Narcissism FAQ: Narcissists in Positions of Authority

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Question:

Are Narcissists in position of authority more likely to take advantage of their patients/students/subordinates?

Answer:

Being in a position of authority secures the Sources of Narcissistic Supply. Fed by the awe, fear, subordination, admiration, adoration and obedience of his underlings – the narcissist thrives in such circumstances. The narcissist aspires to acquire authority by any means available to him. He may achieve this by making use of some outstanding traits or skills of his: intelligence, physical prowess, an asymmetry built into the relationship. The narcissistic medical doctor or mental health professional and his patients, the narcissistic guide, teacher, or mentor and his students, the narcissistic leader, guru, pundit, or psychic and his followers or admirers, or the narcissistic business tycoon, boss, or employer and his subordinates – all are instances of such asymmetries. The rich, powerful, more knowledgeable narcissist, the narcissist who is on the receiving end of such asymmetries – occupy a “Pathological Narcissistic Space”.

These types of relationships – based on the unidirectional and unilateral flow of Narcissistic Supply – border on abuse. The narcissist, in pursuit of an ever-increasing supply, of an ever-larger dose of adoration, and an ever-bigger fix of approval – gradually loses his moral constraints. With time, it gets harder to obtain Narcissistic Supply. The sources of such supply are human and they become weary, rebellious, tired, bored, disgusted, repelled, or plainly amused by the narcissist’s incessant dependence, his childish craving for attention, his exaggerated or even paranoid fears which lead to obsessive-compulsive behaviours. To secure their continued collaboration in the procurement of his much-needed supply – the narcissist might resort to emotional extortion, straight blackmail, abuse, or misuse of his authority.

The temptation to do so, though, is universal. No doctor is immune to the charms of certain female patients, nor are university professors non-sexual. What prevent them from immorally, cynically, callously and consistently abusing their position are moral imperatives deeply embedded in them through socialisation and empathy. They learned the difference between right and wrong and, having internalised it, they choose the right when they face a moral dilemma. They empathise with other human beings, “putting themselves in their shoes”, and refrain from doing unto others what they do not wish to be done to them.

It is in these two crucial points that narcissists differ from other humans.

Their socialisation process – usually the product of problematic early relationships with Primary Objects (parents, or caregivers) – is often perturbed and results in social dysfunctioning. And they are incapable of empathising: humans are there only to supply them with Narcissistic Supply. Those unfortunate humans who do not comply with this overriding dictum must be made to alter their ways and if even this fails, the narcissist loses interest in them and they are classified by him as “sub-human, animals, service-providers, functions, symbols” and worse, depending on his the taxonomic predilections. Hence the abrupt shifts from over-valuation to devaluation of others. While bearing the gifts of Narcissistic Supply – the Other is idealised by the narcissist. The narcissist shifts to the opposite pole (devaluation) when Narcissistic Supply dries up or when he estimates that it is about to.

As far as the narcissist is concerned, there is no moral dimension to the issue of abusing others – only a pragmatic one: will he be punished for doing so? The narcissist is atavistically motivated by fear and lacks any in-depth understanding of what it is to be a human being. Trapped in his pathology, the narcissist resembles an alien on drugs, a junkie of Narcissistic Supply devoid of the kind of language, which would render human emotions intelligible to him.

Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love, and runs the website Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited.Sam has served as the author of the Personality Disorders topic, Narcissistic Personality Disorder topic, the Verbal and Emotional Abuse topic, and the Spousal Abuse and Domestic Violence topic, Suite101.

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