Chapter 5, The Soul of a Narcissist, The State of the Art
The Narcissist and the Opposite Sex
This chapter deals with the male narcissist and with his "relationships" with women.
It would be correct to substitute one gender for another. Female narcissists treat the men in their lives in a manner indistinguishable from the way male narcissists treat "their" women. I believe that this is the case with same sex partners.
To re-iterate, Primary Narcissistic Supply (PNS) is any kind of NS provided by people who are not "meaningful" or "significant" others. Adulation, attention, affirmation, fame, notoriety, sexual conquests - are all forms of PNS.
Secondary NS (SNS) emanates from people who are in repetitive or continuous touch with the narcissist. It includes the important roles of Narcissistic Accumulation and Narcissistic Regulation, among others.
Narcissists abhor and dread getting emotionally intimate. The cerebral ones regard sex as a maintenance chore, something they have to do in order to keep their Source of Secondary Supply. The somatic narcissist treats women as objects and sex as a means to obtaining Narcissistic Supply.
Moreover, many narcissists tend to frustrate women. They refrain from having sex with them, tease them and then leave them, resist flirtatious and seductive behaviours, and so on. Often, they invoke the existence of a girlfriend/fiance/spouse as the "reason" why they cannot have sex or develop a relationship. But this is not out of loyalty and fidelity in the empathic and loving sense. This is because they wish (and often succeed) to sadistically frustrate the interested party.
But, this pertains only to cerebral narcissists - not to somatic narcissists and to histrionics (Histrionic Personality Disorder - HPD) who use their body, sexuality, and seduction/flirtation to extract Narcissistic Supply from others.
Narcissists are misogynists. They team up with women who serve as Sources of SNS (Secondary Narcissistic Supply). The woman's chores are to accumulate past Narcissistic Supply (by witnessing the narcissist's "moments of glory") and release it in an orderly manner to regulate the fluctuating flow of Primary Supply and compensate in times of deficient supply.
Otherwise, cerebral narcissists are not interested in women.
Most of them are asexual (desire sex very rarely, if at all). They hold women in contempt and abhor the thought of being really intimate with them. Usually, they choose for partners submissive women whom they disdain for being well below their intellectual level.
This leads to a vicious cycle of neediness and self-contempt ("How come I am dependent on this inferior woman"). Hence the abuse. When Primary NS is available, the woman is hardly tolerated, as one would reluctantly pay the premium of an insurance policy.
Narcissists of all stripes do regard the "subjugation" of an attractive woman to be a Source of Narcissistic Supply, though.
Such conquests are status symbols, proofs of virility, and they allow the narcissist to engage in "vicarious" narcissistic behaviours, to express his narcissism through the "conquered" women, transforming them into instruments at the service of his narcissism, into his extensions. This is done by employing defence mechanisms such as Projective Identification.
The narcissist believes that being in love is actually merely going through the motions. To him, emotions are mimicry and pretence. He says: "I am a conscious misogynist. I fear and loathe women and tend to ignore them to the best of my ability. To me they are a mixture of hunter and parasite."
Most male narcissists are misogynists. After all, they are the warped creations of women. Women gave birth to them and moulded them into what they are: dysfunctional, maladaptive, and emotionally dead. They are angry at their mothers and, by extension at all women.
The narcissist's attitude to women is, naturally, complex and multi-layered but it can be described using four axes:
- The Holy Whore
- The Hunter Parasite
- The Frustrating Object of Desire
- Uniqueness Roles
The narcissist divides all women to saints and whores. He finds it difficult to have sex ("dirty", "forbidden", "punishable", "degrading") with feminine significant others (spouse, intimate girlfriend). To him, sex and intimacy are mutually exclusive rather than mutually expressive propositions.
Sex is reserved to "whores" (all other women in the world). This division resolves the narcissist's constant cognitive dissonance ("I want her but", "I don't need anyone but"). It also legitimises his sadistic urges (abstaining from sex is a major and recurrent narcissistic "penalty" inflicted on female "transgressors"). It tallies well with the frequent idealisation-devaluation cycles the narcissist goes through. The idealised females are sexless, the devalued ones - "deserving" of their degradation (sex) and the contempt that, inevitably, follows thereafter.
The narcissist believes firmly that women are out to "hunt" men by genetic predisposition. As a result, he feels threatened (as any prey would). This, of course, is an intellectualisation of the real state of affairs: the narcissist feels threatened by women and tries to justify this irrational fear by imbuing them with "objective", menacing qualities. This is a small detail in a larger canvass. The narcissist "pathologises" others in order to control them.
The narcissist believes that, once their prey is secured, women assume the role of "body snatchers". They abscond with the male's sperm, generate an endless stream of demanding and nose dripping children, financially bleed the men in their lives to cater to their needs and to the needs of their dependants.
Put differently, women are parasites, leeches, whose sole function is to suck dry every man they find and tarantula-like decapitate him once no longer useful. This, of course, is exactly what the narcissist does to people. Thus, his view of women is a projection.
Heterosexual narcissists desire women as any other red-blooded male does or even more so due to their special symbolic nature in the narcissist's life. Humbling a woman in acts of faintly sado-masochistic sex is a way of getting back at mother. But the narcissist is frustrated by his inability to meaningfully interact with women, by their apparent emotional depth and powers of psychological penetration (real or attributed) and by their sexuality.
Women's incessant demands for intimacy are perceived by the narcissist as a threat. He recoils instead of getting closer. The cerebral narcissist also despises and derides sex, as we said before. Thus, caught in a seemingly intractable repetition complex, in approach-avoidance cycles, the narcissist becomes furious at the source of his frustration. Some narcissists set out to do some frustrating of their own. They tease (passively or actively), or they pretend to be asexual and, in any case, they turn down, rather cruelly, any feminine attempt to court them and to get closer.
Sadistically, they tremendously enjoy their ability to frustrate the desires, passions and sexual wishes of women. It makes them feel omnipotent and self-righteous. Narcissists regularly frustrate all women sexually - and significant women in their lives both sexually and emotionally.
