SURVIVING THE NARCISSIST
Is there a point in waiting for the Narcissist to heal? Can it ever be
"It is true that he is a chauvinistic narcissist with repulsive
behaviors. But all he needs is a little love and he will be straightened
out. I will rescue him from his misery and misfortune. I will give him the
love that he lacked as a kid. Then his narcissism will vanish and we will
live happily ever after".
Loving a Narcissist
I believe in the possibility of loving narcissists if one accepts them
unconditionally, in a disillusioned and expectation-free manner.
Narcissists are narcissists. This is what they are. Take them or leave
them. Some of them are lovable. Most of them are highly charming and
intelligent. The source of the misery of the victims of the narcissist is
their disappointment, their disillusionment, their abrupt and tearing and
tearful realization that they fell in love with an ideal of their own
invention, a phantasm, an illusion, a fata morgana. This "waking
up" is traumatic. The narcissist is forever the same. It is the
victim who changes. It is true that narcissists present a facade in order
to generate sources of narcissistic supply. But this facade is easy to
penetrate because it is inconsistent. The cracks are evident from day one
but often ignored. And what about all those who KNOWINGLY and WILLINGLY
commit their wings to the burning narcissistic candle?
This is the catch-22. To react emotionally to a narcissist is like
talking atheism to an Afghan fundamentalist. Narcissists have emotions,
very strong ones, so terrifyingly strong and negative that they hide them,
repress, block and transmute them. They employ a myriad of defense
mechanisms: projective identification, splitting, projection,
intellectualization, rationalization. Any effort to emotionally relate to
a narcissist is doomed to failure, alienation and rage. Any attempt to
"understand" (in retrospect or prospectively) narcissistic
behavior patterns, reactions, his inner world in emotional terms - is
equally hopeless. Narcissists should be regarded as "stychia", a
force of nature, or an accident. There is always the bitter question:
"Why me, why should this happen to me?" But this question is so
universally asked that in its very universality lies the answer. The world
is "meaningless" and "goal-less".
There is no master-plot or mega-plan to deprive anyone of happiness.
Being born to narcissistic parents, for instance, is not the result of a
conspiracy. It is a tragic event, for sure. But it cannot be dealt with
emotionally without professional help or haphazardly. Stay away from
narcissists, or face them aided by your own self-discovery through
It can be done. As opposed to narcissists, the prognosis for the
victims of narcissists is fairly bright.
Narcissists have no interest in emotional or even intellectual
stimulation by significant others. Such stimulation is perceived as a
Significant others in the narcissist's life have very clear roles:
accumulation and dispensation of past primary narcissistic supply in order
to regulate current NS. Nothing less but definitely nothing more.
Proximity and intimacy breed contempt for reasons that I elucidate in my
work. A process of devaluation is in full operation throughout the life of
A passive witness to the Narcissist's past grandiosity, a dispenser of
accumulated NS, a punching bag for his rages, a co-dependent, a possession
(though not prized but taken for granted) and nothing much more. This is
the ungrateful, FULL TIME, draining job of being the Narcissist's
But humans are not instruments. To regard them as such is to devalue
them, to reduce them, to restrict them, to prevent them from realizing
their potential. Inevitably, Narcissists lose interest in their
instruments, these truncated versions of full-fledged humans, once they
cease to serve them in their pursuit of glory and fame.
Consider "friendship' with a narcissist as example of a
relationship. One cannot really get to know a Narcissist
"friend". One cannot be friends with a Narcissist and ESPECIALLY
- one cannot love a Narcissist. Narcissists are addicts. They are no
different to drug addicts. They are in pursuit of gratification through
the drug known as "narcissistic supply". Everything and EVERYONE
around them is an object, a potential source (to be idealized) or not
(and, then to be cruelly discarded).
Narcissists home on potential supplies like cruise missiles with the
most poisonous load. They are excellent at imitating emotions, exhibiting
the right timely behaviors and at manipulating.
All generalizations are false, of course, and there are bound to be
some happy relationships with Narcissists. I discussed the narcissistic
couple in one of my FAQs (see: "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism
Revisited"). One example of a happy marriage is when the narcissist
teams up with another narcissist of a different kind (somatic with
cerebral or the reverse).
Narcissists can be happily married to submissive, subservient,
self-deprecating, echoing, mirroring and indiscriminately supportive
spouses. They also do well with masochists. But it is difficult to imagine
that a healthy, normal person would be happy in such a follies-a-deux
("madness in twosome").
It is also difficult to imagine a benign and sustained influence on the
narcissist of a stable, healthy mate/spouse/partner. One of my FAQs is
dedicated to this issue ("The Narcissist's
BUT many a spouse/friend/mate/partner like to BELIEVE that - given
sufficient time and patience - they will be the ones to release the
narcissist from his wrenching bondage. They think that they can
"rescue" the narcissist, shield him from his (distorted) self,
as it were. The Narcissist makes use of this naiveté and exploits it to
his benefit. The natural protective mechanisms, which are provoked in
normal people by love - are cold bloodedly used by the narcissist to
extract yet more narcissistic supply from his writhing victim.
