I am Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.
Do narcissists have emotions? Of course they do. Everybody has emotions. It is how we choose to relate to our emotions that matters.
The narcissist tends to repress emotions so deeply that for all practical purposes they play no conscious role in his life or in his conduct.
But his emotions play an extraordinarily large unconscious role.
The narcissist's positive emotions come bundled with very negative ones.
This is the outcome of frustration and the consequent transformations of aberrations that the narcissist experiences in early childhood.
This frustration is connected to the parents and caregivers of the narcissist.
Instead of being provided with the unconditional love that he craved, the narcissist was subjected to totally unpredictable and inexplicable bouts of temper, rage, searing sentimentality, envy, prodding, infusion of guilt and other unhealthy parental emotions, control and behavior patterns.
The narcissist reacted by retreating into his private world where he deemed himself omnipotent and omniscient and therefore immune to such vicious vicissitudes.
The narcissist stashed his vulnerable true self in a deep mental setup and outwardly presented to the world a false self, omnipotent and omniscient.
But bundling positive and negative emotions is far easier than unbundling them.
The narcissist is unable to evoke positive feelings without provoking negative ones.
Gradually he becomes phobic. He is afraid to feel anything, lest it be accompanied by some fearsome, guilt-inducing, anxiety-provoking, out-of-control emotional compliments.
The narcissist is reduced to experiencing down-steerings in his soul that he identifies to himself and to others as emotions.
Even these are felt only in the presence of someone or something capable of providing the narcissist with his badly needed drug narcissistic supply.
Only when the narcissist is in the overvaluation, the idealization phase of his relationships does he experience the convulsions that he prefers to call feelings.
These are so transient and fake that they are easily replaced and substituted for by rage, envy and devaluation.
The narcissist really recreates the behavior patterns of his less-than-ideal parents.
Deep inside the narcissist knows that something is amiss. He does not empathize with other people's feelings. Actually he holds them in contempt and ridicule. He cannot understand how people are so sentimental, so irrational. He identifies being rational with being cool-headed and cold-blooded.
Often the narcissist believes that other people are faking it, merely aiming by displaying emotion to achieve a goal. He is convinced that their feelings are grounded in ulterior, non-emotional motives.
He becomes suspicious, paranoid, embarrassed, feels compelled to avoid emotion-tinged situationsor worse, experiences surges of almost uncontrollable aggression in the presence of genuinely expressed emotions and sentiments.
These emotions and sentiments remind him of how imperfect and poorly equipped he is to deal with life. The weaker variety of narcissists tries to emulate and simulate emotions, or at least their external facet, their expression, their appearance, what we call affect.
These narcissists mimic and replicate the intricate pantomime that they learn to associate with the existence of feelings in others.
But there are no real emotions there, no emotional correlate inside the narcissist. This is empty affect, devoid of emotion.
This being so, the narcissist quickly tires of it. He becomes impassive and begins to produce inappropriate affect.
For instance, he remains indifferent when grief is the normal reaction. The narcissist subjects his famed emotions to his cognition.
He decides that it is appropriate to feel this way or that. His emotions are invariably the result of analysis, goal-setting, and planning.
He substitutes remembering for sensing. He relegates his bodily sensations, feelings, and emotions to a kind of memory vault.
The short- and medium-term memory is exclusively used to store his reactions to his actual and potential narcissistic supply sources.
The narcissist reacts in general only to such sources. The narcissist finds it hard to remember or recreate what he ostensibly, though ostentatiously, felt even a short while back towards a narcissistic source of supply once he has ceased to be a source of supply.
In his attempts to recall his feelings, the narcissist draws a mental blank. It is not that narcissists are incapable of expressing what we would tend to classify as extreme emotional reactions. They mourn, they grieve, they rage, they smile, they excessively laugh and care.
But this is precisely what sets them apart, this rapid movement of isolation from one emotional extreme to another and the fact that they never occupy the emotional middle ground. The narcissist is especially emotional when weaned off his drug of narcissistic supply.
Breaking a habit is always difficult, especially one that defines and generates oneself. Getting rid of an addiction is doubly taxing. The narcissist misidentifies this crisis, this cold turkey phase, with an emotional depth and his self-conviction is so immense that he mostly succeeds to delude in other people as well.
But a narcissistic crisis, losing a source of narcissistic supply, obtaining an alternative one, moving from one narcissistic pathological space to another, all this crisis must never be confused with the real thing, which the narcissist never experiences, true emotions.
Many narcissists have emotional resonance tables. They use words as others use algebraic signs, with meticulousness, with caution, with the precision of the artisan.
The narcissist sculpts in words the fine-tuned reverberations of pain, love and fear. It is the mathematics of emotional grammar, the geometry of the syntax of passions.
Devoid of all true emotions, narcissists closely monitor people's reactions. They adjust their verbal choices accordingly, until their vocabulary resembles depth of their interlocutors and listeners. This is as close as the narcissist gets to empathy.
To summarize, the emotional life of the narcissist is colorless and eventless, as rigidly blind and as his disorder, as dead as the narcissist is.
He does feel rage, hurt, envy, emotional and inordinate humiliation and fear. These negative feelings are very dominant, prevalent and recurrent, use in the converse of his emotional existence.
But there is nothing there except these atavistic gut reactions. Whatever it is that the narcissist experiences as emotions, he experiences in reaction to slights and injuries, really unimagined.
His emotions are all reactive, not proactive. He feels insulted, he sulks. He feels devalued, he rages. He feels ignored, he pouts. He feels humiliated, he lashes out. He feels threatened, he fears. He feels adored, he basks in glory. He is virulently envious of one and all.
The narcissist can appreciate beauty, but in a cerebral, cold and mathematical way.
Many narcissists have no mature adult sex drive to speak of. Their emotional landscape is dim and gray, as though looking through a glass darkly.
Many narcissists can intelligently discuss those emotions never experienced by them, like empathy or love, because they make it a point to read a lot and to communicate with people who claim to be experiencing these emotions.
Thus, they gradually construct working hypotheses as to what people feel and how they feel. As far as the narcissist is concerned, it is pointless to try to really understand emotions, but at least these models, it does form, allow him to better predict people's behavior and to adjust to them.
Narcissists are not envious of others for having emotions. They disdain feelings and sentimental people, because they find them to be weak and vulnerable, and they deride human frailties and vulnerabilities.
Such derision makes the narcissist feel superior and is probably the ossified remains of a defense mechanism, gun or eye.
Narcissists are afraid of pain. It is the pebble in their Indra's net, lifted and the whole net unravels. Their pains do not come isolated. They constitute families of anguish, tribes of hurt, whole races of agony.
The narcissist cannot experience each and every emotion separately, only collectively.
Narcissism, in effect, is an attempt to contain the ominous onslaught of stale negative emotions, repressed rage in a child's deep-set, irretractable injuries.