This is a moment where everything falls into place and starts to make sense. An epiphany. I actually already had this important realization once in my life. But I didn’t write back then. Luckily, I will not have to make the mistake of forgetting again.
Psychological jargon is often confusing and quite analytical. The integration of mother-objects and whatnot. It may have some merit to have a scheme and a model, just like the Bohr model of the atom. Yet this model is way more helpful for empirists and people who want to sound smart. It’s also okay for psychologists who want to speculate about the causes. But to the narcissist himself, a list of symptoms is a useless joke. How will that help him understand his problem?
Be aware that I write this mainly from the perspective of covert narcissism. I welcome any commentator who wants to point out differences to overt narcissism.
So I build up a grandiose self-image. A fantasy. True. Now some sources would suggest to let go of the grandiosity. But obviously, a narcissist will struggle to let go. Why would he? The grandiosity is a representation of his feeling of greatness and importance in life.
But there is one longing – almost as deep, almost as imperious, as the desire for food or sleep – which is seldom gratified. It is what Freud calls “the desire to be great.” It is what Dewey calls the “desire to be important.”
– How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
[…] therapists often depreciate the grandiose Self within their clients. […] Rather, they usually need to get in touch with it. We want to encourage greatness in men. We want to encourage ambition. We believe that nobody really wants to be sort of gray-normal.
– King, Warrior, Magician, Lover by Robert Moore
Why are Hollywood movies about heroes so popular? Is everybody a narcissist? Research suggest something around 7%.
An American sees a rich man and says: I want to be like him. His success motivates me.
So is the German less narcissistic than the American? I highly doubt it, for Americans are some of the most enjoyable people I know. They radiate a profound happiness that I only know from businesspeople in Germany.
So is the grandiose fantasy really the core of the problem? Does the narcissist have to let go of it? No way. He would die. Or have to be dead.
The problem of the narcissist is not the grandiosity. It is the obsession with his self-image. And here it becomes very interesting.
Narcissus falls in love with his mirror image. Psychologists assume that a narcissist loves himself too much. This is utter nonsense and contradictory to the receding feelings of inferiority that a narcissist endures.
What is a mirror image? It is a reflection. What is the social equivalent of a reflection? The way people react to you. And as we all know, this is what a narcissist is after: To be perceived in a grandiose way, to have other people acknowledge grandiose qualities in oneself or more precisely, to perceive himself as grandiose through the reactions of others. But why?
The narcissist craves – or rather: needs – acknowledgment. Just like every human. If we are acknowledged, we are granted. Power is, ultimately, vital for survival. A completely powerless person must be afraid to die at any given moment. And in a way, that is how a narcissist feels. When I get rejected by a girl, my body sometimes starts to shake – literally as if I was to die.
It is known that narcissists crave power. The naive logical conclusion of course is: stop craving power. Again utter bullshit. Every person wants power. Power gives you the ability to shape the world, to interact and produce, to build relationships and seduce men and women alike to serve your goals. How is that wrong?
German people (and probably most Europeans) actually don’t get this. The attitude is: Don’t crave power, it doesn’t make you happy. Money isn’t important. Success is not important. Be happy with what you have.
It’s wrong for the simple reason that it defies the concept of self-interest. Even a person who wants to have a family and raise children needs power. So what do you tell them? You don’t need a family, be happy alone. You don’t need love, love yourself.
Well, one can just as well simply die, can’t one. For one doesn’t need life, one can be satisfied with death as well.
The difference between individuals is how they come to power.
And this is where narcissists got the short end of the stick in life. They have not learned to. More than being not healthy, their way of earning power is often not repeatable and relies solely on the weaknesses of other people.
Self-image, once again
Narcissus falls in love with his mirror image. The narcissist is obsessed with the way people react to him. Why?
Example: I started to dress like a player – or whatever my idea of that was. I worked on my body language to look manly. I got an edgy hair cut. I walk the streets and get looks from girls. And I’m happy. Yet when I don’t get the looks, I’m decimated. When I’m with guys, it would be the same – if they showed me respect as a man, I would be happy. If they looked down on me, I would be decimated.
He is willing to put his body under tremendous amounts of pain and stress because he believes that it will, one day, pay off in a hot sex life and endless worship from both genders. […]
Sex would be nice, obviously, but I mainly just wanted positive responses that suggested that women liked me.
