My name is Sam Vaknin. I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.
The narcissist projects to the world a false self. An image of himself as perfect, brilliant, all-powerful, omnipotent, all-knowing, omniscient.
But there is an abyss. There is a gap between the self-image and the self-perception of the narcissist and drab, dreary, and shabby reality where the narcissist accomplishments are actually meager, lacking, or non-existent.
This difference between self-perception and reality is what I call the grandiosity gap, and it is grating on the narcissist's nerves. The very existence of the grandiosity gap threatens the precariously balanced house of cards that is a narcissistic personality.
The narcissist finds to his chagrin that people out there are much less admiring, accommodating, and accepting than, for instance, his parents. As he grows old, the narcissist often becomes the target of constant derision, ridicule, and mockery, a sorry sight indeed. His claims of superiority, of brilliance, affection, omnipotence, and omniscience, these claims appear less plausible and substantial the more often and the longer he makes them.
Pathological Narcissism is originally a defense mechanism. It is intended to shield the child from an injurious and painful world.
But as a narcissist grows up and becomes an adult, this mechanism, narcissism, is transformed into the main source of hurt, a generator of injuries. It is counterproductive and even dangerous.
Overwhelmed by negative or absent narcissistic supply, the narcissist is forced to change his tactics.
The narcissist resorts to self-delusion.
Unable to completely ignore opinion and data that countervene and contradict his self-perception and self-image, the narcissist transmutes them.
Unable to face the dismal failure that he is, the narcissist partially withdraws from reality and its constant reminders.
To soothe and solve the pain of disillusionment, the narcissist administers to his aching soul a mixture of lies, distortions, half-truths, and outlandish interpretations of events around him.
There are various solutions which the narcissist adopts.
The first one is the delusional narrative solution.
The narcissist constructs a narrative in which he figures as the hero. In this narrative, he is brilliant, perfect, irresistibly handsome, destined for greatness, entitled, powerful and wealthy, the center of attention. The bigger the strain on this delusional charade, the greater the gap between fantasy and reality, the more the delusion coalesces and solidifies.
Finally, if it is sufficiently protracted, this contrast between reality and self-perception, the delusion replaces reality and the narcissist's reality test deteriorates. He withdraws his bridges and may become schizotypal, catatonic or schizoid.
Another solution is the antisocial one.
The narcissist renounces reality. To his mind, those who pusillanimously fail to recognize his unbound talents, his innate superiority, his overarching brilliance, his benevolent nature, his entitlement, his cosmically important mission, perfection, etc., these people don't deserve consideration.
The narcissist's natural affinity with the criminal, his lack of empathy and compassion, his deficient social skills, his disregard for social laws and morons, this affinity with the criminal now erupts and blossoms. The narcissist becomes a full-fledged antisocial sociopath or psychopath.
He ignores the wishes and needs of others. He breaks the law. He violates all rights, natural and legal. He holds people in contempt and disdain. He derides society and her codes. He punishes the ignorant ingrates that failed to fully appreciate him.
In his mind, these ungrateful, ignorant people, they are the ones who drove him to his current state. By acting criminally and jeopardizing their safety, lives and property, he is merely serving their just desserts. He is punishing them for this crime of having ignored and abandoned him.
Another solution is a paranoid schizoid one.
When narcissism fails as a defense mechanism, the narcissist develops paranoid narratives, self-directed confabulations, which place him at the center of others' allegedly malign attention.
The narcissist becomes his own audience, and self-sufficient as his own, sometimes exclusive source of narcissistic supply.
The narcissist develops persecutory delusions. He perceives slides and insults when none were intended. He becomes subject to ideas of reference. He believes that people are gossiping about him, mocking him, trying into his affairs, and cracking his email, etc.
He is convinced that he is the center of malign and malintentioned attention, a conspiracy. People are conspiring to humiliate him, to punish him, to abscond with his property, to delude him, to impoverish him, to confine him physically or intellectually, to censor him, to impose on his time, to force him to action or to inaction, to frighten him, to coerce him, to surround and to besiege him, to change his mind, to part him with his values, to victimize or even murder him, and so on.
Some narcissists, faced with such awesome conspiracies, withdraw completely from a world populated with such minacious and ominous objects.
These conspiracies are really projections of internal objects and processes within the narcissist's psyche, but to him they feel real, they feel objective, out there, so he withdraws, partly in fear, partly in disdain.
Such narcissists avoid all social contact except the most necessary. They refrain from meeting people, from falling in love, from having sex, from talking to others or even corresponding to them.
In short, they become schizoids, not out of social shyness, but out of what they feel to be their choice. They say to themselves, this evil, hopeless world does not deserve me, and I shall waste none of my time and resources on it any further.
A variant of this solution is the paranoid aggressive or explosive solution.
Other narcissists who develop persecutory delusions resort to an aggressive stance, a more violent resolution of their internal conflict.
They become verbally, psychologically, situationally, and rarely physically abusive. They insult, castigate, chastise, berate, demean and deride their nearest and dearest. Often their well wishes, their benefactors, their loved ones, they explode in unprovoked displays of rage, indignation, righteousness, condemnation and blame.
Theirs is an exegetic bedlam. They interpret everything, even the most innocuous, innocent, inadvertent comment, as designed to provoke and humiliate them. They sew fear, revulsion, hate and malignant envy, wherever they go. They flail against the windmills of reality, a pathetic, forlorn sight.
But often they cause real and lasting damage, fortunately, mainly to themselves.
There is also the masochistic avoidance solution.
The narcissist is angered by the lack of narcissistic supply. He directs some of this fury inwards, punishing himself for his failure.
This masochistic behavior has the added benefit of forcing the narcissist's closest to assume the roles of dismayed spectators or of persecutors and thus either way to pay him the attention that he craves.
Self-administered punishment often manifests as self-handicapping masochism, a narcissistic cop-out. By undermining his own work, his relationships and his efforts, the increasingly fragile narcissist avoids additional criticism and censure, avoids negative supply.
Self-inflicted failure is the narcissist doing and thus proves that he is the master of his own fate. He makes the decision, even the decision to fail.
Masochistic narcissists keep finding themselves in self-defeating circumstances which render success impossible.
And as Millon calls it, an objective assessment of their performance improbable. They act carelessly, withdraw in mid-effort, are constantly fatigued, bored or disaffected, and thus passively aggressively, they sabotage their lives. Their suffering is defiant and by deciding to abort and to withdraw, they reassert their omnipotence.
The narcissist's pronounced and public misery and self-pity are compensatory and again, to quote Millon, they reinforce his self-esteem against overwhelming convictions of worthlessness.
His tribulations and anguish render him in his eyes, unique, saintly, virtuous, righteous, superficial, resilient and significant.
They are, in other words, self-generated, narcissistic supply.
Thus, paradoxically, the worse is anguish and unhappiness, the more relieved and elated such a narcissist feels.