Letters to Sam Vaknin no 7
Ã‚Â©Stephen McDonnell and Sam Vaknin 2004, 2005
All text is copyrighted and is published here
with the permission of the authors.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005, Seventh letter to Sam
We were on the subject of what motivates
a narcissist in our last interchange, and I tried to give you
an answer in my last letter. As you know I will always harp on
the other side of the coin "the victim" because they
(we) deserve attention. Therefore I will continue to insist on
coming back to the victims and not keep the NPD as the center
of attention - a position they love to reserve to themselves.
You stated that a NPD will take any kind
of supply, any victim will do, and so there is no set profile
for a NPD supply victim. I beg to differ. You are also right,
Sam, when you said in letter
4 that The healthier the potential prey, the more he or she
are able to resist the narcissist's lure. You also did a great
job of describing how the partner/victim acts under the power
of a NPD in letter
2. NPDs need attention of any kind, good or bad, and will
take any type of supply. I assume that hell for a NPD is a deserted
island? To beat a dead dog, as the saying goes, I would like
to explore the dynamics of victims and why they fall for the
What can we learn from Sadomasochists?
N.B. I do not endorse or approve of the
BDSM scene that insist that it only takes place between consenting
Perhaps the study of an extreme group of
people can give us some insight into why this dyad of NPD/victim
comes about. What's in it for either party? You may or may not
be familiar with the BDSM crowd - otherwise known as sadists
and masochists - that are forms of algolagnia, the love of pain.
It is a type of paraphilia. More information here at the Wikipeida,
free encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraphilia#External_link
Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing invented the word sadist which
he named after the Marquis de Sade who was known for his extreme
I would propose another type of paraphilia;
NPD-philia where the victim loves being abused by a NPD. It would
compare it to hybristophilia: the sexual arousal and attention
paid to people who have committed crimes, in particular cruel
or outrageous crimes. Even though you wrote in a letter that
the victim could walk away, I would beg to differ. Most victims
can walk away if they have a normal psyche. But those who suffer
from the need for pain, confusing it with love and pleasure,
need their source of love/pain. The source of love/pain is the
NPD who supplies it in spades to his or her victim. In psychological
terms this is called dependency, or - if you will - addiction
to the NPD. Co-dependency is something that can be treated if
recognized by the victim, but if the victim feels complete, like
an addict getting high, how can we disabuse the victim of the
problem? (Think about someone who is in love, love is blind,
and blinding!)Ã‚Â More on The
pain of victims.
By studying such extreme groups we may gain
insights into the mundane everyday abuse that goes on in a NPD/victim
situation. Let us compare them. Most BDSM dyads are consensual,
meaning that both people are aware of the parameters of what
is going on and may even sign contracts to limit what can and
cannot be done. In a NPD abuse situation, the victim is often
clueless as to what is going on and may later seek another abusing
NPD to further the abuse.
From my reading into this SM life style,
they have not been abused as children (so they say) and seek
something that they cannot obtain in normal relationships. This
may be where the NPD and BDSM situations coincide; in both situations
one person wants to have power over another and they both derive
some pleasure in the interaction. Most NPD victims will never
admit it, but many of them were charmed by their NPD master/mistress
into a relationship that soon turned dark and dismal. If they
kept coming back for abuse, the NPD victim then takes on responsibility
for this situation. (It always fascinated me that many rape victims
blamed themselves for being raped, even when rape victim was
totally innocent and the rapist was a monster.) Why do we give
people (i.e. NPDs) too much benefit of the doubt? There is an
element of the Stockholm syndrome.
Once the pattern of submission starts, in
a SM or a NPD relationship, there is a dynamic of needs and supply
that is exchanged. Again I think that the mental games that go
on in both relationships bare study. What does each party get
out of this play? In sadist masochist play a dominant person
will control and humiliate a submission person; both derive pain
and pleasure from this role-playing. I have read that they both
have a so-called release of tension. In the NPD victim situation,
the master NPD dominates and humiliates the victim. Yet it goes
beyond what happens in an S and M situation - because it never
stops. There is no limit to the abuse a NPD will deal out to
gain the pleasure and power they want. Only society and their
own fear keep them in check. Most NPDs will not physically hurt
their victim; they are too smart for that. Another difference
with S and M is the partners accept the physical abuse as something
they both need. NPDs could care less about the needs of their
victim; they are totally concentrating on their own needs and
wants. Only when their victim starts to leave the relationship
does the NPD start the charm game again.
NPDs love controlling people, keeping them
dependant or amused, because that ignorance insures that the
narcissistic supply continues to flow. If the victim is a co-dependant,
or masochist, then the task is easier. You are right that the
NPD will take any source of supply; the quality of supply can
vary, but it has to be there. As I said before, I imagine that
the worst thing you could do to a NPD would be to put them on
an island by themselves where they would have to face their inner
emptiness. I have done this with NPD, on a smaller scale, by
ignoring them. I watch them go crazy when you treat them as if
they are not there. Nothingness for a NPD is not being the center
of attention. I have trained NPDs in this manner, by giving them
a great deal of attention and then going cold to them, ignoring
them. They are the ones who usually play this game and do not
expect anyone else, much less their victim, to know how it goes.
It is a cruel thing to do but it can also save your soul from
being eaten alive by a particular voracious NPD. The down side
of this game is that you are still around them, and they may
get wise to your ruse. Or you become one. How
to handle a Narcissist
The other downside to playing the game with
a NPD is that you are being trained by them to act abnormally.
This also serves their needs. They do not want you to be normal,
to have normal reactions, because they are not normal, they are
more normal. Every NPD action is exaggerated, every emotion is
bigger, every need is more important than other people so in
the end they are the center of attention; just like a wailing
baby who wants to be fed or cuddled.
What we can learn from Pain and suffering
on a larger scale How
I understood what was going on
Intriguing insights, as usual. Thank you!
No doubt some of the victims find emotional
gratification in victimhood. I wrote about masochistic and codependent
victims of narcissists extensively.
It takes two to tango ÃƒÂ± and an equal number to sustain a long-term
abusive relationship. The abuser and the abused form a bond,
a dynamic, and a dependence. Expressions such as "follies
a deux" and the "Stockholm
Syndrome" capture facets ÃƒÂ± two of a myriad ÃƒÂ± of this danse macabre. It often ends
fatally. It is always an excruciatingly painful affair.
People ÃƒÂ± overwhelmingly women ÃƒÂ± remain in an abusive household for a
variety of reasons: economic, parental (to protect the children),
and psychological. But the objective obstacles facing the battered
spouse cannot be overstated.
But, as you point out correctly,
there is more to an abusive dyad than mere pecuniary convenience.
