Anatomy of Narcissism v1.0 (iii) – Addiction and Audience
by Philip Jonkers
“NPD is actually quite simple. When they want supply (adoration/veneration) they put on the whole show to obtain that supply. As the supply wanes, because no one can sustain all the time that high-octane adoration the N requires, then the N begins to get uneasy and devaluation sets in, followed by confusion and bewilderment on the part of the spouse/partner, who thinks s/he has done everything ‘right’.” NPDQuotes
Narcissism versus Addiction
In order to stay alive, our brains are dedicated to rewarding life-support activities or functions. The requirement for allocation of resources (time and energy) constitutes a partial but veritable sort of slavery. There is obviously no way we can wrest ourselves free from this kind of dependency and hope to stay alive at the same time. It is a given fact of our physical reality that all matter is subjected to decay, or never decreasing rise in entropy as reflected by the Second Law of thermodynamics, and it requires labor in order to offset its effect.
It is therefore important that our brain rewards service to this form of existential slavery because if it didn’t, the incentive to surrender our will to it would be lacking and we would be unable to maintain the metabolic processes needed to counteract the effects of the natural forces of bodily decay.
However, the part of the brain responsible for regulating these life-support functions may be hijacked and abused to reinforce certain activities and behavior that have no biological and intrinsic survival merit whatsoever. This is where addictive behavior enters the picture. In a strict sense though, when one is in a radical mood it could be argued that genuine life-support activities also qualify to be called addictive, call them vital addictions if you will.
Certain kinds of behavioral stimuli, of a cultural rather than biological origin, that have therefore no survival merit — from using drugs and alcohol to recreational sex, gambling and excess food to playing video-games — exploit this reward center of the brain by forcing it to induce releasing feelings of pleasure and relief. The brain thus learns to associate these kinds of activities with the state of feeling good. By doing so, the brain wrongfully interprets these stimuli, after having been reinforced by enough repetitions, as also being important life-supportive behavior. And so it decides to prioritize its service to the pursuit of indulging these artificial stimuli.
But this means that besides servicing the normal life-support functions, the brain is charged with servicing extra life-support functions. This means that more time and energy has to be allocated in order to convince the brain that it is sufficiently servicing all deemed important life-support functions. But the allocation of more resources, or, the sacrifice of more free will, simply leads to an enhancement of slavery. Incidentally, it is small wonder that the Dutch word for “addiction”, is “verslaving”, which literally means “enslavement”. That’s what the likely outcome of the repeated pursuance of these extra-biological stimuli is, addiction.
The pursuit of addictive stimuli may even be reinforced to such an extreme degree of preoccupation that the brain prioritizes it over the pursuit of all normal biological functions. It has been demonstrated in rat studies, for example, that rats will literally starve themselves in their relentless pursuit to get “high”:
“Multiple studies have demonstrated that rats will perform reinforced behaviors at the exclusion of all other behaviors. Experiments have shown rats to forgo food to the point of starvation in order to work for brain stimulation or intravenous cocaine when both food and stimulation are offered concurrently for a limited time each day.” Wikipedia
Narcissus the Addict
Now compare the behavior of the rats with the essence of the tale of Narcissus. The rendered excerpt of the tale leaves little room for doubt that he became addicted to gazing at his mirror-image and that just like the rats compulsively pressing cocaine releasing levers to the literal point of starvation, so too did Narcissus succumb to his fatalistic obsession of gazing at his mirror-image. The sentence “frightened to touch the water Narcissus lay still by the pool gazing in to the eyes of his vision,” meaning that he did not want his source of gratification to dissipate, is synonymous for the experiencing of withdrawal symptoms. That is, Narcissus was happy as long as he could gaze at his immaculate mirror-image (getting his “fix”), but became distraught the moment his cherished mirror-image escaped him (onset of withdrawal symptoms).
