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Narcissists Hard to Spot

Uploaded 2/15/2011, approx. 3 minute read

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

Narcissists are an elusive breed. They are hard to spot, harder to pinpoint, and impossible to capture.

Even an experienced mental health diagnostician, with unmitigated access to the record and to the person examined, would find it finisially difficult to determine with any degree of certainty whether someone suffers from an impairment, mental health disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, or whether then someone merely possesses narcissistic traits, a narcissistic character or personality structure, or a narcissistic overlay superimposed on another mental health problem.

It's difficult to isolate with any degree of exactitude, narcissistic personality disorder.

Moreover, it is important to distinguish between the traits and behavior patterns that are independent of the patient's social and cultural context, in other words, the traits and characteristics that are inherent or idiosyncratic to the patient, and reactive patterns or conformity to cultural and social mores and edicts.

Reactions to severe life crisis are often characterized by transient pathological narcissism. This has been established by Ronnigstam and Gunderson as early as 1996.

But such reactions to life crisis or to social and cultural norms, these do not constitute narcissistic personality disorder and do not constitute a narcissist.

When a person lives in a society in a culture that has often been described as narcissistic by the leading lights of scholarly research, such as Theodore Millon, and social thinking, such as Christopher Lash, well, how much of such a person's behavior can be attributed to his milieu, to his civilization, and which of his traits are really the most important of his traits are really purely his?

There is also a qualitative difference between having narcissistic traits, a narcissistic personality, or the narcissistic personality disorder.

The latter is rigorously defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and includes strict criteria and differential diagnosis.

Narcissism is regarded by many scholars to be an adaptive or reductive strategy. It is called healthy narcissism. Narcissism is considered pathological in the clinical sense only when it becomes a rigid personality structure replete with a series of primitive defense mechanisms, such as splitting, projection, projective identification, and intellectualization.

Narcissism, pathological narcissism, also manifests and should lead to dysfunctions in one or more areas of life.

In other words, one can be overtly and overly narcissistic, but if this does not hurt or harm his functioning in a variety of fields of life, he may not be a narcissist in the clinical sense.

Pathological narcissism is the art of deception. The narcissist projects a false self and manages all his social interactions through this concocted fictional construct.

People often find themselves involved with the narcissist, emotionally, in business, or otherwise, before they have a chance to discover his true nature.

When the narcissist reveals his true colors, it is usually far too late. His victims are unable to separate from him. They are frustrated by this acquired helplessness and dependence. They are angry that they fail to see through the narcissist earlier on, but the narcissist does emit subtle, almost subliminal signals, the presenting symptoms, even on a first or casual encounter.

Be sure to watch the videos about how to tell a narcissist on a first date.

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

Narcissist: Is He or Isn't He?

Narcissism is a spectrum of behaviors, from healthy to pathological, and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual specifies nine diagnostic criteria for narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). A malignant narcissist is someone who has NPD and wreaks havoc on themselves and their surroundings. They feel grandiose and self-important, exaggerate accomplishments, and demand recognition as superior without commensurate achievements. They require excessive admiration, adulation, attention, and affirmation, and are interpersonally exploitative, devoid of empathy, and constantly envious of others.


Collapsed Narcissist, Collapsed Histrionic

Pathological narcissism is a post-traumatic condition that is a result of severe abuse by primary caregivers, peers, or authority figures. Narcissists require a form of narcissistic supply, and when the supply is deficient, they resort to several adaptive solutions. These solutions include the delusional narrative solution, the antisocial solution, the paranoid schizoid solution, the paranoid, aggressive or explosive solution, and the masochistic avoidance solution. In extreme cases, the collapsed narcissist or collapsed histrionic falls apart in a process of disintegration known as decompensation, which is accompanied by acting out.


Narcissist Loves his Disorder and Narcissistic Personality

Narcissists may modify their behavior to become more socially acceptable, but they never heal or get better because they have an emotional investment in their disorder. Narcissistic personality disorder serves two critical functions: it endows the narcissist with a sense of uniqueness and provides an alibi for their misconduct. Narcissists reject the notion that they are mentally ill or disturbed, and their disorder becomes an integral and inseparable part of their inflated self-esteem and grandiose fantasies. The narcissist is emotionally attached to their narcissistic personality disorder and loves their disorder passionately.


