Narcissism, Pathological Narcissism, The Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), the Narcissist, and relationships with Abusive Narcissists and Psychopaths.
is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited
and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East
. He served as a columnist for Central Europe Review
, and eBookWeb
, a United Press International
(UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory
, and Suite101
Until recently, he served as the Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.
Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com
Narcissism in the Boardroom
By: Sam Vaknin
The perpetrators of the recent spate of financial frauds in the USA acted with callous disregard for both their employees and shareholders - not to mention other stakeholders. Psychologists have often remote-diagnosed them as "malignant, pathological narcissists".
Narcissists are driven by the need to uphold and maintain a false self - a concocted, grandiose, and demanding psychological construct typical of the narcissistic personality disorder. The false self is projected to the world in order to garner "narcissistic supply" - adulation, admiration, or even notoriety and infamy. Any kind of attention is usually deemed by narcissists to be preferable to obscurity.
The false self is suffused with fantasies of perfection, grandeur, brilliance, infallibility, immunity, significance, omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. To be a narcissist is to be convinced of a great, inevitable personal destiny. The narcissist is preoccupied with ideal love, the construction of brilliant, revolutionary scientific theories, the composition or authoring or painting of the greatest work of art, the founding of a new school of thought, the attainment of fabulous wealth, the reshaping of a nation or a conglomerate, and so on. The narcissist never sets realistic goals to himself. He is forever preoccupied with fantasies of uniqueness, record breaking, or breathtaking achievements. His verbosity reflects this propensity.
Reality is, naturally, quite different and this gives rise to a "grandiosity gap". The demands of the false self are never satisfied by the narcissist's accomplishments, standing, wealth, clout, sexual prowess, or knowledge. The narcissist's grandiosity and sense of entitlement are equally incommensurate with his achievements.
To bridge the grandiosity gap, the malignant (pathological) narcissist resorts to shortcuts. These very often lead to fraud.
The narcissist cares only about appearances. What matters to him are the facade of wealth and its attendant social status and narcissistic supply. Witness the travestied extravagance of Tyco's Denis Kozlowski. Media attention only exacerbates the narcissist's addiction and makes it incumbent on him to go to ever-wilder extremes to secure uninterrupted supply from this source.
The narcissist lacks empathy - the ability to put himself in other people's shoes. He does not recognize boundaries - personal, corporate, or legal. Everything and everyone are to him mere instruments, extensions, objects unconditionally and uncomplainingly available in his pursuit of narcissistic gratification.
This makes the narcissist perniciously exploitative. He uses, abuses, devalues, and discards even his nearest and dearest in the most chilling manner. The narcissist is utility- driven, obsessed with his overwhelming need to reduce his anxiety and regulate his labile sense of self-worth by securing a constant supply of his drug - attention. American executives acted without compunction when they raided their employees' pension funds - as did Robert Maxwell a generation earlier in Britain.
The narcissist is convinced of his superiority - cerebral or physical. To his mind, he is a Gulliver hamstrung by a horde of narrow-minded and envious Lilliputians. The dotcom "new economy" was infested with "visionaries" with a contemptuous attitude towards the mundane: profits, business cycles, conservative economists, doubtful journalists, and cautious analysts.
Yet, deep inside, the narcissist is painfully aware of his addiction to others - their attention, admiration, applause, and affirmation. He despises himself for being thus dependent. He hates people the same way a drug addict hates his pusher. He wishes to "put them in their place", humiliate them, demonstrate to them how inadequate and imperfect they are in comparison to his regal self and how little he craves or needs them.
The narcissist regards himself as one would an expensive present, a gift to his company, to his family, to his neighbours, to his colleagues, to his country. This firm conviction of his inflated importance makes him feel entitled to special treatment, special favors, special outcomes, concessions, subservience, immediate gratification, obsequiousness, and lenience. It also makes him feel immune to mortal laws and somehow divinely protected and insulated from the inevitable consequences of his deeds and misdeeds.
The self-destructive narcissist plays the role of the "bad guy" (or "bad girl"). But even this is within the traditional social roles cartoonishly exaggerated by the narcissist to attract attention. Men are likely to emphasise intellect, power, aggression, money, or social status. Narcissistic women are likely to emphasise body, looks, charm, sexuality, feminine "traits", homemaking, children and childrearing.
Punishing the wayward narcissist is a veritable catch-22.
A jail term is useless as a deterrent if it only serves to focus attention on the narcissist. Being infamous is second best to being famous - and far preferable to being ignored. The only way to effectively punish a narcissist is to withhold narcissistic supply from him and thus to prevent him from becoming a notorious celebrity.
