Understanding Narcissim
Narcissists 101

Please NOTE
---------------- I have utilized the writings of Shmuel (Sam) Vaknin of which
I have modified a little to help people I know to better understand the Narcissist ----------------------

First of all, we need to understand that we all have emotions, but the Narcissists emotional base, structure, and expression is quite different from the normal person. Narcissists have emotions. All human beings have emotions. It is how we choose to relate to our emotions and express them that matters. The narcissist, on the other hand, tends to repress them so deeply that, for all practical purposes, they play NO CONSCIOUS ROLE IN their life and conduct. Instead, a Narcissists actions, behavior and presentation of their self image is modified and shown in accordance to the audience they have and those they must relate to rather than their emotions. Often portraying a visual display to indicate the proper emotions, but without truly experiencing said emotions.

Whenever the narcissist does experience emotions – REAL emotions, they are often rage, envy, sadness, craving, dependence, and so forth – emotions he/she lives to regret having expressed and/or experienced in the first place. The narcissist’s most upper layer emotions are invariably negative and frequently result in self-defeat and self-destruction. As such, the narcissist learns to withdraw deeper and deeper into themselves to disengage ever more thoroughly their emotions. They learn to numb and deaden themselves to their emotions, behaving and acting closer to that of what ever the moment requires. Appearing sad at a funeral, appearing happy at a party, appearing loving to a child, etc. The Narcissist will ACT the appropriate behavior, displaying what others would expect, even though they themselves do not actually feel or even agree with the emotions they are acting out. Their behavior (acting) is diploid to benefit themselves and themselves alone to better build the image others have of them. A better image offers more opportunity to achieve future goals. Goals they may not yet even realize, but know a positive image is more beneficial than a negative one. The narcissist quite literally becomes a Salesmen of themselves, selling themselves for acceptance and their personal future unrecognized needs.

The narcissist's early childhood development often came with positive emotions bundled with very negative ones, where as the negative emotions overwhelmed the positive, which in the end gave the positive emotions little to no value. Eventually developing into an outcome of frustration and the consequent transformations of aggression. A child, instead of being provided with the unconditional love they craved, were instead subjected to totally unpredictable and inexplicable bouts of temper, rage, searing sentimentality, envy, prodding, infusion of guilt, and other unhealthy parental emotions and behavior patterns which devalued the few positive emotions that were not shared.

Emotionally the Pre-narcissistic child often reacted by retreating to his/her private world, where he/she is omnipotent and omniscient and Godlike, giving of themselves, a defense against such vicious vicissitudes. He/She stashed his/her vulnerable True Self in a deep mental cellar – and outwardly presented to the world a False Self composed of acting and expected visual display. Eventually as they grow to maturity, the now evolved narcissist is unable to evoke positive feelings without provoking negative ones. Gradually, becoming phobic: afraid to feel anything, lest it be accompanied by fearsome guilt and inducing anxiety which would lead to out of control emotional complements. As an adult, the Narcissist has since grown to believe themselves beyond that of the standard person. They have lived the majority of their lives as the omnipotent and omniscient and Godlike being who's strength of character carries them though the most troubled waters of life. Were they to permit a TRUE emotional expression to come forth, would leave them vulnerable to anyone present, thus destroying their near indestructible, invulnerable fortress of solitude and safety.

Within this fortress of self glorification, the narcissist provides themselves with what Samvak refers to as the "Narcissist Supply". Everyone including narcissists need a supply of self-esteem building experiences and emotional fulfillment. We all need and consume those emotions because it is healthy. The normal person is likely to welcome a moderate amount of attention, both verbal and non-verbal. However, to the normal person too much attention though, can very well be perceived as onerous and is at some degree avoided. Destructive and censorious criticism is preferred to be shunned altogether, but is taken in with little to no damage in many cases. Healthy people can endure long periods without these positive and negative inputs and their absence does not affect their self-regulation and psychological health and functioning on an emotional basis.

The narcissist, in contrast, is the mental and emotional equivalent of an alcoholic. He/She is insatiable and compulsively directs their whole behavior, in fact their life, to obtaining these pleasurable (and for them, intoxicating) shots of attention. They embed praise and positive input in a coherent, completely biased, fantastic picture of themselves. Using them to regulate their labile sense of self-worth and self-esteem. The Narcissist needs the narcissistic supply to carry out basic mental (ego) functions, for without constant praise they crumble and become dysfunctional. Therefore, to elicit constant interest, the Narcissist projects to others a confabulated, fictitious version of themselves, known according to Shmuel as the False Self. The False Self is everything the narcissist is not: omniscient, omnipotent, charming, intelligent, rich, or well-connected, well versed, and so forth.

The narcissist then proceeds to harvest reactions to this projected image from family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, business partners and colleagues. If these – the adulation, admiration, attention, fear, respect, applause, affirmation – are not forthcoming, the narcissist demands them, or extorts them. Money, compliments, a favorable critique, an appearance in the media, a sexual conquest are all converted into the same currency in the narcissist's mind. Their control over their environment is an absolute need and as such, the Narcissists pursuits often are tied to this goal. The narcissist is thus reduced to experiencing dull stirrings in their soul that they identify to themselves and to others as emotions. These so called emotions are felt only in the presence of someone or something capable of providing the narcissist with their badly needed Narcissistic Supply.

Only when the narcissist is in the overvaluation (idealization) phase of their relationships, do they experience the convulsions that may be called "feelings". These are so transient and fake that they are easily replaced by rage, envy and devaluation, recreating the behavior patterns of their less than ideal Primary Objects. Deep inside, the narcissist knows that something is amiss. They DO NOT empathize with other people's feelings. Rather, they actually hold those feelings in contempt and ridicule. In reality the narcissist cannot understand how people are so sentimental, so "irrational". These behaviors are below them and have no value (As such, the only feelings that the narcissist identifies with are those of being rational, cool headed and cold blooded. All of which are logical, beneficial and have value.

