Sanctuary for the Abused

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pathological Narcissism - A Spiritual Disorder


Dr. Maria Hsia Chang, Professor
Political Science, University of Nevada


In psychology, personality disorders refer to individual traits that reflect ingrained, inflexible, and maladaptive patterns of behavior that cause discomfort and impair a person’s ability to function--including her relations with friends and family. At least ten distinct personality disorders have been identified, one of which is the narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) that the American Psychological Association (APA) classifies as a "cluster B" disorder.

NPD is a highly complex psychological-behavioral syndrome that confounds and baffles those close to the afflicted. Once understood, however, one achieves clarity of vision.

Socio-biologists maintain that narcissism is natural for both individuals and groups because self-love is an instinctive, natural-selection trait. That is why all children are narcissists. As individuals mature into adulthood, however, they become less narcissistic because their insecurity tends to diminish as a result of concrete achievements and successes. A certain degree of healthy self-love nevertheless continues into adulthood. It is when narcissism in adults is excessive that psychologists consider it to be a sign of immaturity or worse, a pathology--that of narcissistic personality disorder.

Although the phenomenon of excessive narcissism is as old as humanity, the formal diagnosis of NPD was made by the APA only as recently as 1990.

I’ve compiled the following, after having read, assimilated, and synthesized a great deal of the literature on this subject. Instead of the typical approach taken by the psychological literature on NPD--which describes the disorder as a syndrome of various attributes--what I attempt to do here is to uncover the central logic that accounts for the syndrome. In the following description of the NPD syndrome, I use the pronoun "she" to refer to the narcissist, for the sake of avoiding the cumbersome "he/she" and " his/her."

Some psychological literature, claims that male NPDs outnumber females. The literature also claims that the incidence of NPD is relatively rare, afflicting an estimated 1% of the population. Both of these claims, however, are not verified by my own personal experiences. The problem, as the psychological literature itself admits, is that the very nature of NPD prevents narcissists from admitting they have a problem and to seek professional help. As psychiatrist M. Scott Peck explains: "To receive treatment one must want it, at least on some level. And to want it one must consider oneself to be in need of it. One must, at least on some level, acknowledge his or her imperfection." The few narcissists who do seek therapy, do so when their narcissism has led to a major life crisis, such as divorce, drug addiction, unemployment, and imprisonment. Even when NPDs seek counseling, they typically do not complete the course of psychotherapy. Instead, when the therapist confronts them with their pathological narcissism, the NPD would simply abandon treatment and flee. Given this, I have every reason to conclude that the statistics claimed in the literature are suspect. The simple truth, I believe, is that psychologists don’t really know how many NPDs there are in the population, nor do they really know that male NPDs outnumber females.

The NPD Syndrome
At the core of the NPD syndrome is the construction of a false self as a way to cope with the external world by compensating for the individual’s feelings of insecurity and uncertainty of identity.. Like its namesake, the mythic Narcissus who is in love with his reflection in water, the self that the narcissist loves is not her real self, but a false self that is grandiose, perfect, and superior. The particular basis of the grandiosity is what the narcissist loves herself for. That varies according to the individual, and may be physical beauty, intellect, talent, power, etc. As a consequence, psychologists divide narcissists into two types: the somatic and the cerebral. The former are those whose narcissism is focused on their bodies; the latter are those who have a grandiose conception that they have a superior intellect.

I would add a third type: the spiritual narcissist. These are those who ooze with false piety, having a false conception of themselves as supremely virtuous.

Regardless of the particular basis of grandiosity, the narcissist strives to maintain and protect that false self at all costs. In effect, the grandiose false self acts like the center of a wheel, to which are affixed the spokes. The latter are the syndromatic attributes of NPD, which function to protect and maintain the grandiose false self. The constellation of attributes is not accidental because there is a functional reason for the various attributes. This is the underlying logic that accounts for the syndrome.

Together with the APA’s DSM IV criteria, those "spokes" may constitute a particularly malignant form of narcissism.

They include the following attributes
Using people—even supposed loved ones—as tools of self-aggrandisement to affirm and maintain the false self. The narcissist is hollow inside and derives her sense-of-self from seeing her reflection in the eyes of others. The psychological literature calls this "mirroring": the narcissist mainly uses other people as a mirror to reflect her grandiose self-conception. Like a vampire who must feed on others’ blood in order to live, the narcissist feeds on other people’s love, approval, admiration, and compliments. Once the source is sucked dry, the narcissist no longer has use of that person and will abruptly and mercilessly cast him/her aside.

