Tuesday, August 02, 2005

more narcissism and types


Is the narcissist characterised by simultaneous instabilities in all the important aspects of his life?


The narcissist is a person who derives his Ego (and Ego functions) from other people's reactions to an image he invents and projects, called the False Self (Narcissistic Supply). Since no absolute control over the quantity and quality of Narcissistic Supply is possible – it is bound to fluctuate – the narcissist's view of himself and of his world is correspondingly and equally volatile. As "public opinion" ebbs and flows, so do the narcissist's self-confidence, self-esteem, sense of self-worth, or, in other words, so does his Self. Even the narcissist's convictions are subject to a never-ending process of vetting by others.

The narcissistic personality is unstable in each and every one of its dimensions. It is the ultimate hybrid: rigidly amorphous, devoutly flexible, reliant for its sustenance on the opinion of people, whom the narcissist undervalues. A large part of this instability is subsumed under the Emotional Involvement Prevention Measures (EIPM) that I describe in the Essay. The narcissist's lability is so ubiquitous and so dominant – that it might well be described as the ONLY stable feature of his personality.

The narcissist does everything with one goal in mind: to attract Narcissistic Supply (attention).

An example of this kind of behaviour:

The narcissist may study a given subject diligently and in great depth in order to impress people later with this newly acquired erudition. But, having served its purpose, the narcissist lets the knowledge thus acquired evaporate. The narcissist maintains a sort of a "short-term" cell or warehouse where he stores whatever may come handy in the pursuit of Narcissistic Supply. But he is almost never really interested in what he does, studies, and experiences.

From the outside, this might be perceived as instability. But think about it this way: the narcissist is constantly preparing for life's "exams" and feels that he is on a permanent trial. It is common to forget material studied only in preparation for an exam or for a court appearance.

Short-term memory is perfectly normal. What sets the narcissist apart is the fact that, with him, this short-termism is a CONSTANT state of affairs and affects ALL his functions, not only those directly related to learning, or to emotions, or to experience, or to any single dimension of his life.

Thus, the narcissist learns, remembers and forgets not in line with his real interests or hobbies, he loves and hates not the real subjects of his emotions but one dimensional, utilitarian, cartoons constructed by him. He judges, praises and condemns – all from the narrowest possible point of view: the potential to extract Narcissistic Supply.

He asks not what he can do with the world and in it – but what can the world do for him as far as Narcissistic Supply goes. He falls in and out of love with people, workplaces, residences, vocations, hobbies, interests – because they seem to be able to provide more or less Narcissistic Supply and for no other reason.

Still, narcissists belong to two broad categories: the "compensatory stability" and the "enhancing instability" types.

I. Compensatory Stability ("Classic") Narcissists

These narcissists isolate one or more (but never most) aspects of their lives and "make these aspect/s stable". They do not really invest themselves in it. This stability is maintained by artificial means: money, celebrity, power, fear. A typical example is a narcissist who changes numerous workplaces, a few careers, a myriad of hobbies, value systems or faiths. At the same time, he maintains (preserves) a relationship with a single woman (and even remains faithful to her). She is his "island of stability". To fulfil this role, she just needs to be there for him physically.

The narcissist is dependent upon "his" woman to maintain the stability lacking in all other areas of his life (to compensate for his instability). Yet, emotional closeness is bound to threaten the narcissist. Thus, he is likely to distance himself from her and to remain detached and indifferent to most of her needs.

Despite this cruel emotional treatment, the narcissist considers her to be a point of exit, a form of sustenance, a fountain of empowerment. This mismatch between what he wishes to receive and what he is able to give, the narcissist prefers to deny, repress and bury deep in his unconscious.

This is why he is always shocked and devastated to learn of his wife's estrangement, infidelity, or intentions to divorce him. Possessed of no emotional depth, being completely one track minded – he cannot fathom the needs of others. In other words, he cannot empathise.

Another – even more common – case is the "career narcissist". This narcissist marries, divorces and remarries with dizzying speed. Everything in his life is in constant flux: friends, emotions, judgements, values, beliefs, place of residence, affiliations, hobbies. Everything, that is, except his work.

His career is the island of compensating stability in his otherwise mercurial existence. This kind of narcissist is dogged by unmitigated ambition and devotion. He perseveres in one workplace or one job, patiently, persistently and blindly climbing up the corporate ladder and treading the career path. In his pursuit of job fulfilment and achievements, the narcissist is ruthless and unscrupulous – and, very often, successful.

II. Enhancing Instability ("Borderline") Narcissist

The other kind of narcissist enhances instability in one aspect or dimension of his life – by introducing instability in others. Thus, if such a narcissist resigns (or, more likely, is made redundant) – he also relocates to another city or country. If he divorces, he is also likely to resign his job.

