The word narcissism is one that has in recent years has been increasingly used in popular press to describe personalities and lifestyles. One form of Narcissism is however a little understood personality disorder which is increasingly showing up in our leaders across political, business, sporting, psychological and spiritual institutions(Behary:2008).
Indeed narcissism and narcissistic is increasingly being used to describe the mass cultural shift to a “self” obsessed culture where there is rampant consumerism, the pursuit of power, excesses, and the abuse of others in the pursuit of these ends, notes Martinez-Lewi(2008).
The word narcissism comes from the Greek mythological figure, Narcissus, who upon seeing his own reflection in a pond, fell obsessively in love with himself and his own image. As you will see in this article, the true unhealthy narcissist we see today, while maintaining a false self or “mask” of achievement, perfection, and the attainment of all the symbols of success and power, hides underneath a self hating, insecure, fragile real self, which fears being uncovered and exposed at any moment.
The key point here is we all need a healthy dose of Narcissism, as else we would not back ourselves in life, nor have a healthy sense of self. There are healthy forms of narcissism. However unhealthy narcissists do not have a healthy sense of self but instead have learnt to live life from a false self.
Unhealthy Narcissists are not in touch with their true self, instead becoming a chameleon type of personality who seek to project an idealised image to others, and then seduce and control all others that have some value or utility for them, until that persons utility value is exhausted, and then they are dumped and abandoned without remorse by the narcissist.
In some ways unhealthy Narcissism is seen by some schools of thought as a form of depressive disorder as the narcissist underneath the false mask, moves between depression and aggression. The aggression is most prevalent where there is a threat to being uncovered or exposed as being false, wrong, corrupt, or exploitative(Ransky:1998).
The narcissistic person may be male or female, and is obsessive in their primary pursuit of satisfaction, whether that be power, money and other resources to prop up the false self. Another common term for the narcissist in the business context is the Corporate Psychopath, notes Paul Babiak(2006), a noted specialist on the corporate version of this pathological individual.
According to body-mind researcher and M.D, Alexander Lowen, in his book, Narcissism – Denial of the True Self, narcissists share many common traits with bullies, but due to their ability to project a compelling false, idealised self image, and high intelligence, are more likely to “get away with it”, and escape accountability.
Some narcissistic people are “healthy” in their approach to life and achievement, but they are not of the type to be discussed throughout this article. A healthy and productive narcissistic person goes about their lives in a passionate way, achieve their goals, but retain empathy, consideration for others, and often a mindset of contributing to their community. Healthy Narcissism has more of the following characteristics according to Lewi-Martinez(2008) and Meir(2009):
This article concerns itself with the unhealthy forms of narcissism. Narcissists are found in all walks of life. After reading this article you may identify your spouse, co-worker, friend, relative, parent, boss, therapist, spiritual mentor, favourite athlete, or local or international political figures as potential unhealthy versions of narcissists. They key aspect of these individuals is their grandiosity, and their overstated sense of self entitlement in life often despite often not working hard to earn any such rewards.
Some unhealthy narcissists will be seen to be hard working and have their own achievements to own. Normally these types of Narcissist will also overstate their own achievements and minimise others and their achievements(Lowen:1986). There is often an arrogance in their personality.
Achieving Narcissistic personalities normally have a strong rigid-perfectionistic streak which gives them the discipline to set goals, focus and achieve, but there is a clinical coldness or unfeeling aspect to their natures(Lowen:1986). Many unhealthy Narcissists appear to achieve but in fact are predators who feed off victims they encounter in life, using their victims’ efforts, skills, and hard work, which get assumed and taken by the narcissist as their own, without remorse, recognition or meaningful reward for those around them(Babiak:2006).
In a narcissist’s world, It’s all about them, as Narcissists possess no real empathy, they feign or act empathic, while they delude themself that they are entitled to special treatment, and to not having to bother with detail or drudgery(Babiak:2006). These narcissists often gather a following of helpers or “sidekicks” to manipulate into doing any effort based work for them. Instead they spent their time managing their “image”, being a “visionary”, being “strategic”, establishing key “contacts”, that they argue only they are able to successfully do(Lewi-Martinez:2008).
Some narcissistic personalities have an obsessive base in the personality where they micro-manage their own life, from work tasks to how they groom and dress, as they do not trust others or their standards of work. Other less rigid types are more focussed on positioning themself as indispensable, yet at the same time try to be unaccountable, being hard to track down, hard to get them to put things in writing, and they will avoid team roles where they are not the leader(Meier:2009).
Where possible they will delegate the work to a co-worker or “sidekick”. Narcissists hate mundane jobs and tasks that are “beneath them” and avoid them by manipulating others where possible to do such jobs on their behalf(Babiak:2006). Narcissists necessarily include others in their life so as to get the other person to do what they are unable to do, do not want to do, or what they feel is beneath them to do.
The causes of the narcissist personality disorder in adults are unclear and disputed amongst psychologists and psychiatrists. A childhood developmental arrest or childhood trauma of some form is a common aspect of what underlies many theories of this disorder. Some schools of thought see it as a learned behaviour rather than a clinical disorder.
Research from China and the social trend of one child, overindulged, pampered “emperors” in this one-child, pro-male state, has produced a generation of Narcissistic adult males(Ransky:1998). In this context one may imagine the likes of Tiger Woods who exhibits some behaviours that are Narcissistic.
In his apology speech to carefully invited guests and close sponsors, Tiger Woods quoted “I did not think that rules applied to me, I thought there were for other people. I felt entitled.” This is the sort of entitled statement that one could associate with a Narcissistic personality.
In contrast, a failure of care-givers and parents to establish a healthy and empathic attachment with their child can also create a situation where the child feels insignificant and disconnected from others(Meier:2009). They compensate for this perceived self defectiveness via becoming self-absorbed, grandiose, and intolerant to others needs and views.
They “rise above” their felt sense of a shame-based self and become psychopathic and create a false self(Lowen:2004). Most authors identify a weak or passive same sex parent as being part of the dynamic that supports the creation of a narcissistic child.
Sigmund Freud in his pioneering work, titled “On Narcissism”, identified that we all pass through a primary development stage of narcissism where we as infants believe we are the centre of the universe. However this is given up when the child realises that they do not control the parents but is entirely dependent on them.
Freud believed that narcissists did not reinvest their emotions back to the parents, but instead redirected them back to themself thus starting the process of a self absorbed, grandiose, self entitled person. The psychoanalyst, Heinz Kohut, argues that the deficiency of being appropriately “mirrored and modelled” by the parents creates a child stuck in their grandiose narcissistic developmental stage, and yet still requiring constant self approval by others for their self esteem, all of which is central to an adult narcissist.
His peer, Otto Kernberg, cites evidence that narcissists often arise from the dynamic of a cold, unempathic, self absorbed parent, often the mother, who may be narcissistic themselves. Emotionally starved and angry at the depriving parent, the child withdraws and lives from that part of the self that the parents value, be it looks, intellect, athleticism, or a skill or talent.
The child then develops from a split self, where the perceived defective parts are suppressed and hidden, while an overdeveloped and false grandiose presenting self is built to face the world. There is no clear cut agreement on the causes but all agree the trend is that narcissism is a growing and disturbing problem in society which is misunderstood and often untreated.
An early researcher in the field of narcissism, Hervey Checkley(1976) well describes a general outline of this form of psychopathic personality. “Despite being intelligent and having superficial charm, they made poor life judgements and didn’t learn much from their personal experiences causing them to repeat dysfunctional or unfruitful behaviours.
They lacked insight concerning themselves and the impact of their behaviour on others, but this seemed not to concern them at all. They did not understand and cared little about the feelings of others, lacking remorse and shame for the harm they did others. They were consummate liars, unreliable, insincere, although often appearing to be very sincere to those with little experience interacting with them”.
He also noted “They failed to have significant or lasting intimate relationships, and even their sexual relationships were superficial and impersonal. They appear to be unable to feel intensely any of the emotions that others experience, except primitive or proto-emotions such as anger, frustration and rage.
On the surface they appear normal, sane, and in control, and do not exhibit anxiety or neurotic traits, or show delusional thinking when it exists. They present with a technical appearance of sanity, often one of high intellectual capacities, appears likeable, and not infrequently succeeds in business or professional activities”.
Despite the disagreement amongst the various schools of thought on Narcissism, there are some useful ways of defining different types of Narcissists based on the early life patterns, environments, and parenting they received.
One delineation of the Narcissistic personality is outlined by Alexander Lowen, whose book “Narcissism: Denial of the Self”, is an important book in this area. He summarises a typical form of narcissist as follows: “Power, or so the narcissist thinks, allows one to gain human contact without the danger of being used. With power, one can attract others.
For the less disturbed narcissist, power rests in the use of his or her charm, wit and good looks to lure admirers. Psychopathic personalities, on the other hand, tend to use the power of wealth or position to amass followers, or they may be overly seductive. They both know all too well how to play on the fears and weaknesses of others, for they too, have these fears.
Thus, they promise and proclaim that they will be the light and security other people seek. In their own minds they hold themselves out as superior, believing they don’t need anyone. They often seem superior because human anxieties do not plague them. Desperate, frightened people turn to them as saviours.....They cannot be alone.... and the various relationships they enter into must be one in which they have control.”.
