Is there a point in waiting for the Narcissist to heal? Can it ever be better?
“It is true that he is a chauvinistic narcissist with repulsive behaviors. But all he needs is a little love and he will be straightened out. I will rescue him from his misery and misfortune. I will give him the love that he lacked as a kid. Then his narcissism will vanish and we will live happily ever after.”
Loving a Narcissist
I believe in the possibility of loving narcissists if one accepts them unconditionally, in a disillusioned and expectation-free manner.
Narcissists are narcissists. This is what they are. Take them or leave them. Some of them are lovable. Most of them are highly charming and intelligent. The source of the misery of the victims of the narcissist is their disappointment, their disillusionment, their abrupt and tearing and tearful realization that they fell in love with an ideal of their own making, a phantasm, an illusion, a fata morgana. This “waking up” is traumatic. The narcissist is forever the same. It is the victim who changes.
It is true that narcissists present a facade in order to generate sources of narcissistic supply. But this facade is easy to penetrate because it is inconsistent and too perfect. The cracks are evident from day one but often ignored. And what about all those who KNOWINGLY and WILLINGLY commit their wings to the burning narcissistic candle?
This is the catch-22. To react emotionally to a narcissist is like talking atheism to an Afghan fundamentalist. Narcissists have emotions, very strong ones, so terrifyingly strong and negative that they hide them, repress, block and transmute them. They employ a myriad of defense mechanisms: projective identification, splitting, projection, intellectualization, rationalization. Any effort to emotionally relate to a narcissist is doomed to failure, alienation and rage. Any attempt to “understand” (in retrospect or prospectively) narcissistic behavior patterns, reactions, his inner world in emotional terms – is equally hopeless. Narcissists should be regarded as “stychia”, a force of nature, or an accident.
There is no master-plot or mega-plan to deprive anyone of happiness. Being born to narcissistic parents, for instance, is not the result of a conspiracy. It is a tragic event, for sure. But it cannot be dealt with emotionally, without professional help, or haphazardly. Stay away from narcissists, or face them aided by your own self-discovery through therapy. It can be done. As opposed to narcissists, the prognosis for the victims of narcissists is fairly bright.
Narcissists have no interest in emotional or even intellectual stimulation by significant others. Such stimulation is perceived as a threat. Significant others in the narcissist’s life have very clear roles: accumulation and dispensation of past primary narcissistic supply in order to regulate current NS. Nothing less but definitely nothing more. Proximity and intimacy breed contempt for reasons that I mentioned earlier. A process of devaluation is in full operation throughout the life of the relationship.
A passive witness to the Narcissist’s past grandiosity, a dispenser of accumulated NS, a punching bag for his rages, a co-dependent, a possession (though not prized but taken for granted) and nothing much more. This is the ungrateful, FULL TIME, draining job of being the Narcissist’s significant other.
But humans are not instruments. To regard them as such is to devalue them, to reduce them, to restrict them, to prevent them from realizing their potential. Inevitably, Narcissists lose interest in their instruments, these truncated versions of full-fledged humans, once they cease to serve them in their pursuit of glory and fame.
Consider “friendship’ with a narcissist as an example of a relationship. One cannot really get to know a Narcissist “friend”. One cannot be friends with a Narcissist and ESPECIALLY – one cannot love a Narcissist. Narcissists are addicts. They are no different to drug addicts. They are in pursuit of gratification through the drug known as “narcissistic supply”. Everything and EVERYONE around them is an object, a potential source (to be idealized) or not (and, then to be cruelly discarded).
Narcissists home in on potential suppliers like cruise missiles. They are excellent at imitating emotions, exhibiting the right timely behaviors and at manipulating.
All generalizations are false, of course, and there are bound to be some happy relationships with Narcissists. I discussed the narcissistic couple in one of my FAQs. One example of a happy marriage is when the narcissist teams up with another narcissist of a different kind (somatic with cerebral or the reverse). Narcissists can be happily married to submissive, subservient, self-deprecating, echoing, mirroring and indiscriminately supportive spouses. They also do well with masochists. But it is difficult to imagine that a healthy, normal person would be happy in such a follies-a-deux (“madness in twosome”).