Somatic narcissists simply use women as objects and then discard them. They masturbate, using women as "flesh and blood aides". The emotional background is identical. While the cerebral narcissist punishes through abstention - the somatic narcissist penalises through excess.
The narcissist's mother kept behaving as though the narcissist was and is not special (to her). The narcissist's whole life is a pathetic and pitiful effort to prove her wrong. The narcissist constantly seeks confirmation from others that he is special - in other words that he is, that he actually exists.
Women threaten this quest. Sex is "bestial" and "common". There is nothing "special or unique" about sex. Women's sexual needs threaten to reduce the narcissist to the lowest common denominator: intimacy, sex and human emotions. Everybody and anybody can feel, copulate and breed. There is nothing in these activities to set the narcissist apart and above others. And yet women seem to be interested only in these pursuits. Thus, the narcissist emotionally believes that women are the continuation of his mother by other means and in different guises.
The narcissist hates women virulently, passionately and uncompromisingly. His hate is primal, irrational, the progeny of mortal fear and sustained abuse. Granted, most narcissists learn how to disguise, even repress these untoward feelings. But their hatred does swing out of control and erupt from time to time.
To live with a narcissist is an arduous and eroding task. Narcissists are infinitely pessimistic, bad-tempered, paranoid and sadistic in an absent-minded and indifferent manner. Their daily routine is a rigmarole of threats, complaints, hurts, eruptions, moodiness and rage.
The narcissist rails against slights true and imagined. He alienates people. He humiliates them because this is his only weapon against his own humiliation wrought by their indifference. Gradually, wherever he is, the narcissist's social circle dwindles and then vanishes.
Every narcissist is also a schizoid, to some extent. A schizoid is not a misanthrope. The narcissist does not necessarily hate people - he simply does not need them. He regards social interactions as a nuisance to be minimised.
The narcissist is torn between his need to obtain Narcissistic Supply (from human beings) - and his fervent wish to be left alone. This wish springs from contempt and overwhelming feelings of superiority.
There are fundamental conflicts between dependence, counter-dependence and contempt, neediness and devaluation, seeking and avoiding, turning on the charm to attract adulation and reacting wrathfully to the minutest "provocations". These conflicts lead to rapid cycling between gregariousness and self-imposed ascetic seclusion.
Such an unpredictable but always bilious and festering ambience, typical of the narcissist's "romantic" liaisons is hardly conducive to love or sex. Gradually, both become extinct. Relationships are hollowed out. Imperceptibly, the narcissist switches to asexual co-habitation.
But the vitriolic environment that the narcissist creates is only one hand of the equation. The other hand involves the woman herself.
As we said, heterosexual narcissists are attracted to women, but simultaneously repelled, horrified, bewitched and provoked by them. They seek to frustrate and humiliate them. Psychodynamically, the narcissist probably visits upon them his mother's sins - but such simplistic explanation does the subject great injustice.
Most narcissists are misogynists. Their sexual and emotional lives are perturbed and chaotic. They are unable to love in any true sense of the word - nor are they capable of developing any measure of intimacy. Lacking empathy, they are unable to offer to their partners emotional sustenance.
Do narcissists miss loving, would they have liked to love and are they angry with their parents for crippling them in this respect?
To the narcissist, these questions are incomprehensible. There is no way they can answer them. Narcissists have never loved. They do not know what is it that they are supposedly missing. Observing it from the outside, love seems to them to be a risible pathology.
Narcissists equate love with weakness. They hate being weak and they hate and despise weak people (and, therefore, the sick, the old and the young). They do not tolerate what they consider to be stupidity, disease and dependence - and love seems to consist of all three. These are not sour grapes. They really feel this way.
Narcissists are angry men - but not because they never experienced love and probably never will. They are angry because they are not as powerful, awe inspiring and successful as they wish they were and, to their mind, deserve to be. Because their daydreams refuse so stubbornly to come true. Because they are their worst enemy. And because, in their unmitigated paranoia, they see adversaries plotting everywhere and feel discriminated against and contemptuously ignored.
Many of them (the borderline narcissists) cannot conceive of life in one place with one set of people, doing the same thing, in the same field with one goal within a decades-old game plan. To them, this is the equivalent of death. They are most terrified of boredom and whenever faced with its daunting prospect, they inject drama or even danger into their lives. This way they feel alive.
The narcissist is a lonely wolf. He is a shaky platform, indeed, on which to base a family, or plans for the future.
A good point of departure would be jealousy, or rather, its pathological form, envy.
The narcissist becomes anxious when he grows aware of how romantically jealous (possessive) he is. This is a peculiar response. Normally, anxiety is characteristic of other kinds of interactions with the opposite sex where the possibility of rejection exists. Most men, for instance, feel anxious before they ask a woman to have sex with them.
The narcissist, in contrast, has a limited and underdeveloped spectrum of emotional reactions. Anxiety characterises all his interactions with the opposite sex and any situation in which there is a remote possibility that he would be rejected or abandoned.
Anxiety is an adaptive mechanism. It is the internal reaction to conflict. When the narcissist envies his female mate he is experiencing precisely such an unconscious conflict.
Jealousy is (justly) perceived as a form of transformed aggression. To direct it at the narcissist's female partner (who stands in for the Primary Object, his mother) is to direct it at a forbidden object. It triggers a strong feeling of imminent punishment - a likely abandonment (physical or emotional).
But this is merely the "surface" conflict. There is yet another layer, much harder to reach and to decipher.
To feed his envy, the narcissist exercises his imagination. He imagines situations, which justify his negative emotions. If his mate is sexually promiscuous this justifies romantic jealousy - he unconsciously "thinks".
The narcissist is a con artist. He easily substitutes fiction for truth. What commences as an elaborate daydream ends up in the narcissist's mind as a plausible scenario. But, then, if his suspicions are true (they are bound to be - otherwise, why is he jealous?), there is no way he can accept his partner back, says the narcissist to himself. If she is unfaithful - how could the relationship continue?
Infidelity and lack of exclusivity violate the first and last commandment of narcissism: uniqueness.