– Plight of the Lonesome Bodybuilder, Good Looking Loser
Well that sounds pretty fucking stupid, doesn’t it. What’s behind that? Simple: I know that I am not a player, but I want the power a player has. But more important than the power itself is the confidence that comes with it: The knowledge that I could have many women and that I could be respected among men.
The narcissist wants potential. So when somebody projects a certain self-image, you want to analyze the potential benefits that come with being such a person. Being a player means that you could have many women and could be respected among men, if you cared to.
The narcissist is afraid to introspect. For, had he done so, he would have discovered a both dismaying and comforting truth: he is in need of no one on a long-term basis. Other people are, to him, just short-term solutions.
– Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited by Sam Vaknin
Thus, ironically, if a woman will show interest in a narcissist or a man in a narcissistic woman, the narcissist will be often happy and not even need to consummate the relationship. The mere knowledge of power is enough.
Power, once again
Here’s one of my: People search the path of least resistance; their paths reveal their goals. If a difficult path is consciously chosen, the wrong goal has been assumed.
So, for a long time, I thought I wanted a lot of women. But I didn’t really go after them, did I? At least not more than sporadically.
This is what people mean when they say: If you really wanted it, .
So what did I go for? I did go for the acknowledgment of my power. And that eventually revealed my intent: I wanted the confidence that comes with real power. To be able to, but not need to.
A king with a harem does not necessarily engage with every single one of his women all the time. He can sleep peacefully because he knows he could. That is power.
Yet the king will not sleep peacefully if he thinks his power is endangered. If he thinks that people conspire against him, he will search for proof again and again that he is still in power: narcissistic supply.
When I was dating that one chick, I heard a lot of talk from my “pick-up” friends. I just didn’t care. I didn’t. It was best for me at the time and it made me happy. Cool, they went out to clubs/bars to try to get laid sometimes. I sent a text and drove 10 minutes to get laid whenever I wanted.
Sonny knew he could have women anytime, but didn’t care. Yet hisfriends went out to get laid, again and again. Why?
Because they did want to have the confidence of the power he already has.
So, in the end, the narcissist is after the same thing as everybody else: Power and thethat comes with it. Yet what is it that separates the narcissist from the man who has it?
Self-image, once more
The narcissist is not stupid per se. His subconscious works very well in evaluating his qualities. But this evaluation is devastating. Were the narcissist to listen to it, he would find: I don’t have the qualities I want to have. I don’t have the potential I want.
But the narcissists strategy is stupid. He never learned that the qualities he wants can be acquired. He thinks that everything is a play and doesn’t understand the underlying concept of power. He doesn’t believe that it is possible to have power without being terrified of losing it.
The narcissist doesn’t trust his own judgment of powerlessness.
When I was small and felt defeated, my mother would come and say: No, you’re great. And so I felt great. Thus, I gave up on thinking independently and just accepted her judgment. I accepted the self-image she had of me. I thought: I must be wrong. And that’s the whole: You tell people “Whatever you may think, you are good enough.”
The narcissist doesn’t trust his own judgment of himself anymore. He feels guilty for deeming himself inferior, in fact: No, everybody believes in me. I must be wrong to find myself bad. I must not disappoint those who believe in me. The narcissist despises the only source of valid self-evaluation he has: His individual thought, gut feeling. And he feels ashamed because his individual thought does not tell him he’s great and happy while everyone around him says he is. Yet, ironically, so does he claim to be happy not to disappoint others.
Everybody around says I’m great but I don’t believe it. They say I should be happy, but I’m not. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I understand what they are telling me? They reject me for having low self-esteem. I don’t want them to reject me. So I’ll act as if I thought I was great, because, for some reason, it is mandatory to feel great all the time.
The narcissist comes to believe that others somehow know better. And, in the end, he needs a positive self-image, just like everybody. He just doesn’t get the chance to develop it, for any acceptance of his failures is drowned in pity and affirmations before it can blossom and be learned from. So, since he cannot trust his own judgment, be it good or bad, he needs people who affirm a positive image of himself.
I asked why the narcissist is obsessed with the way people react to him. Here’s the answer: He needs to override his own judgment by seeing, through the mirror, that he is better than he thinks he is. The mirror are other people, but it can be a real mirror as well. And the need is born out of the fear of being rejected for not seeing himself as great. And, on a very primal level, rejection means death.
