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07.03.2015

The truth behind narcissism and the wish for power

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.

Grandiosity

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%.

A German sees a rich man and says: There goes the arrogant asshole; he thinks he is better than us. He shouldn’t be allowed to be so much richer than us.

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.

Self-image

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?

Power

The narcissist craves – or rather: needs – acknowledgment. Just like every human. If we are acknowledged, we are granted power. 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 earn power in a healthy way. 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 rules of a self-respecting manPeople 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, you would have 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’s Guide on Game

Sonny knew he could have women anytime, but didn’t care. Yet his pick-up friends 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 the peace of mind that 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.

Judgment

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 bullshit behind self-esteem: 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.

Earning power

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 develop faith that power is within reach. 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?

1 vote
  • alban alfa

    I loved reading this , Thank You this is very accurate

  • espia8321

    The point is , this has nothing to do with mom. Hating mom for telling you are OK, is not the solution either. Mothers are part of the solution, not part of the problem. They are present when everybody else is absent. They are part of your network of support for your survival in planet Earth. They are the ones who take all the shit from society and the system to herself, so you feel the least attacked during the moments you are most vulnerable. And mothers, of course are always the ones to blame when things go wrong, just because – this is the way our patriarchal narcissist society is being, and Freud will always tell you that you are right for doing that. We have to understand we grow up in a patriarchal narcissist planet. The bombardment of messages (from “you are a damaged factory product” to “you are The Messiah” and all the shades in between) are everywhere in the media, in politics, in corporations, in church, in schools. It is all a mass indoctrination and are all part of the same capitalist, imperialist code of moral beliefs – and part of the same programmatic chip of world fascism, slavery, and domination by a minority of powerful patriarchs and their corporations. I agree with you in the part of stepping away from narcissism by going inside. That is the real liberation from the system, and that is the real power. That is the place for real change, real prosperity, real wealth, real relationships. The real power for change comes from inner guidance, and we saw this evidenced in Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and all the thinkers, inventors, and illuminated leaders of history. If the angry catharsis is still needed, then throw the shit to the absent father (who for sure is another victim of the script- and needs a deserved chance for healing), or better yet, right to the real source, the vicious patriarchal powerful minority and their narcissist nonsense.

    • “They are the ones who take all the shit from society and the system to herself, so you feel the least attacked during the moments you are most vulnerable.”

      Perfect example of just the covert narcissism I am talking about. Find someone who is weaker than you and be their protector. Make them feel good and consider yourself a helper and great person.

      That has nothing to do with patriarchy, it works both ways. Mothers smother their supposedly helpless sons in expectancy of love, then their sons go out into the world and do the same with women by being nice and making gifts to them in hope for love. A late childhood friend of mine bought a ring he almost couldn’t afford for a girl he hadn’t even kissed. Then he was mad at her for not reciprocating his affections and demanded it back.

      My father decided to live his own life and I respect that. I’m sad about it, but not angry at him. My mother decided to use me to satisfy her self-image as a selfless saint. You expecting me to redirect my anger is, again, a typical attempt to shame me for the emotions I feel. I am not obliged to put my emotions in the service of women who want to satisfy their own self-image; and even if I were, I couldn’t. Honest emotions, just like everything else, have to be earned, not demanded.

      • espia8321

        I think there is a
        misunderstanding here. I am not expecting from you anything. I am expressing
        my point in general, I am talking about a trend in psychology that lasted
        more than a 100 years of blaming mothers (or parents in general) for most of
        people’s issues. That trend blocked our ability to look at the big
        picture, and the real cause of pain of the majority of people of this planet,
        which is that we are all strangled, abused, and manipulated by this narcissist patriarchal
        system, ruled by a powerful minority. I said mothers are part of the
        solution, not the problem, but I should have said parents are part of the
        solution, not the problem. (but the truth is that mothers are the ones
        who stay when everybody else quits). And, believe me, they take all the
        shit from the system, and their sons and daughters don’t have a clue.
        Only when one have kids, and go through the experience of enduring
        abusive situations at work to be able to support your family, (or similar
        situations like keep working despite illness or aging to put kids in college –
        or working double or triple shift to save a house from bankruptcy) only when
        people go through those experiences, is when they are able to understand what parents
        did for them. The reason I emphasize women, is because I see the women of
        my family working 8 hours, to go home to do another 8 in domestic work and
        errands, and many other responsibilities – and they are exhausted. I bet
        they would be very happy if they could afford to pay a domestic lady. Nobody willingly chooses victimization. Victimization
        is part of being working class. It seems you are talking about something
        different though. For what I see, you are suggesting your mother
        developed a Personality Disorder along the way. My father also. He
        had PSTD from emotional and physical wounds during his military service, and
        along the way, while trying to juggle life, keeping his job, and keeping our
        needs met, he began to deteriorate and developed Personality Disorder features.
        But again, he didn’t choose to be a victim. He is just working
        class. He wanted the best for
        us.

        • What does this have to do with capitalism. What alternative do you suggest. My parents come from a socialistic background (Soviet occupied Czech) which is part of what shaped who they are and how they handled the situation.

          Pain is not the problem. Life is full of pain. Again, you are portraying women as some sort of heroes that men aren’t. It’s subjective and it may be true for your family but yeah, the big picture is important. Being a woman doesn’t make you good or strong per se. Just like being a man doesn’t. Do you have evidence that suggests otherwise?