The abuser ÃƒÂ±
stealthily but unfailingly ÃƒÂ± exploits the vulnerabilities in the
psychological makeup of his victim. The abused party may have
low self-esteem, a fluctuating sense of self-worth, primitive
defence mechanisms, phobias, mental health problems, a disability,
a history of failure, or a tendency to blame herself, or to feel
inadequate (autoplastic neurosis). She may have come from an
abusive family or environment ÃƒÂ± which conditioned her to expect abuse
as inevitable and "normal". In extreme and rare cases
the victim is a masochist, possessed of an urge to seek ill-treatment
The abuser may be functional
or dysfunctional, a pillar of society, or a peripatetic con-artist,
rich or poor, young or old. There is no universally-applicable
profile of the "typical abuser". Yet, abusive behavior
often indicates serious underlying psychopathologies. Absent
empathy, the abuser perceives the abused spouse only dimly and
partly, as one would an inanimate source of frustration. The
abuser, in his mind, interacts only with himself and with "introjects"
representations of outside objects, such as his victims.
Typically, the abuser succeeds to convert the abused into
his worldview. The victim ÃƒÂ±
and his victimizers ÃƒÂ± don't
realize that something is wrong with the relationship. This denial
is common and all-pervasive. It permeates other spheres of the
abuser's life as well. Such people are often narcissists ÃƒÂ±
steeped in grandiose fantasies, divorced from reality, besotted
with their False Self, consumed by feelings of omnipotence, omniscience,
entitlement, and paranoia.
Contrary to stereotypes, both the abuser and his prey usually
suffer from disturbances in the regulation of their sense of
self-worth. Low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence render
the abuser ÃƒÂ± and his confabulated
self ÃƒÂ± vulnerable to criticism,
disagreement, exposure, and adversity ÃƒÂ±
real or imagined.
Abuse is bred by fear ÃƒÂ± fear
of being mocked or betrayed, emotional insecurity, anxiety, panic,
and apprehension. It is a last ditch effort to exert control
ÃƒÂ± for instance, over one's spouse
ÃƒÂ± by "annexing" her,
"possessing" her, and "punishing" her for
being a separate entity, with her own boundaries, needs, feelings,
preferences, and dreams.
In her seminal tome, "The Verbally Abusive Relationship",
Patricia Evans lists the various forms of manipulation which
together constitute verbal and emotional (psychological) abuse:
Withholding (the silent treatment), countering (refuting or
invalidating the spouse's statements or actions), discounting
(putting down her emotions, possessions, experiences, hopes,
and fears), sadistic and brutal humor, blocking (avoiding a meaningful
exchange, diverting the conversation, changing the subject),
blaming and accusing, judging and criticizing, undermining and
sabotaging, threatening, name calling, forgetting and denying,
ordering around, denial, and abusive anger.
To these we can add:
Wounding "honesty", ignoring, smothering, dotting,
unrealistic expectations, invasion of privacy, tactlessness,
sexual abuse, physical maltreatment, humiliating, shaming, insinuating,
lying, exploiting, devaluing and discarding, being unpredictable,
reacting disproportionately, dehumanizing, objectifying, abusing
confidence and intimate information, engineering impossible situations,
control by proxy and ambient abuse.
Five years ago, Alice Ratzlaff
and myself proposed a new diagnostic category (mental health
disorder) which we called "Inverted
Codependents are people
who depend on other people for their emotional gratification
and the performance of Ego or daily functions. They are needy,
demanding, and submissive. They fear abandonment, cling and display
immature behaviours in their effort to maintain the "relationship"
with their companion or mate upon whom they depend. No matter
what abuse is inflicted upon them ÃƒÂ± they remain in the
relationship. By eagerly becoming victims, codependents seek
to control their abusers.
See also the definition of the Dependent
Personality Disorder in the Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV-TR, 2000).
The Inverted Narcissist, also
called "covert narcissist", is a co-dependent who depends
exclusively on narcissists (narcissist-co-dependent). If you
are living with a narcissist, have a relationship with one, if
you are married to one, if you are working with a narcissist,
etc. ÃƒÂ± it does NOT mean that you are an
To "qualify" as an inverted narcissist,
you must CRAVE to be in a relationship with a narcissist,
regardless of any abuse inflicted on you by him/her. You must
ACTIVELY seek relationships with narcissists and
ONLY with narcissists, no matter what your (bitter
and traumatic) past experience has been. You must feel EMPTY
and UNHAPPY in relationships with ANY OTHER
kind of person. Only then, and if you satisfy the other diagnostic
criteria of a Dependent Personality Disorder, can you be safely
labelled an "inverted narcissist".
Most "classical" (overt) narcissists
are counterdependent. Their emotions and needs are buried under
"scar tissue" which had formed, coalesced, and hardened
during years of one form of abuse or another. Grandiosity, a
sense of entitlement,
a lack of empathy,
and overweening haughtiness usually hide gnawing insecurity and
a fluctuating sense of self-worth.
Counterdependents are contumacious (reject and despise
authority), fiercely independent, controlling, self-cantered,
They fear intimacy and are locked into cycles of hesitant approach
followed by avoidance of commitment. They are "lone wolves"
and bad team players.
Counterdependence is a reaction formation.
The counterdependent dreads his own weaknesses. He seeks to overcome
them by projecting an image of omnipotence, omniscience, success,
self-sufficiency, and superiority.
It is clear that there is, indeed, an hitherto
neglected type of narcissist. It is the "self-effacing"
or "introverted" narcissist. We call it the Inverted
Narcissist (hereinafter: IN). Others call it "narcissist-codependent"
or "N-magnet" (which erroneously implies passivity
This is a narcissist who, in many respects,
is the mirror image of the "classical" narcissist.
The psychodynamics of the Inverted Narcissist are not clear,
nor are its developmental roots. Perhaps it is the product of
an overweening Primary Object or caregiver. Perhaps excessive
abuse leads to the repression of even the narcissistic and other
defence mechanisms. Perhaps the parents suppress every manifestation
of grandiosity (very common in early childhood) and of narcissism
ÃƒÂ± so that the narcissistic defence mechanism is "inverted"
and internalised in this unusual form.
These narcissists are self-effacing, sensitive,
emotionally fragile, sometimes socially phobic. They derive all
their self-esteem and sense of self-worth from the outside (others),
are pathologically envious (a transformation
of aggression), are likely to intermittently engage in aggressive/violent
behaviours, are more emotionally labile than the classic narcissist,
There are, therefore, three
"basic" types of narcissists:
- The offspring of neglecting parents
ÃƒÂ± They default to narcissism as the predominant object
relation (with themselves as the exclusive love object).
- The offspring of doting or domineering
parents (often narcissists themselves) ÃƒÂ± They
internalise their parents' voices in the form of a sadistic,
ideal, immature Superego and spend their lives trying to be perfect,
omnipotent, omniscient and to be judged "a success"
by these parent-images and their later representations and substitutes
- The offspring of abusive parents
ÃƒÂ± They internalise the abusing, demeaning and contemptuous
voices and spend their lives in an effort to elicit "counter-voices"
from other people and thus to regulate their labile self-esteem
and sense of self-worth.
All three types experience recurrent and
Sisyphean failures. Shielded by their defence mechanisms, they
constantly gauge reality wrongly, their actions and reactions
become more and more rigid and the damage inflicted by them on
themselves and on others is ever greater.
