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Narcissism: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

“Idaho Nobility” by Mimi Stuart©

Symptoms of Narcissism

There are degrees of narcissism, ranging from excessive self-importance to full-fledged Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD.) For people suffering from NPD, the craving for admiration, status or power is the primary drive in their lives. As a result, they display extreme selfishness, a lack of empathy, and grandiosity.

Narcissists are preoccupied with self-aggrandizement to hone public opinion of their image. They seek power, fame, status, money, or sexual conquests and are often envious of others who have an abundance of these resources. To obtain “narcissistic supply”—adulation, power, fame, etc.—they will exaggerate and misrepresent their talents and accomplishments. Grandiose and arrogant, they demand that others treat them as special or superior.

High-functioning narcissists present themselves well and are socially adept, having worked hard at creating their image. However, in intimate relationships, they frequently display envy, arrogance, entitlement, and cruelty. They protect themselves from criticism, humiliation, and rejection by over-reacting with contempt, outrage, and abuse.

Narcissists use their charm and charisma to attract people into their orbit, but they often end up exploiting them to serve their own needs. Their attitude of superiority and their tendency to blame others for their own misdeeds do not promote mutually-satisfying, long-term loving relationships.

Causes of Narcissism

Healthy narcissism is a stage that very young children need to experience to gain the confidence required to grow up, take care of themselves, and be able to initiate social interactions. Children generally grow out of this phase if they experience adequate mirroring-receiving empathy and approval from one’s caregiver, and idealization—being able to look up to a caregiver as a respected person separate from oneself. If they don’t experience adequate mirroring or idealization, their development may become arrested in the narcissistic stage.

Lack of mirroring occurs in one of the following ways:

1. Approval is erratic or lacking all together. The child is ignored.

2. Admiration is too unrealistic to believe, while realistic feedback is lacking. “You’re the cutest, smartest…”

3. Criticism for bad behavior is excessive. “You are bad, evil, stupid!!”

4. The parents are excessively permissive and overindulge the child, implying a lack of caring. “Sure, have a bowl of candy, more juice, toys, throw your food if you want to, I don’t care.”

Children are deprived of idealization in one of the following ways:

1. The parents are unpredictable, unreliable, or lacking in empathy.

2. The parents are emotionally or physically abusive.

3. The parents have no interest in the child’s needs, but exploit the child to feed their own self-esteem.

When children do not experience mirroring or idealization, their psychological development can be arrested in the narcissistic phase. They do not develop empathy for themselves or others. They feel flawed and unacceptable. They fear rejection and isolation because of their perceived worthlessness.

To cover their feelings of worthlessness, they focus on controlling how others view them by embellishing their image, accomplishments and skills. Their deep shame causes them to develop an artificial self. We all develop an artificial self to some degree, but narcissists identify fully with their artificial self.

They suffer from low self-esteem, although they and those who have fallen under their spell may not believe that they have a problem with self-esteem. People with adequate self-esteem are usually willing to look at themselves with honest self-reflection and consider areas in which they could improve. They have empathy for the flaws and inadequacies in both themselves and others.

Narcissists, however, loathe and conceal their flaws, believing that only perfection and superiority can be displayed. Thus, they view themselves and others with a perspective that swings from over-valuation to repugnance. In their quest for approval and acceptance, they use their charm and charisma. Once dependent on others’ approval, the smallest hint of disapproval can send them into a state of cruel vengeance.

Praise and admiration boost the narcissist’s self-esteem, but only temporarily, because it merely reflects the false self. When faced with criticism or solitude, shadow feelings of worthlessness grow in corresponding proportion to the narcissist’s grandiosity. To fight off this inner doom, the narcissist doubles his or her efforts in pursuit of self glorification. The cycle is never ending and unfulfilling.

Treatments for Narcissism

Narcissists feel ashamed when confronted with a criticism or failure, and may become enraged at the suggestion that they should get treatment. Thus, narcissists are generally not interested in healing. Yet they will seek therapy when they have hit rock bottom or when they are compelled to by the courts or an irate spouse.

There are no known medications to treat narcissistic personality disorder, although there are medications to treat depression and anxiety disorders, which may accompany NPD.

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can help a motivated narcissist understand and regulate feelings of distrust, envy, and self-loathing. Generally, psychotherapy, which focuses on strengthening the ego and developing a more realistic self-image, is a long-term endeavor. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in particular aims at identifying cognitive distortions and false beliefs with more realistic beliefs and replacing harmful behaviors with healthy behaviors.

A new treatment called Cold Therapy has been developed by Sam Vaknin, author of “Malignant Self-love & Narcissism Revisited” and other books about personality disorders. Cold Therapy’s treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorders and certain mood disorders is based on two premises: (1) That narcissistic disorders are actually forms of complex post-traumatic conditions, and (2) That narcissists are the outcomes of arrested development and attachment dysfunctions. Consequently, it borrows techniques from child psychology and from treatment modalities used to deal with PTSD.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Guest Author Sam Vaknin: “Why narcissists react to criticism with narcissistic rage.”

"Volcano" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Intensity” by Mimi Stuart ©

GUEST AUTHOR SAM VAKNIN writes:

Narcissistic Injury

Narcissistic injury results from any threat (real or imagined) to the narcissist’s grandiose and fantastic self-perception (False Self) as perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, and entitled to special treatment and recognition, regardless of his actual accomplishments (or lack thereof).

The narcissist actively solicits Narcissistic Supply – adulation, compliments, admiration, subservience, attention, being feared – from others in order to sustain his fragile and dysfunctional Ego. Thus, he constantly courts possible rejection, criticism, disagreement, and even mockery.

The narcissist is, therefore, dependent on other people. He is aware of the risks associated with such all-pervasive and essential dependence. He resents his weakness and dreads possible disruptions in the flow of his drug: Narcissistic Supply. He is caught between the rock of his habit and the hard place of his frustration. No wonder he is prone to raging, lashing and acting out, and to pathological, all-consuming envy (all expressions of pent-up aggression).

The narcissist’s thinking is magical. In his own mind, the narcissist is brilliant, perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, and unique. Compliments and observations that accord with this inflated self-image (“The False Self”) are taken for granted and as a matter of course.

Having anticipated the praise as fully justified and in accordance with (his) “reality”, the narcissist feels that his traits, behavior, and “accomplishments” have made the accolades and kudos happen, have generated them, and have brought them into being. He “annexes” positive input and feels, irrationally, that its source is internal, not external; that it is emanating from inside himself, not from outside, independent sources. He, therefore, takes positive narcissistic supply lightly.

The narcissist treats disharmonious input – criticism, or disagreement, or data that negate the his self-perception – completely differently. He accords a far greater weight to these types of countervailing, challenging, and destabilizing information because they are felt by him to be “more real” and coming verily from the outside. Obviously, the narcissist cannot cast himself as the cause and source of opprobrium, castigation, and mockery.

This sourcing and weighing asymmetry is the reason for the narcissist’s disproportionate reactions to perceived insults. He simply takes them as more “real” and more “serious”. The narcissist is constantly on the lookout for slights. He is hypervigilant. He perceives every disagreement as criticism and every critical remark as complete and humiliating rejection: nothing short of a threat. Gradually, his mind turns into a chaotic battlefield of paranoia and ideas of reference.

Most narcissists react defensively. They become conspicuously indignant, aggressive, and cold. They detach emotionally for fear of yet another (narcissistic) injury. They devalue the person who made the disparaging remark, the critical comment, the unflattering observation, the innocuous joke at the narcissist’s expense.

By holding the critic in contempt, by diminishing the stature of the discordant conversant – the narcissist minimizes the impact of the disagreement or criticism on himself. This is a defense mechanism known as cognitive dissonance.

Narcissistic Rage

Narcissists can be imperturbable, resilient to stress, and sangfroid. Narcissistic rage is not a reaction to stress – it is a reaction to a perceived slight, insult, criticism, or disagreement (in other words, to narcissistic injury). It is intense and disproportional to the “offense”.

Raging narcissists usually perceive their reaction to have been triggered by an intentional provocation with a hostile purpose. Their targets, on the other hand, invariably regard raging narcissists as incoherent, unjust, and arbitrary.

Narcissistic rage should not be confused with anger, though they have many things in common.

It is not clear whether action diminishes anger or anger is used up in action – but anger in healthy persons is diminished through action and expression. It is an aversive, unpleasant emotion. It is intended to generate action in order to reduce frustration. Anger is coupled with physiological arousal.

Another enigma is:

Do we become angry because we say that we are angry, thus identifying the anger and capturing it – or do we say that we are angry because we are angry to begin with?

Anger is provoked by adverse treatment, deliberately or unintentionally inflicted. Such treatment must violate either prevailing conventions regarding social interactions or some otherwise a deeply ingrained sense of what is fair and what is just. The judgement of fairness or justice is a cognitive function impaired in the narcissist.

Anger is induced by numerous factors. It is almost a universal reaction. Any threat to one’s welfare (physical, emotional, social, financial, or mental) is met with anger. So are threats to one’s affiliates, nearest, dearest, nation, favourite football club, pet and so on. The territory of anger includes not only the angry person himself, but also his real and perceived environment and social milieu.

Threats are not the only situations to incite anger. Anger is also the reaction to injustice (perceived or real), to disagreements, and to inconvenience (discomfort) caused by dysfunction.

Still, all manner of angry people – narcissists or not – suffer from a cognitive deficit and are worried and anxious. They are unable to conceptualize, to design effective strategies, and to execute them. They dedicate all their attention to the here and now and ignore the future consequences of their actions. Recent events are judged more relevant and weighted more heavily than any earlier ones. Anger impairs cognition, including the proper perception of time and space.

In all people, narcissists and normal, anger is associated with a suspension of empathy. Irritated people cannot empathize. Actually, “counter-empathy” develops in a state of aggravated anger. The faculties of judgement and risk evaluation are also altered by anger. Later provocative acts are judged to be more serious than earlier ones – just by “virtue” of their chronological position.

Yet, normal anger results in taking some action regarding the source of frustration (or, at the very least, the planning or contemplation of such action). In contrast, pathological rage is mostly directed at oneself, displaced, or even lacks a target altogether.

Narcissists often vent their anger at “insignificant” people. They yell at a waitress, berate a taxi driver, or publicly chide an underling. Alternatively, they sulk, feel anhedonic or pathologically bored, drink, or do drugs – all forms of self-directed aggression.

From time to time, no longer able to pretend and to suppress their rage, they have it out with the real source of their anger. Then they lose all vestiges of self-control and rave like lunatics. They shout incoherently, make absurd accusations, distort facts, and air long-suppressed grievances, allegations and suspicions.

These episodes are followed by periods of saccharine sentimentality and excessive flattering and submissiveness towards the victim of the latest rage attack. Driven by the mortal fear of being abandoned or ignored, the narcissist repulsively debases and demeans himself.

Most narcissists are prone to be angry. Their anger is always sudden, raging, frightening and without an apparent provocation by an outside agent. It would seem that narcissists are in a CONSTANT state of rage, which is effectively controlled most of the time. It manifests itself only when the narcissist’s defenses are down, incapacitated, or adversely affected by circumstances, inner or external.

Pathological anger is neither coherent, not externally induced. It emanates from the inside and it is diffuse, directed at the “world” and at “injustice” in general. The narcissist is capable of identifying the IMMEDIATE cause of his fury. Still, upon closer scrutiny, the cause is likely to be found lacking and the anger excessive, disproportionate, and incoherent.

It might be more accurate to say that the narcissist is expressing (and experiencing) TWO layers of anger, simultaneously and always. The first layer, of superficial ire, is indeed directed at an identified target, the alleged cause of the eruption. The second layer, however, incorporates the narcissist’s self-aimed wrath.

Narcissistic rage has two forms:

I. Explosive – The narcissist flares up, attacks everyone in his immediate vicinity, causes damage to objects or people, and is verbally and psychologically abusive.

II. Pernicious or Passive-Aggressive (P/A) – The narcissist sulks, gives the silent treatment, and is plotting how to punish the transgressor and put her in her proper place. These narcissists are vindictive and often become stalkers. They harass and haunt the objects of their frustration. They sabotage and damage the work and possessions of people whom they regard to be the sources of their mounting wrath.

_________________________________________________

by Guest Author Sam Vaknin, the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction.

He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb, and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.

Visit Sam’s Web site.

Guest Author Dr. Jennifer Freed
Giving Up Parental Narcissism for Parental Maturity

"Lungta Windhorse" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Lungta Windhorse” by Mimi Stuart ©

Guest Author Dr. Jennifer Freed writes:

Parents often seek their validation from the wrong source — their children. The pure unconditional love of an infant is so intoxicating that many parents want to experience that transcendental glow for as long as possible. Who wouldn’t want to be adored without any discernment or judgement? The tricky part is that in order to be a truly loving and effective parent one needs to learn to give up the idealization from their child in favor of setting boundaries, expectations, and healthy limits.

The love that can develop when a parent does not try to be mirrored by their child or best friend to their child, but instead be the parent the child needs, is a love that is built on respect, consistency, and inner wholeness.

All of us need to constantly work on this maturity because inside each of us is a child that just wants that unconditional love we may have once experienced in our parent’s eyes and did feel from the purity of our newborn’s love.

A child has a million chances to make friends but it is exceptional to have a sturdy, loving, and reliable parent.

What does it take to give up parental narcissism for parental maturity?

It requires us to recognize first and foremost that our child is not the right place to look for our adult emotional needs to be met. If we have a partner we need to work diligently on that relationship so that it is a source of meaningful connection and legitimate feedback. If we do not have a partner we need to invest in a robust network of friends.

Adults need to be the people we turn to help us get through the ups and downs of life. Adults are the people we need to rely on to give us accurate appraisals of our appeal and competence.

Children need us to be clear and not back down when we have set standards. We need to be the solid posts they can lean on or push against to know their own capacities and inner strengths. When children know where the limits are and can depend on them then they feel more relaxed and trusting. When we feel confident that we can adhere to our values and withstand the inevitable protestations of our children then we can be calm and secure in our parenting and our mature love of our children.

If this all sounds a little too dry or somber let me reassure you that children who are parented by mature adults are raised in some of the most raucous and happy households I have ever seen. Once the proper walls and foundations have been set and reinforced patiently and consistently — both parents and children find an incredible freedom and joy within those healthy boundaries. Genuine playfulness and affection are often an outgrowth of mutual respect and emotional solidity.

After all it is much harder to dance on a buckling and splintery floor. It is never too late for a parent to grow up and become the mature beacon your child needs and deserves.

Take the below quiz and see how you are doing in cultivating mature parenting (for parents of 8 year olds and up)

Score 1 – 5 (1 – Never, 2 – Rarely, 3 – Sometimes, 4 – Often, 5 – Always)

1- I give into my child’s demands to stay up later than they should

2- I let my child watch too much TV

3- I can’t stand it when my child is crying so I do everything I can to make it better

4- I allow my child to use bad language

5- I tell my child to be “good”

6- I allow my child to interrupt me and other adults

7- I am too tired to follow through on consequences I set for my child’s misbehaving

8- I would rather get along with my child than press an issue

9- I make all the meals for my child and clean up after them

10- I let my child monopolize the conversation and not really know anything about me

11- I let my child indulge in unhealthy comfort foods or substances to soothe their unhappiness

Scores of 30 and above indicate you have some work to do to become a mature parent instead of a popular one.

by Guest Author Dr. Jennifer Freed, PhD, child behavioral expert, co-founder of AHA! (Attitude.Harmony.Achievement.) http://ahasb.org

Guest Author Sam Vaknin: “I am a Narcissist. It’s a Disability. How Can I Improve My Life?”

"Can't walk but I can fly" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Can’t walk but I can fly” by Mimi Stuart ©

GUEST AUTHOR SAM VAKNIN writes:

Narcissistic Personality Disorder has been recognised as a distinct mental health diagnosis a little more than two decades ago. There are few who can honestly claim expertise or even in-depth understanding of this complex condition.

No one knows whether therapy works. What is known is that therapists find narcissists repulsive, overbearing and unnerving. It is also known that narcissists try to co-opt, idolize, or humiliate the therapist.

But what if the narcissist really wants to improve? Even if complete healing is out of the question – behaviour modification is not.

To a narcissist, I would recommend a functional approach, along the following lines:

Know and accept thyself. This is who you are. You have good traits and bad traits and you are a narcissist. These are facts. Narcissism is an adaptive mechanism. It is dysfunctional now, but, once, it saved you from a lot more dysfunction or even non-function. Make a list: what does it mean to be a narcissist in your specific case? What are your typical behaviour patterns? Which types of conduct do you find to be counterproductive, irritating, self-defeating or self-destructive? Which are productive, constructive and should be enhanced despite their pathological origin?

Decide to suppress the first type of behaviours and to promote the second. Construct lists of self-punishments, negative feedback and negative reinforcements. Impose them upon yourself when you have behaved negatively. Make a list of prizes, little indulgences, positive feedbacks and positive reinforcements. Use them to reward yourself when you adopted a behaviour of the second kind.

Keep doing this with the express intent of conditioning yourself. Be objective, predictable and just in the administration of both punishments and awards, positive and negative reinforcements and feedback. Learn to trust your “inner court”. Constrain the sadistic, immature and ideal parts of your personality by applying a uniform codex, a set of immutable and invariably applied rules.

Once sufficiently conditioned, monitor yourself incessantly. Narcissism is sneaky and it possesses all your resources because it is you. Your disorder is intelligent because you are. Beware and never lose control. With time this onerous regime will become a second habit and supplant the narcissistic (pathological) superstructure.

You might have noticed that all the above can be amply summed by suggesting to you to become your own parent. This is what parents do and the process is called “education” or “socialisation”. Re-parent yourself. Be your own parent. If therapy is helpful or needed, go ahead.

The heart of the beast is the inability of the narcissist to distinguish true from false, appearances from reality, posing from being, Narcissistic Supply from genuine relationships, and compulsive drives from true interests and avocations. Narcissism is about deceit. It blurs the distinction between authentic actions, true motives, real desires, and original emotions – and their malignant forms.

Narcissists are no longer capable of knowing themselves. Terrified by their internal apparitions, paralysed by their lack of authenticity, suppressed by the weight of their repressed emotions – they occupy a hall of mirrors. Edvard Munch-like, their elongated figures stare at them, on the verge of the scream, yet somehow, soundless.

The narcissist’s childlike, curious, vibrant, and optimistic True Self is dead. His False Self is, well, false. How can anyone on a permanent diet of echoes and reflections ever acquaint himself with reality? How can the narcissist ever love – he, whose essence is to devour meaningful others?

The answer is: discipline, decisiveness, clear targets, conditioning, justice. The narcissist is the product of unjust, capricious and cruel treatment. He is the finished product off a production line of self-recrimination, guilt and fear. He needs to take the antidote to counter the narcissistic poison. Unfortunately, there is no drug which can ameliorate pathological narcissism.

Confronting one’s parents about one’s childhood is a good idea if the narcissist feels that he can take it and cope with new and painful truths. But the narcissist must be careful. He is playing with fire. Still, if he feels confident that he can withstand anything revealed to him in such a confrontation, it is a good and wise move in the right direction.

My advice to the narcissist would then be: dedicate a lot of time to rehearsing this critical encounter and define well what is it exactly that you want to achieve. Do not turn this reunion into a monodrama, group therapy, or trial. Get some answers and get at the truth. Don’t try to prove anything, to vindicate, to take revenge, to win the argument, or to exculpate. Talk to them, heart to heart, as you would with yourself. Do not try to sound professional, mature, intelligent, knowledgeable and distanced. There is no “problem to solve” – just a condition to adjust yourself to.

More generally, try to take life and yourself much less seriously. Being immersed in one’s self and in one’s mental health condition is never the recipe to full functionality, let alone happiness. The world is an absurd place. It is indeed a theatre to be enjoyed. It is full of colours and smells and sounds to be treasured and cherished. It is varied and it accommodates and tolerates everyone and everything, even narcissists.

