Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Are Narcissists Evil?

Some, including narcissists and politically correct social workers, protest plain talk about narcissists and claim that they are not evil. Even Sam Vaknin does this, and he makes no excuses for narcissists. In fact, in several of his writings, he admits in one breath that “some” are sadists and then tries to tell us that narcissists are not evil in the next breath.

I’m not afraid to know a lie when I hear one, but I see no reason to think that he is lying when he says this. I think he is just failing to be completely honest with himself. Which is perfectly understandable, because EVERY person’s most prized possession is their self concept of themselves as an essentially good person. No one can bear the thought of being inherently evil. Here I mention a narcissist who told me she contemplated suicide when confronted with the fear of being inherently evil, saying that she would have been one of those suicides “who doesn’t even leave a note.”

So, I don’t blame narcissists for denying that they are evil. No one must condemn himself. Ever. No matter what.

And though I disagree, I think Vaknin makes a valid and important point here – a distinction that we all should recognize.

First, where I disagree.

As I often say, I am convinced that the only rein on a narcissist’s behavior is what he thinks he can get away with. So he will be as sadistic as he can. All are sadistic then, but only some are sadistic all the time, and most are sadistic some of the time.

Also, if you hurt others because hurting others makes you feel good, you like hurting others. Sorry, there’s just no getting around that. Trying to makes as much sense as trying to say that you don't like eating steak, you just eat steak because it tastes yummy. Sorry, that means you LIKE eating steak.

And, to LIKE hurting others is wickedness, malignance, malice, malevolence. No matter what other euphemistic name you prefer to cloak it with.

BUT, Vaknin is correct in viewing the narcissist as inconsistent with our image of “evil beings.” The mythology of the devil portrays him as a being who loves evil and does evil for it’s own sake. Just to do evil.

This is an understandable error, because the (truly) good love goodness for its own sake and do good just to do good, for its own sake. Naturally then, we just take the flip-side of that coin and apply to our image of the Evil One.

Wrong.

First, there is no such thing as the devil. It’s a symbol for something. Ill will. It is not some other kind of being from an eternal realm, a bodiless PERSON. It is the malevolence in some people.

Since it is the product of human nature gone awry, at bottom it is LIKE human nature. It differs ABOVE the root, not at its root.

Narcissists don’t love evil. They don’t do evil for its own sake. Which is why they don’t ALWAYS choose evil. Sometimes they advance their plan by choosing to do good for the wrong reasons. They do what they do because it makes them feel good. They are people in pain, and Narcissistic Supply (various forms of attention) are like a pain-killing drug to them. They must have it all. Like any addict who can’t get enough of his or her pain-killing drug, the narcissist will attack you and steal any you have.

That’s all. It may seem like splitting hairs, but there is a difference. They don’t hurt you just to hurt you: they hurt you because they like hurting you = hurting you makes them feel good.

The worse they hurt you, the better they feel, so they are sadistic.

I say that makes them evil. BUT, I also say that this should teach us an important lesson about evil.

Nobody does evil just to do evil. Nobody loves evil. Nobody does it for its own sake. Indeed, this is why the narcissist can’t face the facts about his conduct. He hates evil as much as anyone does. So he lives in denial of the evil he does, in deniel of the sickness/malignance within him. For, he too has brought up in the belief that the evil are inherently evil because they love evil and do it for its own sake. The dread of knowing himself as THAT is what compells him to malignantly narcissistic behavior.

But both he and we are WRONG. Narcissists are NOT inherently or essentially evil. No one is. They just make themselves evil by choosing to do evil, disregarding the consequences to others. Like selfish three-year-olds. Like us, they are the sum-total of all their life’s choices to date. So, they can become un-evil by making a 180-degree turn and living the other way.

Which will cost them each an arm and a leg, and Vaknin explains why here. Yet theoretically, it can be done. And perhaps the first step is to realize that this doesn't make them INHERENTLY evil. Not any more than stomping people makes them INHERENTLY superior.