To lure people into her web, the successful narcissist puts on an attractive social mask. She can be charming, gracious, socially adept, even obsequious. She must also be a consummate actor, skilled at simulating the whole range of human emotions, especially those of love, compassion, and kindness. The more successful she is at simulation, the greater her circle of friends and acquaintances who function as her primary and secondary feeding sources.

More than to lure people into her web, the narcissist’s charming social mask also conceals the false self from scrutiny. Concealment requires secrecy, evasion, dishonesty, and lying. In effect, the narcissist is a consummate pathological liar, i.e., she habitually lies, even about seemingly trivial, inconsequential matters.

Using other people as her "bloodbank" requires that the narcissist be a human emotional radar. The successful narcissist is psychologically astute and shrewd so that she can "size up" everyone she encounters for their potential to be her blood-donor.

Cynically using other people also requires that the narcissist be lacking in empathy. Do not be fooled by her simulations at empathy. A good experiment is for you to withhold your approval and compliments. You will discover that, overnight, the narcissist has lost her kindness and even simple civility.

The maintenance and protection of the false self also requires the narcissist to be constantly vigilant against being "attacked" by others. This is why the narcissist overreacts with rage and humiliation to any perceived criticism, no matter how minor or trivial the perceived criticism.

As the saying goes, "the best defense is offense." More than reacting with rage to criticisms, the narcissist attacks the critic. This is called scapegoating--projecting one’s own faults (what Carl Jung called our "shadow") onto another person, and blaming the other for the narcissist’s own inadequacies. The narcissist is very skilled at this.

The false self must be impervious, which requires the narcissist to resist self-examination and introspection. Doing so would open the narcissist to reality-based assessment--a dangerous undertaking because the false self is, by definition, unreal. As a consequence, instead of the insecurities of normal human beings, the narcissist exhibits an impassive and uncritical acceptance of herself.

The inability or unwillingness to be introspective, in turn, results in cognitive dissonance, cognitive gaps, and non sequiturs. Trying to engage a narcissist in serious dialogue--especially about herself or her beliefs and values--can be a disconcerting experience because nothing she says makes sense.

Since the false self is superior and grandiose, it needs no one. The narcissist dreads becoming dependent on others, but asserts and clings to an exaggerated independence. Since her love of herself is all-consuming, she is incapable of love and emotional commitments to other people. This is why the narcissist reacts to sincere declarations of love (verbal or in the form of behavior, such as significant gifts) by emotionally distancing herself and, in some cases, outright abandonment--because she is unable to reciprocate that commitment..

In effect, the narcissist’s grandiose self-conception makes her a god unto herself. Gods are not subject to the morality that governs lesser beings--"rules don’t apply to me." The narcissist refuses to subscribe to society’s moral rules and ethical standards. Instead, morality is subjective: "Nobody can judge me." One NPD I know exhibited this trait when she blithely received the Holy Eucharist (believed by Catholics to be the actual body of Christ) in Mass--although she is not Catholic. Another NPD, a former student of mine, responded with rage to my critique of his essay-exam, which garnered a respectable "B" grade, insisting that he was not subject to the grammatical rules of the English language.

Lacking an abstract universal system of moral codes--and being cognitively impaired--the narcissist lives in a world of feelings and sensations: "What’s good is that which makes me feel good." Narcissists tend to wallow in cheap "feel good" sentiments. • Since the false self is grandiose and perfect, relationship problems are never the fault of the narcissist. She blames everyone, but herself. This also means that narcissists do not ever apologize or admit that they are wrong or at fault. Instead, they will always subtly, if not blatantly, turn things around to blame you.

All of this means that narcissists do not, as a rule, seek therapy. In the few cases that do, it is because their problems have become so serious that they cannot be ignored (e.g., divorce, drug abuse, job loss, imprisonment). Even then, the narcissist resists therapy and is likely to blame the therapist (scapegoating!) and flee from treatment.

How to Deal With a Narcissist

The first rule is: Give up on your fantasy that you have an authentic relationship with the narcissist. Sadly, the person you think you love/like never existed.

The second rule is: Don’t be a bloodbank for the narcissist.

The third rule is: Be emotionally detached.

The fourth rule is: If you must interact with her, challenge the narcissist’s false conceptions of herself by insisting on reality-based assessment. Doing so, however, is guaranteed to alienate you from the narcissist--which is a good thing because the narcissist is incapable of genuine friendship and love. In the last analysis, you are better off without the narcissist.

If, unfortunately, you must have her in your life because your survival depends on her, as in the case of a child needing the narcissistic mother’s care, the way to get along with her is to feed her fantasies by lavishing compliments on her, i.e., by letting yourself be her bloodbank.

Pathological Narcissism is a Spiritual Disorder
A fifth-century theologian who called himself Dionysius the Aereopagite once wrote in The Divine Names that, "The denial of the true Self is a declension from Truth." In the last analysis, in constructing and clinging to their false selves, the entire persona of the NPD is a big lie. That being so, I have come to believe that NPD is not a psychological disorder at all, but a moral and spiritual disorder. Allow me to explain. An intrinsic attribute of the NPD syndrome is deception--of oneself and of others--in the service of maintaining the grandiose false self. Philosopher René Descartes wrote that "willful deception evinces maliciousness and weakness."A person does not deceive without thinking about and willing it. One does not lie unless one intends to hide the truth, which means that one knows that one is being deceptive. Nor can the NPD put together and maintain the elaborate and intricate NPD syndrome of attributes (e.g., using others for self-aggrandisement, attractive social mask, secrecy, evasion, lying, scapegoating, etc.) without conscious effort.

Psychologists say that, in their quiet moments, NPDs know that they are not really as grandiose as they pretend:

When NPDs cynically use others to "feed" their false self, they know it.

When they overreact to perceived criticisms, they know what the truth is.

When they lie to conceal their inadequacies, they have chosen to deceive.

When they scapegoat others, they do so with deliberation.

When they refuse to apologize, they know they are in the wrong.

All of which means that free will is fully engaged in this so-called "disorder."

In effect, the NPD is more than a mental sickness. Pathological narcissism is not some noxious virus or bacteria that overtakes a person. Whatever the early childhood experiences, free will is still operative here. Rather, NPD is a moral disorder, because it is immoral to lie and to use, exploit, blame, and hurt others.

More than immoral, NPD is, at its foundation, a spiritual blight. Since the false self of the narcissist is extremely grandiose, she excludes herself from the moral norms that govern "lesser" beings: "rules don’t apply to me." That makes NPDs their own gods. In so doing, they are in denial of the fundamentally flawed nature of all human beings.

The malignant narcissist is more than immoral, she/he is evil.

In his book, People of the Lie, Peck proposed to the psychological profession a new diagnostic category of the "evil personality disorder" (EPD) as a sub-type of NPD. As he put it, "The evil are ‘the people of the lie,’ deceiving others as they also build layer upon layer of self-deception." And when the narcissist intentionally hurts another, she has crossed the line from being an NPD to being an EPD. In Peck’s words, "evil individuals will flee self-examination and guilt by blaming and attempting to destroy whatever or whoever highlights their deficiencies.". Except for atheists (who must be very grandiose because they claim to know a negative, i.e., that God does not exist),viall of us--the religious as well as agnostics--believe in the existence of some supreme moral being or force in the universe.

Recognizing that, most of us harken to these words of Descartes: "I have been so constituted as to be some kind of middle ground between God and nothing .

I am not the supreme being, I lack quite a few things.

Dionysius the Areopagite concluded that being self-centered is "inherently wrong" because we have "no right to be the centre of things" as only God is the rightful center of all things.

Not only is vanity and pride the first of the Seven Deadly Sins, I believe that narcissism is the root of all evil. Decrying the ills that he saw rampant in modern society--the relativization of all moral norms and the reduction of life to the immediate pursuit of material gain without regard to its general consequences--VaÇlav Havel observed that "Given its fatal incorrigibility, humanity will have to go through many more Rwandas and Chernobyls before it understands how unbelievably short-sighted a human being can be who has forgotten that he is not God."

It is the misdiagnosis of pathological narcissism as a "personality disorder" instead of a moral-spiritual condition which accounts for psychiatrists’ characterization of it as "one of the most . . . difficult-to-treat conditions in the lexicon of mental illness.



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shared by Barbara at 12:57 AM


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12 Comments:

Well written...I'm being stalked by an NPD and it is bad...knowing the disorder first hand, I can say I like the article very much!

11:08 PM  

This helps me put a new perspective on a difficult person that I'm related to. I feel a weight lifted....thank you.

Some constructive comments: Artical seems a little to long and perhaps had parts where it seemed like personal opinions rather than fact. However, the facts that the artical did have were very insightful!!

8:32 PM  

This is exactly what is wrong with my husband. He was everything I ever wanted until the day we got married. I'm not saying there weren't warning signs before then that something was wrong but unless you have ever known a narcissist beforehand you just don't see what is to come. I thought he was just confident, charming,so in love with me, ect. My family began to see his cruelty right before the wedding day but i thought they were overreacting and just didn't want to like him. I was so swept away and dependent on him emotionally by then that I married despite of what they thought. After we wed, he began to treat me much different. I mean immediately as if he were a different person. I noticed that he wouldn't apologize for lying anymore.

12:06 AM  

He would just deny it or if he was caught he pretended it wasn't a big deal and he blamed me for anything i had ever lied about in the past. I was instantly his babysitter for his children who he had custody of. His children have horrible behavior issues because of all they've been through and he plays video games while home instead of spending time with them. Even though his children had a long history of acting out in school,at home, anyone that knew them commented on their poor behavior and we all wanted to help them. But my husband would see my efforts to help as some sort of competition with my children because my 2 children have never been in trouble. My husband hit me several times and blamed me for all of it. I had bruises on my face a few times. He would never do it where it looked very obvious, hed push me down and squeeze my face until it hurt, he'd throw and break my things. He never apologized for anything until i threatened to leave him. But then came a point when he had isolated me so much, selling my car and putting a new one in his name only, diconnecting my phone and giving me a phone in his mothers contract, getting jealous of my friends, and telling me i couldn't go anywhere. It all seemed to happen slowly but it's only been a year and a half since i married him.So once he had me isolated he began to say very harsh things, tell me he could do whatever he wanted and if i wanted to leave then i could.

12:08 AM  

I'd cry because i felt id done so much for him and he had promised to be in love with me all his life and he had made everything seem like such a wonderful dream that now i was in some weird denial. I didn't understand at the time that it wasn't my fault he was doing this to me. He would tell me to shut up when i was crying. He'd say i deserved it and he'd start screaming at me. I'd even ask him how he could be so cruel. Sometimes he just call me a stupid b**** or hed yell at me for a while and then when he wanted something such as sex hed come half apologiizing or he just demand i give what he wanted and then he would realize he had to apologize. It was a disturbing relationship and i don't think i ever would have gotten out but i got lucky. He lost his job by cussing out his boss. So I helped him find a very good paying job but it was out of state. He was reluctant but he didnt have much choice.So after he left the children went to their bio mothers house for christmas holiday. She found out my husband was working out of state and filed an emergency order to get custody of her children. She was able to get the children and now they are going to court over this whole thing,shes tried to get custody of him several times before when i wasnt in the picture and he always won, mainly because she is worse than he is which is pretty bad. So then after all this drama unfolded in my home i was done. One of his children had already broke my sons arm by intentionally pushing him off a trampoline, all 3 of his boys had adhd, compulsive disorder, cursed, were also manipulators, and I constantly had to watch out for my own kids with them around. I spent that whole year and a half putting them in karate, counseling, talks, church, just loving them like i love my own. But nothing worked as they had been abused by both parents emotionally their entire lives and they are already older kids,7-12. So anyway I moved in with my mother. I told my husband its temporary but it is not. I'm being forced to be right in the middle of their custody battle and deal with his horrible ways even long distance over the phone. He lies, screams at me, told me yesterday i was nothing but a paper attached to him til he divorces me. Lately because i dont tell him what he wants and be sweet hes very evil and seems as though hes preparing to be done with me. Well I'm going to be done with him very soon and hopefully never meet another person like him again and im hoping to heal because i had dated him for 3 years long distance prior to being married and i feel like his words and abuse have taken a huge toll on me. I'm strong though and I'm already happier knowing it's over and today i found out about this disorder and it's just so surreal to finally have a name for what is wrong with him. It is exactly how he is and all he cares for is himself. Hopefully this court battle with me in the middle is over for me soon and i can move on for good and finally let him know it!

12:08 AM  

Try and be strong through this court battle and difficult time. Narcissists HATE weakness I believe, (because it is such a large part of who they are). I am at the beginning stages of recovering from a relationship with one, (for the past 2 years!) It is extremely difficult, and I sooooo angry and can't kick myself out of the self-blame stuff I have going on. I still want revenge on him, I know it's bad but am trying every day to get through this....it's not easy.

1:30 PM  

Am also wondering....is it typical to be stalked by a NPD? I have recently exposed my ex for what he was. He was NOT happy. I threatened him with a restraining order, he knows I could seriously hurt him and has never seen me as angry as I have been lately. I sometimes wonder if I can "feel" me lurking in his thoughts and wondering how he will next approach me. He will not stalk (I don't think) but wondered if this was typical of them, as they do like control???

1:33 PM  

On my God! You have been through hell and back in this situation. I couldn't imagine the stress and weight of having lived with my ex, it was bad enough that I was in the relationship for 2 years. In my situation his boys were older 15 & 17, we did not live together but I spent alot of time trying to get help for the younger boy and did get a therapist but he (my ex) just went through the motions a couple of times, he does not care about his sons, I couldn't understand it. The older went off to university and now wants nothing to do with him. His younger one (now 18) also does not want to be around him. I spent the two years working so hard at this relationship and I told him a few times that his coldness really disturbed me, how could a healthy intelligent man be so warm and loving one minute and cold and uncaring the next. I asked him what happened to him several times....what a waste of my time and energy. I could not imagine what it would have been like to live with him full time, and with 3boys equally as cruel and messed up. Take the time for you and your son to heal. He (your son)must be so relieved you are out of this relationship. I sometimes find afraid of trusting of anyone, I even dream I am having conversations with men wherein I am questioning what they tell me...not good. Sending you and your son lots of love, blessings, happiness and freedom! Tara.

1:57 PM  

I am currently in a relationship with a man with the exact same qualities listed above. His whole life is a lie, his name included. He lies about everything, never accepts his faults and never apologises. I'm so stressed and depressed from this relationship, I don't know how to handle it anymore.

1:16 PM  

Wow what an insight! I personally have been friends with a girl (lady now) for the past 25 years. After high school will lived together on 2 separate occasions & although she has always been part of my life, I have constantly taken 'breaks' in our friendship as the closer i seem to be to her, the worse she treats me. She has approx 800 Facebook friends and has a different personality on the surface and to people who don't know her well than to her long term friends. She is a compulsive liar whom has issues with most long term friendships yet has a huge fan base amongst acquaintances. She has positive affirmations written on pieces of paper all throughout her house yet how she conducts her life is usually the complete opposite. As she has drama in her life constantly, she always blames the other person, spreads slanderous lies & then seeks sympathy from her fans, who shower her with praise and affirmations of how wonderful she is. This has been going on for years and as she knows i know her truth she never comes to me for support as she knows i can see through the lies and will not give her the admiration she needs to feed off. This article has explained her personality to the T and has made me understand the workings of her. Thankyou

3:39 PM  

All I can say is that this blog is like an exhalation of the human breath. Each comment posted is extremely onesided and only depicts the negatives in extreme detail with- in the relationship(s). I feel like the world is coming to an end after reading the text on this web portal, like I'm taking my last breath. However though, I know that the inhale is coming shortly after and the nightmare will be ober. Just like in meditation the outbreath is the release of negative energy which Is relative to 'venting frustrations' and the inbreath is ideally positive energy which uplifts and revitalises the mind, body, and soul. In closing, these are just my thoughts and as an individual these are my rights to express them and if a reader deems my text as originating from someone who believes they are superior, it may be a projection of oneself or stemmed out of envy, also one of the seven deadly sins. Please acknowledge the self well being by erecting mental and personal boundries, keeping pre-spousal options as to avoid 'being stuck with' or bounded to another individual, then support others thru positive reinforcement and communicative thoughtful actions. -Kapture

9:10 AM  

As soon as I got breast cancer I became useless to my malignant narcissistic mother. She has not stopped attacking me for two and a half years.

I probably deserve it because I have enabled her all my life but I was well trained from birth. I have been trying really hard to stand up to her but all I feel like is a two year old child. Funny I never cried as a child but I cannot stop now. I was never taught about boundaries, they simply did not exist. Now I am paying the price for it on every level. I have hardly been able to sleep or eat. Feeling safe does not exist.

No one seems to understand. Unfortunately because this behaviour is difficult to put into a box, they have free reign to do as much damage as they want. How could a mother really do evil? I have covered up so many things because of the shame. How could a mother not love her children? My opinion having lived with it for fifty seven years is that these people simply do not have souls.

Now I have kidney cancer. I am thinking of it as a gift from God to help me out of this world at this point. My sister will be her next victim.

4:48 PM  

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