Lowen identifies 5 types of Narcissistic personality. In his work, Lowen notes that “the more narcissistic one is, the less one is identified with his or her feelings....and there is a correlation between the denial of or lack of feeling and the lack of a sense of self”. A compensation develops via a false idealised self.
According to Lowen there is a continuum of Narcissistic influence in the personality that can at one end of the scale be mild and primary preoccupation with oneself and the physical appearance(Phallic Narcissist), up to the most severe Paranoid Narcissistic personality(e.g. Hitler). The full range of 5 personalities and their increasing components of distorted reality are:
Each in turn is marked by increasing levels of:
Lowen notes that these intelligent but “in their heads” personalities often have a body structure that is a harmonious and athletic shape, with males often also having broad shoulders whilst well developed thighs on the woman. The person is usually charming, charismatic, seductive, confident and well groomed, and project success as a primary false self image to the world.
These bodymind outcomes will not be explored here but it is important to note that these attractive outcomes in body shape and features act to reinforce the adult narcissist in their ability to seduce, influence, attract followers, and become extremely vain and self obsessed.
Lowen also notes that the Narcissist has a bodily block in the occipital region at the rear base of the skull where the trapezius muscles connect to the base of the head. This promotes a split between head and the body and contributes to the cutting off of feelings reaching consciousness and blocks the subjective perception of bodily events.
This block may be related to the Vagas vagal nervous system which develops early in the attachment bonding process between mother and infant. The work of Stephen Porges(2009) and his Polyvagal theory show that we as humans engage continually in Neuroception where we evaluate risk in our environment. One outcome of this process in infants is that where they stop feeling safe with their caregivers they enact blocks and defences in the bodymind.
The hyper-vigilance noted in the narcissistic nervous system defences, and the mental attributes of not being able to trust others, which leads instead to their primary imperative to control others in order to feel safe, is controlled in part by phylogenetic organisation of the Autonomic Nervous System(ANS)(Porges:2009). There are corticospinal pathways that pass through the occipital area at the back of the head which are sensitive to muscular blocks that may possibly restrict function.
This process is mediated through the occipital area of the back of the head and so trauma states in these areas appear to have relationship to the muscular contractions that result from the infant trauma in the early life attachment process(Van Der Kolk:2009).
In this resulting state of hyper-vigilant trauma the person experiences thoughts and mental chatter subjectively as self-expression, and they will tend to experience their own bodies objectively but only from without, or from external environments or objects making contact with their bodies(Lowen:2004)
These people often tell what should be emotional stories about events or the past in a emotionally detached way as a result. Their face may also have a broad chin/jaw muscular structure that can have a set, determined look. The jaw serves as a last line of defence in holding back a persons rage, whilst the neck blocks the deep sobbing of grief that was never allowed(Lowen:1977).
As a result it is quite often the narcissistic person will show a face that is literally a mask of controlled self expression, which often relates to tight risorius, masceter, frontalis, scalene and sterno-cloido-mastoid muscles on the face and neck. The frozen body is mirrored in the rigid and emotionally frozen personality.
Lewi-Martinez(2008) notes our culture also rewards these sorts of people, and we now celebrate narcissism in our sports stars, media celebrities, and leaders in various fields. Narcissists are often rewarded in their endeavours and strivings to get to the top, and this is why we find them in leadership positions, or “climbing the ladder” to get to the top.
Disturbingly we also have now a narcissistic trend in society for people to be famous for “doing nothing”, with role models such as Paris Hilton demonstrating that achievement is no longer tied to fame or public role model status. This is an extension of the narcissistic attitude of entitlement and demand that they be recognised for little else than just “showing up”.
Private sector business and corporations, as well as politics at Federal, State and Local government levels, are all potential honey pots. The use of “spin” and spin doctors in these sectors reflects the narcissistic influence of leaders in our society, notes Murray(2009:21). Narcissists use “spin” all through their lives, in all that they do, to cultivate the reality and image they ideally wish to project.
Corporate leaders simply outsourced this skill to a new role of well paid “spin doctors”, who possibly possess this narcissistic trait themself. This is an example of how singular traits of Narcissistic leaders starts to affect organisational and societal culture, and the practice of “spin doctoring” has become established, legitimate, and pervasive in our society. Being right is primary and eclipses being in truth.
Authors such as Lewi-Martinez group Narcissistic personality outcomes into groupings that reflect key behavioural conditions experienced by the child in their family environments:
is summarised as being where the parents were overly determined to make the child’s life as pain free as possible. His parents did everything for him and now feels entitled to have others take care of everything so as to not face humiliation or frustration and reveal their hopelessness and personal incompetence.
is summarised as where child was spoilt and utterly indulged and there were no consequences for overstepping boundaries or breaking rules. A notion of being better than others and having special rights and privileges develops.
Lonely Deprived child
This child grew up feeling conditionally loved, and that love was based on performance. They had to be the best, and as a result taught them anything short of perfect meant they were flawed, inadequate, and unlovable.
There may have been triangulation where they were criticised by one parent and made to feel inadequate with everything they did, whilst the other parent doted on them, overprotected them, or was energetically taken hostage as their “lover” or “confidante” or “spouse”.
This manipulation results in the child concluding to “ I will trust no-one”, “I will need no-one”, or “I’ll show you”. The child is confused, defended, and lacks emotional intelligence.
These outcomes reflect certain parenting styles and may indicate they are children of Narcissistic parents themselves. What is also possible is that a combination of the above 3 types of parenting existed together and the child experienced a combination of these driving forces in childhood. Lewi-Martinez outlines how this produces a hybrid outcome which more fully fleshes out the Narcissistic personalities seen in therapy. The key mixed type outcomes are:
Will act entitled and feel superior, demand doting attention, but then they may feel dependent and incompetent, and may avoid taking the initiative and making decisions. They groom and use “sidekicks” to provide narcissistic ego supplies, and to carry out many chores and functions they either cannot do or feel are beneath them.
Will be easily offended as well as being dependent, needing others to constantly reassure them they are great, and to manage their life for them. May present as needy and hyper-sensitive rather than demanding or show-offish. May have self-soothing addictions to gambling, pornography, eating, drinking etc. When pushed they explode into rage, retribution, violent withdrawal where they isolate before re-emerging again later.
Lowen notes the pampering and indulging traits of parenting are often associated with the 2 milder forms of Narcissism(e.g. Lowen stages 1 and 2). The more severe forms of Narcissism (e.g. Lowen stages 3 to 5), show from patient case histories that the Narcissistic character formation came more from the deprived, lonely child model where there is evidence of various forms of abuse being present. Some typical forms of such abuse or defining factors that can create more severe Narcissistic outcomes include:
The resulting adult will use power and control to protect them from any further humiliation. The child learnt that relationships are governed by power, and learns to play power and manipulation games later in life.
Trauma research and neuroscience advances are now uncovering more about what shapes human beings in bodily form and personality. We now understand broadly from Polyvagal theory that evolution has provided us with an organising principle to understand how the brain regulates the Autonomic Nervous System(ANS) to enable social behaviour and bonding in humans.
An infant or child will employ certain instinctive survival responses and strategies to create safety so that they can adapt and again seek contact, social engagement and bonding, but with some compromise.
In general the child will utilise some basic defences in order to cope with any form of abusive treatment or unsafeness that it is exposed to in its early life with caregivers. The concept of “splitting” is a deep psychological truth for both the Borderline and the Narcissistic personality. Psycho-analyst Melanie Klein is credited with the evolution of this concept as a primary truth in developing infants.
These splits will appear as polarities or extremes in the personalities and also between these two types of trauma personalities. For instance as a broad distinction between the Borderline and the Narcissistic personality we find two extremes. On one level the Borderline personality is extremely into self-control moment to moment. They have a shaky containing personality that is quite hyper-vigilant, either hyper or hypo-aroused, and quite into self-control. They are more commonly women who were wounded by their mothers.
The Borderline is paranoid and fearful of the outside world and so fixates on it, but primarily from a survival perspective. They are trying to be completely truthful with themselves and others, and their trauma leads to involuntary “acting out”, abusive or explosive emotional behaviours. They are in survival mode much of the time.
Compare this to the Narcissistic personality which is also basically from a trauma background. On one level the Narcissistic personality is extremely into self-control moment to moment. The difference is they have a strongly contained personality that is quite hyper-vigilant, hyper-aroused, and quite into self-control, but also complete control of their environments and others. They are more commonly men who were wounded by their mothers, and sometimes fathers.
The Narcissistic personality is also paranoid but aggressive towards the outside world from a place of mistrust, and so fixates on it, but primarily from a controlling and predatory perspective. They are not concerned with truth but with being “right” and so routinely lie to themselves and others.
The Narcissistic personality has well developed manipulation techniques leads to both voluntary and pre-meditated acts of aggression against others. Only when exposed or betrayed will one see a loss of complete control and the involuntary “acting out”, abusive or explosive emotional behaviours leak out. They are in predatory or self promotion mode much of the time.