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14 Comments:

At 2:26 PM, Blogger puglette said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 1:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not sure I understand what it would mean to be "inherently" evil. Being evil is not the same as, say, being inherently "male" or inherently "tall". Those are things that we “inherently” are (or are not) and no amount of wishing or self-control can change them. Being evil is not the same -- it's not an inherent trait, ever -- it's pure choice.

The evil of the narcissist is not built into his DNA. It's not something he IS, it's something he DOES -- like being, say, inherently "sloppy". That is, a "sloppy" person is "sloppy" only so long as he throws his clothes on the floor, and leaves the dishes out. If he stops doing that, he can become "neat", much as he may not want to. Tall people may slouch, but they can't stop being tall.

The danger with calling people "inherently" evil is not just that it disregards the possibility of their redemption (however unlikely that may be in the case of a narcissist), but it also tends to absolve them of responsibility for their bad conduct. We must always remember that unlike a psychopath, a narcissist can control his behavior. If the situation dictates, he can tailor his conduct accordingly (unlikely the psychopath who babbles insanely no matter where he is).

The evil of the narcissist is this: although he could stop his behavior, he chooses not to.

 
At 2:13 PM, Blogger Kathy K said...

anonymous,

Yeah. I hope that was clear enough in the post. Wasn't it? Sometimes you don't anticipate how the way you word something can be misread, so I will have to go over that post and check for ambiguity.

I defined "inherently" evil as loving evil and doing it for its own sake, like the devil is portrayed as being.

And I said the same thing you are saying -- that's not the case. Ns don't love evil and do it for its own sake. They do it because the feeling they get from doing it is a pain killer.

Again, like you, I said, all they have to do is turn their life around and stop doing evil to stop being evil. It's nothing inherent in them that they can't change.

I'm not sure what you mean by psychopaths though. Some people use that term for the criminally insane. Others use it for Antisocial Personality Disorder, which recent studies show is hard to clearly distinguish from NPD. They too are just twisted, not insane. They therefore go to jail for their crimes.

 
At 2:28 PM, Anonymous GH said...

I agree wholeheartedly with the premise that they are not "inherently" evil. Perhaps this is more philosophical, but if it weren't a choice we couldn't really condemn it any more than we could condemn someone for being tall. Isn't that why God told Adam and Eve not to eat the forbidden fruit -- from the tree of knowledge of good and evil? All action is morally neutral until we know the difference between right and wrong and have the free will to choose.

I'm not so sure, though, about the ability of narcissists to choose differently. The lack of empathy characteristic of the disorder seems to me something that the N I know simply cannot choose to change no matter how hard he tries. And I do think he tries -- at least he makes the effort to fake it, and I have to think that if he werre capable of accessing the concept of empathy he could, even if he chose not to be empathetic in fact, at least be able to fake it well. But he can't do so, because he really doesn't get what empathy is.

 
At 2:29 PM, Anonymous GH said...

I agree wholeheartedly with the premise that they are not "inherently" evil. Perhaps this is more philosophical, but if it weren't a choice we couldn't really condemn it any more than we could condemn someone for being tall. Isn't that why God told Adam and Eve not to eat the forbidden fruit -- from the tree of knowledge of good and evil? All action is morally neutral until we know the difference between right and wrong and have the free will to choose.

I'm not so sure, though, about the ability of narcissists to choose differently. The lack of empathy characteristic of the disorder seems to me something that the N I know simply cannot choose to change no matter how hard he tries. And I do think he tries -- at least he makes the effort to fake it, and I have to think that if he werre capable of accessing the concept of empathy he could, even if he chose not to be empathetic in fact, at least be able to fake it well. But he can't do so, because he really doesn't get what empathy is.

 
At 3:57 PM, Blogger Kathy K said...

gh,

From what I've read, researchers seem unsure whether Ns can't empathize or just won't. Ordianry people turn off empathy too at times. Little children have none either. They have to be taught that others have feelings to be respected by getting them to consider how they themselves would feel if some mean thing were done to them.

