Do Narcissists feel guilty and if so, do they ever repent?
I have been often accused of being too harsh on the narcissist, of being too “nasty”. The truth is that it is impossible to pass moral judgement over him. The narcissist has no “mens rea”, though plenty of “acti rei”. He does not victimise, plunder, terrorise and abuse others in a cold, calculating manner. He does so offhandedly, as a manifestation of his genuine character. To be obnoxious one needs to have intention, to deliberate, to contemplate one’s acts and then to choose. There is no ethical or moral judgement possible without an act of choice.
The narcissist’s perception of his life and his existence is discontinuous. The narcissist is a walking compilation of “people”, each with his own personal history. The narcissist does not feel that he is, in any way, related to his former “selves”. He, therefore, does not understand WHY he has to be punished for someone else’s actions.
Societal punishment coupled with the narcissist’s detachment from his former selves – breeds in him surprise, hurt and rage. The narcissist is surprised by society’s insistence that he should be punished for his deeds and be held responsible for them. He feels wronged, hurt, affected by bias, discrimination and injustice. He rebels and rages. Unable to connect his act (perpetrated, as far as he is concerned, by a previous phase of his self, alien to his “current” self) to its outcomes – the narcissist constantly baffled. Depending upon the level of pervasiveness of his magical thinking – the narcissist may develop a feeling of being persecuted by powers greater than he, forces cosmic and intrinsically ominous. He may develop compulsive rites to fend off this “bad”, unwarranted, influence.
The narcissist is an assemblage. He plays host to many personas. One of the personas is always in the “limelight”. This is the persona, which interfaces with the outside world, and which guarantees an optimal inflow of Narcissistic Supply. This is the persona, which minimises the resistance to the narcissist offered by his human environment and, thus, the energy, which the narcissist needs to expend in the process of obtaining his supply.
The “Limelight Persona” is surrounded by “Shade Personas”. The latter are potential personas, ready to surface as soon as the narcissist needs them. Their emergence depends on their usefulness. An old persona might be rendered useless or less useful by a confluence of events. The narcissist is in the habit of constantly and erratically changing his circumstances. He switches between jobs, vocations, marriages, “friendships”, countries, residences, lovers, and even enemies with startling and difficult to follow swiftness. He is a machine whose sole aim is to optimise its input, rather than its output – the input of Narcissistic Supply. To achieve its goal, this machine stops at nothing, and does not hesitate to alter itself beyond recognition. To achieve ego-syntony (to feel good despite all these upheavals) – the narcissist employs the twin mechanism of idealisation and devaluation. The first mechanism is intended to help him to tenaciously attach to his new-found source of supply – the second to detach from it, once its usefulness has been exhausted.
This is why and how the narcissist is able to pick up where he left off so easily. Sometimes a narcissist returns to haunt an old or defunct PNS (Pathological Narcissistic Space, the hunting grounds of the narcissist). This happens when a narcissist can no longer occupy – physically or emotionally – his current PNS. A narcissist who is imprisoned or exiled is a good (though rare) example. Once imprisoned or exiled, the narcissist can no longer rely on obtaining Narcissistic Supply from his old sources. He has to reinvent and reshape a new PNS. In his new country, for instance, he would try out a few personas in his wardrobe until he finds the one that provides him with the best results. But if the narcissist were to return to his previous PNS (his country) – he would have no difficulty in adjusting. He would immediately assume his old persona and begin to extract Narcissistic Supply from his old sources. The personas of the narcissist, in other words, bond with his respective PNSs. These couplets are both interchangeable and inseparable in the narcissist’s mind. Every time he moves – the narcissist changes the “Narcissistic Definition Couplet”: his PNS and the persona attached thereto.
Thus, the narcissist is spatially and temporally spread out. His different personas (he does not feel that they are part of the current “he”) forever wander in the twilight zone of his various four-dimensional PNSs. We say “four dimensional” because, to a narcissist, a PNS is defined and “frozen” both in space and in time. This “Narcissistic Slicing” is what stands behind the narcissist’s apparent inability to predict the inevitable outcomes of his actions. This – coupled with his inability to empathise – is what makes him so obnoxious to many and, on the other hand, so resilient and a “survivor”. His daredevil approach to life, his callousness, his ruthlessness, his maverick-ness, and, above all, his shock at being held accountable – are all partly the results of this.