My name is Sam Vaknin. I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.
Cycles of overvaluation, also known as idealization, followed by devaluation, characterize many personality disorders. Such cycles are even more typical and more prevalent in borderline personality disorder than in narcissistic one. Such cycles between overvaluation and devaluation reflect the need to be protected against the whims, needs and choices of other people, shielded from the hurt that they can inflict on the narcissist.
The ultimate and only emotional need of the narcissist is to be the subject of attention, and thus to support his volatile self-esteem and to regulate his precarious sense of self-worth. The narcissist is dependent on others for the performance of critical ego functions. While healthier people overcome disappointment or disillusionment with relative ease, to the narcissist they are the difference between being and nothingness.
The equality and reliability of narcissistic supply are therefore of paramount importance to the narcissist. The more the narcissist convinces himself that his sources are perfect, grand, comprehensive, authoritative, omniscient, omnipotent, beautiful, powerful, rich, brilliant and so on and so forth, the better refuse.
If you have such sources of narcissistic supply, you yourself must be special, unique and deserving.
The narcissist has to idealize his supply sources in order to highly value the supply that he derives from them.
This leads to what we call overvaluation.
The narcissist forms a fantastic picture of his sources of narcissistic supply.
And of course the fall and the disappointment are inevitable.
Disillusionment sets in. The slightest criticism, disagreement or differences of opinion are interpreted by the narcissist as a all-out assault against the foundations of his existence.
The previous appraisal is sharply reversed. The same people are judged to be stupid or were previously deemed to possess genius for instance.
And this is the devaluation part of the cycle. It is very painful to both the narcissist and to the person devalued for very different reasons of course.
The narcissist mourns the loss, the demise of a promising investment opportunity.
In other words, a promising source of narcissistic supply.
The investment opportunity, the source of supply mourns the loss of the narcissist and what it had thought to have been special relationship.
But what is the mechanism behind this rapid cycling?
What drives the narcissist to such extremes? Why didn't the narcissist develop a better, more efficient coping technique? Why doesn't he develop a better reality test? Why doesn't he stay on the middle ground?
Well, the answer is that the overvaluation devaluation mechanism is the most efficient one available to the narcissist.
To understand why, one needs to take stock of the narcissist's energy or rather lack of energy.
The narcissist's personality is precariously balanced and it requires inordinate amounts of energy to maintain.
So overwhelmingly dependent the narcissist is on his environment for mental sustenance that the narcissist must optimize rather maximize the use of scarce resources at his disposal.
Not one aorta of effort, not one touch of 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 focking of attention.
This is a highly efficacious mechanism of allocation of resources in constant pursuit of the highest available emotional yields.
So how does it go?
After the narcissist emits a narcissistic signal within what I call the narcissistic mini cycle, the narcissist receives a host of narcissistic stimuli responses to his signal.
Narcissistic stimuli are simply messages from people who are willing to provide the narcissist with narcissistic supply.
But near readiness and willingness to provide narcissistic supply is not enough, not sufficient.
The narcissist now faces the daunting task of evaluating the potential content quality and extent of narcissistic supply from each and every one of his potential collaborators.
He does this by rating each of the potential sources of supply.
The stimulus within with the highest rating is naturally selected. It represents the best value for money, the most cost-reward efficient proposition.
The narcissist then proceeds to immediately overvalue and idealize the source it had selected. It is the narcissistic equivalent of getting emotionally involved. The narcissist bonds with the new source.
If the narcissist feels attracted, interested, curious, magically rewarded, reawakened, healthier people recognize this phenomenon. It is called infatuation.
To remove doubt, the source of narcissistic supply chosen this way does not have to be human. The narcissist is equally interested and infatuated with inanimate objects, for example, as status symbols. He forms attachment and bonds with groups of people, the nation, the church, the army, the police, and even with abstract notions, history, destiny, mission.
And then having idealized the source of supply that he had selected, the process of courting commences.
The narcissist knows how to charm, how to simulate emotions, how to flatten.
Many narcissists are gifted actors, having acted the role of their false self for so long. The narcissist winds the targeted supply source with a primary or secondary and dines it.
The narcissist complements the sweet talks. He is intensely present, deeply interested, he is laser focused on the target. The narcissist genuine and keen, though selfish, immersion in the other. The narcissist overt high regard for the source of supply, the result of idealization.
The narcissist almost submissiveness. These are alluring, they're tempting, they're very attractive. It is near impossible to resist a narcissist on the prowl.
At this stage, the narcissist's energies are all focused and dedicated to the task concentrated upon the source of supply he had identified.
During this phase of narcissistic courting or narcissistic pursuit, the narcissist is full of vitality, of dreams and hopes and plans and vision. He is manic. His energy is not dissipated.
The narcissist resembles a laser beam. He attempts and in many cases succeeds to achieve the impossible.
If, for instance, the narcissist targeted a publishing house, a magazine, as his future of source of supply by publishing his work, he produces incredible amounts of material in short period of time. It becomes prolific.
If he targets a potential mate, he floods her with attention, gifts, and inventive gestures. If he focuses on a group of people that he wishes to impress and belong to, he identifies with their goals and beliefs to the point of ridicule and discomfort.
The narcissist has the frightening capacity to turn himself into a weapon, focused, powerful, and lethal. The narcissist lavishes all his sizable energies, capabilities, talents, charms, and emotions on the newly selected source of supply.
And this has a great effect on the intended source and on the narcissist. This also serves to maximize the narcissist's return in the short run.
Once the target, the source of supply, is captured, preyed upon, and depleted, the reverse process called devaluation sets in.
The narcissist instantaneously and startingly, abruptly loses all interest in his former and now useless, or judged to be useless, source of narcissistic supply. He dumps and discards it.
The narcissist becomes bored, lazy, slow, devoid of energy, passive aggressive, absolutely uninterested.
The narcissist conserves his energies in preparation for the attack on and the siege upon the next selected source of supply.
These tectonic shifts between idealization and devaluation are hard to contemplate and still harder to believe in.
The narcissist has no genuine interests, loves, or hobbies. He likes only that which yields the most narcissistic supply at any given moment.
The narcissist can be a gifted artist for as long as his art rewards him with fame and adulation.
But once public interest wanes, or once criticism mounts, or once boredom sets in, the narcissist in a typical act of cognitive dissonance immediately ceases to create, loses interest in his art, and does not miss his old vocation for a split second.
The narcissist is likely to turn around and criticize his erstwhile career even as he pursues another totally unrelated one.
And the narcissist has no genuine emotions. He can be madly in love with a woman, secondary source of narcissistic supply, because she's famous, or wealthy, or a native, and can help him obtain legal residence for marriage, or because she comes from the right family, or because she's unique in a manner positively reflecting on the narcissist's perceived uniqueness, or because she had witnessed past successes with a narcissist, or merely because she admires him.
All these are good reasons to hone in a specific woman.
Yet this apparent love, even obsession, dissipates immediately when her usefulness runs its course, or when a better qualified source of supply presents herself.
The overvaluation and devaluation cycles are mere reflections and derivatives of these ups and downs of the narcissist's pools of energy and flows of supply.
Efficient, in other words, abrupt energy shifts, are more typical of automata, of machines.
Human beings are not like that.
But then the narcissist likes to brag of his inhumanity and machine-like qualities. He is right.