Friday, November 5, 2004, fourth letter
I think we have hit our stride. I don't know if anyone
reads these letters, but they certainly let me let off some steam
in a constructive way, instead of destructive manner. In fact
that is what I would like to talk about in this letter. A TV
producer who had chanced upon my web site contacted me recently.
We talked over the phone and she wanted to know how I had suffered
from dealing with NPDs. I tried to answer as best I could but
felt a lump in my throat of self-pity. Thinking about the pain
and trauma brings back the pain and trauma.
So instead I started to wonder how I could illustrate what
narcissists' actions do to people. In order to do so, I think
a division has to be made between ordinary people and people
who are apt to suffer from co-dependency or victimhood.
An ordinary person who meets a narcissist will find them
to be marvelous and exciting people, and narcissists will work
at being just that, projecting an aura of power, sex, intellect
or whatever, to lure in their victim/supply. Now (I hate using
now but it is a way of saying wake up and smell the coffee as
Oprah likes to say) we all like to put our best foot forward.
How many people go and insult someone, or tell him or her what
he or she really feels about the person he or she just met or
even old friends? It is not in human nature to be truthful (or
at least to tell white lies). How then is a narcissist different?
Do you hear that sucking sound, that is their black hole of an
ego drawing you into their world where they will then manipulate
and play with you. It can be a small sucking sound or a tornado
depending on the individual narcissist and how they are feeling
that day. On off days, a narcissist will be a bit cranky, but
when they hit their stride, Casey lower the boom! So the ordinary
person, if they don't suspect anything abnormal, will say, "Gee
whiz, what a nice person!" And the narcissist will draw
them slowly into their web of lies and deceit.
Most normal people have the option of walking away at this
point. Like the one that got away, narcissists don't always get
a bite on their lure as they fish for victims. In some cases,
the narcissist will place themselves in such a position of power
so that they force people to pay attention to them, and the narcissist
can "play" with the normal person knowing full well
they have this power over another. In social situations, the
normal person can walk away but in work or in a situation where
there is a need to obtain something from the narcissist, then
the dyad is in place. Unwittingly, normal people can cooperate
with narcissists. I could give you lots of cases of this, but
the more dramatic ones make a bigger impact. Ted Bundy was defended
by his fellow students and teachers when he was accused of rape
in Colorado. He escaped to Florida where he went on a rampage
Another rapist killer in Houston who they calculate sometimes
took only 15 seconds to find and kill his victims is soon to
be paroled. The system was used by this monster and no one seems
to want to stand up and say, no way JosÈ is this monster
going to be let loose to kill again! In Canada a young couple
drugged, tortured and killed young girls. The wife pleaded that
her husband had abused her, but later evidence contradicted her
story. Soon she will be released because normal people believed
her, even now the prison psychologists say she has shown no remorse
for allegedly helping rape and kill her own sister! All of this
is on video tape, by the way. But there is a blind spot on Canadian
culture that prevents it from looking at itself - does this sound
Now victims who are predisposed to be used by narcissists
react two different ways.
They either immediately bond with the NPD, without the
need for a long drawn our seduction, or they react violently
or refuse the narcissist's advances. I saw the later reaction
in someone I know and we finally analyzed it as revulsion towards
the primary narcissist in their lives, who they could not leave
because of co-dependency, even when they saw in another person
the same type of actions and seduction. Once the victim is locked
into a narcissist-victim dyad/couple, then it takes years of
therapy or death to rid the victim of this dependency. Why dependency?
You and others have called Narcissistic Supply what a victim
give the narcissist: attention, subjugation, submission, adoration
etc. The victim must also have some kind of satisfaction from
being the supplier? How can we not see this in the adulation
of stars and even politicians? Is there something in the human
brain that is triggered by the narcissist? In dogs, the leader
is adulated and followed around, and the lower pack members find
this satisfying, as if they are puppies and the alphas are the
mother and father. Is this then the reason? I call the narcissist
a big child, but when he or she bullies and commands others,
the group they are in may see them as being mature and powerful.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease. As always.
In both cases of victimhood, either the transitory one
of the normal person and the more long term or imbricated one
of the victim, can we speak of "pain and suffering"?