The narcissistic parent seems to employ
a myriad primitive defences in his dealings with his children:
Splitting ÃƒÂ± Idealising
the child and devaluing him in cycles, which reflect the internal
dynamics of the parent rather than anything the child does.
ÃƒÂ± Forcing the child to behave in a way which vindicates
the parent's fears regarding himself or herself, his or her self-image
and his or her self-worth. This is a particularly powerful and
pernicious mechanism. If the narcissist parent fears his own
deficiencies ("defects"), vulnerability, perceived
weaknesses, susceptibility, gullibility, or emotions ÃƒÂ±
he is likely to force the child to "feel" these rejected
and (to him) repulsive emotions, to behave in ways strongly abhorred
by the parent, to exhibit character traits the parent strongly
rejects in himself.
Projection - The
child, in a way, becomes the "trash bin" of the parents'
inhibitions, fears, self-loathing, self-contempt, perceived lack
of self-worth, sense of inadequacy, rejected traits, repressed
emotions, failures and emotional reticence.
Coupled with the parent's treatment of
the child as the parent's extension, these psychological defences
totally inhibit the psychological growth and emotional maturation
of the child. The child becomes a reflection of the parent, a
conduit through which the parent experiences and realises himself
for better (hopes, aspirations, ambition, life goals) and for
worse (weaknesses, "undesirable" emotions, "negative"
Relationships between such
parents and their progeny easily deteriorate to sexual or
other modes of abuse
because there are no functioning boundaries between them.
It seems that the child's reaction to a
narcissistic parent can be either accommodation and assimilation
Accommodation and Assimilation
The child accommodates, idealises and internalises
(introjects) the narcissistic and abusive Primary Object successfully.
This means that the child's "internal voice" is also
narcissistic and abusive. The child tries to comply with its
directives and with its explicit and perceived wishes.
The child becomes a masterful provider
Supply, a perfect match to the parent's personality, an ideal
source, an accommodating, understanding and caring caterer to
all the needs, whims, mood swings and cycles of the narcissist.
The child learns to endure devaluation and idealisation with
equanimity and adapt to the narcissist's world view. The child,
in short, becomes the ultimate extension. This is what we call
an "inverted narcissist".
We must not neglect the abusive aspect
of such a relationship. The narcissistic parent always alternates
between idealisation and devaluation of his offspring. The child
is likely to internalise the devaluing, abusive, critical, demeaning,
berating, diminishing, minimising, upbraiding, chastising voices.
The parent (or caregiver) goes on to survive
inside the child-turned-adult (as part of a sadistic and ideal
Superego and an unrealistic Ego Ideal). These voices are so powerful
that they inhibit even the development of reactive narcissism,
the child's typical defence mechanism.
The child-turned-adult keeps looking for
narcissists in order to feel whole, alive and wanted. He craves
to be treated by a narcissist narcissistically. What others call
abuse is, to him or her, familiar territory and constitutes Narcissistic
Supply. To the Inverted Narcissist, the classic narcissist is
a Source of Supply (primary or secondary) and his narcissistic
behaviours constitute Narcissistic Supply. The IN feels dissatisfied,
empty and unwanted when not "loved" by a narcissist.
The roles of Primary Source of Narcissistic
Supply (PSNS) and Secondary Source of Narcissistic Supply (SSNS)
are reversed. To the inverted narcissist, her narcissistic spouse
is a Source of PRIMARY Narcissistic Supply.
The child can also reject the narcissistic
parent rather than accommodate her or him.
The child may react to the narcissism of
the Primary Object with a peculiar type of rejection. He develops
his own narcissistic personality, replete with grandiosity and
lack of empathy ÃƒÂ± but his personality is antithetical
to that of the narcissistic parent.
If the parent were a somatic narcissist,
the child is likely to grow up to be a cerebral one. If his father
prided himself being virtuous, the son turns out sinful. If his
narcissistic mother bragged about her frugality, he is bound
to profligately flaunt his wealth.
An Attempted DSM Style List
It is possible to compose a
DSM-IV-TR-like set of criteria for the Inverted Narcissist, using
the classic narcissists' as a template. The two are, in many
ways, two sides of the same coin, or "the mould and the
moulded" - hence the neologisms "mirror narcissist"
or "inverted narcissist".
The narcissist tries to merge with an idealised
but badly internalised object. He does so by "digesting"
the meaningful others in his life and transforming them into
extensions of his self. He uses various techniques to achieve
this. To the "digested", this is the crux of the harrowing
experience called "life with a narcissist".
The "inverted narcissist" (IN),
on the other hand, does not attempt, except in fantasy or in
dangerous, masochistic sexual practice, to merge with an idealised
external object. This is because he so successfully internalised
the narcissistic Primary Object to the exclusion of all else.
The IN feels ill at ease in his relationships with non-narcissists
because it is unconsciously perceived by him to constitute "betrayal",
"cheating", an abrogation of the exclusivity clause
he has with the narcissistic Primary Object.
This is the big difference between narcissists
and their inverted version.
Classic narcissists of all stripes reject
the Primary Object in particular (and object relations in general)
in favour of a handy substitute: themselves.
accept the (narcissist) Primary Object and internalise it ÃƒÂ±
to the exclusion of all others (unless they are perceived to
be faithful renditions, replicas of the narcissistic Primary
Possesses a rigid sense of lack of self-worth.
The classic narcissist has a badly regulated
sense of self-worth. However this is not conscious. He goes through
cycles of self-devaluation
(and experiences them as dysphorias).
The IN's sense of self-worth does not fluctuate.
It is rather stable ÃƒÂ± but it is very low. Whereas the
narcissist devalues others ÃƒÂ± the IN devalues himself as
an offering, a sacrifice to the narcissist. The IN pre-empts
the narcissist by devaluing himself, by actively berating his
own achievements, or talents. The IN is exceedingly distressed
when singled out because of actual accomplishments or a demonstration
of superior skills.
The inverted narcissist is compelled to
filter all of her narcissistic needs through the primary narcissist
in her life. Independence or personal autonomy are not permitted.
The IN feels amplified by the narcissist's running commentary
(because nothing can be accomplished by the invert without the
approval of a primary narcissist in their lives).
Pre-occupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power,
brilliance and beauty or of an ideal of love.
This is the same as the DSM-IV-TR criterion
for Narcissistic Personality Disorder but, with the IN, it manifests
absolutely differently, i.e. the cognitive dissonance is sharper
here because the IN is so absolutely and completely convinced
of their worthlessness that these fantasies of grandeur are extremely
With the narcissist, the dissonance exists
on two levels:
Between the unconscious feeling of lack
of stable self-worth and the grandiose fantasies
AND between the grandiose
fantasies and reality (the Grandiosity Gap).
In comparison, the Inverted Narcissist
can only vacillate between lack of self-worth and reality. No
grandiosity is permitted, except in dangerous, forbidden fantasy.
This shows that the Invert is psychologically incapable of fully
realising her inherent potentials without a primary narcissist
to filter the praise, adulation or accomplishments through. She
must have someone to whom praise can be redirected. The dissonance
between the IN's certainty of self-worthlessness and genuine
praise that cannot be deflected is likely to emotionally derail
the Inverted Narcissist every time.