The narcissist tends to regard his partner's cheating in absolute terms. The "other" guy must be better and more special than he is. Since the narcissist is nothing but a reflection, a glint in the eyes of others, when cast aside by his spouse or mate, he feels annulled and wrecked.
His partner, in this single (real or imagined) act of adultery, is perceived by the narcissist to have passed judgment upon him as a whole - not merely upon this or that aspect of his personality and not merely in connection with the issue of sexual or emotional compatibility.
This perceived negation of his uniqueness makes it impossible for the narcissist to survive in a relationship tainted by jealousy. Yet, there is nothing more dreadful to a narcissist than the ending of a relationship, or abandonment.
Many narcissists strike an unhealthy balance. Being emotionally (and physically or sexually) absent, they drive the partner to find emotional and physical gratification outside the bond. This achieved, they feel vindicated - they are proven right in being jealous.
The narcissist is then able to accept the partner back and to forgive her. After all - he argues - her two-timing was precipitated by the narcissist's own absence and was always under his control. The narcissist experiences a kind of sadistic satisfaction that he possesses such power over his partner.
In provoking the partner to adopt a socially aberrant behaviour he sees proof of his mastery. He reads into the subsequent scene of forgiveness and reconciliation the same meaning. It proves both his magnanimity and how addicted to him his partner has become.
The more severe the extramarital affair, the more it provides the narcissist with the means to control his partner through her guilt. His ability to manipulate his partner increases the more forgiving and magnanimous he is. He never forgets to mention to her (or, at least, to himself) how wonderful he is for having thus sacrificed himself.
Here he is - with his unique, superior traits - willing to accept back a disloyal, inconsiderate, disinterested, self-centred, sadistic (and, entre nous, most ordinary) partner back. True, henceforth he is likely to invest less in the relationship, to become non-committal, and, probably, to be full of rage and hatred. Still, she is the narcissist's one and only. The more voluptuous, tumultuous, inane the relationship, the better it suits the narcissist's self-image.
After all, aren't such tortuous relationships the stuff Oscar winning movies are made of? Shouldn't the narcissist's life be special in this sense, too? Aren't the biographies of great men adorned with such abysses of emotions?
If an emotional or sexual infidelity does occur (and very often it does), it is usually a cry for help by the narcissist's mate. A forlorn cause: this rigidly deformed personality structure is incapable of change.
Usually, the partner is the dependent or avoidant type and is equally inherently incapable of changing anything in her life. Such couples have no common narrative or agenda and only their psychopathologies are compatible. They hold each other hostage and vie for the ransom.
The dependent partner can determine for the narcissist what is right and virtuous and what is wrong and evil as well as enhance and maintain his feeling of uniqueness (by wanting him). She, therefore, possesses the power to manipulate him. Sometimes she does so because years of emotional deprivation and humiliation by the narcissist have made her hate him.
The narcissist - forever "rational", forever afraid to get in touch with his emotions - often divides his relationships with humans to "contractual" and "non contractual", multiplying the former at the expense of the latter. By doing so he drowns the immediate, identifiable, emotional problems (with his partner) in a torrent of irrelevant frivolities (his obligation within numerous other "contractual" "relationships").
The narcissist likes to believe that he is the maker of the decision which type of relationship he establishes with whom. He doesn't even bother to be explicit about it. Sometimes people believe that they have a "contractual" (binding and long-term) relationship with the narcissist, while he entertains an entirely different notion without informing them. These, naturally, are grounds for innumerable disappointments and misunderstandings.
The narcissist often says that he has a contract with his girlfriend/spouse. This contract has emotional articles and administrative-economic articles.
One of the substantive clauses of this contract is emotional and sexual exclusivity.
But the narcissist feels that the fulfilment of his contracts - especially with his female partner - is asymmetrical. He is firmly convinced that he gives and contributes to his relationships more than he receives from them. The narcissist needs to feel deprived and punished, thus upholding the guilty verdict rendered by the primary and all important object in his life (usually, his mother).
The narcissist, though highly amoral (and at times, immoral), holds himself, morally, in high regard. He describes contracts as "sacred" and feels averse to cancelling or violating them even if they had expired or are invalidated by the behaviour of the other parties.
But the narcissist is not constant and predictable in his judgements. Thus, a violation of the contract by his romantic partner is deemed to be either trivial or nothing less than earth-shattering. If a contract is violated by the narcissist he is invariably tormented by his conscience to the extent of calling the contract (the relationship) off even if the partner judges the violation to be trivial or explicitly forgives the narcissist.
In other words, sometimes the narcissist feels compelled to cancel a contract just because he violated it and in order not to be tormented by his conscience (by his Superego, the internalised voices of his parents and other meaningful adults in his childhood).
But things get even more complex.
The narcissist acts asymmetrically as long as he feels bound by the contract. He tends to judge himself more severely than he judges the other parties to the contract. He forces himself to comply more strenuously than his partners do with the terms of the contract.
But this is because he needs the contract - the relationship - more than the others do.
The annulment or the termination of a contract represent rejection and abandonment, which the narcissist fears most. The narcissist would rather pretend that a contract is still valid than admit to the demise of a relationship. He never violates contracts because he is afraid of the reprisals and of the emotional consequences. But this is not to be confused with developed morals. When confronted with better alternatives - which more efficiently cater to his needs - the narcissist annuls or violates his contracts without thinking twice.
Moreover, not all contracts were created equal in the narcissistic twilight zone. It is the narcissist who retains the power to decide which contracts are to be scrupulously observed and which offhandedly ignored. The narcissist determines which laws (social contracts) to obey and which to break.
He expects society, his partners, his colleagues, his spouse, his children, his parents, his students, his teachers - in short: absolutely everyone - to abide by his rulebook. White collar narcissist criminals, for instance, see nothing wrong with their misconduct. They regard themselves as law-abiding, God-fearing, community-members. Their acts are committed in a mental enclave, a psychological no man's land, where no laws or contracts are binding.
The narcissist is sometimes perceived as whimsical, traitorous, posing and double crossing. The truth is that he is predictable and consistent. He follows one over-riding principle: the principle of Narcissistic Supply.