In Europe and especially France the concept of emotional harassment
in the work place has gained acceptance. At the same time in
France a crime de passion, where someone goes crazy temporarily
- even a Narcissistic Rage episode, is still accepted as a defense
for someone who has committed murder. The crime of passion in
France is normal, as they are a passionate people, or so they
say. Statistics from Durex condoms point to a lot of passion.
Back to harassment or 'harcellement' as the French call it. They
have established certain norms of behavior that constitute behavior
that is toxic to the worker.
If we consider the toxic nature of pain and suffering,
I think we are firmer ground. A toxic substance will eventually
lead to death. In other words, the narcissist is trying to kill
people with his or her behavior - to put it bluntly. If we look
at larger than life psychotic narcissists like Adolph Hitler
then it becomes obvious what this means. The total control of
a dictator or a narcissist means every one is an extension to
be cut off, or destroyed if found lacking. The self-hate of a
narcissist ends up being transferred to the other, and the other
is you and I. Am I right Sam? Or is this an overstatement?
We discussed the dyad that the narcissist forms with his victim
at length in our second
Still, I would like to add a few aspects and dimensions to
this abnormal - yet often protracted and seemingly mutually gratifying!
- interaction of predator and prey.
Like you, I believe that narcissism is a clarion call. The
narcissists responds to and resonates with the deepest emotional
needs of his hapless victims. The healthier the potential prey,
the more he or she are able to resist the narcissist's lure.
Sharing one's life with a narcissist is often akin to undergoing
torture - it has the same psychodynamic outcomes, even if the
abuse is merely verbal or emotional.
Let me explain what I mean. I draw a parallel between one's
physiological body and one's private spaces (home, family, workplace).
Violating the latter is very much like violating the former.
There is one place in which one's privacy, intimacy, integrity
and inviolability are guaranteed ñ one's body, a unique
temple and a familiar territory of sensa and personal history.
The torturer invades, defiles and desecrates this shrine. He
does so publicly, deliberately, repeatedly and, often, sadistically
and sexually, with undisguised pleasure. Hence the all-pervasive,
long-lasting, and, frequently, irreversible effects and outcomes
In a way, the torture victim's own body is rendered his worse
enemy. It is corporeal agony that compels the sufferer to mutate,
his identity to fragment, his ideals and principles to crumble.
The body becomes an accomplice of the tormentor, an uninterruptible
channel of communication, a treasonous, poisoned territory.
It fosters a humiliating dependency of the abused on the perpetrator.
Bodily needs denied ñ sleep, toilet, food, water ñ
are wrongly perceived by the victim as the direct causes of his
degradation and dehumanization. As he sees it, he is rendered
bestial not by the sadistic bullies around him but by his own
As I said, the concept of "body" can easily be extended
to "family", or "home". Torture is often
applied to kin and kith, compatriots, or colleagues. This intends
to disrupt the continuity of "surroundings, habits, appearance,
relations with others", as the CIA put it in one of its
manuals. A sense of cohesive self-identity depends crucially
on the familiar and the continuous. By attacking both one's biological
body and one's "social body", the victim's psyche is
strained to the point of dissociation.
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 ñ that which allows
for a sense of relativity ñ 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 ñ 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 ñ the inflicter of agony. The
twin processes of individuation and separation are reversed.
Which leads back to your observations - to the peculiar and
powerful bond between abuser and abused.
The Stockholm Syndrome
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 ñ 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 ñ very much
as self-mutilators do ñ 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 ñ both in nightmares and in waking moments.
The victim's ability to trust other people ñ i.e., to
assume that their motives are at least rational, if not necessarily
benign ñ 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 ñ 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 ñ 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' ñ 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.
But "trauma bonding" is only one aspect of the complex
interaction between the narcissist and his victims. Relationships
with narcissists are cult-like: a charismatic leader surrounded
by obedient, robotic, and admiring followers whose judgment is
Shared Psychosis (Follies a Deux)
The narcissist is the guru at the center of a cult. Like other
gurus, he demands complete obedience from his flock: his spouse,
his offspring, other family members, friends, and colleagues.
