Narcissist: Stable Life or Roller Coaster?

Uploaded 1/19/2013, approx. 10 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

The narcissist is dependent on and addicted to fluctuating narcissistic supply. Inevitably, narcissist's life and mood are volatile.

The classic narcissist maintains an island of stability in his life, while the other dimensions of his existence wallow in chaos and unpredictability.

The borderline narcissist, on the other hand, reacts to instability in one area of his life by introducing chaos into all other dimensions of his existence.

Let's go to the details.

The narcissist is someone who derives his ego functions, or even his ego, from other people's reactions to an image that he invents and then projects. We call this image false self, and people's reactions to this image we call narcissistic supply.

No absolute control is possible over a narcissistic supply. Its quantity, its quality vary inevitably.

Narcissistic supply is bound to fluctuate, and the narcissist's view of himself and of his world is correspondingly and equally volatile.

As public opinion ebbs and flows, so do the narcissist's self-confidence, self-esteem, his sense of self-worth, or in other words, so does the narcissist's very self.

Even the narcissist's convictions are subject to a never-ending process of vetting and opinion polling.

The narcissist's personality is unstable in each and every one of its dimensions, but its instability is strange. It is the ultimate hybrid.

The narcissist is rigidly amorphous, devoutly flexible, relying for its sustenance on the opinion of people whom the narcissist undervalues or even holds in content.

A large part of this instability is subsumed under the emotional involvement prevention mechanisms that I describe in my work.

The narcissist's ability is so ubiquitous and so dominant that it might well be described as the only stable feature of the narcissist's personality.

The narcissist does everything with one goal in mind, to attract narcissistic supply.

He is addicted to attention.

Consider an example.

The narcissist may study a given subject diligently and in great depth in order to impress people later with this newly acquired and registered.

But having served its purpose, the narcissist lets the knowledge thus acquired evaporate.

He sort of forgets all of it.

The narcissist maintains a sort of short-term cell or warehouse where he stores whatever may come handy in the pursuit of narcissistic supply.

But he is almost never really interested in what he is doing, in what he does, in what he studies, in what he experiences.

From the outside, this kind of behavior might be perceived as instability.

But think about it this way.

The narcissist is constantly preparing for life's examinations and feels that he is on a permanent triad.

It is common to forget material studied only cramming for an exam. It's common to forget material or knowledge accumulated in preparation for a court appearance.

Short-term memory is perfectly normal.

What sets the narcissist apart is the fact that with him, this short-termism, this short-term memory is a constant state of affairs and affects all his functions, not only those directly related to learning or to emotions or to experience or to any single dimension of his life.

The narcissist exists discontinuously. He reinvents himself every day, every minute in order to govern a supply.

The narcissist learns, remembers and forgets not in line with his real interests or hobbies.

He loves and hates not the real subjects of his emotions, but one-dimensional utilitarian cartoons, cardboard figures, cardboard cut-outs constructed by him.

The narcissist judges, praises and condemns all from the narrowest possible point of view.

The potential to extract narcissistic supply, all the lack thereof.

The narcissist asks not what he can do with the world and in the world, but what can the world do for him as far as narcissistic supply goes.

The narcissist falls in and out of love with people, workplaces, residences, locations, hobbies, interests, religious beliefs, other beliefs, ideologies, because they seem to be able to provide him with more or less narcissistic supply and for no other reason.

Narcissists belong to two broad categories, the compensatory stability and the enhancing stability types.

It starts with the compensatory stability, narcissist, also known as classic narcissist.

This type of narcissist isolates one or more but never most aspects of his life and makes these aspects stable.

These narcissists do not really invest themselves in their activities.

This stability is maintained by artificial means, money, celebrity, power, fear.

A typical example is a narcissist who changes numerous workplaces, a few careers, myriad hobbies, value systems, faiths, geologies, etc.

But at the same time, he maintains and preserves a relationship with a single woman and even remains faithful to her.

She, this woman, is his island of stability.

To fulfill this role, she just needs to be there for him physically. As long as she is there, she is his island of stability while the storm rages in all other dimensions of his life.

The narcissist is dependent upon his woman to maintain the stability lacking in all other areas of his life, to compensate for his instability.

Yet emotional closeness is bound to threaten the narcissist, fear's intimacy.

Thus, he is likely to distance himself from that woman and remain detached and indifferent to most of her needs.

She is but a function.

Despite this cruel emotional treatment, the narcissist considered his woman to be a point of exit, a form of sustenance, a fountain of empowerment.

