My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.
Many people complain of the incredible deceptive powers of the narcissist. They find themselves involved with narcissists, emotionally, in business or otherwise, before they have had a chance to discover their true character and nature.
So, shocked by the later revelation that their partner or spouse or mate is a narcissist, they mourn their inability to separate from the narcissist, and their erstwhile gullibility.
Narcissists are an elusive breed, hard to spot, harder to pinpoint, impossible to capture. Even an experienced mental health diagnostician with unmitigated access to the record and to the person examined would find it finnishedly difficult to determine with any degree of certainty whether someone suffers from a full-fledged narcissistic personality disorder or merely possesses narcissistic traits, narcissistic style, personality structure, character, or a narcissistic overlay superimposed on another mental health problem, such as borderline personality disorder.
Moreover, it is important to distinguish between traits and behavior patterns that are independent of the patient's cultural social conflicts, in other words, traits or character features which are inherent or idiosyncratic, and reactive patterns or conformity to cultural and social norms and mores and norms.
Reactions to severe life crisis or circumstances are often characterized by transient pathological narcissism.
So, narcissism rears its ugly head in a variety of contexts and the diagnostician should be attuned and on his toes.
When a person belongs to a society or culture that has often been described as narcissistic by scholars such as Theodore Miller and social thinkers such as Christopher Lash, how much of his behavior can be attributed to this milieu and which of these traits are really his?
The narcissistic personality disorder is rigorously defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual with a set of strict criteria and differential diagnosis. Narcissism is regarded by many scholars to be an adaptive, reductive strategy, what is called healthy narcissism. It 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, and when it leads to dysfunctions in one or more areas of the patient's life.
Pathological narcissism is the art of deception. The narcissist projects a false self and manages all these social interactions through this concocted fictional construct. 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 they are angry at themselves for having thus failed to see through the narcissist early on.
But the narcissist does emit subtle, almost subliminal signals, presenting signs or symptoms, even in the first or casual encounter. Let's review a few of these signs.
A hottie body language. The narcissist adopts a physical posture which implies and exudes an air of superiority, hidden powers, mysteriousness, unused indifference, etc. Though the narcissist usually maintains sustained and piercing eye contact, he often refrains from physical proximity. He maintains his territory. The narcissist takes part in social interactions, even mere banter, condescendingly, from a position of supremacy and full magnanimity and largess. He is forever patronizing, but he rarely mingles socially and he prefers to remain the observer or the lone wolf.
There are entitlement markers. The narcissist immediately asks for special treatment of some kind, not to wait his turn, to have a longer or shorter therapeutic session, to talk directly to authority figures and not to their secretaries or assistants, to be granted special payment turns, to enjoy custom-tailored arrangements, to be served first, etc.
The narcissist is the one who, vocally and demonstratively, demands the undivided attention of the head waiter in a restaurant or monopolizes the hostess or lectures to celebrities in a party. The narcissist reacts with rage and indignantly when denied his wishes and when he is treated equally with others whom he inevitably deems inferior to himself.
Then there is idealization and devaluation.
The narcissist instantly idealizes or devalues his or her interlocutor. This depends on how the narcissist appraises the potential his converser has as a narcissistic source of power.
The narcissist flatters, adores, admires and applauds the target in an embarrassingly exaggerated and profuse manner or sulks, abuses and humiliates them.
Nasties are polite only in the presence of a potential supply source, but they are unable to sustain even perfectory civility and they fast deteriorate to barbs and thinly veiled hostility, to verbal or other violent displays of abuse, rage attacks, temper tantrums and court detachment.
The narcissist has this membership posture. The narcissist always tries to be long, yet at the very same time he maintains his stance as an outsider. The narcissist seeks to be admired for his ability to integrate and ingratiate himself without investing the efforts commensurate with such another taking.
For instance, if the narcissist talks to a psychologist, the narcissist first states emphatically that he never studied psychology. He then proceeds to make seemingly effortless use of obscure professional terms, thus demonstrating to the psychologist that he had mastered the discipline all the same as an auto-deduct, which proves that he is exceptionally intelligent and introspective.