Often the narcissist believes that other people are "faking it", merely aiming to achieve a goal. They are convinced that the "feelings" others express are grounded in ulterior, non-emotional, motives. This stems from their own lack of capacity to express, experience, or understand what emotions are. The narcissist becomes suspicious, embarrassed, and is compelled to avoid emotion-tinged situations, or, worse, they may experience surges of almost uncontrollable aggression in the presence of genuinely expressed sentiments. These emotions are often expressed in a sarcastic or possibly dark humorous way to conceal their true attitude. At times, other peoples expression of emotions will remind them of how imperfect and poorly equipped they are which goes against their self image of perfection, which again may elicit a negative response of some sort.

The weaker variety of narcissist tries to emulate and simulate "emotions" – or, at least their expression. The external facet (affect). They mimic and replicate the intricate pantomime that they learn to associate with the existence of feelings. However, there are no real emotions there, no emotional correlate. This is empty affect, devoid of emotion. This being so, the narcissist quickly tires of it, becomes impassive and begins to produce inappropriate affect (e.g., they remain indifferent when grief is the normal reaction, they become sarcastic when warmth and humor is the normal reaction, etc.). The narcissist subjects their feigned emotions to their cognition. They "decide" that it is appropriate to feel such and such and so, the end result is their "emotions" are invariably the result of analysis, goal setting, and planning. They substitute "remembering" for "sensing". They relegate their bodily sensations, feelings and emotions to a kind of a memory vault. The short and medium-term memory is exclusively used to store their reactions to their (actual and potential) Narcissistic Supply Sources, to ensure those sources continue to produce. As such, they will, at times, even try to strengthen their connection (relationship) to their source. This can be done with simple actions like taking someone to lunch, having them over for a barbecue, etc. They know the value of positive reinforcement and know with whom they need to direct that positive reinforcement to.

The narcissist finds it hard to remember or recreate what they ostensibly - though ostentatiously - "felt" (even a short while back) towards a Narcissistic Supply Source once it has ceased to be a source. In their attempts to recall their feelings, they often draw a mental blank and even become disenchanted with having been associated with that source, being that they had devoted time and resources to that source in the past.

It is not that narcissists are incapable of expressing what we would tend to classify as "extreme emotional reactions". To mourn and grieve, to feel rage or to smile, to "love" and "care". It is their lack of understanding these emotions that sets them apart. The normal person, when growing up, did not associate the positive so distinctly with the negative, and so unlike the normal person, positive emotions are in all intense and purpose negative ones. As such, when a narcissist experiences positive emotions, they are quick, fleeting, and often unrecognized by the narcissist themselves when expressed. Even forgotten. This rapid movement from one emotional extreme to another and the fact that they never occupy the emotional middle ground gives way to the need to plan their behavior vs expressing it.

The narcissist is especially "emotional" when weaned off his drug of Narcissistic Supply, often becoming dark, angry, and very often destructive to others. This is, in now way indicating that the narcissist is breaking away from being a narcissist. This behavior can not be altered or eliminated, only reduced in it's breath and range of effect on others. They learn to accept the lack of Narcissistic Supply and eventually develop their own constant and stable supply. Gained through personal activities that offer them reward for their actions. A modern example of this personal fulfillment and supply is gained through such activities for example as Video Games and Computer based activities. Activities that permit for emotional depth and his self-conviction so immense, that they mostly succeed to delude their environment, giving them a constant fix. But a narcissistic crisis (losing a Source of Narcissistic Supply, obtaining an alternative one, moving from one Narcissistic Pathological Space to another) – must never be confused with the real thing, which is - the narcissist never experiences: emotions.

Many narcissists have "emotional resonance tables". They use words as others use algebraic signs: with meticulousness, with caution, with the precision of the artisan. They sculpt in words the fine tuned reverberations of pain and love and fear. It is the mathematics of emotional grammar, the geometry of the syntax of passions. Devoid of all emotions, narcissists closely monitor people's reactions and adjust their verbal choices accordingly, until their vocabulary resembles that of their listeners. This is as close as narcissists get to empathy and permits the narcissist to gain a needed degree of control over their environment and a semblance of control over others.

To summarize, the positive emotional life of the narcissist is colorless and eventless, as rigidly blind as the disorder they have, as dead as is possible to positive emotions. They DO however experience the darker, negative emotions of rage, pain, envy, fear, and even inordinate humiliation. All of which, for the narcissist are a warning sign that the environment they are in, is either detrimental to them, or in need of manipulation to change the direction of events. These negative emotions are very dominant, prevalent and recurrent hues in the canvass of their emotional existence. Sadly however, there is little to no emotions within them to access and utilize for the narcissist except these atavistic gut reactions which they have learned to conceal or hide when possible. Their emotions are all reactive, not active. They feel insulted – they sulk (reactive). They feel devalued – they rage(reactive). They feel ignored – they pout(reactive). They feel humiliated – they lash out(reactive). They feel threatened – they express fear or anger(reactive). They feel adored – they bask in the glory(reactive). However, in the end, they are, in truth, virulently envious of one and all.

The narcissist can appreciate beauty but in a cerebral, cold and "mathematical" way, looking for value rather than appreciation. Many have no mature, adult sex drive to speak of but rather, an egotistical drive to perform for the sake of their Narcissistic Supply. However, many narcissists can intelligently discuss those emotions never experienced by them – like empathy, or love – because they make it a point to read a lot and to communicate with people who claim to be experiencing them. Thus, they gradually construct working hypotheses as to what people feel. As far as the narcissist is concerned, it is pointless to try to really understand emotions – but at least these models they form allow them to better predict people's behaviors and adjust to them.

Narcissists are not envious of others for having emotions. They disdain feelings and sentimental people because they find them to be weak and vulnerable, an easy target. Some narcissists even go as far as to tell emotional people how easy it is to target them and manipulate them emotionally. They deride human frailties and vulnerabilities. Such derision makes the narcissist feel superior and is probably the ossified remains of a defense mechanism gone awry.