Like the cocaine rats wanting to get high at the expense of eating and drinking until death set it, so too did Narcissus chose self-absorption while sacrificing vital life-support functions. He continued to pursue his addiction to the very point of death, a terminal point that is a rather normal outcome for all severe forms of addiction, like alcohol and heroin.
Definition: Narcissistic Audience
A narcissistic audience, is defined as the largest possible group of people capable of providing the narcissist with his narcissistic supply, defined as the collective stream of adulation, constant reminders of his outstanding traits, overdoses of attention, or even blatant and unabashed worship. The narcissist uses this supply to inflate and affirm/sustain his self-image. In other words, the audience sustains the narcissistic person as indeed a narcissist.
The size of the audience in presumed to vary from narcissist to narcissist and may comprise of merely a small group of people, who cater to some locally operating narcissist, to spanning an entire nation — catering to famed political narcissists or celebrities, for example — or even the entire world, in principle.
The Addiction of the Narcissist
I am not the first person to link narcissism with addiction. Hotchkiss writes:
“The Shared Core Defect of Narcissism and Addiction
Both Narcissists and addicts share a tendency to grandiosity and omnipotence. Experts say that addicts seek to recreate that early childhood fantasy of being without limits and perfectly cared for by idealized others. If an addict encounters limits or is disappointed in a relationship, uncontrollable primitive emotions erupt. Awareness of real personal limitations triggers intolerable shame, and the perception that an idealized other is not as great and all-giving as expected leads to feelings of abandonment and loneliness. Anything short of total union is experienced as total rejection. Neither the Narcissist nor the addict is able to manage these intensely unpleasant feelings in mature, healthy ways. When the internal world of idealized Self and others collapses, the devastation can lead to a narcissistic rage of even murderous or suicidal proportions.
Like Narcissists, people who turn to drugs often need to feel a sense of omnipotent control over someone of something that meets their needs, yet have great difficulty trusting others. Both addicts and Narcissists are impatient people who are unable to tolerate delay, which can make them exploitative in their quest for immediate gratification. Drugs allow addicts to meet their needs without exerting any psychic effort. They cannot tolerate the tension, pain, or frustration of putting their real capabilities on the line, and they seek, through drugs, to alleviate their anxieties about their own competence. Narcissists, too, have trouble activating the “real Self,” and they live in a world of unreality. Ingestion of drugs allows addicts to return to that psychological state where most Narcissists live, a piece of early childhood when they felt in control of whatever soothed them.” (Hotchkiss; p 111, 112)
From Sam Vaknin a self-confessed self-aware Narcissist we learn:
“When deprived of Narcissistic Supply – Primary AND Secondary – the narcissist feels annulled. It feels much like being hollowed out, mentally disemboweled or watching oneself die. It is evaporation, disintegration into molecules of terrified anguish, helplessly and inexorably. Without Narcissistic Supply – the narcissist crumbles, like the zombies or the vampires one sees in horror movies. It is terrifying and the narcissist will do anything to avoid it. Think about the narcissist as a drug addict. His withdrawal symptoms are identical: delusions, physiological effects, irritability, emotional lability. Narcissists often experience brief, de-compensatory psychotic episodes when they are disassembled – either in therapy or following a life-crisis accompanied by a major narcissistic injury.”
The Narcissist’s Reaction to Deficient Narcissistic Supply – Sam Vaknin
“The narcissist rates people around him. First, he conducts a binary test: can this or that person provide him with Narcissistic Supply? As far as the narcissist is concerned, those who fail this simple test do not exist. They are two-dimensional cartoon figures. Their feelings, needs and fears are of no interest or importance.”
Exploitation by a Narcissist – Sam Vaknin
Although Hotchkiss fails to take it a small step further and spell it out explicitly, taking Vaknin’s admission into account as well as the initial observation that Narcissus himself was hopelessly addicted to gazing at his own mirror-image, it seems well-justified to conclude that narcissism is in fact a form of addiction itself.
