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Relationships with Abusive Narcissists 'Part II
Abuse is an integral, inseparable part of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
The narcissist idealizes and then DEVALUES and discards the object of his initial idealization. This abrupt, heartless devaluation IS abuse. ALL narcissists idealize and then devalue. This is THE core of pathological narcissism. The narcissist exploits, lies, insults, demeans, ignores (the "silent treatment"), manipulates, controls. All these are forms of abuse.
There are a million ways to abuse. To love too much is to abuse. It is tantamount to treating someone as one's extension, an object, or an instrument of gratification. To be over-protective, not to respect privacy, to be brutally honest, or consistently tactless 'is to abuse. To expect too much, to denigrate, to ignore 'are all modes of abuse.
There is physical abuse, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse. The list is long.
Narcissists are masters of abusing surreptitiously. They are "stealth abusers". You have to actually live with one in order to witness the abuse.
There are three important categories of abuse:
1. Overt Abuse 'The open and explicit abuse of another person.
Threatening, coercing, beating, lying, berating, demeaning, chastising, insulting, humiliating, exploiting, ignoring ("silent treatment"), devaluing, unceremoniously discarding, verbal abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse are all forms of overt abuse.
2. Covert or Controlling Abuse 'Narcissism is almost entirely about control. It is a primitive and immature reaction to life's circumstances in which the narcissist (usually in his childhood) was rendered helpless. It is about re-asserting one's identity, re-establishing predictability, mastering the environment 'human and physical.
3. The bulk of narcissistic behaviours can be traced to this panicky reaction to the remote potential for loss of control. Narcissists are hypochondriacs (and difficult patients) because they are afraid to lose control over their body, its looks and its proper functioning. They are obsessive-compulsive in their efforts to subdue their physical habitat and render it foreseeable. They stalk people and harass them as a means of "being in touch" 'another form of narcissistic control.
But why the panic?
The narcissist is a solipsist. He carries the whole universe in his mind. To him, nothing exists except himself. Meaningful others are his extensions, assimilated by him, internal objects 'not external ones. Thus, losing control of a significant other 'is equivalent to the loss of control of a limb, or of one's brain. It is terrifying. It is paradigm-shattering.
Independent or disobedient people evoke in the narcissist the realization that something is wrong with his worldview, that he is not the centre of the world or its cause and that he cannot control what, to him, are internal representations.
To the narcissist, losing control means going insane. Because other people are mere elements in the narcissist's mind 'being unable to manipulate them literally means losing it (his mind). Imagine, if you suddenly were to find out that you cannot manipulate your memories or control your thoughts...
Moreover, it is often only through manipulation and extortion that the narcissist can secure his Narcissistic Supply. Controlling his sources of Narcissistic Supply is a (mental) life or death question for the narcissist.
The narcissist is a drug addict (his drug being the NS) and he would go to any length to obtain the next dose.
In his frantic efforts to maintain control or re-assert it, the narcissist resorts to a myriad of fiendishly inventive stratagems and mechanisms.
Here is a partial list:
The narcissist acts unpredictably, capriciously, inconsistently and irrationally. This serves to demolish in others their carefully crafted worldview. They become dependent upon the next twist and turn of the narcissist, his next inexplicable whim, upon his next outburst, denial, or smile. Because he is assumed to be the only one intimately acquainted with his self -he becomes the source of certitude and veracity. In other words: the narcissist makes sure that HE is the only reliable existence in the lives of others - By shattering the rest of their world through his seemingly insane behaviour. He guarantees his stable presence in their lives - By destabilizing their own.
In the absence of a self, there are no likes or dislikes, preferences, predictable behaviour or characteristics. It is not possible to know the narcissist. There is no one there.
The narcissist was conditioned 'from an early age of abuse and trauma -
to expect the unexpected. His was a world in motion where (sometimes sadistically) capricious caretakers and peers often engaged in arbitrary behaviour. He was trained to deny his true self and nurture a false one.
Having invented himself, the narcissist sees no problem in re-inventing that which he designed in the first place. The Narcissist is his own creator.
Hence his grandiosity.
Moreover, the narcissist is a man for all seasons, forever adaptable, constantly imitating and emulating, a human sponge, a perfect mirror, a non-entity that is, at the same time, all entities combined. The narcissist is best described by Heidegger's phrase: "Being and Nothingness". Into this reflective vacuum, this sucking black hole, the narcissist attracts the sources of his narcissistic supply.
To an observer, the narcissist appears to be fractured or discontinuous.
