Some narcissists try to dominate by way of a discourse of "love" and friendship. They are the ones who love and care for friendship most, and you are put in an “emotionally handicapped” position next to them. Through a discourse of love, narcissists may intrude upon others by resorting to all kinds of devaluing methods such as boasting, bragging, taunting, disdaining, and whims. The paradox herein is that the discourse contains affection while the action manifests intrusion.
"Pseudo-affection" is a way to “self-inflation” used by the narcissist. In fact, the narcissist needs adrenaline and admiration; love is only used as an instrument. What is supposed to be “love” may rapidly turns into vulnerability, resentment and rage, which is differential for the narcissist’s love. "Genuine love" would never turn into vulnerability and resentment, nor would it be used as an excuse to peevishness and rage, or as an instrument of devaluation. It is quite contrary to the nature of love to be utilized as the means of domination.
Such shifts are frequently observed in the “pseudo-love” of the narcissist. It indicates that what they call love is actually “self-inflation”. Once inflated (puffed up; an expansive, grandiose, hyper-stimulated state of arousal), the narcissist becomes dangerous. If reminded of their boundaries, they get as cold as marble. Because, interestingly, self-inflation is also closest to the state of shame which is the most vulnerable state for a narcissist. This is why living with a narcissist feels someone in a hopeless situation like walking a tightrope. Narcissists use defenses like humiliation, ridicule, contempt, destructive criticism, and character assasination against imminent shame.
Puffed up (elevated)(1) narcissist does not know how to descend calmly, and needs to maintain the elevation. In this view, they can be compared to a car without brakes. One of the adventures they will embark on is most likely to end in a burst of rage involving intense devaluation. You cannot know whom a narcissist will mess with when swollen. They seek new targets to feed their puffing up (expansion) and turn to new people ... but in a condescending manner. In fact, their efforts are only aimed at maintaining a very fragile self-esteem. But, most of the time, they do not realize the destruction they cause outside for the sake of repairing something inside.
Love does good for the deserted psyche of the narcissist. It makes them feel special. This is the most significant characteristic of a narcissist; feeling special (unique). Even when they give themselves a good mouthful of curses (2), they actually revile at those characteristics that do not really belong to him, but prevent him from shining in the world as a very special person. That’s what they expect from therapy as well; they sound like “I have a psychic tumor that doesn’t belong to me, just cut it out that I can show to the world who really I am!” You usually come across them at the practices of hypnosis or NLP, seeking magical solutions.
Having a deep sense of specialness all through their lives (which, for closet narcissists, needs to be brought to the surface in therapy), these people grow older only to see that there is nothing special about them, which causes an unbearable feeling, and to head towards being a grumpy old person. Nothing pleases them any more. (3) Everything... this city, neighbourhood, engagements, the work, feels cold, pale, colorless, lifeless and holow. This is actually a reflection of their deserted psyche. Having used others as a vanity mirror for their "shining presence" all through their lives, they have neglected their own inner world so much that they cannot even glance at that wilderness now, let alone spending time there. This is a malign cycle. Because it causes them such a great pain to glance at their inside, it becomes impossible for them to turn to themselves, which leads to their inner world to get more neglected, wilder and dilapidated. (4)
This narcissistic system, leveled in the first half of the life, begins to collapse in the second half; narcissistic depletion. Doctors rush into diagnose these cases as depression to prescribe antidepressants. Big dreams dwindle down to running a pub in a coastal town in Antalya. This project of “stealthy retreat” (social withdrawal, schizoid defense) serves for an obvious goal. All “regulars” of that place will also be very special people (some of them already suffering from the same trouble), and the blind will be leading the blind. In this last microcosmic resort, they try to give each other’s grandiose self the kiss of life as they head for the last roundup. What is shared in such places should be very special (of course!); everyone should take their share from this uniqueness; “do you know anybody better than us!” This is such a curious mechanism that even if a group member lets a loud fart and everyone is doubled up with laughter, they use this gassy instant to feed the sense of being a special group. Certainly, this feeling turns into a universal sorrow quickly. This sadness will also be used in the service of uniqueness. Therefore, alcohol plays a leading role in this kind of a life. They cannot even think of a life without it. This sorrow also has a mission of keeping them away from people, which becomes the subject of many pseudo-poetic and pseudo-artistic works. Many scenes in the movies may be seen from this angle. In these scenes, those men and women, who think they have been through the mill, smile poignantly at the rest of the world supposedly with love and compassion but actually in a devaluing manner. They believe that they were born in the wrong time and place, “real people” condemned to live in a herd of sheep, and their struggle for survival a masochistic idealization. The more they suffer, the “greater” they become. Only great men can suffer great agonies.