Splitting starts young in humans. As a child’s sense of self emerges it is likely to come into contact with feelings of hatred. A child raised by unwell or unsafe parents such as a Borderline or Narcissistic parent is likely to have to face this reality on a regular basis. A lack of bonding due during adoption or fostering may also create issues. Regardless, a child at the age of two years is considered to naturally enter a developmental phase known as the narcissistic childhood phase of development.
In its two year old narcissistic phase of development the child is constrained to only think in absolutes. It will not yet have developed the complex psychological mechanisms that permit the acceptance of love and hate existing together towards the same object in the same moment.(Klein:1971).
Psychoanalyst Melanie Klein(1971) coined the term “splitting” to describe to describe this reality where the world around us is seen in either-or terms of the “all good” or “all bad”. The child develops this splitting in its infancy but it still operates in the narcissistic phase of the child’s reality.
The concept of “splitting” is where the child cannot see the mother both in terms of the “good mother” and the “bad mother” and so creates a magical reality of two separate mothers who each show up from time to time. This preserves the imperative of the “good mother” always being good and not being compromised by hurtful acts against the child. Instead the “bad mother” who is someone else is responsible for the hurtful acts against the child(Klein:1971).
In this way the child can vent its rage against the “bad mother” without threatening its own survival by killing off the “good mother” who supplies all its nurturance and survival needs(Klein:1971). A child will have developed a split sense of “good mother” and “bad mother” to cope with the reality of a raging Narcissistic or Borderline personality mother.
Carl Jung noted that almost all fairy tales employed the “splitting effect” of the “good fairy godmother” archetype versus the “bad witch” or “cruel mother or step mother” archetype(Jung:1990). He and psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim(1932) both agree that this is because it is a concept the young child already has a reality for and can relate to when reading such stories.
Lewis Carroll appears to have employed this splitting concept in his “Alice in Wonderland” story with the various Queens, and with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum as a reality that reflects how he employed splitting to cope with his own childhood traumas. The use of chessboards in the story with their split into black and white squares also represents this concept.
The child must go through a form of object constancy where the child can hate its mother, and annihilate the mother, yet sees the mother is still existing and still there for the child afterwards(Johnson:1994). The child has the splitting defence to assist in this process. Unfortunately some parents respond to the child’s infantile rages of hatred, anger and defiance with punishment and their own adult versions of hate wrapped up as love.
When this occurs the adult in a sense is reacting from their own infantile thinking. An adult needs to be able to relate to the child in terms of the child being both good and bad at the same time for the parent to be able to contain a child’s emotional reactivity(Goldberg:1993).
When the adult is unable to move beyond seeing the child from a good-and-bad splitting mechanism then the child will be rejected and subject to adult parental hatred that the “bad child” now forms in the adult parents mind(Goldberg:1993). This is what goes on for the adult Borderline personality as they tend to see others and the world in very black and white terms through rigidly splitting people into such extremes.
We see in adult Borderline personalities that they may fall in love and see the “other” initially in terms of being all good, a saviour, perfect and a safe person. However their highly charged emotional self is also prone to project negative or paranoid “bad” qualities onto that same person. When this occurs they become for the Borderline personality a sudden shapeshifter, who has betrayed them, become an unsafe object, and become the object of their now cold, rageful, traumatized self as they act out of survival reactions.
What is actually happening is that the person represents a recreation of the mother or abuser for the Borderline personality. In truth the Narcissistic or Borderline mother may have gone from being loving to hurtful, from caring to cold, from accepting to abandoning, from stable to unstable, in seconds, and so the child got traumatized, and developed a splitting effect to cope with this unstable behavior.
As a later adult the now traumatized person is alert and hyper-aroused to anyone they “love” suddenly turning on them and changing into a demon. Partners of Borderline personalities report these extreme reactions occurring in their relationship, and which are triggered by small or innocent gestures, dynamics, words, associations or even smells or scents which trigger the Borderline into their “acting out” of rage and psychotic symptoms or episodes.
When this happens to a child who can have no concept of what the adult parent is exhibiting, they are themselves wounded in a way that sets them up potentially to become the next generation of traumatized and possibly Borderline personality. The child is engulfed and unwittingly drawn down the rabbit hole of the parent’s craziness into their adult world of distortion, madness, terror and rage. This is what happened to Alice in the fairy tale Alice in Wonderland.
In a normal family a child is supposed to test its emerging narcissistic powers and feelings that unlock in the emerging sense of self against the parents it loves. It can test itself against those it feels safe with. When the parent turns against the child with an adult reaction that might be appropriate for adult to adult hate behaviours, the child is now in trouble.
This is how a Narcissistic or Borderline personality parent may react to a child’s naughty or disobedient behavior. The child’s nervous system is not yet capable of containing adult rage in a way that does not compromise its felt sense of safety and survival. The child will traumatize as a result(Ogden:2006).
Children subjected to a parents rage will go into a form of trauma like shock(Ogden:2006). In the aftermath there can be an egocentric rationalization by the child that it is “bad” and so the child will start the process of identifying with its own hate in a way that creates self-hatred as a constant in its reality.
The child may split itself into a “good child” and “bad child” based on parental mirroring and messages that tell it that it is bad. The child starts to become their Borderline or Narcissistic mother in the process. The Narcissist by definition over-identified with becoming the “good child” as a chosen way of creating safety for itself.
The Narcissist adapted and became the split false self “good child” and then worked continually to craft image and story as their reality. They built up a façade and an idealized image of self to get love, approval, or just to remain safe from punishment, rejection or abuse.
A child who is shamed or punished when it expresses its own infantile rage and hatred soon learns to suppress the expression of such feelings(Goldberg:1993). The parent typically split the child into the idealized “good child” and force the child to disown its shadow feelings and behaviours as the “bad child” into their unconsciousness(Klein:1971).
This reinforces the creation of the Narcissistic child who is encouraged to “be good” and to disown any “bad” aspects of self into a split disowned “bad child” who no longer exists in conscious reality.
A Narcissistic or Borderline parent may also literally split their various children into “good children” and “bad children”, and favour or treat them accordingly. Other siblings may end up in neither group but instead end up becoming more invisible and ignored with devastating consequences. This splitting can be the genesis of what will create the next generation of Narcissist or Borderline person.
For instance the Narcissistic parent will often project all their own perfect, idealized, grandiose images onto the eldest child, or the eldest child of one of the sexes. By definition of the splitting effect they then will project all their own disowned shadow or negative qualities onto the second child, or the eldest child of the other sex who is not the favourite one.
The “golden child” is generally supported, empowered and made special by the patron narcissist, and so grows up with an inflated sense of self. Likewise the “scapegoated child” grows up with low self esteem, having been constantly criticized, rejected, punished or told they were nothing or bad along the way. They may become the angry “rebel” as a result, or collapse into the hopeless “addict” archetypal personality.
The Borderline personality also employs this splitting process onto their children, but with a different effect and outcome. For instance the Borderline parent will often project all their own perfect, idealized, grandiose images onto the eldest child, or the eldest child of one of the sexes. By definition of the splitting effect they then will project all their own disowned shadow or negative qualities onto the second child, or the eldest child of the other sex who is not the favourite one.
The “golden child” is generally not that well supported as happens to the Narcissist. This is because the Borderline may “turn” very suddenly on the person they “love”, and demonise or abuse them in the next moment as that traumatized parent has an emotional eruption or psychotic episode of rage.
The result is confusing and crazy making for the child who feels both special but then flawed for constantly also getting it wrong. As a result the resulting child may grow up to be a combination of the Narcissistic and Borderline outcomes.
In general this is known as an ominous Narcissist who meets the definition of the more compensated Borderline inasmuch as they present a stable personality, but who are quite aggressive, controlling, self-serving and possibly dangerous to others.
Likewise the “scapegoated child” grows up with intense trauma as they often are attacked and abused by the Borderline parent, whose psychotic episodes expose traumatizing behaviours that a Narcissist may never employ in typical family dynamics.
Such children may end up with any number of trauma based mental and personality disorder issues, due to the intensity and recurrent attacks by the parent on themselves. They may not be physically safe with this parent.
The critical parent or the demanding parent who wants perfection and absolute obedience of the child “out of love” will tend to use damaging parental messages to the child. Such parents will be seen reminding the child what is wrong with it, how it “got it wrong”, how the child is stupid and needs to try harder, and how the child must be punished for its failures.
The child may receive messages its body or its impulses are bad, ugly, sinful, or some shaming construct. Here is the hatred that comes from love and here is the shadow side of love which if not dealt with in the parent will wound the child and create the basis for its self-hatred.
It is from such a dynamic that the child creates a false self of the “good child” to survive. Anytime the child is made wrong, made unsafe, and made unlovable it seeks to adjust and adapt to its environment.
It does so by rejecting and disowning into the unconscious all the hated parts of itself as told to it by its parents and caretakers, and noting what areas remain in itself as “lovable” and so build a false self around these parts where they exist, and become “lovable” for just parts of who their authentic self is.
All this occurs under the guise of “love” but is really the operating dynamics of the shadow side of love in action. We give up in our Narcissistic phase of childhood those parts of ourself that are rejected firstly by our parents, and then soon after by ourself, and create a defence and social mask based on what “love” tells us is our acceptable nature.