He feels entitled to adulation and special treatment by his followers.
He punishes the wayward and the straying lambs. He enforces discipline,
adherence to his teachings, and common goals. The less accomplished
he is in reality ñ
the more stringent his mastery and the more pervasive the brainwashing.
The ñ often involuntary
ñ members of the narcissist's
mini-cult inhabit a twilight zone of his own construction. He
imposes on them a shared psychosis, replete with persecutory
delusions, "enemies", mythical narratives, and apocalyptic
scenarios if he is flouted.
The narcissist's control is based on ambiguity, unpredictability,
fuzziness, and ambient
abuse. His ever-shifting whims exclusively define right versus
wrong, desirable and unwanted, what is to be pursued and what
to be avoided. He alone determines the rights and obligations
of his disciples and alters them at will.
The narcissist is a micro-manager. He exerts control over
the minutest details and behaviors. He punishes severely and
abuses withholders of information and those who fail to conform
to his wishes and goals.
The narcissist does not respect the boundaries and privacy
of his reluctant adherents. He ignores their wishes and treats
them as objects or instruments of gratification. He seeks to
control both situations and people compulsively.
He strongly disapproves of others' personal autonomy and independence.
Even innocuous activities, such as meeting a friend or visiting
one's family require his permission. Gradually, he isolates his
nearest and dearest until they are fully dependent on him emotionally,
sexually, financially, and socially.
He acts in a patronizing and condescending manner and criticizes
often. He alternates between emphasizing the minutest faults
(devalues) and exaggerating the talents, traits, and skills (idealizes)
of the members of his cult. He is wildly unrealistic in his expectations
ñ which legitimizes
his subsequent abusive conduct.
The narcissist claims to be infallible, superior, talented,
skillful, omnipotent, and omniscient. He often lies and confabulates
to support these unfounded claims. Within his cult, he expects
awe, admiration, adulation, and constant attention commensurate
with his outlandish stories and assertions. He reinterprets reality
to fit his fantasies.
His thinking is dogmatic, rigid, and doctrinaire. He does
not countenance free thought, pluralism, or free speech and doesn't
brook criticism and disagreement. He demands ñ
and often gets ñ complete
trust and the relegation to his capable hands of all decision-making.
He forces the participants in his cult to be hostile to critics,
the authorities, institutions, his personal enemies, or the media
ñ if they try to uncover
his actions and reveal the truth. He closely monitors and censors
information from the outside, exposing his captive audience only
to selective data and analyses.
The narcissist's cult is "missionary" and "imperialistic".
He is always on the lookout for new recruits ñ
his spouse's friends, his daughter's girlfriends, his neighbors,
new colleagues at work. He immediately attempts to "convert"
them to his "creed" ñ
to convince them how wonderful and admirable he is. In other
words, he tries to render them Sources of Narcissistic Supply.
Often, his behavior on these "recruiting missions"
is different to his conduct within the "cult". In the
first phases of wooing new admirers and proselytizing to potential
the narcissist is attentive, compassionate, empathic, flexible,
self-effacing, and helpful. At home, among the "veterans"
he is tyrannical, demanding, willful, opinionated, aggressive,
As the leader of his congregation, the narcissist feels entitled
to special amenities and benefits not accorded the "rank
and file". He expects to be waited on hand and foot, to
make free use of everyone's money and dispose of their assets
liberally, and to be cynically exempt from the rules that he
himself established (if such violation is pleasurable or gainful).
In extreme cases, the narcissist feels above the law ñ any kind of law. This
grandiose and haughty conviction leads to criminal acts, incestuous
or polygamous relationships, and recurrent friction with the
Hence the narcissist's panicky and sometimes violent reactions
to "dropouts" from his cult. There's a lot going on
that the narcissist wants kept under wraps. Moreover, the narcissist
stabilizes his fluctuating sense of self-worth by deriving Narcissistic
Supply from his victims. Abandonment threatens the narcissist's
precariously balanced personality.
Add to that the narcissist's paranoid
and schizoid tendencies, his lack of introspective
self-awareness, and his stunted
sense of humor (lack of self-deprecation) and the risks to
the grudging members of his cult are clear.