As for choosing to do good, I think it's theoretically possible. But that link to Vaknin explains why it's so unlikely. There are some things you can do that you just don't repent. The sheer malignance in what a narcissist does is too loathesome to face up to. For example, could you admit and repent that you had a blast torturing your beloved puppy to death? Most people would rather die than admit that. Could you admit that, out of sheer malice and envy, you ruined the career of a sister who did nothing but love and trust you and that you have everyone in town shunning her and refusing to give her a job because you have them believing that she's the crazy and violent one? You just don't repent stuff like that. It's too sickening. You yourself abhor it and must remain in denial of it to keep from wanting to kill yourself.

So, yes, it's theoretically possible, but it just doesn't happen.

For, it isn't a simple matter of behaving tommorrow. There is a past pursuing the narcissist -- wrongs that are still afflicting people. You regain no innocense so long as as those wrongs are in progress. So, how do you ever feel redeemed if you don't undo the damage and stop saying the lies about that sister? And how can you do that without revealing that you were lying before? How can you make ANY amends to "go straight" and redeem yourself without betraying what you've done and thus ruining your own reputation?

So, Ns are a lot like Macbeth, having passed the point of no retun, where it seems less terrifying to continue than to reverse course.

 
At 11:01 PM, Blogger Kathy K said...

GH, What you said about Ns really trying but being unable to fake feelings reminds me of observing them try to fake feelings. You're right. They do a lousy job of it.

It reminds me of a little terror I baby-sat for one summer when I was about 14. He was so bad, he came at me with a hatchet once because I told him to pick up his room or something. (He was about 7 or 8).

Pretty bad, eh?

One day I was walking him to summer school along the river. We saw some ducks and he immediately started throwing stones at them. I told him not to do that and he honestly seemed to wonder why. So I said something as simple as, "Well, that would hurt them. How would you feel if you got hit by a rock?"

I swear, that kid looked like it had never dawned on him that those animals were living, feeling beings, with feelings of their own, like his.

He became fascinated with those ducks. We had to go check them out and see that they were doing okay every single day.

In fact, as though I didn't know that he himself had done this, he'd say things like "I bet mean kids throw rocks at them poor ducks."

I told my mother about this, and she thought it really was a revelation to him that animals have feelings -- something most children pick up on at a much earlier age. Just suggesting that he put himself in their shoes was such a novel idea to him.

I'm not quite sure he wasn't faking it, because his reaction seemed almost like a parody of a natural child's reaction. But I did feel that he probably was sincere and not just trying to pretend he cared about those ducks. Not sure though.

Go figure.

 
At 11:59 AM, Anonymous GH said...

I'm going to be an optimist and believe he really did care about the ducks and the parody-like tone was just his over-eagerness to disavow (the shame of) his earlier, hurtful act. Overdramatizing, perhaps, to make sure you knew that he really did get what you had told him.

Perhaps you even spared him the sad fate of becoming a narcissist? At 7 or 8, it seems shocking to think that no one had ever told him that other people had feelings, too. But if he hhad narcissistic parents/caregivers who themselves may not have appreciated this fact, that could be the case.

And if that lesson is not taught early on when all the neural pathways and whatnot, the habits that latter become instinct, are forming, it would be awfully hard to "get it" as an adult, even if (on some level) you really wanted to. I wonder if that's not why narcissists have a hard time faking it -- not because they were born hard-wired that way but the way they were raised created wiring that is very, very hard to undo!

Great line of discussion Kathy -- you keep me thinking!

 
At 10:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the subject of whether or not a narcissist can't empathize or simply won't...I have become convinced they are able to have empathy and choose not to turn it to good use.

Evidence one is that there is nothing so obvious than the narcissist's overwhelming compassion for himself. Okay, that isn't a good example because that doesn't fall under the definition of empathy as being the ability to identify with another's feelings or experience.

Better evidence: there must be some kind of ability to identify with how other people feel under certain circumstances, otherwise how else does the narcissist successfully transfer his negative feelings onto his victim unless he identifies with how it makes his victim feels? I think on some level this reveals the narcissist as being capable of using empathy, but like everything else, he perverts it.

