Narcissism FAQ: The Narcissist as Sadist

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Question:

You mention three different types of victims of the narcissist. What things would cause a narcissist to victimize a significant other sadistically versus just discarding them when no longer useful?

Answer:

The narcissist simply discards people when he becomes convinced that they can no longer provide him with Narcissistic Supply. This is an evaluation, subjective and highly emotionally charged. It does not have to be grounded in reality. Suddenly – because of boredom, disagreement, disillusion, a fight, an act, inaction, or a mood – the narcissist wildly swings from idealisation to devaluation. He then “disconnects” immediately. He needs all the energy that he can muster to obtain new Sources of Narcissistic Supply and would rather not spend these scarce and expensive resources over what he regards as human refuse, the waste left by the process of extraction of Narcissistic Supply.

A narcissist would tend to display the sadistic aspect of his personality in one of two cases:

1. That the very acts of sadism would generate Narcissistic Supply to be consumed by the narcissist (“I inflict pain, therefore I am superior”) or

2. 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 it. 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.

The narcissist is not a sadist or a paranoiac, per se. He does not enjoy the application of pain to his victims. He does not believe firmly that he is the focal point of persecution and the target of conspiracy. But he does enjoy punishing himself – it provides him with a sense of relief, exoneration and validation. In this restricted sense he is a masochist. Because of his lack of empathy and his rigid personality he often inflicts great (physical or mental) pain on meaningful others in his life – 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 afraid of his environment in a manner incommensurate with the facts. If he fell from grace – he would attribute it to dark forces in collusion to destroy him. If his sense of entitlement is not satisfied – he would attribute it to the fear that he invokes in others and to their intentional ignoring of his grandness. In these restricted ways, he is a paranoid.

The narcissist is an artist of pain as much as any sadist. The difference between them is in their motivation. The narcissist tortures and abuses as a means to punish and to reassert superiority and grandiosity. The sadist does so for pure (usually, sexual) enjoyment. 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, and rigid.

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, involves her in his paranoid states 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 – and this is a partial list. Very often, the narcissist acts sadistically in the guise of 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 to her need of guidance, 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 an irreversible damage occurs. The victim is then free to rebuild her life from ruins. Not an easy undertaking, this – but far better than the total obliteration which awaits the victims of the “true” sadist.

If one had to distil the quotidian existence of the Narcissist in two pithy sentences, I would say:

The Narcissist loves to be hated hates to be loved.

Hate is the complement of fear and narcissists like being feared. It imbues them with an intoxicating sensation of omnipotence.

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 devoid of scruples, capricious and unfathomable, emotion-less and non-sexual, omniscient, omnipotent and omni-present, 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 generators of attention. It is all about narcissistic supply, of course – 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 – nay, NEED – to be punished. In the grotesque mind of the narcissist, his punishment is equally his vindication. By being permanently on trial, the narcissist 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 qualities. To conform to the cultural stereotype of the “tormented 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 wouldn’t have persecuted me so”. The persecution of the narcissist IS his uniqueness. He must be different, for better or for worse.

The streak of paranoia embedded in him, makes this outcome inevitable. The Narcissist is in constant conflict with lesser beings: his spouse, his shrink, his boss, his colleagues. Forced to stoop to their intellectual level, the narcissist feels like Gulliver: a giant strapped by Lilliputians. His life is a constant struggle against the self-contented mediocrity of his surroundings. This is his fate which he accepts, though never stoically. It is a calling, a mission and a recurrence in 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. The contrast between his cosmic fantasies and the reality of his dependence, neediness and, often, failure (the “Grandiosity Gap”) is an emotionally corroding experience. It is a constant background noise of devilish, demeaning laughter. 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 – sometimes consciously – 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 fraud that is my life. I will go out and seek my doom. Now that I have complied – will you leave me be? Will you leave me alone”?

Of course, they never do.

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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