The identification & characteristics of the pathological narcissist
There is a huge difference between having narcissistic traits and having narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Most of us have moments where we feel that we should be at the centre of everything or that we are the most important person in a particular moment. Therefore, we all have narcissistic traits to a greater or lesser degree.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is something entirely different.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5) lists the following characteristics, when occurring together, as possibly diagnostic of individuals with NPD:
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance.
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
- Believes he or she is “special” and unique.
- Requires excessive admiration.
- Has a sense of entitlement.
- Takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.
- Lacks empathy toward the feelings and needs of others.
- Shows arrogant or haughty behaviours and attitudes.
Here are these essential characteristics in a little more detail:
Lack of empathy
Narcissists lack of empathy for others. Research has shown that they do not actually see the humanity in people for they are not able to. They lack this essential ability that robs them of their own humanity. People are just objects to be used and discarded. Interchangeable units. Human beings are not special in any way to them. Think of a flat battery as an example. Do you look at this battery and think about how much you love it and how much you are going to miss it when you throw it away? Of course not. You just go out and buy a new one. This is how narcissists see us. Pathological narcissists are not able to care about or love people in any way – their partners, family, friends or their children. No empathy means no remorse. They are children in adult bodies that do real harm to others. Severe psychological and emotional abuse is guaranteed. Some narcissists at the higher end of the pathological spectrum also do physical and sexual abuse. Some of them kill people in fits of narcissistic rage, revenge, jealousy and for being exposed.
They are highly exploitative of others. Narcissists use others as a means to an end. Narcissists are not able to emotionally recognise and appreciate another’s humanity and therefore we become the prey and the pawns in their game. It’s all a game to a narcissist and a game that must be won. At all costs. The closer we are to the narcissist the more we pay and the price is always high. We are all just what is known as ‘narcissistic supply’ to a narcissist. They are psychological and emotional vampires. Greedily sucking blood until there is nothing left. Think of a spider that catches a fly in its web. It spins silk around the fly and then bites it to drain the blood. Once this is done, the empty and useless carcass is discarded. This is what pathological narcissists do to people. And then they move on to the next victim. To destroy all over again.
Narcissists have an unrealistic sense of grandiosity and self-importance. They believe that they are omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. They are ‘God’ and we are all their grateful and fortunate subjects. The overt narcissist will make this obvious but the covert narcissist hides it. Everything is always about them. Underneath all of this is an all prevailing sense of shame and fear. They have a pervasive sense of entitlement. Since they are ‘God’, they maintain that they are entitled to special treatment and lash out viciously when they perceive that they do not get it.
A fake personality
Everything about narcissists is fake and hollow. They abandoned their true self in the first few years of their life. A false sense of self is created and that is what we see. Its fragmented, distorted, dissociative and highly adaptive. A very skilled chameleon if you like. For example, they store emotions that they see us experiencing in a sort of emotional resonance table and mirror them back to us when they feel that it is appropriate to do so. Everything that we see in the narcissist is merely a mirror – it is our own reflection that we see. Covert narcissists work hard at creating an image to the public of how good they are and this is very important to them. It’s all part of the illusion in getting people to like and admire them. A neat prop for the false sense of self. Underneath it all, they have no self-love at all. It’s all about external validation and this is how they regulate their self-esteem. Remember that it’s all a show. It’s about the carefully cultivated image. They do not and are not able to care about anything or anyone except themselves.
Narcissists are pathological liars. Very little, if anything, that narcissists say is true. They are constantly reinventing, reframing and distorting whatever comes into their fragmented and hollow minds. They live in a haunted house and false narratives of their own fabrication. And it is not a pretty bedtime fairytale.
Power, rage, envy and cruelty
Narcissists have an unending sense of rage, cruelty, envy and hunger for power. This is the limited range of emotions that narcissists feel and the feelings relate only to themselves.
Lack of responsibility and projection
Narcissists project all of their behaviour outwards and never take responsibility for anything. They are the ultimate victims. As all narcissists have the victim mentality, they are very successful at manipulating others to feel sorry for them. They antagonise people and then blame them for the explosive outcome. This reinforces their sense of ‘how horrible everybody is to them’.
