I am reluctant to post this for the ripple effect it may have, but I feel it appropriate. I am also not very good at keeping my opinion to myself when I feel strongly enough about something. I keep reading things that have been posted about Narcissists and what to look out for and how to avoid them. Those of you that have been following me for a while will know that I ABHOR labels. One of the reasons is that I think people throw them around too easily. Doctors and psychologists are not excluded from that blanket statement.
I know – because I have been on the receiving end of some very wrong labeling and medicated to my eyeballs for something that I don’t have.
I have been told many times that I am a narcissist. That I am arrogant. Insensitive. That I lack empathy and that I am capable of cruelty. Does that make me a narcissist? No…
It just confirms that I have been through a lot of shit in my life, and that I have had to learn to be tougher, less ‘kind’ and more in tune to the motives and the intentions of others. The way I demonstrate my lack of interest in being used or abused is to make sure that I have done the maths on any given situation and that if necessary – I am able to take control.
I can be exceptionally arrogant. I am opinionated, and I am more likely to offend you – than to think carefully about what your precious needs are. I come first. I used to allow myself to be swallowed whole by people who saw my kindness as a weakness and a way in. The fact that I leave no room for ‘selective’ assessment of people – is my way of avoiding the drama all together.
I am charismatic, and can get rooms of people to do what I want them to. I can even make them think it was their idea – but that doesn’t make me a narcissist. It means I am good at manipulation. I am a woman. Show me one woman – who has not refined that skill in some way.
I have rage. I carry it with me like stink on shit. I used to be a victim, and now I am just a woman who will break your nose before I let you hurt me or anyone I love. I look around, often at the people that pass me by and I pity the ‘weakness’ in those that look helpless. I see no beauty in doormats. The lack of compassion I have for those that ‘stay’ in those situations – is not because I am heartless. It is because I know, from personal experience – that people can stand on their heads and whistle Dixie out their asses – the choice to leave and to fight and to grow and to understand – is not something anyone else can do for you.
I have been co dependent. I have been a rescuer. I have been the victim of things that no human being should ever have to endure. I have CPTSD. My coping mechanisms and the tough prickly exterior I have now – an– my deep irritation at this universal trend that seems to be taking place – where we are more comfortable if we label and are labelled. It makes me sad.
I do, believe that I am way smarter than so many other people. I am aware that I am arrogant and that I lack empathy in areas where it should be. But that is not narcissism. I can be charismatic if I want to be. Persuasive and evasive. I can talk, I can go unseen.
So… does that make me an unworthy partner? Someone that should be discarded and not loved? We live in a world where being at the top is ‘required’. I don’t want to be a follower. I don’t want to be told what to do. Knowing and being confident of my own value and potential does not make me a narcissist. It means that I like who I am and the fact that I don’t care if anyone else does is a blessing.
Women are too fast to say they were involved with a narcissist. For the woman here who have been the victims of physical and emotional TORTURE – this is not aimed at you. But for those women who wanted someone to hold and to love and he cheated on you or he was an asshole… I hate to break it to you – you don’t know what a real narcissist is until you are swallowing your own blood and are nothing but a blow up doll with a heartbeat. A punching bag. The sounding board for lunatic rants about how unfair and unjust the world is. And how worthless every inch of you is.
Here is an interesting read. I DEFY anyone who reads this and isn’t able to see that WE ALL have some of these qualities. It is a part of being HUMAN. Sometimes the result of being TOO human.
If you see yourself in some of these, does that mean you are a narcissist? No. It means that you have learned a few lessons in life that have changed the way you approach people and situations. Seriously…
The term narcissism comes from the classical story of Narcissus. The most well known version was written by the Latin poet Ovid (died 17 C.E.).
Narcissus was the son of Cephissus, the river god, and the nymph Leiriope. By the time he was sixteen everyone recognised his ravishing beauty, but he scorned all lovers – of both sexes – because of his pride. The nymph Echo was hopelessly in love but she was hindered by her inability to initiate a conversation. Eventually Narcissus rejected her. She wasted away in her grief to a mere voice. A young man, similarly spurned, prayed that he would love himself unremittingly. The goddess Nemesis answered this prayer by arranging that Narcissus would stop to drink at a spring on the heights of Mount Helicon. As he looked in the water he saw his own reflection and instantly fell in love with the image. He could not embrace his reflection in the pool. Unable to tear himself away he remained until he died of starvation. But no body remained – in its place was a flower. (Ovid, 1992)
Some traits of narcissism are obvious in this story. These include:
- an obvious self-focus in interpersonal exchanges
- problems in sustaining satisfying relationships
- a lack of psychological awareness
- difficulty with empathy
- problems distinguishing the self from others
- hypersensitivity to any slights or imagined insults
- vulnerability to shame rather than guilt
The great authors have also portrayed narcissism, usually in ways far more vivid than any psychological writer. A lawyer, in one of Camus novels, indulged in a prolonged confession in an Amsterdam bar. He reflected on his attitude to himself and to others, It is not true, after all, that I never loved. I conceived at least one great love in my life, of which I was always the object… I looked merely for objects of pleasure and conquest. He continued, On my own admission, I could live happily only on condition that all the individuals on earth, or the greatest possible number, were turned towards me, eternally in suspense, devoid of any independent life and ready to answer my call at any moment, doomed in short to sterility until the day I should deign to favor them. In short, for me to live happily it was essential for the creatures I chose not to live at all. They must receive their life, sporadically, only at my bidding. (Camus, 1956)
This chilling portrayal is a vivid example of a personality completely dominated by narcissism. Narcissism is here expressed in neon lights.
- Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, was one of the first popular writers to address the topic of narcissism. He later said, My own view is that we are all born narcissists. Usually we grow out of it. However, if childhood is far from ideal the essential immaturity of narcissism is never left behind. The survival value of being self-centered – I look after myself – is retained in the face of adversity.
Narcissism is not out there. Everyone is self-centered to some extent. It is more of a spectrum, but some people have more of a problem than others. And this will affect almost all areas of life including work, leisure, relationships and well-being. It is not surprising that people with narcissistic issues will often present for psychotherapy.
Ben Bursten has identified four types of narcissistic personality:
- The Craving personality is very demanding, clinging, and needy. He saw this as an oral need to be fed.
- The Paranoid personality is characterized by hypersensitivity, rigidity, unwarranted suspicion, envy and a tendency to blame others. Anger is a problem.
- The Manipulative personality employs deception to gain something at the expense of others. The result is contempt and a satisfying feeling of putting something over the victim.
- The Phallic personality tends to be exhibitionistic in terms of sexuality. Arrogance, above all, is the feature of this personality. (Bursten, 1986)
Proposing Nine Types of Narcissism
In classical mythology the serpent Hydra had nine heads. Every time Heracles cut off a head two new heads appeared. In a similar way narcissism may be seen as one disorder but with nine different types: Craver, Special Lover, Martyr, Rescuer, Rager, Trickster, Body Shaper, Power Broker, and Fantasy Maker.
The Craver has a bottomless well of need. It is experienced as an aching hunger that is rarely satisfied. He or she finds it hard to hold on to the experience of being loved. There is an on-off quality, like a supply line, which unfortunately is disconnected whenever the partner is absent. Naturally this can be very frustrating for the other person who will say something like, But I spent two hours with you yesterday! Doesn’t that count for something? This places insistent demands on others – which can never be fully satisfied. The fundamental problem is an inability to soothe, nurture, comfort or sustain the self.
A Craver may believe that that they have an abundance of love to give, but what is given is always with strings attached. I NEED LOVE! is what is really communicated.
A Craver may have a haunting sense of anxiety and a terrible fear of abandonment. There is always an edge of desperation.
Vera dressed in a way one of her friends called loud. She was certainly attractive and had no difficulties attracting interest, but keeping a partner was another matter. There was something intense about her that led to relationships ending suddenly. She was usually surprised and somewhat mystified.
What is behind the facade is a clinging dependence in relationships. Partners may experience endless frustration trying to meet escalating demands. Giving is like pouring sand into a sieve. And the needs can be so overwhelming that they are met in manipulative and even exploitive ways.
The Special Lover is a true believer in the ideology of romantic love. A citizen of a far away land. Naturally a pure romantic is exciting, stimulating, even exhilarating. There may be a rich emotional life, full of feeling and perhaps selective empathy. Intimacy is easy based on unguarded self-disclosure. But there is an underlying theme of grandiosity: Our love is unique. No one can love you like I can. You may be in pain, but my love can heal. Initially there is idealization, then denial but eventually a realization of an unwelcome reality. The veneer over a broken self may be quite thin and surprisingly brittle. In the intensity of unique love the fracture lines can be ignored – for a while. But eventually intense romance gives way to disappointment.
Stan was a hopeless romantic. He went on the TV show Perfect Match and genuinely believed that fate was at work. He described himself quite realistically as a genuine sort of person who was always faithful. He could also be amazingly selfless in a relationship, always forgiving, and yet his romances were fleeting. Something would snap after the quiet dinners, romantic walks and the poetry he wrote. He was a good lover with mutual highs best described as ecstatic. But eventually reality would intrude. And it was a reality that he could not control. In the aftermath he was left with complete anguish and a pain that would not dissipate until the next time he fell in love.