The problem for the child of the Borderline parent is that the wounding by them starts too early and continues for too long for the child to form stable defences and a stable social mask to present to the world. As a result the Borderline person actually engages socially with the world from their defensive systems in a hyper-vigilant and emotionally reactive way.
In contrast the Narcissist has learnt via a very tightly self controlled personality container to not react unless triggered into a survival response or via shaming. They are able to engage their social engagement system but it is overseen by their defensive system.
Hence the Narcissist is able to engage and make social contact very well, but yet they are still highly vigilant, defensive, and aggressive and controlling in these same social dynamics when they feel threatened. They do not trust and are quite paranoid about others as a result.
Both the adult Narcissistic and Borderline personality is known for unconsciously creating splitting in various mundane and major aspects of their life and having rigid rules and black and white thinking. It is an attempt to force order upon disorder and provide stable anchors in a destabilised world. Splitting in a sense becomes a defining theme in their reality.
For example the author of “Alice in Wonderland” shows these traits. Lewis Carroll had a few dual or split natures. His name was a pseudonym for his real name, Charles Lutwidge Dodson. He was known by his friends to have a “dual personality”.
In this way he was described as someone who had on one hand a calm, quiet detached, logical mind and self, but yet upon him could descend “dark moods”. This Victorian era term is now thought to describe either a depressive effect or a raging effect, or both. It also shows another form of splitting in the psyche of the person.
This dual personality effect is a common trait seen by partners of the Narcissitic personality. They may have a personable public persona from which they exhibit all their idealised good false qualities. In private and behind closed doors they reveal their other face of cold cruelty, or chaotic and emotional eruption, or a cold aloof withdrawn self that isolates. Partners struggle to get others to see what dual nature they see in such a partner as it is typically carefully controlled and concealed from others outside the primary relationship.
The Borderline and Narcissistic personality are both also ones which try to exert control and to find safety in perfectionistic and black and white concepts, systems, objects and dynamics. As such they are seeking stability and continuity in their world which may have been quite fluid, chaotic and subject to sudden rule or reality change in childhood.
The author Lewis Carroll developed an early obsession with mathematics which is a black and white construct that is stable, consistent and can be a form of escapism. As such it may have been an escapism from a troubled childhood reality where he retreated into books and his thinking mind. His authored books were full of elements of mathematics and logic, such as cards, chess, and the use of twisted logic or reality to arrive at sane or logical outcomes.
Another rigid concept around which the reality challenged child could anchor themself is time. Time at least was a constant in an insecure world where many stable things were rendered insecure, false or changed due to the psychotic reality, or distortions of the Borderline or Narcissistic parent.
Children of Narcisstic and Borderline parents have been found to sometimes possess a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder(OCD). Such obsessive behaviours are often anchored to objects or frameworks which provide the constancy or reliability unavailable in childhood, or which provide the safety that was not theirs in childhood.
The OCD behaviours also assist in distracting them from chronic underlying states of anxiety which afflict Narcissistic personalities but which they hide away under their image of self assuredness. Narcissistic personalities become black and white thinking, rigid and perfectionistic for both self image enhancement, but also safety and stability reasons. Their degree of OCD behaviour is normally linked to their degree of anxiety that troubles them in their private inner world.
The reason why time might become an anchor is that all the other constants such as rules and realities are fluid and not stable or constant. A child growing up with an unstable, Narcissistic or Borderline parent(s) may find rules are ever changing, only apply some times, to only a few, and in contradiction of other rules. This traumatises and undermines a child searching for meaning, purpose and stability. Finding an anchor for their reality becomes essential in the face of such craziness.
The Narcissistic and Borderline personality has only a tenuous grip on a stable reality and is known to suffer delusions and cognitive distortions when processing reality. They appear to genuinely believe their own distortions and as such are “telling the truth” to themselves at least. In addition the Narcissist also who tends to know a truth but may consciously ignore it, and then go on to lie, exaggerate, or denies it, mindful of their deceit in that moment.
A child or partner of the Borderline personality must face the crazy reality of that person and often starts to doubt their own reality in the process. A baby or young child has no effective discrimination to reject the often inconsistent reality presented to them, which creates object or reality inconstancy, and undermines their own stable reality.
One gets sucked down the rabbit hole and then must make the insane become sane or make the surreal somehow understandable, as was the challenge for Alice in Wonderland, and possibly its author, Lewis Carroll. A traumatised person often spends much of their time doubting their reality as they struggle with life. Creating a false self and life, and then controlling it to make it “real” is one way to deal with such a developmental reality.
Several authors such as Linda Martinez-Lewi, Dr Gregory Ross, Dr Jeffrey Young, Paul Babiak, and others, note a number of key defining dynamics and characteristics that are common to unhealthy narcissists. Here is a compilation of 23 common dynamics or characteristics culled from such authors and their writings, to look for if you are wondering about a potential unhealthy narcissist.
It is not true that all 23 characteristics will be present, but a majority will typically be present in the case of a potential unhealthy narcissist. For instance the achieving narcissist may not steal others work to claim as their own, but in other respects will be seen to have a number of the other characteristics outlined below.
Each characteristic also reveals the two extremes of Narcissism, that being the classic overt Narcissist written about in many books, and the more sublime but equally challenging Covert or Closet Narcissist.
The characteristics capture the key defining behaviours dispositions and attitudes of the various subtypes of Narcissists documented in literature. We all possess a few of these traits as we all possess some narcissism, but it is at the wrong end of the continuum of this behaviour does the Personality disorder start to exist. It takes a trained clinician to make an accurate diagnosis for any Personality Disorder, so do not read this and label someone around you a Narcissist.
This information will assist associates of narcissists to realise they may be entangled at some level with one, and so with awareness to set new boundaries or limit exposure to such a personality. The 23 characteristics are:
1) FALSE SELF – The Overt Narcissist has a grandiose and exaggerated sense of achievements or skills or talents, and expects to be recognised as superior even when having no demonstrated record in this area. As an example I once personally attended a wealth creation course being spruiked by a charismatic figure. I later found out this person owned no real assets, and had no wealth manifesting demonstrated accomplishments behind them.
Their life was a mess of conflicts and failed relationships yet they presented with professional aplomb. You would not have picked the chaos in the person from the idealised “false self” seducing the audience in the sales pitch and talk. The audience had no idea that behind the facade there was no effective “walk your talk”.
The Covert Narcissist is quite understated which disarms others with a meek and mild manner or social mask. This too is deceptive as it fools most audiences as they quietly go about achieving their aims and projecting an assured aloofness or pleasant manner.
2) UNGROUNDED REALITY – The Overt Narcissist is typically preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love. Their belief in themself is not rooted in reality. They will often compare themself to the real leader in their chosen or imagined field, and with envy state out loud statements like “why is he or she so successful, I have more to offer than them!!”.
They belittle normally rivals, and understate others achievements from this place, as they cannot entertain being upstaged, even when reality does not match their grandiose imaginings of their supposed real standing in life. They cannot understand why others do not see or perceive this grandiose reality. A rival threat is often simply someone else making a success that the paranoid narcissist wrongly infers undermines or challenges them.
The Covert Narcissist also harbours self-dulusions of grandeur but is not often boastful of that in public. They may quietly observe and judge, “sniff” their disapproval from a place of feeling more enlightened or talented. They may drop a barbed comment that reveals their true feelings but are seen to more act rather than talk as if they are the best in some filed or endeavour.
3) GRANDIOSE – The Overt and Covert Narcissist has a belief system that they are “visionary”, “strategic”, ”innovative”, “special”, “psychic”, “mystic”, and so can only be understood, associate with, or tolerate, other special or high-status persons. They will often drive a flashy car, or shift to a prestigious suburb, or dress or be seen in special places to cultivate this idealised false self image.
They put themselves on a pedestal and expect others to worship them as they worship themselves. The Overt Narcissist is more flashy and loud than the Covert Narcissist who is more apt to typically act in an understated, aloof way that simply conveys “I’m special, can you not see that”.
4) NARCISSISTIC EGO SUPPLY – Both the Covert and Overt Narcissist requires constant admiration and recognition from others. They will gather a following of needy or co-dependent followers and “sidekicks” who feed their narcissistic ego supplies by reminding them of how good they are, idealising them, putting them on a pedestal. The understated Covert Narcissist uses silence and looks to control their partners.
The follower will also self-delude themself that they are privileged and “seen” and “wanted” by being hard working “special” persons of interest to the narcissist. The sidekick is essentially co-dependent with the narcissist, often having a “caretaker” or low self-image personality disorder themself. This starts to create the basis of a cult dynamic.
Narcissists often are cult leaders or start groups that elevate them alone to a “special” status. In organisations the “special” end game is to get to the top, get on the Board of Directors, and/or be the CEO where money, power, publicity, status and greatness all lie in wait for them.
5) DEMANDS ON OTHERS – Both the Overt and Covert Narcissist have unreasonable expectations of how they will be treated. Both lack feelings and so have no empathy for partners, is personally exploitative of others, including colleagues, peers, managers, followers and “sidekicks”, to get own needs met, and is not concerned with their impact on others.