Think about this: He fears not to be rejected for not being great. He fears to be rejected for not considering himself great. Why can’t you just love yourself? He is ashamed that he doesn’t believe in himself in such an exaggerated way as others expect him to, yet. Because that is impossible, he fakes greatness. And thus he fears that people will notice that he does in fact not consider himself great.
Self-esteem, the drug
What’s the difference between a treat and a drug? The way it is used. A drug is used to run away from something feared or dreaded, while a treat is a pleasure deserved.
The constant praise and affirmation a narcissist receives in his youth is nothing more than a needlefull of heroine to keep him quiet and satisfied. It robs him literally of his capacity to think and of his wish and energy to actually gain the power he desires like everybody else.
Trust yourself also means trust your own bad judgment of yourself. One cannot feel without also feeling bad. The irony is that the narcissist could easily take the pain, but he has been conditioned to dread the pain. He actually believes that if he exposes himself to it, he will be destroyed. It is a belief implanted into him by the people who frantically wouldn’t let him feel it.
People think that it’s bad to have low self-esteem. It’s not per se! Esteem comes from estimation; low self-esteem means that you have relatively little to offer, by your own judgment. It’s a motivation to do something about it. But it becomes bad when the would-be-narcissist starts being an addict to praise, overriding his own judgment of himself. Every time the high from the praise wears off, the narcissist feels the equivalent of withdrawal symptoms. It’s not the low self-esteem that is the problem. It is the addiction to praise that makes low self-esteem seem like an unbearable place to be – and praise the only known if unreliable way out of it.
I saw low self-esteem as both a predisposing causal factor of psychological problems and also as a consequence. […]
Other issues can be understood as consequences of the denial of poor self-esteem; i.e., as defenses against the reality of the problem.[…]
– Working with Self-Esteem in Psychotherapy, Nathaniel Branden
Low self-esteem of course is unbearable in the long term. That’s the body’s way of telling you to fix something. But the narcissist doesn’t know that he could become the man he needs to be and have real high self-esteem, that means, to actually estimate himself to be of high worth constantly.
The narcissist simply does not know that he could channel the pain and work on himself until he gains the power he desires. Instead, he lets others convince him that he already has it.
He does not even know that there is a difference. When somebody has more power than he does, he is envious. He thinks that he is betrayed because people randomly give power to another person and not to him. And he feels guilty for he must not disappoint those who told him he was great. He thinks he must imitate the other person to prove that he is just as great. He must become good at X because people admire person Z who is good at X. He becomes a superficial copycat. And since he thinks that everybody does this, he concludes that people and society are superficial and concerned with appearances. And they are.
The narcissist learns that it is not acceptable to be powerless. Yet, every man is born a powerless child.
Child narcissist: “I’m no good.”
Mother: “Yes, you are!”
Father (missing): “Stop spoiling him, wife! Son! What will you do to get better?”
I’ve put on so many faces in my life. I have many interests, yet none of them very deep. The thing is: If you are merely a self-esteem-junkie, you don’t really care what you do. You just do what is popular. You lose a sense of what you love to do. The drug, praise, controls your life.
So what must a man do? He must trust his own judgment of himself and others. He must not accept praise to satisfy others or to override his own judgment. He must merely accept praise if he believes to have earned it.
No, mother, I’m no good, stop fucking telling me I am! I don’t need to be great! I don’t fucking owe it to you to be great, I just want to be who I am! I don’t owe it to you to make you happy by being your perfect son! You are ruining me! Go to hell! I want to love you but you make me hate you! I hate you! And I hate you for making me hate you because I really need you! But I need you to accept who I am! I need you to accept that I am unhappy and I need you to let me deal with it! Don’t steal my emotions! They ARE MINE!
When man accepts that he is no good, he must find a way to become good. He must. But not the power of a needle, no, not the power to feel good about oneself. The power of peace of mind. The greatness of knowing that you are powerful and deserve the praise you receive.
Because as long as you do not know that you are powerful, you will be afraid to lose the praise you receive for being perceived as powerful.
To prove to yourself that you can have something, go out and actually get it.
But, obviously, you can’t have everything. So you have to decide, however late in life: What is it that you most want?