There is at least two aspects to this vulnerability. The inner self of a Special Lover is often highly vulnerable to any slights – real or imagined – and bleeding wounds persist from past romantic encounters. Also there is a remarkable intolerance for any imperfection in the partner. Once admitted this means the end of the dream. All this adds to the growing instability in the relationship and often explosive conclusion.
What is challenge for the Special Lover? Ironically it is to accept the ordinary pleasures of a relationship – not being unrealistically special – but real and ultimately satisfying.
The Power Broker is in love with power. It may be expressed in bullying ways – humiliating and even terrorizing employees. Or it may be cold and bureaucratic. But power is embraced and used in an instrumental fashion.
Arrogance is the most obvious quality of the Power Broker who has arrived. Ambition is most apparent on the way up. There is a profound lack of empathy for others. Contempt is shown for inferiors who are barely recognized as human. Decisions are made without thought of the consequences for those affected. All that is important is the pursuit of career goals.
Grandiosity is expressed outwardly in terms of success. There is never enough achievement to match the inner image of success. Others are often used in exploitive ways with a sense of entitlement, Why shouldn’t I do this? I deserve…
Malcolm was a high flyer. He was the youngest senior executive in the history of a large computer company. Naturally he was competent. The highest level of management loved the results he produced, but the cost was less obvious. Gradually his reputation was tarnished with escalating numbers of employee resignations and stress claims.
Although this description of the Power Broker is hardly flattering, such a person can be charming and have qualities widely admired in our society. Status and power attract. There can even be a genuine sense of benevolence towards others – though mostly in somewhat patronizing ways.
Power Brokers seem to have different kinds of romantic relationships. Typical is the trophy relationship in which an attractive partner is displayed along with other tokens of status. Relationships are usually troubled. The Power Broker has an impoverished inner life with little to give in any emotional sense. The partner feels a growing dissatisfaction and inevitable frustration. But then neither is the person with narcissistic issues particularly happy. The demands of intimacy can be overwhelming and even frightening. This can lead to inner turmoil because emotional needs are still present.
The Broker also finds it natural to also use power in relationships. A partner may experience this as being very possessive and highly controlling – or simply abusive.
The Body Shaper looks good! But the assets are all external. The values are familiar: image, fashion, glamour, youth and beauty. This form of narcissism is so much part of our times that it is hardly obvious.
What I am identifying is not just a office worker on the way to the gym for a regular workout but a disturbance in personality. There is an exaggerated need for admiration. Characteristics include self-esteem linked to body image, a nagging perfectionism, and an obsession with the perfect body.
Brent spent hours each day working out. He sculpted his body following the advice of his trainer. He was not interested in body building competitions, instead he would revel in admiring glances at the disco. He had what he considered a shameful secrete. He used steroids.
It is usually easy to attract people. The problem is in the longer term relationship. It is almost incomprehensible that this might prove to be difficult. How could a beautiful person have problems? Shouldn’t it all be easy? The Body Shaper tends to externalize internal problems, as if adding muscle bulk or looking more beautiful will solve anything. Denial is the most common defence. It is a refusal to see what eventually extends to trying to fight the aging process. This is the ultimate narcissistic injury.
The beauty of the Body Shaper may be only skin deep. The inner world can be empty and bleak. The intensity and depth of need is frightening. Curiously this can lead to both throw away relationships and a deep dependency on an intimate other. This emotional need can be smothering and controlling, leading to a growing crisis and eventually a sudden ending – with sometimes desperate consequences.
The Rager is a common and somewhat obvious narcissistic type of personality. A barely controlled rage simmers below the surface and often lashes out at anyone nearby. Unhappiness is expressed with increasing hostility. There are episodes of explosive rage with irrational, mystifying or unexplainable causes. Violence may be a factor.
What is most characteristic is hypersensitivity to any perceived insult – whether intended or not. Everything is taken personally and usually interpreted as an attack. What sparks the rage is narcissistic injury. The world may be seen in black and white terms. Projecting blame is a knee jerk reaction. The subjective experience of rage may be accompanied by interpretations of malignant intent. Not surprisingly such reasoning may have a paranoid quality.
For years Betty ruled her family with her unpredictable explosions of anger. Gradually she alienated everyone. After 16 years of marriage Eric left for a younger woman. It was his bid for a new life but he then instituted a custody fight for the three teenage children. Perhaps surprising to no one but Betty – the children expressed a unanimous desire to live with their father. Anger feels like anger – naturally. But it is important to focus on the underlying, perhaps more uncomfortable, emotions. This may include sadness, fear, shame or despair. What is absent is a capacity to modulate intense emotions including, but not limited to anger.
