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Potemkin Narcissists: Fake It Till You Make It!

Uploaded 5/11/2016, approx. 6 minute read

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

Clearly, there are two types of narcissists. Some narcissists end up being overachievers, pillars of the community, accomplished professionals. Other narcissists, their brethren, fade into obscurity, having done little of note with their miserable lives.

So, these are two types of narcissists. Those who derive ample narcissistic supply from mere appearances, and I call them Potemkin narcissists.

And then there are those narcissists whose narcissistic supply consists of doing substantial deeds, of acting as change agents, of making a difference, and of creating and producing things of value.

The former type, the narcissist of appearances, aim for celebrity, defined as being famous for being famous. They try to foster and propagate what I call an empty brand, name recognition without commensurate real-life accomplishments.

In contradistinction, the narcissists of substance strive for meaningful careers, significant lives, or be it all the time in the limelight. We find Potemkin narcissists with empty brands everywhere. For example, in politics, I call it the being there syndrome. It's manifested in the likes of Obama, Putin, and Sarah Palin. We find them in the media where, for example, compulsively self-promoting physicists like Michio Kaku or even Stephen Hawking are worshipped as transformative geniuses, even though in reality they are credited with a mere single esoteric and marginal contribution to physics decades ago. We find them in business, and the best example would be, of course, Donald Trump, or the infamous empty suits of yesteryear. And we, of course, find them in entertainment and show visits. Remember Paris Hilton or the Kardashians.

To create the empty brand, the narcissist cultivates a following. He cultivates a following by emphasizing his alleged distinct character traits. He overlooks behavioral modes, daring audacity, and even sometimes shallowness.

The narcissist would emphasize his shallowness in order to present his facade as proof that he is a common man, a typical member of the crowd.

Of course, everything I say applies to female narcissists as well, to women.

The narcissist transforms himself or herself into a fantastically grandiose cartoon, kind of a caricature of the unfulfilled dreams, aspirations, hopes, and wishes of his acolytes.

The Potemkin narcissist, the narcissist who emphasizes appearances over substance, accomplishes the impossible.

On the one hand, he resonates with the shortcomings, losses, and failures of his obsequious constituencies, of his rapt audiences. But at the same time, he ostentatiously flaunts his flamboyance, riches, and glamorous, meticulously documented life.

And this is a paradoxical admixture. It imbues his proponents, his fans, his followers, his adherents, and his admirers with hope.

Because they say, we are so alike, you know, this guy could have been me. If he made it, then surely can I.

TV reality show programs like The Apprentice or American Idol capture this yearning for a breakthrough, a deus ex machina, resolution and solution to the dreariness, shabbiness, and miserable hopelessness of the ever-average spectator's life.

As the late lamented guru, B.R. Grumfeld, noted, these are the very same elements that make up great fairy tales like Cinderella or Red Riding Hood.

A celebrity narcissist has a short attention span. He rapidly cycles between the idealization and the devaluation of ideas, of ventures, places, and people, including his own fans.

This renders the Potemkin narcissist unfit for teamwork, though energetic and at times manic. This kind of narcissist is indolent, lazy. He prefers the puff of least resistance, and he adheres to shoddy standards of production.

His lack of work ethic can partly be attributed to his overpowering sense of entitlement and to his magical thinking, both of which give rise to unrealistic expectations of effortless outcomes within grandiose or self-aggrandizing fantasies.

The life of the celebrity narcissist is chaotic and characterized by inconsistency and by a dire lack of long-term planning and commitment.

He is not really interested in people, except in their roles as instruments of instant gratification and of sources of narcissistic supply. Otherwise, they are of no consequence to him. They actually usually abhors and detests their dreary shabby pedestrian lives.

The celebrity narcissists' learning and affective irredition are designed solely to impress, and therefore this kind of narcissist is shallow and his knowledge is anecdotal. His actions are not geared towards creating works of lasting value, towards effecting change or making a difference. All he cares about is attention, provoking and garnering attention in copious quantities in a never-ending stream.

The celebrity narcissist is therefore not above confabulating or in plain English lying, plagiarizing, outright crime and otherwise using shortcuts to obtain his fixed narcissistic supply. He is a junkie, a drug addict.

The other strain of narcissists, their career narcissist, the narcissist of substance. Now, that's a totally different animal.

This kind of narcissist is very concerned with leaving his mark and stand on the world with his legacy. He feels a calling often of cosmic significance.

He is busy reforming his environment, transforming his milieu, making a difference and producing and creating an earthen, a body of work, an opera of standing value. His is a grandiose idé fix, which he then cathexes, invests with emotion and mental energy.

To scale these lofty, self-imputed picks, and to realize his goals, the career narcissist acts with unswerving passion and commitment.

