Pathological Narcissism & Narcissistic Abuse
Excerpts from The Human Magnet Syndrome: The Codependent Narcissist Trap (2018)
Although pathological narcissism is not a new term, it is used in The Human Magnet Syndrome book to represent a person with one of four disorders. Pathological narcissists are people who fit the diagnostic criteria for either Narcissistic, Borderline, or Antisocial (Sociopathy) Personality Disorders, and/or active addicts. Despite the many differences between these four disorders, they all share core narcissistic personality, thinking, and emotional and interpersonal characteristics.
To varying degrees, all pathological narcissists are selfish, self-consumed, demanding, entitled, and controlling. They are exploitative people who rarely or selectively reciprocate any form of generosity. Pathological narcissists are only empathetic or sensitive to others when doing so results in a tangible reward for themselves and/or when it makes them feel valued, important, and appreciated. Because narcissists are deeply impacted by their personal shame and loneliness but are consciously unaware of it, they do not end their relationships. Positive treatment results are rare for narcissists.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
According to a 2008 national epidemiologic study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, slightly more than 6% of the total population qualifies for an NPD diagnosis. This includes 7.7% of men and 4.8% of women. As with other personality disorders, those with NPD are generally unaware of and oblivious to their psychological condition. These people are considered pathologically selfish, self-absorbed, grandiose, and egotistical. Motivated by a long-standing and insatiable desire for admiration, praise, and validation, their relationship partner is often worn down as there can never be enough compliments and affirmation to satisfy them.
NPDs honestly believe, and hold others accountable for, an exaggerated belief of their own importance, which is typically not based on reality or facts. They expect others to share their inflated and unrealistic appreciation of themselves. The narcissist’s grandiosity often results in viewing others as unequal competitors who are naturally inferior. They are consumed with their special, unique, and gifted status, which they consider imbalanced in the world in which they live. Due to their inflated sense of self-importance, they are prone to exaggerating their achievements and talents. They expect to be recognized as superior or exceptional, despite not having the requisite experience or contributions. Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love, they believe they can only be understood by or should associate with, other exceptional people or institutions.
NPD can be further categorized into four subtypes: covert narcissism, productive narcissism, malignant narcissism, and addiction-induced narcissism.
Covert narcissists are masters of disguise—successful actors, humanitarians, politicians, clergy members, and even psychotherapists—who are beloved and appreciated, but are secretly selfish, calculating, controlling, angry, and vindictive. They create an illusion of selflessness while benefiting from their elevated status. Although they share basic traits with the overt narcissist—the need for attention, affirmation, approval, and recognition—they are stealthier about hiding their egocentric motives. Unlike the overt narcissist who parades their narcissism for all to see, the covert narcissist furtively hides their real intentions and identity. These narcissists are able to trick others into believing they are honest, altruistic, and emphatic. They are successful at pretending to be a more likable version of themselves, knowing if their true characters were uncovered, they could not maintain the respect, status, and prestige they so desperately desire.
Like overt and covert narcissists, productive narcissists are hypersensitive to criticism, exhibiting overcompetitive, grandiose, and pompous tendencies. As a direct result of being recognized and praised for their profound intellectual and creative accomplishments, they come close to fulfilling their elaborate ideals and fantasies. Their successes give them the opportunity to bypass the limitations that entangle many narcissists. They are completely consumed by their quest to make a difference. Their obsession to contribute is still a narcissistic process, as it is ultimately motivated by their tireless pursuit to convince themselves of their greatness
Because malignant narcissists are fundamentally insecure and paranoid in their relationships, they counter by maintaining total control over others. Once they have achieved control, they will do almost anything to maintain it, including rape, murder, and even genocide. As a direct result of their paranoid and psychopathic tendencies, they challenge, defy, and demean anyone who is either an authority figure or has the power to hurt them.
Examples of malignant narcissists include Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Muammar Gaddafi, and Saddam Hussein. Their cruel and harmful treatment of others is reinforced by their need to maintain power, domination, and a sense of superiority. Although they seem similar to psychopaths, they are different in that they can internalize right and wrong, form meaningful personal and social relationships, and rationalize their actions as a desire to advance society. They may be loyal in relationships, but because of their paranoia, may hurt or harm those who pledge loyalty to them.
