Chapter 3, The Soul of a Narcissist, The State of the Art

The Workings of a Narcissist a Phenomenology

Chapter 3

Money is not the narcissist's only compulsion. Many narcissists are inordinately orderly and clean, or they may be addicted to knowledge, or obsessed with time. Some suffer from compulsive ticks and more complex repetitive, ritualistic movements. They might even become criminally compulsive, kleptomaniacs, for instance.

Narcissists are very misleading. They are possessed of undeniable personal charm and, usually, of sparkling intellect. Other people tend to associate these traits with maturity, authority and responsibility. Yet, as far as narcissists go, this association is a grave mistake. The Dorian Grays of this world are eternal children (puer aeternus, Peter Pans), immature, puerile even, irresponsible, morally inconsistent (and in certain areas of life, morally non-existent). Narcissists actively encourage people to form expectations - only to disappoint and frustrate them later. They lack many adult skills and tend to rely on people around them to make up for these deficiencies. 

That people will obey him, cater to his needs, and comply with his wishes is taken for granted by the narcissist, as a birth right. At times the narcissist socially isolates himself, exuding an air of superiority, expressing disdain, or a patronising attitude. At times he verbally lashes his nearest and dearest. Yet the narcissist expects total allegiance, loyalty, and submissiveness in all circumstances.

Abuse has many forms apart from the familiar ones sexual, verbal, emotional, psychological, and physical (battering and assault). Some narcissists are the outcomes of insufficient or erratic love - others the sad consequences of too much love.

Forcing a child into of adult pursuits is one of the subtlest varieties of soul murder. Very often we find that the narcissist was deprived of his childhood. He may have been a Wunderkind, the answer to his mother's prayers and the salve to her frustrations. A human computing machine, a walking-talking encyclopaedia, a curiosity, a circus freak - he may have been observed by developmental psychologists, interviewed by the media, endured the envy of his peers and their pushy mothers.

Consequently, such narcissists constantly clash with figures of authority because they feel entitled to special treatment, immune to prosecution, with a mission in life, destined for greatness, and, therefore, inherently superior.

The narcissist refuses to grow up. In his mind, his tender age formed an integral part of the precocious miracle that he once was. One looks much less phenomenal and one's exploits and achievements are much less awe-inspiring at the age of 40 - than at the age of 4. Better stay young forever and thus secure one's Narcissistic Supply.

So, the narcissist refuses to grow up. He never takes out a driver's licence. He does not have children. He rarely has sex. He never settle-down in one place. He rejects intimacy. In short, he refrains from adulthood and adult chores. He has no adult skills. He assumes no adult responsibilities. He expects indulgence from others. He is petulant and haughtily spoiled. He is capricious, infantile and emotionally labile and immature. The narcissist is frequently a 40 years-old brat.

Narcissists suffer from repetition complexes. Like certain mythological figures, they are doomed to repeat their mistakes and failures, and the wrong behaviours which led to them. They refrain from planning and conceive of the world as a menacing, unpredictable, failure-prone, and hostile place, or, at best, a nuisance.

This culminates in self-destruction. Narcissists engage in conscious - and unconscious - acts of violence and aggression aimed at restricting their choices, gains, and potentials. Some of them end up as criminals. Their criminality usually satisfies two conditions:

  1. It is Ego enhancing. The act(s) are - or must be perceived as - sophisticated, entailing the use of special traits or skills, incredible, memorable, unique. The narcissist is very likely to be involved in "white collar crime". He harnesses his leadership charisma, personal charm, and natural intelligence to do the "job".
  2. The criminal act includes a mutinous and contumacious element. The narcissist, after all, is mostly recreating the relationship that he has had with his parents. He rejects authority the way an adolescent does. He regards any kind of intrusion on his privacy and his autonomy - however justified and called for - as a direct and total threat to his psychic integrity. He tends to interpret the most mundane and innocuous gestures, sentences, exclamations, or offers - as such threats. The narcissist is paranoiac when it comes to a breach of his splendid isolation. He reacts with disproportionate aggression and is thought of by his environment to be a dangerous type or, at the very least, odd and eccentric.

Any offer of help is immediately interpreted by the narcissist to imply that he is not omnipotent and omniscient. The narcissist reacts with rage to such impudent allegations and, thus, rarely asks for succour, unless he finds himself in a critical condition.

A narcissist can roam the streets for hours, looking for an address, before conceding his inferiority by asking a passer-by for guidance. He suffers physical pain, hunger and fear, rather than ask for help. The mere ability to help is considered proof of superiority and the mere need for help - a despicable state of inferiority and weakness.

This is precisely why narcissists appear, at times, to be outstanding altruists. They enjoy the sense of power which goes with giving. They feel superior when they are needed. They encourage dependence of any kind. They know - sometimes, intuitively - that help is the most addictive drug and that relying on someone dependable fast becomes an indispensable habit.


Their exhibitionistic and "saintly" altruism disguises their thirst for admiration and accolades, and their propensity to play God. They pretend that they are interested only in the well-being of the happy recipients of their unconditional giving. But this kind of representation is patently untrue and misleading. No other kind of giving comes with more strings attached. The narcissist gives only if and when he receives adulation and attention.

If not applauded or adulated by the beneficiaries of his largesse, the narcissist loses interest, or deceives himself into believing that he is, in fact, revered. Mostly, the narcissist prefers to be feared or admired rather than loved. He describes himself as a "strong, no nonsense" man, who is able to successfully weather extraordinary losses and exceptional defeats and to recuperate. He expects other people to respect this image that he projects.

Thus, the beneficiaries are objects, silent witnesses to the narcissist's grandiosity and magnanimity, the audience in his one-man show. He is inhuman in that he needs no one and nothing - and he is superhuman in that he showers and shares the cornucopia of his wealth or talents abundantly and unconditionally. Even the narcissist's charity reflects his sickness.

Even so, the narcissist is more likely to donate what he considers to be the greatest gift of all - himself, his time, his presence. Where other altruists contribute money - he avails of his time and of his knowledge. He needs to be in personal touch with those aided by him, so as to be immediately rewarded (narcissistically) for his efforts.

When the narcissist volunteers he is at his best. He is often cherished as a pillar of civic behaviour and a contributor to community life. Thus, he is able to act, win applause, and reap Narcissistic Supply - and all with full legitimacy.


next: Chapter 4, The Soul of a Narcissist, The State of the Art

APA Reference
Vaknin, S. (2009, February 3). Chapter 3, The Soul of a Narcissist, The State of the Art, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Last Updated: July 5, 2018

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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