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Tuesday, 8 January 2013

When he drives you crazy: narcissistic personality disorder.

"People use the word 'love' a lot of different ways. Take me, for instance. I am often heard saying that I love my mom and dad. I am also often heard saying that I love pizza. What am I saying when I say I love my mom and dad? I'm saying that I care about them. I'm saying that I love spending time with them and that I talk to them every chance I get. I'm saying that if they needed me, I would do every humanly possible to help them. I'm saying that I always want what's best for them. What am I saying when I say I love pizza? Am I saying that I care deeply about pizza? Am I saying that I have a relationship with pizza? Am I saying that if pizza had a problem, I would be there for the pizza? (What? Not enough pepperoni? I'll be right there!) Of course not. When I say I love pizza, I'm just saying that I enjoy eating pizza until I don't want any more pizza. Once I'm tired of the pizza, I don't care what happens to the rest of it. I'll throw it away. I'll feed it to the dog. I'll stick it in the back of the refrigerator until it gets all green and moldy. It doesn't matter to me anymore. These are two very different definition of the word 'love'. It gets confusing when people start talking about love, and especially about loving you. Which way do these people love you? Do they want what is best for you, or do they just want you around because it is good for them, and they don't really care what happens to you? Next time someone looks deeply into your eyes and says 'I love you', look very deeply right back and say, 'Would that be pizza love, or the real thing?"  - Mary Beth Bonacci


I remember a story of a friend´s sister who at the age of 10 put on a pair of glasses for the first time ever and declared with surprise “Trees have leaves!!”  She had only seen blurred images before.  No-one had realised, not even herself that she couldn´t see well - how can you know that you don´t have it, if you don´t have it?

I have this sneaky idea that many men, who had intense co-dependent relationships with their mothers, shut off their negative feelings.  They want only the idealised view of their mummy so they cut off a part of their brain so that her nastiness won’t affect them so they are immune to their emotions. 

There was an article once in La Vanguardia “La Contra” that explained how children manage their emotions with a mother who is always shouting, or complaining, by turning off the ability to receive that sound frequency in their brains - they turn a deaf ear…they use a self defence mechanism to not hear her and her anger.  It is the only way these little children can survive. 

Further, these little kids don´t have any supporting information in their story books about bad mothers, only about witches, and even as a society we don´t tend to remember images about bad mothers, only the ever loving, ever present mother who makes people feel warm and goey for products on television adverts.  Even those who remember their mother in any other terms other than archetypal beauty, prefer to remain in silence.

Having cut off these images and emotions as children, as adults it would seem they have grown so accustomed to this half empty tool box that they don´t notice they don’t have certain registers.  They are used to living in a world where there are fuzzy boundaries, they are probably used with Gestalt techniques to joining up the gaps so their perception appears continuous. They are used to living without certain images, with invisible non explored feelings that were denied by the mother and society.  There are only a few brave spirited men to break an unhealthy relationship with their mother.  They would prefer, or so it would seem, to break contemporary relationships with other women who they have been unfaithful to their mother with. 

It is not that narcissists don´t have emotions, they have very strong ones, so terrifyingly overpowering and negative that they hide them, repress, block and transmute them.

So having cut out most memories, these men don´t actually have any real information about if their mother loved them or not. Their self esteem (self love) is at stake.  So they go out into the world trying to get everyone to love them, to support their unsupported version of the story that their mother was wonderful and loved him.  He needs to be number one to show himself that he has the solid base that mothers give to their children through their love, care and support…and that is why he is a success…he needs constant attention, he is addicted to narcissistic supply, to be reminded of his god status, that people adore him, that he is always right.   If they do not have this constant cover-up that they confuse with universal pure love, they slump into the other story…my mother didn´t love me, who am I?  I am a failure…which they cannot stand, because they do not have the tools to deal with it.  They are unable to integrate “good” and “bad”, they have two different, separated, unconnected images: mother and bitch, success and failure, supergodme and pathetic failure.  They have to face themselves and one of the problems of their psychopathology is that they tend to have rather unsavoury lives.

I´m not saying all narcissists are like this, but one that I got to know I believe was unable to imagine.  I wonder if is a defence against the mother’s threat “If don´t do this for me then (unimaginable horror) will happen”.  He was unable to imagine very simple things, so that I wondered if he was actually mentally handicapped, while at the same time he had a wonderful memory for information.  Imagine not being able to imagine!  Images help to connect the present situation with the future or the past to bring more information and hopefully higher levels of wisdom into the present situation and the decisions within it.  Images also help give meaning to the present...and imagination allows us to go back into images of past memories with the wisdom we have now, to try and work out what really happened. We can replay our feelings, comprehending better the past, present or future situation, and healing ourselves. 