But, in fact, because of this devaluing manner, they will pass away without having any real relationship, or establishing any meaningful bond. The people they relate to exist in their minds rather than in real life. Imprisoned in their own mind, they have never been able see the people in the external world (non-mentalization). So they cannot possibly have empathy. It has the most destructive impact on those closest to them, especially their children.
If we interpret Mahler’s (1975) developmental theory (Separation-Individuation Theory), we can say that they could not be born yet, but had an unfinished process of coming to the world. But they are not aborted to be buried in the ground, either. They are bound to live like an organism hanging from the womb of their mother (fusion). Once you understand their tragedy, you can no longer get angry with them. Tremendous responsibilities of those who are free (5) become more important compared with how others destroy. But it is not so easy to accept them as they are. One would accept without questioning the selfishness of a 14-month-old. But an emotionally-14-month-old but chronologically-40-year-old person, unless engaged in a move to attract you, is, to say the least, boring. While their moves are easily predictable, they still think of themselves as unique.
Puffed up (inflated) narcissist intrudes upon others’ space in the name of service, love and friendship, taking decisions and making choices on their behalf. They are surprised and upset to hear the other person questioning this decision that they have taken rightfully (!) with love. This is such a true surprise that it also takes the other by surprise. It is of critical importance for this surprise to be understood by the therapist. Therapist should be able to interpret, in the light of the theories of development, this feeling of entitlement, perhaps one of the most important diagnostic criteria for narcissism in DSM. Here the narcissist experiences real disappointment and injury. S/he takes an action in good faith and with deep love (1) only to be responded with senseless whims, ingratitude, and even plain malice. “Why are these people always like this?” Narcissists respond to this “idiocy” with fighting (aggression) or distancing (resentment) accompanied by implicit/explicit and intense devaluation (despise). Aggression is well known, but their resentment is not mentioned often in the books. Yet, resentment is one of the basic acts of the narcissist. Intense devaluation and even despise lie behind resentment. This phenomenon is significant in our country where there are husbands who may remain resentful at home for a long time.
Intrusive puffed-up narcissist responds with a devaluing anger to the counter-attack that criticizes them for being intrusive. A typical answer is “It is my fault to care about them anyway; just a bunch of .......!” Those criticizing the narcissist in this way are not much different from them, though. A similar structure may be observed in those who criticize them for “having no boundaries” or “building castles in the air”. When their space is intruded, they respond with harsh and explicit/implicit anger. It is because their explicit/implicit agenda is to fight them off and cut them down to size, rather than correcting/adjusting. The other’s criticism has lifted the scab of the narcissist’s wound, and the archaic wound beginning to bleed cuts the ground out from under their feet. In this situation, the person sways from the here-and-now to the then-and-there echoing with the same affect, and thus activates inappropriate (maladaptive) behavioral schemas. These experiences usually contain intense aggression.
Normal structures, on the other hand, respond in a healthy way involving less affect and more adjusting effort when their space is filled by the narcissist. If the other person does not listen to reason, they adjust their distance calmly. Many narcissists respond harshly to these healthy reactions, as well, thinking that they are envying. People are jealous of them, and withdraw in envy at those moments when they are the most successful/happy/enthusiastic. Hence, their uniqueness is prevented from going forward. It has always been like this in life. All because of “these idiots”, they have not been able to use that magnificent, yet always hidden, potential. These “idiots” may be the society, culture, religion, race, social structure, microculture, or any small community. This maneuver allows the narcissist both to cover up their inadequacy and also to throw out the internal “bad” (projection). The highest cost of this intense devaluation is severe structural defects in the super-ego. The degree of super-ego deficits is important enough to determine the diagnosis, the prognosis, and the course of therapy.
The narcissists become more intrusive expecting to dominate their environment more only to find themselves more secluded and thus get angry. It does not occur to them that people might have withdrawn because they were bothered with them. In their view, the only reason may be envy (paranoid projection and sadistic object formation), or half-witted failure to appreciate them (devaluation).