It is also difficult to imagine a benign and sustained influence on the narcissist of a stable, healthy mate/spouse/partner. One of my FAQs is dedicated to this issue (“The Narcissist’s Spouse / Mate / Partner”).
BUT many a spouse/friend/mate/partner like to BELIEVE that – given sufficient time and patience – they will be the ones to release the narcissist from his wrenching bondage. They think that they can “rescue” the narcissist, shield him from his (distorted) self, as it were. The Narcissist makes use of this naiveté and exploits it to his benefit. The natural protective mechanisms, which are provoked in normal people by love – are cold bloodedly used by the narcissist to extract yet more narcissistic supply from his writhing victim.
The narcissist affects his victims by infiltrating their psyche, by penetrating their defenses. Like a virus, it establishes a new genetic strain within his/her victims. It echoes through them, it talks through them, it walks through them. It is like the invasion of the body snatchers. You should be careful to separate your selves from the narcissist inside you, this alien growth, this spiritual cancer that is the result of living with a narcissist. You should be able to tell apart your real you and the YOU assigned to you by the narcissist. To cope with him/her, the narcissist forces you to “walk on eggshells” and develop a False Self of your own. It is nothing as elaborate as his False Self – but it is there, in you, as a result of the trauma and abuse inflicted upon you by the narcissist.
Thus, perhaps we should invent “VoNPD”, another mental health category – Victims of NPD. They experience shame and anger for their past helplessness and submissiveness. They are hurt and sensitized by the harrowing experience of sharing a simulated existence with a simulated person, the narcissist. They are scarred and often suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (ptsd).
Some of them lash out at others, offsetting their frustration with bitter aggression (a classic mechanism).
Like his disorder, the narcissist is all-pervasive. Being the victim of a narcissist is a condition no less pernicious than being a narcissist. Great efforts are required to abandon a narcissist and physical separation is only the first (and less consequential) step. One can abandon a narcissist – but the narcissist is slow to abandon its victims. It is there, lurking, rendering existence unreal, twisting and distorting with no respite, an inner, remorseless voice, lacking in compassion and empathy for its victim. The narcissist is there in spirit long after it has vanished in the flesh.
This is the real danger that the victims of the narcissist face: that they become like him, bitter, self-centered, lacking in empathy. This is the last bow of the narcissist, his curtain call, by proxy as it were.
The narcissist tends to surround himself with his inferiors (in some respect: intellectually, financially, physically). He limits his interactions with them to the plane of his superiority. This is the safest and fastest way to sustain his grandiose fantasies of omnipotence and omniscience, brilliance, ideal traits, perfection and so on.
Humans are interchangeable and the narcissist anyhow does not distinguish one individual from another. To him they are all inanimate parts of “his audience” whose job is to reflect his False Self. This generates a perpetual and permanent cognitive dissonance:
The narcissist despises the very people who sustain his Ego boundaries and functions. He cannot respect people so expressly and clearly inferior to him – yet he can never associate with people evidently on his level or superior to him, the risk of narcissistic injury in such associations being too great. Equipped with a fragile Ego, precariously teetering on the brink of narcissistic injury – the narcissist prefers the safe route. But he feels contempt for himself and for others for having preferred it.
Some NPDs are ALSO Antisocial PDs (AsPDs) and/or sadists. Antisocials don’t really ENJOY hurting others – they simply don’t care one way or the other. But sadists do enjoy it.
“Pure” NPDs do not enjoy hurting others – but they do enjoy the sensation of omnipotence, unlimited power and the validation of their grandiose fantasies when they hurt others or in the position to do so. It is more the POTENTIAL to hurt others than the actual act that turns them on.