Without images suddenly you cannot recreate events and have only information and dry facts (which makes memory much easier, and these men seems to have prolific memories of information that is very impressive and makes them look really quite superior)…they are unable to imagine a future, they cannot imagine the image of their past. If you can´t image you cannot travel through time.  They cannot access any information that is not present here-now or stored in a factual memory and so they cannot access emotions out of this time frame.  Without imagination they cannot imagine being someone else, they have no empathy. All of which could explain why they really just don´t care about anyone who is not in front of their noses, because they just haven´t the capacity to image that person - they have ceased (temporarily) to exist.  Im-portar means to carry within, without an image they find no-one is really important to them at all. They are trapped in a strange here-now…seeing everything, contacting with it but as isolated continuum, experiencing things without feeling them, living in a sort of bubble where no-one but themselves as kings of the road and their mummies exist (even if they are dead).

Narcissist perhaps through fear of remembering the past, are “stuck” in the present.  Ironically it is where we are all trying consciously to get to...hence this sort of "guru" thing...but surely it is a false guru unaware of where they are, how they got there, unable to apply any meaning, or understand their actions in a deeper sense, they have no empathy, are unable to love.  They have learnt what is right to say and what is wrong, without really understanding why, but they know how to get the results they want (they want what they are addicted to: narcissitic supply). They confuse human love with an ideal of "pure love", write beautiful poems, tell you wonders, but cannot actually apply it, they cannot bring down from that perfectionist place of "pure beauty and love" down to earth, they cannot apply that "universal love" to reality, which is here and now...irrepeatable...they love all women but are incapable of having a relationship with just one (who by definition cannot be perfect).

Another narcissist I met, having had a very difficult childhood in anyone´s books, is unable to feel at all.  The only solution is to think.  They need information.  They need information to where they are going, and the logical stages they will go through…lets say a journey…they have the info about the whole journey, the times, the costs, the routes, they have studied it, memorized the information…they are relieved they will not have to ask anyone for anything…because without feelings, there is no information about the person or the situation.  Nothing to show them whether to trust or not, how to act, nothing to help guide them through situations in this here-now that is unrepeatable and doesn´t conform to any pre-existing patterns. They cannot cope with what we call reality.  Chaos is ordered not in the moment with the application of feelings, but by going over the top of it, walking on their idealised, perfectly functioning mental maps, blind to how it actually is, here-now, stuck in theories of how it should be.


The narcissist lives in a fantasised world of ideal beauty, incomparable (imaginary) achievements, wealth, brilliance and unmitigated success. The narcissist denies his reality constantly. The Grandiosity Gap is the abyss between his sense of entitlement grounded in his inflated grandiose fantasies – and his incommensurate reality and meagre accomplishments.

The narcissist's partner is perceived by him to be merely a Source of Narcissistic Supply, an instrument, an extension of himself. It is inconceivable that – blessed by the constant presence of the narcissist – such a tool would malfunction. The needs and grievances of the partner are perceived by the narcissist as threats and slights. 

The narcissist considers his very presence in the relationship as nourishing and sustaining. He feels entitled to the best others can offer without investing in maintaining his relationships or in catering to the well-being of his "suppliers". To rid himself of deep-set feelings of (rather justified) guilt and shame – he pathologizes the partner. 

He projects his own mental illness unto her. Through the intricate mechanism of projective identification he forces her to play an emergent role of "the sick" or "the weak" or "the naive" or "the dumb" or "the no good". What he denies in himself, what he is loath to face in his own personality – he attributes to others and moulds them to conform to his prejudices against himself.

The narcissist must have the best, the most glamorous, stunning, talented, head turning, mind-boggling spouse in the entire world. Nothing short of this fantasy will do. To compensate for the shortcomings of his real life spouse – he invents an idealised figure and relates to it instead. 

Then, when reality conflicts too often and too evidently with this figment – he reverts to devaluation. His behaviour turns on a dime and becomes threatening, demeaning, contemptuous, berating, reprimanding, destructively critical and sadistic – or cold, unloving, detached, and "clinical". He punishes his real life spouse for not living up to his fantasy, for "refusing" to be his Galathea, his Pygmalion, his ideal creation. The narcissist plays a wrathful and demanding God.

Dr. Sam Vaknin sumarises you should never date a narcissist.  I completely agree.  I am writing this blog, not to point blame, but to help women who are in a relationship with a narcissist to realise:

1) it is not your fault
2) they will never have any real feelings for you (you are bashing your head against a wall…it is like trying to talk about atheism with a fundamentalist)
3) you will never get back to those wonderful glorious moments when you met (that really did happen even though you doubt the possibility of them actually ever being true).
4) you will not recover or recuperate anything that you put into the relationship, no matter how big your sacrifice.
5) Even if you do the most outrageous things, even if you are suicidal, even if you make yourself super beautiful, even if you write a book and become famous, he will not give you the attention that you need, he will only come to you if he thinks you will give him narcissist supply.  End of story.