I don't know...I guess my thoughts on this aren't well formulated. But it just seems like the narcissist can on some level feel what their victims feel. "I make you feel bad so I don't have to feel that feeling anymore myself." There is some perverted use of identifying with how someone else feels in this dynamic. I think.

 
At 11:34 AM, Blogger Kathy K said...

That makes sense to me. On the other side, if I understood him right, I have heard a narcissist (Vaknin I think but I'm not sure) draw some distinction between an Ns feelings for himself and the full normal range of human feeling. But the distinction was fuzzy and didn't make sense to me. I got the impression the author himself wasn't sure what he meant.

Consider how sadistic Ns are, how good they are at mental cruelty. To accomplish that, they MUST be able to empathize -- in a perverse way. Indeed, if they tried, normal people couldn't think up such piercing acts of subtle mental cruelty -- not because we aren't intellectually capable of figuring out how to stick it to someone, but rather because it's unnatural for us to use our capacity for empathy that way. Knowing how that other would feel would repulse us instead of tempt us like it tempts an N.

They don't put another's pain on themselves as in real empathy: they do the opposite -- putting their pain on the other. So their empathy is a kind of anti-empathy.

On the other hand, if they never got past that stage of child development where we learn to empathize, do they virtually lose the capacity? I mean, if the blowback of anti-empathy becomes an ingrained habit, almost reflexive, for all practical puproses they cannot empathize, even though they theoretically still have the ability to.

I don't know what to think. but I kinda lean that way -- toward slim hope that it's possible for treatment to someday help.

 
At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love ducks. Quack. GG

 
At 8:24 PM, Blogger Pat said...

Just happened on this site. This info is amazingly and frightfully on the mark. My "x" son-in-law's picture should be included in your comments. We decided since divorce was so tragic for the children, we would include the x in holiday meals, etc. I could not get over the arrogance, as if nothing happened! I recalled 15 yrs. ago when he first dated our daughter saying "someone at the medical clinic said, 'you aren't going to date one of those Thomson girls are you?'" - I thought he must not have realized how that sounded and made a mistake! He made no mistake, he was making a statement that he was far more superior than our family could be. He told family members that other family members said things about them . . . creating mistrust among us, so that he would be the trusted one. How blind we were!

 
At 12:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very intersting about the ducks..... I have to wonder. A "little" off subject...I've been reading a LOT of articles/books regarding N's. My fiance has just been diagnosed (through couples counceling for what we thought were anger issues). Anyhow, the therapist cannot answer one question for me. EVERYTHING I've read about N's specifically points out how they do not have the ability to love, are cold, unattentive, etc. My N is the most attentive, affectionate, loving man I've ever met. Just has EXTREME outbursts at the slightest insult and also takes the smallest thing as an insult among MANY other "N" quailities. My therapist simply says everything he does is to get a reaction/attention for himself. I could be in a denial but how can him being affectionate to me (when no one else is around) enjoying intamacy be an "act"? Are some N's intimate, I cant find anything that suggests it. Can anyone shed some light, maybe he only has "N" charicteristics?

 
At 12:49 PM, Blogger Kathy K said...

If he really is an N, the answer is simple. He is your fiance. Wait till the honeymoon is over.

It really is an act. Ns have practiced acting 24/7 since early childhood. They are good at it.

Logic says that if he suddenly becomes enraged at you over nothing, he doesn't really love you. Don't compartmentalize what he does one minute from what he does the next. If there are contradictions, there are contradictions.

The therapist is right: with an N it is all playing for a reaction. But don't assume that the reaction he settles for now will be enough later, when you are stuck with him. He can get something more self-agrandizinng than admiration then: then he can he trample you with abuse. That's something he can really thump his chest about. And, when the honeymoon is over, and he has cunningly isolated you from family and friends, making you dependent on him, he can abuse you without fear of losing you easily.

IF he's really an N.

 

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