This mismatch between what he wishes to receive and what he is able or willing to give, the narcissist prefers to deny, repress and bury deep in his unconscious.

This is why the narcissist is always shocked and devastated to learn of his wife's estrangement, her infidelity or intentions to divorce him.

Possessed of no emotional depth being completely one-track minded, the narcissist cannot fathom the needs of others.

In other words, he cannot empathize. He doesn't understand her emotions and emotional background.

Another even more common case is the career narcissist.

This narcissist marries, divorces and remarries with dizziness feeling.

Everything in his life is a constant flux. His friends, his emotions, his judgments, his opinions, his values, his beliefs, places of residence, affiliations, hobbies, everything, except one thing, his job, his workplace.

His career is the island of compensatory stability in his otherwise mercurial existence.

This kind of narcissist is dogged by unmitigated ambition and devotion. He perseveres in one workplace or one job, patiently, persistently and blindly climbing up the corporate ladder and treading the career path.

In his pursuit of job fulfillment and achievements, the narcissist is ruthless and unstructural and very often successful.

Now let's consider the other type of narcissist, be borderline or enhancing instability narcissist.

This other kind of narcissist enhances instability in one aspect or dimension of his life by introducing chaos, unpredictability and instability in all other dimensions of his life.

For instance, if this narcissist resigns or more likely is made redundant, fired from his work, he also relocates to another city or country.

If he happens to divorce, he is also likely to resign his job.

One instability or an instability in one area of his life and he immediately rushes to destabilize the rest of his life.

This added instability gives this kind of narcissist the feeling that all the dimensions of his life are changing simultaneously, that he is being unshackled, that a transformation is in progress, that he is becoming free.

This, of course, is an illusion. Those who know the narcissist no longer trust his frequent conversions, decisions, crises, transformations, developments and periods.

They see through his pretensions, protestations and solemn declarations into the core of his instability. They know that he is not to be relied upon. They know that with narcissists, temporariness is the only permanence.

In general, narcissists of all kinds hate routine.

When a narcissist finds himself doing the same thing over and over again, he gets depressed. He oversleeves, overeats, overdrinks and in general engages in addictive, impulsive, reckless and compulsive behaviors.

This is his way of reintroducing risk and excitement into what he emotionally proceeds to be a barren wasteland of a life.

The problem is that even the most exciting and varied existence becomes routine after a while, living in the same country or apartment, meeting the same people, doing essentially the same things, even with changing content.

All these qualify in the eyes of a narcissist as stultifying rote, pedestrian existence.

A narcissist feels entitled. He feels it is his right, only due to his intellectual and physical superiority, to lead a thrilling, rewarding, exciting, kaleidoscopic life.

He wants to force life itself or at least people around him to yield to his wishes and needs, supreme among them the need for stimulating the right.

This rejection of habit is part of a larger pattern of aggressive entitlement.

The narcissist feels that the very existence of a sublime intellect such as his warrants concessions and allowances by others.

And thus, standing in line is a waste of time better spent pursuing knowledge, inventing and creating.

The narcissist would avail himself of the best medical treatment preferred by the most prominent medical authorities, lest the precious asset that he is is lost to mankind.

He should not be bothered by chores or trivial pursuits. These lowly functions are designed to the less gifted.

The devil is paying precious attention to detail, thinks the narcissist, and he is on the side of goal.

Entitlement is sometimes justified in a Picasso or an Einstein. But few narcissists are either Picasso or Einstein.

Their achievements are grotesquely incommensurate with their overwhelming sense of entitlement and with their grandiose self-image.

Of course, this overpowering sense of superiority often serves to mask and compensate for a cancerous complex of inferiority.

Moreover, the narcissist infects others with his projected grandiosity and their feedback constitutes the edifice upon which he constructs his self-esteem.

He regulates his sense of self-worth by rigidly insisting that he is above the meddying crowd while deriving his narcissistic supply from the very people that he holds in deep disdain and contempt.

But there is a second angle to this abhorrence of the predictable, of the pedestrian, of the routine.

Narcissist's employer owes to emotional involvement prevention mechanisms.

Despising routine and avoiding it is one of these mechanisms.

Their function is to prevent the narcissist from getting emotionally involved, from bonding, from attaching, and subsequently from being hurt.

These are hurt avoidance mechanisms.

Their application results in an approach avoidance repetition complex.

The narcissist's fearing and loathing intimacy, stability, and security, yet craving them at the very same time, approaches, then avoids significant others or important tasks in a rapid succession of apparently inconsistent and disconnected circles.

But there is an explanation underneath it all.

And this explanation is called Pathological Narcissism.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like the following:

Zombie Narcissist: Deficient Narcissistic Supply

Narcissists are constantly seeking praise, adoration, admiration, approval, applause, attention, and other forms of narcissistic supply. When they fail to obtain sufficient supply, they react much like a drug addict would. They become dysphoric, depressed, and may resort to alternative addictions. In extreme cases of deprivation, they may even entertain suicidal thoughts. Narcissists also have a sense of magical thinking, believing that they will always prevail and that good things will always happen to them, rendering them fearless and cloaked in divine and cosmic immunity.

Narcissist's Cycles of Ups and Downs

Narcissists go through cycles of mania and depression, which are caused by external events or circumstances known as triggers. The cycles are different from manic depressive cycles in bipolar disorder, which are endogenous. The narcissist is addicted to narcissistic supply and seeks admiration, adoration, approval, attention, and so on. The narcissist goes through ups and downs, including a depressive phase, a hibernation phase, and a manic phase, which are all part of the process of obtaining and securing narcissistic supply.

Old-age Narcissist

Narcissists age without grace, unable to accept their fallibility and mortality. They suffer from mental progeria, aging prematurely and finding themselves in a time warp. The longer they live, the more average they become, and the wider the gulf between their pretensions and accomplishments. Few narcissists save for rainy days, and those who succeed in their vocation end up bitterly alone, having squandered the love of family, offspring, and mates.

Narcissist Hates Happy People and Holidays

Holidays and birthdays are a difficult time for narcissists, as they provoke a stream of pathological envy. The narcissist is jealous of others for having a family, being able to celebrate lavishly, or being in the right mood. They hate humans because they are unable to be one and want to spoil it for those who can enjoy. Holidays remind the narcissist of their childhood, the supportive and loving family they never had, and what could have been.

Narcissist as Eternal Child

Narcissists often refuse to grow up and remain in a state of infantilization, avoiding adult responsibilities and functions. This is because remaining a child caters to their narcissistic needs and defenses. Narcissists are often envious of children and try to emulate them, as children are forgiven for narcissistic traits and behaviors that adults are not. By remaining a child, the narcissist can indulge in these behaviors and not be punished for them.

The Signs of the Narcissist

Narcissists are difficult to spot, but there are subtle signs that can be picked up on, such as entitlement markers, idealization and devaluation, and a lack of empathy. Narcissists are often perceived as anti-social and are unable to secure the sympathy of others. They are also prone to projecting a false self and using primitive defense mechanisms such as splitting, projection, projective identification, and intellectualization.

Negative, Fake, Low-grade Narcissistic Supply

Narcissists crave attention, both positive and negative, and use it to regulate their sense of self-worth. They construct a false self and project it onto others to elicit admiration, adulation, and fear. Negative supply can become narcissistic supply when positive supply is scarce. Narcissists also crave punishment, which confirms their view of themselves as worthless and relieves them of the inner conflict they endure when they are successful.

Narcissistic Humiliation and Injury

Narcissists react to humiliation in the same way as normal people, only more so. They are regularly and strongly humiliated by things that normally do not constitute a humiliation. The emotional life of the narcissist is tinted by ubiquitous and recurrent insults, humiliations, and slights. The narcissist is constantly on the defensive, constantly being targeted, and is a kind of paranoid.

Narcissist Reacts to Criticism, Disagreement, Disapproval

Narcissists are hypervigilant and perceive every disagreement as criticism and every critical comment as complete and humiliating rejection. They react defensively, becoming indignant, aggressive, and cold. The narcissist minimizes the impact of the disagreement and criticism on himself by holding the critic in contempt, by diminishing the stature of the discordant conversant. When the disagreement or criticism or disapproval or approbation become public, the narcissist tends to regard them as narcissistic supply.

Narcissist: Loser and Failure

Narcissists have three traits that make them fail and become losers: a sense of entitlement, arrogance, and aversion to routine. Their sense of entitlement makes them lazy and believe that they should be spoon-fed. They are under-qualified and lack skills because they believe they are above mundane chores. Their arrogance and belief that they are superior to others hampers their ability to function in society. They become outcasts and are shunned by colleagues, employers, and family members.

Transcripts Copyright © Sam Vaknin 2010-2024, under license to William DeGraaf
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