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Narcissist's Cycles of Ups and Downs

Uploaded 1/12/2012, approx. 7 minute read

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

I often get email messages saying, I know a narcissist intimately. Sometimes my narcissist is hyperactive, full of ideas, optimism and plans. At other times, the same narcissist is hypoactive, almost zombie-like. What gives?

Well, the answer is that you are witnessing the narcissistic signal stimulus hibernation minicycle. That's a very long and complex title, which describes a very simple phenomenon.

Narcissists go through euphoric and dysphoric cycles, cycles of mania and depression. These are long cycles. They are dilated, all encompassing, all consuming and all pervasive. These cycles are different from manic depressive cycles in the bipolar disorder.

The narcissistic cycles are reactive. They are caused by easily identifiable external events or circumstances known as triggers.

The same cycles in bipolar disorder are endogenous. They are created from the inside.

The bipolar patient reacts to biochemical changes in the biochemistry of his brain. The narcissist reacts to outside developments, to the flow of narcissistic supply, the waning and waxing of this precious drug.

For instance, the narcissist reacts with dysphoria, depression, and anhedonia, inability to experience pleasure, when he loses his pathological narcissistic space, his stooping grounds, or when he is going through a major life crisis such as financial problems, a divorce, imprisonment, loss of social status and peer appreciation, death in the family, crippling illness and so on.

But the narcissist also goes through much shorter and much weaker cycles.

He experiences brief episodes of mania.

When he is manic, the narcissist is entertaining, charming and charismatic.

Then the narcissist is full of ideas and plans, most of them grandiose and unrealistic. He becomes attractive, leader-like.

In the manic phase, the narcissist is so restless, he is usually insomniac. He is full of pent-up energy. He is explosive, dramatic, creative, and he becomes an excellent performer and manager.

Suddenly, and often for no reason outsiders can interpret, the narcissist becomes subdued, depressed, devoid of energy, pessimistic, and zombie-like. He oversleeps, his eating patterns change, he is slow and he pays no attention to his external appearance or to the impression that he leaves on others.

While outsiders cannot identify or say what has happened, what is the cause of such a sudden dramatic shift, it is actually something that has happened to the narcissist, a bit of criticism, a disagreement, a narcissistic injury, some kind of frustration.

The contrast is very sharp and very striking.

While in the manic phase, the narcissist is talkative and gregarious, very sociable.

But in the depressive phase, the narcissist is passively aggressive and silent and schizoid and reckless.

The narcissist vacillates between being imaginative and being down, being social and being asocial or even antisocial, being obsessed with time management and achievement and lying in bed for hours, staring in the ceiling, being a leader and being led.

It is almost like multiple personality disorder, as though he has two personalities inside him.

These mini-cycles, though outwardly manic-depressive or cyclothymic, are not. They are the result of subtle fluctuations in the volatile flow of narcissistic supply.

The narcissist is addicted to narcissistic supply. He has established it in previous videos. He seeks actively and proactively. He seeks admiration, adoration, approval, attention and so on.

All his activities, all the narcissist's thoughts, blends, aspirations, inspirations, endagings, all of them, all aspects of his life, are dedicated to the regulation of the flow of narcissistic supply and to rendering it relatively stable and predictable.

The narcissist even resorts to secondary narcissistic supply sources, such as his spouse, his colleagues, or his business, in order to accumulate a reserve of past narcissistic supply for times or short supply. The secondary sources do this by witnessing the narcissist's accomplishments and moments of grandeur and recounting what they had seen when he is down and low.

Thus, the secondary source of supply smooths and regulates the vicissitudes of the supply emanating from primary sources.

To give an example from daily life, the narcissist expects his spouse, his wife, his mate, his friends, his colleagues, expects them when he is down, when he lacks narcissistic supply, when he is depressed, he expects them to say, but do you remember last year how great you were, how brilliant you were, how perfect you were?

This seems to revive him or resuscitate him, at least momentarily.

This is what I call accumulation.

But the very process of obtaining and securing narcissistic supply in the first place is complex and multi-phased.

So, the narcissist goes through these ups and downs.

First, there is a depressive phase.

To obtain narcissistic supply, the narcissist has to toil, to work hard. He has to create sources of supply and to maintain them. And these are demanding tasks, energy depleting. They are often very tiring. Exhaustion plays a major role in the cycles that I describe.