You, the narcissist, should try to see the positive aspects of your disorder. In Chinese, the ideogram for “crisis” includes a part that stands for “opportunity”. Why don’t you transform the curse that is your life into a blessing? Why don’t you tell the world your story, teach people in your condition and their victims how to avoid the pitfalls, how to cope with the damage? Why don’t you do all this in a more institutionalised manner?

For instance, you can start a discussion group or put up a Web site on the internet. You can establish a “narcissists anonymous” in some community shelter. You can open a correspondence network, a help centre for men in your condition, for women abused by narcissists … the possibilities are endless. And it will instil in you a regained sense of self-worth, give you a purpose, endow you with self-confidence and reassurance. It is only by helping others that we help ourselves. This is, of course, a suggestion – not a prescription. But it demonstrates the ways in which you can derive power from adversity.

It is easy for the narcissist to think about Pathological Narcissism as the source of all that is evil and wrong in his life. Narcissism is a catchphrase, a conceptual scapegoat, an evil seed. It conveniently encapsulates the predicament of the narcissist. It introduces logic and causal relations into his baffled, tumultuous world. But this is a trap.

The human psyche is too complex and the brain too plastic to be captured by a single, all-encompassing label, however all-pervasive the disorder is. The road to self-help and self-betterment passes through numerous junctions and stations. Except for pathological narcissism, there are many other elements in the complex dynamics that is the soul of the narcissist. The narcissist should take responsibility for his life and not relegate it to some hitherto rather obscure psychodynamic concept. This is the first and most important step towards healing.

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by Guest Author Sam Vaknin, the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction.

He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb, and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.

Visit Sam’s Web site.

“What is the difference between being selfish and being narcissistic?”

"Quantum Leap" Einstein by Mimi Stuart ©

“Quantum Leap” Einstein by Mimi Stuart ©

The spectrum between selfishness and narcissism includes being just a little selfish, very selfish, somewhat narcissistic and suffering from full-fledged Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Narcissism

“Pathological narcissism is a life-long pattern of traits and behaviours which signify infatuation and obsession with one’s self to the exclusion of all others and the egotistic and ruthless pursuit of one’s gratification, dominance and ambition.”

~Sam Vaknin

A true narcissist lacks empathy for others as he or she is consumed with a drive to uphold a particular self-image in order to obtain “narcissistic supply,” that is, acclaim, fame, sexual conquests, or power, depending on the particular narcissist. Most people enjoy praise and admiration, but for narcissists, gaining praise, admiration, status, or power is their primary drive, as it is their only way to attain a sense of self.

True narcissists are extremely defensive and hostile when challenged or when feeling inferior. They generally do not apologize for treating others badly unless it suits their goals, because they lack the empathy to feel another person’s pain. Narcissists may pretend to be empathetic and kind if necessary, but like everything else they do, their behavior is designed to create a self-image that will garner narcissistic supply. In fact, the drive to feel superior is so strong that narcissists will exaggerate, lie, cheat and do whatever it takes to sustain a sense of self-importance.

It is sadly impossible for a narcissist to have a loving, mutual and equal relationship with another person, for as Vaknin puts it “the narcissist identifies being loved with being possessed, encroached upon, shackled, transformed, reduced, exploited, weakened, engulfed, digested and excreted.” Moreover, the more you admire a narcissist the more poorly you will be treated. Despite the fact that the narcissist seeks admiration, “the narcissist holds his sycophantic acolytes in contempt. He finds his fans, admirers, and followers repulsive and holds them to be inferior.” (Sam Vaknin, author of “Malignant Self-love”)

Selfishness

Selfish individuals tend to think of themselves first, but don’t lack empathy for others. A moderate amount of what we call “selfishness” is a positive attribute, and might be called “self-preservation,” “independence,” or being a “go-getter.”

Unlike narcissists, slightly selfish people may have a strong sense of self that is not dependent on either being admired by others or having power over others. They are capable of having equal relationships with others, particularly if they can take care of their own needs and are not overly dependent. The good thing about “selfish” people is that they will generally take care of themselves; you don’t have to. They can also be full of passion and vitality because they do things out of interest rather than out of a sense of obligation or guilt.