The narcissist had internalised a bad object. He feels corrupt, deserving to fail, to be disgraced and punished. He is forever surprised and thankful when good things happen to him. Out of touch with his own emotions and with his capabilities, he either exaggerates them or underestimates them.
He is likely to be grateful to his partner - and berate her! - for having chosen him to be her mate. Deep inside, he thinks that no one else would have been (or will be) as foolish, blind, or ignorant to have made this choice. The purported stupidity and blindness of his mate or spouse is substantiated by the very fact that she is his mate or spouse. Only a stupid and blind person would have preferred the narcissist, with his myriad deficiencies, to others.
This feeling of a "lucky break" is the true source of the asymmetry in the narcissist's relationships. The partner, having made this incredible choice to live with the narcissist (to bear this cross) is worthy of special consideration in compensation. The narcissist's willing partner - a rarity - warrants special treatment and a special (double) standard. The partner can be unfaithful, withholding (emotionally, financially), be dependent, be abusive, critical and so on - and, yet, be forgiven unconditionally.
This, no doubt, is the direct result of the narcissist's very flawed sense of self-worth and of an overpowering sense of inferiority.
This asymmetry is also an effective barrier against the expression of anger, even legitimate anger.
Instead, the narcissist accumulates his grievances every time that the partner takes advantage of the asymmetry (or is perceived by the narcissist to be doing so). The narcissist tries to convince himself that such abuse is an expected result of the daily friction of cohabitation, especially by partners with radically different personalities.
Some of the anger is passively-aggressively expressed. The frequency of sexual relations is reduced. Less sex, less talk, less touch. Sometimes the pent-up aggression erupts explosively in the form of rage attacks. These are usually followed by panicky reactions intended to restore the balance and to reassure the narcissist that he is not about to be abandoned.
Following such rage attacks, the narcissist regresses to passiveness, maudlin tenderness, appeasing gestures, or to wimpish, saccharine, and infantile behaviour. The narcissist does not expect or accept same behaviour from his partner. She is allowed to be cantankerous to her heart's content without as much as apologising.
Another hurdle on the narcissist's way to establishing lasting (if not healthy) relationships is his excess rationality and, chiefly, his tendency to generalise on the basis of tenuous and flimsy evidence (hyper-inductiviteness).
The narcissist regards abandonment or rejection by his emotional-sexual partners as a final verdict concerning his very ability to have such relationships in the future. Because of the mechanisms of self-denigration I have described, the narcissist is likely to idealise his mate and believe that she must have been uniquely predisposed and "equipped" to cope with him.
He "remembers" the way his partner sacrificed herself on the altar of the relationship. The more convinced the narcissist is that his partner invested extraordinarily in the relationship and the more assured he is that she was uniquely equipped to succeed in it - the more frightened he becomes.
Why the fear?
Because if this partner, as qualified as she was, as desirous of him as she was, failed to sustain the relationship - surely, no one else is likely to succeed. The narcissist believes that he is doomed to an existence of loneliness and destitution. He stands no chance of ever having a resilient, healthy relationship with another partner.
The narcissist would do anything to avoid this conclusion. He begs his partner to return and re-establish the relationship, no matter what transpired. Her very return proves to him that he is worthy, the preferred alternative, someone with whom maintaining a relationship is possible.
The partner, in other words, is the narcissist's equivalent of market research. That he was chosen by the partner is tantamount to receiving a quality award.
This dyad comprised of a "quality inspector" and a "chosen product" is only one of the pairs of roles adopted by the narcissist and his partner. Others include: "the sick" and "the healthy", "the doctor/psychologist" and "the patient", "the poor, underprivileged girl" and "the white knight in shining armour" dyads.
Both roles - the narcissist's and the one willingly (or unwillingly) adopted by the partner - are facets of the narcissist's personality. Through complex Projective Identification processes and other projective defence mechanisms the narcissist fosters a dialogue between parts of his self, using his partner as a mirror and a communication conduit.
Thus, by fostering such dialogs, the narcissist's relationships have a highly therapeutic value on the one hand. On the other hand they suffer from all the problems of a regime of psychotherapy: transference, counter-transference and the like.
Let us briefly study the pair of roles "sick-healthy" or "patient-doctor". The narcissist can assume either role in this pair.
If the narcissist is the "healthy" one, he attributes to his "sick" partner his own inability to form long-standing, emotion-infused couple relationships. This would be because she is "sick" (sexually hyperactive, "nymphomaniac", frigid, unable to commit, to be intimate, unjust, moody, or traumatised by events in her past).
The narcissist, on the other hand, judges himself to be homely and striving to establish a "healthy" couple. He interprets the behaviour of his partner to support this "theory". His partner displays emergent behaviours, which conform with her role. Sometimes, the narcissist invests less in such a relationship because he regards his mere existence - sane, strong, omnipotent, and omniscient - to be a sufficient investment (a gift, really), voiding the need to add "maintenance efforts" to it.
In the other, converse case, the narcissist labels many of his behaviour patterns as "sick". This usually coincides with latent or open hypochondriasis. The partner's health is idealised to form the background with which the narcissist's purported sickness is contrasted. This is a responsibility shifting mechanism. If the narcissist's pathology is deep seated and irreversible - then he cannot be held responsible for his actions, past and future.
This role playing is the narcissist's ways of coping with an insoluble dilemma.
The narcissist is mortally terrified of being abandoned by his partner. This fear drives him to minimise his interactions with his partner to avoid the inevitable pain of rejection. This, in turn, leads exactly to the feared abandonment. The narcissist knows that his behaviour instigates that which he is so afraid of.
In a way he is happy about it, because it gives him the illusion that he is in exclusive control of the relationship and of his own fate. His alleged "sickness" helps to explain his unusual conduct.
Ultimately, the narcissist loses his partners in all his relationships. He hates himself for it and is enraged. It is because of the life-threatening magnitude of these negative emotions that they are repressed. Every conceivable psychological defence mechanism is employed to sublimate, transform (through cognitive dissonance), dissociate or re-direct this self-mutilating wrath.