They are ruthless and exploitative in business and personal relationships, and paranoid of betrayal by others. They claim more than what is their actual entitlement without remorse, do not feel a need to justify themselves, and believe that as special, unique rules should operate in their favour.
In organisations while impatiently “climbing the ladder” they often try to claim their special status by demanding bonuses and recognition awards for others work, or for projects or initiatives that are not yet delivered or proven.
The Covert Narcissist will often convey a cool, logical demand which coldly puts down others and makes the demand appear reasonable, and the receiver emotional, irrational and stupid.
6) NO REAL FEELINGS – Both types of Narcissist lack true empathy for others, and is cut-off from their own feelings. They will “feign” or act feelings and empathy from their idealised false self mask they present to the world.
The Overt Narcissist reveals their true nature when they are not accommodated as beneath their social veneer what intrudes from the real personality are arrogant, haughty behaviours and attitudes from their unresolved angry and self doubting inner life.
In organisations they have no issue or feelings about “downsizing” staff or making unethical decisions as it proves to their superiors they are a “man of action and decisiveness”, when really it simply represents their disdain and predatory nature to use and devour others to their own end.
The Covert Narcissist uses a withdrawn, emotionally shutdown presence to face the world and so one rarely sees emotions being exhibited in such an individual. Everything is “fine” in their world which is carefully hidden away from view. A silence and superficiality replaces real depth or substance to their communication but they are adept at shaping conversation to fufill their agendas.
7) ENVY – Both the Overt and Covert Narcissist are often envious of others, and normally they scan others they meet, doing a comparison of where the other person is relative to them.
The Overt Narcissist reacts to envy by having a predatory drive to usurp and conquer the other person, and replace them if they are a threat to exposing the narcissists own insecure, real self hidden under their false self social mask. They may become louder and more grandiose around their competitors.
The Covert narcissist may avoid or stay silent around competitors and then work quietly behind the scenes to silently assassinate them.
They are both jealous and paranoid of those above them in the world or the organisation, with whom they employ a combination of seduction, control, manipulation, character assassination, undermining and avoidance. They may attempt to initially befriend them to “work them out” and decide if they can overcome them, especially where they cannot be “converted” into a follower, or at least sidelined into neutrality.
8) RATIONALISATION – Both the Overt and Covert Narcissist “live in their heads” and use logic, argument and rationalisation to justify themselves, to shape others perceptions of them, and to control and intimidate others. They pretend and delude to themself that others are envious of them and their “special” self and achievements.
This is a typical compensation to cope with emerging feelings of inadequacy that constantly and secretly haunt them. The sense that others envy them is in a distorted sense a form of adulation and recognition they use on themself when external narcissistic supplies from others are not available to them at that time.
They also rationalise that others in organisations or in groups who are quite rightly challenging them from time to time, are just competing and envious of their talents and “specialness”. Overt Narcissists often tell others it is such a “burden” to carry such special talents and be in such demand due to it, and say from their grandiose delusion that only they could carry or “hold a space” for those who need them, or live amongst others who do not understand them. Covert Narcissists may think this but are less open in stating it to others directly.
9) LIES AND MANIPULATION – Both Overt and Covert Narcissists have learnt that truth is a subjective reality and work to create perceptions in their favour, utilising lies and truth interchangeably. Both types of Narcissists are deceptive of others and themself, often lying and distorting the truth to suit their needs, and also in their own thinking.
Both types of Narcissist will also “toy” with another person’s reality as a manipulative game that they derive negative pleasure from, as a form of arrogant superiority where they reinforce their own sense of being able to control other weaker persons, thus reinforcing their own sense of being superior or having special gifts.
One of my narcissistic therapists often remarked to me that they “knew me better than I did”. They may lie even when the truth is available and it not being a truth that would negatively affect them. Life is a game for them and lies hold up their entire false reality.
Covert Narcissists particularly employ silence as a tool of control and mental torture of others. Silence normally causes the other party to “fill in the blanks or silence” with their own story of what is going on, and can lead to great anxiety and fear in that person.
Overt Narcissists will tend to get their followers and “sidekicks” to lie or deceive for them, thus proving their loyalty, binding them with a secret that the follower does not realise at the time could be used to betray them later if it suits the narcissist’s purpose. Loyalty is not a long term 2 way street. “Sidekicks” eventually get “drop kicked” or betrayed when it suits the narcissist.
10) EMOTIONAL OUTBURSTS – The overt Narcissist reacts to and is overly sensitive to any criticism or threat of being exposed, which is countered with rage and retribution. As the narcissist is always right in their own mind, and will lie without conscience, you cannot constructively argue or negotiate with them. They will attack and humiliate those who they already judge as inferior, which is most of the rest of us.
An aggressive attack is not only usually effective against those who are defenceless or in an unequal power relationship with the narcissist, but in the moment the aggression overcomes any other uncomfortable feelings from coming up which the narcissist finds hard to tolerate.
The Covert Narcissist rarely erupts into emotional outbursts as they are invested in maintaining control. Their reaction may be to punish via withdrawal, silence, or going off and doing their own activity and then stating carefully “you made me do this”.
In either case if someone has equal or more power, or the resources the narcissist needs, or is effectively a peer, then the social mask is maintained and they feign but do not feel fake humiliation and shame.
In both types they take criticism personally as it threatens their whole false self, and so a tantrum may erupt which the social mask cannot contain, and they will mark anyone who crosses them with plans for revenge, humiliation and destruction, which then dominate their paranoid thinking.
11) MINIMISE RIVALS- Both the Overt and Covert narcissist will not acknowledge others achievements, normally belittling or minimising such achievements, and instead will try to bring the focus back to them, and use exaggerated claims, or will hide others achievements, or claim others achievements as their own. The Covert Narcissist just tends to stay silent and overlook or not acknowledge others achievements.
Narcissists are highly competitive, and envy others but will never acknowledge that envy. They only envy until they have surpassed or overcome the competitor, as the acquisition of power means that once they dominate or surpass another, they are relegated to indifference or contempt, or to be used as a victim if they possess some utility for the narcissist. The silent assassin that is the Covert Narcissist will work quietly in the background to bring down their rival.
For example once a follower of a powerful spiritual group leader wrote a timely and well informed book directly positioned in the core area of the leaders community and work. The book was never promoted or encouraged by the leader, and sales fell away. Energetically it seemed like the authors efforts could not be celebrated or recognised within the community.
The leader minimised the contribution of the book to the field and did not promote it at all. When the leader wrote small pieces or quite shallow articles, they were actively promoted and positioned throughout the community, and the leader chastised anyone he felt was not actively promoting his articles with their clients.
12) SELF DELUSION – There will typically be found to exist in both the Overt and Covert Narcissist a narcissistic gap between their own perceived self, which is the false self mask they portray to others, and what others notice about them over time. This aspect becomes observed by others over time and is a large gap that represents a blind spot to their own awareness. Narcissists learn to feign or mimic real feelings, real empathy, to talk the smart leadership theory and teamwork concepts, spiritual dogma etc, yet act totally differently and contrary to their own words.
They typically do not walk their talk, and indeed feel that rules are for others but not them, so they have no conscience about double standards. Their grandiose sense of self entitlement and being special, gives them a distorted logic that they are an exception to what others must comply to, or be bound by. They lie because their whole lives are built on lies and a false self.
Peers, team members, and followers all get confused, traumatised, and their reality denied in the chaos of having one set of rules or truths espoused by the Narcissist, yet experience another set of rules or behaviours or information visited upon them, or see the Narcissistic manager or leader embody a totally contradictory reality to what they portray through their false self social mask.
Narcissists have no feelings for the trauma they cause others around them. The process of numbing or cutting off their own feelings mean that they are not interested or concerned with the feelings of others. Feelings are both a sign of weakness and something to be manipulated and exploited in others. A certain coldness is obvious to others from that place of their detachment.
The Overt Narcissists tendency to confront and argue is partly due to the fact they know others are uncomfortable with conflict. They however enjoy the conquering and submission of others as they are numb to their own feelings, but yet get fuel from power, the exercise of power, and the adrenalin of the challenge of competing and winning.
The Covert Narcissist will tend to be more dismissive and use silent looks, moods, and crisp but cold words to achieve the same end. If the process of denial via lying during conflict does not work, they switch to blaming others, often a faithful “sidekick” who will “cop it” and even cover for the narcissist, taking on the blame out of “loyalty”.
13) STATUS – In both the Overt and Covert Narcissist there is typically an obsession with having the latest gadgets and status symbols of wealth. They also need to be seen with important people, or dropping the names of senior organisational people(when they are still climbing the ladder themselves), and often cultivating a youthful, healthy, perfect appearance where possible.
These externalised self esteem objects and associations are compensations for the internalised reality of low self esteem that Narcissists possess. Their energy is being constantly poured into maintaining this false self which then becomes their operative identity and they convince themselves that their mask is their real self.
Overt Narcissists will need to boast in their CV’s and communications of every small accomplishment, will use inflated terms for previous jobs, get degrees from dodgy or “online” universities where there may be a way of avoiding the “grind” of achieving their degree like “normal folks”. Covert Narcissists tend to feign or act accomplished to convey that impression. For both It’s all part of the pretence.