This added instability gives this type of narcissist the feeling that all the dimensions of his life are changing simultaneously, that he is being "unshackled", that a transformation is in progress. This, of course, is an illusion. Those who know the narcissist, no longer trust his frequent "conversions", "decisions", "crises", "transformations", "developments" and "periods". They see through his pretensions, protestations, and solemn declarations into the core of his instability. They know that he is not to be relied upon. They know that with narcissists, temporariness is the only permanence.

Narcissists hate routine. When a narcissist finds himself doing the same things over and over again, he gets depressed. He oversleeps, over-eats, over-drinks and, in general, engages in addictive, impulsive, reckless, and compulsive behaviours. This is his way of re-introducing risk and excitement into what he (emotionally) perceives to be a barren life.

The problem is that even the most exciting and varied existence becomes routine after a while. Living in the same country or apartment, meeting the same people, doing essentially the same things (even with changing content) – all "qualify", in the eyes of the narcissist, as stultifying rote.

The narcissist feels entitled. He feels it is his right – due to his intellectual or physical superiority – to lead a thrilling, rewarding, kaleidoscopic life. He wants to force life itself, or at least people around him, to yield to his wishes and needs, supreme among them the need for stimulating variety.

This rejection of habit is part of a larger pattern of aggressive entitlement. The narcissist feels that the very existence of a sublime intellect (such as his) warrants concessions and allowances by others.

Thus, standing in line is a waste of time better spent pursuing knowledge, inventing and creating. The narcissist should avail himself of the best medical treatment proffered by the most prominent medical authorities – lest the precious asset that is the narcissist is lost to Mankind. He should not be bothered with trivial pursuits – these lowly functions are best assigned to the less gifted. The devil is in paying precious attention to detail.

Entitlement is sometimes justified in a Picasso or an Einstein. But few narcissists are either. Their achievements are grotesquely incommensurate with their overwhelming sense of entitlement and with their grandiose self-image.

Of course, this overpowering sense of superiority often serves to mask and compensate for a cancerous complex of inferiority. Moreover, the narcissist infects others with his projected grandiosity and their feedback constitutes the edifice upon which he constructs his self-esteem. He regulates his sense of self worth by rigidly insisting that he is above the madding crowd while deriving his Narcissistic Supply from the very people he holds in deep contempt.

But there is a second angle to this abhorrence of the predictable. Narcissists employ a host of Emotional Involvement Prevention Measures (EIPM's). Despising routine and avoiding it is one of these mechanisms. Their function is to prevent the narcissist from getting emotionally involved and, subsequently, hurt.

Their application results in an "approach-avoidance repetition complex". The narcissist, fearing and loathing intimacy, stability and security – yet craving them – approaches and then avoids significant others or important tasks in a rapid succession of apparently inconsistent and disconnected cycles.

All posts on narcissism from Dr. Sam Vaknin

narcissism vs bipolar

(The use of gender pronouns in this article reflects the clinical facts: most narcissists are men.)

The manic phase of Bipolar I Disorder is often misdiagnosed as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

Bipolar patients in the manic phase exhibit many of the signs and symptoms of pathological narcissism - hyperactivity, self-centeredness, lack of empathy, and control freakery. During this recurring chapter of the disease, the patient is euphoric, has grandiose fantasies, spins unrealistic schemes, and has frequent rage attacks (is irritable) if her or his wishes and plans are (inevitably) frustrated.

The manic phases of the bipolar disorder, however, are limited in time - NPD is not. Furthermore, the mania is followed by - usually protracted - depressive episodes. The narcissist is also frequently dysphoric. But whereas the bipolar sinks into deep self-deprecation, self-devaluation, unbounded pessimism, all-pervasive guilt and anhedonia - the narcissist, even when depressed, never forgoes his narcissism: his grandiosity, sense of entitlement, haughtiness, and lack of empathy.

Narcissistic dysphorias are much shorter and reactive - they constitute a response to the Grandiosity Gap. In plain words, the narcissist is dejected when confronted with the abyss between his inflated self-image and grandiose fantasies - and the drab reality of his life: his failures, lack of accomplishments, disintegrating interpersonal relationships, and low status. Yet, one dose of Narcissistic Supply is enough to elevate the narcissists from the depth of misery to the heights of manic euphoria.

Not so with the bipolar. The source of her or his mood swings is assumed to be brain biochemistry - not the availability of Narcissistic Supply. Whereas the narcissist is in full control of his faculties, even when maximally agitated, the bipolar often feels that s/he has lost control of his/her brain ("flight of ideas"), his/her speech, his/her attention span (distractibility), and his/her motor functions.

