Narcissist: The Impulse to Be Perfect (Fear of Failure and Success)

Uploaded 3/31/2013, approx. 5 minute read

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

Most people who fear failure try hard not to fail.

Since, as we have shown, not failing amounts to failing to succeed, such people equally dread success and therefore try not to succeed.

They opt, in other words, for mediocrity. Not a failure, but not a success.

In order to not succeed, one needs to not apply oneself to one's tasks or to not embark on new ventures and other dakings.

Often, such avoidant and constricted behaviors are not a matter of choice, but the outcomes of inner, very strong psychological dynamics that compel them.

Narcissists cannot tell the difference between freewill choices and irresistible compulsions, because they regard themselves as omnipotent and therefore not subject to any forces, external or internal, greater than their own willpower.

Narcissists tend to claim that both their successes and their failures are exclusively the inevitable and predictable outcomes of their choices and decisions. No other force is involved except the narcissist.

Okay, the preference to not fail is trivial. No one wants to fail.

But why the propensity to not succeed? It's crucial to understand that not succeeding actually abates the fear of failure. After all, a one-time success calls for increasingly more unattainable repeat performances.

Success just means that one has got more to lose, more ways to fail.

Deliberately not succeeding also buttresses the narcissist's sense of omnipotence, because he is able to say, Iand only I, choose to what extent and whether I succeed or fail.

Similarly, the narcissist's grandiose conviction that he is perfect is supported by his self-inflicted lack of success, because he can tell himself, I could have succeeded had I only chose to and applied myself to it. Better to fantasize than to test this theory in reality.

The narcissist always says, I elect not to manifest my perfection by a success. I could have been a success if I really wanted to.

Indeed, as a philosopher, Benedict Spinoza observed, perfect beings have no wants and no needs. They don't have to try and prove anything. They are perfect.

In an imperfect world, such as ours is, the mere continued existence of a perfect being constitutes a success. I cannot fail as long as I merely survive.

It's the perfect entity's narcissist's motto.

Many narcissistic defenses, traits and behaviors revolve around this compulsive need to sustain a grandiose self-image of perfection, colloquially known as perfectionism.

Colloquially, deficient impulse control, inability to control one's impulses, helps achieve this crucial goal.

Impulsive actions and addictive behaviors render failure impossible, as they suggest a lack of premeditation and planning.

If you don't plan anything, if you don't premeditate, you can't fail.

Moreover, to the narcissistic patient, these kinds of decisions and deeds feel imminent and intuitive, an emanation of his core self.

The true expression of his quiddity is being, his essence.

This association of the patient's implied uniqueness with the exuberance and elation of involved in impulsive and addictive acts is intoxicating. It also offers support to the narcissist's view of himself as superior, invincible and immune to the consequences of his actions.

So, when the narcissist gambles compulsively, shops, drives recklessly or abuses substances, he feels godlike and thoroughly happy, at least for a fraction of the same.

Instant gratification, the infinitesimal delay between volition and desire and fulfillment. This small delay, short delay, enhances this overpowering sense of omnipotence.

The patient, the narcissist, inhabits an eternal present, actively suppressing the reasoned anticipation of the future consequences of his own actions.

Failure is an artifact of a future tense. You anticipate failure, you start something in the present and you fail in the future.

In the absence of such a horizon, in the absence of a future tense, success is invariably guarantee or at least imply.

Some narcissists, admittedly, are egodystonic. They loathe their lack of self-control. They berate themselves for their self-defeating profligacy and self-destructive immaturity.

But even then, their very ability to carry out the impulsive or addictive feat is, by definition, a success. If you succeed to gamble, succeed to shop, succeed to drive recklessly, you succeed. You are a success. The patient is accomplished at behaving irresponsibly and erratically. His labile self-ruination is his forte and his achievement as he masterfully navigates his own apocalyptic path to doom.

Even by failing to control his irresistible impulses and by succumbing to his addictions, is this kind of narcissistic patient able to act at all, otherwise it is paralyzed. His submission to these internal higher powers provides him with the perfect substitute to a constructive, productive, stable, truly satisfactory engagement with the world at all.

Thus, even when he is angry at himself, the narcissist castigates the ominous success of his dissolute ways, not his own failure.

He says, I am very good at destroying myself. I am very good at defeating my own purposes and goals.

But there is this sentence, I am very good at. I am a success at.

The narcissist's rage is displaced. Rather than confront his avoidant misconduct, he tries to cope with the symptoms of his underlying or pervasive and pernicious psychodynamics.

Ironically, it is this ineluctable failure of his life as a whole that endows the narcissist with a feeling of self-control. He is the one who brings about his own demise, inexorably but knowingly.

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Narcissist's Routines

Narcissists have a series of routines that are developed through rote learning and repetitive patterns of experience. These routines are used to reduce anxiety and transform the world into a manageable and controllable one. The narcissist is a creature of habit and finds change unsettling. The narcissist's routines are often broken down when they are breached or can no longer be defended, leading to a narcissistic injury.

Narcissist: Your Pain is his Healing, Your Crucifixion - His Resurrection

Narcissists need their victims to suffer to regulate their own emotions and feel a sense of control. They keep a mental ledger of positive and negative behaviors, with negative behaviors weighing more heavily. Narcissists need counterfactual statements to maintain their delusion of being special and superior. The grandiosity gap is the major vulnerability of the narcissist, and they are often in denial about their limitations and failures.

Narcissist: Drama Queen in Pathological Narcissistic Space

Narcissists have a deep-seated need for excitement and drama to alleviate their boredom and melancholy. They create an imaginary environment called the pathological narcissistic space, where they seek admiration, adoration, approval, applause, or attention. Narcissistic supply substitutes for having a real vocation or avocation and actual achievements. The narcissist's two mechanisms of establishing a morphological narcissistic space and the urge to move continuously are completely incompatible, leading to the narcissistic condition.

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: Confabulations, Lies

Confabulation is a common human trait, but the distinction between reality and fantasy is never lost. However, the narcissist's very self is a piece of fiction, concocted to fend off hurt and pain and to nurture the narcissist's grandiosity. The narcissist fails in his reality test and is unable to distinguish the actual from the imagined, the real from the fantasized. The narcissist's countenance, no disagreement, no alternative points of view, no criticism. To him, his confabulation is reality.

Narcissists: Achievers and Failures

Narcissists are either compulsively driven overachievers or chronic underachieving wastrels. The disparity between the accomplishments of the narcissist and his grandiose fantasies and inflated self-image is what is called the grandiosity gap. It is a staggering abyss and in the long run, it is insupportable and unsustainable. The narcissist's false self is so unrealistic and his expectations of himself are so way out there, his superego is so sadistic, these inner voices that criticize him, that there is nothing the narcissist can do to extricate himself from the Kafkaesque trial that is his life.

When the Narcissist's Parents Die

The death of a narcissist's parents can be a complicated experience. The narcissist has a mixed reaction to their passing, feeling both elation and grief. The parents are often the source of the narcissist's trauma and continue to haunt them long after they die. The death of the parents also represents a loss of a reliable source of narcissistic supply, which can lead to severe depression. Additionally, the narcissist's unfinished business with their parents can lead to unresolved conflicts and pressure that deforms their personality.

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.

Why We Love to Hate Celebrities (Interview in Superinteressante Magazine in Brazil)

Celebrities serve as mythical narratives and blank screens for fans to project their emotions onto. When celebrities deviate from these roles, it can provoke rage from fans. Celebrities who are narcissists use their false self to elicit constant attention and interest, and celebrity itself is a variant of narcissism.

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.

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