A technique that all narcissists use is called gaslighting. The aim of this devastating and self esteem destroying technique is to assume control over the victim by making them doubt their sense of reality, memory and perception. Through the ongoing use of persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction and lying, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilise the victim and delegitimise the victim’s beliefs. Gaslighting is an extremely subtle form of abuse as gaslighters deflect blame and pass it on to their victims. The gaslighter needs a gaslightee to complete the dance and its a truly hideous tango. The abuser wants to fully control the victim’s thoughts, feelings and actions and the abuser emotionally abuses the victim in very discreet but hostile ways.
Typically, the three phases of gaslighting are
- What is wrong with her/him?
- What is wrong with me?
- Its all my fault
As narcissists are hollow and empty inside, they cannot exist without having constant sources of ‘narcissistic supply’. Think of them as being like an alcoholic or a drug addict constantly in need of a fix. They are insatiable and they compulsively direct their whole behaviour, their very being, to obtain attention, adulation and proof of their existence. They embed them in a coherent, completely biased, magical picture of themselves and they utilise them to regulate their labile sense of self-worth and self-esteem. They need narcissistic supply to carry out the most primal ego functions. Without this supply, they crumble and become dysfunctional. They go into narcissistic decompensation when this occurs as their infinitely fragile sense of the false self depends on a constant source of fuel. Think of a hot air balloon that is suddenly punctured. It collapses, shrivels up and falls to the ground. This is literally a matter of psychological life and death for the narcissist. Narcissists cannot be alone for, if they were, they would be confronted with their emptiness, desolation, terror, lies and shame.
Sources of supply include: an intimate partner, friends, social media, family members, fame, infamy, sex, being successful at work and so on. It is all about the external validation, admiration, adulation and existence. We all enjoy these things but not to the pathological extent that our very psychological survival and existence depends on them. Narcissists often discard their current partners while already grooming new supply. The partner is left reeling with no closure or reason for the sudden cold and callous disappearance. Often, the partner then discovers that the narcissist has a new person in their life. Narcissists tend to get bored with their supply as they no longer deem them to be perfect and because they fear intimacy. Intimacy means being vulnerable and the exposure of the self and this they cannot do. The false sense of self has been created in order to defend against vulnerability, shame and imperfection. A narcissist is not able to hold onto their positive feelings about someone, once they see that the other person has imperfections. The other person goes from being golden and perfect and put on a pedestal to being devalued as worthless and therefore abused.
These are just some of the essential characteristics of a narcissist.
There are also different types and sub types of pathological narcissists:
Overt or grandiose narcissists
Overt narcissists are relatively easy to spot as they are so obviously self centred, grandiose, entitled, lack empathy and remorse, pathological liars, extremely sensitive to criticism whether it be real or perceived and lash out with rage disproportionate to the event concerned.
Covert or introverted narcissists
As overt narcissists are easier to identify, this gives us some, but not all of the idea of their make up. Covert narcissists are extremely difficult to identify which makes them so much more dangerous. It takes quite a while to see them for who they really are. In fact, the only time that I believe that anyone will know if the other is a covert narcissist, is to be in an intimate relationship with them. The mask cannot help but slip off over time. Covert narcissists have to hide who they in order to get their self-serving needs met.
They will often come across as kind, empathic, altruistic, authentic and highly sensitive to others. I call them the wolf in sheep’s clothing.
They appear often in the role of teachers, psychotherapists, doctors, parents, philanthropists, environmentalists, activists, clergymen and eco-warriors. All of these professions or activities lend and add to the mask of their alleged humanity and being seen as good human beings. They feign compassion and emotion which they have seen and noted in others. It is all just mirroring, an act performed when the narcissist feels that it is appropriate to do so. In reality, covert (and overt) narcissists wreak havoc, destruction and pain on all those that they come into contact with.
