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Narcissist's Pain: Narcissism, Sadism, and Masochism

Uploaded 4/20/2011, approx. 4 minute read

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

Most narcissists enjoy an irrational and brief burst of relief after having suffered emotionally, after having endured a narcissistic injury, or after having sustained a loss. It is a strange reaction.

Narcissism doesn't usually react with relief or with elation, but narcissists do. It is a sense of freedom which comes with being unshackled.

Having lost everything, the narcissist often feels that he has found himself, that he has been reborn, that he has been charged with natal energy, able to take on new challenges and to explore new territories.

This elation is so addictive that the narcissist often seeks pain, humiliation, punishment, scorn and contempt, as long as they are public and involve the attention of peers and superiors.

Being punished accords with the tormenting inner voices of the narcissist, which keep telling him that he is bad, corrupt and worthy of penalty.

And this is a masochistic trick in the narcissist.

But the narcissist, as we well know, is also a sadist, albeit a bit of an unusual sadist.

The narcissist inflicts pain and abuse on others. He devalues sources of supply, callously and offendedly. He abandons them, discards people, places, partnerships and friendships, unhesitatingly.

Some narcissists, though by no means a majority, actually enjoy abusing, taunting, tormenting and freakishly controlling others, a phenomenon known as gaslighting.

But most of the narcissists, most of them, do these things absentmindedly, offhandedly, automatically and often even without good reason.

What is unusual about the narcissist's sadistic behaviors, premeditated acts of tormenting others while enjoying their anguished reactions, is that they are goal-oriented.

Pure sadists, non-narcissists, have no goal in mind except the pursuit of pleasure. Pain, to them, is an artful.

Remember the maquilean?

The narcissist, on the other hand, haunts and hunts his victims for a reason. He wants them to reflect his inner state.

It is a part of a mechanism called projective identifications.

Narcissists torture and torment in order to yield results. Once these results are secure, the narcissist usually sees us.

Not so the classic sadist. When the narcissist is angry, unhappy, disappointed, injured or hurt, he feels unable to express his emotions sincerely, directly and openly, since to do so would be to admit his frailty, his neediness and his weakness, which he would never do.

He deplores, the narcissist deplores his own humanity. He hates the fact that he has emotions, that he has vulnerabilities, that he is susceptible, gullible. He resents and rejects his own inadequacies and failures.

So what he does, he makes use of other people to express his pain and his frustration, his pent-up anger and his aggression.

He achieves this by mentally torturing other people to the point of madness, by driving them to violence, by reducing them to scar tissue in search of outlet, closure and sometimes revenge.

He forces people to lose their own character traits and adopt his own instead.

In reaction to his constant, well-targeted abuse, his victims become abusive, vengeful, ruthless, lacking in empathy, obsessed and aggressive.

They, in other words, mirror the narcissist faithfully and thus relieve him of the need to express himself directly.

Having constructed this writhing hole of human mirrors, the narcissist withdraws. The goal achieved, he lets go.

As opposed to the classical sadist, the narcissist is not in it indefinitely for the pleasure of it. He abuses and traumatizes, humiliates and abandons, discards and ignores insults and provokes only for the purpose of purging his inner demons.

By possessing others, the narcissist purifies himself cathartically and exercises his demented self.

Yet when this is accomplished, the narcissist acts almost with remorse.

An episode of extreme abuse is usually followed by an act of great care and by mellifluous apologies.

The narcissist pendulum swings between the extremes of torturing others and then empathically soothing the resulting pain.

This incongruous behavior, these sudden shifts between sadism and altruism, abuse and love, ignoring and caring, abandoning and clinging, viciousness and remorse, the harsh and the tender, these are perhaps the most difficult to comprehend and to accept.

These swings producing people around the narcissist emotional insecurity, an eroded sense of self-worth, fear, stress and anxiety. This is called walking on eggshells.

You never know when the next eruption will occur. Gradually, emotional paralysis ensues and the narcissist victims come to occupy the same emotional wasteland inhabited by the narcissist himself.

They become his prisoners and hostages in more than one way and even when he is long out of their lives.

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

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.


Narcissists Have Emotions

Narcissists do have emotions, but they tend to repress them so deeply that they play no conscious role in their lives or conduct. The narcissist's positive emotions come bundled with very negative ones, and they become phobic of feeling anything lest it be accompanied by negative emotions. The narcissist is reduced to experiencing down-steerings in their soul that they identify to themselves and to others as emotions. Narcissists are not envious of others for having emotions, they disdain feelings and sentimental people because they find them to be weak and vulnerable.


Sadistic Narcissist

Narcissists are sadistic in their pursuit of narcissistic supply, and they enjoy inflicting pain on others who they perceive as intentionally frustrating and withholding. They are not full-fledged sadists in the psychosexual sense, but they are adept at finding the vulnerabilities and frailties of their victims. The narcissist's sadistic acts are often disguised as an enlightened interest in the welfare of their victim, and they are so subtle and poisonous that they might be regarded as the most dangerous of all variants of sadism. However, the narcissist's attention span is short, and they usually let their victims go before they suffer irreversible damage.


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 Grooms Sources of Narcissistic Supply: Exploits Tragedy, Crisis, and Misfortune

Narcissists are callous and ruthless enough to exploit the tragedy of others. They are obsessed with the maintenance of their delicate inner balance through the ever-increasing consumption of narcissistic supply. The narcissist regards and treats his sources of narcissistic supply as full-fledged human beings, but only as long as they can provide him with what he needs. The narcissist always evaluates the victims of tragedies to see if they can become sources of supply or can be used as props in the theater of his life.


Discontinuous Narcissist's Multiple Personas

Narcissists do not have criminal intent, but they do victimize, plunder, terrorize, and abuse others as a manifestation of their genuine character. The narcissist is a walking compilation of personalities, and each of these personalities has its personal history. The narcissist is unable to link his past acts or inaction with their outcomes in the present. The slicing of the narcissist's life is what stands behind the narcissist's apparent inability to predict the inevitable outcomes of his actions.


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.


Issues in Narcissistic Supply

Narcissists devalue their sources of supply for the very qualities that make them sources of supply in the first place. The narcissist resents his dependency on narcissistic supply and perceives intimacy and sex as a threat to his uniqueness. Narcissistic supply includes all forms of attention, both positive and negative, fame, notoriety, adulation, fear, applause, approval. Narcissists frantically try to recycle their old and wasted sources when they have absolutely no other sources of supply at their disposal.


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.

Transcripts Copyright © Sam Vaknin 2010-2023, under license to William DeGraaf
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