The Neverending Story
Even the official termination of a relationship with a narcissist is not the end of the affair. The Ex “belongs” to the narcissist. She is an inseparable part of his Pathological Narcissistic Space. This possessive streak is not terminated with the official, physical, separation. Thus, the narcissist is likely to respond with rage, seething envy, a sense of humiliation and invasion and violent-aggressive urges to an ex’s new boyfriend, or new job (to her new life without him). Especially since it implies a “failure” on his part and, thus negates his grandiosity.
But there is a second scenario:
If the narcissist were to firmly believe (which is very rare) that the ex does not and will never represent any amount, however marginal and residual, of any kind (primary or secondary) of narcissistic supply – he remains utterly unmoved by anything she does and anyone she may choose to be with.
Narcissists do feel bad about hurting others and about the unsavoury course their lives tend to assume. Their ego-dystony (=feeling bad about themselves) was only recently discovered and described. But my suspicion is that a narcissist feels bad only when his supply sources are threatened because of his behaviour or following a narcissistic injury (such as a major life crisis: divorce, bankruptcy, etc.).
The narcissist equates emotions with weakness. He regards the sentimental and the emotional with contempt. He looks down on the sensitive and the vulnerable. He derides and despises the dependent and the loving. He mocks expressions of compassion and passion. He is devoid of empathy. He is so afraid of his True Self that he would rather disparage it than admit to his own faults and “soft spots”.
He likes to talk about himself in mechanical terms (“machine”, “efficient”, “punctual”, “output”, “computer”).
He slaughters his human side diligently and with a dedication derived from his drive to survive. To him, to be human and to survive are a contradiction. He must choose and his choice is clear. The narcissist never looks back, unless and until forced to by life circumstances.
ALL narcissists fear intimacy. But the cerebral narcissist deploys strong defences against it: “scientific detachment” (the narcissist as the eternal observer), intellectualizing and rationalizing his emotions away, intellectual cruelty (see my FAQ regarding inappropriate affect), intellectual “annexation” (regarding the other person as his extension or territory), objectifying the other and so on. Even emotions that are expressed (pathological envy, neurotic or other rage, etc.) have the not totally unintended effect of alienating rather than creating intimacy.
Abandoning the Narcissist
The narcissist INITIATES his own abandonment BECAUSE of his fear. He is so afraid of losing his sources (and of unconsciously being emotionally hurt) – that he would rather “control”, “master”, or “direct” the potentially destabilizing situation – than confront its effects if initiated by the significant other. Remember: the personality of the narcissist has a low level of organization. It is precariously balanced.
Being abandoned could cause a narcissistic injury so grave that the whole edifice can come crumbling down. Narcissists usually entertain suicidal ideation in such cases. BUT, if the narcissist initiated and directed his abandonment, if the abandonment is perceived by him to be a goal HE set to himself to achieve – he can and does avoid all these untoward consequences. See the section about Emotional Involvement Prevention Mechanisms in the Essay.
The Dynamics of the Relationship
The Narcissist lives in a fantasized world of ideal beauty, incomparable (imaginary) achievements, wealth, brilliance and unmitigated success. The narcissist denies his reality constantly. This is what I call the “Grandiosity Gap” – the abyss between his sense of entitlement and his inflated grandiose fantasies – and his incommensurate reality and achievements.
The narcissist’s partner is perceived by him to be a source of narcissistic supply, an instrument, an extension of himself. It is inconceivable that – blessed by the constant presence of the narcissist – such a tool would malfunction. The needs and grievances of the partner are perceived by the narcissist as THREATS and INSULTS. He considers his very existence as sufficiently nourishing and sustaining. He feels entitled to the best others can offer without investing in maintaining relationships or in catering to the well being of his “suppliers”. To rid himself of deep-set feelings of (rather justified) guilt and shame – he pathologizes the partner. He projects sickness unto her. Through the intricate mechanism of projective identification he forces her to play an emergent role of “the sick” or “the weak” or “the naive” or “the dumb” or “the no good”. What he denies in himself, what he is terrified of facing in his own personality – he attributes to others and moulds them to conform to his prejudices against himself.