Narcissism is ridiculous. Narcissists are pompous, grandiose, repulsive and contradictory. There is a serious mismatch between who they really are, their true accomplishments, and how they regard themselves. The narcissist doesn't merely THINK that they are far superior to others. The perception of their superiority is ingrained in them, it is a part of every mental cell they have, an all-pervasive sensation, an instinct and a drive. To the narcissist, they are superior and they do not need to prove it to those less than themselves. IT should just be accepted. The narcissist feels that they are entitled to special treatment and to outstanding consideration because they are such a unique and superior specimen. They know this to be true – the same way one knows that one is surrounded by air. It is an integral part of their identity. More integral to them than their body. This opens a gap – rather, an abyss – between the narcissist and other humans. Because they consider themselves so special and so superior, they have no way of knowing how it is to be human, neither the inclination to explore it. In other words, the narcissist cannot and will not empathize. When they do so, it is fully in appearance. Not in behavioral experience.

Can you empathize with an ant? Empathy implies identity or equality with the empathized, both abhorrent to the narcissist. The Ant (and people) being perceived by the narcissist to be so inferior, people are reduced to cartoonish, two-dimensional representations of functions. They become instrumental, or useful, or functional, or entertaining, gratifying or infuriating, frustrating or accommodating objects – rather than loving or emotionally responsive. Thus, this is where the narcissist determines the VALUE of an individual, and the value of keeping that individual as part of their collection of "friends". The best way to view friends of a narcissist and understand the logic of the narcissist is to consider friendships as a collective rather than as friends. Tools to be utilized for as long as the tool serves the necessary function. That function can be as minimal as supplying the narcissist with a constant flow of positive gratification to financial, to political. This thought process leads to ruthlessness and exploitativeness. Please understand, to the narcissist, the Narcissists are not "evil" – actually, the narcissist considers themselves to be a good person. Many narcissists help people, professionally, or voluntarily. But narcissists are indifferent. They couldn't care less. They help people because it is a way to secure attention, gratitude, adulation and admiration. And because it is the fastest and surest way to get rid of them and their incessant nagging. For the narcissist, all of this adds up to a means to an end, which also means, the ENDS JUSTIFY THE MEANS.

The narcissist may realize these unpleasant truths cognitively – but there is no corresponding emotional reaction (emotional correlate) to this realization. There is no resonance. It is like reading a boring users' manual pertaining to a computer you do not even own nor want. You read it and use the computer because it will get you what you want, not because you want the device that gets you to your desired goal. There is no insight, no assimilation of these truths. Still, to further insulate themselves from the improbable possibility of confronting the gulf between reality and grandiose fantasy (the Grandiosity Gap) – the narcissist comes up with the most elaborate mental structure, replete with mechanisms, levers, switches and flickering alarm lights.

Narcissism Isolates the narcissist from the pain of facing reality and allows them to inhabit the fantasyland of ideal perfection and brilliance. A fantasy land where they are omnipotent and omniscient and Godlike.

When a narcissist expresses positive emotions, always be aware, there is a motive behind them, and not a genuine expression.

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THE FALSE SELF - The Dual Role of the Narcissist's False Self


Why does the narcissist conjure up another Self? Why not simply transform his True Self into a False one?


We often marvel at the discrepancy between the private and public lives of our idols: celebrities, statesmen, stars, writers, and other accomplished figures. It is as though they have two personalities, two selves: the "true" one which they reserve for their nearest and dearest and the "fake" or "false" or "concocted" one which they flaunt in public.

In contrast, the narcissist has no private life, no true self, no domain reserved exclusively for their nearest and dearest. Their life is a spectacle, with free access to all, constantly on display, garnering narcissistic supply from their audience on a continuous basis. In the theatre that is the narcissist's life, the actor is irrelevant. Only the show goes on. The False Self is everything the narcissist would like to be but, alas, cannot: omnipotent, omniscient, invulnerable, impregnable, brilliant, perfect, in short: Godlike. Its most important role is to elicit narcissistic supply from others: admiration, adulation, awe, obedience, and, in general: unceasing attention. In Freud’s tripartite model, the False Self supplants the Ego and conforms to the narcissist’s unattainable, grandiose, and fantastic Ego Ideal.

The narcissist constructs a narrative of their life that is partly (or in some cases wholly) confabulated and whose purpose is to buttress, demonstrate, and prove the veracity of the fantastically grandiose and often impossible claims made by themselves (aka, the False Self). This narrative allocates roles to significant others in the narcissist’s personal history. Inevitably, such a narrative is hard to credibly sustain for long: reality intrudes and a yawning abyss opens between the narcissist’s self-imputed divinity and their drab, pedestrian existence and attributes. I call it the "Grandiosity Gap". Additionally, meaningful figures around the narcissist often refuse to play the parts allotted to them, rebel, and abandon the narcissist.

The narcissist copes with this painful and ineluctable realization of the divorce between his self-perception and this less than stellar state of affairs by first denying reality, delusionally ignoring and filtering out all inconvenient truths. Then, if this coping strategy fails, the narcissist invents a new narrative, which accommodates and incorporates the very intrusive data that served to undermine the previous, now discarded narrative. He even goes to the extent of denying that he ever had another narrative, except the current, modified one.

The narcissist’s (and the codependent’s) introjects and inner voices (assimilated representations of parents, role models, and significant peers) are mostly negative and sadistic. Rather than provide succour, motivation, and direction, they enhance his underlying ego-dystony (discontent with who he is) and the lability of his sense of self-worth. They induce in the child shame, blame, pain, guilt, rage, and a panoply of other negative emotions.

As Lidija Rangelovska notes, the paradox is that the child’s ego-dystonic shame and guilt emanate from the very primitive defenses that later comprise and underlie his False Self. Having been told repeatedly how “bad”, “worthless”, “disappointing”, and injurious he is, the child comes to believe in his self-imputed delusional ability to hurt and damage family members, for instance.