This constant inner turmoil generates unremitting fear manifested in the form of anxiety attacks, or an anxiety disorder. In the course of such life crises, the narcissist briefly believes that he is intrinsically deformed and defective and that he is irreparably dysfunctional when it comes to establishing and to maintaining relationships (which is true!).
The narcissist - especially during a life crisis - loses touch with reality. Defective reality tests and even psychotic micro-episodes are common. Narcissists interpret the (fairly common) mismatch between personalities that doomed the relationships in an apocalyptic manner. Dependence, a symbiotic interaction, raises doubts regarding the narcissist's very ability to form relationships.
But throughout all this, the narcissist needs a collaborative partner. He needs someone to serve as a sounding board, a mirror, and a victim. In other words, he needs a Polyandric woman.
The narcissist thinks of all women as either Monoandric or Polyandric.
The Monoandric woman is psychologically mature. She is usually older and sexually sated. She prefers intimacy and companionship to sexual satisfaction. She is in possession of a mental blueprint, which dictates her short-term goals. In her relationships, she emphasises compatibility and is predominantly verbal.
The narcissist reacts with fear and repulsion (mixed with rage and the wish to frustrate) to the Monoandric woman. Consciously, though, he realises that intimacy can be created only with this kind of woman.
The Polyandric woman is young (if not of age, then at heart). She is still sexually curious and varies her sexual partners. She is not adept at creating intimacy and emotional rapport. Because she is more interested in the accumulation of experiences - her life is not guided by a "master plan", or even by medium-term goals.
The narcissist is aware of the transience of his relationship with the Polyandric woman. So, he is attracted to her while being devoured by his fear of abandonment.
The narcissist, almost always, finds himself paired with Polyandric women. They pose no threat of getting emotionally close to him (of being intimate). The incompatibility between the narcissist and Polyandric women is so high and the probability of abandonment and rejection so great - that intimacy is all but excluded.
Moreover, this consuming fear of being left behind leads to a re-enactment of the primordial Oedipal Conflict and to a whole set of transference relations with the Polyandric woman. This inevitably results in the very abandonment the narcissist so dreads. Serious psychological crises follow such relationships (narcissistic trauma or injury).
The narcissist knows (or, if less self-aware, feels) all this. He is not as much attracted to the Polyandric woman as he is repelled by the Monoandric variety. Monoandric women threaten him with two things deemed by the narcissist to be even worse than abandonment: intimacy and a loss of uniqueness. Monoandric women are the venue through which the narcissist can communicate with his very threatening inner world. Last but not least, they want him to settle into a moulded non-unique way of life common to virtually all humanity: marriage, children, a career.
On the one hand, there is nothing like children to make the narcissist feel threatened. They are the embodiment of commonness, a reminder of his own, dark, childhood, and an infringement upon his privileges. They compete with him for scarce Narcissistic Supply.
On the other hand, there is nothing like children to boost an habitually flagging Ego. In short, nothing like children to create conflict in the tormented soul of the narcissist.
The narcissist does not react to people (or interact with them) as individuals. Rather, he generalises and tends to treat people as symbols or "classes". This is also true in his relationships with "his" women. Women resent this kind of treatment and, gradually, the narcissist finds it more and more difficult to be himself with them.
Women analyse his body language, his verbal and non-verbal communication and compare their own pathologies to his. They study his behaviour patterns and his interactions with his (human) milieu and (non-human) environment. They test their sexual compatibility by having sex with him.
They examine other types of compatibility by cohabiting or by prolonged dating. Their mating decision is based on the data they thus glean plus some "evolutionary survival parameters": the narcissist's genotype (genetic and chemical makeup), his phenotype (his looks and constitution), as well as his access to economic resources.
This is a standard mating procedure with standard mating checklists. The narcissist usually passes the genotype and phenotype reviews. Many narcissists, however, fail the third test: their ability to support themselves and their dependants economically. Narcissism is a very unstable mental condition and it complicates the narcissist's functioning in daily life.
Most narcissists tend to move between numerous positions and jobs, to gamble away their savings, and to become heavily indebted. The narcissist rarely accumulates wealth, property, assets, or possessions. The narcissist prefers to fake knowledge rather than to acquire it and to compromise rather to fight.
He usually finds himself engaged in capacities far below his intellectual ability. Women notice this as well as his pompous, inflated body language, haughtiness, rage attacks and severe acting out. Finally, the closer they get to the narcissist, the more they are be able to discern antisocial, abnormal, and a-normative behaviours.
The narcissist turns out to be a crook, an adventurer, a crisis-prone, danger seeking, emotionally cold, sexually abstaining or hyperactive individual. He might be self-destructive, self-defeating, success-fearing, and media-addicted. His turbulent biography is likely to include abnormal sexual and emotional relationships, prison terms, bankruptcies and divorces. Hardly the ideal partner.
Even worse, the narcissist regards women as a direct threat to his uniqueness, and a potential for degradation. To him, they are the conformity agents of society, the domesticating whips. By forcing him into homemaking, child rearing and the assumption of long-term consumer credits (and mortgages), women are likely to reduce the narcissist to a Common Man, an anathema. Women represent an invasion of the narcissist's privacy, unmasking his defence mechanisms by "X-raying" his soul (the narcissist attributes paranormal powers of penetration to women).
They possess the ability to hurt him through abandonment and rejection. The narcissist feels that women are very "business-like, use and discard" type of people. They exploit their capacities for deep psychological insight to further their goals. In other words, they are sinister and are not to be trusted. Their motives should always be questioned.
This is the old fear of intimacy disguised. These are the old phobias: of being controlled, of being assimilated, of losing control, of being hurt, of being vulnerable. This is the deep-rooted feeling of emotional inadequacy. The narcissist believes that, upon closer scrutiny, he will be found lacking emotionally and, thus, unlovable.
It is part of the narcissist's "Con-Artist Effect". The narcissist feels an objective and thorough scrutiny is bound to expose him for what he is: a fake, an impostor, a con man. The narcissist is the chameleon-like "Zelig" - everything to everyone, no one to himself.
Narcissists interact with women emotionally (and later, sexually), or only physically.