Believes that she is absolutely un-unique
and un-special (i.e., worthless and not worthy of merger with
the fantasised ideal) and that no one at all could understand
her because she is innately unworthy of being understood. The
IN becomes very agitated the more one tries to understand her
because that also offends against her righteous sense of being
properly excluded from the human race.
A sense of worthlessness is typical of
many other PDs (as well as the feeling that no one could ever
understand them). The narcissist himself endures prolonged periods
of self-devaluation, self-deprecation and self-effacement. This
is part of the Narcissistic
Cycle. In this sense, the inverted narcissist is a partial
narcissist. She is permanently fixated in a part of the narcissistic
cycle, never to experience its complementary half: the narcissistic
grandiosity and sense of entitlement.
The "righteous sense of being properly
excluded" comes from the sadistic Superego in concert with
the "overbearing, externally reinforced, conscience".
Demands anonymity (in the sense of
seeking to remain excluded at all costs) and is intensely irritated
and uncomfortable with any attention being paid to her ÃƒÂ±
similar to the Schizoid
Feels that she is undeserving and not entitled.
Feels that she is inferior to others, lacking,
insubstantial, unworthy, unlikable, unappealing, unlovable, someone
to scorn and dismiss, or to ignore.
Is extinguishingly selfless, sacrificial,
even unctuous in her interpersonal relationships and avoids the
assistance of others at all costs. Can only interact with others
when she can be seen to be giving, supportive, and expending
an unusual effort to assist.
Some narcissists behave the same
way but only as a means to obtain Narcissistic Supply (praise,
adulation, affirmation, attention). This must not be confused
with the behaviour of the IN.
Lacks empathy. Is intensely attuned
to others' needs, but only in so far as it relates to her own
need to perform the required self-sacrifice, which in turn is
necessary in order for the IN to obtain her Narcissistic Supply
from the primary narcissist.
By contrast, narcissists are never empathic.
They are intermittently attuned to others only in order to optimise
the extraction of Narcissistic Supply from them.
Envies others. Cannot conceive of
being envied and becomes extremely agitated and uncomfortable
if even brought into a situation where comparison might occur.
Loathes competition and avoids competition at all costs, if there
is any chance of actually winning the competition, or being singled
Displays extreme shyness, lack of
any real relational connections, is publicly self-effacing in
the extreme, is internally highly moralistic and critical of
others; is a perfectionist and engages in lengthy ritualistic
behaviours, which can never be perfectly performed (obsessive-compulsive,
though not necessarily to the full extent exhibited in Obsessive-Compulsive
Personality Disorder). Notions of being individualistic are anathema.
The Reactive Patterns of the
Inverted Narcissist (IN)
The Inverted Narcissist does not suffer
from a "milder" form of narcissism. Like the "classic"
narcissists, it has degrees and shades. But it is much more rare
and the DSM-IV-TR variety is the more prevalent.
The Inverted Narcissist is liable to react
with rage whenever threatened, orÃƒâ€“
Ãƒâ€“When envious of other people's achievements,
their ability to feel wholeness, happiness, rewards and successes,
when her sense of self-worthlessness is diminished by a behaviour,
a comment, an event, when her lack of self-worth and voided self-esteem
is threatened. Thus, this type of narcissist might surprisingly
react violently or wrathfully to GOOD things: a
kind remark, a mission accomplished, a reward, a compliment,
a proposition, or a sexual advance.
Ãƒâ€“When thinking about the past, when
emotions and memories are evoked (usually negative ones) by certain
music, a given smell, or sight.
Ãƒâ€“When her pathological envy leads
to an all-pervasive sense of injustice and being discriminated
against or deprived by a spiteful world.
Ãƒâ€“When she comes across stupidity,
avarice, dishonesty, bigotry ÃƒÂ± it is these qualities in
herself that all types of narcissists really fear and reject
so vehemently in others.
Ãƒâ€“When she believes that she failed
(and she always entertains this belief), that she is imperfect
and useless and worthless, a good for nothing half-baked creature.
Ãƒâ€“When she realises to what extent
her inner demons possess her, constrain her life, torment her,
deform her and the hopelessness of it all.
When the Inverted
Narcissist rages, she becomes verbally and emotionally abusive.
She uncannily spots and attacks the vulnerabilities of her target,
and mercilessly drives home the poisoned dagger of despair and
self-loathing until it infects her adversary.
The calm after such a storm is even eerier,
a thundering silence. The Inverted Narcissist regrets her behaviour
and admits her feelings while apologising profusely.
The Inverted Narcissist nurtures her negative
emotions as yet another weapon of self-destruction
and self-defeat. It is from this repressed self-contempt
and sadistic self-judgement that the narcissistic rage springs
One important difference between Inverted
Narcissists and non-narcissists is that the former are less likely
to react with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) following
the breakup of their relationships with a their narcissists.
They seem to be "desensitised" to narcissists by their
Whereas the reactions of normal people
to narcissistic behaviour patterns (and especially to the splitting
and projective identification defence mechanisms and to the idealisation
devaluation cycles) is shock, profound hurt and disorientation
ÃƒÂ± inverted narcissists show none of the above.
The Life of the Inverted Narcissist
The IN is, usually, exceedingly and painfully
shy as a child. Despite this social phobia, his grandiosity (absorbed
from the parent) might direct him to seek "limelight"
professions and occupations, which involve exposure, competition,
"stage fright" and social friction.
The setting can vary from the limited (family)
to the expansive (national media) ÃƒÂ± but, whatever it is,
the result is constant conflict and feelings of discomfort, even
terror and extreme excitement and thrill ("adrenaline
rush"). This is because the IN's grandiosity is "imported"
and not fully integrated. It is, therefore, not supportive of
his "grandiose" pursuits (as is the case with the narcissist).
On the contrary, the IN feels awkward, pitted on the edge of
a precipice, contrived, false and misleading, not to say deceitful.
The Inverted Narcissist grows up in a stifling
environment, whether it is an orthodox, hyper-religious, collectivist,
or traditionalist culture, a monovalent, "black and white",
doctrinarian and indoctrinating society ÃƒÂ± or a family
which manifests all the above in a microcosm all its own.
The Inverted Narcissist is cast in a negative
(emergent) role within his family. His "negativity"
is attributed to her gender, the order of her birth, religious,
social, or cultural dictates and commandments, her "character
flaws", her relation to a specific person or event, her
acts or inaction and so on.
In the words of one such IN:
"In the religious culture I
grew up in, women are SO suppressed, their roles are so carefully
restricted. They are the representation, in the flesh, of all
that is sinful, degrading, of all that is wrong with the world.
These are the negative gender/cultural
images that were force fed to us the negative 'otherness' of
women, as defined by men, was fed to me. I was so shy, withdrawn,
unable to really relate to people at all from as early as I can
The IN is subjected and exposed either
to an overbearing, overvalued parent, or to an aloof, detached,
emotionally unavailable one ÃƒÂ± or to both ÃƒÂ± at an
early stage of his life.