We are living in a narcissistic society, capitalism breeds it, like fungus. Meanwhile us women are spoon-fed on dreams of a wonderful princess style life.  Narcissist could constitute up to 30% of the population (spreading into women) according to the study by Jean M Twenge et al. That number has doubled in the last 30 years. The same researchers reported a 40 percent decline in empathy among young people, a personality attribute inversely related to narcissism, since the 1980s. Meanwhile the new hysteria, "conversion disorder" is estimated with a prevalence anywhere between 30 and 60% (with between 2 and 6 female patients for every male).

There seem to be few men who do not have at least slight narcissistic personality disorder, and few women do not suffer at least slightly from hysterical personality disorder.  They go hand in glove…the narcissist loves to manipulate the feelings he himself can´t access in the woman who has too many…women love to be able to pour all their emotions into his empty container where there is plenty of space for them to go.  Both of them, for a time, lap it up.  They have found between them heaven. 

But the fact that you are with a narcissist, and that he is narcissist, is not your fault.  Your feelings, irritating that you would prefer to deny, the wicked witch lurking around the corner, are not your core personality even when he says they are…it is important to be able to maintain distance between what is being expected of you, and who you are.

Perhaps you had a father who was a narcissist.  Perhaps you realised that his need to be number one with everyone as supporting role was more important than your need to be who you really are when you were a child.  Perhaps you simply got used to this slight and constant put down of all people around a narcissist, perhaps you got used to all these and knew that your daddy loved you anyway…and so mixed yourself into and got mixed up between an ideal of pure love and what in reality is slight abuse…which is where you feel most comfortable (because you know the rules). When someone says to you “Ohh you little idiot, how I love you!” how does it make you feel when you know he would only say that to you, especially only to you because you are so close?

Being loved 10% instead of 0% is not better…we need to aim at 100% with an average of 90% (we all have bad days).  If we have low self esteem (self love) we are attracted to those with apparently high self esteem (so we can learn from them), and try to connect with them emotionally, but Narcissists have no interest in emotional or even intellectual stimulation by significant others. Such feedback is perceived as a threat.

Narcissists do feel bad about hurting others and about the unsavoury course their lives tend to assume. But the narcissist feels bad only when his Supply Sources are threatened because of his behaviour or following a narcissistic injury in the course of a major life crisis. 


What I really want to say is have faith what you are feeling in your relationships.  Use your emotions as your friends, guides, parents. I believe, from the stories from my close friends and intimate conversations, that as women we are all put into extreme situations. Which leads to the conclusion that we have all experienced extreme lack of love, or, I hang out with a weird bunch of women.  Difficult to really know!  However weirdo women, when you are put into an extreme situation have FAITH in your feelings, listen to them.  When the thought in your head says “It is impossible that I feel like this…no-one in their right mind would treat even their enemy like this”…remember he has very little contact with his feelings, and has no idea as to the emotional consequences of his actions. He cannot understand that you are upset by him wanting to take everything that you value and trashing it. You may go to him forced into over exaggerated weeping trying to get his fleeting attention (a favourite of the hysterics) and lay on the ground screaming “Why? Why do you make me feel like this?” (the more theatrical the more addictive it becomes…try throwing things too, or standing under a cold shower with your clothes on, it will bring down the hysteria, and make an impact on him that he will instantly forget or use as evidence for your continuing and worrying madness…) “Why???!!!”  you repeat for the millionth time and eventually he will respond, and you will hear the honesty in his calm words “I don´t feel like you do about it, I think you´ve made a mistake”.  Meanwhile we are so desperate to stay on track with Julia Roberts and Cinderella, and become the queen of Sheba, we irrationally believe that this man here, so calm in the middle of our harrowing emotional torment, can help us become the woman of our dreams, if only he would connect to his potential, if only he would treat us differently, like he did once.  With our dreams still in tact, we prefer to listen to him rather than ourselves.  He is right: he really doesn´t feel.  You are right: you really do feel.  You are NOT going mad.  What you see exists, only he cannot see it.  It is ironically the same story but backwards that he has had with his mother.  She negated anything he felt negatively towards her.


What seems to keep us going is the memory of how is was so beautiful right at the beginning.  Yes of course it was, a narcissist found someone to project his positive emotions of his mother onto…you lapped it up…he declared undying love, he came back earlier on a jet plane just to see you, he wrote you poems, you did a marriage ceremony together in secret, and told you that without you he would die, that you had changed his life, that for the first time he feels alive….and it made you feel, great, useful, accepted, recognised…only you were projecting onto him your dream man, and neither of you could see behind those silver screens.  Until the reality hits, the narcissist realises you are not like his mother, and instead, without control, projects onto you his unacceptable bad feelings he has for his mother and you become his bitch.  He doesn´t say it of course, he actually struggles against it, cos deep down perhaps he does feel for you, but apart from his mummy all women are bitches to him.  His mummy even told him that. Meanwhile you keep on with this idea that if only he would connect to that glorious potential you can see in him, you will be living the dream.  He won´t, you won´t. 