Such imaginary capacity is the logical extension of both the child’s grandiosity (omnipotence, “I have the power to hurt mommy”) and his magical thinking (“I think, I wish, I hate, I rage and, thereby, with the unlimited power of my mind, I cause real calamities out there, in the real world”). So, it is the child’s natural primary narcissistic defenses that enable him to feel so miserable! These defenses allow him to construct a narrative which corresponds to and justifies the judgemental, hateful appraisals and taunts of his abusers. In his young mind, he accepts that he is bad because he is all-powerful and magical and because he leverages his godlike attributes to act with malice or, at the very least, to bring misfortune on significant others.

To skirt this inner overwhelming negativity, the child “appropriates” precisely these defenses and bundles them into a protective shield, thus sequestering his vulnerable, fragile self. Occupied by the ongoing project of his budding pathological narcissism, the child’s defenses are no longer available to construct and buttress the narratives offered by the abusive voices of his tormentors. Moreover, by owning his fantastic grandiosity and harnessing it, the child feels as empowered as his abusers and no longer a victim.

Introjects possess a crucial role in the formation of an exegetic (interpretative) framework which allows one to decipher the world, construct a model of reality, of one’s place in it, and, consequently of who one is (self-identity). Overwhelmingly negative introjects – or introjects which are manifestly fake, fallacious, and manipulative – hamper the narcissist’s and codependent’s ability to construct a true and efficacious exegetic (interpretative) framework.

Gradually, the disharmony between one’s perception of the universe and of oneself and reality becomes unbearable and engenders pathological, maladaptive, and dysfunctional attempts to either deny the hurtful discrepancy away (delusions and fantasies); grandiosely compensate for it by eliciting positive external voices to counter the negative, inner ones (narcissism via the False Self and its narcissistic supply); attack it (antisocial/psychopathy); withdraw from the world altogether (schizoid solution); or disappear by merging and fusing with another person (codependence.)

Once formed and functioning, the False Self stifles the growth of the True Self and paralyses it. Henceforth, the ossified True Self is virtually non-existent and plays no role (active or passive) in the conscious life of the narcissist. It is difficult to "resuscitate" it, even with psychotherapy. The False Self sometimes parades the child-like, vulnerable, needy, and innocent True Self in order to capture, manipulate, and attract empathic sources of narcissistic supply. When supply is low, the False Self is emaciated and dilapidated. It is unable to contain and repress the True Self which then emerges as a petulant, self-destructive, spoiled, and codependent entity. But the True Self’s moments in the sun are very brief and, usually, inconsequential.

This substitution is not only a question of alienation, as Horney observed. She said that because the Idealised (=False) Self sets impossible goals to the narcissist, the results are frustration and self hate which grow with every setback or failure. But the constant sadistic judgement, the self-berating, the suicidal ideation emanate from the narcissist's idealised, sadistic, Superego regardless of the existence or functioning of a False Self.

There is no conflict between the True Self and the False Self.

First, the True Self is much too weak to do battle with the overbearing False. Second, the False Self is adaptive (though maladaptive). It helps the True Self to cope with the world. Without the False Self, the True Self would be subjected to so much hurt that it will disintegrate. This happens to narcissists who go through a life crisis: their False Ego becomes dysfunctional and they experience a harrowing feeling of annulment.

The False Self has many functions. The two most important are:

1.    It serves as a decoy, it "attracts the fire". It is a proxy for the True Self. It is tough as nails and can absorb any amount of pain, hurt and negative emotions. By inventing it, the child develops immunity to the indifference, manipulation, sadism, smothering, or exploitation – in short: to the abuse – inflicted on him by his parents (or by other Primary Objects in his life). It is a cloak, protecting him, rendering him invisible and omnipotent at the same time.

2.    The False Self is misrepresented by the narcissist as his True Self. The narcissist is saying, in effect: "I am not who you think I am. I am someone else. I am this (False) Self. Therefore, I deserve a better, painless, more considerate treatment." The False Self, thus, is a contraption intended to alter other people's behaviour and attitude towards the narcissist.

These roles are crucial to survival and to the proper psychological functioning of the narcissist. The False Self is by far more important to the narcissist than his dilapidated, dysfunctional, True Self.

The two Selves are not part of a continuum, as the neo-Freudians postulated. Healthy people do not have a False Self which differs from its pathological equivalent in that it is more realistic and closer to the True Self.

It is true that even healthy people have a mask [Guffman], or a persona [Jung] which they consciously present to the world. But these are a far cry from the False Self, which is mostly subconscious, depends on outside feedback, and is compulsive.

The False Self is an adaptive reaction to pathological circumstances. But its dynamics make it predominate, devour the psyche and prey upon the True Self. Thus, it prevents the efficient, flexible functioning of the personality as a whole.

That the narcissist possesses a prominent False Self as well as a suppressed and dilapidated True Self is common knowledge. Yet, how intertwined and inseparable are these two? Do they interact? How do they influence each other? And what behaviours can be attributed squarely to one or the other of these protagonists? Moreover, does the False Self assume traits and attributes of the True Self in order to deceive the world?

Let's start by referring to an oft-occurring question:

Why are narcissists not prone to suicide?

The simple answer is that they died a long time ago. Narcissists are the true zombies of the world.

Many scholars and therapists tried to grapple with the void at the core of the narcissist. The common view is that the remnants of the True Self are so ossified, shredded, cowed into submission and repressed – that, for all practical purposes, the True Self is dysfunctional and useless. In treating the narcissist, the therapist often tries to construct and nurture a completely new healthy self, rather than build upon the distorted wreckage strewn across the narcissist's psyche.

But what of the rare glimpses of True Self oft reported by those who interact with the narcissist?

