to me, because I am not here, I am not available to
be punished, hence I am immune to punishment".
The comfort of false immunity is also yielded by the narcissist's
sense of entitlement. In his grandiose delusions, the narcissist
is sui generis, a gift to humanity, a precious, fragile, object.
Moreover, the narcissist is convinced both that this uniqueness
is immediately discernible - and that it gives him special rights.
The narcissist feels that he is protected by some cosmological
law pertaining to "endangered species".
He is convinced that his future contribution to others - his
firm, his country, humanity - should and does exempt him from
the mundane: daily chores, boring jobs, recurrent tasks, personal
exertion, orderly investment of resources and efforts, laws and
regulations, social conventions, and so on.
The narcissist is entitled to a "special treatment":
high living standards, constant and immediate catering to his
needs, the eradication of any friction with the humdrum and the
routine, an all-engulfing absolution of his sins, fast track
privileges (to higher education, or in his encounters with bureaucracies,
for instance). Punishment, trusts the narcissist, is for ordinary
people, where no great loss to humanity is involved.
Narcissists are possessed of inordinate abilities to charm,
to convince, to seduce, and to persuade. Many of them are gifted
orators and intellectually endowed. Many of them work in in politics,
the media, fashion, show business, the arts, medicine, or business,
and serve as religious leaders.
By virtue of their standing in the community, their charisma,
or their ability to find the willing scapegoats, they do get
exempted many times. Having recurrently "got away with it"
- they develop a theory of personal immunity, founded upon some
kind of societal and even cosmic "order" in which certain
people are above punishment.
But there is a fourth, simpler, explanation. The narcissist
lacks self-awareness. Divorced from his true self, unable to
empathise (to understand what it is like to be someone else),
unwilling to constrain his actions to cater to the feelings and
needs of others - the narcissist is in a constant dreamlike state.
To the narcissist, his life is unreal, like watching an autonomously
unfolding movie. The narcissist is a mere spectator, mildly interested,
greatly entertained at times. He does not "own" his
actions. He, therefore, cannot understand why he should be punished
and when he is, he feels grossly wronged.
So convinced is the narcissist that he is destined to great
things - that he refuses to accept setbacks, failures and punishments.
He regards them as temporary, as the outcomes of someone else's
errors, as part of the future mythology of his rise to power/brilliance/wealth/ideal
love, etc. Being punished is a diversion of his precious energy
and resources from the all-important task of fulfilling his mission
The narcissist is pathologically envious of people and believes
that they are equally envious of him. He is paranoid, on guard,
ready to fend off an imminent attack. A punishment to the narcissist
is a major surprise and a nuisance but it also validates his
suspicion that he is being persecuted. It proves to him that
strong forces are arrayed against him.
He tells himself that people, envious of his achievements
and humiliated by them, are out to get him. He constitutes a
threat to the accepted order. When required to pay for his misdeeds,
the narcissist is always disdainful and bitter and feels misunderstood
by his inferiors.
Cooked books, corporate fraud, bending the (GAAP or other)
rules, sweeping problems under the carpet, over-promising, making
grandiose claims (the "vision thing") - are hallmarks
of a narcissist in action. When social cues and norms encourage
such behavior rather than inhibit it - in other words, when such
behavior elicits abundant narcissistic supply - the pattern is
reinforced and become entrenched and rigid. Even when circumstances
change, the narcissist finds it difficult to adapt, shed his
routines, and replace them with new ones. He is trapped in his
past success. He becomes a swindler.
Let me now ask you a question:
Do you feel that narcissism has cultural and social components
and determinants - or is it the narcissist's way or shifting
responsibility to others, of exercising his alloplastic defenses
(narcissist: I am not to blame - it is the way I was brought
up in this narcissistic culture)?