Given a sufficient amount of media exposure, book contracts, talk shows, lectures, and public attention - the narcissist may even consider the whole grisly affair to be emotionally rewarding. To the narcissist, freedom, wealth, social status, family, vocation - are all means to an end. And the end is attention. If he can secure attention by being the big bad wolf - the narcissist unhesitatingly transforms himself into one. Lord Archer, for instance, seems to be positively basking in the media circus provoked by his prison diaries.
The narcissist 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 truly "guilty" one needs to intend, to deliberate, to contemplate one's choices and then to choose one's acts. The narcissist does none of these.
Thus, punishment breeds in him surprise, hurt and seething anger. The narcissist is stunned by society's insistence that he should be held accountable for his deeds and penalized accordingly. He feels wronged, baffled, injured, the victim of bias, discrimination and injustice. He rebels and rages.
Depending upon the pervasiveness of his magical thinking, the narcissist may feel besieged by overwhelming powers, forces cosmic and intrinsically ominous. He may develop compulsive rites to fend off this "bad", unwarranted, persecutory influences.
The narcissist, very much the infantile outcome of stunted personal development, engages in magical thinking. He feels omnipotent, that there is nothing he couldn't do or achieve if only he sets his mind to it. He feels omniscient - he rarely admits to ignorance and regards his intuitions and intellect as founts of objective data.
Thus, narcissists are haughtily convinced that introspection is a more important and more efficient (not to mention easier to accomplish) method of obtaining knowledge than the systematic study of outside sources of information in accordance with strict and tedious curricula. Narcissists are "inspired" and they despise hamstrung technocrats.
To some extent, they feel omnipresent because they are either famous or about to become famous or because their product is selling or is being manufactured globally. Deeply immersed in their delusions of grandeur, they firmly believe that their acts have - or will have - a great influence not only on their firm, but on their country, or even on Mankind. Having mastered the manipulation of their human environment - they are convinced that they will always "get away with it". They develop hubris and a false sense of immunity.
Narcissistic immunity is the (erroneous) feeling, harboured by the narcissist, that he is impervious to the consequences of his actions, that he will never be effected by the results of his own decisions, opinions, beliefs, deeds and misdeeds, acts, inaction, or membership of certain groups, that he is above reproach and punishment, that, magically, he is protected and will miraculously be saved at the last moment. Hence the audacity, simplicity, and transparency of some of the fraud and corporate looting in the 1990's. Narcissists rarely bother to cover their traces, so great is their disdain and conviction that they are above mortal laws and wherewithal.
What are the sources of this unrealistic appraisal of situations and events?
The false self is a childish response to abuse and trauma. Abuse is not limited to sexual molestation or beatings. Smothering, doting, pampering, over-indulgence, treating the child as an extension of the parent, not respecting the child's boundaries, and burdening the child with excessive expectations are also forms of abuse.
The child reacts by constructing false self that is possessed of everything it needs in order to prevail: unlimited and instantaneously available Harry Potter-like powers and wisdom. The false self, this Superman, is indifferent to abuse and punishment. This way, the child's true self is shielded from the toddler's harsh reality.
This artificial, maladaptive separation between a vulnerable (but not punishable) true self and a punishable (but invulnerable) false self is an effective mechanism. It isolates the child from the unjust, capricious, emotionally dangerous world that he occupies. But, at the same time, it fosters in him a false sense of "nothing can happen to me, because I am not here, I am not available to be punished, hence I am immune to punishment".
The comfort of false immunity is also yielded by the narcissist's sense of entitlement. In his grandiose delusions, the narcissist is sui generis, a gift to humanity, a precious, fragile, object. Moreover, the narcissist is convinced both that this uniqueness is immediately discernible - and that it gives him special rights. The narcissist feels that he is protected by some cosmological law pertaining to "endangered species".
He is convinced that his future contribution to others - his firm, his country, humanity - should and does exempt him from the mundane: daily chores, boring jobs, recurrent tasks, personal exertion, orderly investment of resources and efforts, laws and regulations, social conventions, and so on.
The narcissist is entitled to a "special treatment": high living standards, constant and immediate catering to his needs, the eradication of any friction with the humdrum and the routine, an all-engulfing absolution of his sins, fast track privileges (to higher education, or in his encounters with bureaucracies, for instance). Punishment, trusts the narcissist, is for ordinary people, where no great loss to humanity is involved.