People who are addicted to a drug or behavior often act in narcissistic and self-serving ways, just like someone with NPD. The difference between an addiction and NPD becomes apparent once the person has been detoxed and has had a few months of sobriety. This is when the addict’s RCV corresponds to their RO, and not their addiction. A person diagnosed with NPD and a harmful and aggressive addict have similar narcissistic tendencies. While the pathological narcissist’s narcissism reflects their underlying personality, the addict’s narcissism reflects their selfish desire to seek their drug of choice despite its potential damage to anyone else. If the recovering or sober addict maintains their narcissistic symptomatology, they likely have a co-occurring narcissistic personality disorder—having both NPD and an addiction.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
BPD is characterized by volatile moods, self-image, thought processes, and personal relationships. When unable to regulate their emotions, borderlines tend to engage in wild, reckless, and out-of-control behaviors such as dangerous sexual liaisons, drug abuse, gambling, spending sprees, or eating binges. A prominent feature of BPD is the inability to regulate mood, which is often referred to as mood dysregulation. Symptoms include rapidly fluctuating mood swings with periods of intense despair and irritability and/or apprehension, which can last a few hours to a few days. Borderlines become overwhelmed and incapacitated by the intensity of their emotions, whether it is joy and elation or depression, anxiety, or rage. They are unable to manage these intense emotions. When upset, they experience a flurry of emotions, distorted and dangerous thought processes, and destructive mood swings that threaten the safety of others, as well as themselves.
Their love/hate approach to relationships is entirely a narcissistic process, as the direction of the relationship is always determined by the BPD’s feelings at any given moment. Unlike someone with an NPD, a BPD has a limited capacity and willingness to be genuinely empathetic, sensitive, generous, and sacrificial. However, those positive attributes are not without the proverbial strings attached; when the BPD explodes with vindictive rage, all they said or gave to their loved one may be taken away in one fell swoop of aggression.
Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD)
Of all the pathological narcissists, ASPDs are by far the most insidious, manipulative, and harmful. For that matter, they are the most narcissistic of the pathologically narcissistic disorders. Note: even though all ASPDs are narcissistic, not all NPDs are antisocial. ASPDs are indifferent to the needs of whomever they are in a relationship with. As pathological liars and cunning manipulators, they are typically unfaithful and exploitative. They lack consideration for others and are irresponsible in most of their relationships, including chronic employment problems, as they are either fired, quit, or simply walk off their jobs when bored or annoyed. ASPDs often have a history of legal problems and have a capacity for belligerence, aggression, and violence. Other diagnostic terms associated with ASPD include “sociopathy” (sociopaths) or “psychopathy” (psychopaths). The DSM-5 (1994) replaced the diagnoses of “sociopathy” and “psychopathy” with “Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD).” The psychological and psychiatric communities deemed the change necessary because the primary diagnostic trait/symptom for sociopathy was a “violation of social norms,” which was considered subjective and ever-changing. The updated ASPD diagnosis required more behavior-specific and concrete diagnostic criteria.
Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome (NAS)
NAS is a chronic pattern of physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse perpetrated by a pathological narcissist against weak and more vulnerable individuals. Because NAS victims typically lack confidence, self-esteem, and social support, they are prone to feeling trapped by the perpetrator. The experience of being trapped may be an accurate assessment or a result of carefully implanted “trapped narratives,” otherwise known as gaslighting. NAS victims come from all walks of life. However, the ones who either feel trapped, believe they can control or mitigate the abuse, or believe they deserve it are codependent or have a Self-Love Deficit Disorder™.
NAS is a chronic condition because of the Human Magnet Syndrome. HMS’s complicated psychological and relational dynamics are responsible for the formation and maintenance of the perpetrator/victim relationship, and the inability to terminate it. The NAS victims, the codependents, are either unable to or believe they are unable to end the abuse and/or the relationship because of the following:
- Uncertainty about the true dangerous nature of the abuser
- Fear of actual consequences
- Fear of threatened consequences/retaliation
- Fear of social and familial rejection and isolation (siding with the abuser)
- Physical entrapment
- Financial entrapment
- Various forms of active, passive, and covert coercion and manipulation
- A successful gaslighting campaign
- Codependency addiction withdrawals, especially pathological loneliness
As pathological narcissists, perpetrators of NAS have either a Narcissistic, Borderline, or Antisocial Personality Disorder, and/or Addiction Disorder. The less empathy a NAS perpetrator has, the more effective they are in controlling and dominating their codependent prey. They maintain power and control over their victims by beating or wearing down their resolve to defend themselves or to reach out for protection or help. The various forms of direct, passive, and covert manipulation and aggression ensure the victim stays in the relationship, while the codependent neither fights back nor exposes them.
The most potent form of NAS entrapment comes from sustained brainwashing and/or gaslighting campaigns perpetrated by a pathological narcissist who is either a sociopath (Antisocial Personality Disorder) or one with sociopathic traits. Because a categorical explanation of NAS is beyond the scope of this book, I recommend viewing my full-length seminar videos on the subject
The Human Magnet Syndrome: The Codependent Narcissist Trap