His energy depleted, his creativity at its end, his resources stretch to the maximum. The narcissist reposes, he plays dead, he withdraws from life.

This is the phase of narcissistic hibernation, where the narcissist regenerates himself, accumulates new energy, musters new resources in order to go out and hunt again for sources of supply.

The narcissist invariably goes into narcissistic hibernation before the emission of a narcissistic signal. He does so in order to gather the energies that he knows are going to be needed in the later phases.

During the hibernation phase, the narcissist surveys the terrain in an effort to determine the richest and most rewarding sources, veins and venues of narcissistic supply. He contemplates the possible structures of various signals in order to ensure that the most effective signal is omitted and responded to.

Building up his energy reserves during the hibernation phase is crucial to the narcissist. The narcissist knows that even the manic phase of the mini cycle, which will follow inevitably the receipt of the narcissistic stimulus, even this manic phase would be taxing and laborious.

So he needs energy throughout the cycle.

And so having thus recovered, having thus regenerated, at the end of the hibernation phase, the narcissist is ready to go and hunt.

He jump-starts the cycle by emitting a narcissistic signal.

Narcissistic signal is a message, written, verbal or behavioral, intended to foster the generation of narcissistic supply.

The narcissist may send letters to magazines offering to publish his work. He may dress, behave or make statements intended to elicit admiration or even opprobrium, in short, attention.

He may consistently and continuously describe himself in glamorous and flattering terms or, conversely, fish for compliments by berating himself and his achievements by being falsely modest. Anything goes in order to become well-known and to impress people and to extract narcissistic supply.

Narcissistic signals are automatically triggered and emitted whenever an important element changes in the narcissist's life.

When the narcissist moves from one workplace to another, changes his domicile, his position or his powers.

The signals, thus emitted, are intended to re-establish the equilibrium between the uncertainty which inevitably follows such changes in life and the narcissist's inner turmoil, which is the result of the disruption of the patterns and flows of narcissistic supply caused by these changes.

Ideally, the narcissistic signal elicits and creates a narcissistic stimulus. This is a positive sign, some kind of receptive response from the recipients of the signal, indicating their willingness to swallow the narcissist's bait and to provide him with narcissistic supply.

Such a stimulus brings the narcissist back to life. It energizes him.

Once he catches the scent of a possible source of supply, he becomes a fountain of ideas, plans, schedules, visions and dreams. He weaves a web of magic, a web of enchantment in which the victim is captured, very much like a spider does.

The narcissist stimulus pushes the narcissist into the manic phase of the minicycle.

Thus, caught between minicycles of mania and depression, and bigger cycles of euphoria and dysphoria, the narcissist leads his tumultuous life.

It is no wonder that the narcissist gradually evolves into a parallel. It is easy to feel persecuted and that the mercy of forces, mysterious, capricious and powerful, when this indeed is the case.

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Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Misdiagnosed as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

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Narcissist's Accomplices

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Raging Narcissist: Merely Pissed-off?

Narcissistic rage is a phenomenon that occurs when a narcissist is frustrated in their pursuit of narcissistic supply, causing narcissistic injury. The narcissist then projects a bad object onto the source of their frustration and rages against a perceived evil entity that has injured and frustrated them. Narcissistic rage is not the same as normal anger and has two forms: explosive and pernicious or passive-aggressive. People with personality disorders are in a constant state of anger, which is effectively suppressed most of the time, and they are afraid to show that they are angry to meaningful others because they are afraid to lose them.


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Narcissism is not a mental illness but a personality style, and narcissists can be self-aware and proud of their disorder. They can be manipulated if they are convinced that certain behaviors are counterproductive and harmful to themselves. Women who fall for narcissists often do so because of their own psychological reasons, and unless they address these issues, they are likely to fall into the same trap repeatedly.


Narcissists Fear Therapy

Narcissists cannot cure themselves, and gaining insight into the disorder is not the same as healing. The best way for a narcissist to help themselves is by resorting to a mental health professional, but even then, the prognosis is dim. The therapeutic situation implies a superior/inferior relationship, which is difficult for the narcissist to accept. The narcissist must shed his false self and face the world naked, defenseless, and to his mind pitiful.

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