The Narcissist MUST have THE best, the MOST glamorous, stunning, talented, head turning, mind-boggling spouse in the WORLD. Nothing short of this fantasy will do. To compensate for the shortcomings of his real life spouse – he invents an idealized figure and relates to it instead. Then, when reality conflicts too often and too evidently with the ideal figure – he reverts to devaluation. His behaviour turns on a dime and becomes threatening, demeaning, contemptuous, berating, reprimanding, destructively critical and sadistic – or cold, unloving, detached, “clinical”. He punishes his real life spouse for not living up to his standards as personified in his Galathea, in his Pygmalion, in his ideal creation. The Narcissist plays a wrathful and demanding God.
To preserve one’s mental health – one must abandon the narcissist. One must move on.
Moving on is a process, not a decision or an event. First, one has to acknowledge and accept reality. It is a volcanic, shattering, agonizing series of little, nibbling, thoughts and strong, voluptuous resistances. Once the battle is won, and harsh and painful realities are assimilated, one can move on to the learning phase.
We label. We assemble material. We gather knowledge. We compare experiences. We digest. We have insights.
Then we decide and we act. This is “to move on”. Having gathered sufficient emotional sustenance, support and confidence – we leave to face the battlefields of our relationships, fortified and nurtured. This stage characterizes those who do not mourn – but fight; do not grieve – but replenish their self-esteem; do not hide – but seek; do not freeze – but move on.
After being betrayed and abused – we grieve. We grieve for the image we had of the traitor and abuser – the image that was so fleeting and so wrong. We mourn the damage he did to us. We experience the fear of never being able to love or to trust again – and we grieve this loss. In one stroke, we lost someone we trusted and even loved, we lost our trusting and loving selves and we lost the trust and love that we felt. Can anything be worse?
The emotional process of grieving is multiphased. At first, we are dumbfounded, shocked, inert, immobile. We play dead to avoid our inner monsters. We are ossified in our pain, cast in the mould of our reticence and fears. Then we feel enraged, indignant, rebellious and hateful. Then we accept. Then we cry. And then – some of us – learn to forgive and to pity. And this is called healing.
ALL stages are absolutely necessary and good. It is bad NOT to rage back, not to shame those who shamed us, to deny, to pretend, to evade. But it is equally as bad to stay like this forever. Permanent grieving is the perpetuation of our abuse by other means. By endlessly recreating our harrowing experiences, we unwillingly and defiantly collaborate with our abuser to perpetuate his or her evil deeds. It is by moving on that we defeat our abuser, minimizing him and his importance in our lives. It is by loving and by trusting anew that we annul that which was done to us. To forgive is never to forget. But to remember is not necessarily to re-live.
Forgiving and Forgetting
Forgiving is an important capability. It does more for the forgiver than for the forgiven. But, to my mind, it should not be a universal, indiscriminate behaviour. I think it is legitimate not to forgive sometimes. It depends, of course, on the severity or duration of what was done to you. In general, it is unwise and counter-productive, in my view, to establish “universal” and “immutable” principles in life. Life is too chaotic to succumb to rigid principles. Sentences, which start with “I never” are either not very credible or, worse, they lead to self-defeating, self-restricting and self-destructive behaviours.
Conflicts are an important and integral part of life. One should never seek them out willingly – but when confronted with a conflict, one should not avoid it. It is through conflicts and adversity as much as through care and love that we grow.
Human relationships are dynamic. We must assess our friendships, partnerships, even marriages periodically. The past is insufficient in itself to sustain a healthy, nourishing, supportive, caring and compassionate relationship. It is a pre-condition, perhaps a necessary one – but not a sufficient one. We must gain and regain our friendships on a daily basis. Human relationships are a constant test of allegiance and empathy.
Remaining Friends with the Narcissist
But can’t we act civilized and remain on friendly terms with our narcissist ex?
