We all have a scenario of our life. We invent, adopt, are led by and measure ourselves against our personal narratives. These are, normally, commensurate with our personal histories, our predilections, our abilities, limitations, and our skills. We are not likely to invent a narrative which is wildly out of synch with our selves.
We rarely judge ourselves by a narrative which is not somehow correlated to what we can reasonably expect to achieve. In other words, we are not likely to frustrate and punish ourselves knowingly. As we grow older, our narrative changes. Parts of it are realized and this increases our self-confidence, sense of self-worth and self-esteem and makes us feel fulfilled, satisfied, and at peace with ourselves.
The narcissist differs from normal people in that his is a HIGHLY unrealistic personal narrative. This choice could be imposed and inculcated by a sadistic and hateful Primary Object (a narcissistic, domineering mother, for instance) - or it could be the product of the narcissist's own tortured psyche. Instead of realistic expectations of himself, the narcissist has grandiose fantasies. The latter cannot be effectively pursued. They are elusive, ever receding targets.
This constant failure (the Grandiosity Gap) leads to dysphorias (bouts of sadness) and to losses. Observed from the outside, the narcissist is perceived to be odd, prone to illusions and self-delusions and, therefore, lacking in judgement.
The dysphorias - the bitter fruits of the narcissist's impossible demands of himself - are painful. Gradually the narcissist learns to avoid them by eschewing a structured narrative altogether. Life's disappointments and setbacks condition him to understand that his specific "brand" of unrealistic narrative inevitably leads to frustration, sadness and agony and is a form of self-punishment (inflicted on him by his sadistic, rigid Superego).
This incessant punishment serves another purpose: to support and confirm the negative judgement meted out by the narcissist's Primary Objects (usually, by his parents or caregivers) in his early childhood (now, an inseparable part of his Superego).
The narcissist's mother, for instance, may have consistently insisted that the narcissist is bad, rotten, or useless. Surely, she could not have been wrong, goes the narcissist's internal dialog. Even raising the possibility that she may have been wrong proves her right! The narcissist feels compelled to validate her verdict by making sure that he indeed BECOMES bad, rotten and useless.
Yet, no human being - however deformed - can live without a narrative. The narcissist develops circular, ad-hoc, circumstantial, and fantastic "life-stories" (the Contingent Narratives). Their role is to avoid confrontation with (the often disappointing and disillusioning) reality. He thus reduces the number of dysphorias and their strength, though he usually fails to avoid the Narcissistic Cycle (see FAQ 43).
The narcissist pays a heavy price for accommodating his dysfunctional narratives:
Emptiness, existential loneliness (he shares no common psychic ground with other humans), sadness, drifting, emotional absence, emotional platitude, mechanisation/robotisation (lack of anima, excess persona in Jung's terms) and meaninglessness. This fuels his envy and the resulting rage and amplifies the EIPM (Emotional Involvement Preventive Measures) - see Chapter Eight of the Essay.
The narcissist develop a "Zu Leicht - Zu Schwer" ("Too Easy - Too difficult") syndrome:
On the one hand, the narcissist's life is unbearably difficult. The few real achievements he does have should normally have mitigated this perceived harshness. But, in order to preserve his sense of omnipotence, he is forced to "downgrade" these accomplishments by labelling them as "too easy".
The narcissist cannot admit that he had toiled to achieve something and, with this confession, shatter his grandiose False Self. He must belittle every achievement of his and make it appear to be a routine triviality. This is intended to support the dreamland quality of his fragmented personality. But it also prevents him from deriving the psychological benefits which usually accrue to goal attainment: an enhancement of self-confidence, a more realistic self-assessment of one's capabilities and abilities, a strengthening sense of self-worth.
The narcissist is doomed to roam a circular labyrinth. When he does achieve something - he demotes it in order to enhance his own sense of omnipotence, perfection, and brilliance. When he fails, he dares not face reality. He escapes to the land of no narratives where life is nothing but a meaningless wasteland. The narcissist whiles his life away.
But what is it like being a narcissist?
The narcissist is often anxious. It is usually unconscious, like a nagging pain, a permanence, like being immersed in a gelatinous liquid, trapped and helpless, or as the DSM puts it, narcissism is "all-pervasive". Still, these anxieties are never diffuse. The narcissist worries about specific people, or possible events, or more or less plausible scenarios. He seems to constantly conjure up some reason or another to be worried or offended.
Positive past experiences do not ameliorate this preoccupation. The narcissist believes that the world is hostile, a cruelly arbitrary, ominously contrarian, contrivingly cunning and indifferently crushing place. The narcissist simply "knows" it will all end badly and for no good reason. Life is too good to be true and too bad to endure. Civilization is an ideal and the deviations from it are what we call "history". The narcissist is incurably pessimistic, an ignoramus by choice and incorrigibly blind to any evidence to the contrary.