"I grew up in the shadow of
my father who adored me, put me on a pedestal, told me I could
do or be anything I wanted because I was incredibly bright, BUT,
he ate me alive, I was his property and an extension of him.
I also grew up with the mounting hatred of my narcissist brother
who got none of this attention from our father and got no attention
from our mother either. My function was to make my father look
wonderful in the eyes of all outsiders, the wonderful parent
with a genius Wunderkind as his last child, and the only child
of the six that he was physically present to raise from the get
go. The overvaluation combined with being abjectly ignored or
raged at by him when I stepped out of line even the tiniest bit,
was enough to warp my personality."
The Invert is prevented from developing
full-blown secondary narcissism. The Invert is so heavily preoccupied
in his or her pre-school years with satisfying the narcissistic
parent, that the traits of grandiosity and self-love, even the
need for Narcissistic Supply, remain dormant or repressed.
The Invert simply "knows" that
only the narcissistic parent can provide the requisite amount
of Narcissistic Supply. The narcissistic parent is so controlling
that any attempt to garner praise or adulation from any other
source (without the approval of the parent) is severely punished
by swift devaluation and even the occasional spanking or abuse
(physical, emotional, or sexual).
This is a vital part of the conditioning
that gives rise to inverted narcissism. Where the narcissist
exhibits grandiosity, the Invert is intensely uncomfortable with
personal praise, and wishes to always divert praise away from
himself onto his narcissist. This is why the IN can only truly
feel anything when she is in a relationship with another narcissist.
The IN is conditioned and programmed from the very beginning
to be the perfect companion to the narcissist. To feed his Ego,
to be purely his extension, to seek only praise and adulation
if it brings greater praise and adulation to her narcissist.
MostÃ‚Â narcissists enjoy anÃ‚Â irrational and brief burst
of relief after having suffered emotionally ("narcissistic
injury") or after having sustained a loss. It is a sense
of freedom, which comes with being unshackled. Having lost everything,
the narcissist often feels that he has found himself, that he
has been re-born, that he has been charged with natal energy,
able to take on new challenges and to explore new territories.
This elation is so addictive, that the narcissist often seeks
pain, humiliation, punishment, scorn, and contempt - as long
as they are public and involve the attention of peers and superiors.
Being punished accords with the tormenting inner voices of the
narcissist which keep telling him that he is bad, corrupt, and
worthy of penalty.
This is the masochistic streak
in the narcissist. But the narcissist is also a sadist - albeit
an unusual one.
The narcissist inflicts pain
and abuse on others. He devalues Sources of Supply, callously
and off-handedly abandons them, and discards people, places,
partnerships, and friendships unhesitatingly. Some narcissists
- though by no means the majority - actuallyÃ‚Â ENJOY
abusing, taunting, tormenting, and freakishly controlling others
("gaslighting"). But most of them do these things absentmindedly,
automatically, and, often, even without good reason.
What is unusual about the narcissist's
sadistic behaviors - premeditated acts of tormenting others while
enjoying their anguished reactions - is that they are goal orientated.
"Pure" sadists have no goal in mind except the pursuit
of pleasure - pain as an art form (remember the Marquis de Sade?).
The narcissist, on the other hand, haunts and hunts his victims
for a reason - he wants them to reflect his inner state. It is
all part of a mechanism called "Projective Identification".
When the narcissist is angry,
unhappy, disappointed, injured, or hurt - he feels unable to
express his emotions sincerely and openly since to do so would
be to admit his frailty, his neediness, and his weaknesses. He
deplores his own humanity - his emotions, his vulnerability,
his susceptibility, his gullibility, his inadequacies, and his
failures. So, he makes use of other people to express his pain
and his frustration, his pent up anger and his aggression. He
achieves this by mentally torturing other people to the point
of madness, by driving them to violence, by reducing them to
scar tissue in search of outlet, closure,Ã‚Â and, sometimes,Ã‚Â revenge.
He forces people to lose their own character traits - and adopt
his own instead. In reaction to his constant and well-targeted
abuse, they become abusive, vengeful, ruthless, lacking empathy,
obsessed, and aggressive. They mirror him faithfully and thus
relieve him of the need to express himself directly.
Having constructed this writhing
hall of human mirrors, the narcissist withdraws. The goal achieved,
he lets go. As opposed to the sadist, he is no in it, indefinitely,Ã‚Â for
the pleasure of it. He abuses and traumatizes, humiliates and
abandons, discards and ignores, insults and provokes - only for
the purpose of purging his inner demons. By possessing others,
he purifies himself, cathartically, and exorcises his demented
This accomplished, he acts almost
with remorse.Ã‚Â An episode of extreme abuseÃ‚Â is followed
by an actÃ‚Â of great care and by mellifluous apologies. The
Narcissistic Pendulum swings between the extremes of torturing
others and empathically soothing the resulting pain. This incongruous
behavior, these "sudden" shifts between sadism and
altruism, abuse and "love", ignoring and caring, abandoning
and clinging, viciousness and remorse, the harsh and the tender
- are, perhaps, the most difficult to comprehend and to accept.
These swings produce inÃ‚Â people around the narcissist emotional
insecurity, an eroded sense of self-worth, fear, stress, and
anxiety ("walking on eggshells"). Gradually, emotional
paralysis ensues and they come to occupy the sameÃ‚Â emotional
wasteland inhabited by the narcissist, his prisoners and hostages
in more ways than one - and even when he is long out of their
The narcissist simply discards people when
he becomes convinced that they can no longer provide him with
This conviction, subjective and emotionally charged, does not
have to be grounded in reality. Suddenly ÃƒÂ± because of
disillusion, a fight, an act, inaction, or a mood
ÃƒÂ± 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:
- That the very acts of sadism generate
Narcissistic Supply to be consumed by the narcissist ("I
inflict pain, therefore I am superior"), or
- That the victims of his sadism are still
his only or major Sources of Narcissistic Supply but are perceived
by him to be intentionally frustrating and withholding. Sadistic
acts are his way of punishing them for not being docile, obedient,
admiring and adoring as he expects them to be in view of his
uniqueness, cosmic significance, and special entitlement.
Because of his lack of empathy and his
rigid personality, the narcissist often inflicts great (physical
or mental) pain on meaningful others in his life ÃƒÂ± 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 ÃƒÂ± he attributes it to dark forces out to destroy
him. If his sense of entitlement is not satisfied and he is ignored
by others ÃƒÂ± 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,
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 ÃƒÂ± 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 ÃƒÂ± but far better
than the total obliteration which awaits the victims of the "true"
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
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 sure-fire generators of attention. It is all about
Narcissistic Supply, of course ÃƒÂ± 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 ÃƒÂ± nay, need ÃƒÂ±
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
To conform to the cultural stereotype of
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 ÃƒÂ± sometimes consciously ÃƒÂ± 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 ÃƒÂ±
will you leave me alone? Will you let me be?"
Of course, they never do.
And how do the victims react to all this?
I disagree with you that most victims are
Inverted Narcissists (NPD-philes) or masochists. Having corresponded
with thousands of victims since 1996, I can safely say that the
vast majority of them are unhappy and want out - desperately.