Pathological narcissism is frequently comorbid with other disorders. The narcissistic spectrum is made up of gradations and shades of narcissism. Narcissistic traits or style or even personality (overlay) often attach to other disorders (co-morbidity). A person may well appear to be a full-fledged narcissist – may well appear to be suffering from the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) - but is not, in the strict, psychiatric, sense of the word. In such people, the True Self is still there and is sometimes observable.

In a full-fledged narcissist, the False Self imitates the True Self.

To do so artfully, it deploys two mechanisms:


It causes the narcissist to re-interpret certain emotions and reactions in a flattering, socially acceptable, light. The narcissist may, for instance, interpret fear as compassion. If the narcissist hurts someone he fears (e.g., an authority figure), he may feel bad afterwards and interpret his discomfort as empathy and compassion. To be afraid is humiliating – to be compassionate is commendable and earns the narcissist social commendation and understanding (narcissistic supply).


The narcissist is possessed of an uncanny ability to psychologically penetrate others. Often, this gift is abused and put at the service of the narcissist's control freakery and sadism. The narcissist uses it liberally to annihilate the natural defences of his victims by faking empathy.

This capacity is coupled with the narcissist's eerie ability to imitate emotions and their attendant behaviours (affect). The narcissist possesses "emotional resonance tables". He keeps records of every action and reaction, every utterance and consequence, every datum provided by others regarding their state of mind and emotional make-up. From these, he then constructs a set of formulas, which often result in impeccably accurate renditions of emotional behaviour. This can be enormously deceiving.

Loving Gaze, Adulating Gaze

In the film “The Beaver”, the character played by Mel Gibson suffers from depression. He latches on to a tattered puppet in the shape of a beaver and communicates exclusively through it. The Beaver is everything its ostensible master isn’t: daring, creative, exuberant, omnipotent, and omniscient, gregarious, resourceful, charismatic, and charming; a good father, good CEO, and good company all around. In short: The Beaver is the reification of the protagonist’s False Self.

When his wife (Jodi Foster) confronts him, having exposed his confabulations and the need to let go of the contraption, The Beaver rages at her and asserts its superiority, invincibility, and brilliance. The depressive Walter – the True Self - is derided by The Beaver as a dysfunctional wreck, utterly dependent on the former’s ministrations and the interference it runs on his behalf. The film ends unrealistically with Walter mutilating his body – literally - in order to rid himself of the domineering and all-pervasive appendage. “Unrealistically” because narcissists never succeed in resuscitating their dilapidated and crushed True Self. The narcissist IS his False Self: in real life, Walter should have been devoured and consumed by The Beaver – but then we would not have had a typical, syrupy Happy Ending, now, would we?

Both the True Self and the False Self depend on the gaze of others. The False Self relies on adulation and attention – narcissistic supply – for the maintenance of the precarious, confabulated, fantastic, grandiose, and counterfactual narrative that is the narcissist’s persona, his public face. Without a constant flow of such high-quality input and feedback, without the adulating gaze, the narcissist crumbles like a house of ephemeral cards and resorts to a variety of dysfunctional, self-destructive, and self-defeating behaviors and defense mechanisms.

Similarly and equally, the True Self needs a loving gaze to sustain itself. Another person’s love serves two purposes: it confirms the existence of the True Self as a lovable object and thus lays the groundwork and facilitates the necessary and sufficient conditions for self-love; and it allows the True Self to perceive the existence of a “safe”, loving, and holding other. Such insight is at the very foundation of empathy.

Do the False and True Selves ever fight it out, David vs. Goliath, Good vs. Evil, The Beaver vs. Walter?

Alas, they never do. The False Self is concocted by the narcissist to fend off hurt. It is a perfect, impenetrable, impermeable shield, a cocoon; it rewards the narcissist by flooding him with warm, fuzzy, exhilarating feelings; and it sustains the narcissist’s delusions and fantasies. The False Self is the narcissist’s dreams come true. In other words: as far as the narcissist is concerned, the False Self is adaptive and functional. Thenarcissist is emotionally invested in the False Self and he despises the True Self for having failed to cope with the exigencies and vicissitudes of the narcissist’s life.

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Narcissists, Narcissistic Supply and Sources of Supply


What is Narcissistic Supply?


Healthy narcissism (self-love) is the foundation of self-esteem and underlies self-confidence. We all need and consume narcissistic supply. We all search for positive cues – feedback, approval, affirmation, love, or even hard-earned admiration - from people around us. These cues reinforce in us certain behaviour patterns. There is nothing special in the fact that the narcissist does the same. However there are two major differences between the narcissistic and the normal personality.

The first is quantitative. The normal person is likely to welcome a moderate amount of attention, both verbal and non-verbal. Too much attention, though, is perceived as onerous and is avoided. Destructive and censorious criticism is shunned altogether. Healthy people can endure long periods without these inputs and their absence does not affect their self-regulation and psychological health and functioning.

The narcissist, in contrast, is the mental equivalent of an alcoholic. He is insatiable. He compulsively directs his whole behaviour, in fact his life, to obtaining these pleasurable titbits of attention. He embeds them in a coherent, completely biased, fantastic picture of himself. He uses them to regulate his labile sense of self-worth and self-esteem. He needs narcissistic supply to carry out basic mental (ego) functions. Without it he crumbles and becomes dysfunctional.

To elicit constant interest, he projects to others a confabulated, fictitious version of himself, known as the False Self. The False Self is everything the narcissist is not: omniscient, omnipotent, charming, intelligent, rich, or well-connected.

The narcissist then proceeds to harvest reactions to this projected image from family members, friends, co-workers, neighbours, business partners and from colleagues. If these – the adulation, admiration, attention, fear, respect, applause, affirmation – are not forthcoming, the narcissist demands them, or extorts them. Money, compliments, a favourable critique, an appearance in the media, a sexual conquest are all converted into the same currency in the narcissist's mind.

This currency is what I call Narcissistic Supply.