My view is that pathological narcissism is not an isolated
phenomenon. It is embedded in our contemporary culture. The West's
is a narcissistic civilization. It upholds narcissistic values
and penalizes alternative value-systems. From an early age, children
are taught to avoid self-criticism, to deceive themselves regarding
their capacities and attainments, to feel entitled, and to exploit
As Lillian Katz observed in her important paper, "Distinctions
between Self-Esteem and Narcissism: Implications for Practice",
published by the Educational Resources Information Center, the
line between enhancing self-esteem and fostering narcissism is
often blurred by educators and parents.
Both Christopher Lasch in "The Culture of Narcissism"
and Theodore Millon in his books about personality disorders,
singled out American society as narcissistic. Litigiousness may
be the flip side of an inane sense of entitlement. Consumerism
is built on this common and communal lie of "I can do anything
I want and possess everything I desire if I only apply myself
to it" and on the pathological envy it fosters.
Not surprisingly, narcissistic disorders are more common among
men than among women. This may be because narcissism conforms
to masculine social mores and to the prevailing ethos of capitalism.
Ambition, achievements, hierarchy, ruthlessness, drive - are
both social values and narcissistic male traits. Social thinkers
like the aforementioned Lasch speculated that modern American
culture - a self-centred one - increases the rate of incidence
of the narcissistic personality disorder.
Otto Kernberg, a notable scholar of personality disorders,
confirmed Lasch's intuition: "Society can make serious psychological
abnormalities, which already exist in some percentage of the
population, seem to be at least superficially appropriate."
In their book "Personality Disorders in Modern
Life", Theodore Millon and Roger Davis state, as
a matter of fact, that pathological narcissism was once the preserve
of "the royal and the wealthy" and that it "seems
to have gained prominence only in the late twentieth century".
Narcissism, according to them, may be associated with "higher
levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs ... Individuals in less
advantaged nations .. are too busy trying (to survive) ... to
be arrogant and grandiose".
They - like Lasch before them - attribute pathological narcissism
to "a society that stresses individualism and self-gratification
at the expense of community, namely the United States."
They assert that the disorder is more prevalent among certain
professions with "star power" or respect. "In
an individualistic culture, the narcissist is 'God's gift to
the world'. In a collectivist society, the narcissist is 'God's
gift to the collective."
Millon quotes Warren and Caponi's "The Role of
Culture in the Development of Narcissistic Personality Disorders
in America, Japan and Denmark":
"Individualistic narcissistic structures of self-regard
(in individualistic societies) ... are rather self-contained
and independent ... (In collectivist cultures) narcissistic configurations
of the we-self ... denote self-esteem derived from strong identification
with the reputation and honor of the family, groups, and others
in hierarchical relationships."
Still, there are malignant narcissists among subsistence farmers
in Africa, nomads in the Sinai desert, day laborers in east Europe,
and intellectuals and socialites in Manhattan. Malignant narcissism
is all-pervasive and independent of culture and society. It is
true, though, that the way pathological narcissism
manifests and is experienced is dependent on the particulars
of societies and cultures.
In some cultures, it is encouraged, in others suppressed.
In some societies it is channeled against minorities - in others
it is tainted with paranoia. In collectivist societies, it may
be projected onto the collective, in individualistic societies,
it is an individual's trait.
Yet, can families, organizations, ethnic groups, churches,
and even whole nations be safely described as "narcissistic"
or "pathologically self-absorbed"? Can we talk about
a "corporate culture of narcissism"?
Human collectives - states, firms, households, institutions,
political parties, cliques, bands - acquire a life and a character
all their own. The longer the association or affiliation of the
members, the more cohesive and conformist the inner dynamics
of the group, the more persecutory or numerous its enemies, competitors,
or adversaries, the more intensive the physical and emotional
experiences of the individuals it is comprised of, the stronger
the bonds of locale, language, and history - the more rigorous
might an assertion of a common pathology be.
Such an all-pervasive and extensive pathology manifests itself
in the behavior of each and every member. It is a defining -
though often implicit or underlying - mental structure. It has
explanatory and predictive powers. It is recurrent and invariable
- a pattern of conduct melding distorted cognition and stunted
emotions. And it is often vehemently denied.
So, what says you, oh, modern-day Spartacus? (laughing)
Last updated September 25, 2006