Published in The Huffington Post 4/9/2017 at 12:37 a.m. If you’ve been on the receiving end of traumatizing narcissistic abuse or even just treated to the repugnant spectacle of narcissistic self-puffery, it can be easy to miss the desperate vulnerability underlying the behavior. Widely misunderstood, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) derives not from self-love but from fundamental feelings of inferiority, which the narcissist strives continuously to hide from others and from herself through overcompensating entitlement, self-aggrandizement, and assertions of superiority over others.
Narcissism as Maladaptive
As a result of parental loss, abuse, and/or overindulgence in childhood, NPD occurs in about 6.2 percent of people in the United States (with a higher incidence in men than women), according to the National Institutes of Health.
While NPD is an adaptive strategy adopted early in life, it is cripplingly maladaptive in adulthood. The narcissist is particularly toxic to others, most intensely to his family, because he operates emotionally at the developmental level of a toddler but with the cognitive ability of an adult, which he beams with laser focus on one thing: manipulating his environment to fuel his limitless need for self-affirmation, or “supply,” at virtually any cost.
The tragic nature of NPD is that the narcissist spends her life chasing something she will likely never attain—a stable sense of her own personhood. And yet the narcissist as tragic figure is difficult to sympathize with because of her abusive nature.
The Paradoxes of Narcissism
The person suffering with NPD presents numerous paradoxes.
- He is furious at the world and yet utterly dependent on other people for psycho-emotional sustenance.
- He believes he is entitled to special treatment while being oblivious to if not contemptuous of others’ needs.
- He constantly seeks attention and admiration but often self-sabotages by being rude, haughty, or attacking.
- He is morally bankrupt in his relationships while expecting people around him to admire and serve him.
- He is extraordinarily vulnerable to shame and rejection but readily humiliates and abandons others.
- He attacks and manipulates others and simultaneously projects his own abusive behavior onto them.
- He continuously claims credit while deflecting all accountability.
- He is expert at detecting and exploiting others’ desires and vulnerabilities but is blind to his own inner workings.
- He routinely bullies, manipulates, and betrays those closest to him while demanding their good will and loyalty.
- He expects unconditional love without the capacity to give the merest morsel of empathy in return.
The Narcissist’s Logic
And yet what appears as paradoxical has its own, albeit flawed, logic. The narcissist is grabbing at what she didn’t get enough of from her caretakers at a crucially formative time of life—validation of self. Like anyone compensating for deprivation, she tries to fill the void. But what is acceptable behavior as a young child becomes pathological as an adult, and the narcissistically disordered personality ends up harming and alienating others more often than winning their adoration.
The narcissist is drinking from a cup without a bottom, looking to others to fill and refill it only to end up empty. No one can give him what he needs, because he cannot see anyone but himself. Without a childhood “redo,” his search for self in others’ eyes only shows him his own empty eyes reflected back.
Julie L. Hall’s articles on narcissism regularly appear in The Huffington Post and PsychCentral. She is the author of a forthcoming memoir about life, and a few near deaths, in a narcissistic family (read excerpts).
Related Articles by Julie L. Hall
- 9 Best of the Worst Narcissist Mothers on Screen
- It’s You and Me Baby: Narcissist Head Games
- 7 Things a Narcissist Will Never Do
- The Narcissist as Human Parasite: Are You a Host?
- 4 Insidious Ways That Narcissistic Abuse Isolates the Victim
- Ready to End Your Dead-End Relationship with a Narcissist?
- Behind the Narcissist Mask: The Bully, Coward, Liar and Fraud
- How to Protect Your Child from Your Narcissist Spouse
- When the Narcissist Is Nice: What It May or May Not Mean and How to Handle It
- Five Things You Did Not Know About Narcissists
- The Challenge of Setting Boundaries with Narcissist Parents
- Understanding Narcissistic Rage and Why It Is Not Your Fault
- Adult Children of Narcissists Face Trauma-Induced Health Risks
- Why You Should Not Feel Sorry for the Narcissist
- Seven Sure Ways to Spot a Narcissist
- Narcissist Crimes and Misdemeanors: Real-Life Examples
- The Strength of the Scapegoat in the Narcissist Family
- What Raging Narcissists Break: A Damage List
- Remembering Mary Tyler Moore as the Chilling Narcissist Mother in ‘Ordinary People’
- More Horrid and Shocking Things Narcissists Say and Do
- The Dos and Don’ts of CoParenting with a Narcissist
- What the Narcissist Fears Most
- The Question of Forgiveness for My Narcissist Father
- Narcissists Are Hurt Machines to Their Children
- The Narcissist Family: Its Cast of Characters and Glossary of Terms
- Horrid and Shocking Things Narcissists Say and Do
- The ‘Overt’ Versus ‘Covert’ Narcissist: Both Suck
- On Being a Narcissist Magnet and Developing a Fine-Tuned ‘Nar-dar’
- The Dangerous Nihilism of President Narcissist and His ‘PostTruth’ America
- Caretaking My Narcissistic Mother Through Cancer
- Child of Narcissists Goes from ‘Death Dealer’ to Healer
- A Golden Child’s Story of Guilt in the Narcissistic Family
- The Terrible Dilemma of the Golden Child in the Narcissistic Family
- Raised by Narcissists? Why You Can’t Afford the Wrong Therapist
- Tolstoy Was Wrong: Narcissistic Unhappy Families Are Kind of All Alike
- Why I Hate the Word ‘Narcissist’
- A Daughter’s Story of One Hell of a Narcissist Mother
Photo courtesy of U.S. Army, Creative Commons.