Can Narcissism be Cured?

Pathological narcissism is difficult to cure, and most narcissists resist psychotherapy. However, some progress has been made in effecting small changes in personality disorders through talk therapy and medication. The earlier the therapeutic intervention, the better the prognosis, and aging tends to moderate or even vanquish some antisocial behaviors associated with pathological narcissism. The existence of empathy is a serious predictor of future psychodynamics, and the prognosis for a classical narcissist with grandiosity, lack of empathy, and all is not good as far as long-term, lasting, and complete healing.


Narcissism is Tiring Energy-depleting

Personality is a dynamic, ongoing process that is ever-evolving. The more primitive the personality, the less organized, the more disordered, the greater the amount of energy required to maintain it in a semblance of balance and function. Narcissists externalize most of the available energy in an effort to secure a narcissistic supply. The narcissist's constant fatigue and ennui, his short attention span, his tendency to devalue sources of supply, even his transformed aggression.


Depressive Narcissist

Pathological narcissism is often considered a form of depressive illness, with the life of a typical narcissist punctuated with recurrent bouts of dysphoria, sadness, hopelessness, anhedonia, loss of the ability to feel pleasure, and clinical forms of depression. Narcissists react with depression not only to life crises but to fluctuations in narcissistic supply and to the internal dynamics that these fluctuations generate. There are several types of dysphoria and depression in pathological narcissism, including loss-induced dysphoria, deficiency-induced dysphoria, self-worth dysregulation dysphoria, grandiosity gap dysphoria, and self-punishing dysphoria. Many narcissists end up delusional, schizoid, or paranoid to avoid agonizing and knowing depression.


Narcissist as Spoiled Brat

Narcissists require attention and narcissistic supply, and when they cannot obtain it, they may experience decompensation, which can lead to acting out in various ways. Narcissists may resort to several adaptive solutions, including delusional narratives, antisocial behavior, passive-aggressive behavior, paranoid narratives, and masochistic avoidance. These behaviors are all self-generated sources of narcissistic supply. Masochistic narcissists may direct their fury inwards, punishing themselves for their failure to elicit supply, and this behavior has the added benefit of forcing those closest to them to pay attention to them.


Signs You are Victim of Narcissistic Abuse, Not Common Abuse (Stress, Depression Management Webinar)

Narcissistic abuse is a subtype of abusive behavior that is pervasive, sophisticated, and can be practiced either covertly or overtly. Victims of narcissistic abuse often experience depression, anxiety, disorientation, and dissociative symptoms. This type of abuse can lead to complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) and even elements of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The way individuals process and react to trauma can lead to either regression into infantile behaviors or personal growth and maturation, depending on their emotional regulation and maturity.


Narcissistic Personality Disorder Clinical Features

Narcissistic traits in childhood may lead to full-fledged narcissistic personality disorder later in life, especially if the child has experienced abuse or trauma. Narcissists use a false self to garner attention, or "narcissistic supply," which helps them cope with pain and feel important. Narcissists are vulnerable to criticism and disagreement, and they struggle to maintain healthy relationships. Treatment for narcissistic personality disorder includes talk therapy and medication, but the prognosis for an adult with the disorder is poor.


Addict Narcissists: Substance Abuse and Reckless Behaviors

Pathological narcissism is an addiction to narcissistic supply, which is the narcissist's drug of choice. Other addictive and reckless behaviors such as war-camelism, alcoholism, drug abuse, pathological gambling, compulsory shopping, reckless driving, and even compulsive lying, piggyback on this primary dependence on narcissistic supply. The narcissist's addictive behaviors take his mind off his inherent limitations and bridge the gap between his unrealistic expectations of life and his inflated self-image. There is no point in treating the dependence and recklessness of the narcissist without first treating the underlying personality disorder.

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