Indeed, the idea that narcissism is an addiction is implicitly suggested by Hotchkiss:
“Shame, that pervasive sense of Bad Self that is at the root of all unhealthy narcissism, is among the most intolerable feelings a person can have, no matter what age or circumstance. Often we will do whatever we can to make the feeling go away as quickly as possible. What could be quicker than drugs, alcohol, or any of the other myriad ways we compulsively avoid reality? Experts in the field of addiction widely agree that chronic and pervasive shame is the feeling that drives addictive and compulsive behavior, giving narcissism and addiction an emotional link. Experiencing oneself as flawed is a deep narcissistic wound that can create an overwhelming need for mood-altering experiences.” (Hotchkiss; p 107)
It can therefore be plausibly maintained that professing narcissism corresponds to the same kind of abuse of the brain’s reward center we also observe in drug or alcohol addicts, gambling or sex addicts, etc. The common denominator lumping all forms of addictions together is the abuse of the brain’s reward pathways. If there ever comes a time when addiction can somehow be scientifically measured by in vivo brain analyses, the analysis of the brain of the narcissist should show significant correspondence with that of “conventional” addicts, e.g. substance abusers.
In addition, by virtue of abusing the same region of the brain, it seems plausible to suggest that narcissists seek solace in supportive additional addictive behavior beyond that which is shared by the normal non-addicted rest of the population. The impetus for the development of narcissism is traumatic shame, and shame leaves a person feeling miserable and there are all kinds of artificial ways to sedate those terrible feelings. Also the constant threat or manifestation of the Shaming Inner Parent, gives rise to enough situations in which the narcissist is left feeling miserable and if Narcissistic Supply is lacking, an alternative “fix” may do the trick quite nicely.
In terms of the shaming inner parent versus the soothing inner parent we arrive at the same conclusion. In case of the healthy child, in his practicing phase the toddler has learned to mend the psychic damage done by shaming himself. By having enjoyed the presence of a warm and loving primary caregiver, a child acquired not only a shaming inner parent but also a soothing inner parent whose purpose it is to compensate and heal the damage done by the former. The unhealthy child reluctant to abandon his narcissistic stage of development, possesses no such mitigating and nurturing inner parent and so has to come up with an alternative means to try and heal rudely deflated (infantile) narcissism. In a practical sense it leaves the child feeling miserable and so it will naturally be motivated to seek means to ease the pain and make him feel good again. The grandiosity of the self-image in its function to attract ego-brushing compliments and praise (narcissistic supply) are the primary means that of course typically characterizes the narcissist. Other auxiliary means are just about any type of means available to people to enable them to feel good, from drugs and alcohol to recreational sex to power.
The Narcissist and Power
In terms of the previously addressed deeper meaning of the tale, the narcissist only “loves” the kinds of behavior that perfectly mirrors his own will. Ergo, he is happy when things go according to his whim, and is unhappy when it doesn’t. When the narcissist has no control as to how things are going, he likely unhappy most of the times as the unpredictability and seeming capriciousness of the emergent situation makes him uncomfortable. Examples of potent sources of unhappiness are envy and feeling threatened for whatever reason, e.g. for being humiliated, shamed or being hurt in other way. This is where power comes in handy. The more power the narcissist has, the more ability he has to control events according to his will, and the more opportunity he sees himself to have to reduce the causes for his unhappiness.
In addition, the acquisition of power enables the narcissist to prove to the outside world that he is not as inferior as he thinks other people may view him. Power is the sure way for people troubled by inferiority complexes yet who possess plenty of ambition to boot, to assert their validity and vindicate their existence. Hence it is fair to suggest that at least one class of narcissists, the ones who have the means and ambition to pursue power acquisition, naturally gravitates to markets of power of whatever kind: political, commercial, financial or military.
The “Malignant Self-Love” Misnomer
Narcissism has been dubbed as malignant self-love. But this is technically a misnomer as it is not the real and genuine self that is loved, but rather a mere image of the self; a self-image that is a distorted and inflated shallow representation of the real self. And to be sure, an image of the self is as fundamentally different from the real self, as a photograph from a person is as fundamentally different from the person himself.
