Narcissism exists as part of syndrome or complex that exists between the narcissist him/herself and the participants with them. It is a (at least) two person event with the narcissist AND the linked participant with them. I say it is at least a two person syndrome but can involve thousands of people as well... often does. The other "half" of the syndrome are the people drawn into the narcissist's personality display.
It is a "display" because it is a cover personality unconsciously created by the narcissist to hide their true personality which is the polar opposite of the display personality. The narcissist lives with a fake personality and that personality, over time, takes on a consistency which is very predictable.
The narcissist's personality is predictable but the actions it produces are not.
The surface personality is highly, defensive, and will resort to threats, intimidation, bullying and even violence to protect the projected personality.
The projected personality is always one of strength, dominance, total ownership, clarity of purpose and ideas even though the narcissist holds no ideas or thoughts for more than a short while. The narcissist does not lie. That is, in their world they cannot lie because they are always displaying their personality of strength, clarity, purpose, direction, and total ownership of everything. Standing in that created display personality they speak from whatever bubbles up from their subconscious without any filter. That lack of filter means that whatever they say now is true because THEY are saying it. There is no operable memory-filter editing their words for consistency with what they said yesterday - or even a few moments ago - they speak from the moment's ideas as they appear to them - or manifest to them.
The only consistency for a narcissist is that of projecting strength, power, prestige, ownership, control, dominance and demanding respect (not love). They respond best to those who mirror that set of projections back to them. Failure to mirror those qualities can result in initiating their threatening behavior which is always just beneath the surface and easily provoked. They never concern themselves with love or being loved as that is not important to them. Love requires empathy and they have no empathy at all. What they want is power and your recognition to them of their power. They want your respect for their power and you need to show this.
They are often referred to as being "transactional" in that whatever is present to them now is everything that matters now. They have no ability to have an end-game that goes beyond this moment and certainly not for an end-game happening in a week or month or even in a year as in a "strategy" which operates over a longer time frame than "now." The popular expression is: "they play checkers, not chess." Their attention span does not go beyond the "now" of their reality. Delivering studies on what will happen in 3 to 5 years on some topic does not fit into their attention span and has no importance whatsoever.
The Syndrome - The Narcissist With His Audience
The syndrome is that many people can easily like this narcissist personality a lot. The narcissist projects simple and easy to grasp ideas at the moment without previous thought or analysis nor any concern for consistency with even the near-past. They can appear to be simply honest and they ARE being honest... at this moment... which is a large part of what is attractive about them to people observing them but not living with them. Narcissists can easily be taken in small doses especially as speakers to audiences.
Those audiences interact with the narcissist for 45 minutes or so and do not interact with the narcissist privately or often. If they did they would find a highly erratic person whose emotional shifts can range all over the place with great emphasis on anger, threats, and bullying. They are always seeking to establish control... in that moment... over everything. And, in that control-freak state they blame everything else for what may be going wrong. They are accomplished blamers. They never see anything that is not working as being their responsibility... never.
Responsibility is a highly complex idea which never fits their transactional nature. If something does work and people say it is "good" then they ARE responsible for it... otherwise not. It is the approval that they embrace, not the responsibility.
To people who feel out of control over their own lives and at risk of being put under foot by powerful outside authorities - the government, the generic government in particular - they can easily see in the narcissist a strong liberating and empowering person - someone they admire and can find the narcissist's projected strength and power as a projection for them and embodiment of what they want in a political leader.
This is the syndrome: narcissists on their own are not noteworthy at all. But, they can appeal to audiences of people wanting to find their power in the narcissist's projected power.
And there is the rub. It is a syndrome taking place with two groups of people: a) the narcissist him/herself as one group and b) the audience as the other. They interact with each other. The narcissist draws strong psychic strength from the audience which is proving with every cheer and roar of approval that the narcissist is right, respected, looked up to, powerful, strong, and in control... and indeed at that moment, they are.
Recent Psychology Today Article on Narcissists
Why Narcissism is so Rampant in Politics
Outrage and Outrageousness: On Trump’s Popularity, Part 2
Can Narcissists Change?
Sometimes, the right approach can soften even the hardest of hearts.
Craig Malkin Ph.D.