When the interaction is emotional, the narcissist feels that he is risking the loss of his uniqueness, that his privacy is invaded, that his defence mechanisms are being unravelled, and that information divulged by him (following the collapse of his defences) might be abused through destructive criticism or extortion.
The narcissist constantly feels that he is rejected. Even if such rejection is the normal outcome of incompatibility, without any comparative judgment and "rating" - the feeling persists. The narcissist just "knows" that she is not sexually or emotionally exclusive (others preceded him and others will succeed him).
During the initial phases of emotional involvement the narcissist is likely to be told that there was no one like him in the partner's life before. He judges this to be a false and hypocritical statement simply because it is likely to have been uttered before, to others. This prevailing sense of falsity permeates the relationship from the very start.
In the back of his mind the narcissist always remembers that he is "different" (sick). He recognises that this deformity is likely to thwart any relationship and to lead to abandonment, or at lease to rejection. The seeds of abandonment are embedded in every nascent interaction with a woman. The narcissist has to cope with his special predicament as well as with social changes and the disintegration of the social fabric, which anyhow make sustaining relationship an ever more difficult achievement in today's world.
The alternative, mere corporeal contact, the narcissist finds repellent. There, uniqueness and exclusivity - what the narcissist relishes most - are definitely absent.
This is especially true if an emotional dimension does exist in the relationship. Whereas the narcissist can always convince himself that both his emotions and their background are unique and unprecedented - he is hard pressed to do so concerning the sexual aspect of the relationship. Surely, he hasn't been his lover's first sexual partner and sex is a common and vulgar pursuit.
Still, some narcissists prefer less complicated and less threatening sex: devoid of all emotion, anonymous (group sex, prostitution) or autoerotic (homosexual or masturbation). The sexual partner, in these conditions, lacks identity, is objectified and dehumanised. Exclusivity cannot be demanded of objects and the potential risk of unfaithfulness is happily allayed.
An example that I always use: a narcissist, eating in a restaurant, would rarely feel that his uniqueness is threatened by the fact that thousands of people ate there before him and are likely to do so after his departure. Eating in a restaurant is an impersonal, objectified, routine.
The notion of his own uniqueness is so fragile that the narcissist requires "total compliance" in order to be able to maintain it. Thus, the emotional and sexual exclusivity of his partner (a pillar in the temple of his uniqueness) must be both spatial and temporal. To satisfy the narcissist, the partner must be sexually and emotionally exclusive in both her past and her present. This sounds highly possessive - and it is. The narcissist shivers at the thought of his partner's past lovers and her exploits with them. He is even jealous of movie actors, whom his partner finds appealing.
This need not deteriorate into active, violent jealousy. In most cases, it is an insidious form of envy, which poisons the relationship through mutated forms of aggression.
The narcissist's possessiveness is geared to safeguard his self-imputed uniqueness. The partner's exclusivity enhances the narcissist's sensation of uniqueness. But why can't the narcissist be unique to his partner today as others have been to her in the past?
Because serial uniqueness is a contradiction in terms, uniqueness means ultimate compatibility, enzyme and substrate, protein and receptor, antigen and antibody, almost immunological specificity. The likelihood of serially enjoying precisely such compatibility with successive partners is very low.
For serial compatibility to occur the following conditions have to be met (believes the narcissist):
- That one (or both) of the partners will have changed so radically that the former specifications of compatibility are replaced by new ones. This radical change can come from the inside (endogenous) or from the outside (exogenous).
Such a dramatic shift must, therefore, occur with every new partner.
- Or that each partner is even more specifically compatible than its predecessor - a highly unlikely occurrence.
- Or that compatibility is never achieved and one (or both) partners react badly to some of the specifications and initiates separation in order to move on to a more suitable partner.
- Or that compatibility is never achieved and any claim to the contrary (especially the sentence "I love you") is false. The relationship, in this case, is contaminated by major hypocrisy.
Yet, narcissists do get married. They do try to have lifetime partners. This is because they distinguish "their" women from all other. The narcissist's occasional girlfriend (however "permanent") and his permanent partner (however randomly chosen) must satisfy different requirements.
The permanent partner (wife, usually) must meet four conditions:
She must act as the narcissist's companion but on highly unequal terms. She must be submissive and motherly, sufficiently intelligent to admire and admiring enough never to criticise, critical enough to assist him and helpful enough to make a good friend. This contradictory equation can never be solved and leads to bouts of frustration and rage staged by the narcissist if any of his demands or expectations goes unheeded.
The narcissist's partner has to share quarters with him. But the narcissist, with an inflated sense of privacy and what can be best described as spatial paranoia, is very hard to live with. He regards her presence in his space as intrusion. The fragile or non-existent boundaries of his Ego force him to define rigid outer boundaries for fear of being "invaded".
He enforces his brand of compulsive orderliness and his code of conduct on his entire physical space in the most tyrannical manner.
It is a hybrid, almost transcendental existence led by the narcissist's mate or spouse. There when required by him, making herself absent at all other times. Rarely can she define her own space or impress her personal preferences and tastes upon it.
The cerebral narcissist's partner is usually his only sexual mate. Cerebral narcissists are normally very faithful because they are mortally afraid of the repercussions if found out cheating. But, being purely Sexual Communicators, they get bored very easily and find it ever more taxing to maintain regular (let alone exciting) sexual relations with the same partner.
They are under-stimulated and for want of alternatives, they develop a vicious frustration-aggression cycle, leading to emotional absence and coldness and to sexual intercourse decreasing in both quality and quantity. This could drive the partner to having extramarital sexual (or, even emotional) affairs.
It provides the narcissist with the justification that he needs to do the same. However, the narcissist rarely uses this license. Instead he leverages the partner's inevitable guilt feelings to deepen his control over her and to place himself in a morally superior position.
Often, the narcissist destabilises the relationship and keeps his partner off-balance, in constant uncertainty and insecurity by suggesting an open marriage, possible participation in group sex and so on. Or, he constantly alludes to sexual opportunities available to him. This he might do jokingly but he ignores his partner's avid protestations. By provoking her jealousy, the narcissist believes that he endears himself to her and furthers his control.