When dealing with selfish people, it is important to maintain some independence and to continue to pursue your own passions. Don’t expect them to take care of you. If you want to share more time together, engage and entice them rather than try to change them by complaining about the lack of attention. Of course, this will hold true with most people.

When dealing with extremely selfish people verging on narcissism, it’s best to keep your relationship light, avoid dependence of any kind, and keep your expectations realistically low to avoid the inevitable disappointments you’ll feel when you experience their lack of concern for you or other people. In essence, your expectations should match the reality of a person’s character. So enjoy the positive and protect yourself against the negative.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “My teenager is selfish and rude! How did I raise a child like this?”

Read “Narcissism Part 1 (of 5): ‘My husband is so selfish! Is he a narcissist?’ Symptoms of Narcissism.”

Read Sam Vaknin’s “Cold Empathy: The Narcissist as Predator.”


“He is a Narcissist, But He Accuses Me of Manipulating Him. Am I?” by Guest Author Sam Vaknin

"Feline" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Feline” by Mimi Stuart ©

GUEST AUTHOR SAM VAKNIN writes:

All told, there are three ways to manipulate the narcissist:

(1) To withhold narcissistic supply from him until he comes, hat in hand, begging for more and then you can name your price and dictate terms;

(2) To constitute yourself as a reliable source of high-grade supply and thereby foster in the narcissist dependence and adherence to your minutest needs and wishes;

(3) To take active part in buttressing and upholding the narcissist’s grandiose fantasies, to collude in a shared psychosis and thus render him amenable to your wishes and priorities as long as they seamlessly conform to his delusional narrative.

The irony is that narcissists, who consider themselves worldly, discerning, knowledgeable, shrewd, erudite, and astute – are actually more gullible than the average person. This is because they are fake. Their self is false, their life a confabulation, their reality test gone. They live in a fantasy land all their own in which they are the center of the universe, admired, feared, held in awe, and respected for their omnipotence and omniscience.

Narcissists are prone to magical thinking. They hold themselves immune to the consequences of their actions (or inaction) and, therefore, beyond punishment and the laws of Man. Narcissists are easily persuaded to assume unreasonable risks and expect miracles to happen. They often find themselves on the receiving end of investment scams, for instance.

Narcissists feel entitled to money, power, and honors incommensurate with their accomplishments or toil. The world, or God, or the nation, or society, or their families, co-workers, employers, even neighbors owe them a trouble-free, exalted, and luxurious existence. They are rudely shocked when they are penalized for their misconduct or when their fantasies remain just that.

The narcissist believes that he is destined to greatness – or at least the easy life. He wakes up every morning fully ready for a fortuitous stroke of luck. That explains the narcissist’s reckless behaviors and his lazed lack of self-discipline. It also explains why is so easily duped.

By playing on the narcissist’s grandiosity and paranoia, it is possible to deceive and manipulate him effortlessly. Just offer him Narcissistic Supply – admiration, affirmation, adulation – and he is yours. Harp on his insecurities and his persecutory delusions – and he is likely to trust only you and cling to you for dear life. Both paranoia and grandiosity impair the narcissist’s reality test and lead to the erection of complex and wasteful defences against non-existent threats.

Narcissists attract abuse. Haughty, exploitative, demanding, insensitive, and quarrelsome – they tend to draw opprobrium and provoke anger and even hatred. Sorely lacking in interpersonal skills, devoid of empathy, and steeped in irksome grandiose fantasies – they invariably fail to mitigate the irritation and revolt that they induce in others.

Successful narcissists are frequently targeted by stalkers and erotomaniacs – usually mentally ill people who develop a fixation of a sexual and emotional nature on the narcissist. When inevitably rebuffed, they become vindictive and even violent.

Less prominent narcissists end up sharing life with co-dependents and inverted narcissists.

The narcissist’s situation is exacerbated by the fact that, often, the narcissist himself is an abuser. Like the boy who cried “wolf”, people do not believe that the perpetrator of egregious deeds can himself fall prey to maltreatment. They tend to ignore and discard the narcissist’s cries for help and disbelieve his protestations.