In addition, as I’ve shown above, rather than speak of self-love it’s more proper to speak of addiction to the worship of some preferred self-image, where worship is understood to be the streams of praise, adulation, flattery, attention, compliments etc. that other people give in dedication to the self-image of the narcissist. Without such worship, without people shipping in narcissistic supply, the narcissist collapses like a drug addict suffering from withdrawal symptoms. Hence, rather than speak of “malignant self-love,” it would be better to speak of addiction to the worship of a self-image or more snappy, addiction to self-idolatry.
The Love-Hate Relationship with his Audience
The narcissist thrives on the supply provided to him by his audience (see Def. Audience). Therefore the narcissist is very much dependent on them. In fact, the very existence of the narcissist as a narcissist is kept afloat by his audience as they function as feeders and inspirers of his super-sized self-image (see Fig. 6).
But vice versa, in the eyes of the narcissist, how much does he consider himself to be worth with respect to his audience? You see, the narcissist could be viewed as a proverbial sink of attention in its mildest form, and a sink of adulation and unabashed worship in its strongest form. The narcissist, implicitly or explicitly, insists that his audience keeps on “spoon-feeding” him his essential supply. But by his nature, he is greedy and selfish and cannot be expected to reciprocate. He therefore is predominantly a taker rather than a giver, presumed to be the primary responsibility of the audience. To be sure, the act of seizing or demanding to be given (supply), is not an act of love at all.
Let me expand on this idea. Suppose Person A loves Person B. Person A, wittingly or unwittingly, demonstrates his love for Person B by giving them something of value (see Fig. 7). This can be anything ranging from simple attention in the form of a few kind words, or through other gestures of affection, the offering of assistance in whatever form, or donating material goods. The underlying idea being that Person A gives something while not demanding anything in return. This is the essence of love: one gives freely, without keeping tabs or ledgers. Love means willingness to help out, to give or to share, free from the anxiety and stresses that normally show up when insisting to somehow and sometime be paid back in return, in order to be compensated and as such have the outstanding debt settled. Love incurs no debt. A transaction based on love is free from imposing conditions.
As such, by having a “giving”-attitude, Person A thus has a reason to believe that Person B values, esteems or simply loves him. Likewise, as providers of his supply, members of the audience have reason to believe that the narcissist values, esteems and loves them — all the while assuming for simplicity’s sake that they are oblivious to the fact that they are, in fact, catering to a narcissist.
But the narcissist on the other hand (see Fig. 8), predominantly just works to either extract- or collect his supply from his audience, while giving virtually nothing in return (except perhaps superficial and impersonal acknowledgments of receipt, formal gestures to keep up appearances of courtesy). Therefore, the narcissist has no substantial reason to assume that he is genuinely valued and esteemed by his audience. Indeed, an attitude marked by a habit of taking, while chronically lacking in the willingness to give back (return favors), is likely to create in him feelings of debt and the furnishing of a guilty conscience. This may even cause him to (deep down inside) fear that he is resented, or even hated by his audience. By acting as a bottomless proverbial pit for narcissistic supply, the maintenance of a narcissist is generally more of a burden than a blessing to the audience, unless they can somehow profit from being in his presence — for instance by basking in the glow of a famed or accomplished narcissist.
Except when his sense of pride is so strong as to overwhelm the functionality of his conscience, the narcissist at some level of his conscious awareness should register his parasitic and selfish position in society. Therefore, he is likely to harbor deep inner doubts–to say the least–as to whether his audience genuinely loves him.
In addition, the maintenance of an obnoxiously pompous self-image that radiates ‘superiority’, can be considered an act of aggression to not just his audience but to his whole social environment, i.e. to all the people somehow affected by his self-image. He is basically implying that the rest of the people, including all members of his audience, are relatively insignificant and unimportant. As I already addressed in the previous section the narcissist’s exasperatingly bold self-image is likely to arouse envy and so this blatant act of aggression cannot help but to also add to his suspicion of resentment coming from people in his social habitat.