As we discussed in our second dialog, victims can expect very
little help from society. Being traumatized, they are often rendered
dysfunctional and are labeled by the system as "problematic".
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
We react to serious mishaps, life altering setbacks, disasters,
abuse, and death by going through the phases of grieving. Traumas
are the complex outcomes of psychodynamic and biochemical processes.
But the particulars of traumas depend heavily on the interaction
between the victim and his social milieu.
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.
Ok, I said I would talk about pain with you. No doubt you
know how to inflict it on others, and if so, how? My experiences
are different from other victims, but I think there is common
ground. When I read the e-mails people send me and the tons of
mail they send you, I get the distinct impression there is a
lot of suffering going on.
Maybe I can break it down into different categories. Let
us start with self esteem which should be linked with the concept
of self as a space. Narcissists invade you and destroy you from
within like termites! (Like that Metaphor, Sam?)
1) Loss of self esteem and pain from exposure to someone
a) Negative influence of the narcissist on your self-esteem.
Think of them as the eternal critic, but only of others. The
narcissist is essentially a person with a negative force, i.e.
they feed on other people's goodness and efforts and suck them
dry emotionally, financially and spiritually. They give back
a negative image of yourself to you so you are left thinking
that you are a bad person, while they are good people.
a. If they commit a crime, they will shift the blame to
b. If they feel bad about something, they will find someone
c. They enjoy criticizing others even humiliating them
in public but will never allow that to happen to them.
d. As in the story of Cinderella, the ugly stepdaughters
will bring down the beautiful or more intelligent person with
snide remarks and off color comments, so that they will look
e. They will take credit for someone else's work while
they denounce or discredit the person behind their back.
f. They will steal your ideas, your life, your wife and
kids by seduction and pure malice.
g. They will physically intimidate you, pushing or kicking
you but only when other people are not looking. They may also
have other people do their dirty work, so that they look good.
b) NPDs do not respect your personal space. Think of them
as little Hitlers, invading every country around them. The narcissist
does not respect anyone's boundaries or privacy. Your life, thoughts
and needs are unimportant. Only what you can do for them is noticed
and rewarded, rarely. The invasion of your privacy can take the
form of information sharing, of forced physical intimacy, and
of down right control. You are expected to think like them, to
dress like them, even to talk and walk like them. You are essentially
a slave to their whims, and you have no consent to give them,
and they will give you no apologies for their behavior. You are
at fault, never the narcissist. The pain of loss, of money and
of social standing, feeling of worth is devastating for victims
who are at a loss as to why the narcissist has gone from wonderful
a. In religious cult communities, the leader is all knowing
and all good - the leader can sin and fornicate and order you
to take poison if they so wish - while you are just an adjunct
to their ego trip. Example; Jonestown where the reverend Jones
ordered his followers, men, women and children to take cyanic
laced lemonade. The comet cult people who self castrated themselves
and then committed mass suicide. The UFO cult leader requires
his followers to tithe to him their incomes, and practice free
sex - reserving the best looking women for him.
b. They believe that you are attracted to them, they will
force their attentions on you to the point where you may think
they are actually border line, but in the case of a narcissist,
they do not go into the I want you go away cycle of emotional
intercourse. For the somatic, or sexual narcissist, you must
do what they want, you must want them, and they will not accept
a no for an answer.
c. The narcissist neighbor who comes over to borrow or
lend you tools soon starts to tell you how to take care of your
lawn, then your house and soon he is indispensable, even taking
care of your house while you are gone, with you leaving the keys
with him or her. An example of this behavior happened recently
in Georgia where a woman went off for two weeks vacation to Greece
and returned to find a woman had moved into her house, lock stock
d. A narcissist thief believes they are owed by society,
because they are so wonderful, so they take from other people,
from their houses, and eventually they will shop lift goods from
stores. Remember, everything is just an extension of them, so
a NPD is not stealing, just taking what is owed them.
e. A thief breaks into your home and steals the movies
of your child growing up, as well as the TV and camera. The narcissist
tells you not to mention this to her, because it doesn't fit
into the picture of the life she has created. The narcissist
neighbor tells you not to blame 'his' neighborhood (he knew about
the rash of break-ins but didn't want anyone to know because
he did not want the neighborhood to get a bad reputation that
would reflect onto him).
f. If you tell a neighbor a secret, it will soon be all
over the neighborhood or workplace. They are invertebrate gossips,
but only of other people's failings, never their own. They will
warm up to you, and wheedle out a juicy tidbit to use against
you later. They see no wrong in this ruining other people's reputations.