Narcissists are possessed of inordinate abilities to charm, to convince, to seduce, and to persuade. Many of them are gifted orators and intellectually endowed. Many of them work in in politics, the media, fashion, show business, the arts, medicine, or business, and serve as religious leaders.
By virtue of their standing in the community, their charisma, or their ability to find the willing scapegoats, they do get exempted many times. Having recurrently "got away with it" - they develop a theory of personal immunity, founded upon some kind of societal and even cosmic "order" in which certain people are above punishment.
But there is a fourth, simpler, explanation. The narcissist lacks self-awareness. Divorced from his true self, unable to empathise (to understand what it is like to be someone else), unwilling to constrain his actions to cater to the feelings and needs of others - the narcissist is in a constant dreamlike state.
To the narcissist, his life is unreal, like watching an autonomously unfolding movie. The narcissist is a mere spectator, mildly interested, greatly entertained at times. He does not "own" his actions. He, therefore, cannot understand why he should be punished and when he is, he feels grossly wronged.
So convinced is the narcissist that he is destined to great things - that he refuses to accept setbacks, failures and punishments. He regards them as temporary, as the outcomes of someone else's errors, as part of the future mythology of his rise to power/brilliance/wealth/ideal love, etc. Being punished is a diversion of his precious energy and resources from the all-important task of fulfilling his mission in life.
The narcissist is pathologically envious of people and believes that they are equally envious of him. He is paranoid, on guard, ready to fend off an imminent attack. A punishment to the narcissist is a major surprise and a nuisance but it also validates his suspicion that he is being persecuted. It proves to him that strong forces are arrayed against him.
He tells himself that people, envious of his achievements and humiliated by them, are out to get him. He constitutes a threat to the accepted order. When required to pay for his misdeeds, the narcissist is always disdainful and bitter and feels misunderstood by his inferiors.
Cooked books, corporate fraud, bending the (GAAP or other) rules, sweeping problems under the carpet, over-promising, making grandiose claims (the "vision thing") - are hallmarks of a narcissist in action. When social cues and norms encourage such behaviour rather than inhibit it - in other words, when such behaviour elicits abundant narcissistic supply - the pattern is reinforced and become entrenched and rigid. Even when circumstances change, the narcissist finds it difficult to adapt, shed his routines, and replace them with new ones. He is trapped in his past success. He becomes a swindler.
But pathological narcissism is not an isolated phenomenon. It is embedded in our contemporary culture. The West's is a narcissistic civilization. It upholds narcissistic values and penalizes alternative value-systems. From an early age, children are taught to avoid self-criticism, to deceive themselves regarding their capacities and attainments, to feel entitled, and to exploit others.
As Lilian Katz observed in her important paper, "Distinctions between Self-Esteem and Narcissism: Implications for Practice", published by the Educational Resources Information Center, the line between enhancing self-esteem and fostering narcissism is often blurred by educators and parents.
Both Christopher Lasch in "The Culture of Narcissism" and Theodore Millon in his books about personality disorders, singled out American society as narcissistic. Litigiousness may be the flip side of an inane sense of entitlement. Consumerism is built on this common and communal lie of "I can do anything I want and possess everything I desire if I only apply myself to it" and on the pathological envy it fosters.
Not surprisingly, narcissistic disorders are more common among men than among women. This may be because narcissism conforms to masculine social mores and to the prevailing ethos of capitalism. Ambition, achievements, hierarchy, ruthlessness, drive - are both social values and narcissistic male traits. Social thinkers like the aforementioned Lasch speculated that modern American culture - a self-centred one - increases the rate of incidence of the narcissistic personality disorder.
Otto Kernberg, a notable scholar of personality disorders, confirmed Lasch's intuition: "Society can make serious psychological abnormalities, which already exist in some percentage of the population, seem to be at least superficially appropriate."
In their book "Personality Disorders in Modern Life", Theodore Millon and Roger Davis state, as a matter of fact, that pathological narcissism was once the preserve of "the royal and the wealthy" and that it "seems to have gained prominence only in the late twentieth century". Narcissism, according to them, may be associated with "higher levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs ... Individuals in less advantaged nations .. are too busy trying (to survive) ... to be arrogant and grandiose".
They - like Lasch before them - attribute pathological narcissism to "a society that stresses individualism and self-gratification at the expense of community, namely the United States." They assert that the disorder is more prevalent among certain professions with "star power" or respect. "In an individualistic culture, the narcissist is 'God's gift to the world'. In a collectivist society, the narcissist is 'God's gift to the collective."
