What is the mechanism behind the cycles of over-valuation and devaluation in the narcissist's life?
Cycles of over-valuation (idealisation) followed by devaluation characterise many personality disorders (they are even more typical of Borderline PD than of NPD, for example). They reflect the need to be secure, protected against the vicious and capricious whims of others, shielded from the hurt that they can inflict. Such protection is constructed from the mercurial twin substances of idealisation and disillusionment.
The ultimate and only emotional need of the narcissist is to be the subject of attention and, thus, to support his volatile self-esteem. In this very important sense, the narcissist is dependent on others for the performance of critical Ego functions. While to healthier people, a disappointment or a disillusionment are nothing but these - to the narcissist they are the difference between Being and Nothingness.
The quality and reliability of Narcissistic Supply are, therefore, of paramount importance. The more the narcissist convinces himself that his sources are perfect, grand, comprehensive, authoritative, omniscient, omnipotent, beautiful, powerful, rich and so on - the better he feels. The narcissist has to idealise his Supply Sources in order to value the supply that he derives from them. This leads to over-valuation and results in the formation of an unrealistic picture of others.
The fall is inevitable. Disillusionment and disappointment ensue. The slightest criticism, disagreement, shades of opinion - are interpreted by the narcissist as an all out assault against his very existence. The previous appraisal is sharply reversed. For example: the same people are judged stupid who were previously deemed to possess genius.
This is the devaluation part of the cycle - and it is very painful both to the narcissist and to the devalued (for very different reasons, of course). The narcissist mourns the loss of a promising "investment opportunity" (=Source of Narcissistic Supply). Conversely, the "investment opportunity" mourns the loss of the narcissist.
But what is the mechanism BEHIND the mechanism? What drives the narcissist to such extremes? Why was no better (more efficient) coping technique developed by narcissists hitherto?
The answer is that the over-valuation-devaluation mechanism IS the most efficient one available. To understand why, one needs to take stock of the narcissist's energy, or, rather, of the lack of it.
The narcissist's personality is a precariously balanced affair and it requires inordinate amounts of energy to maintain and to sustain. So overwhelmingly dependent on the environment for mental sustenance, the narcissist must optimise (rather, maximise) the use of the scarce resources at his disposal.
Not one iota of effort, time and emotion must be wasted lest the narcissist finds his emotional balance severely upset. The narcissist attains this goal by sudden and violent shifts between foci of attention. This is a highly efficacious mechanism of allocation of resources in constant pursuit of the highest available emotional yields.
After emitting a narcissistic signal (see The Narcissistic Mini-Cycle), the narcissist receives a host of narcissistic stimuli. The latter are, simply, messages from people who are willing to provide then narcissist with Narcissistic Supply. But mere readiness is not sufficient.
The narcissist now faces the daunting task of evaluating the potential content, quality, and extent of Narcissistic Supply each and every one of the potential collaborators has to offer. He does so by rating each one of them. The stimulus with the highest rating is, naturally, selected. It represents "the best value for money", the most cost/reward efficient proposition.
The narcissist immediately over-values and idealises this source. It is the narcissistic equivalent of getting emotionally involved. The narcissist "bonds" with the new source. The narcissist feels attracted, interested, curious, magically rewarded, reawakened. Healthier people recognise this phenomenon: it is called infatuation.
To remove doubt: the Source of Narcissistic Supply thus chosen need not be human. The narcissist is equally interested in inanimate objects (for example: as status symbols), in groups of people (the nation, the Church, the army, the police), and even in the abstract ("history", "destiny", "mission").