The narcissist affects his victims by infiltrating their psyche, by
penetrating their defenses. Like a virus, it establishes a new genetic
strain within his/her victims. It echoes through them, it talks through
them, it walks through them. It is like the invasion of the body
You should be careful to separate your selves from the narcissist
inside you, this alien growth, this spiritual cancer that is the result of
living with a narcissist. You should be able to tell apart your real you
and the YOU assigned to you by the narcissist. To cope with him/her, the
narcissist forces you to "walk on eggshells" and develop a false
self of your own. It is nothing as elaborate as his False Self - but it is
there, in you, as a result of the trauma and abuse inflicted upon you by
Thus, perhaps we should invent "VoNPD", another mental health
category - Victims of NPD. They experience shame and anger for their past
helplessness and submissiveness. They are hurt and sensitized by the
harrowing experience of sharing a simulated existence with a simulated
person, the narcissist.
They are scarred. Some of them lash out at others, offsetting their frustration with
bitter aggression (a classical mechanism).
Like his disorder, the narcissist is all-pervasive. Being the victim of
a narcissist is a condition no less pernicious than being a narcissist.
Great efforts are required to abandon a narcissist and physical separation
is only the first (and less consequential) step. One can abandon a
narcissist - but the narcissist is slow to abandon its victims. It is
there, lurking, rendering existence unreal, twisting and distorting with
no respite, an inner, remorseless voice, lacking in compassion and empathy
for its victim.
The narcissist is there in spirit long after it has vanished
physically. This is the real danger that the victims of the narcissist
face: that they will become like him, bitter, self-centered, lacking in
empathy. This is the last bow of the narcissist, his curtain call, by
proxy as it were.
The narcissist tends to surround himself with his inferiors (in some
respect - intellectually, financially, physically). He limits his
interactions with them to the plane of his superiority. This is the safest
and fastest way to sustain his grandiose fantasies of superiority,
omnipotence and omniscience, brilliance, ideal traits, perfection and so
on. Humans are interchangeable and the narcissist anyhow does not
distinguish one individual from another. To him they are all inanimate
parts of "his audience" whose job is to reflect his false self
to him. This generates a perpetual and permanent cognitive dissonance:
The narcissist despises the very people who sustain his ego boundaries
and functions. He cannot respect people so expressly and clearly inferior
to him - yet he can never associate with people evidently on his level or
superior to him, the risk of narcissistic injury in such associations
being too great. Equipped with a fragile ego, precariously teetering on
the brink of narcissistic injury - the narcissist prefers the safe route.
But he feels contempt for himself and for others for having preferred it.
Some NPDs are ALSO Antisocial PDs (AsPDs) and/or sadists and so
vicariously enjoy hurting others (mostly during sex but also without it).
Antisocials don't really ENJOY hurting others - they simply don't care
one way or the other. But sadists do enjoy it.
"Pure" NPDs do not enjoy hurting others - but they do enjoy
the sensation of omnipotence, unlimited power and the validation of their
grandiose fantasies when they hurt others or in the position to do so. It
is more the POTENTIAL to hurt others than the actual act that turns them
The Neverending Story
Even the official termination of the relationship is not the end of the
affair. The Ex "belongs" to the narcissist. She is an
inseparable part of his Pathological Narcissistic Space. This possessive
streak is not terminated with the official, physical, separation. Thus,
the narcissist is likely to respond with rage, seething envy, a sense of
humiliation and invasion and violent-aggressive urges to an ex's new
boyfriend, or new job (to her new life without him). Especially since it
implies a "failure" on his part and, thus negates his
But there is a second scenario:
If the narcissist were to firmly believe (which is very rare) that the
ex does not and will never represent any amount, however marginal and
residual, of any kind (primary or secondary) of narcissistic supply - he
will remain utterly unmoved by anything she does and anyone she may choose
to be with. Narcissists do feel bad about hurting others and about the
unsavoury course their lives tend to assume. Their ego-dystony (=feeling
bad about themselves) was only recently discovered and described. But my
suspicion is that a narcissist can feel bad only when his supply sources
are threatened because of his behaviour or following a narcissistic injury
(such as a major life crisis: divorce, bankruptcy, etc.)
The narcissist equates emotions with weakness. He regards the
sentimental and the emotional with contempt. He looks down on the
sensitive and the vulnerable. He derides and despises the dependent and
the loving. He mocks expressions of compassion and passion. He is devoid
of empathy. He is so afraid of his True Self that he would rather demean
it all than admit to his own faults and "soft spots".
He likes to talk about himself in mechanical terms
("machine", "efficient", "punctual",
"output", "computer"). He slaughters his human side
diligently and with a dedication derived from his drive to survive. To
him, to be human and to survive are a contradiction. He must choose and
his choice is clear. The narcissist never looks back, unless and until
forced to by life circumstances.
ALL narcissists fear intimacy. But the cerebral narcissist deploys
excellent defenses against it: "scientific detachment" (the
narcissist as the eternal observer), intellectualizing and rationalizing
his emotions away, intellectual cruelty (see my FAQ regarding
inappropriate affect in "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism
Revisited"), intellectual "annexation" (regarding the other
person as his extension or territory), objectifying the other and so on.
Even emotions that are expressed (pathological envy, neurotic or other
rage, etc.) have the not totally unintended effect of alienating rather
than creating intimacy.
NEXT: ABANDONING THE
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