Millon quotes Warren and Caponi's "The Role of Culture in the Development of Narcissistic Personality Disorders in America, Japan and Denmark":
"Individualistic narcissistic structures of self-regard (in individualistic societies) ... are rather self-contained and independent ... (In collectivist cultures) narcissistic configurations of the we-self ... denote self-esteem derived from strong identification with the reputation and honor of the family, groups, and others in hierarchical relationships."
Still, there are malignant narcissists among subsistence farmers in Africa, nomads in the Sinai desert, day laborers in east Europe, and intellectuals and socialites in Manhattan. Malignant narcissism is all-pervasive and independent of culture and society. It is true , though, that the way pathological narcissism manifests and is experienced is dependent on the particulars of societies and cultures.
In some cultures, it is encouraged, in others suppressed. In some societies it is channeled against minorities - in others it is tainted with paranoia. In collectivist societies, it may be projected onto the collective, in individualistic societies, it is an individual's trait.
Yet, can families, organizations, ethnic groups, churches, and even whole nations be safely described as "narcissistic" or "pathologically self-absorbed"? Can we talk about a "corporate culture of narcissism"?
Human collectives - states, firms, households, institutions, political parties, cliques, bands - acquire a life and a character all their own. The longer the association or affiliation of the members, the more cohesive and conformist the inner dynamics of the group, the more persecutory or numerous its enemies, competitors, or adversaries, the more intensive the physical and emotional experiences of the individuals it is comprised of, the stronger the bonds of locale, language, and history - the more rigorous might an assertion of a common pathology be.
Such an all-pervasive and extensive pathology manifests itself in the behavior of each and every member. It is a defining - though often implicit or underlying - mental structure. It has explanatory and predictive powers. It is recurrent and invariable - a pattern of conduct melding distorted cognition and stunted emotions. And it is often vehemently denied.
Narcissism, Substance Abuse, and Reckless Behaviours
By: Sam Vaknin
Pathological narcissism is an addiction to narcissistic supply, the narcissist's drug of choice. It is, therefore, not surprising that other addictive and reckless behaviours - workaholism, alcoholism, drug abuse, pathological gambling, compulsory shopping, or reckless driving - piggyback on this primary dependence.
The narcissist - like other types of addicts - derives pleasure from these exploits. But they also sustain and enhance his grandiose fantasies as "unique", "superior", "entitled", and "chosen". They place him above the laws and pressures of the mundane and away from the humiliating and sobering demands of reality. They render him the centre of attention - but also place him in "splendid isolation" from the madding and inferior crowd.
Such compulsory and wild pursuits provide a psychological exoskeleton. They are a substitute to quotidian existence. They afford the narcissist with an agenda, with timetables, goals, and faux achievements. The narcissist - the adrenaline junkie - feels that he is in control, alert, excited, and vital. He does not regard his condition as dependence. The narcissist firmly believes that he is in charge of his addiction, that he can quit at will and on short notice.
The narcissist denies his cravings for fear of "losing face" and subverting the flawless, perfect, immaculate, and omnipotent image he projects. When caught red handed, the narcissist underestimates, rationalizes, or intellectualizes his addictive and reckless behaviours - converting them into an integral part of his grandiose and fantastic False Self.
Thus, a drug abusing narcissist may claim to be conducting first hand research for the benefit of humanity - or that his substance abuse results in enhanced creativity and productivity. The dependence of some narcissists becomes a way of life: busy corporate executives, race car drivers, or professional gamblers come to mind.
The narcissist's addictive behaviours take his mind off his inherent limitations, inevitable failures, painful and much-feared rejections, and the grandiosity gap - the abyss between the image he projects (the False Self) and the injurious truth. They relieve his anxiety and resolve the tension between his unrealistic expectations and inflated self-image - and his incommensurate achievements, position, status, recognition, intelligence, wealth, and physique.
Thus, there is no point in treating the dependence and recklessness of the narcissist without first treating the underlying personality disorder. The narcissist's addictions serve deeply ingrained emotional needs. They intermesh seamlessly with the pathological structure of his disorganized personality, with his character faults, and primitive defence mechanisms.
Techniques such as "12 steps" may prove more efficacious in treating the narcissist's grandiosity, rigidity, sense of entitlement, exploitativeness, and lack of empathy. This is because - as opposed to traditional treatment modalities - the emphasis is on tackling the narcissist's psychological makeup, rather than on behaviour modification.
The narcissist's overwhelming need to feel omnipotent and superior can be co-opted in the therapeutic process. Overcoming an addictive behaviour can be - truthfully - presented by the therapist as a rare and impressive feat, worthy of the narcissist's unique mettle.
Narcissists fall for these transparent pitches surprisingly often. But this approach can backfire. Should the narcissist relapse - an almost certain occurrence - he will feel ashamed to admit his fallibility, need for emotional sustenance, and impotence. He is likely to avoid treatment altogether and convince himself that now, having succeeded once to get rid of his addiction, he is self-sufficient and omniscient.
Misdiagnosing Narcissism - The Bipolar I Disorder
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
First published in my
"Narcissistic Personality Disorder" Topic Page on Suite 101
(The use of gender pronouns in this article reflects the clinical facts: most narcissists are men).
The manic phase of Bipolar I Disorder is often misdiagnosed as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
Bipolar patients in the manic phase exhibit many of the signs and symptoms of pathological narcissism - hyperactivity, self-centeredness, lack of empathy, and control freakery. During this recurring chapter of the disease, the patient is euphoric, has grandiose fantasies, spins unrealistic schemes, and has frequent rage attacks (is irritable) if her or his wishes and plans are (inevitably) frustrated.
The manic phases of the Bipolar Disorder, however, are limited in time - NPD is not. Furthermore, the mania is followed by - usually protracted - depressive episodes. The narcissist is also frequently dysphoric. But whereas the Bipolar sinks into deep self-deprecation, self-devaluation, unbounded pessimism, all-pervasive guilt and anhedonia - the narcissist, even when depressed, never forgoes his narcissism: his grandiosity, sense of entitlement, haughtiness, and lack of empathy.
Narcissistic dysphorias are much shorter and reactive - they constitute a response to the grandiosity gap. In plain words, the narcissist is dejected when confronted with the abyss between his inflated self-image and grandiose fantasies - and the drab reality of his life: his failures, lack of accomplishments, disintegrating interpersonal relationships, and low status. Yet, one dose of narcissistic supply is enough to elevate the narcissists from the depth of misery to the heights of manic euphoria.
Not so with the Bipolar. The source of her or his mood swings is assumed to be brain biochemistry - not the availability of narcissistic supply. Whereas the narcissist is in full control of his faculties, even when maximally agitated, the Bipolar often feels that s/he has lost control of his/her brain ("flight of ideas"), his/her speech, his/her attention span (distractibility), and his/her motor functions.
The Bipolar is prone to reckless behaviors and substance abuse only during the manic phase. The narcissist does drugs, drinks, gambles, shops on credit, indulges in unsafe sex or in other compulsive behaviors both when elated and when deflated.
As a rule, the Bipolar's manic phase interferes with his/her social and occupational functioning. Many narcissists, in contrast, reach the highest rungs of their community, church, firm, or voluntary organization. Most of the time, they function flawlessly - though the inevitable blowups and the grating extortion of narcissistic supply usually put an end to the narcissist's career and social liaisons.
The manic phase of Bipolar sometimes requires hospitalization and - more frequently than admitted - involves psychotic features. Narcissists are never hospitalized as the risk for self-harm is minute. Moreover, psychotic microepisodes in narcissism are decompensatory in nature and appear only under unendurable stress (e.g., in intensive therapy).
The Bipolar's mania provokes discomfort in both strangers and in the patient's nearest and dearest. His/her constant cheer and compulsive insistence on interpersonal, sexual, and occupational, or professional interactions engenders unease and repulsion. Her/his lability of mood - rapid shifts between uncontrollable rage and unnatural good spirits - is downright intimidating. The narcissist's gregariousness, by comparison, is calculated, "cold", controlled, and goal-orientated (the extraction of narcissistic supply). His cycles of mood and affect are far less pronounced and less rapid.
The Bipolar's swollen self-esteem, overstated self-confidence, obvious grandiosity, and delusional fantasies are akin to the narcissist's and are the source of the diagnostic confusion. Both types of patients purport to give advice, carry out an assignment, accomplish a mission, or embark on an enterprise for which they are uniquely unqualified and lack the talents, skills, knowledge, or experience required.
But the Bipolar's bombast is far more delusional than the narcissist's. Ideas of reference and magical thinking are common and, in this sense, the Bipolar is closer to the Schizotypal than to the Narcissistic.
There are other differentiating symptoms:
Sleep disorders - notably acute insomnia - are common in the manic phase of Bipolar and uncommon in narcissism. So is "Manic speech" - pressured, uninterruptible, loud, rapid, dramatic (includes singing and humorous asides), sometimes incomprehensible, incoherent, chaotic, and lasts for hours. It reflects the Bipolar's inner turmoil and his/her inability to control his/her racing and kaleidoscopic thoughts.
