(part of the 3 articles series,
“Narcissists, Psychopaths and Sociopaths… How to distinguish them?”)
Once, a scorpion wanted to cross a river, but because he did not manage alone, he asked for the help of the other creatures, around there, who knew to swim. As none of them agreed to cross him the river, fearing that he would stinging them, the scorpion asked for the help of a little turtle. “I don’t want, the turtle told him initially, because while I will swim with you on my back, you’ll sting me and I’ll die drowning”. “Dear turtle, the scorpion has laughed, if I sting you and you will drown, I will sink together with you. It would not be logical to do so. “To convince her, the scorpion began to flatter her with beautiful and seductive words until the turtle agreed. “Okay then, maybe you’re right,” said the turtle. Get up. “And the scorpion climbed on the back of the turtle. On the middle of the river, he stung the turtle vigorously. As they both were drowning, the turtle said, “Can I ask you something? You said it was not logical to sting me. Why did you do it?” “Well, this has nothing to do with logic”, the scorpion replied. It’s who I am”.
What does this fabula teach us? That despite promises and seductive words, a person with a personality such as narcissism will not change easily, and for their partners, such a relationship can be toxic and painful. Just like the old Romanian saying, “The habit coming from nature doesn’t have a cure”, neither the scorpion or the narcissist will change, at least not without the help of a specialist.
The problem is that unlike the scorpion who admits that “this is his nature”, the narcissist will never recognize that his “nature” is to blame, but he will seek this guilt to others, so in this case, the turtle would be guilty because she accepted to cross him the river, when she could just refuse it…
But where does the name of narcissism come from? According to the Greek myth, Narcissus (Narkissos) was a handsome young man, who felt in love with his reflection, seeing himself in the glimmer of a spring. Because of the exaggerated self-love, the gods turned him into a flower, which we call today Narcisa (a flower name in Greece, equivalent of daffodil).
Freud borrowed this term (1910) to explain the choice of a partner to homosexuals: “they … take themselves as a sexual object, they are animated by narcissism and looking for young people who resemble and whom they can love such as her mother loved him”.
A narcissistic structured person is a person who lacks empathy, is arrogant, feels justified, is always seeking validation from others, violates the limits constantly, is perfectionist, without responsibility, considering that the problem is always to the others and not his/her, he always tends to blame others, and has an inability to be truly vulnerable.
Although they have emotional, cognitive and behavioural deficiencies, narcissists are in general successful in organizing their thoughts and actions. They tend to have a lot of success in their career and are able to reach power positions.
There are several classifications of narcissism, but I chose to describe here, with few words, only two of the forms of narcissism: the grandiose and the vulnerable.
The most common are the grandiose narcissists, characterized by extraversion, dominance, manipulation, arrogance, they like to stand out and seeking constantly attention from others. They see themselves as more important and more influential than anybody else.
On the other hand, vulnerable narcissists are silent, reserved, hypersensitive, emotionally cold, envious, fragile, careless, without empathy. They have a strong sense of entitlement, but they feel easily threatened and disregarded. They can use as a defense the projection by blaming others for their problems.
For people with narcissistic structures, whether we are talking about the grandiose narcissist or the vulnerable when their own image is questioned, they become offensive and aggressive. It’s like a disease where the sick person feels good, but all the people around them suffer.
The question now is whether there is a healthy narcissism? When we talk about healthy narcissism, we talk more about a self-confident person, with a realistic self-esteem, a cooperative person who seeks to gain the approval and respect of others and doesn’t think it’s entitled, a flexible person, who respects boundaries, integrates well into a team and possesses emotional intelligence.
What are the differences between a self-confident person and a person with a narcissistic structure?
- A self-confident person does not try to prove anything, while the narcissist wants continuous affirmation.
- A person who is aware of his own value and power is focused on others, while a narcissistic one focuses on himself.
- A person who trusts herself will often be more concerned about the needs of others than regarding her needs. Narcissism often involves the inability to see beyond itself.
- A self-confident person is willing to recognize the guilt, while a narcissistic person tries to avoid blame at any cost.
- A narcissistic person has a narrow vision, a closed horizon, while one who trusts his own forces sees the perspective.
The terms narcissistic personality and pathological narcissism are meant to express a disproportionate concern regarding one’s own person.
We talk about pathological narcissism in the case of those people who suffer from narcissistic personality disorder (1-2% of the population).
Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder display an increased self-esteem, suffer of grandiosity and have a great need for admiration. They praise their achievements and expect others to praise and observe their special qualities, even when their achievements are commonplace. In fact, a person with a narcissistic personality has a fragile self-esteem and an inability to regulate self-esteem, and for this reason is extremely sensitive to the slightest hint of rejection or criticism. These narcissistic wounds, as they are called, cause so much pain, because they reopen very old psychic wounds.
Lack of parental empathy and support in childhood can have an important contribution to the development of pathological narcissism. Children who do not receive parental appreciation fail to develop a healthy self-esteem. They develop a false self-perception about themselves and feel incapable of being loved and admired. Pathological narcissism involves the construction of a grandiose facade of self-perfection that conceals the perceived insufficiency and imperfections. This facade (mask) is always about to collapse and must be sustained by a constant flow of reassurance from others, the narcissist always having to hear that he is a special and unique person.
The self-esteem of a person with a narcissistic personality can also be compared to a reservoir that must be constantly replenished, with a continuous flow of praise and attention, in order not to drown. The feelings of grandeur help these people to mask their feelings of self-worth. However, failures or disappointments may threaten to unravel these feelings of self-worth, precisely because of the vulnerability of self-esteem. This can lead the narcissist into a state of depression and as a defence against depression and feelings of despair, he will try to diminish the importance of disappointments or failures.
Furthermore, we will speak in February’s article what it means to be in a relationship with a narcissistic structured person and how it can affect you and others.