The bipolar is prone to reckless behaviors and substance abuse only during the manic phase. The narcissist does drugs, drinks, gambles, shops on credit, indulges in unsafe sex or in other compulsive behaviors both when elated and when deflated.

As a rule, the bipolar's manic phase interferes with his/her social and occupational functioning. Many narcissists, in contrast, reach the highest rungs of their community, church, firm, or voluntary organization. Most of the time, they function flawlessly - though the inevitable blowups and the grating extortion of Narcissistic Supply usually put an end to the narcissist's career and social liaisons.

The manic phase of bipolar sometimes requires hospitalization and - more frequently than admitted - involves psychotic features. Narcissists are never hospitalized as the risk for self-harm is minute. Moreover, psychotic microepisodes in narcissism are decompensatory in nature and appear only under unendurable stress (e.g., in intensive therapy).

The bipolar's mania provokes discomfort in both strangers and in the patient's nearest and dearest. His/her constant cheer and compulsive insistence on interpersonal, sexual, and occupational, or professional interactions engenders unease and repulsion. Her/his lability of mood - rapid shifts between uncontrollable rage and unnatural good spirits - is downright intimidating. The narcissist's gregariousness, by comparison, is calculated, "cold", controlled, and goal-orientated (the extraction of Narcissistic Supply). His cycles of mood and affect are far less pronounced and less rapid.

The bipolar's swollen self-esteem, overstated self-confidence, obvious grandiosity, and delusional fantasies are akin to the narcissist's and are the source of the diagnostic confusion. Both types of patients purport to give advice, carry out an assignment, accomplish a mission, or embark on an enterprise for which they are uniquely unqualified and lack the talents, skills, knowledge, or experience required.

But the bipolar's bombast is far more delusional than the narcissist's. Ideas of reference and magical thinking are common and, in this sense, the bipolar is closer to the schizotypal than to the narcissistic.

There are other differentiating symptoms:

Sleep disorders - notably acute insomnia - are common in the manic phase of bipolar and uncommon in narcissism. So is "manic speech" - pressured, uninterruptible, loud, rapid, dramatic (includes singing and humorous asides), sometimes incomprehensible, incoherent, chaotic, and lasts for hours. It reflects the bipolar's inner turmoil and his/her inability to control his/her racing and kaleidoscopic thoughts.

As opposed to narcissists, bipolar in the manic phase are often distracted by the slightest stimuli, are unable to focus on relevant data, or to maintain the thread of conversation. They are "all over the place" - simultaneously initiating numerous business ventures, joining a myriad organization, writing umpteen letters, contacting hundreds of friends and perfect strangers, acting in a domineering, demanding, and intrusive manner, totally disregarding the needs and emotions of the unfortunate recipients of their unwanted attentions. They rarely follow up on their projects.

The transformation is so marked that the bipolar is often described by his/her closest as "not himself/herself". Indeed, some bipolars relocate, change name and appearance, and lose contact with their "former life". Antisocial or even criminal behavior is not uncommon and aggression is marked, directed at both others (assault) and oneself (suicide). Some biploars describe an acuteness of the senses, akin to experiences recounted by drug users: smells, sounds, and sights are accentuated and attain an unearthly quality.

As opposed to narcissists, bipolars regret their misdeeds following the manic phase and try to atone for their actions. They realize and accept that "something is wrong with them" and seek help. During the depressive phase they are ego-dystonic and their defenses are autoplastic (they blame themselves for their defeats, failures, and mishaps).

Finally, pathological narcissism is already discernible in early adolescence. The full-fledged bipolar disorder - including a manic phase - rarely occurs before the age of 20. The narcissist is consistent in his pathology - not so the bipolar. The onset of the manic episode is fast and furious and results in a conspicuous metamorphosis of the patient.

NPD and relationships

Narcissists expect and demand that the ones nearest and dearest to them, tolerate, admire, love, and cater to their needs. They expect others to be at their immediate disposal. Their behavior is obnoxious, aloof and indifferent and they fully realize this. Narcissists test the mental limits of people's patience. Individuals in a relationship with a narcissist feel something is not “quite right,” and many seek answers to the unsettling experience of day to day contact with a narcissist.