As opposed to narcissists, Bipolar in the manic phase are often distracted by the slightest stimuli, are unable to focus on relevant data, or to maintain the thread of conversation. They are "all over the place" - simultaneously initiating numerous business ventures, joining a myriad organization, writing umpteen letters, contacting hundreds of friends and perfect strangers, acting in a domineering, demanding, and intrusive manner, totally disregarding the needs and emotions of the unfortunate recipients of their unwanted attentions. They rarely follow up on their projects.
The transformation is so marked that the Bipolar is often described by his/her closest as "not himself/herself". Indeed, some Bipolars relocate, change name and appearance, and lose contact with their "former life". Antisocial or even criminal behavior is not uncommon and aggression is marked, directed at both others (assault) and oneself (suicide). Some Biploars describe an acuteness of the senses, akin to experiences recounted by drug users: smells, sounds, and sights are accentuated and attain an unearthly quality.
As opposed to narcissists, Bipolars regret their misdeeds following the manic phase and try to atone for their actions. They realize and accept that "something is wrong with them" and seek help. During the depressive phase they are ego-dystonic and their defenses are autoplastic (they blame themselves for their defeats, failures, and mishaps).
Finally, pathological narcissism is already discernible in early adolescence. The full-fledged Bipolar Disorder - including a manic phase - rarely occurs before the age of 20. The narcissist is consistent in his pathology - not so the Bipolar. The onset of the manic episode is fast and furious and results in a conspicuous metamorphosis of the patient.
More about this topic here:
Stormberg, D., Roningstam, E., Gunderson, J., & Tohen, M. (1998) Pathological Narcissism in Bipolar Disorder Patients. Journal of Personality Disorders, 12, 179-185
Roningstam, E. (1996), Pathological Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder in Axis I Disorders. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 3, 326-340
Misdiagnosing Narcissism - Asperger's Disorder
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
First published in my
"Narcissistic Personality Disorder" Topic Page on Suite 101
(The use of gender pronouns in this article reflects the clinical facts: most narcissists and most Asperger's patients are male).
Asperger's Disorder is often misdiagnosed as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), though evident as early as age 3 (while pathological narcissism cannot be safely diagnosed prior to early adolescence).
In both cases, the patient is self-centered and engrossed in a narrow range of interests and activities. Social and occupational interactions are severely hampered and conversational skills (the give and take of verbal intercourse) are primitive. The Asperger's patient body language - eye to eye gaze, body posture, facial expressions - is constricted and artificial, akin to the narcissist's. Nonverbal cues are virtually absent and their interpretation in others lacking.
Yet, the gulf between Asperger's and pathological narcissism is vast.
The narcissist switches between social agility and social impairment voluntarily. His social dysfunctioning is the outcome of conscious haughtiness and the reluctance to invest scarce mental energy in cultivating relationships with inferior and unworthy others. When confronted with potential sources of narcissistic supply, however, the narcissist easily regains his social skills, his charm, and his gregariousness.
Many narcissists reach the highest rungs of their community, church, firm, or voluntary organization. Most of the time, they function flawlessly - though the inevitable blowups and the grating extortion of narcissistic supply usually put an end to the narcissist's career and social liaisons.
The Asperger's patient often wants to be accepted socially, to have friends, to marry, to be sexually active, and to sire offspring. He just doesn't have a clue how to go about it. His affect is limited. His initiative - for instance, to share his experiences with nearest and dearest or to engage in foreplay - is thwarted. His ability to divulge his emotions stilted. He is incapable or reciprocating and is largely unaware of the wishes, needs, and feelings of his interlocutors or counterparties.
Inevitably, Asperger's patients are perceived by others to be cold, eccentric, insensitive, indifferent, repulsive, exploitative or emotionally-absent. To avoid the pain of rejection, they confine themselves to solitary activities - but, unlike the Schizoid, not by choice. They limit their world to a single topic, hobby, or person and dive in with the greatest, all-consuming intensity, excluding all other matters and everyone else. It is a form of hurt-control and pain regulation.
Thus, while the narcissist avoids pain by excluding, devaluing, and discarding others - the Asperger's patient achieves the same result by withdrawing and by passionately incorporating in his universe only one or two people and one or two subjects of interest. Both narcissists and Asperger's patients are prone to react with depression to perceived slights and injuries - but Asperger's patients are far more at risk of self-harm and suicide.