Both Overt and Covert Narcissists may shift locations and even countries every decade or less as they get “found out” and face potential exposure by dumped victims, followers and “sidekicks” who have been controlled, used and then spat out when they no longer serve any useful purpose. This may also be due to criminal behaviour.
14) CONTROLLING - Both Overt and Covert Narcissists attempt to control the realities of those above them, their peers, and their followers or those below them by acting as gate keepers of all communication and information. Narcissists know that perception is reality and they know how to manage and manipulate others perceptions via the control of interactions, information, and communication between parties.
Narcissists typically “insert” themself between themself and other communicating parties to control perceptions. Given they stage manage their whole life and reality it is not surprising they invest in this micro-managing behaviour of others. Deep inside, all narcissists fear being uncovered and exposed, and also judged and criticised, and so by “tracking” and controlling all communication, and altering that communication and resulting perception, they stay in control, and maintain their “marionette” or puppet like control of others realities about themself, others, and events.
This is a critical function of narcissists who feel they must work one-on-one with those around them in a manipulative fashion, and prevent a “bigger picture”, or comparison of versions of events being shared across stakeholders. It is often only after narcissists are uncovered and exposed, do “sidekicks”, peers and those above them come to realise how they have been deceived and manipulated in this way, often for some period of time.
Narcissists also cultivate “sidekicks” into becoming informers for them as part of managing the flow of information and events, as their paranoid reality sees everyone as a potential threat of uncovering their false reality. Narcissists denounce critics as being envious of them and their achievements.
15) WORKAHOLIC OR WORK AVOIDANCE – Functional Narcissists are typically extremely hard working and demanding of themselves and others. The unhealthy Overt and Covert Narcissists may also be quite hard working and even have workaholism as an issue in their life.
However quite a few Overt and Covert Narcissists will tend to feel many tasks at home and in life are beneath them. At work they may avoid and lose interest in long term, hard grind projects, as there is no quick payoff.
Predatory Overt or Covert Narcissists have a grandiose and exaggerated sense of achievements or skills or talents, and expects to be recognised as superior even when having no demonstrated record in this area. They may be parasitic and live off others achievements.
Remember that Functional Narcissists are often very driven, hard working and achieve excellent outcomes. They do not tolerate fools, errors, laziness, or poor quality. They can be critical task masters on both themselves and others.
In contrast the unhealthy Covert or Overt Narcissist may be an opportunist. For instance in organisations they have an antennae for spotting the looming end of a critical, high profile project and like a vulture will swoop in at the end, try and ingratiate themselves into the project in some way, or hijack it, and then feast on the glory and acclaim at its successful delivery and acclaim, which they will claim for themselves at the expense of others.
In situations where they are stuck running or being part of a hard grind project, they are quick to delegate and manipulate others and “side kicks” into carrying their responsibilities for them. They may micro-manage others from this place or be incompetent depending on the amount of trauma in their personality structure.
16) RIGID AND PERFECTIONISTIC – As a general rule any traumatised person will seek to anchor their reality around black and white, fixed and stable constructs. This helps them to stabilise their own self especially when they feel anxiety levels or emotional arousal climbing out of control.
For this reason Both Overt and Covert Narcissists typically possess a rigid perfectionistic component to their personality. Alexander Lowen denotes the narcissist as having both psychopathic and rigid perfectionistic character structures.
Their rigid, inflexible thinking leaves them prone in their paranoid reality to personalise others different opinions or arguments as an attack or criticism of themself, which sparks their intense and angry retribution or tantrums against others.
A characteristic of narcissists is they will never offer an apology to you, nor accept or admit they were at fault. If caught out being wrong they tend to rationalise or blame their way out of it. Narcissists are “above” apologies and being perfect they never lower themself to admit faults which would threaten their false grandiose reality.
17) SUPERFICIAL RELATIONSHIPS – For Overt Narcissists their romantic relationships are often an extension of the grandiose false self. Partners will need to be beautiful, public “show ponies” or acceptable extensions of the narcissists self image. Covert Narcissists tend to be more sublime in their choice of partner and may have a more middle of the road caretaker personality as a partner. Both will need to control their partners.
Some writers state that both the Overt and Covert narcissist sets up a Madonna-Whore complex, which is a classic example of how they employ “splitting” of their relationship into extreme good and extreme bad polarities. In the “good” extreme they have as a partner a “public accessory”, submissive and compliant, and wholesome effigy who allows them to portray their family as squeaky clean as The Brady Bunch.
Effectively the partner is a “sidekick” who is normally passive, co-dependent or even possibly a traumatised personality in some way. Sex inside the relationship drops away soon after marriage, and instead the narcissist punishes or belittles the partner in private.
The Narcissist then harbours secretly their disowned “bad” extreme in terms of fantasies or actual persons as the “whore” archetype. In this aspect of self they often then entitle themself to have affairs or fantasise affairs with a whore-like figure who represents the narcissists contempt for the other sex. This may be a prostitute, a work colleague, the partners best friend or some person who acts in secret to service that Narcissists darker sexual themes and fantasies.
Romantic partners of narcissists often suffer post traumatic stress disorder, or suffer some form of breakdown in a long term relationship. Partners of narcissists have to live with the projection of the narcissist’s inner world that is an environment of bitterness, suspiciousness, meanness, self absorption, reality manipulation, aggression and pettiness.
Partners are often reported to living with resulting feelings of self-guilt, self-reproach, self-recrimination, self-punishment, and self-denial, all which eventually cause a partner to collapse in some shape or form. Narcissists typically try to “educate” or mind-control their partners from a compulsive, incessant, harsh and critical position.
The effect is to erode their partner’s reality and self esteem, to humiliate, create reality dependence, to intimidate, to restrain, control and isolate the partner. Narcissists often labour on the “sacrifices” they make for the partner, invoking guilt instead of accepting that such actions are just part of their adult responsibility in relationship.
Only a masochistic or co-dependent partner can survive such attention for any long period. Ex-partners of narcissists take time and often trauma therapy or counselling to recover their reality after living in such a chaotic hell with such a “loved one”.
Narcissists often denounce their ex-partners as crazy, mentally unwell, betrayers or liars, never admitting their part in their partner’s descent into divorced, collapsed, ill or unwell outcomes. This mirrors their denouncing of ex-business partners and colleagues in business settings when things take a turn for the worse.
Some authors note that a person with Borderline Personality Disorder(BPD) will often be attracted to a person with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder(NPD).
18) CHARACTER ASSASSINS – Both Overt and Covert Narcissists are known to use character assassination as a subtle tactic to undermine critics and others who pose a threat to them via potential exposure of their activities. Narcissists in general will use gossip, confidential one-on-one chats or talks, using a mask of either “being concerned” about the person they are attacking, or with a trusted “sidekick”, will outright denigrate or belittle, lie, defame, and otherwise destroy their reputation, knowing that perception creates reality and doubt.
The old saying, “mud sticks” is well demonstrated here. The “sidekick” will typically already subscribe to the narcissists worldview and so is conditioned to accept their behaviour, their modus operandi, and “truth”, without question.
The “sidekick” often becomes the unwitting character assassin for the narcissist, further spreading the disinformation, and creating degrees of separation from the narcissist, who will later deny they are the source of the disinformation, and will sacrifice and cut loose the “side kick” if they risk exposure in this dynamic.
19) ITS ALL ABOUT ME!! – Overt Narcissists will want to discuss themselves constantly. Their language is peppered with constant use of “I”, “me”, and “my”, and in group settings, when the topic of conversation leaves them, they either steer it back to themselves with arrogance, impatience and restlessness.
If this fails they may leave the group and find someone else they can brag to about themself, their accomplishments, their connections to important people, resources, information etc. Narcissists do not listen well to others and may be seen to interrupt mid sentence, or may be gazing about at others when you are trying to talk to them, unless you have something they want then you will have their undivided attention.
The Covert Narcissist is more likely to push their grandiosity through a subtle detached pose where they “drop” information that garners admiration and acclaim, but also with a controlling detached air that is designed to induce inferiority and envy in the listeners, thus reinforcing the grandiosity of the narcissist.
Overt Narcissist’s CV’s are often grandiose and overstated, full of every possible minor achievement which represents their grandiosity. Quite often their CV is also a fabrication as they lie routinely and rely on the statistic that only 20% of companies ever check out the claims made in senior appointment CV’s.
20) NEGOTIATIONS - Narcissists in general cannot be compromised with, mediated, or negotiated with, in good faith. They are obsessed with winning and not win-win, whatever the cost. The other person(s) in the dynamic are unimportant to the narcissist and its winner take all, with the narcissist always feel a sense of entitlement to what they crave.
The Overt Narcissist will attempt to intimidate, bluster and control the opponent through a variety of seduction, control, and attacking gestures and behaviours. The Covert Narcissist is more a listener who will use their silence to place pressure on an opponent. It is psychologically true that when two people engage that when a silence ensures one may feel uncomfortable and want to engage with speech and move forward.