A relationship with a Rager is always exciting if only for the variation in emotions and unpredictable behavior. But this is not the whole story. Some Ragers can be very loving and generous in affection. The aftermath of even ugly conflict can be intense sexual encounters which feel all the more erotic because of earlier menace. The Rager can be intensely controlling and it is almost the norm that the relationship will be abusive.
The Trickster is charming and may have many social graces. Adjectives of first impression are easy to find: engaging, smooth and inviting. Unfortunately this attractiveness is a veneer on a disturbed personality. Behind the trust me messages you will find a malicious intent. It is the personality of the con-artist. The motives are covert and include exploitation, limitless entitlement and a cruel twist when the victim realizes the script of betrayal.
Nathan came into the bank completely distraught. Sophia, his de facto for the previous six months, had gone overseas for what he thought would be a brief holiday. Before she left she asked him if she could use his Master Card if there was an emergency. He was puzzled when she did not return on schedule and then discovered to his horror that she had charged over $26,000 to his account.
The Trickster is ruthless in relationships. He or she delights in fooling the trusting lover with betrayals such as sexual infidelity, fraud, or criminal conspiracy. Usually there is intrigue and considerable pleasure in the set-up. The theme of manipulation is always central. Inevitably trust is shattered. In this elaborate way the Trickster is justified in the contempt of victim who was easily fooled. There may be an underlying theme of gender revenge on the opposite (or same) sex. Unfortunately the Trickster comes in many guises and almost all hard to recognize (until too late!).
It is a cruel game. The impact on the victim is usually shattering. It can be likened to psychic vandalism. The resulting damage is not easily repaired and may take years of patient re-building of boundaries, finding ways of better self-protection and perhaps eventually the capacity to trust again.
Jung offered a more playful version of the Trickster. While each of the archetypes has a shadow side, in this context the Trickster is very dark indeed and more akin to the psychopathic personality.
Fantasy Maker has an elaborate inner world. All excitement is in the realm of fantasy. The real world intrudes, naturally, but it is exactly that – an intrusion and often resented. He or she may have an external appearance of superficiality, flightiness, and emptiness. There may also be considerable social anxiety and awkwardness. It is inner riches, outer poverty.
Just how is this narcissistic? After all some people are just being helpful. But the Rescuer has an hidden grandiosity: It is only me that can really change things. It is the grandiosity that distinguishes the Rescuer from what has been labeled codependency. The common ground includes: always remaining in control, emotional pursuing and unacknowledged needs. Both may be hidden in a helping profession including psychology, social work, medicine, pastoral care or counselling. Blurred boundaries are natural in this form of narcissism.
Vince was working in a free legal service in an impoverished inner city area. He had an unusual zeal in his work. But as a zealot he could be scathing of other members of the legal profession who were not as motivated by his high ideals. He often worked seven day weeks and would take calls late into the night. He found it impossible to go on holidays since My people need me.
A colleague, Dr Malise Arnstein, observed that the Rescuer is a loan shark in relationships. The gift is always with strings attached. This may gradually become more obvious and can include financial or sexual exploitation. The dark side is most obvious when there is a guru or messianic quality in a religious leader.
It is hard for the Rescuer to step out of role. Its origin may be in childhood with the parentified child in a dysfunctional family. The difficult way forward is to break the stereotyped nature of relationships, allow more vulnerability to show, to both give and receive, and to even encourage the more childlike qualities of spontaneity, joy, emotional expression and playfulness.
There are no absolutely pure types. Narcissism, like coffee, usually comes in blends. For example a Craver who becomes a Rager when needs are blocked. Some types may be close such as the Power Broker and Rager, or Craver and Special Lover. Each of the types is a caricature but even an artificial schema can help to illuminate therapeutic issues. Nor should this obscure the reality that real people hurt and that narcissism is in part a defense. As analyst Neville Symington observed, When narcissism is opted for, it is to protect the individual against appalling pain.
This understanding of the types of narcissism is offered in the hope that it might be helpful to distinguish cold from warm varieties of narcissism. The more general DSMIV description is of a cold variety characterized by being aloof and arrogant. This comes through in types such as the Power Broker and Trickster. Perhaps also in cold types of the Rager. However it is equally obvious that some varieties of narcissism are warm and relationship centered. This will include the Craver and Special Lover. Some, such as the Body Shaper and Fantasy Maker, can be either.
Near the end of the Steve Martin film Parenthood there is a poignant scene. The grandmother, who everybody assumed to be senile, comes out with a wise metaphor of life. It can be seen as either a merry-go-round or a roller coaster. So too in our psychotherapy with clients with narcissistic issues. With better understanding we can get off the merry-go-round and move to a roller coaster. At least then there will be a sense of progress.