The Psychopath’s Absolute Narcissism

Psychopaths suffer from the most extreme form of narcissism. Narcissists put others down, or dominate them, in order to get validation as superior to them. Usually such individuals seem to be exactly as they are: smug, snobby, self-absorbed to the point of being ridiculous. Since psychopaths wear a mask of sanity, however, their narcissism is better camouflaged, at least initially. It’s also far more acute and dangerous. Psychopaths put others down in order to crush them. No matter how charming and modest they may seem in superficial contact, their ego feeds upon the victimization of others, including–or rather, especially–their family members, spouses, lovers and children. They aren’t satisfied with simply proving their superiority. They need to also humiliate and harm those around them in order to feel empowered and superior to them.

Clinically speaking, narcissism constitutes what Hervey Cleckley calls in The Mask of Sanity a “pathological egocentricity and incapacity for love.” Narcissists are so self-absorbed that they can’t envision the needs and reactions of others. They regard others as mirrors whose main role is to reflect–and magnify–the image of their own greatness. Although psychopaths are narcissistic to an extreme, they’re also far worse than most narcissists. At least most narcissists—excluding perhaps “malignant narcissists”–can experience self-doubt. They also need love and validation from other individuals.

Psychopaths embody narcissism with a grotesque twist. They lack the depth to experience or need a personal, individuated kind of love. As Cleckley observes, “The psychopath is always distinguished by egocentricity. This is usually of a degree not seen in ordinary people and often is little short of astonishing.” (The Mask of Sanity, 347) Furthermore, unlike narcissists, who, as mentioned, often show themselves to be vain to the point of self-caricature, psychopaths don’t usually appear to be arrogant, self-absorbed or boastful. They can mask much better their grossly inflated egos, as they camouflage everything else that’s deviant and dangerous in their personalities.  They compellingly present themselves as loving, affectionate and other-regarding individuals.

However, as Cleckley notes,  “Deeper probing will always reveal a self-centeredness that is apparently unmodifiable and all but complete. This can perhaps be best expressed by stating that it is an incapacity for object love and that this incapacity (in my experience with well-marked psychopaths) appears to be absolute.” (347) Cleckley correlates object-love, or caring about another person, with the capacity to feel empathy. Without empathy, you can’t understand what others feel. You therefore don’t have a disincentive to cause them harm or pain. Conversely, you lack the incentive to make them happier. Love, or even kindness, don’t exist without empathy.

That’s not to say that psychopaths can’t experience any sort of fondness whatsoever. But their affection tends to be self-serving, fleeting and superficial. In some cases, it manifests itself as an intense, obsessive drive to possess another person. Cleckley grants that, “[The psychopath] is plainly capable of casual fondness, of likes and dislikes, and of reactions that, one might say, cause others to matter to him.” (348) He qualifies, “These affective reactions are, however, always strictly limited in degree. In durability they also vary greatly from what is normal in mankind. The term absolute is, I believe, appropriate if we apply it to any affective attitude strong and meaningful enough to be called love, that is, anything that prevails in sufficient degree and over sufficient periods to exert a major influence on behavior.” (347) Whenever they seem to be passionately in love or to experience genuine parental or filial devotion, psychopaths are faking it.

Let’s return again to the case of Neil Entwistle. Opening the door for his wife, giving her romantic gifts, posting the pictures of her and their newborn baby on a joint website, doesn’t mean anything if he’s prepared to literally sacrifice his family to his whims. To this effect, Cleckley observes, “The psychopath seldom shows anything that, if the chief facts were known, would pass even in the eyes of lay observers as object love. His absolute indifference to the financial, social, emotional, physical, and other hardships that he brings upon those for whom he professes love confirms the appraisal during psychiatric studies of his true attitude. We must, let it never be forgotten, judge a man by his actions rather than by his words.” (348) Because they can’t love others, psychopaths also lack the motivation to improve their character and behavior. Cleckley concludes, “This lack in the psychopath makes it all but impossible for an adequate emotional rapport to arise in his treatment and may be an important factor in the therapeutic failure that, in my experience, has been universal.” (348)

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

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What Kind of Person Stays with a Psychopath or Narcissist?

So far I’ve tried to explain that just about any person can be initially fooled by a psychopath’s mask of sanity and become involved with such a disordered individual. However, while any of us can become ensnared by a psychopath during the initial, luring phase when he does his best to appear better than normal individuals, fewer people actually STAY with a psychopath or narcissist once his mask of sanity slips and they come to see his real, malicious, disordered and abusive self.

Today I’m pasting below an article by Sam Vaknin, an expert on narcissism and psychopathy, from his website and book “Malignant Self-Love”.  This article sketches the psychological profile of the kind of person who stays with a psychopath or narcissist long after the luring and honeymoon phases are gone and Dr. Jekyll has morphed into the real Mr. Hyde. If you recognize yourself in the victim profile, perhaps this New Year’s resolution could be to find the inner strength–and seek the external support–to ditch the psychopath or narcissist in your life. Don’t allow an evil individual to abuse and control you for the rest of your life. You deserve better than that.  At any rate, I hope that this information will help.

