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Narcissist of Substance vs. Narcissist of Appearances

Uploaded 2/9/2011, approx. 4 minute read

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


Why do some narcissists end up being overachievers, pillars of their communities, and accomplished professionals, while their brethren, other narcissists, fade into obscurity, having done little of note in their lives?

Well, there seems to be two types of narcissists, those who derive ample narcissistic supply from mere appearances, and those whose narcissistic supply consists of doing substantial deeds, of acting as change agents, of making a difference, and of creating and producing things of value.

The former type of narcissist, the narcissist that is content with appearances, make-believe, facades, and so on, they aim for celebrity, defined as being famous for being famous.

The latter type of narcissist, the substantial narcissist, the narcissist who is interested in doing real things and having real impact, they aim for careers in the limelight, but still careers.

The celebrity narcissist has a short attention span. He repeated his cycles between the idealization and devaluation of subjects, ideas, ventures, places, people, hobbies, professions, vocations, and avocations.

This rapid cycling renders the narcissist unfit for teamwork and for developing the long-term career path.

Though energetic and manic, this type of narcissist is indolent. He prefers the path of least resistance and adheres to shawty standards of production and shady deals.

His lack of work ethic can be partly attributed to his overpowering sense of entitlement and to his magical thinking. Both these give rise to unrealistic expectations of effortless outcomes.

The life of the celebrity narcissist, the narcissist who is interested in appearances, is very chaotic and characterized by inconsistency and by a dire lack of long-term planning and commitment.

This kind of narcissist is not really interested in people or immersed in their lives except in their roles as instruments of instant gratification, sources of narcissistic supply.

For him, people are two-dimensional cardboard cutouts fulfilling certain functions in his life.

His learning and affective erudition are designed solely to impress and are therefore shallow and anecdotal.

Such narcissists usually completely forget what they have learned a few years or months after their learning or knowledge has lost its appeal to others.

The celebrity narcissist's actions are not geared towards creating works of lusting value towards affecting change or making a difference. All he cares about is attention, provoking and garnering it in copious quantities.

The celebrity narcissist is therefore not above, confamulating, plagiarizing and otherwise using shortcuts to obtain his daily fix narcissistic supply.

Well, this is massively different to the other type of narcissist.

The other strain of narcissist, the career narcissist or substantial narcissist is very concerned with leaving his mark and stamp of the world with his legacy. He feels a calling often of cosmic significance. He is busy reforming his environment, transforming his milieu, making a difference and producing and creating an oeuvre of standing value.

This kind of narcissist has a grandiose idé fix, which he cathexes, invests with emotional energy. To scale these lofty, self-imputed peaks and to realize his goals, the career substantial narcissist acts with unswerving passion and commitment, he plans and inexorably and ruthlessly implements his schemes and strategies, a workaholic pursuit of glory and fame.

The career substantial narcissist does not recoil from cutting the odd corner, preferring the occasional confabulation or absconding with the fruits of someone else's labor.

But while these amount to the entire arsenal and the exclusive modus operandi of the celebrity narcissist, they are merely auxiliary as far as the career substantial narcissist is concerned.

The career narcissist's main weapon is hard toil. He is not indolent or lazy, on the contrary.

The career narcissist is a natural-born leader as well. When he is not a guru at the center of a cult, he operates as the first among equals in a team.

This is where the differences between the celebrity narcissist and the career narcissist are most pronounced.

The relationships maintained by the celebrity narcissist are ephemeral, manipulative, exploitative. The career narcissist, the substantial narcissist by comparison, is willing and able to negotiate, compromise. He is well aware and well accustomed to give and take.

He motivates others, he induces loyalty, he forges alliances and coalitions, and he benefits from these in the long term.

It is this capacity to network that guarantees the career substantial narcissist a place in common memory and an abiding reputation among his peers.

The celebrity narcissist, the ephemeral narcissist, simply vanishes off the stage, never to be remembered again.

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

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.


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.


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.


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.


Potemkin Narcissists: Fake It Till You Make It!

There are two types of narcissists: Potemkin narcissists who derive ample narcissistic supply from mere appearances and narcissists of substance who strive for meaningful careers and creating things of value. Potemkin narcissists cultivate a following by emphasizing their alleged distinct character traits and create an empty brand. They are not interested in people except as instruments of instant gratification and sources of narcissistic supply. Narcissists of substance are concerned with leaving their mark on the world and creating a body of work of lasting value. They are workaholics and in relentless pursuit of fame, celebrity, and glory.


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.


Why Narcissist Devalues YOU (Hint: Wants YOU "Dead")

Narcissists devalue their partners as a form of self-defense and control. There are two types of devaluation: preemptive and reactive. Preemptive devaluation occurs when a narcissist is in a transitional state between overt and covert narcissism, and they devalue potential sources of supply to prevent the overt side from using them against the covert side. Reactive devaluation is a response to a perceived threat to the narcissist's grandiosity or control. Both types of devaluation are harmful to the victim and serve to maintain the narcissist's sense of power and control.


Narcissist Never Sorry

Narcissists sometimes feel bad and experience depressive episodes and dysphoric moods, but they have a diminished capacity to empathize and rarely feel sorry for what they have done or for their victims. They often project their own emotions and actions onto others and attribute to others what they hate in themselves. When confronted with major crises, the narcissist experiences real excruciating pain, but this is only a fleeting moment, and they recover their former self and embark on a new hunt for narcissistic supply. They are hunters, predators, and their victims are prey.


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 Re-idealizes Discarded Sources of Narcissistic Supply

Narcissists keep discarded sources of supply in reserve and seek them out when they have no other supply source. They frantically try to recycle their old sources and re-idealize them without admitting to having been mistaken in the first place. To preserve their grandiosity, they come up with a narrative that accommodates both the devaluing content and the re-idealized image of the source. If you are an old source of narcissistic supply, simply ignore the narcissist as indifference is what they cannot stand.

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