If the Covert Narcissist stays rooted in the silence then the opponent may break and reveal themself, and in so doing may make a mistake and may caretake the silent person so as to “fix” the apparent break in contact. This plays into the hands of the Covert Narcissist who can then carefully craft words of meaning and stay in total control and manipulate the situation at hand.
21) HEALING – Many Narcissists resist authentic therapy and typically resist healing as their state of denial and blind spots about their true nature mean that they see nothing wrong with themselves. Unfortunately they may be your therapist as the whole area of healing, Self Development and spirituality is a perfect fit for the grandiose, God-like figure that the Narcissist believes themself to be. They will always have God-connections, channel great ascended masters, have gifts, divine insights, and have angels working through them!!
They may be attracted to narcissistic self development organisations that reinforce their grandiose and self-entitled egocentric views about life. They can often fool unwary therapists with their polished false self presentation. They may come to therapy to act as “the victim” and to find out what their partner has been saying, and what the therapist has been advising in return.
Many authors believe it is better to move away from a Narcissist than try to change them, manage them, bargain with them, or partner with them, in business or in a romantic sense. For many of them compromise is weakness in their reality, and they will punish and seek revenge as routine, if they can orchestrate that through others. You are only in a narcissist’s life for as long as you have “utility” or value for them, as life is all about them, not you.
22) FINANCIAL CONTROLLERS OR FINANCIAL DISASTERS!!
The Narcissist may either completely control finances, and be secretive about their own or household finances as a form of manipulation or control of partners.
Alternatively they may have a secret addiction and spend money impulsively, or be incompetent and unable to manage finances, relying on trustworthy “sidekick” partner to manage and prop up financial matters and routines.
Both the Overt and Covert Narcissist may have an underlying but often secret addiction which they use to self-soothe with, or to emotionally numb out their stress and anxiety that they keep hidden from public view.
Addictions may include one or combination of alcohol, drugs, sex, food, gambling, work, shopping, smoking, internet, etc. Functional Narcissists tend to overwork and clamp down on their anxiety and so may not be seen to have visible addictive traits.
Any addiction is often kept hidden away in their disowned shadow side of Self and may only come to light after years in the relationship or known to colleagues through a lapse of self control or self disclosure. Addictions represent secrets and a narcissit often has secrets they would rather not have revealed.
The above 23 characteristics are generalised and applicable across most contexts where Covert and Overt Narcissists gravitate. Narcissists are like bees to honey where the honey of power, success, money, public adoration and exposure exist.
Narcissism has traditionally been viewed through the lens of it being a male affliction/disorder. In patriarchal societies the role of women was typically submissive and secondary and hence Narcissism was not a recognised issue. The changing roles of women in society, the rise of women-power through feminism, and the advent of personal liberation attitudes have all contributed to the permission for women to self-actualise, self-promote, indulge, create, explore and go after their dream.
Some chose to go after the false ideals of Narcissistic lifestyles either through their own conquests in business or Corporate arenas, or through a more muted and subtle expression that is still tied to archetypes of femininity(Lowen:1986). In total it is believed that female narcissists make up about 15-20% of all narcissists(Behary:2008). The business woman in pursuit of power, image and success by following the example of men can be evaluated under the same characteristics as those used in this article for men.
In the second category the emergence of the female Narcissistic personality has a different expression. The projection of an idealised false sense of perfection can be projected onto any role in society. Being the good wife and home maker is just one role that lends itself to becoming the focus of perfectionism, image creation, success, wealth and power. In this arena it is typically the female that enacts such a role. The result starts to look like The Brady Bunch meets Desperate Housewives.
Some of the ways in which female narcissists stake out their territory and create the false ideal are:
Unhealthy narcissists need other people around them to sustain them and feed them resources and narcissistic supplies(Ransky:1998). Authors such as Tucker and Ransky have basically defined 3 levels of affected persons which come into the narcissists world:
1) A potential. A potential is someone who the narcissist has attracted into their world, and must be assessed for exploitation and utility value. Narcissists view everyone only in terms of what value or use does that person have for them. People with strong sense of self and boundaries are of limited use to the narcissist, and may be only relegated to a role of a colleague, customer, peer, a delegation point, or some ambivalent relationship in the narcissists constellation. They may however also be a potential for exploitation for future use and manipulation into one of the next two levels of affected persons. Co-workers in organisations are the primary source of “potentials”.
2) A follower. A follower is someone who has been groomed, seduced or manipulated into the reality of the narcissist, and will be supportive but not slavish to the narcissist. Narcissists work on these persons as they cannot trust another’s independence and free will in areas of concern to them. This level is in an enmeshed or deceived state but as a person is still a separate functioning identity. This may be a “loyal” co-worker and friend or boss in an organisation, or an industry mentor or contact as cultivation of these persons will aid in the “climb to the top” of the organisation.
3) “Sidekicks” or blindly loyal pawns. This inner most trusted group are co-dependently engaged with the narcissist, and are overly-loyal, compliant, passive, and unaware they are no longer operating from conscious free-will in areas of concern to the narcissist. They put up with whatever treatment is meted out and will collusively abuse with the narcissist out of acts of demonstrated “loyalty”.
They are under some form of emotional and/or mind control by the narcissist. They act for the narcissist when he summons them and are often used in organisational politics, rumour and disinformation campaigns, and to carry out acts on behalf of the narcissist that could see them come under legal or ethical sanction. The narcissist will establish a degree of separation from the “sidekick” such that if ever caught, the narcissist will disown them to their own fate.
Paul Babiak PHD, in his book, “Snakes in Suits”, notes that narcissists use a 3 phase game plan when engaging with victims. The first phase is selecting their victim or prey based on assessing the potential victims utility value, and identifying their psychological strengths and weaknesses. The second stage involves manipulation of the potential victims with carefully crafted messages plus using constant feedback from the potential victim to build and maintain rapport and control. Phase 3 occurs when the narcissist has finished “devouring” the victim and whose utility value has been exhausted. The drained and bewildered victim is abandoned without remorse as the predatory narcissist looks afield for new victims higher up the corporate ladder, which equates to more power in their reality.
Narcissists tend to attract and be attracted to two types of mate. In the first scenario they seek vulnerable and impressionable partners who can serve the dual functions of appearing good for their image as a “couple” or in social settings, and who is passive or of low self esteem and can be manipulated, harassed, controlled and kept subdued.
Narcissists do not trust by nature, and fear betrayal, and so seek to make themself safe by using all their techniques to keep their partner in subservience. The partner also serves the utility value of doing the more mundane functions of home or work life for the narcissist who often feels “above” such duties.
In the second scenario you get the “power couple” where the narcissist couples either with another narcissist or a more passive rigid-perfectionistic partner to create a powerful team. This combination can work where the “contract” of the relationship is clear, and where they both have similar materialistic, power, success or image driven goals for their life.
They are often successful but lack feelings individually or as a couple, and are “functionally perfect”, but measure life through power, money and success or career. In the long term one often sees an affair or betrayal in these sorts of relationship as at the end of the day with a narcissist it is “all about them”, and will not be remorseful but instead may feel entitled to that affair, or to see the partners utility value declining and so “trade up” for someone better.
Many a 40-something, long term partnered woman has felt the sting of betrayal of the male Narcissist as they drive off into the sunset in their new BMW Sports with a 20-something in the passenger seat!!.
Some narcissists deliberately do not want to be parents as it gets in the way of others being in their life to only serve their needs. Children have needs and are dependent which is uncomfortable and unavailable for the Narcissistic parent to be able to cater to.
However Narcissists also believe in image and success, and the powerful image of the “stable, happy family” is yet one more achievement that needs ticking off in life. Narcissistic parents tend to view their children as objects to be used for their image sustainment, and as an extension of themself when the child is trotted out in public(Meier:2009).
When a child comes along in a family of one or more narcissistic parents then the child may end up being used for the selfish needs of the parents. The child may be expected to know things without being taught, as the narcissistic parent resists spending time helping anyone else but themself, but at the same time may still have a demand on the child that they be gifted or special or “make mum or dad proud”.
When the child makes a mistake the parent reacts with biting criticism, often berating or labelling the child “stupid”, or demanding a perfectionistic standard that “around here this is what is expected”. Given the narcissistic parent is never wrong nor ever apologises, the child stats to feel defective in front of what is supposedly a perfect setting that they, the child is sabotaging for all concerned. This leads to a drive to also be perfect, or a collapse into shame and self-blame, and a felt sense of being flawed and not enough.
The child will also learn that feelings are to be suppressed as they are not acceptable, or are seen as a sign of weakness, as the narcissistic parent is unable and unwilling to show real emotions from behind their false mask of perfection to the world. The child grows up in a world without feelings, and will suffer a vague sense of unhappiness as a result no matter how adapted they are to their adult world. Such a person may suffer a low grade depression for years before finally going into therapy when their own best efforts fail to bring them happiness despite often bringing them accomplishments.
In a multiple child family of narcissistic parents, it is common that each child picks a child to idealise and another to denounce and devalue, with the rest effectively ignored. The parents may choose a common “good child” and a common “bad child”, but what is most common is each parent chooses a different favourite child, and a different scapegoated child, often the opposite choice of the other parent(Meier:2009).
