The Delusional Way Out
The study of narcissism is a century old and the two scholarly debates central to its conception are still undecided. Is there such a thing as HEALTHY adult narcissism (Kohut) - or are all the manifestations of narcissism in adulthood pathological (Freud, Kernberg)? Moreover, is pathological narcissism the outcome of verbal, sexual, physical, or psychological abuse (the overwhelming view) - or, on the contrary, the sad result of spoiling the child and idolizing it (Millon, the late Freud)?
The second debate is easier to resolve if one agrees to adopt a more comprehensive definition of "abuse". Overweening, smothering, spoiling, overvaluing, and idolizing the child - are all forms of parental abuse.
This is because, as Horney pointed out, the child is dehumanized and instrumentalized. His parents love him not for what he really is - but for what they wish and imagine him to be: the fulfilment of their dreams and frustrated wishes. The child becomes the vessel of his parents' discontented lives, a tool, the magic brush with which they can transform their failures into successes, their humiliation into victory, their frustrations into happiness. The child is taught to ignore reality and to occupy the parental fantastic space. Such an unfortunate child feels omnipotent and omniscient, perfect and brilliant, worthy of adoration and entitled to special treatment. The faculties that are honed by constantly brushing against bruising reality - empathy, compassion, a realistic assessment of one's abilities and limitations, realistic expectations of oneself and of others, personal boundaries, team work, social skills, perseverance and goal-orientation, not to mention the ability to postpone gratification and to work hard to achieve it - are all lacking or missing altogether. The child turned adult sees no reason to invest in his skills and education, convinced that his inherent genius should suffice. He feels entitled for merely being, rather than for actually doing (rather as the nobility in days gone by felt entitled not by virtue of its merit but as the inevitable, foreordained outcome of its birth right). In other words, he is not meritocratic - but aristocratic. In short: a narcissist is born.
But such a mental structure is brittle, susceptible to criticism and disagreement, vulnerable to the incessant encounter with a harsh and intolerant world. Deep inside, narcissists of both kinds (those wrought by "classic" abuse and those yielded by being idolized) - feel inadequate, phoney, fake, inferior, and deserving of punishment. This is Millon's mistake. He makes a distinction between several types of narcissists. He wrongly assumes that the "classic" narcissist is the outcome of overvaluation, idolization, and spoiling and, thus, is possessed of supreme, unchallenged, self confidence, and is devoid of all self-doubt. According to Millon, it is the "compensatory" narcissist that falls prey to nagging self doubts, feelings of inferiority, and a masochistic desire for self-punishment. Yet, the distinction is both wrong and unnecessary. There is only ONE type of narcissist - though there are TWO developmental paths to it. And ALL narcissists are besieged by deeply ingrained (though at times not conscious) feelings of inadequacy, fears of failure, masochistic desires to be penalized, a fluctuating sense of self worth (regulated by narcissistic supply), and an overwhelming sensation of fakeness.
The "grandiosity gap" (between a fantastically grandiose - and unlimited - self-image and actual - limited - accomplishments and achievements) is grating. Its recurrence threatens the precariously balanced house of cards that is the narcissistic personality. The narcissist finds, to his chagrin, that people out there are much less admiring, accommodating and accepting than his parents. As he grows old, the narcissist often become the target of constant derision and mockery, a sorry sight indeed. His claims for superiority appear less plausible and substantial the more and the longer he makes them.
The narcissist then resorts to self-delusion. Unable to completely ignore contrarian opinion and data - he transmutes them. Unable to face the dismal failure that he is, the narcissist partially withdraws from reality. To soothe and salve the pain of disillusionment, he administers to his aching soul a mixture of lies, distortions, half-truths and outlandish interpretations of events around him. These solutions can be classified thus:
The Delusional Narrative Solutions
The narcissist constructs a narrative in which he figures as the hero - brilliant, perfect, irresistibly handsome, destined for great things, entitled, powerful, wealthy, the centre of attention, etc. The bigger the strain on this delusional charade - the greater the gap between fantasy and reality - the more the delusion coalesces and solidifies.
Finally, if it is sufficiently protracted, it replaces reality and the narcissist's reality test deteriorates. He withdraws his bridges and may become Schizotypal, catatonic, or schizoid.
The Reality Renouncing Solutions
The narcissist renounces reality. To his mind, those who pusillanimously fail to recognize his unbound talents, innate superiority, overarching brilliance, benevolent nature, entitlement, cosmically important mission, perfection, etc. - do not deserve consideration. The narcissist's natural affinity with the criminal - his lack of empathy and compassion, his deficient social skills, his disregard for social laws and morals - now erupts and blossoms. He becomes a full fledged antisocial (sociopath or psychopath). He ignores the wishes and needs of others, he breaks the law, he violates all rights - natural and legal, he hold people in contempt and disdain, he derides society and its codes, he punishes the ignorant ingrates - that, to his mind, drove him to this state - by acting criminally and by jeopardising their safety, lives, or property.
The Paranoid Schizoid Solution
The narcissist develops persecutory delusions. He perceives slights and insults where none were intended. He becomes subject to ideas of reference (people are gossiping about him, mocking him, prying into his affairs, cracking his e-mail, etc.). He is convinced that he is the centre of malign and mal-intentioned attention. People are conspiring to humiliate him, punish him, abscond with his property, delude him, impoverish him, confine him physically or intellectually, censor him, impose on his time, force him to action (or to inaction), frighten him, coerce him, surround and besiege him, change his mind, part with his values, even murder him, and so on.
Some narcissists withdraw completely from a world populated with such minacious and ominous objects (really projections of internal objects and processes). They avoid all social contact, except the most necessary. They refrain from meeting people, falling in love, having sex, talking to others, or even corresponding with them. In short: they become schizoids - not out of social shyness, but out of what they feel to be their choice. "The world does not deserve me" - goes the inner refrain - "and I shall waste none of my time and resources on it".
The Paranoid Aggressive (Explosive) Solution
Other narcissists who develop persecutory delusions, resort to an aggressive stance, a more violent resolution of their internal conflict. They become verbally, psychologically, situationally (and, very rarely, physically) abusive. They insult, castigate, chastise, berate, demean, and deride their nearest and dearest (often well wishers and loved ones). They explode in unprovoked displays of indignation, righteousness, condemnation, and blame. Theirs is an exegetic Bedlam. They interpret everything - even the most innocuous, inadvertent, and innocent - as designed to provoke and humiliate them. They sow fear, revulsion, hate, and malignant envy. They flail against the windmills of reality - a pathetic, forlorn, sight. But often they cause real and lasting damage - fortunately, mainly to themselves.
Vaknin, S. (2008, December 19). The Delusional Way Out, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, November 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/personality-disorders/malignant-self-love/the-delusional-way-out