Remember that all narcissists share the same traits. They are all highly dangerous and the ultimate endgame is always destruction. Of a country, of a people, an organisation or a person. Everything is a game to the narcissist and a game that must be won. At any cost. Think of it in this way, a person who has no empathy and therefore no remorse, is capable of anything. Narcissists don’t care, they are not able to and this is what makes them so terribly dangerous.
Cerebral narcissists derive their source of narcissistic supply from using their intellect. They tend to excel greatly in their careers and therefore extract admiration, adoration and recognition as narcissistic supply. This can be in the form of intellectual and or creative achievements.
Somatic narcissists use their bodies and sex as their means of garnering narcissistic supply.
They are usually hyper sexual and are fixated on their personal appearance. They will often have many sexual partners and they dress to accentuate their bodies. They tend to be very health conscious and hypochondriacs at the same time. They are frequently highly promiscuous and unfaithful in committed relationships and they have lots of practice. They will often have surgery done in order to ensure that their bodies are well primed to attract their prey. They have an aura of heightened sexuality and will quickly seduce the unknowing victim with their heroin like drugs of dopamine and oxytocin. Like the female praying mantis callously ripping off her lover’s head during mating and devouring the lifeless corpse for nourishment. This is the somatic narcissist and the love that is supposed to nurture and nourish, will destroy you. It may take time, but destroy you it will.
All of these types and sub types are not mutually exclusive and a pathological narcissist can be a mixture of all of these.
The most important thing to remember is that, regardless of whatever type they may be, they are all the same underneath and have the same behaviour and dynamics.
The Dark Triad
The Dark Triad in psychology refers to personality traits of Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Psychopathy. It is aptly named dark as these traits are extremely malevolent. Interestingly, the Light Triad is its antithesis and is characterised by faith in humanity, humanism and Kantianism.
Here is a brief overview:
grandiosity, pride, egotism, a lack of empathy and interpersonal exploitation.
manipulation and exploitation of others, an absence of morality and a focus on self-interest and deception.
ongoing anti-social behaviour, impulsivity, selfishness, callousness and remorselessness.
As one can see, there are overlapping qualities that all of these share. For example, the ongoing manipulation and exploitation of others without regard or remorse. Another would be the absolute self-centeredness. It is widely believed that psychopaths are born and not made. Research has shown that there are structural and functional differences in the brains that are responsible for empathy, guilt and fear. In other words, they are able to, for example, kill without remorse or fear.
Research indicates that narcissists and sociopaths are made. All psychopaths and sociopaths are narcissists but not all narcissists are psychopaths or sociopaths. It’s all on a continuum with narcissism on the extreme left-hand side and psychopathy on the extreme right-hand side. Narcissism itself lies on a continuum as well.
Its sometimes difficult to make clear distinctions between the three as they have overlapping characteristics. A psychopathic narcissist will kill without remorse or fear. A more garden-variety narcissist will attempt to destroy and psychologically and emotionally abuse all of whom they come into contact with. This is especially so with their nearest and dearest.
Research has shown that treatment success for narcissistic personality disorder is virtually hopeless. The belief is that some progress can be made with limited behaviour modification but not in the sense of restoring or creating a true, authentic and emotional ability to feel empathy for others. Narcissists have what Sam Vaknin, a self-proclaimed and self-aware psychopathic narcissist, describes as ‘cold or cognitive empathy’. This is the ability of the narcissist to intellectually and cognitively recognise what the other is feeling but there is no emotional affect. In other words, they do not feel the pain of the other at all. The false self is completely emotionally dissociated. They will use this ‘cold empathy’ to read people and they are very, very good at this. It’s how they read our specific ‘user manual’ and then use it in order to manipulate.
A thirty-point check list of the characteristics of narcissists:
■ Lack of Empathy
■ Angry and Rageful
■ Lack of Guilt/Lack of Insight
■ Needs Constant Admiration and Validation
■ Everything is a Show
■ Emotionally Cold
■ Never Takes Responsibility
■ Takes Advantage of Others (or you) on a Regular Basis
■ Engages in Schadenfreude (Reveling in Others’ Misery)
■ Does Not Like to Be Alone
■ Poor Boundaries
■ Doesn’t Listen