Musical interval: Carly Simon “You´re so vain, you probably think this song is about you”. 


You can only live your dream if YOU make it happen even with the best of men at your arm.  And he, to be frank has no idea that there are leaves on trees, and at this age would prefer to keep thinking he is the king of the world because it´s such a nice feeling, and much better than abject depression he would have to go through to begin to accept the his actual not so glamorous reality.  An inflated ego, the higher it is, the harder the fall.  He would prefer to wank his psyche.

The problem, remember, is that they cannot get out of the relationship with their mother.  They have room in their heart for one…their mummy. Their idealised woman.  They can have ANY woman around them, as pretty, as beautiful, as intelligence, as romantic, as good company as we exist, but they only have room for one.  Get over it! It is not going to change easily, and if it does it has to come from him.  You are NOT EVER going to save him.  EVER. And really who would want a man who changed for someone else instead of for himself?  You are absolved…it is not personal.  It is not your fault.  You are not what he says you are (the projections of a bad woman).  You have just unfortunately fallen into a trap, and in my understanding, better to be alone than being sucked alive.

But, I hear myself and other women cry, “Ohh but when it is good, it is SO good!!”  Of course!  Narcissists, to try and get attention from their negligent mother (real or perceived), have created all sorts of sophisticated psychological masks that are, quite frankly, addictive.  They know how to pull someone around just as they are about to leave a relationship. They know how to manipulate others…simply because it is what they have learnt to do.  They have so few feelings, that things are much more simple.  They don’t feel so much guilt, they don´t really feel, there is nothing to stop them doing what they want.  No emotions are going to crucify them.  They can steal from anyone, hurt others, do whatever they want, without too much baggage.


Narcissists and Psychopaths seem to be on a similar continuum, they have similar genetics and brain anatomy according to this programme. It would seem that psychopaths constitute around 5% of the population (Salekin et al., 2001). Of course there is a difference between people who diet and people who are anorexic are on the same continuum.  I refer to psychopaths and narcissists in the same manner.  In an experiment they showed photos to psychopaths of people´s facial gestures representing emotions. They had no idea what it was all about.  One guy, seeing fear, said “That is the face my victims make before I kill them”.  An “I” connected with emotions, would not be able to continue seeing and empathising with that fear because it would eventually hurt itself too much (a selfish self defense), but psychopaths and narcissists to a lesser degree don´t have that mechanism.  They cannot empathise.

I am not saying that narcissists are not “bad”, but given their toolbox I think we would all be quite similar.  We are all human beings, and there are reasons why we don’t kill each other, we would feel terrible for years…those who don´t  feel so bad have a harder time controlling their egos.


 The answer is to try and find what that person appears to give you, in your self.  A narcissist has such a good mask of emotions…they write you poetry, and amazing stories, and tell you such great fantasy, but there is nothing real behind it all…we need to find what it is we are looking for in ourselves, for real.  We need to learn to provide it for ourselves.  We need to learn to set limits, so that the next time a narcissist knocks on our door, we don´t go into la-la land ourselves (therefore making ourselves vulnerable to illusion makers) thinking that we have found the man of our dreams, and that Cinderella, after all her hard work in the kitchen, is going to be able to lounge around on a beach drinking cocktails with Richard Gere.

Instead of living through others, let’s live.  Instead of relying on someone else for support, or supporting them in what we would have liked to do ourselves, let’s live our own lives, as we ourselves see fit.

We need to get out of our fantasies girls! We need to realise that we create our own lives and that we don´t need anyone else to do it.  Only then will we stop needing a man, believing their fantasies about themselves, and accept a person who is true to themselves, self contained, who is walking their own path beside us for a while. On the surface it might be a bit boring even, having no glorious highs nor terrifying lows. By taking responsibility for our own lives, we don’t sell ourselves cheap, we don´t give away parts of ourselves, giving the other the responsibility of achieving what we want, and when they don´t do it as we want, getting angry, frustrated, sad, feeling abused…

When you yearn for that person who will love you as you love, for that friend who supports and cares for you as much as you do for your friends, when you wish to be mothered as you mother others, then perhaps it is enough to realise that the lover, the friend, the mother you look for is inside of you.

Love is an action, a choice. Love is not really an emotion. Listen to what men say, enjoy it, but watch what they really do, how they really make you feel, be strong enough to not blind yourself, in vain attempts to be unfaithful to yourself.  You are worth what you feel you are worth, and more.  Love, love, love, use your hearts, but also use your brains.