Narcissists: Achievers and Failures

Uploaded 7/7/2011, approx. 4 minute read

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

The narcissist often strikes people as being laid back, or less charitably as being lazy, parasitic, spoiled and self-indulgent.

But as usual with narcissists, appearances sometimes deceive.

Narcissists are either compulsively driven overachievers or chronic underachieving wastrels.

Most of them fail to make full and productive use of their potential and capacities.

Many narcissists avoid even the now-standard path of academic degree, a career, a family life.

The disparity between the accomplishments of the narcissist and his grandiose fantasies and inflated self-image is what I call the grandiosity gap. It is a staggering abyss and in the long run it is insupportable and unsustainable. It imposes onerous exigencies of the narcissist's grasp of reality and on his social skills. It pushes the narcissist either to seclusion or to a frenzy of acquisitions, cars, women, wealth, power, anything to sustain his self-image.

Yet no matter how successful the narcissist is, many of them end up being object failures, but many of them end up being great successes and pillars of their community.

But never mind how successful they are, how high up the ladder, the grandiosity gap can never be breached.

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.

The narcissist is a slave to his own inertia.

Some narcissists are forever exhilarating on the way to ever higher peaks and ever greener pastures, never obtainable, always on the horizon.

Other narcissists succumb to numbing routines, to the expenditure of minimal energy, the path of last released resistance, to prey on the vulnerable.

But either way, the narcissist's life is out of control and the mercy of merciless inner voices and internal forces emerges.

These are one-state machines programmed to extract narcissistic supply from other people.

To do that, they develop early on a set of immutable routines.

This propensity for repetition, this inability to change and rigidity, confine the narcissist's horizons, stunt the narcissist's development and limit his horizons.

Add to this toxic admixture the narcissist's overpowering sense of entitlement, his visceral fear of failure and his invariable lead to both feel unique and to be perceived as unique.

One often ends up with a recipe for inaction and the narcissist starts really paralyzed by these conflicting forces.

Underachieving narcissist dodges challenges, eludes, tests, shirks, competition and responsibility, sidesteps expectations, ducks all kinds of duties, evades authority.

And this kind of narcissist does all this because he is afraid to fail and because doing something everyone else does endangers his sense of uniqueness.

Hence, the narcissist's apparent laziness and parasitism. His sense of entitlement with no commensurate accomplishments or investments aggravates his milieu.

People tend to regard such narcissist as spoiled brats.

In specious contrast, overachieving narcissist seeks challenges. He seeks risks, provokes competition, embellishes expectations, aggressively beats for responsibilities and authority and seems to be possessed with an eerie self-confidence.

People tend to regard such specimen of narcissist as entrepreneurial, daring, visionary or tyrannical. Yet these narcissist too are modified by potential failure and they are driven by a strong conviction of entitlement, strive to be unique and be perceived as such.

They have an identical psychodynamic landscape to the underachieving narcissist, only they choose a different solution.

The overachiever-narcissist hyperactivity is merely the flip side of the underachiever's inactivity. It is as fallacious and as empty and as doomed to miscarriage and disgrace and failure. It is often sterile or illusory, all smoke and mirrors rather than substance.

The precarious achievements of such narcissist invariably unravel with time. Such narcissist often act outside the loop or outside social norms and in contravention of social ethics and mores.

Their industriousness, walk-onism, ambition and commitment are intended merely to disguise their essential inability to produce and to really build something.

These narcissists are in the dark, where life is a pretension, a fortemkin life.

All make believe in thunder without little essence.

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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'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: 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.

Narcissist's Psychological Defense Mechanisms

The psyche is a battlefield between instinctual urges and drives, the id, the constraints imposed by reality on the gratification of his impulses, ego, and the norms of society, the superego. Narcissism is a defense mechanism, and narcissists have a monopoly of other defense mechanisms. There are dozens of defense mechanisms, including acting out, denial, devaluation, displacement, dissociation, fantasy, idealization, isolation of affect, omnipotence, projection, projective identification, rationalization, cognitive dissonance, reaction formation, repression, splitting, sublimation, and undoing. All these defense mechanisms operate within the narcissist.

Narcissist's Sadistic Inner Judge and Critic

The narcissist is tormented by a sadistic superego, which is an amalgamation of negative evaluations, criticisms, angry or disappointed voices and disparagement meted out in the narcissist's formative years and adolescence by parents, peers, role models and authority figures. The narcissist's sense of self-worth is catapulted from one pole to another, from an inflated view of himself to utter despair and self-denigration. The narcissist needs narcissistic supply to regulate this wild pendulum. The narcissist's whole life is a two-fold attempt to both satisfy the inexorable demands of his inner tribunal and to prove wrong its harsh and merciless criticism.

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

Narcissists fear failure and therefore opt for mediocrity, as success means they have more to lose and more ways to fail. Deliberately not succeeding also supports the narcissist's sense of omnipotence and grandiose conviction that they are perfect. Many narcissistic defenses, traits, and behaviors revolve around this compulsive need to sustain a grandiose self-image of perfection, colloquially known as perfectionism. Deficient impulse control helps achieve this crucial goal, as impulsive actions and addictive behaviors render failure impossible.

Narcissist's Reality Substitutes

Pathological narcissism is a defense mechanism that isolates the narcissist from their environment and shields them from hurt and injury. The false self is a psychological construct that replaces the narcissist's true self and is intended to elicit praise and deflect criticism and pain. The narcissist's reality substitutes fulfill two functions: they help them rationally ignore painful realities with impunity, and they prefer an alternative universe in which the narcissist reigns supreme and emerges triumphant always. The final phase of narcissism involves verbal, psychological, situational, and mercifully more rarely physical abuse directed at their foes and their inferiors.

Narcissist's False Narrative and False Self

The narcissist constructs a false self that is godlike and seeks admiration, adulation, and attention from others. They create a narrative of their life that is partly confabulated to prove the veracity of their grandiose claims. However, reality intrudes, and a gap opens between their self-perception and their pedestrian existence. The narcissist copes with this by denying reality and inventing a new narrative that accommodates the intrusive data.

Narcissist's False Self vs. True Self: Soul-snatching

The narcissist's life is a spectacle, with free access to all, constantly on display. The narcissist flaunts a false self to solicit narcissistic supply, attention, and admiration from his audience. The false self is an adaptive reaction to pathological circumstances, but its dynamics make it predominate. The false self is far more important to the narcissist than his dilapidated, dysfunctional, shameful true self.

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.

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