The use of language is another differentiating factor.
The narcissist is a skilled communicator. He uses language as an instrument to obtain narcissistic supply or as a weapon to obliterate his "enemies" and discarded sources with. Cerebral narcissists derive narcissistic supply from the consummate use they make of their innate verbosity.
Not so the Asperger's patient. He is equally verbose at times (and taciturn on other occasions) but his topics are few and, thus, tediously repetitive. He is unlikely to obey conversational rules and etiquette (for instance, to let others speak in turn). Nor is the Asperger's patient able to decipher nonverbal cues and gestures or to monitor his own misbehavior on such occasions. Narcissists are similarly inconsiderate - but only towards those who cannot possibly serve as sources of narcissistic supply.
More about Autism Spectrum Disorders here:
McDowell, Maxson J. (2002) The Image of the Mother's Eye: Autism and Early Narcissistic Injury , Behavioral and Brain Sciences (Submitted).
Benis, Anthony - "Toward Self & Sanity: On the Genetic Origins of the Human Character" - Narcissistic-Perfectionist Personality Type (NP) with special reference to infantile autism -
Stringer, Kathi (2003) An Object Relations Approach to Understanding Unusual Behaviors and Disturbances
James Robert Brasic, MD, MPH (2003) Pervasive Developmental Disorder: Asperger Syndrome
The Cult of the Narcissist
By: Sam Vaknin
The narcissist is the guru at the center of a cult. Like other gurus, he demands complete obedience from his flock: his spouse, his offspring, other family members, friends, and colleagues. He feels entitled to adulation and special treatment by his followers. He punishes the wayward and the straying lambs. He enforces discipline, adherence to his teachings, and common goals. The less accomplished he is in reality - the more stringent his mastery and the more pervasive the brainwashing.
The - often involuntary - members of the narcissist's mini-cult inhabit a twilight zone of his own construction. He imposes on them a shared psychosis, replete with persecutory delusions, "enemies", mythical narratives, and apocalyptic scenarios if he is flouted.
The narcissist's control is based on ambiguity, unpredictability, fuzziness, and ambient abuse. His ever-shifting whims exclusively define right versus wrong, desirable and unwanted, what is to be pursued and what to be avoided. He alone determines the rights and obligations of his disciples and alters them at will.
The narcissist is a micro-manager. He exerts control over the minutest details and behaviors. He punishes severely and abuses withholders of information and those who fail to conform to his wishes and goals.
The narcissist does not respect the boundaries and privacy of his reluctant adherents. He ignores their wishes and treats them as objects or instruments of gratification. He seeks to control both situations and people compulsively.
He strongly disapproves of others' personal autonomy and independence. Even innocuous activities, such as meeting a friend or visiting one's family require his permission. Gradually, he isolates his nearest and dearest until they are fully dependent on him emotionally, sexually, financially, and socially.
He acts in a patronizing and condescending manner and criticizes often. He alternates between emphasizing the minutest faults (devalues) and exaggerating the talents, traits, and skills (idealizes) of the members of his cult. He is wildly unrealistic in his expectations - which legitimizes his subsequent abusive conduct.
The narcissist claims to be infallible, superior, talented, skillful, omnipotent, and omniscient. He often lies and confabulates to support these unfounded claims. Within his cult, he expects awe, admiration, adulation, and constant attention commensurate with his outlandish stories and assertions. He reinterprets reality to fit his fantasies.
His thinking is dogmatic, rigid, and doctrinaire. He does not countenance free thought, pluralism, or free speech and doesn't brook criticism and disagreement. He demands - and often gets - complete trust and the relegation to his capable hands of all decision-making.
He forces the participants in his cult to be hostile to critics, the authorities, institutions, his personal enemies, or the media - if they try to uncover his actions and reveal the truth. He closely monitors and censors information from the outside, exposing his captive audience only to selective data and analyses.
The narcissist's cult is "missionary" and "imperialistic". He is always on the lookout for new recruits - his spouse's friends, his daughter's girlfriends, his neighbors, new colleagues at work. He immediately attempts to "convert" them to his "creed" - to convince them how wonderful and admirable he is. In other words, he tries to render them sources of narcissistic supply.
Often, his behavior on these "recruiting missions" is different to his conduct within the "cult". In the first phases of wooing new admirers and proselytizing to potential "conscripts" - the narcissist is attentive, compassionate, empathic, flexible, self-effacing, and helpful. At home, among the "veterans" he is tyrannical, demanding, willful, opinionated, aggressive, and exploitative.