As opposed to the celebrity narcissist, he is very stable and consistent and even I would say predictable. He plans, he inexorably and ruthlessly executes and implements his schemes, his stratagems, his conspiracies. He is a workaholic and he is in relentless pursuit of fame and celebrity and glory.

The career narcissist, the narcissist of substance, does not recoil from cutting the old corner, preferring the occasional confabulation or abscondling with the fruits of someone else's labor. And in this sense, he is similar to the celebrity narcissist.

But while these amount to the entire arsenal and the exclusive modus operandi of the celebrity narcissist, they are auxiliary and marginal as far as the career narcissist is concerned.

The career narcissist or the substance narcissist's main weapon is not inspiration, it's perspiration. It's toil and moil. It's hard work.

Career narcissist is also a natural born leader. When not a guru at the center of count, he operates as the first among equals in a team and he is capable of extended, fruitful teamwork. This is where the differences between the celebrity narcissist and the career narcissist are most pronounced.

The relationships maintained by the celebrity narcissist are manipulative, exploitative and ephemeral, passing and fleeting. The career narcissist by comparison is willing and able to negotiate, compromise, give and take, motivate others, induce loyalty, forge alliances and coalitions and benefit from these in the long term. It is this capacity to network that guarantees the career narcissist a place in common memory and an abiding reputation among his peers. This guarantees his legacy.

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Narcissist Has No Friends

Narcissists treat their friends like Watson and Hastings, who are obsequious and unthreatening, and provide them with an adulating gallery. Narcissists cannot empathize or love, and therefore have no real friends. They are interested in securing narcissistic supply from narcissistic supply sources. The narcissist overvalues people when they are judged to be potential sources of supply, and devalues them when no longer able to supply him, ultimately leading to the alienation and distancing of people.


Narcissist of Substance vs. Narcissist of Appearances

There are two types of narcissists: those who derive ample narcissistic supply from mere appearances and those whose narcissistic supply consists of doing substantial deeds. The former type of narcissist aims for celebrity, defined as being famous for being famous, while the latter type aims for careers in the limelight. The celebrity narcissist has a short attention span, is indolent, and prefers the path of least resistance. The career substantial narcissist is very concerned with leaving his mark and stamp of the world with his legacy, is a natural-born leader, and is willing and able to negotiate, compromise, and network.


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.


Narcissistic Boss or Employer: Coping and Survival Tactics

Narcissistic bosses or employers view their staff as sources of narcissistic supply and nothing else. They expect their employees to serve as an audience, adulate, and affirm their grandiose self-image. Any hint of equality, disagreement, or criticism threatens the narcissist profoundly. Narcissists feel suffocated by intimacy or routine and forever shift the blame, pass the buck, and engage in cognitive dissonance. Manipulating the narcissist is the only way an employee can survive in such a workplace.


Narcissistic vs. Sadistic Supply

There are two types of supply that narcissists consume in order to regulate their internal environment: narcissistic and sadistic. Sadistic supply is a form of empowerment that caters to a highly specific type of grandiosity. Sadists are people who derive pleasure from the pain, discomfort, and humiliation of others. However, narcissists generally only seek narcissistic supply and are unlikely to engage in sadistic behaviors. Borderlines alternate between these two types of supply, depending on their self-state.


Narcissist: Star of Own Theater of Conspicuous Existence

Narcissists engage in conspicuous existence, a form of conspicuous consumption where the consumed commodity is narcissistic supply. They stage-manage their every movement, tone of voice, posture, inflection, poise, text, subtext, and context to garner the most attention. Narcissists are excess embodied, and their constant invention of self is not limited to outward appearances. They are incessantly engaged in energy draining, gorging of other people and their possible reactions to him, and their exhaustion is all-consuming.


Two Narcissists in a Couple

Two narcissists of the same type cannot maintain a stable, long-term, full-fledged and functional relationship. Two narcissists of different types or opposing types can, often do, maintain long-term, stable and rather happy relationships. There are two main types of narcissists, somatic and cerebral. The somatic type of narcissist relies on his body and sexuality to generate attention, adulation and admiration, while the cerebral narcissist leverages his intellect, his intelligence and his professional achievements to obtain the same. Stable and enduring relationships can and often do develop between dissimilar narcissists.


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.


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.


Money: Narcissist's License to Abuse

Money is a love substitute for the narcissist, allowing them to be their corrupt selves and buy absolution, forgiveness, and acceptance. It is a license to sin and a permit to be unmitigated self. Money liberates the mind of the narcissist, allowing them to concentrate on attaining the desired position on top. The narcissist is addicted to money because it is the freedom not to behave in a way that is unbearable to them in the long run.

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