They are sunshine friends - gone when the going gets tough.
I am running out of pain, and I think you have enough to
reply to for now.
You paint the narcissist as a closet sadist - and, in a way,
you are right. You are again correct in observing that narcissists
have alloplastic defenses - they tend to blame others for their
failures and misfortunes. The list you have compiled is far from
being exhaustive. Narcissists are very creative in devising novel
methods to torture others.
So, yes, 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 - actually ENJOY
abusing, taunting, tormenting, and freakishly controlling others
by proxy). 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 defense 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, and, sometimes, 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. Narcissism
Having constructed this writhing
hall of human mirrors, the narcissist withdraws. The goal achieved,
he lets go. As opposed to the sadist, he is not in it, indefinitely, 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,
the narcissist purifies himself, cathartically, and exorcises
his demented self.
This accomplished, he acts almost
with remorse. An episode of extreme abuse is followed
by an act 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 in 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 same emotional
wasteland inhabited by the narcissist, his prisoners and hostages
in more ways than one - and even when he is long out of their
self-flagellation is a characteristic of those who choose to
live with a narcissist (for a choice it is). Constant feelings
of guilt, self-reproach, self-recrimination and, thus, self-punishment
characterize the relationships formed between the sadist-narcissist
and the masochistic-dependent mate or partner.
As I said, the narcissist is
early on, he was forced into expressing his own guilt and self-reproach
in this manner. His Superego is unpredictable, capricious, arbitrary,
judgemental, cruel, and self-annihilating (suicidal). Externalising
these internal traits is a way of alleviating internal conflicts
and fears generated by the narcissist's inner turmoil.
The narcissist projects this
"civil war" and drags everyone around him into a swirl
of bitterness, suspiciousness, meanness, aggression and pettiness.
His life is a reflection of his psychological landscape: barren,
paranoiac, tormented, guilt ridden. He feels compelled to do
unto others what he inflicts upon himself. He gradually transforms
his closest, nearest and dearest into replicas of his conflictive,
punishing personality structure.
It is important to understand
that, to the narcissist, intimacy IS abuse! Love IS abuse! Emotions
It is an established
fact that abuse ñ verbal, psychological, emotional,
physical, and sexual ñ co-occurs with intimacy. Most reported
offenses are between intimate partners and between parents and
children. This defies common sense. Emotionally, it should be
easier to batter, molest, assault, or humiliate a total stranger.
It's as if intimacy CAUSES abuse, incubates and
And, in a way, it does.
Many abusers believe that their abusive conduct fosters, enhances,
and cements their intimate relationships. To them, pathological
jealousy is proof of love, possessiveness replaces mature bonding,
and battering is a form of paying attention to the partner and
communicating with her.
Such habitual offenders do not know any better. They were
often raised in families,
societies, and cultures where abuse is condoned outright
ñ or, at least, not frowned upon. Maltreatment of one's
significant others is part of daily life, as inevitable as the
weather, a force of nature.
Intimacy is often perceived to include a license to abuse.
The abuser treats his nearest, dearest, and closest as mere objects,
instruments of gratification, utilities, or extensions of himself.
He feels that he "owns" his spouse, girlfriend, lovers,
children, parents, siblings, or colleagues. As the owner, he
has the right to "damage the goods" or even dispose
of them altogether.
Most abusers are scared of real intimacy and deep commitment.
They lead a "pretend", confabulated
life. Their "love" and "relationships"
are gaudy, fake imitations. The abuser seeks to put a distance
between himself and those who truly love him, who cherish and
value him as a human being, who enjoy his company, and who strive
to establish a long-term, meaningful relationship with him.