Last - but definitely not least - is the issue of procreation and of having offspring.
Narcissists like children only as unlimited Sources of Narcissistic Supply. Put simply: children unconditionally admire the father-narcissist, they succumb to his every wish, submit to his every whim, obey his every command, and are deliciously malleable.
All other aspects of child-rearing are considered by the narcissist to be repulsive: the noises, the smells, the invasion of his space, the nuisance, the dangers, the long-term commitment and, above all, the diversion of attention and admiration from the narcissist to his offspring. The narcissist envies his successful offspring as he would any other competitor for adulation and attention.
A profile of the narcissist's spouse emerges:
She must value the narcissist's companionship sufficiently to sacrifice any independent expression of her personality. She must usually endure confinement in her own home. She either refrains from bringing children to the world altogether or sacrifices them to the narcissist as instruments of his gratification. She must endure long spells of sexual abstinence or be sexually molested by the narcissist.
This is a vicious cycle. The narcissist is likely to devalue such a submissive partner. The narcissist detests self-sacrifice and self-effacement. He scorns such behaviour in others. He humiliates his partner until she leaves him and, thus, proves that she is assertive and autonomous. Then, of course, he idealises her and wants her back.
The narcissist is interested in the kind of woman that he is able to drive to abandon him by sadistically berating and humiliating her (on what could be regarded as justified grounds).
In his internal dialogues, the narcissist mulls over his problematic experience with the opposite sex.
A far as he is concerned, women are emotional objects, instant narcissistic solutions. As long as they are indiscriminately supportive, adoring and admiring they fulfil the critical role of Source of Narcissistic Supply.
We are on safe ground, therefore, when we say that mentally stable and healthy women refrain from having relationships with narcissists.
The narcissist's lifestyle, his reactions, in short: his disorder, prevent the development of a mature love, of real sharing, of empathy. The narcissist's mate, spouse, or partner is treated as an object. She is the subject of projections, Projective Identifications and a source of adulation.
Moreover, the narcissist himself is unlikely to cultivate a long-term relationship with a psychologically healthy, independent, and mature woman. He seeks her dependence within a relationship of superiority and inferiority (teacher-student, guru-disciple, idol-admirer, therapist-patient, doctor-patient, father-daughter, adult-adolescent or young girl, etc.).
The narcissist is an anachronism. He is a Victorian arch conservative, even if he denies it vehemently. He rejects feminism. He feels ill at ease in today's modern world and is seldom self-conscious enough to understand why. He pretends to be a liberal. But this conviction does not sit well with his envy, an integral element of his narcissistic personality.
His conservatism and jealousy combine to yield extreme possessiveness and a powerful fear of abandonment. The latter can (and does) bring about self-defeating and self-destructive behaviours. These, in turn, encourage the partner to abandon the narcissist. The narcissist, thus, feels that he has aided and abetted the process, that he facilitated his own abandonment.
This is all part of a facade whose genesis can only be partially attributed to repression or denial mechanisms. This fake front is coherent, consistent, ubiquitous and completely misleading. The narcissist uses it to project both his cognition (the results of conscious thought processes) and his affect (emotions).
The narcissist, for instance, would adopt the role of a warm, sensitive, considerate and empathic person - while, in truth, he is likely to be emotionally shallow, to have attention deficits, to be inordinately self-centred, insensitive and unaware of what is happening around him and to other people.
He makes promises casually, plagiarises with abandon, and pathologically (compulsively and unnecessarily) lies - all part of the same phenomenon: a promising, impressive front behind, which are concealed psychical "Potemkin Villages". This makes him the target of strong frustration, hate, hostility and even verbal, physical or legal violence.
The same scenario applies to matters of the heart. The narcissist employs the same tactics with women.
The narcissist lies because he thinks his reality is too "grey" and unattractive. He feels that his skills, traits, and experience are lacking, that his biography is boring, that many aspects of his life call for improvement. The narcissist desperately wants to be loved - and modifies and mends himself to render himself loveable.
To this there is only one exception.
The sociologist Erving Goffman coined the phrase "Total Institutions". He was referring to institutions with total regulation of the totality of life within them. The army is such an institution and so is a hospital, or a prison. To some extent, any alien environment is total. Living outside one's country, in a foreign, somewhat xenophobic and hostile, society, is reminiscent of living in a Total Institution ("Total Situation").
The mental health problems of some narcissists grow worse in such institutions - and this is understandable. There is nothing like a Total Institution to negate uniqueness.
But others feel relaxed and secure. How come?
This is an enigma the solution to which provides us with important insights regarding the codes, which control the narcissist's attitudes towards women.
Total Institutions and Total Situations have a few common denominators:
- They eliminate the individual's idiosyncratic identity through external measures such as donning uniforms, sleeping in dormitories, using numbers instead of names. In hospitals the patients are identified by their organs or conditions, for instance. But this is counter-weighed by a sense of emerging, compensatory uniqueness, the result of belonging to a mysterious select few, an order of suffering or guilt, a brotherhood of endurance.
- People in these places have no past or future. They live in an infinite present.
- The starting conditions of all the inmates are identical. There are no relative or absolute advantages, no value judgments, no rating of worthiness, no competition, no inferiority or superiority complexes induced from the outside. This, naturally, is a gross oversimplification, even, to some extent, a misstatement of the facts - but we need to idealise in order to analyse.
- The Total Institution offers no frame of reference or of comparison which might foster feelings of failure or of inferiority.
- The constant threat of sanctions restrains and constrains destructive behaviours.
A heightened awareness of reality is necessary for survival. Any self-injury or sabotage is punished more severely than in the outside, "relative", world.
Thus, the narcissist can attribute any failure to his new environment.
If his new environment is the outcome of a voluntary choice (for instance, emigration) the narcissist can say that it was he who chose failure over success - a choice that indeed he made.
Otherwise, the failure is ascribed to overriding external imperatives ("force majeure"). The narcissist has an alternative in this case. He doesn't have to identify with his failures or to internalise them because he can convincingly argue (mainly to himself) that they are not his, that success was impossible under the objective circumstances.