It is important to distinguish between the various components of the process of narcissistic supply:

1. The trigger of supply is the person or object that provokes the source into yielding narcissistic supply by confronting the source with information about the narcissist's False Self.

2. The source of narcissistic supply is the person that provides the narcissistic supply

3. Narcissistic supply is the reaction of the source to the trigger.

Publicity (celebrity or notoriety, being famous or being infamous) is a trigger of narcissistic supply because it provokes people to pay attention to the narcissist (in other words, it moves sources to provide the narcissist with narcissistic supply). Publicity can be obtained by exposing oneself, by creating something, or by provoking attention. The narcissist resorts to all three repeatedly (as drug addicts do to secure their daily dose). A mate or a companion is one such source of narcissistic supply.

But the picture is more complicated. There are two categories of Narcissistic Supply and their Sources (NSS):

The Primary Narcissistic Supply is attention, in both its public forms (fame, notoriety, infamy, celebrity) and its private, interpersonal, forms (adoration, adulation, applause, fear, repulsion). It is important to understand that attention of any kind – positive or negative – constitutes Primary Narcissistic Supply. Infamy is as sought after as fame, being notorious is as good as being renowned.

To the narcissist his "achievements" can be imaginary, fictitious, or only apparent, as long as others believe in them. Appearances count more than substance, what matters is not the truth but its perception.

Narcissistic supply comes in two forms: animate (direct) and inanimate (indirect). Inanimate supply is comprised of all expressions of attention which are communicated impersonally (in written form or via third parties, for instance) as well as aggregate measures of popularity and fame (number of friends on Facebook, views on YouTube, readers of his blog, etc.) Animate supply requires an interpersonal interaction with a source of narcissistic supply “in the flesh.” To sustain his sense of self-worth, the narcissist requires both types of supply, but especially the animate variety. He needs to witness first-hand the impact his False Self has on living, breathing, flesh-and-blood human sources and on his immediate environment.

Triggers of Primary Narcissistic Supply include, apart from being famous (celebrity, notoriety, fame, infamy) – having an air of mystique (when the narcissist is considered to be mysterious), having sex and deriving from it a sense of masculinity/virility/femininity, and being close or connected to political, financial, military, or spiritual power or authority or yielding them.

Sources of Primary Narcissistic Supply are all those who provide the narcissist with narcissistic supply on a casual, random basis.

Secondary Narcissistic Supply includes: leading a normal life (a source of great pride for the narcissist), having a secure existence (economic safety, social acceptability, upward mobility), and obtaining companionship.

Thus, having a mate, possessing conspicuous wealth, being creative, running a business (transformed into a Pathological Narcissistic Space), possessing a sense of anarchic freedom, being a member of a group or collective, having a professional or other reputation, being successful, owning property and flaunting one's status symbols - all constitute secondary narcissistic supply as well.

Sources of Secondary Narcissistic Supply are all those who provide the narcissist with narcissistic supply on a regular basis: spouse, friends, colleague, business partners, teachers, neighbours, and so on.

Both these primary and secondary Narcissistic Supply and their triggers and sources are incorporated in a Narcissistic Pathological Space.

There are hundreds of forms of narcissistic supply - and, consequently, hundreds of types of suppliers with specific functions (called "emergent roles"). The narcissist trains and conditions his nearest and dearest to act these parts. He allocates these “scripts” and “narratives” to his spouse, children, subordinates and dependents in accordance with their strong and weak points: it is the personality of the source of supply that determines which type of supply he or she is to provide. Thus: a shy, insecure and reticent child may be prevailed upon to admire and serve the narcissist; a smart, outgoing and independent off-spring may be cajoled to accomplish impressive feats, enhancing the narcissist’s standing in the community.


What are the functions of Narcissistic Supply in the narcissistic pathology?


The narcissist internalises a "bad" object (typically, his mother) in his childhood. He harbors socially forbidden emotions towards this object: hatred, envy, and other forms of aggression. These feelings reinforce the narcissist's self-image as bad and corrupt. Gradually he develops a dysfunctional sense of self-worth. His self-confidence and self-image become unrealistically low and distorted.

In an effort to repress these "bad" feelings, the narcissist also suppresses all emotions. His aggression is channelled to fantasies or to socially legitimate outlets(dangerous sports, gambling, reckless driving, compulsive shopping). The narcissist views the world as a hostile, unstable, unrewarding, unjust, and unpredictable place.

He defends himself by loving a completely controllable object (himself), by projecting to the world an omnipotent and omniscient False Self, and by turning others to functions or to objects so that they pose no emotional risk. This reactive pattern is what we call pathological narcissism.

To counter his demons the narcissist needs the world: its admiration, its adulation, its attention, its applause, even its penalties. The lack of a functioning personality on the inside is balanced by importing Ego functions and boundaries from the outside.

The Primary Narcissistic Supply reaffirms the narcissist's grandiose fantasies, buttresses his False Self and, thus allows him to regulate his fluctuating sense of self-worth. The Narcissistic Supply contains information which pertains to the way the False Self is perceived by others and allows the narcissist to "calibrate" and "fine tune" it. The Narcissistic Supply also serves to define the boundaries of the False Self, to regulate its contents and to substitute for some of the functions normally reserved for a True, functioning, Self.

While it is easy to understand the function of the Primary Supply, Secondary Supply is a more complicated affair.

Interacting with the opposite sex and "doing business" are the two main Triggers of Secondary Narcissistic Supply (SNS). The narcissist mistakenly interprets his narcissistic needs as emotions. To him, the pursuit of a woman (a Source of Secondary Narcissistic Supply - SSNS), for instance, is what others call "love" or "passion".

Narcissistic Supply, both primary and secondary, is perishable goods. The narcissist consumes it and has to replenish it. As is the case with other drug addictions, to produce the same effect, he is forced to increase the dosage as he goes.