Living with a narcissist is living in hell
and enduring the most pernicious kind of torture.
Beatrice Patsalides describes this transmogrification thus
in "Ethics of the Unspeakable: Torture Survivors in Psychoanalytic
"As the gap between the 'I' and the 'me' deepens, dissociation
and alienation increase. The subject that, under torture, was
forced into the position of pure object has lost his or her sense
of interiority, intimacy, and privacy. Time is experienced now,
in the present only, and perspective ÃƒÂ± that which allows
for a sense of relativity ÃƒÂ± is foreclosed. Thoughts and
dreams attack the mind and invade the body as if the protective
skin that normally contains our thoughts, gives us space to breathe
in between the thought and the thing being thought about, and
separates between inside and outside, past and present, me and
you, was lost."
Torture robs the victim of the most basic modes of relating
to reality and, thus, is the equivalent of cognitive death. Space
and time are warped by sleep deprivation. The self ("I")
is shattered. The tortured have nothing familiar to hold on to:
family, home, personal belongings, loved ones, language, name.
Gradually, they lose their mental resilience and sense of freedom.
They feel alien ÃƒÂ± unable to communicate, relate, attach,
or empathize with others.
Torture splinters early childhood grandiose narcissistic fantasies
of uniqueness, omnipotence, invulnerability, and impenetrability.
But it enhances the fantasy of merger with an idealized and omnipotent
(though not benign) other ÃƒÂ± the inflicter of agony. The
twin processes of individuation and separation are reversed.
Torture is the ultimate act of perverted intimacy. The torturer
invades the victim's body, pervades his psyche, and possesses
his mind. Deprived of contact with others and starved for human
interactions, the prey bonds with the predator. "Traumatic
bonding", akin to the Stockholm Syndrome, is about hope
and the search for meaning in the brutal and indifferent and
nightmarish universe of the torture cell.
The abuser becomes the black hole at the center of the victim's
surrealistic galaxy, sucking in the sufferer's universal need
for solace. The victim tries to "control" his tormentor
by becoming one with him (introjecting him) and by appealing
to the monster's presumably dormant humanity and empathy.
This bonding is especially strong when the torturer and the
tortured form a dyad and "collaborate" in the rituals
and acts of torture (for instance, when the victim is coerced
into selecting the torture implements and the types of torment
to be inflicted, or to choose between two evils).
The psychologist Shirley Spitz offers this powerful overview
of the contradictory nature of torture in a seminar titled "The
Psychology of Torture" (1989):
"Torture is an obscenity in that it joins what is most
private with what is most public. Torture entails all the isolation
and extreme solitude of privacy with none of the usual security
embodied therein... Torture entails at the same time all the
self-exposure of the utterly public with none of its possibilities
for camaraderie or shared experience. (The presence of an all
powerful other with whom to merge, without the security of the
other's benign intentions.)
A further obscenity of torture is the inversion it makes of
intimate human relationships. The interrogation is a form of
social encounter in which the normal rules of communicating,
of relating, of intimacy are manipulated. Dependency needs are
elicited by the interrogator, but not so they may be met as in
close relationships, but to weaken and confuse. Independence
that is offered in return for 'betrayal' is a lie. Silence is
intentionally misinterpreted either as confirmation of information
or as guilt for 'complicity'.
Torture combines complete humiliating exposure with utter
devastating isolation. The final products and outcome of torture
are a scarred and often shattered victim and an empty display
of the fiction of power."
Obsessed by endless ruminations, demented by pain and a continuum
of sleeplessness ÃƒÂ± the victim regresses, shedding all
but the most primitive defense mechanisms: splitting, narcissism,
dissociation, Projective Identification, introjection, and cognitive
dissonance. The victim constructs an alternative world, often
suffering from depersonalization and derealization, hallucinations,
ideas of reference, delusions, and psychotic episodes.
Sometimes the victim comes to crave pain ÃƒÂ± very much
as self-mutilators do ÃƒÂ± because it is a proof and a reminder
of his individuated existence otherwise blurred by the incessant
torture. Pain shields the sufferer from disintegration and capitulation.
It preserves the veracity of his unthinkable and unspeakable
This dual process of the victim's alienation and addiction
to anguish complements the perpetrator's view of his quarry as
"inhuman", or "subhuman". The torturer assumes
the position of the sole authority, the exclusive fount of meaning
and interpretation, the source of both evil and good.
Torture is about reprogramming the victim to succumb to an
alternative exegesis of the world, proffered by the abuser. It
is an act of deep, indelible, traumatic indoctrination. The abused
also swallows whole and assimilates the torturer's negative view
of him and often, as a result, is rendered suicidal, self-destructive,
Thus, torture has no cut-off date. The sounds, the voices,
the smells, the sensations reverberate long after the episode
has ended ÃƒÂ± both in nightmares and in waking moments.
The victim's ability to trust other people ÃƒÂ± i.e., to
assume that their motives are at least rational, if not necessarily
benign ÃƒÂ± has been irrevocably undermined. Social institutions
are perceived as precariously poised on the verge of an ominous,
Kafkaesque mutation. Nothing is either safe, or credible anymore.
Victims typically react by undulating between emotional numbing
and increased arousal: insomnia, irritability, restlessness,
and attention deficits. Recollections of the traumatic events
intrude in the form of dreams, night terrors, flashbacks, and
The tortured develop compulsive rituals to fend off obsessive
thoughts. Other psychological sequelae reported include cognitive
impairment, reduced capacity to learn, memory disorders, sexual
dysfunction, social withdrawal, inability to maintain long-term
relationships, or even mere intimacy, phobias, ideas of reference
and superstitions, delusions, hallucinations, psychotic microepisodes,
and emotional flatness.
Depression and anxiety are very common. These are forms and
manifestations of self-directed aggression. The sufferer rages
at his own victimhood and resulting multiple dysfunction. He
feels shamed by his new disabilities and responsible, or even
guilty, somehow, for his predicament and the dire consequences
borne by his nearest and dearest. His sense of self-worth and
self-esteem are crippled.
In a nutshell, torture victims suffer from a Post-Traumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD). Their strong feelings of anxiety, guilt,
and shame are also typical of victims of childhood abuse, domestic
violence, and rape. They feel anxious because the perpetrator's
behavior is seemingly arbitrary and unpredictable ÃƒÂ± or
mechanically and inhumanly regular.
They feel guilty and disgraced because, to restore a semblance
of order to their shattered world and a modicum of dominion over
their chaotic life, they need to transform themselves into the
cause of their own degradation and the accomplices of their tormentors.
The CIA, in its "Human Resource Exploitation Training
Manual ÃƒÂ± 1983" (reprinted in the April 1997 issue
of Harper's Magazine), summed up the theory of coercion thus:
"The purpose of all coercive techniques is to induce
psychological regression in the subject by bringing a superior
outside force to bear on his will to resist. Regression is basically
a loss of autonomy, a reversion to an earlier behavioral level.
As the subject regresses, his learned personality traits fall
away in reverse chronological order. He begins to lose the capacity
to carry out the highest creative activities, to deal with complex
situations, or to cope with stressful interpersonal relationships
or repeated frustrations."