Coping with recurrent failure is a figment of the narcissist's inner life. The narcissist would tend to regard himself as a failure. He doesn't say: "I failed" - but "I am a failure". Whenever he fails - and he is predisposed to fail - he "assimilates" the failure and identifies with it in an act of transubstantiation.
Narcissists are more prone to failure because of their built-in precariousness, instability and their tendency for brinkmanship. The schism between their rational apparatus and their emotional one doesn't help, either. While, usually, highly talented and intelligent - narcissists are emotionally immature and pathological.
Narcissists know that they are inferior to other people in that they are self-defeating and self-destructive. They solve this gap between their grandiose fantasies and their sordid and drab reality (the Grandiosity Gap) by manufacturing and designing their own failures. This way they feel that they control their misfortune.
Obviously, this apparently ingenious mechanism is, in itself, destructive.
On the one hand, it succeeds to make the narcissist feel that he is in control of his failures (if not of his life). On the other hand, the fact that the failure directly and unequivocally emanates from the narcissist - makes it an inseparable part of him. Thus, the narcissist feels not only that he is the author of his own failures (which, in some cases, he, indeed, is) - but that failure forms an integral part of himself (which, gradually, becomes true).
It is due to this identification with his failures, defeats and mishaps, that the narcissist finds it hard to "market" himself, be it to a potential employer or to a woman he desires.
The narcissist holds himself to be a total (systemic) failure. His self-esteem and self-image are always crippled. He feels that he doesn't have "anything to offer". When he tries to derive consolation from the memory of past successes - the comparison depresses him even further, making him feel that he is at a nadir.
As it is, the narcissist regards any need to promote himself as demeaning. One promotes oneself because one needs others, because one is inferior (however temporarily). This reliance on others is both external (economic, for example) and internal (emotional). The narcissist is also afraid of the possibility of being rejected, of failing at his self-promotion. This kind of failure may have the worst effect, compounding the narcissist's feeling of worthlessness.
No wonder that the narcissist regards any necessity to self-promote as humiliating, as negating his self-respect in a cold, alienated, transactional universe. The narcissist fails to understand why he needs to promote himself when his uniqueness is so self-evident. He envies the successes and the happiness of others (their successful self-promotion).
None of these problems arises in a Total Institution or outside the narcissist's natural milieu (abroad, for instance), or in a Total Situation.
In these settings, failure can be explained away by being attributed to poor starting conditions inherent in a new environment. The narcissist does not have to internalise the failure or to identify with it. The act of self-promotion is also made much easier. It is understandable why one has to promote oneself if one is rendered inferior or unknown by circumstances of one's choice.
In Total Situations, the need to market oneself is understandable, external, and objective, a force majeure, really, though brought about by the narcissist himself. The narcissist compares the situation to a game of chess: you select which game to play but once you have done so, you have to abide by the rules, however disadvantageous.
In these circumstances failure can be attributed to outside forces - including the failure to promote oneself. The act of self-promotion cannot, by definition, dehumanise the narcissist or humiliate him. In a Total Institution (or in a Total Situation) the narcissist is no longer a human being - he has nothing.
The positive aspect of Total Situations is that the narcissist is rendered special and mysterious by virtue of being a stranger and even by the enigma of his prior identity. The narcissist cannot envy the natives' successes and happiness - clearly they had a head start. They belong, they control, they dictate, they are supported by social networks and codes.
The narcissist cannot accept that anyone is more knowledgeable than he is. He is likely to argue vehemently with the medical staff attending him over his treatment, for instance. But he succumbs to force (the more brutal and explicit - the better). And while doing so, the narcissist feels a great relief: the race is over and responsibility has been shifted to the outside. He is almost euphoric when relieved of the need to make decisions, or when he finds himself in a bad spot because this vindicates his internal voices, which keep telling him that he is bad and should be punished.
It is this fear of failure - especially the fear of failing to promote himself - that thwarts the narcissist's relationships with women and with other figures of authority or of import in his life.
It is really the old fear of being abandoned in one of its endless guises. The narcissist envies his deserting partner. He knows how difficult and emotionally wrenching it is to live with him. He realises that his partner will be much better off without him - and this makes him sad (that he was unable to offer her an acceptable alternative) and envious (that her lot is likely to be better than his.) Of course, he displaces some of his emotions, blaming his partner, then blaming himself, angry at her and afraid to feel this (forbidden) anger (at his mother's substitute).
The narcissist does not feel sorry because a specific individual - his partner - abandoned him. He feels sorry because he was abandoned. It is the act of abandonment, which matters - the abandoning figures (his mother, his partners) are interchangeable.
The narcissist always shares his life with a fantasy, an idealisation, with an ideal phantasm he imposes upon his real life partner. Abandonment is only the rebellion of the real life partner against this fiction invented and compulsively enforced by the narcissist, against the humiliation thus suffered - verbal and behavioural.
For the narcissist, to be abandoned means to be judged and found wanting. To be deserted means to be deemed replaceable. At its extreme, it can come to mean the emotional annihilation of the narcissist. He feels that when a woman leaves him she does so because there it is emotionally easy to get away from him and never to see him again. There is no problem to bid farewell to someone who just is not there (at least emotionally). The narcissist feels annulled, rendered transparent, abused, exploited, and objectified.
Put differently, the narcissist experiences through abandonment (even through the mere risk of abandonment) a re-enactment of the very mistreatment and abuses, which, earlier in his life, transformed him into the deformed creature that he is. He gets a taste of the medicine (rather poison) that he often ruthlessly administers to others. At the same time he relives his harrowing childhood experiences.
This mirror matrix of forces is too much for the narcissist to bear. He begins to disintegrate and veers into utter and complete dysfunction. At this late stage, he is likely to entertain suicidal ideation. An encounter with the opposite sex holds mortal risks for the narcissist - more ominous than the risks normally associated with it.
Vaknin, S. (2008, November 6). Chapter 5, The Soul of a Narcissist, The State of the Art, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, September 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/personality-disorders/malignant-self-love/the-narcissist-and-the-opposite-sex