While the narcissist uses up his supply, his partner serves as a silent (and admiring) witness to the narcissist's "great moments" and "achievements". Thus, the narcissist's female friend "accumulates" the narcissist's "grand and "illustrious past". When Primary Narcissistic Supply is low, she "releases" the supply she had accumulated. This she does by reminding the narcissist of those moments of glory that she had witnessed. She helps the narcissist to regulate his sense of self-worth.

This function – of Narcissistic Supply accumulation and release – is performed by all SSNS, male or female, inanimate or institutional. The narcissist's co-workers, bosses, colleagues, neighbours, partners, and friends are all potential SSNS. They all witness the narcissist's past accomplishments and can remind him of them when new supply runs dry.


Why does the narcissist devalue his Source of Secondary Narcissistic Supply (SSNS)?


Narcissists are forever in pursuit of Narcissistic Supply. They are oblivious to the passage of time and are not constrained by any behavioural consistency, "rules" of conduct, or moral considerations. Signal to the narcissist that you are a willing source, and he is bound to try to extract Narcissistic Supply from you by any and all means.

This is a reflex. The narcissist would have reacted absolutely the same way to any other source because, to him, all sources are interchangeable.

Some Sources of Supply are ideal (from the narcissist's point of view): sufficiently intelligent, sufficiently gullible, submissive, reasonably (but not overly) inferior to the narcissist, in possession of a good memory (with which to regulate the flow of Narcissistic Supply), available but not imposing, not explicitly or overtly manipulative, undemanding, attractive (if the narcissist is somatic). In short: a Galathea-Pygmallion type.

But then, often abruptly and inexplicably, it is all over. The narcissist is cold, uninterested and remote.

One of the reasons is, as Groucho Marx put it, that the narcissist doesn't like to belong to those clubs which would accept him as a member. The narcissist devalues his Sources of Supply for the very qualities that made them such sources in the first place: their gullibility, their submissiveness, their (intellectual or physical) inferiority.

But there are many other reasons. For instance, the narcissist resents his dependency. He realizes that he is hopelessly and helplessly addicted to Narcissistic Supply and is in hock to its sources. By devaluing the sources of said supply (his spouse, his employer, his colleague, his friend) he ameliorates the dissonance.

Moreover, the narcissist perceives intimacy and sex as a threat to his uniqueness. Everyone needs sex and intimacy – it is the great equaliser. The narcissist resents this commonness. He rebels by striking out at the perceived founts of his frustration and "enslavement" - his sources of Narcissistic Supply.

Sex and intimacy are usually also connected to unresolved past conflicts with important Primary Objects (parents or caregivers). By constantly invoking these conflicts, the narcissist encourages transference and provokes the onset of approach-avoidance cycles. He blows hot and cold on his relationships.

Additionally, narcissists simply get tired of their sources. They get bored. There is no mathematical formula which governs this. It depends on numerous variables. Usually, the relationship lasts until the narcissist "gets used" to the source and its stimulating effects wear off or until a better Source of Supply presents itself.


Could negative input serve as Narcissistic Supply (NS)?


Yes, it can. NS includes all forms of attention - both positive and negative: fame, notoriety, adulation, fear, applause, approval. Whenever the narcissist gets attention, positive or negative, whenever he is in the "limelight", it constitutes NS. If he can manipulate people or influence them – positively or negatively – it qualifies as NS.

Even quarrelling with people and confronting them constitute NS. Perhaps not the conflict itself, but the narcissist's ability to influence other people, to make them feel the way he wants, to manipulate them, to make them do something or refrain from doing it - all count as forms of narcissistic supply. Hence the phenomenon of "serial litigators".

Negative supply should be distinguished from low-grade or fake supply (collectively known as spurious narcissistic supply).

Low-grade narcissistic supply comes from sources which cannot be idealized, no matter how hard the narcissist tries and to what extent he blocks out and denies reality. The type of narcissistic supply determines whether its source can be idealized or not. For instance: compliments on his intellectual achievements doled out to a cerebral narcissist by an intellectually-challenged person would never pass muster and would never qualify as narcissistic supply.

Fake narcissistic supply is tinged with ulterior motives and hidden agendas. Sources of fake supply compliment the narcissist in order to manipulate him or some third person or in order to accomplish a goal. Endowed with cold empathy, the narcissist picks up on these true motivations and feels injured and slighted. Many narcissists test their sources of supply repeatedly: they engineer situations intended to expose the sincerity or lack thereof of the supply and the consistency and authenticity of the source’s conduct.

In turn, all the above should not be confused with static narcissistic supply.

Narcissistic supply is either static or dynamic. Dynamic supply upholds, enhances, buttresses, and abets the narcissist’s grandiose and fantastic False Self. The contents of dynamic narcissistic supply and the identity of its sources conform to the narcissist’s image of himself, his “destiny”, the evolution of his life, and his place in the Cosmos. Static supply fails to do so despite the fact that it is largely positive, reliably recurrent, and abundant. Static supply is akin to “hospital rations” or “junk food”: it maintains the narcissist for a while, but, as an exclusive diet, it results in malnutrition (deficient narcissistic supply). Static supply is repetitive, “boring” because it is predictable, and pedestrian. It does not propel the narcissist into new “highs”, nor does it reinflate him when he is down.


Does the narcissist want to be liked?


Would you wish to be liked by your television set? To the narcissist, people are mere tools, Sources of Supply. If, in order to secure this supply, he must be liked by them – he acts likable, helpful, collegial, and friendly. If the only way is to be feared – he makes sure they fear him. He does not really care either way as long as he is being attended to. Attention – whether in the form of fame or infamy – is what it's all about. His world revolves around this constant mirroring. I am seen therefore I exist, he thinks to himself.

But the classic narcissist also craves punishment. His actions are aimed to elicit social opprobrium and sanctions. His life is a Kafkaesque, ongoing trial and the never-ending proceedings are in themselves the punishment. Being penalized (reprimanded, incarcerated, abandoned) serves to vindicate and validate the internal damning voices of the narcissist's sadistic, ideal and immature Superego (really, the erstwhile voices of his parents or other caregivers). It confirms his worthlessness. It relieves him from the inner conflict he endures when he is successful: the conflict between the gnawing feelings of guilt, anxiety, and shame and the need to relentlessly secure Narcissistic Supply.