A common outcome is the Narcissist chooses the eldest child of the same sex as them to be the scapegoat, whilst the eldest child of the opposite sex to be the idealised favourite child, or the prince or princess(Meier:2009). In effect the narcissistic parent is creating the same idealised false self in their favourite child, and project their own disowned faults and shadow onto the scapegoated child(Meier:2009).
This outcome can become a battlefield where the child is assaulted interchangeably with seductive ego puffery by one parent, and a cold belittling hostility of the other parent. Where there is a common choice of the favourite child and the scapegoat, one sees the creation of the next generation of narcissist, whilst the scapegoated child will likely act out rebel behaviours and the disowned shame and shadow material of the parents, via drugs, crime, shameful public activities, and self mutilation over time.
The rest of the children watch silently and like lonely sentinels from the sidelines in either case, wondering all the time what is wrong with them that they are invisible and unwanted. Some will develop strategies like becoming sickly to get negative attention(which is at least attention), while others fade into the background and learn to be needless, wantless, and unsure of feelings.
In amongst this battlefield of a dysfunctional family there may also be the added complication of the jealousy of those children who compete for attention of the parents. Narcissistic parents will play power games with children in this way, making children earn their “love” and loyalty by proving over and over the same from the child in many demonstrated ways.
The Narcissistic parent will milk their own children for their narcissistic ego supplies without remorse. The children are all under the common demand to “maintain the family image”, and are told how lucky they are to be in such a family. The children may be accused behind closed doors of being “too dramatic” for just having human feelings or emotions in public that spoil that perfect image.
The needs of the parents are all that count and the children learn to shutdown emotionally, to play their part in the family facade, and from time to time to “perform” their special skill, trick, or be shown off, all to garner the parents the public’s tick of approval of their parenting. Children learn that image is everything around here and bend to the parents will, setting the child up to grow up narcissistic in themself.
Children of such families are robbed of their childhoods, their realities, their needs and wants, and connection to their true selves. Every child is dependent on their parents for their survival, and every child seeks and needs love, time, attention and direction from their parents. The child will split themself into a disowned true self, and a false self that houses that special talent or gift that gets them the narcissistic parents approval.
The parent may also decide which aspect of the child must be developed and perfected in order for the child to get that approval. The parent may be either a very successful or a failed footy hero and now pushes the son all through childhood to be perfect and best footy hero, even at junior levels. The narcissist rages on the sidelines every Saturday at the Little-Aussie footy games, to the horror of everyone around him. The Narcissist’s goes into blame when the child gets tackled, blames the umpires, the coach and never the son in public. The star child is talked about often to the parents friends, colleagues, and anyone else who will listen.
At home, behind closed doors, the rage and criticism of the child not winning is intensely felt. The child, being an extension of the narcissists idealised false self, must be perfect and the winner. Losing must be rationalised as someone else’s fault, either the rest of the team, the coach, the grass surface etc, and phone calls of threats and abuse to school teachers, coaches, other team mates parents, may occur.
If blame cannot be sheeted home elsewhere then the child is the last resort of projection of fault and blame and told to “shape up” and “get it right” next time. The child will start to have performance anxiety in these settings as everything rests on him getting it right and so getting approval and “love”.
According to Linda Martinez-Lewi, PHD(2008), the sociologist, Christopher Lach, noted that “In a dying culture, narcissism appears to embody .... in the guise of personal “growth” and “leadership” .... the highest attainment of a sick culture”. Some of the most insidious forms of Narcissism are perpetrated by large multinational organisations, Religious groups, societies and their leaders”.
I believe that we in the Western world are very susceptible to the predation by narcissistic organisations and their leaders as a vacuum now exists where the church once played the role as the higher power and identity base for many people.
The decline of the church and religion in society has not quenched many people’s desire for connection to a guiding or meaningful connection, or indeed to be wanted or even “saved” by some entity. The process of giving one’s personal power to some external entity is very attractive to the predatory narcissist who instinctively knows the role of being a leader naturally delivers many resources and dynamics naturally demanded by the narcissistic personality.
Writers such as Scott Peck, Ransky and others see the New Age spiritual movement as a form of narcissism, and this is why it attracts so many narcissistic adherents. New Age philosophy is predicated with the idea that there is no personal god, hence you are not answerable or accountable to any other deity or higher power than yourself, or some universal life force.
There is no sin, no need for shame, no evil, all of which are constructs of a controlling, scandal ridden church state. We each are elevated to being gods, we just need to realise that and become that. Once we start behaving as gods(which is the narcissistic aim or goal), we are liberated. We do not need to apologise to anyone, nor have conscience beyond the concept of a positive intention.
If you in your pursuit of godhead, run over someone else and damage or offend them, then well, too bad, that’s their stuff, karma or issue, and you are not accountable to them, only yourself. You are better placed to yell at them “stop being a victim!!” as you drive off down the road as that is enlightened awareness they obviously need.
We are all one but in that I am number one and if the universe has not proven infinitely abundant to you, well then that’s your stuff, but keep your hand off my stash!! This is all narcissistic in the extreme but it’s now the prevailing myth and replacement for authentic spiritual discipline that most lazy westerners embrace.
There is no need for discipline or restraint in this path, it’s just what you want, when you want it, as the universe is abundant and infinite. This is narcissistic heaven, but now plagues us in society with its extension now being felt everywhere, where everybody has all personal freedoms and rights, but let’s not talk about the equally relevant responsibilities. Personal responsibility has broken down from this place, and the New Age movement is a key driver in this change(Tucker:2008).
Another key form of manipulation is the New Age perversion of the concept of there being no evil and no such thing as a victim. In this contrived reality there is nothing outside you that can be blamed for your circumstance, for that makes you a victim, and victims are powerless. The New Age theme is to take back your power by putting the cause of the problem back inside you in every instance and every case.
This logic to me needs a boundary between the truth of unconscious dynamics that we recreate in our lives which may keep us powerless and victims, and the true evil of outside premeditated intent and action against oneself by another. Scott Peck and Elsa Ronningstam both warn of this fallacy of removing a perpetrator or abuser from their accountability, and instead taking on the issue as one’s karma or self generated issue. They note this being a limited truth not applicable to all dynamics or situations.
They note that Narcissists and “people of the lie” are adept at creating justifications and psychologies that allow the leader to abuse the follower, then to doubly abuse them by telling them to stop being victims and see the deeper dynamic which is of their own darkness, lower self or some other origin.
The abusive leader will claim that if the problem lies outside of you then you somehow are deluded and have a problem or you are being righteous. You are a true spiritual warrior, or virtuous or humble if you take it on every time as it only really being about you. How do we tell such a message to a child who was sexually abused, or a person whose partner gets caught in a bushfire and dies in that inferno?
New agers tend to retreat into unaccountable explanations from channelled spirits or dubious quantum physics principles which are hard to challenge, and even harder to understand for average folk. There is no consensus about the role of spirit and consciousness in quantum physics, or even that quantum physics principles exist above the sub-atomic level of reality(Wolf:2003). New Agers create facts where there are none, turning faith into objective fact, and Narcissists are not far behind(Ransky:1998).
Narcissistic self help leaders and cults often employ this double bind of victim denial on their followers and “sidekicks”. In this reality the abusing leader is unaccountable for their actions or lacks compassion for the plight of the victim, then pins the issue on the victim, and tells them to stop being a victim!! This is a form of denial of reality and mind control.
A more subtle form is a shared reality of “what is your 50% in this issue”. Tucker(1999) and Ransky(1998) both note the psychological damage that this particular form of new age psychology causes to victims, and both authors are explicit in their claim that narcissists operate from pre-meditation in their actions, and they do in fact create victims who are both unsuspecting and innocent of involvement.
In these dynamics the only co-creation was to put misplaced trust on the abuser. Scott Peck argues that evil exists and manifests in the conscious actions of some people. Narcissists by definition are never wrong and never apologise for key actions an inactions on their part. Deflecting and rerouting a complaint back to the complainant, then pathologising the person till they retreat confused, defeated and humiliated or shamed, is a trait that narcissistic self help and spiritual leaders use to control their followers(Ransky:1998).
In summary, it can be seen that unhealthy narcissistic people are deceptive and who can go through life largely undiagnosed, and who can be on appearance sane, rational and charismatic, often achieving success in their field.
However on closer inspection one finds under this mask of grandiose perfection and self righteousness, a dark shadow of deceit, manipulation, self serving, lying, and potentially criminal behaviour that acts without remorse or compassion or consideration for others. Indeed they may devour and possess others as a means to get power, status, wealth and other externalised symbols of success.
The worst types resist healing and cannot authentically be compromised or bargained with. They are truly “people of the lie”.
For more information on Narcissism, read my articles on Narcissistic Leaders and their Manipulation in Group Dynamics and Narcissism as Prophecy
Contact the Energetics Institute for more information about Depression, Anxiety, and other body-mind states of being that affect yourself or someone you love and interact with.
Richard Boyd is an experienced Body Mind Psychotherapist and the Director of the Energetics Institute in Perth, Western Australia.
WINNING TEAMS www.winning-teams.com