Inevitably, in the aftermath of torture, its victims feel
helpless and powerless. This loss of control over one's life
and body is manifested physically in impotence, attention deficits,
and insomnia. This is often exacerbated by the disbelief many
torture victims encounter, especially if they are unable to produce
scars, or other "objective" proof of their ordeal.
Language cannot communicate such an intensely private experience
Spitz makes the following observation:
"Pain is also unsharable in that it is resistant to language...
All our interior states of consciousness: emotional, perceptual,
cognitive and somatic can be described as having an object in
the external world... This affirms our capacity to move beyond
the boundaries of our body into the external, sharable world.
This is the space in which we interact and communicate with our
environment. But when we explore the interior state of physical
pain we find that there is no object 'out there' ÃƒÂ± no
external, referential content. Pain is not of, or for, anything.
Pain is. And it draws us away from the space of interaction,
the sharable world, inwards. It draws us into the boundaries
of our body."
Bystanders resent the tortured because they make them feel
guilty and ashamed for having done nothing to prevent the atrocity.
The victims threaten their sense of security and their much-needed
belief in predictability, justice, and rule of law. The victims,
on their part, do not believe that it is possible to effectively
communicate to "outsiders" what they have been through.
The torture chambers are "another galaxy". This is
how Auschwitz was described by the author K. Zetnik in his testimony
in the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961.
Kenneth Pope in "Torture", a chapter he wrote for
the "Encyclopedia of Women and Gender: Sex Similarities
and Differences and the Impact of Society on Gender", quotes
Harvard psychiatrist Judith Herman:
"It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator.
All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He
appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil.
The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the
burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering."
But, more often, continued attempts to repress fearful memories
result in psychosomatic illnesses (conversion). The victim wishes
to forget the torture, to avoid re-experiencing the often life
threatening abuse and to shield his human environment from the
horrors. In conjunction with the victim's pervasive distrust,
this is frequently interpreted as hypervigilance, or even paranoia.
It seems that the victims can't win. Torture is forever.
It would seem that while the victim progresses from denial
to helplessness, rage, depression and thence to acceptance of
the traumatizing events - society demonstrates a diametrically
opposed progression. This incompatibility, this mismatch of psychological
phases is what leads to the formation and crystallization of
Victim phase I - DENIAL
The magnitude of such unfortunate events is often so overwhelming,
their nature so alien, and their message so menacing - that denial
sets in as a defence mechanism aimed at self preservation. The
victim denies that the event occurred, that he or she is being
abused, that a loved one passed away.
Society phase I - ACCEPTANCE, MOVING ON
The victim's nearest ("Society") - his colleagues,
his employees, his clients, even his spouse, children, and friends
- rarely experience the events with the same shattering intensity.
They are likely to accept the bad news and move on. Even at their
most considerate and empathic, they are likely to lose patience
with the victim's state of mind. They tend to ignore the victim,
or chastise him, to mock, or to deride his feelings or behavior,
to collude to repress the painful memories, or to trivialize
Summary Phase I
The mismatch between the victim's reactive patterns and emotional
needs and society's matter-of-fact attitude hinders growth and
healing. The victim requires society's help in avoiding a head-on
confrontation with a reality he cannot digest. Instead, society
serves as a constant and mentally destabilizing reminder of the
root of the victim's unbearable agony (the Job syndrome).
Victim phase II - HELPLESSNESS
Denial gradually gives way to a sense of all-pervasive and
humiliating helplessness, often accompanied by debilitating fatigue
and mental disintegration. These are among the classic symptoms
of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). These are the bitter
results of the internalization and integration of the harsh realization
that there is nothing one can do to alter the outcomes of a natural,
or man-made, catastrophe. The horror in confronting one's finiteness,
meaninglessness, negligibility, and powerlessness - is overpowering.
Society phase II - DEPRESSION
The more the members of society come to grips with the magnitude
of the loss, or evil, or threat represented by the grief inducing
events - the sadder they become. Depression is often little more
than suppressed or self-directed anger. The anger, in this case,
is belatedly induced by an identified or diffuse source of threat,
or of evil, or loss. It is a higher level variant of the "fight
or flight" reaction, tampered by the rational understanding
that the "source" is often too abstract to tackle directly.
Summary Phase II
Thus, when the victim is most in need, terrified by his helplessness
and adrift - society is immersed in depression and unable to
provide a holding and supporting environment. Growth and healing
is again retarded by social interaction. The victim's innate
sense of annulment is enhanced by the self-addressed anger (=depression)
of those around him.
Both the victim and society react with RAGE to their predicaments.
In an effort to narcissistically reassert himself, the victim
develops a grandiose sense of anger directed at paranoidally
selected, unreal, diffuse, and abstract targets (=frustration
sources). By expressing aggression, the victim re-acquires mastery
of the world and of himself.
Members of society use rage to re-direct the root cause of
their depression (which is, as we said, self directed anger)
and to channel it safely. To ensure that this expressed aggression
alleviates their depression - real targets must are selected
and real punishments meted out. In this respect, "social
rage" differs from the victim's. The former is intended
to sublimate aggression and channel it in a socially acceptable
manner - the latter to reassert narcissistic self-love as an
antidote to an all-devouring sense of helplessness.
In other words, society, by itself being in a state of rage,
positively enforces the narcissistic rage reactions of the grieving
victim. This, in the long run, is counter-productive, inhibits
personal growth, and prevents healing. It also erodes the reality
test of the victim and encourages self-delusions, paranoidal
ideation, and ideas of reference.
Victim Phase IV - DEPRESSION
As the consequences of narcissistic rage - both social and
personal - grow more unacceptable, depression sets in. The victim
internalizes his aggressive impulses. Self directed rage is safer
but is the cause of great sadness and even suicidal ideation.
The victim's depression is a way of conforming to social norms.
It is also instrumental in ridding the victim of the unhealthy
residues of narcissistic regression. It is when the victim acknowledges
the malignancy of his rage (and its anti-social nature) that
he adopts a depressive stance.
Society Phase IV - HELPLESSNESS
People around the victim ("society") also emerge
from their phase of rage transformed. As they realize the futility
of their rage, they feel more and more helpless and devoid of
options. They grasp their limitations and the irrelevance of
their good intentions. They accept the inevitability of loss
and evil and Kafkaesquely agree to live under an ominous cloud
of arbitrary judgment, meted out by impersonal powers.
Summary Phase IV
Again, the members of society are unable to help the victim
to emerge from a self-destructive phase. His depression is enhanced
by their apparent helplessness. Their introversion and inefficacy
induce in the victim a feeling of nightmarish isolation and alienation.
Healing and growth are once again retarded or even inhibited.
Victim Phase V - ACCEPTANCE AND MOVING ON
Depression - if pathologically protracted and in conjunction
with other mental health problems - sometimes leads to suicide.
But more often, it allows the victim to process mentally hurtful
and potentially harmful material and paves the way to acceptance.