Never forget that Narcissists (full fledged ones) are nice to others when:
- They want something – narcissistic supply, help, support, votes, money… They prepare the ground, manipulate you and then come out with the “small favour” they need or ask you blatantly or surreptitiously for narcissistic supply (“what did you think about my performance…”, “do you think that I really deserve the Nobel Prize?”).
- They feel threatened and they want to neuter the threat by smothering it with oozing pleasantries.
- They have just been infused with an overdose of narcissistic supply and they feel magnanimous and magnificent and ideal and perfect. To show magnanimity is a way of flaunting one’s impeccable divine credentials. It is an act of grandiosity. You are an irrelevant prop in this spectacle, a mere receptacle of the narcissist’s overflowing, self-contented infatuation with his False Self.
This beneficence is transient. Perpetual victims often tend to “thank God for little graces” (God being the narcissist). This is the stockholm syndrome: hostages tend to emotionally identify with the terrorists rather than with the police. We are grateful to our abusers and tormentors for ceasing their hideous activities and letting us breathe for a while.
Some people say that they prefer to live with narcissists, to cater to their needs and to succumb to their whims because this is the way they have been conditioned. It is only with narcissists that they feel alive, stimulated and excited. The world glows in technicolor in the presence of a narcissist and decays to sepia colours in his absence.
I see nothing inherently “wrong” with that. The test is this: If a person were to constantly humiliate and abuse you verbally using Archaic Chinese – would you have felt humiliated and abused? Probably not. Some people have been conditioned by the narcissistic primary objects in their lives (parents or caregivers) to treat narcissistic abuse as Archaic Chinese, to turn a deaf ear. This technique is effective in that it allows the “inverted narcissist” (the narcissist’s willing mate) to experience only the good aspects of living with a narcissist: his sparkling intelligence, the constant drama and excitement, his lack of intimacy and emotional attachment (some people prefer this). Every now and then the narcissist breaks into abusive Archaic Chinese, so what, who understands Archaic Chinese anyway?
I have only one nagging doubt, though:
If the relationship with a narcissist is so rewarding, why are inverted narcissists so unhappy, so ego-dystonic, so in need of help (professional or otherwise)? Aren’t they victims who simply experience the Stockholm Syndrome (=identifying with the kidnapper rather than with the Police)?
Narcissists and Abandonment
Narcissists are terrified of being abandoned exactly as codependents and Borderlines are.
Their solution is different.
Codependents cling. Borderlines are emotionally labile and react disastrously to the faintest hint of being abandoned.
Narcissists FACILITATE the abandonment. They MAKE SURE that they are abandoned.
This way they achieve two goals:
- Getting it over with – The narcissist has a very low threshold of tolerance to uncertainty and inconvenience, emotional or material. Narcissists are very impatient and “spoiled”. They cannot delay gratification OR impending doom. They must have it all NOW, good or bad.
- By bringing the feared abandonment about, the narcissist can lie to himself persuasively. “She didn’t abandon me, it is I who abandoned her. I controlled the situation. It was all my doing, so I was really not abandoned, was I now?” In time, the narcissist adopts this “official version” as the truth. He might say: “I deserted her emotionally and sexually long before she left”.
This is one of the important Emotional Involvement Prevention Mechanisms (EIPMs) that I write about extensively in the Essay.
Why the Failing Relationships?
Narcissists HATE happiness and joy and ebullience and vivaciousness – in short, they hate life itself.
The roots of this bizarre propensity can be traced to a few psychological dynamics, which operate concurrently (it is very confusing to be a narcissist):
First, there is pathological envy.
The Narcissist is constantly envious of other people: their successes, their property, their character, their education, their children, their ideas, the fact that they can feel, their good mood, their past, their future, their present, their spouses, their mistresses or lovers, their location…
Almost ANYTHING can be the trigger of a bout of biting, acidulous envy. But there is nothing, which reminds the narcissist more of the totality of his envious experiences than happiness. Narcissists lash out at happy people out of their own deprivation.