Abuse, in other words, is a reaction to the perceived threat
of looming intimacy, aimed at fending it off, intended to decimate
closeness, tenderness, affection, and compassion before they
thrive and consume the abuser. Abuse is a panic reaction. The
batterer, the molester, are scared out of their wits ñ
they feel entrapped, imprisoned, shackled, and insidiously altered.
Lashing out in blind and violent rage they punish the perceived
perpetrators of intimacy. The more obnoxiously they behave, the
less the risk of lifelong bondage. The more heinous their acts,
the safer they feel. Battering, molesting, raping, berating,
taunting ñ are all forms of reasserting lost control.
In the abuser's thwarted mind, abuse equals mastery and continued,
painless, emotionally numbed, survival.
Granted, some narcissists are
more subtle than others. They disguise their sadism. For instance,
they "educate" their family members or friends (for
their sake, as they present it). This ìeducationî
is compulsive, obsessive, incessantly, harshly and unduly critical.
Its effect is to erode the subject, to humiliate, to create dependence,
to intimidate, to restrain, to control, to paralyse.
The victim of such "edification"
internalises the endless hectoring and humiliating criticism
and makes them his own. She begins to see justice where there
is only twisted logic based on crooked assumptions. She begins
to self-punish, to withhold, to request approval prior to any
action, to forgo her preferences and priorities, to erase her
own identity ñ hoping to thus avoid the excruciating pains
of the narcissist's destructive analyses.
Other narcissists are less sophisticated
and they use all manner of abuse to domesticate their kin and
partners in life. This includes physical
violence (during intensive rage attacks), psychological
abuse, brutal "honesty", sick or offending humour,
and so on.
And then there is the inexorable
economics of Narcissistic Supply.
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 ñ because of
disillusion, a fight, an act, inaction, or a mood
ñ 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.
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, he often inflicts great (physical or mental)
pain on meaningful others in his life ñ and he enjoys
their writhing and suffering. In this restricted sense he is
To support his sense of uniqueness, greatness
and (cosmic) significance, he is often hypervigilant. If he falls
from grace ñ he attributes it to dark forces out to destroy
him. If his sense of entitlement is not satisfied and he is ignored
by others ñ 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 ñ 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 ñ 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 ñ the drug which narcissists
consume and which consumes them in return.
I have composed my own list of abusive behaviors to augment
Narcissistic abusers exploit,
lie, insult, demean, ignore (the "silent treatment"),
manipulate, and control.
There are many ways to abuse.
To love too much is to abuse. It is tantamount to treating someone
as an extension, an object, or an instrument of gratification.
To be over-protective, not to respect privacy, to be brutally
honest, with a sadistic sense of humor, or consistently tactless
is to abuse.
To expect too much, to denigrate,
to ignore ñ
are all modes of abuse. There is physical abuse, verbal abuse,
psychological abuse, sexual abuse. The list is long. Most abusers abuse surreptitiously.
They are "stealth abusers". You have to actually live
with one in order to witness the abuse.
There are three important categories
The open and explicit abuse of
another person. Threatening, coercing, beating, lying, berating,
demeaning, chastising, insulting, humiliating, exploiting, ignoring
("silent treatment"), devaluing, unceremoniously discarding,
verbal abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse are all forms of
Covert or Controlling
Abuse is almost entirely
about control. It is often a primitive and immature reaction
to life circumstances in which the abuser (usually in his
childhood) was rendered helpless. It is about re-exerting one's
identity, re-establishing predictability, mastering the environment
human and physical.
The bulk of abusive behaviors
can be traced to this panicky reaction to the remote potential
for loss of control. Many abusers are hypochondriacs
(and difficult patients) because they are afraid to lose control
over their body, its looks and its proper functioning. They are
obsessive-compulsive in an effort to subdue their physical habitat
and render it foreseeable. They stalk people and harass
them as a means of "being in touch" ñ another form of control.
To the abuser, nothing exists outside
himself. Meaningful others are extensions, internal,
assimilated, objects ñ not external ones. Thus, losing control
over a significant other ñ is equivalent to losing control of a
limb, or of one's brain. It is terrifying.