Depression is a laboratory of the psyche. Withdrawal from social
pressures enables the direct transformation of anger into other
emotions, some of them otherwise socially unacceptable. The honest
encounter between the victim and his own (possible) death often
becomes a cathartic and self-empowering inner dynamic. The victim
emerges ready to move on.
Society Phase V - DENIAL
Society, on the other hand, having exhausted its reactive
arsenal - resorts to denial. As memories fade and as the victim
recovers and abandons his obsessive-compulsive dwelling on his
pain - society feels morally justified to forget and forgive.
This mood of historical revisionism, of moral leniency, of effusive
forgiveness, of re-interpretation, and of a refusal to remember
in detail - leads to a repression and denial of the painful events
Summary Phase V
This final mismatch between the victim's emotional needs and
society's reactions is less damaging to the victim. He is now
more resilient, stronger, more flexible, and more willing to
forgive and forget. Society's denial is really a denial of the
victim. But, having ridden himself of more primitive narcissistic
defenses - the victim can do without society's acceptance, approval,
or look. Having endured the purgatory of grieving, he has now
re-acquired his self, independent of society's acknowledgement.
In light of recent events, the disaster
in Asia from the Tsunami, I would like to address how a NPD would
react to it. Most NPDs are attuned to how people react to events
and a NPD will either try to divert attention to themselves,
by changing the subject, or they will take over the discussion
becoming experts on the disaster and show more feeling than other
people. From my own experience in disasters, a NPD will be drawn
to the attention that the disaster creates; the media and people
who gather to it. Most people have a health mix of altruistic
and narcissistic (selfish) emotions and motivations. When an
altruistic person (dare I say a person suffering from altruistic
personality disorder?) goes to help others, they do so as a good
Samaritan without a thought to themselves or to gain. Altruism.
A NPD sees such situations as pure gain, as a place where they
can shine and be the star. They may not do much, but whenever
the TV cameras come out, the NPD will run towards them. They
will follow Winston Churchill6s example when he said, History
will be kind to me because I will write it. The impulse of narcissism
is always based on image building as well as control; you rarely
can have one without the other.
A by-product of disasters is the outpouring
of feeling for the victims that the NPD can turn towards them,
by interposing themselves between the givers and the needy. Again
we have the role of gate keeper that I have written about here.
One would expect to see NPDs involved with charities as well
as normal people. How can you tell? Just apply the DSM IV criteria
to anyone you meet in a charity and see if they meet jive.
I will share my own experiences in working
with refuges and volunteers in a disaster situation.
One volunteer was always there, willing
to do anything, and always escaping when the press showed up.
Other volunteers, who did great work, always were drawn to the
lights of the TV cameras.Ã‚Â
TV and narcissism Finally some volunteers only showed up
when the TV cameras were around and they disappeared when they
left. One woman arrived, in great style, announcing that she
would run the show and asked us to baby-sit her child c a week
after the disaster had started and after seeing TV reports. Ah
fame and glory are fleeting! Another volunteer was interviewed
after the disaster and re-historied the event, painting himself
as the sole hero. A NPD friend started wearing the same kind
of cloths I was wearing during the disaster, passing himself
off as a volunteer. So we have the workers, the near workers,
the show offs, the liar workers and the pure liars that make
up the range of NPD spectrum.
In his drive for Narcissistic Supply, would
the narcissist be callous enough to exploit the tragedy of others,
if this were to secure him a new Supply Source?
A narcissist, for instance, will give a
helping hand, console, guide, and encourage another person only
if that person is important, powerful, has access to other important
or powerful people, or to the media, or has a following - in
other words, only if the bereaved, one recovered, can provide
the narcissist with benefits or narcissistic supply.
The same applies if helping, consoling,
guiding, or encouraging that person is likely to win the narcissist
applause, approval, adoration, a following, or some other kind
of Narcissist Supply from on-lookers and witnesses to the interaction.
The act of helping another person must be documented and thus
transformed into narcissistic nourishment.
Otherwise the narcissist is not concerned
or interested in the problems and suffering of others. The narcissist
has no time or energy for anything, except for obtaining next
narcissistic fix, NO MATTER WHAT THE PRICE AND WHO IS TRAMPLED
Some narcissists are ostentatiously generous ÃƒÂ± they
donate to charity, lavish gifts on their closest, abundantly
provide for their nearest and dearest, and, in general, are open-handed
and unstintingly benevolent. How can this be reconciled with
the pronounced lack of empathy and with the pernicious self-preoccupation
that is so typical of narcissists?
The act of giving enhances the narcissist's sense of omnipotence,
his fantastic grandiosity, and the contempt he holds for others.
It is easy to feel superior to the supplicating recipients of
one's largesse. Narcissistic altruism is about exerting control
and maintaining it by fostering dependence in the beneficiaries.
But narcissists give for other reasons as well.
The narcissist flaunts his charitable nature as a bait. He
impresses others with his selflessness and kindness and thus
lures them into his lair, entraps them, and manipulates and brainwashes
them into subservient compliance and obsequious collaboration.
People are attracted to the narcissist's larger than life posture
ÃƒÂ± only to discover his true personality traits when it
is far too late. "Give a little to take a lot" ÃƒÂ±
is the narcissist's creed.
This does not prevent the narcissist from assuming the role
of the exploited victim. Narcissists always complain that life
and people are unfair to them and that they invest far more than
their "share of the profit". The narcissist feels that
he is the sacrificial lamb, the scapegoat, and that his relationships
are asymmetric and imbalanced. "She gets out of our marriage
far more than I do" ÃƒÂ± is a common refrain. Or: "I
do all the work around here ÃƒÂ± and they get all the perks
Faced with such (mis)perceived injustice ÃƒÂ± and once
the relationship is clinched and the victim is "hooked"
ÃƒÂ± the narcissist tries to minimize his contributions.
He regards his input as a contractual maintenance chore and the
unpleasant and inevitable price he has to pay for his Narcissistic
After many years of feeling deprived and wronged, some narcissists
lapse into "sadistic generosity" or "sadistic
altruism". They use their giving as a weapon to taunt and
torment the needy and to humiliate them. In the distorted thinking
of the narcissist, donating money gives him the right and license
to hurt, chastise, criticize, and berate the recipient. His generosity,
feels the narcissist, elevates him to a higher moral ground.
Most narcissists confine their giving to money and material
goods. Their munificence is an abusive defense mechanism, intended
to avoid real intimacy. Their "big-hearted" charity
renders all their relationships ÃƒÂ± even with their spouses
and children ÃƒÂ± "business-like", structured,
limited, minimal, non-emotional, unambiguous, and non-ambivalent.
By doling out bounteously, the narcissist "knows where he
stands" and does not feel threatened by demands for commitment,
emotional investment, empathy, or intimacy.
In the narcissist's wasteland of a life, even his benevolence
is spiteful, sadistic, punitive, and distancing.
Sam, I look forward to more dialogues during
2005. All the best to our readers, and hopefully they will escape
their NPD situations, and the NPDs will modify their behavior
Thank you, SM, for providing this forum
and for your thought-provoking and fresh perspectives on this
Last updated September 25, 2006