In general, the narcissist always prefers show-off to substance.
One of the most effective methods of exposing a narcissist is by trying to delve deeper.
The narcissist is shallow, a pit, pretending to be an ocean. He likes to think of himself as a renaissance man, a jack of all trades.
The narcissist never admits to ignorance in any field, yet typically he is ignorant of all fields.
The narcissist is surprisingly easy to see through. It is very easy to penetrate the gloss and veneer of the narcissist's self-proclaimed omniscience.
The narcissist constantly breaks about his autobiography, which is frequently false or at the very least embellished.
The narcissist breaks incessantly. His speech is peppered with I, my, myself, and mine. He describes himself as intelligent, or rich, or modest, or intuitive, or creative, but always excessively, implausibly, and extraordinarily so.
The narcissist's biography sounds unusually rich and complex. His achievements incommensurate with his age, education, or renown. Yet his actual condition is evidently and demonstrably incompatible with his claims.
Very often the narcissist lies, or his fantasies are easily discernible. He always name drops and appropriates other people's experiences and accomplishments as his own.
The narcissist has an emotion-free language. He likes to talk about himself and only about himself. He is not interested in others, or what they have to say, unless they constitute potential sources of supply, and in order to obtain this self-supply.
The narcissist acts bored, disdainful, even angry, if he feels that people are intruding on his precious time, and attention, and thus abusing him.
In general, the narcissist is very impatient, easily bored, with strong attention deficits, unless and until he is the topic of discussion and the center of attention.
One can publicly dissect all aspects of the intimate life of the narcissist without repercussions, providing the discourse is not emotionally tinted.
When asked to relate directly to his emotions, the narcissist intellectualizes, rationalizes, speaks about himself in the third person, and in a detached scientific tone, or composes a narrative with a fictitious character in it, suspiciously autobiographical.
Narcissists like to refer to themselves as robots, in mechanical terms, as efficient automata or machines.
Then there is seriousness, and a sense of intrusion and coercion.
The narcissist is dead serious about himself. He may possess a subtle, wry, and riotous sense of humor, scathing and cynical, but rarely is he self-deprecating.
The narcissist regards himself as being on a constant mission, whose importance is cosmic, and whose consequences are global.
If the narcissist is a scientist, he is always in the throes of revolutionizing science. If he is a journalist, he is in the middle of the greatest story ever. If he is a novelist, he is on his way to a Booker or a Pulitzer or a Nobel Prize.
This self-misperception is not available to lightheadedness or self-effacement.
Narcissist is really hurt and insulted, narcissistic and injured, when he is criticized, confronted or when people disagree with him.
Even the most innocuous remarks or acts are interpreted by the narcissist as belittling, intruding or coercive.
The narcissist's time is more valuable than other people's.
Therefore, it cannot be wasted on unimportant matters and daily chores, such as mere banter or going out for a walk.
Any suggested help, advice or concerned inquiry are immediately cast by the narcissist as intentional humiliation, implying that the narcissist is in need of help and counsel, and thus imperfect and less than omnipotent.
Any attempt to set an agenda is to the narcissist an intimidating act of enslavement.
In this sense, the narcissist is both schizoid and paranoid and often entertains ideas of reference.
He believes that he is the topic of mocking and ridicule behind his back.
So these, the lack of empathy, the aloofness, the disdain, the sense of entitlement, the constricted sense of humor, the unequal treatment in the paranoia, render the narcissist a social misfit.
The narcissist is able to provoke in his milieu, even in his casual acquaintances, in his psychotherapist, the strongest, most avid and furious hatred and revulsion.
To his shock, indignation and consternation, he invariably induces in others unbridled aggression.
The narcissist is perceived to be asocial at best and often anti-social.
This, perhaps, is the strongest presenting symptom.
One feels ill at ease in the presence of a narcissist for no apparent reason. No matter how charming, intelligent, thought-provoking, outgoing, easygoing and sociable, gregarious the narcissist is, he fails to secure the sympathy of others, the sympathy he is never ready, willing or able to reciprocate.