Pathological narcissism has been compared to the Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly the Multiple Personality Disorder). By definition, the narcissist has at least two selves. His personality is very primitive and disorganized. Living with a narcissist is a nauseating experience not only because of what he is 'but because of what he is NOT. He is not a fully formed human 'but a dizzyingly kaleidoscopic gallery of mercurial images, which melt into each other seamlessly. It is incredibly disorienting.
It is also exceedingly problematic. Promises made by the narcissist are easily disowned by him. His plans are ephemeral. His emotional ties 'a simulacrum. Most narcissists have one island of stability in their life (spouse, family, their career, a hobby, their religion, country, or idol) 'pounded by the turbulent currents of a dishevelled existence.
Thus, to invest in a narcissist is a purposeless, futile and meaningless activity. To the narcissist, every day is a new beginning, a hunt, a new cycle of idealization or devaluation, a newly invented self. There is no accumulation of credits or goodwill because the narcissist has no past and no future. He occupies an eternal and timeless present. He is a fossil caught in the frozen lava of a volcanic childhood.
The narcissist does not keep agreements, does not adhere to laws, regards consistency and predictability as demeaning traits.
One of the favourite tools of manipulation in the narcissist's arsenal is the disproportionality of his reactions. He reacts with supreme rage to the slightest slight. He punishes severely for what he perceives to be an offence against him, no matter how minor. He throws a temper tantrum over any discord or disagreement, however gently and considerately expressed.
Or, he may act inordinately attentive, charming and tempting (even over-sexed, if need be). This ever-shifting conduct coupled with the inordinately harsh and arbitrarily applied "penal code" are both designed by the narcissist and remain inaccessible to the "offenders". Neediness and dependence on the source of all justice meted 'on the narcissist 'are thus guaranteed.
Dehumanization and Objectification (Abuse)
People have a need to believe in the empathic skills and basic good-heartedness of others. By dehumanising and objectifying people 'the narcissist attacks the very foundations of the social treaty. This is the "alien" aspect of narcissists 'they may be excellent imitations of fully formed adults but they are emotionally non-existent, or, at best, immature.
This is so horrid, so repulsive, so phantasmagoric 'that people recoil in terror. It is then, with their defences absolutely down, that they are the most susceptible and vulnerable to the narcissist's control. Physical, psychological, verbal and sexual abuse are all forms of dehumanisatio and objectification.
Abuse of Information
From the first moments of an encounter with another person, the narcissist is on the prowl. He collects information with the intention of applying it later to extract narcissistic supply. The more he knows about his potential source of supply 'the better able he is to coerce, manipulate, charm, extort or convert it "to the cause". The narcissist does not hesitate to abuse the information he gleaned, regardless of its intimate nature or the circumstances in which he obtained it. This is a powerful tool in his armoury.
The narcissist engineers impossible, dangerous, unpredictable, unprecedented, or highly specific situations in which he is sorely and indispensably needed. The narcissist, his knowledge, his skills or his traits become the only ones applicable, or the most useful to resolving them. It is a form of control by proxy.
Control by Proxy
If all else fails, the narcissist recruits friends, colleagues, mates, family members, the authorities, institutions, neighbours 'in short, third parties 'to do his bidding. He uses them to cajole, coerce, threaten, stalk, offer, retreat, tempt, convince, harass, communicate and otherwise manipulate his target. He controls these unaware instruments exactly as he plans to control his ultimate prey. He employs the same mechanisms and devices. And he dumps his props unceremoniously when the job is done.
Another form of control by proxy is to engineer situations in which abuse is inflicted upon another person. Such carefully crafted scenarios involve embarrassment and humiliation as well as social sanctions (condemnation, opprobrium, or even physical punishment). Society, or a social group become the instruments of the narcissist.
The fostering, propagation and enhancement of an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, instability, unpredictability and irritation. There are no acts of traceable or provable explicit abuse, nor any manipulative settings of control. Yet, the irksome feeling remains, a disagreeable foreboding, a premonition, a bad omen. This is sometimes called "gaslighting". In the long term, such an environment erodes one's sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Self-confidence is shaken badly. Often, the victims adopts a paranoid or schizoid stance and thus render themselves exposed even more to criticism and judgement. The roles are thus reversed: the victim is considered the mentally disordered component of the dyad and the narcissist 'the suffering soul.
Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love 'Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain 'How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, United Press International (UPI) and eBookWeb and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory, Suite101 and searcheurope.com.