The narcissist reacts to abuse as would any other victim. Traumatized, he goes through the phases of denial, helplessness, rage, depression, and acceptance. But, the narcissist’s reactions are amplified by his shattered sense of omnipotence. Abuse breeds humiliation. To the narcissist, helplessness is a novel experience.

The narcissistic defence mechanisms and their behavioural manifestations – diffuse rage, idealization and devaluation, exploitation – are useless when confronted with a determined, vindictive, or delusional stalker. That the narcissist is flattered by the attention he receives from the abuser, renders him more vulnerable to the former’s manipulation.

Nor can the narcissist come to terms with his need for help or acknowledge that wrongful behaviour on his part may have contributed somehow to the situation. His self-image as an infallible, mighty, all-knowing person, far superior to others, won’t let him admit to shortfalls or mistakes.

As the abuse progresses, the narcissist feels increasingly cornered. His conflicting emotional needs – to preserve the integrity of his grandiose False Self even as he seeks much needed support – place an unbearable strain on the precarious balance of his immature personality. Decompensation (the disintegration of the narcissist’s defence mechanisms) leads to acting out and, if the abuse is protracted, to withdrawal and even to psychotic micro-episodes.

Abusive acts in themselves are rarely dangerous. Not so the reactions to abuse – above all, the overwhelming sense of violation and humiliation. When asked how is the narcissist likely to react to continued mistreatment, I wrote this in one of my Pathological Narcissism FAQs:

“The initial reaction of the narcissist to a perceived humiliation is a conscious rejection of the humiliating input. The narcissist tries to ignore it, talk it out of existence, or belittle its importance. If this crude mechanism of cognitive dissonance fails, the narcissist resorts to denial and repression of the humiliating material. He “forgets” all about it, gets it out of his mind and, when reminded of it, denies it.

But these are usually merely stopgap measures. The disturbing data is bound to impinge on the narcissist’s tormented consciousness. Once aware of its re-emergence, the narcissist uses fantasy to counteract and counterbalance it. He imagines all the horrible things that he would have done (or will do) to the sources of his frustration.

It is through fantasy that the narcissist seeks to redeem his pride and dignity and to re-establish his damaged sense of uniqueness and grandiosity. Paradoxically, the narcissist does not mind being humiliated if this were to make him more unique or to draw more attention to his person.

For instance: if the injustice involved in the process of humiliation is unprecedented, or if the humiliating acts or words place the narcissist in a unique position, or if they transform him into a public figure – the narcissist tries to encourage such behaviours and to elicit them from others.

In this case, he fantasises how he defiantly demeans and debases his opponents by forcing them to behave even more barbarously than before, so that their unjust conduct is universally recognised as such and condemned and the narcissist is publicly vindicated and his self-respect restored. In short: martyrdom is as good a method of obtaining Narcissist Supply as any.

Fantasy, though, has its limits and once reached, the narcissist is likely to experience waves of self-hatred and self-loathing, the outcomes of helplessness and of realising the depths of his dependence on Narcissistic Supply. These feelings culminate in severe self-directed aggression: depression, destructive, self-defeating behaviours or suicidal ideation.

These self-negating reactions, inevitably and naturally, terrify the narcissist. He tries to project them on to his environment. He may decompensate by developing obsessive-compulsive traits or by going through a psychotic microepisode.

At this stage, the narcissist is suddenly besieged by disturbing, uncontrollable violent thoughts. He develops ritualistic reactions to them: a sequence of motions, an act, or obsessive counter-thoughts. Or he might visualise his aggression, or experience auditory hallucinations. Humiliation affects the narcissist this deeply.

Luckily, the process is entirely reversible once Narcissistic Supply is resumed. Almost immediately, the narcissist swings from one pole to another, from being humiliated to being elated, from being put down to being reinstated, from being at the bottom of his own, imagined, pit to occupying the top of his own, imagined, hill.”

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by Guest Author Sam Vaknin, the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction.

He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb, and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.

Visit Sam’s Web site.

Read Guest Author Sam Vaknin’s: “Inner Voices, False Narratives, Narcissism, and Codependence.”

Read “I try so hard to make her happy.”