Therefore, it is observed in millions of internet groups that 3-5 narcissists run wild and others gradually withdraw eventually. If the narcissist was running wild alone, s/he would pissed off by the silence responding to their questions and suggestions. They end up in insulting the group openly. Those who have been grossed out by them sometimes cannot even get rid of them by distancing; they get labeled as all kinds of things from “sheep” to “disloyal”, “asocial” and “dead inside”. They may even describe some healthy people who are more engaged with their real physical-social environment as “facebook-impaired” asocial types. Unable to get an echo, the narcissist becomes over-aggressive, because being mirrored (seeking a mirror) has been an identifying phenomenon for the narcissist since Narcissus, and this mirror-mirroring metaphor is not only a visual modality. Unable to hear the echo of their own voice, the narcissist experience intense “non-existence anxiety” and need to resort to acting-out instruments like alcohol and sex, or to create an intense anger burst to fire the adrenaline in their veins in order to prove their existence. This is a matter of life and death for them, and you cannot explain anything to a person who is “struggling for life” (!)
The more silent their echo gets, the louder the narcissist speaks to confirm “I am here”, almost scratching and wrenching people. It is rather like self-cutting with razor, or resting face on ice to feel one’s existence. It appears especially in those who cannot tolerate lack of stimulus. These types in the internet groups bore you stiff.
In e-groups like Yahoogroups, people usually prefer to keep silent because of the dust-up caused by 4-5 people. Yet, narcissists feel on the stage and just enjoy this. They never give up on having even the most private arguments in front of the group rather than via personal message. The interesting thing is that you would expect similar pathologies to bite each other, but they can become virtual buddies soon enough. This happens particularly if they share the same worldview. They have a “pure faith” that only their values are true and valid, which causes other group members go blank, and people can rarely pluck up courage to challenge this gang.
In fact, virtual environment psychology is highly important. Because people will show presence predominantly in the virtual world in the years ahead, we will see growing importance of the themes of “virtual environment psychology” and “e-group behavioral patterns”. The virtual environment holds a great deal of psychological material, such as many fragile narcissists revealing their aggressive sides only in the virtual environment. Those who do not get a chance at puffing up in daily life may utilize the virtual world skillfully for their trials.
Ahmet Corak, M.D., PhD
Marmara University Faculty Member
(1) Puffing up is characterized by the activation of sympathetic nervous system. This nervous system is activated at the moments of fight, sex and flight. The narcissist’s state of mind turns back to the first 18 months of life when they were in a love affair with the world. Everyone kindly reminding them of their boundaries get an emotional response as if they barged into their bedroom and stopped them from making love. They are offended, get upset, and end up devaluing others in an outburst of anger. Shift to the anger burst is very quick for some people, and the person is not aware of the preliminary stages. Masterson approach puts the emphasis on the person’s awareness of these stages. Kernberg, on the other hand, associates improvement with working through the anger, and thus argues that an early emphasis on these stages leads the patient to a depressive position too early, which essentially implies “not working through the aggression”.
(2) Many people would say “Nobody belittles themselves as much as I do to myself. How could I be a narcissist?” However, this indicates a narcissistic mechanism in itself. (Presence of unintegrated super-ego and over-judgmental sadistic precursors)
(3) From this point on, one becomes acquainted with cheating, aberrant sex, weed, fast and extreme lifestyles, and extreme sports. Those who are away from this world spend their time masturbating with porn.
(4) The contrast between the narcissist’s usually successful appearance and internal impoverishment is the subject of a curious theoretical discussion. Kernberg states this paradox as follows: "[Narcissistic defenses] ... paradoxically improve these patients’ surface functioning at the cost of reducing their capacity for intimate and gratifying relationships with others and of an impoverishment of their experience of self " (Kernberg, 2004; p.x). Narcissistic fantasies, which are frequently used by the narcissist when they are alone with themselves, are both protective against, and maintainer of his deserted internal world.
(5) An individual who has completed the separation-individuation process (4-36 months in Mahler’s view), hence can establish relationships with the object based on love instead of need/dependency. We cannot say that one-year-old infant feels “love” towards the mother. It is predominantly based on need/dependency. In order to claim to love a person, it is required to be separated from that person and freed from a need/dependency relationship.
Kernberg O. Aggressivity, Narcissism, and Self-Destructiveness in the Psychotherapeutic Relationship. Yale University Press. New Haven, 2004.
Mahler MS, Pine F, Bergman A. The Psychological Birth Of The Human Infant Symbiosis And Individuation. Basic Books, 1975
Masterson JF. The Personality Disorders: A New Look at the Developmental Self and Object Relations Approach : Theory, Diagnosis, Treatment. Zeig Tucker & Theisen Publishers, 2000
Polledri P. Envy is Not Innate: A New Model of Thinking. Karnac Books, 2012.
Keywords: narcissist, unique, devaluing, entitlement, envy, injury, intrusion, puff up, masochistic idealization, narcissistic depletion, narcissist, non-existence anxiety