I therefore sincerely doubt that the narcissist is convinced that his audience genuinely loves him. Indeed, by his very nature he is likely to be saddled up with a guilty conscience for more than one reason. Hence, it should come as little surprise to expect that he is more inclined to assert battle mode, preparing himself to sustain retaliatory strikes, rather than wearing flowers in his hair and welcoming his audience with sincerely open arms.
Volatile and Schizoid
Since the narcissist is hopelessly caught up in self-absorption, it is logical to assume that he lacks the motivation to invest time into getting to know people around him very well. He likely cannot be bothered to invest time if it does not benefit him in some selfish manner. The narcissist therefore, by necessity, has a generally poor understanding of the members of his audience as individuals. Characteristic of a person who is hopelessly mesmerized by the power of imagery, it’s only fair to expect that he is only afforded a superficial grasp of the members of his audience. He simply does not, and cannot know them well — and truth be told, the same applies to his very own real self, to which he has so thoroughly dissociated himself through shame.
It should be remembered that it was a person close to the narcissist who was responsible for that initial act of shaming and because it was not followed up by soothing that shaped his narcissistic post-traumatic character. The more intimate a person gets with a narcissist, the greater the emotional impact may be from a narcissistic injury and as such he lacks the courage to overcome the fear of learning to know people better than mere skin-depth. Real intimacy simply is too risky.
Therefore it is unbeknownst to the narcissist where the allegiances lie of anyone member of his audience. In principle, they all are potentially two-faced or treacherous. He simply doesn’t know in advance whether anyone member really is a “friend”, i.e. a provider of narcissistic supply, or a foe, a challenger of his self-image. To compound the problem even more, today’s friend may turn into tomorrow’s foe. And this causes the narcissist to harbor an inherent mistrust towards his audience. This factor of uncertainty is a source of anxiety which may even lead to the development of paranoia, and this ironically reinforces the desire for having access to anxiety-mitigating relief: narcissistic supply, possibly supplemented with other artificial stimuli of his brain reward center.
And so a very volatile and schizoid relationship exists between the narcissist and his audience. He vitally depends on his audience to provide him with supply. Yet he fails to reciprocate in whatever substantial way. And to make matter worse, the narcissist proves his ungratefulness even more by proverbially shoving an insulting and inflated self-image in their faces. The act of propping up his self-image casts an intimidating shadow of awe and envy and yet he expects to be praised for it at the same time.
And so when someone comes along challenging the justifiability and veracity of his self-image, the narcissist’s conscience already is likely to have prepped him to be battle-mode ready. By his belligerent psychological identity, he must always be ready for war and so you can expect him to have a short fuse and hot temper.
Since the narcissist lacks a basic understanding of people and their feelings, when he feels attacked the ensuing counter-defense (narcissistic rage) is typically ferocious and devastating. Due to being hopelessly self-absorbed and having an image-fixation and a fetish for superficiality, the narcissist lacks the psychological depth in which compassion and sympathy for his fellow human being comes naturally; a trait which “normal” and “sane” people do possess. And so the narcissist does not know when to both cease the attack and temper its magnitude.
Depending on the intensity of his affliction, the extent to which a narcissist invests his time and energy into maintaining his self-image, the arrival on the scene of a challenger, someone who criticizes the image, may be viewed as being potentially very threatening. In the extreme case whereby the narcissist has opted to devote his entire life into the maintenance of his self-image, the challenger may be interpreted as trying to destroy his precious self-image and, in the pathological mind of the narcissist, may therefore be viewed as in a real sense to be life-threatening. One can therefore expect particularly ferocious defensive measures taken by the narcissist. Hence, there is little hindrance for the narcissist to lash out and lash out strongly. It is small wonder then that victims of narcissistic rage routinely have to undergo treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
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