Narcissistic individuals do not tend to be physically abusive although there are some out there that are. Their worst weapon is their mouth. With their mouth they spit verbal negations and dispense emotional abuse. Their vocal cords are their method of attempting to control others.Narcissists do not have the emotional capacity to provide support or understanding to others. There are numerous defense mechanisms which narcissists use to confuse and unbalance those around them. Organization is unknown to narcissistic individuals and they avoid future plans if it concerns pleasing another for some reason not evident to them.They do not want anyone thinking highly of them for several reasons. First, their sense of self as special, unique and deserving keeps them grounded at maintenance level in their relationships. Maintenance level is just enough, just in time to keep the folly of the relationship moving forward, but just enough and no more. To expend more energy on the relationship would cause others to feel some degree of predictability in the whole affair. Contributing to the happiness of the ones they already envy for having the ability to feel love is not a an activity in which narcissists wish to participate.Second, if another thinks highly of the narcissist then there are expectations which that person has that the narcissist must fulfill. The narcissist, however, does not intend to fill anyone's expectations except that of his/her own.Happiness, joy, and the effort to please others is not normally undertaken by the narcissist except in the beginning or potential ending of a relationship. At either of these points, the narcissist may be charming, helpful, pleasing, and amusing beyond imagination. But, this effort is only used to obtain a new narcissistic supply source or to win back the affection of an important source if abandonment appears eminent. At all other times, the narcissist believes his/her presence, is clearly and abundantly sufficient to maintain the loyalty, trust, affection and respect of those which the narcissist already considers his/her object. So, the narcissist will postpone, withhold or procrastinate the continuing efforts that are essential to maintaining any kind of meaningful relationship. A narcissistic person is unable to fake the emotion of love for another for a long period of time. This impairs the capacity for a committed relationship with a narcissist. Therefore, marital instability and promiscuity are prominent in those with NPD.Narcissists can perform obligations in the global areas of their lives and with strangers quite well. But, with those individuals they have already captured, they find the expenditure of civil treatment taxing to their mental reserve and not really necessary. They routinely display to their captured objects their worst traits. These may include abuse of alcohol, verbal negations or other behaviors that tend to keep people at a distance and not allow any close interpersonal strength to develop. This is evident in the narcissists relationships with their wives/husbands, girlfriends/boyfriends, children, brothers, and sisters.Narcissists will never accept the blame for anything that happens in a relationship. They are quite ready to blame the other person involved. They expect to be the center of attention in a relationship and demand their every wish be fulfilled by their partner.Don't expect the narcissist to get better with age. By the time they are old they have pushed everyone who has ever tried to care about them away. Their narcissistic characteristics also seem to increase after the death of parents or loss of others that have exerted some type of control over them. A relationship with a narcissist can at times be fun and invigorating. After the relationship has come to an end, for the non-disordered, there maybe a feeling of let down or boredom. A relationship with a narcissist is like a roller coaster ride--there are extreme highs and lows. Be thankful the relationship has ended. The best advice for anyone who is presently involved with a narcissist is to RUN! The relationship won't get better. Also, it's better to get out before the narcissist snatches away all your self-esteem. Remember, their worst weapon is their mouth.

narcissistic traits

A pattern of grandiosity, excessive need for admiration, entitlement, and lack of empathy are the chief components in the diagnosis of NPD. These behaviors begin in early adulthood. A narcissistic individual is unable to trust others but replies on others to be a mirror which reflects back to him his unrealistic perception of his accomplishments, brilliance, talent, and beauty. A narcissistic individual has a fragile sense of self. To strengthen his sense of self he depends on other's admiration and constant attention. He expects other's to covet his possessions and he is constantly seeking compliments. Thus the narcissist develops numerous, shallow relationships to extract tributes from others.

Because a narcissistic individual has a shifting morality--always ready to shift values to gain favor--any interaction with a narcissist is difficult. Narcissists are self-absorbed and have no interest in anyone other than themselves. Their tendency is to form friendships or romantic relationships with only those that can enhance their self-esteem or advance their purposes.

The narcissist uses others to aid him in any tasks he undertakes and will frequently take credit for work which others have done. The narcissistic individual may be more successful at his chosen field of work than some of the other personality disorders. This is because his work can be advantageous to the narcissist especially if it provides narcissistic supply.

Lying is an integral part of the narcissist's behavior and all their self-reports are unreliable. His cognition is impaired to the extent that he frequently misinterprets other's speech, actions, and thoughts. He may believe that someone respects or loves him although this is a fantasy which exists only in the mind of the narcissist.

A narcissist demonstrates a lack of empathy towards others and this causes him to treat others like objects. He does not see others as human beings, but sees them as objects that have no feelings or needs. His sense of entitlement leads to his exploitation of others and this results in little guilt or remorse.

A narcissistic injury occurs when someone defeats or criticizes the narcissistic individual. The narcissist may not show it outwardly, but he is haunted by criticisms and defeats. Therefore, the narcissist does have emotions. The narcissist, however, does not relate to his emotions as others do because he represses his emotions so deeply that they play no conscious role in his behavior. But, these repressed emotions unconsciously play a large part in determining his behavior. When a narcissistic injury occurs, the narcissist begins to feel empty, degraded, and humiliated and he is capable of retaliating with narcissistic rage. His reactions constitute disdain or defiant attacks.