Then there is narcissistic hurt.
The narcissist regards himself as the center of the world and of the lives of people around him. He is the source of all emotions, responsible for all developments, positive and negative alike, the axis, the prime cause, the only cause, the mover, the shaker, the broker, the pillar, forever indispensable. It is therefore a bitter and sharp rebuke to this grandiose fantasy to see someone else happy. It confronts the narcissist with a reality outside the realm of his fantasies. It painfully serves to illustrate to him that he is but one of many causes, phenomena, triggers and catalysts. That there are things happening outside the orbit of his control or initiative.
The narcissist uses projective identification. He feels bad through other people, his proxies. He induces unhappiness and gloom in others to enable him to experience his own misery. Inevitably, he attributes the source of such sadness either to himself, as its cause – or to the “pathology” of the sad person.
“You are constantly depressed, you should really see a therapist” is a common sentence.
The narcissist – in an effort to maintain the depressive state until it serves some cathartic purposes – strives to perpetuate it by sowing constant reminders of its existence. “You look sad/bad/pale today. Is anything wrong? Can I help you? Things haven’t been going so well lately?”
Last but not least is the exaggerated fear of losing control.
The narcissist feels that he controls his human environment mostly by manipulation and mainly by emotional extortion and distortion. This is not far from reality. He suppresses any sign of emotional autonomy. He feels threatened and belittled by an emotion fostered not by him or by his actions directly or indirectly. Counteracting someone else’s happiness is the narcissist’s way of reminding everyone: I am here, I am omnipotent, you are at my mercy and you will feel happy only when I tell you to.
Narcissist, the Abuser
The Narcissist induces hate. We hate the perpetrator of abuse also because he made us hate ourselves. Trying to avert the ultimate act of self-hatred, trying to avoid self-liquidation, we “kill” ourselves symbolically by denying ourselves, our thoughts, our feelings. It is an act of magic, a ritual of exorcism, transubstantiation, a black Eucharist of hate. By denying our selves we deny our only possible saviour, our only feasible solution and absolution: our selves. We thus hope to avoid confronting the unthinkable, feeling the impossible, committing the irreversible. But, inevitably, it backfires. We feel rage, helplessness, self-contempt, weakness and the temptation of requiting our misery once and for all.
It is more difficult to hate someone because of what he IS – than because of what he DID.
Some non-abusers are (perhaps) deserving of a generalized sort of repulsion or reticence (call it hate, if you wish). The abuser, in contrast, DID things, he committed acts of abuse. He is deserving of a focused, directed, intensive hate. This is because the abuser is RESPONSIBLE and CULPABLE for what he did.
Philosophically, morally, ethically (and legally) we often confuse impulses with responsibility.
That we have no control diminishes our responsibility.
But drives ARE controllable. So are impulses. The control can be primitive (fear) or of a higher level (a moral conviction). Had we really felt that the abuser had no control over what he did, we would not have hated him. That we hate him is PROOF that he has control over his actions. Hate is the direct reaction to culpability. Do we hate tornadoes? Do we hate sandstorms or avalanches or death? We do not. We hate disease because we intuitively feel that there MUST be something we can do about it. We feel GUILTY for being ill. We hate collapsing bridges and train accidents – because they can be PREVENTED. We feel that they are avoidable.
We hate what could have been prevented by the exercise of judgement, including moral judgement, emotional judgement (love) or rational one.
We never hate what no amount of judgement and distinction between right and wrong could have prevented.
The abuser is GUILTY. He could have PREVENTED the abuse. He KNOWINGLY did what he did. He is CULPABLE. We hate him JUSTLY.
Here is a thought experiment:
If someone were to credibly threaten to imprison the abuser for his abuse – would he have still committed it?
The answer is no, he wouldn’t have. This means that he can control his actions, given the right incentive (or, rather, disincentive).