As the leader of his congregation, the narcissist feels entitled to special amenities and benefits not accorded the "rank and file". He expects to be waited on hand and foot, to make free use of everyone's money and dispose of their assets liberally, and to be cynically exempt from the rules that he himself established (if such violation is pleasurable or gainful).
In extreme cases, the narcissist feels above the law - any kind of law. This grandiose and haughty conviction leads to criminal acts, incestuous or polygamous relationships, and recurrent friction with the authorities.
Hence the narcissist's panicky and sometimes violent reactions to "dropouts" from his cult. There's a lot going on that the narcissist wants kept under wraps. Moreover, the narcissist stabilizes his fluctuating sense of self-worth by deriving narcissistic supply from his victims. Abandonment threatens the narcissist's precariously balanced personality.
Add to that the narcissist's paranoid and schizoid tendencies, his lack of introspective self-awareness, and his stunted sense of humor (lack of self-deprecation) and the risks to the grudging members of his cult are clear.
The narcissist sees enemies and conspiracies everywhere. He often casts himself as the heroic victim (martyr) of dark and stupendous forces. In every deviation from his tenets he espies malevolent and ominous subversion. He, therefore, is bent on disempowering his devotees. By any and all means.
The narcissist is dangerous.
The Cyber Narcissist
By: Sam Vaknin
First published in my
"Narcissistic Personality Disorder"
Topic Page on Suite 101
To the narcissist, the Internet is an alluring and irresistible combination of playground and hunting grounds, the gathering place of numerous potential Sources of Narcissistic Supply, a world where false identities are the norm and mind games the bon ton. And it is beyond the reach of the law, the pale of social norms, the strictures of civilized conduct.
The somatic finds cyber-sex and cyber-relationships aplenty. The cerebral claims false accomplishments, fake skills, erudition and talents. Both, if minimally communicative, end up at the instantly gratifying epicenter of a cult of fans, followers, stalkers, erotomaniacs, denigrators, and plain nuts. The constant attention and attendant quasi-celebrity feed and sustain their grandiose fantasies and inflated self-image.
The Internet is an extension of the real-life Narcissistic Pathological Space but without its risks, injuries, and disappointments. In the virtual universe of the Web, the narcissist vanishes and reappears with ease, often adopting a myriad aliases and nicknames. He (or she) can thus fend off criticism, abuse, disagreement, and disapproval effectively and in real time – and, simultaneously, preserve the precarious balance of his infantile personality. Narcissists are, therefore, prone to Internet addiction.
The positive characteristics of the Net are largely lost on the narcissist. He is not keen on expanding his horizons, fostering true relationships, or getting in real contact with other people. The narcissist is forever the provincial because he filters everything through the narrow lens of his addiction. He measures others – and idealizes or devalues them – according to one criterion only: how useful they might be as Sources of Narcissistic Supply.
The Internet is an egalitarian medium where people are judged by the consistency and quality of their contributions rather than by the content or bombast of their claims. But the narcissist is driven to distracting discomfiture by a lack of clear and commonly accepted hierarchy (with himself at the pinnacle). He fervently and aggressively tries to impose the "natural order" – either by monopolizing the interaction or, if that fails, by becoming a major disruptive influence.
But the Internet may also be the closest many narcissists get to psychodynamic therapy. Because it is still largely text-based, the Web is populated by disembodied entities. By interacting with these intermittent, unpredictable, ultimately unknowable, ephemeral, and ethereal voices – the narcissist is compelled to project unto them his own experiences, fears, hopes, and prejudices.
Transference (and counter-transference) are quite common on the Net and the narcissist's defence mechanisms – notably projection and projective identification – are frequently aroused. The therapeutic process is set in motion by the – unbridled, uncensored, and brutally honest - reactions to the narcissist's repertory of antics, pretensions, delusions, and fantasies.
The narcissist – ever the intimidating bully – is not accustomed to such resistance. Initially, it may heighten and sharpen his paranoia and lead him to compensate by extending and deepening his grandiosity. Some narcissists withdraw altogether, reverting to the schizoid posture. Others become openly antisocial and seek to subvert, sabotage, and destroy the online sources of their frustration. A few retreat and confine themselves to the company of adoring sycophants and unquestioning groupies.
But a long exposure to the culture of the Net – irreverent, skeptical, and populist – usually exerts a beneficial effect even on the staunchest and most rigid narcissist. Far less convinced of his own superiority and infallibility, the online narcissist mellows and begins – hesitantly – to listen to others and to collaborate with them.