Posted Sep 20, 2013
From Psychology Today Sept 20, 2013 Link To Article
At the end of May 2013, I wrote an article titled 5 Early Warning Signs You’re with a Narcissist. It sparked a number of rich conversations through comments, emails, facebook, and twitter. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of reactions came from people who feared they were currently in a relationship with a narcissist. Nevertheless, some of them—often among the most heartfelt and desperate of messages—came from people who’d either been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), or felt convinced they met criteria for the diagnosis. From both sides, the same question surfaced again and again: Is there hope for those with NPD and the people who love them? Is there anything we can do if we see early warning signs or actual diagnostic criteria besides end the relationship?
As simple as they might seem on the surface, questions like these resonate with some of the deepest concerns in psychology. Can we change our personalities? More to the point, can people who meet criteria for personality disorders open themselves up to new and better experiences in relationships and in the world?
I’m going to go on record as saying yes—I do believe it’s possible for people to change, even if they’ve been diagnosed with something as deeply entrenched and formidable as a personality disorder.
Trait labels like narcissist, or the admittedly less stigmatizing ones like extravert and introvert, merely provide a short hand description. They’re a stand in for “this person scored high on a trait measure of narcissism or extraversion or introversion.” They can never hope to capture the whole person. (Bear in mind that even Jung, who introduced the latter concepts, firmly believed we all possess both an introvert and an extravert side, regardless of how much we tend to one side or the other.) Nevertheless, when they become diagnostic labels, like “narcissist” or “Narcissistic Personality Disorder,” these stark descriptions imply something that goes far beyond a tendency or a style; they suggest permanence and a set of stable, enduring features.
I have more hope than this. I believe that rather than simply being “who we are,” our personalities are also patterns of interaction. That is, personality, whether disordered or not, has as much to do with how (and with whom) we interact as it does with our genesand wired-in temperament. So what pattern does the narcissist follow?
Many have suggested that NPD emerges from an environment in which vulnerability comes to feel dangerous, representing, at worst, either a grave defect, or at best, a stubborn barrier to becoming a worthwhile human being (that’s simplifying a great deal of research and theory, but it’s a workable summary); hence, the correlation between narcissism and insecure attachment styles, in which fears of depending on anyone at all engender constant attempts to control the relationship or avoid intimacy altogether. If you devote yourself to directing interactions or holding people at arms length, it’s a lot harder to become vulnerable (needless to say, the “safety” is largely an illusion). People with NPD have learned to ignore, suppress, deny, project, and disavow their vulnerabilities (or at least try) in their attempts to shape and reshape “who they are” in their interactions. Change—allowing the vulnerability back in— means opening up to the very feelings they’ve learned to avoid at all costs. It’s not that people with NPD can’t change; it’s that it often threatens their sense of personhood to try. And their failed relationships often confirm, in their minds, that narcissism is the safest way to live.
Put another way, narcissists can’t be narcissistic in a vacuum. They need the right audience in order to feel like a star, for example, so they often cultivate relationships with people who stick around for the show, instead of the person. Over time, as their perfect façade starts to slip, their constant fear that people will find them lacking becomes a horrifying reality. The very people who stuck around for the show lose interest when it ends—which merely convinces the narcissist they need to hide their flaws and put on a better show.
Alternatively, even when they fall for someone who could be more than just an adoring fan—someone who offers the hope of a more authentic, enduring love—narcissists still live with the paralyzing fear they’ll somehow be deemed unworthy. Their terror is frequently out of awareness, and nearly always managed with bravado and blame, but it’s profound and palpable. Sadly, their anger at having their mistakes and missteps exposed ultimately alienates their loved ones, and the demise of yet another relationship prompts them to redouble their efforts to avoid vulnerability—in short, it pushes them towards more narcissism. The sad irony of the narcissistic condition is that, in an effort to protect themselves, narcissists inevitably invite the very rejection and abandonment they fear in the first place.
The key, then, to interacting with someone you suspect is narcissistic is to break the vicious circle—to gently thwart their frantic efforts to control, distance, defend or blame in the relationship by sending the message that you’re more than willing to connect with them, but not on these terms; to invite them into a version of intimacy where they can be loved and admired, warts and all—if they only allow the experience to happen.
As a therapist, I've seen first hand that when we change relational patterns, it often transforms even the most inflexible "trait" into something softer, gentler—not a fixed feature, but a protection that eventually yields to touch and intimacy in all the ways one would hope. Narcissism is a way of relating. Not everyone can shift into a more flexible form of intimacy, but some can, and in the next post, I plan to share steps you can take to help you decide whether or not the person you’re with is capable of seeing themselves—and you—through a less constricting lens than the narcissistic world view.
Source: Dr. Craig Malkin
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