Self-hatred is a way of assuming the abuser’s guilt. To a child, a parent can never be guilty. Parents are perfect, above reproach, above vile thoughts. It is prohibited to think badly about a parent. The child thinks: “It must be I who is wrong and guilty and corrupt in hating my parents. I should be ashamed of myself.”
It is a conflict. It is the confusion that all victims experience. Especially victims who have always been an extension of their parents. In such a case, even self-hatred is no real solution.
Very often we feel that perhaps we have collaborated with the abusing parent, seduced or tempted or angered or provoked him or her.
The crux of our problem as I see it is our inability to distinguish the child that the abuser once was (deserving of pity and empathy) – from the monstrous adult that the abuser became, which is deserving of condemnation, contempt, hate, punishment, repulsion and reticence. As long as we do not cease to confuse these two – we will remain immersed in conflict, perplexity and pain. We HAVE to sacrifice the image of our parents if we want to get better. We have to let go. We must hate in order to be able to love again. We must place guilt, blame, rage, and contempt firmly where they belong.
Understanding, loving, compassion, empathy – must be directed at the deserving. It is natural not to love a Hitler. One can HATE and detest Hitler passionately, vehemently, wholeheartedly – and still be loving, compassionate, full of emotions and beauty. Actually I think that hating Hitler-like people is a PRECONDITION to experiencing true positive feelings. If one does not hate a Hitler something is very wrong with one’s emotional equipment. If one does not despise a monster – one is INCAPABLE of adult feelings, one’s emotional intelligence is infantile and immature. Hating an abuser – is a sign of emotional maturation, not of emotional retardation.
It is wrong to UNIVERSALIZE one’s feelings. We need to SEGREGATE them, instead. For instance: we can love our spouse WHILE hating our abusive parent or partner. Must we love EVERYONE, all the time? Must we be so terrified of being rejected?
The hearts of the Narcissist’s victims are captivated. They love monsters. They try to understand abusers. They make excuses for the inexcusable. They mitigate their private holocaust. They legitimize abhorrent crimes. They lie to themselves. They are immorally not in touch with their real emotions. And, this way, they perpetuate their own abuse, their own torture, they collaborate with the terrorists that are and were their only family.
Living with a Narcissist
You cannot change people, not in the real, profound, deep sense. You can only adapt to them and adapt them to you. If you do find your Narcissist rewarding at times – you should do two things, in my opinion:
- Determine your limits and boundaries. How much and in which ways can you adapt to him (i.e., accept him AS HE IS) AND to which extent and in which ways would you like him to adapt to you (i.e., accept you as you are). Act accordingly. Accept what you have decided to accept and reject the rest.
Change in you what you are willing and able to change – and ignore the rest.
It is sort of an unwritten contract of co-existence (could be written if you are more formally inclined).
- Try to maximize the number of times that “…his walls are down”, that you “…find him totally fascinating and everything I desire”. What makes him be and behave this way? Is it something that YOU say or do? Is it preceded by events of a specific nature? Is there anything you can do to make him behave this way more often?
Sometimes we mistake guilt and self-assumed blame for love.
Committing suicide for someone else’s sake is not love.
Sacrificing yourself for someone else is not love.
It is domination.
You control your Narcissist by giving, as much as he controls you through his pathology.
Your generosity prevents him from facing his True Self and thus healing.
But this you must remember as well:
It is impossible to have a relationship with a narcissist that is meaningful to the narcissist.
It is, of course, possible to have a relationship with a narcissist that is meaningful to you (see FAQ 66).
You modify your behaviour in order to secure the N’s continuing love, not in order to be abandoned.
This is the root of the perniciousness of this phenomenon:
The narcissist IS a meaningful, crucially significant figure (“object”) in the Inverted Narcissist’s life.
This is the narcissist’s leverage over the IN. And since the IN is usually very young when making the adaptation to the N – it all boils down to fear of abandonment and death in the absence of care and sustenance.
I don’t think that the IN’s accommodation of the narcissist is as much a wish to gratify one’s narcissist (parent) – as the sheer terror of forever withholding gratification from one’s self.
The Need to be Hopeful
I understand the need to be hopeful.
There are gradations of narcissism. In all my writings, I am referring to the extreme and ultimate form of narcissism, the NPD.
We often confuse shame with guilt.
Narcissists feel shameful when confronted with a failure. They feel (narcissistically) injured. Their omnipotence is threatened, their sense of perfection and uniqueness is questioned. They are enraged, engulfed by self-reprimand, self-loathing and internalized violent urges.
The narcissist punishes himself for failing to be God – not for the maltreatment of others.
The narcissist makes an effort to communicate his pain and shame in order to elicit the NS needed to restore and regulate his failing sense of self-worth. In doing so, the narcissist resorts to the human vocabulary of empathy. The narcissist will say anything to obtain NS.
It is a manipulative ploy – not a confession of real emotions or an authentic description of internal dynamics.
Yes, the narcissist is a child – but a very precocious and young one.
Yes, he can tell right from wrong – but is indifferent to both.
Yes, it is a process of “re-parenting” (what Kohut called a “selfobject”) that is required, of growth, of maturation. In the best of cases, it takes years and the prognosis is dismal.
Yes, some narcissists make it. And their mates or spouses or children or colleagues or lovers rejoice.
But is the fact that people survive tornadoes – a reason to go out and seek one?
The Narcissist is very much attracted to vulnerability, to unstable or disordered personalities or to his inferiors. Such people constitute secure sources of narcissistic supply. The inferior offer adulation. The mentally disturbed, the traumatized, the abused become dependent and addicted to him. The vulnerable can be easily and economically manipulated without fear of repercussions.
I think that “a healing narcissist” is a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron (though NOT in all cases, of course).
Still, healing (not only of narcissists) is dependent upon and derived from a sense of security in a relationship.
The Narcissist is not particularly interested in healing. He tries to optimize his return, taking into consideration the scarcity and finiteness of his resources. Healing, to him, is simply a bad business proposition.
In the Narcissist’s world being accepted or cared for (not to mention loved) is a foreign language.
That is: meaningless.
One might recite the most delicate haiku in Japanese and it would still remain meaningless to a non-Japanese.
That non-Japanese are not adept at Japanese does not diminish the value of the haiku OR of the Japanese language, needless to say.
Narcissists damage and hurt but they do so off-handedly and naturally.
They are aware of what they are doing to others – but they do not care.
Sometimes, they sadistically taunt and torment people – but they do not perceive this to be evil – merely amusing.
They feel that they are entitled to their pleasure and gratification (narcissistic supply is often obtained by subjugating and subsuming others).
They feel that others are less than human, mere extensions of the narcissist, or instruments to fulfill the narcissist’s wishes and obey his often capricious commands.
The narcissist feels that no evil can be done to machines, instruments, or extensions.
The Social and Cultural Context
Personal incompatibility is a stand-alone fact. It requires no apportioning of guilt or evocation of shame. It is the outcome of life itself. Taking into consideration the number of variables, it is a great miracle that any two people fit together, however loosely. Yes, marriages are miracles and, in this sense, they are really “made in heaven”. Add to this the growing intolerance, the narcissism, the hedonism and the consumerism, which characterize Western civilization. Mix in the wide field of alternatives wrought by modern technologies. And the end result is the demise of long-term commitment and relationships. This is the soundbite age, the era of virtual sex, of the shortest-term attention span ever. Individualism has gone cancerous and was replaced by Malignant Self Love. The result? Narcissism Revisited by everyone.
We are victim to forces which re-shape whole societies. It is not our fault that we are living here and now. Half of all marriages dissolve in the first few years. One third of all children are born to single mothers. People are withdrawing, drawing their bridges, folding their communal tents. They interact via screens and handsets. They go wireless. They watch flickering images instead of watching each other. They don’t think or read or listen – they consume and gulp. And sex is just one other commodity to be traded for thrills and frills.