How does the narcissist treat his former Sources of Narcissistic Supply? Does he regard them as enemies?

The narcissist seeks out his old Sources of Narcissistic Supply when he has absolutely no other NS Sources at his disposal. Narcissists frantically try to recycle their erstwhile and wasted sources in such a situation. But the narcissist would not do even that had he not felt that he could still successfully extract a modicum of NS from the old source (even to attack the narcissist is to recognise his existence and to attend to him!!!).

Contacting a discarded source of supply (known as “hovering” or “re-acquisition”) requires its re-idealization. When he dumped and abandoned the old source, the narcissist devalued it: he convinced himself that the defunct source was low-quality, inferior, deficient, defective, hostile, or otherwise "not such a big loss." Now, the narcissist has to recant this appraisal and re-idealize the source without admitting to having been mistaken. To preserve his grandiosity and sense of omniscience, the narcissist comes up with a narrative that accommodates both the devaluing content and the re-idealized image of the source.


Devaluation phase: I am leaving her because she is abusive.

Re-idealization: She may have abused me, but she meant well; whichever way she acted, it was with the best intentions.

Devaluation: I am highly intelligent and can't maintain a relationship with a stupid person.

Re-idealization: She may be naive and gullible, but that renders her original and authentic.

A cerebral narcissist who is, essentially, asexual, may become somatic for a while and engage in sex with the old source in order to generate the impression that he is functional, whole, and “healed” and to reassure her that she will not be deprived of her most basic needs for intimacy and love.

If you are an old Source of Narcissistic Supply, first, get over the excitement of seeing him again. It may be flattering, perhaps sexually arousing. Try to overcome these feelings.

Then, simply ignore him. Don't bother to respond in any way to his offer to get together. If he talks to you – keep quiet, don't answer. If he calls you – listen politely and then say goodbye and hang up. Return his gifts unopened. Indifference is what the narcissist cannot stand. It indicates a lack of attention and interest that constitutes the kernel of negative NS to be avoided.

One should be careful not to romanticise the narcissist. His remorse and good behaviour are always linked to fears of losing his sources.

Narcissists have no enemies. They have only Sources of Narcissistic Supply. An enemy means attention means supply. One holds sway over one's enemy. If the narcissist has the power to provoke emotions in you, then you are still a Source of Supply to him, regardless of which emotions are provoked.

The psychosexuality of all types of narcissists – cerebral and somatic alike – involves the objectification and interchangeability of intimate partners. Narcissists are polyamorous and autoerotic. Quite a few of them have comorbid sexual paraphilias (are deviant.)

The cerebral narcissist aims to stabilize the flow of narcissistic supply by suppressing his sexual predilections and orientation and thus by rendering himself asexual.

The somatic narcissist aims to secure an uninterrupted flow of narcissistic supply by indulging his sexual preferences with multiple partners.

The cerebral narcissist relies on his source of secondary narcissistic supply (normally, on his spouse) to regulate his supply and so compensate for the inevitable fluctuations in both the quantity and quality of the primary supply. But few spouses would willingly participate in swinging, orgies, and group sex towards which the narcissist gravitates. The cerebral narcissist is, therefore, forced to sacrifice his sexuality to ensure the longevity of his gratifying and exclusive relationship with his source of secondary supply. His marriage gradually becomes sexless.

To compensate for this glaring lack, the cerebral narcissist turns unto himself: he becomes auto-erotic and fantasizes as he masturbates with varying frequency. His sex life is reduced to the consumption of pornography and role-playing in online forums.

Such a dreary substitute for a full-fledged intercourse is never satisfying. As frustration mounts in both members of the couple, so do aggression and hostility. There is a sense of waste and dysphoria. But the cerebral narcissist would rather hurt his mate by withholding sex from her than lose her, which would be the ineluctable consequence of him being true to his sexual self.

The question arises: why doesn’t the cerebral narcissist team up with an intimate partner who shares his inclinations and who would be happy to act on his fantasies?

The answer is: because such a partner cannot be relied on to be faithful, constant, and consistent.

This is the cerebral narcissist’s predicament:

Intimate partners who are compatible with his sexual urges are useless as stable, long-term sources of secondary supply. Intimate partners who can be relied on to provide secondary narcissistic supply are likely to be sexually-incompatible with the cerebral narcissist’s desires, urges, and sexual wishes.

This stratagem is, of course, self-defeating. The cerebral narcissist’s partner ultimately abandons him, starved as she is for sex and intimacy and resentful of being the target of his repeated pent-up aggression. As far as the cerebral narcissist is concerned, being abandoned also serves as a kind of masochistic self-punishment.

Narcissistic supply and sexuality are inversely-related in the cerebral narcissist’s mind. When narcissistic supply (primary or secondary) are low, he resorts to rampant sex as he hunts for his next stable source of secondary supply and as he seeks to “make up for lost time.” When the flow of supply has been re-constituted, he reverts almost immediately to his sexual hibernation. To the cerebral narcissist, the sex act constitutes low-grade narcissistic supply, a mere stopgap measure, and a “necessary evil” in the capture and captivation of his future intimate partner.

The somatic narcissist is the mirror image of his cerebral brother. To him, sex – sexual prowess, carnal exploits, and a string of conquests – is his narcissistic supply. His sexuality, however non-conformist or even deviant, is the only stable fount of the narcissistic supply he needs to regulate his sense of self-worth. He actually seeks out and selects partners who are labile, volatile, erratic, fleeting, adventurous, and unstable as he switches between multiple sexual objects of infatuation. The somatic flaunts his sexuality and thus knowingly gives up on a stable, long-lasting relationship.

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