          Blame is not the final solution, I agree. But understanding causes is important. I will write articles about anger; finding my anger was particularly important for me, that’s why I encourage reconnecting it with the situation that caused it.
          It really doesn’t matter whether my mother chose to be a victim. What matters is that I want to keep my distance from her because I don’t want her further influence in my life. It is unfortunate for both of us, but trying to live an impossible fantasy will only make things worse. We are what we are until we actually change.

          Yes, I am suggesting my mother had a personality disorder. Probably the same I have. She positively was on anti-psychotic medication and had some scary breakdowns, but I’m not sure whether the two things were connected. It would make sense to me that the medication could have impaired her judgment.

  • Julie

    Some say narcissists shun introspection, so you may be an exception to the rule? Either way I find your self-analysis helpful in understanding NPD. I loved my years in Germany and have a fondness for the reserved German folk. Their lack of national pride, though, always seemed out of place in such a great country.

    • I hated to accept these things and I hated it even more to write them down and publish them. But, curiously, I was always very introspective. I merely didn’t have access to these things in myself. Believe it or not, I was seeing them in everyone else. My art was a way to express that, as I wrote in my article “Destroy your art”.

      One of the core problems is the shame. Understanding the source of it helps to put it into perspective. As well as the anger – instead of being angry at everything that reminds you of your weakness, it is much more helpful to direct the anger at the source of it. If you cannot do that, it is close to impossible to tell if anger is triggered by a person you meet or if this person merely resembles someone from the past. I can recommend the book Growing Yourself Back Up if this kind of retrospection interests you:
      http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0609806416/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0609806416&linkCode=as2&tag=manwitfat-20&linkId=HHS2UWVFPK5H4VJJ

      It’s curious that you mention a lack of national pride – during football season, people will holler like mad and broad streets will be filled with people in joyful frenzy and proud men. I personally never understood any form of emotional attachment to a nation; maybe because my parents are originally not from Germany.

      Thank you for taking the time.

  • Marsellus Wallace

    I don’t understand your hate towards your mother. I understand her role in the inhibition of cultivating yourself as a man, but how can you put the blame at her feet? Ultimately it’s the lack of a father figure, not the actions of your mother that caused this issue.
    Yes a single mother cannot teach one how to be a man, but her method of rearing comes from instincts to preserve you and make you feel loved. The way she tries to realize this also comes from preceding, and supposedly, less than perfect parents – it’s a cycle of inheritance. How can you expect her to even be AWARE that her way of doing things might teach you bad habits of a man, not teach you good ones etc… You seriously can’t blame your mother because you don’t have a father figure, let alone expect her to be a fucking man and teach you to be one. You’re irrationally directing your hate towards your mother, which is beyond fucking stupid. Since you’re one of the minority capable of real introspection, you should understand this and immediately focus on changing what needs to be changed, not raging at your mother.

    Other than that, phenomenally well written article.

    • Thank you Marsellus, for the clear tone and message.

      The hatred is already going. It is something I thought I needed. I can argue that I can blame whomever I want, but it obviously won’t help me.

      I am still not entirely sure what hatred and it’s function is. When I find out, I will be able to make more sense of it. I think it’s telling me to keep no contact with my mother, which I am doing. I enjoy the distance so far.

      • Marsellus Wallace

        Tom I’ve read your random facts entry, and we have a lot in common. So much in fact that I felt I was reading my own bio apart from a few minor details. I don’t know if my experience of hatred will make sense to you, but im 99% sure you will understand what I’m saying.

        Hatred is an indication of a wound, whatever may have caused it. Hatred visually hides this wound from sight, like a plaster, but the wound only rots and festers underneath. Hatred is not the same as anger, you cannot control it, you cannot completely remove it. At best, by facing the wound you can replace hatred with indifference, which is still infinitely better. If you don’t tend the wound it will simply keep itching, hurting through your subconsciousness – you will never get peace from it. If you’re looking for a more scientific wording on hatred I believe it is a manifestation of cognitive dissonance. In any case I wish the best of luck in turning the wounds into scars. This is my take on it and over time I’ve lifted a great burden off my mental life understanding this.

        • Yes, I understand. I’m not sure there is anything to remove anymore. Think like this: It’s an emotion. Am I feeling it always? No. But I’m sometimes reminded of it or think of it. When I stop thinking about it, I don’t feel it. It’s often a decision.

          Drop me a message through the contact form, I’d like to stay in touch and hear your story.

  • Wald

    After reading this post, I sometimes wonder if narcissism for men is woman imposing woman thinking on a man. A woman is. A man does. Hence why the Father asks you what you will do to get better, whereas the mother reassures you that you’re fine just as you are.

    Wald

    • Damn, that is a good idea. It has been a while since this post. But yeah, I actually feel like I have been trying to think and act like a woman most of my life.

      I think both parts are important, in a way. I do find it important to know that I am lovable and that I can love myself. But once that is a given, other things start to matter and that is where the action comes in.

      • Wald

        That’s a thought worth exploring in a post.

        Wald

        • Which part? Thinking like a woman or the thing about love?

          • Wald

            The former.

            Wald

  • blazca

    I found out recently that I am a narcissist. Never really met a psychologist. I regret finding out what I am because it stole the remaining bit of peace I had. I have become suicidal.

    • Weird how it does that. After all it’s just a word. Or so you would think.

      Makes you wonder whether you would feel the same way if the word was switched with “majorasshole”. Or maybe something with less comedic effect, like … I can’t think of anything.