On the face of it, there is no (emotional) partner or mate, who typically “binds” with a sociopathic narcissist. They come in all shapes and sizes. The initial phases of attraction, infatuation and falling in love are pretty normal. The sociopathic narcissist puts on his best face – the other party is blinded by budding love. A natural selection process occurs only much later, as the relationship develops, the sociopath shows his true colors and the relationship is put to the test.

Living with a sociopathic narcissist can be exhilarating, is always onerous, often harrowing. Surviving a relationship with a sociopathic narcissist indicates, therefore, the parameters of the personality of the survivor. She (or, more rarely, he) is molded by the relationship into The Typical Sociopathic narcissistic Mate/Partner/Spouse.

First and foremost, the sociopathic narcissist’s partner must have a deficient grasp of her self and of reality. Otherwise, she (or he) is bound to abandon the sociopathic narcissist’s ship after the honeymoon phase is over. The cognitive distortion is likely to consist of belittling and demeaning herself – while aggrandising and adoring the sociopathic narcissist. The partner is, thus, placing himself in the position of the eternal victim: undeserving, punishable, a scapegoat. Sometimes, it is very important to the partner to appear moral, sacrificial and victimised. At other times, she is not even aware of this predicament. The sociopathic narcissist is perceived by the partner to be a person in the position to demand these sacrifices from his partner, being superior to her in many ways (intellectually, emotionally, morally, financially).

The status of professional victim sits well with the partner’s tendency to punish herself, namely: with her masochistic streak. The tormented life with the sociopathic narcissist is, as far as the partner is aware, a just punitive measure.

In this respect, the partner is the mirror image of the sociopathic narcissist. By maintaining a symbiotic relationship with him, by being totally dependent upon the source of masochistic supply (which the sociopathic narcissist most reliably constitutes and most amply provides) – the partner enhances certain traits and encourages certain behaviours, which are at the very core of narcissism.

The sociopathic narcissist is never whole without an adoring, submissive, available, self-denigrating partner. His very sense of superiority, indeed his False Self, depends on it. His sadistic Superego switches its attentions from the sociopathic narcissist (in whom it often provokes suicidal ideation) to the partner, thus finally obtaining an alternative source of sadistic satisfaction.

It is through self-denial that the partner survives. She denies her wishes, hopes, dreams, aspirations, sexual, psychological and material needs, and much else besides. She perceives her needs as threatening because they might engender the wrath of the sociopathic narcissist’s God-like supreme figure. The sociopathic narcissist is rendered in her eyes even more superior through and because of this self-denial. Self-denial undertaken to facilitate and ease the life of a “great man” is more palatable. The “greater” the man (=the sociopathic narcissist), the easier it is for the partner to ignore her own self, to dwindle, to degenerate, to turn into an appendix of the sociopathic narcissist and, finally, to become nothing but an extension, to merge with the sociopathic narcissist to the point of oblivion and of dim memories of one’s self.

The two collaborate in this macabre dance. The sociopathic narcissist is formed by his partner inasmuch as he forms her. Submission breeds superiority and masochism breeds sadism. The relationships are characterised by rampant emergentism: roles are allocated almost from the start and any deviation meets with an aggressive, even violent reaction.

The predominant state of the partner’s mind is utter confusion. Even the most basic relationships – with husband, children, or parents – remain bafflingly obscured by the giant shadow cast by the intensive interaction with the sociopathic narcissist. A suspension of judgement is part and parcel of a suspension of individuality, which is both a prerequisite to and the result of living with a sociopathic narcissist. The partner no longer knows what is true and right and what is wrong and forbidden.

The sociopathic narcissist recreates for the partner the sort of emotional ambience that led to his own formation in the first place: capriciousness, fickleness, arbitrariness, emotional (and physical or sexual) abandonment. The world becomes uncertain and frightening and the partner has only one thing to cling to: the sociopathic narcissist.

And cling she does. If there is anything which can safely be said about those who emotionally team up with sociopathic narcissists, it is that they are overtly and overly dependent.

The partner doesn’t know what to do – and this is only too natural in the mayhem that is the relationship with the sociopathic narcissist. But the typical partner also does not know what she wants and, to a large extent, who she is and what she wants to become.

These unanswered questions hamper the partner’s ability to gauge reality, evaluate and appraise it for what it is. Her primordial sin is that she fell in love with an image, not with a real person. It is the voiding of the image that is mourned when the relationship ends.

The break-up of a relationship with a sociopathic narcissist is, therefore, very emotionally charged. It is the culmination of a long chain of humiliations and of subjugation. It is the rebellion of the functioning and healthy parts of the partner’s personality against the tyranny of the sociopathic narcissist.

The partner is liable to have totally misread and misinterpreted the whole interaction (I hesitate to call it a relationship). This lack of proper interface with reality might be (erroneously) labelled “pathological”.

Why is it that the partner seeks to prolong her pain? What is the source and purpose of this masochistic streak? Upon the break-up of the relationship, the partner (and the sociopathic narcissist) engage in a tortuous and drawn out post mortem. But the question who really did what to whom (and even why) is irrelevant. What is relevant is to stop mourning oneself (this is what the parties are really mourning), start smiling again and love in a less subservient, hopeless, and pain-inflicting manner.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction