What is the mechanism behind the cycles of over-valuation and devaluation in the Narcissist’s life?
Cycles of over-valuation (idealisation) followed by devaluation characterise many personality disorders (they are even more typical of Borderline PD than of NPD, for example). They reflect the need to be secure, protected against the vicious and capricious whims of others, shielded from the hurt that they can inflict. Such a shield is constructed from the mercurial twin substances of idealisation and disillusionment.
Let us be clearer. The ultimate and only emotional need of the narcissist is to be the subject of adulation and, thus, to support his volatile self-esteem. In this very important sense, the narcissist is dependent on others for the performance of critical Ego functions. While to healthier people, a disappointment or a disillusionment are nothing but these – to the narcissist they are the difference between Being and Nothingness. The quality and reliability of the Narcissistic Supply are, therefore, of paramount importance. The more the narcissist convinces himself that his sources are perfect, grand, comprehensive, authoritative, omniscient, omnipotent, beautiful, powerful, rich and so on – the better he feels. The narcissist has to idealise his Supply Sources in order to value the supply that he derives from them. This leads to over-valuation and results in the formation of an unrealistic picture of others.
The fall is inevitable. Disillusionment and disappointment ensue. The slightest criticism, disagreement, shades of opinion – are interpreted by the narcissist as an all out assault against his very existence. The previous appraisal is sharply reversed. For example: the same people are judged stupid who were previously deemed to possess genius. This is the devaluation part of the cycle – and it is very painful both to the narcissist and to the devalued (for very different reasons, of course). The narcissist mourns the loss of a promising “investment opportunity” (=Source of Narcissistic Supply). Conversely, the “investment opportunity” mourns the loss of the narcissist.
But what is the mechanism BEHIND the mechanism? What drives the narcissist to such extremes? Why was no better (at least more efficient) coping technique developed by narcissists hitherto?
The answer is that the over-valuation-devaluation mechanism IS the most efficient one available to the narcissist. To understand why, one needs to take stock of his energy, or, rather, of the lack of it.
The narcissist’s personality is a precariously balanced affair and it requires inordinate amounts of energy to maintain and to sustain it. So overwhelmingly dependent on the environment for mental sustenance, the narcissist must optimise (rather, maximise) the use of the scarce resources at his disposal. Not an iota of effort, time and emotion must be wasted lest the narcissist finds his emotional balance severely upset. The narcissist attains this goal by sudden and violent shifts between foci of attention. This is a highly efficacious mechanism of allocation of resources in constant pursuit of the highest available emotional yields.
After emitting a narcissistic signal (see previous FAQ), the narcissist receives a host of narcissistic stimuli. The latter are, simply, messages from people who are willing to collaborate with the narcissist in providing him with Narcissistic Supply. But mere readiness is not sufficient. The narcissist now faces the daunting task of evaluating the potential content of Narcissistic Supply of each and every one of the stimuli (=the potentials collaborators). He does so by attaching a narcissistic rating to each one of them. The stimulus with the highest rating is, naturally, selected. It offers “the best value for money”, the most cost efficient proposition. The narcissist immediately over-values and idealises it. This is the narcissistic equivalent of getting emotionally attached and of bonding. The narcissist feels attracted, interested, curious, magically rewarded, reawakened. Healthier people recognise this phenomenon: it is called “falling in love”. To remove doubt: the Source of Narcissistic Supply thus elevated need not be an individual. The narcissist is equally interested in inanimate objects (=status symbols), in groups of people, and even abstracts (“history”, for instance). Anything goes as long as it can provide Narcissistic Supply. The narcissist is not choosy.
A process of courting then commences. The narcissist knows how to charm, how to simulate emotions, how to flatter. Many of the narcissists are gifted actors, having played the role of their False Self for so long. They wine the targeted Supply Source (whether Primary or Secondary) and dine it. They compliment and flatter, always present, forever interested. Their genuine and keen (though selfish) immersion in the other, their overt high regard for him or her (a result of the idealisation), their almost submissiveness – are alluring. It is nigh impossible to resist a narcissist in the right mood of hunting for his sources. At this stage, his energies are all focused and dedicated to the task.
During this stage of narcissistic courting or narcissistic pursuit, the narcissist is full of vitality, of dreams and hopes and plans and vision. And his energy is not dissipated: he resembles a laser beam. He attempts (and in many cases, succeeds to achieve) the impossible. If he targeted a publishing house, or a magazine, as his future source of supply (by publishing his work) – he authors incredible amounts of material in a short period of time. If it is a potential mate, he floods her with attention, gifts and inventive gestures. If it is a group of people that he wishes to impress, he identifies with their goals and beliefs to the point of ridicule and discomfort. The narcissist, as opposed to a mere mortal, has the frightening capacity to turn himself into a weapon: focused, powerful, and lethal. He lavishes ALL his energies, capabilities, talents, charms and emotions on the newly selected source of supply. This has a great effect on the intended source and on the narcissist. This also serves to maximise the narcissist’s returns in the short run.
Once the source of supply is captured, preyed upon and depleted, the reverse process (of devaluation) sets in. The narcissist instantaneously (and startlingly abruptly) loses ALL interest in his former (and now useless or judged to be so) Source of Narcissistic Supply. He becomes bored, lazy, slow, devoid of energy, absolutely disinterested. He already withdrew his energies in the preparation for the attack on, and the siege of, the next selected source of supply.
These tectonic shifts are hard to contemplate, still harder to believe.
The narcissist has no genuine interests. He likes to do what yields the most Narcissistic Supply. A narcissist can be a gifted artist for as long as his art rewards him with fame and adulation. Once public interest wanes, or once criticism mounts – so does the narcissist’s interest wane and his criticism of his vocation mount. He then immediately ceases to create and does not miss his old vocation for a second.
The narcissist has no genuine emotions. He can be madly in “love” with a woman (=Secondary Narcissistic Supply Source) because she is famous/she has money/she admires him/she is a native and he is an immigrant/she comes from the right family/she is unique in a manner positively reflecting on the narcissist’s perceived uniqueness/she remembers past successes of the narcissist. Yet, this “love” disappears immediately when her usefulness runs its course or when a better “qualified” source of supply presents herself.
The over-valuation and devaluation cycles are mere reflections and derivatives of these ups and downs of energy. Efficient (=abrupt) shifting of energy is more typical of machinery than of human beings. The narcissist retains this “metallic” strand in him and it is felt (though rarely articulated) by his victims. The narcissist is a three dimensional video game and is always on the hunt for an elusive type of supply: the more he has of it, the more he craves it.