Narcissism FAQ: The Narcissistic Pendulum

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Question:

The behaviour of Narcissists is very inconsistent. It is as though two distinct personalities inhabit the same body simultaneously. How could this be explained?

Answer:

The narcissist is chronically depressed and anhedonic (finds no pleasure in life). Unable to love and in the long run (as a result) unloved – the narcissist is ever in the pursuit of excitement and drama intended to alleviate his all-pervasive boredom and melancholy. Needless to say that both the pursuit itself and its goals must conform to the grandiose vision that the narcissist has of his (False) Self. They must be commensurate with his vision of his uniqueness and entitlement.

The process of seeking excitement and drama cannot be demeaning, debasing, humiliating, belittling or mundane. The excitement and drama thus obtained must be truly special, unique, ground breaking, breathtaking, overwhelming, unprecedented, and, under no circumstances, routine. Actually, the very dramatisation is intended to secure ego-syntony. “Surely, the dramatic is special, meaningful, eternal, memorable” – says the narcissist to himself – “Just like me. I MYSELF AM DRAMATIC (therefore I exist).” The narcissist – always a pathological liar and the chief victim of his own contraptions and deceit – can (and does) deceive himself into endowing the pursuit and its achievements with these properties of cosmic uniqueness. The whole complex: existential boredom, self-directed aggression (depression), compulsive pursuit of excitement and titillating drama, the results of such chases – is called “Narcissistic Supply (NS)”.

The processes of obtaining, preserving, accumulating and recalling Narcissistic Supply – take place in the “Pathological Narcissistic Space (PNS)”. This is an imaginary environment, invented by the narcissist. It has clear geographical and physical boundaries: a home, a neighbourhood, a city, a country. Within it, the narcissist strives to maximise the amount of Narcissistic Supply that he derives from the human inhabitants of the PNS. Within it he seeks admiration, adoration, approval, applause, or, as a minimum: attention. If not fame – then notoriety. If not real achievements – then contrived or imagined ones. If not real distinction – then concocted and forced “uniqueness”. The provision of NS within the PNS substitutes for real vocation, realistic achievements, real-life intimacy and attachments. The narcissist is aware of this substitutive nature, of his inability to get “The Real Thing”. His permanent existence in fantasyland – intended to shield him from his self-destructive urges – paradoxically only enhances them. This state of things makes him feel sad, enraged at his helplessness in the face of his disorder, and at the discrepancy between his delusions of grandeur and reality. It is the engine of his growing disappointment and disillusionment, his anhedonia and impotence, his degeneration and ultimate ugly decadence. The narcissist ages disgracefully, ungraciously. He is not a seemly sight as his defences crumble and harsh reality invades: the reality of his self-imposed mediocrity and waste of life. His psyche is permeated by these flickers of sanity, these reminders of his downhill path. The more fiercely he combats these invaders of realistic appraisal – the more ubiquitous they become. Infiltrated by the Trojan Horses of his intelligence and consciousness – the narcissistic defences are bound to be overwhelmed. When they are – either spontaneous healing or a breakdown follow.

Alas, the PNS is inhabited by humans (otherwise, it won’t do – who will applaud, admire, adore, approve and attend to the narcissist?). Extracting NS from them calls for emotional and cognitive investments, stability, perseverance, long term presence, attachment, collaboration, emotional agility and so on. But all these preconditions contradict the deeply ingrained conviction of the narcissist that he is entitled to special and immediate preferential treatment. The narcissist expects to be instantaneously recognised as outstanding, talented, special, even unique. He does not see why this recognition should depend on his achievements and efforts. He feels that he is unique by virtue of his sheer existence. He feels that his very life is meaningful, that it encapsulates some cosmic message or process. Narcissistic Supply obtained through the investment of efforts, time, money and energy – is normal, regular, to be expected, routine, mundane. In short: it is useless. The REAL NS is obtained miraculously, dramatically, excitingly, surprisingly, shockingly, unexpectedly – and simply by virtue of the narcissist being there. No action is called for, as far as the narcissist is concerned. Cajoling, requesting, initiating, convincing, demonstrating – are all acts which starkly contrast with the grandiose illusions of the narcissist.

Additionally, the narcissist simply CANNOT engage in certain patterns of behaviour, even if he wants to. He cannot get attached, be intimate, persevere, be stable, predictable, or reliable. This is contrary to the second most important mechanism in the narcissistic personality: the Emotional Involvement Prevention Measures (EIPM). This is a group of destabilising behaviours intended to forestall future emotional pain inflicted on the narcissist by being abandoned or by failing. If he does not get attached – he cannot be hurt. If not intimate – he cannot be emotionally (or otherwise) blackmailed. If he does not persevere – he has nothing to lose. If he does not stay put – he cannot be expelled. If he rejects or abandons – he cannot be rejected or abandoned. The narcissist anticipates the inevitable schisms and emotional abysses in a life fraught with gross dishonesty. He shoots first. Indeed, it is only when he is physically mobile and besieged by problems – that the narcissist has a respite from his addiction to NS.

This is the basic conflict of the narcissist. The two mechanisms underlying his distorted personality are incompatible. One calls for the establishment of a PNS and for the continuous derivation of gratification from it. The other urges the narcissist not to embark on any long-term project, to move, to disconnect, to dissociate. Only humans can provide the narcissist with his badly needed doses of NS. But it is with humans that he is loth to communicate and to associate in an emotionally meaningful way. The narcissist lacks the basic skills that he needs in order to obtain his drugs. The very people who are supposed to sustain his grandiose fantasies through their adoration and attention – mostly find him too repulsive, eccentric (weird) or dangerous to interact with. This predicament can be aptly called “The Narcissistic Condition”.

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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