Independent or disobedient people
evoke in the abuser the realization that something is wrong
with his worldview, that he is not the centre of the world or
its cause and that he cannot control what, to him, are internal
To the abuser, losing control
means going insane. Because other people are mere elements in
the abuser's mind ñ being unable to manipulate them literally
means losing it (his mind). Imagine, if you suddenly were to
find out that you cannot manipulate your memories or control
your thoughts... Nightmarish!
In his frantic efforts to maintain
control or re-assert it, the abuser resorts to a myriad
of fiendishly inventive stratagems and mechanisms. Here is a
The abuser acts unpredictably,
capriciously, inconsistently and irrationally. This serves to
render others dependent upon the next twist and turn of the abuser,
his next inexplicable whim, upon his next outburst, denial, or
The abuser makes sure that
HE is the only reliable element in
the lives of his nearest and dearest ñ by shattering the rest of their world
through his seemingly insane behavior. He perpetuates his
stable presence in their lives ñ by destabilizing their own.
One of the favorite tools of
manipulation in the abuser's arsenal is the disproportionality
of his reactions. He reacts with supreme rage to the slightest
slight. Or, he would punish severely for what he perceives to
be an offence against him, no matter how minor. Or, he would
throw a temper tantrum over any discord or disagreement, however
gently and considerately expressed. Or, he would act inordinately
attentive, charming and tempting (even over-sexed, if need be).
This ever-shifting code of conduct and
the unusually harsh and arbitrarily applied penalties
are premeditated. The victims are kept in the dark. Neediness
and dependence on the source of "justice" meted
and judgment passed ñ on the abuser ñ are thus guaranteed.
People have a need to believe
in the empathic skills and basic good-heartedness of others.
By dehumanizing and objectifying people ñ the abuser attacks the very foundations
of human interaction. This is the "alien" aspect of
they may be excellent imitations of fully formed adults but they
are emotionally absent and immature.
Abuse is so horrid, so repulsive,
so phantasmagoric ñ that people recoil in terror. It is
then, with their defenses absolutely down, that they are the
most susceptible and vulnerable to the abuser's control. Physical,
psychological, verbal and sexual abuse are all forms of dehumanization
Abuse of Information
From the first moments of an
encounter with another person, the abuser is on the prowl.
He collects information. The more he knows about his potential
the better able he is to coerce, manipulate, charm, extort or
convert it "to the cause". The abuser does not
hesitate to misuse the information he gleaned, regardless of
its intimate nature or the circumstances in which he obtained
it. This is a powerful tool in his armory.
The abuser engineers impossible,
dangerous, unpredictable, unprecedented, or highly specific situations
in which he is sorely needed. The abuser makes sure that his
knowledge, his skills, his connections, or his traits are
the only ones applicable and the most useful in the situations
that he, himself, wrought. The abuser generates his
Control by Proxy
If all else fails, the abuser
recruits friends, colleagues, mates, family members, the authorities,
institutions, neighbours, the media, teachers ñ in short, third parties ñ to do his bidding. He uses them to cajole,
coerce, threaten, stalk, offer, retreat, tempt, convince, harass,
communicate and otherwise manipulate his target. He controls
these unaware instruments exactly as he plans to control his
ultimate prey. He employs the same mechanisms and devices. And
he dumps his props unceremoniously when the job is done.
Another form of control by proxy
is to engineer situations in which abuse is inflicted upon another
person. Such carefully crafted scenarios of embarrassment
and humiliation provoke social sanctions (condemnation, opprobrium,
or even physical punishment) against the victim. Society, or
a social group become the instruments of the abuser.
The fostering, propagation and
enhancement of an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, instability,
unpredictability and irritation. There are no acts of traceable
explicit abuse, nor any manipulative settings of control. Yet,
the irksome feeling remains, a disagreeable foreboding, a premonition,
a bad omen. This is sometimes called "gaslighting".
In the long term, such an environment
erodes the victim's sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
Self-confidence is shaken badly. Often, the victim adopts a paranoid
or schizoid stance and thus renders himself or herself exposed
even more to criticism and judgment. The roles are thus reversed:
the victim is considered mentally deranged and the abuser
the suffering soul.
Last updated September 25, 2006