Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why do some narcissists thrive on an audience to perform for and others hide what they're doing?

A recent commenter asks:

why do some Ns thrive on an audience to perform for and other Ns hide what they're doing?

I'm posting because this is an important and perplexing question, one that causes musch of the confusion about narcissism. But I'm posting off the top of my head here, because I haven't much time right now. I also talk about this on the main site in The Narcissist's Style.

The answer depends on the situation. Narcissists calculate how to get the most of their drug out of what they do. Lee Harvey Oswald wrote in his diary something intriguing in his reason for taking up communism (at the unbelievable age of 15). Did he give an ideolgical reason? No. He viewed becoming a communist as "the key to his environment." The key to HIS environment.

In other words, becoming a communist was the best way he could think of for a kid in his life situation to get attention/NS. If he had been another kid, he would have needed to find a different key to a different environment.

Every narcissist's environment is different, so every narcissist's style is different. Though they all are after the same thing, they each need and develop their own custom strategy to achieve it.

Take for example a malignant narcissist who is a dictator, like Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler, or Josef Stalin. Do they really need to hide what they're up to? No, because nobody can hold them to account. They bully entire nations the way a weak narcissist bullies his pre-school-age children. That's the ultimate fix of grandiosity.

Notably, in rising to power, dictators DO conceal their dirty deeds. They work hard at getting people to think they're good. Only when they feel secure does the angel-face mask come off. Then they go for The Big Fix, an orgasm of Narcissitic Supply (NS) = having people obsequiously crawl to him and grovel before him, courting his favor. To make people do this, they start showing off their ogrishness to intimidate and frighten people like Beelzebub.

So, as their environment changes, their strategy changes.

I think it always depends on the situation. When a narcissist cannot get positive attention (admiration), he or she will settle for the next-best thing, negative attention. Hence some narcissists commit crimes to get attention. Lee Harvey Oslwald looked for somebody important to assassinate for attention.

Usually, however, narcissists show off what a terror they are only to the VICTIM, in the dark, behind closed doors. Why? Because they don't dare get a big audience. They don't dare permit any other witnesses to what they do for the Big Fix whenever possible. To everybody but the lone victim, they wear an angel face to dissimulate their selves so no one will believe the victim about them.

Why? Because they'd be generally abhorred if people knew what they really are. Nobody would want anything to do with them. They'd be shunned. No NS in that.

But when nobody can hold you to account (as, for example, if you are Saddam Hussein), you can be as flagrant a bully as you want. Result? People don't shun you: they come crawling up to you to kiss up to you! No better souce of NS.
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23 Comments:

At 12:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wayyyy of subject but I didnt know where to post this. You and the readers seem very bright and have a lot of knowledge. 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 feel like im in a denial, but how can him being affectionate to me (when no one else is around) and 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 3:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Response to woman with N fiance:

If he really is a narcissist, I hope you will run for the hills right now. Even if, as you seem to hope, he merely has N characteristics, run. I have watched my family N go through marriages and relationships (lots of counseling, part of the scam), and it is truly frightening just to be a spectator.

Of course your narcissist is charming. You want to know when you can kiss that charm good-bye forever? When he owns you. You want know when he will truly own you? When you have a child with him. Now he has the courts and your fear of him being alone with your helpless child working in his favor. He can financially and emotionally BREAK YOU, and if you test him , he will not hesitate to do it. He will even enjoy doing it!

I watched this happen more than once. You have my sympathy. No offense, but it sounds like this one already has his hooks in you pretty good. Counseling and all that. I'll bet he sat right there in front of you and lied to the counselor.

I hope you figure him out all the way, because I know that when he turns on that charm and says all the things you have always wanted to hear, it's hard to walk away. I mean, where are you ever going to get that again? Thing is, you don't really have it now. It's a trap.

 
At 4:37 PM, Blogger Louise said...

I feel for you, too, Anon. A marriage should be about being with someone who is honest and shares himself with you, someone who truly loves and values you- and you him. Someone who you can be friends with, who will love and support you.

Marriage isn't 50-50; somedays it's 95-5. There are days when you will try as much as you can and he not at all- and there should be days when HE tries that 95%. A marriage that doesn't grow together will GROW APART- recently heard that from an aunt who just celebrated 40 years with my uncle. IT'S TRUE.

It's so hard. Anyone can say "I love you"- but what does "love" mean to an N? Oh, I understand the denial and trying to find another answer; ANYTHING to be able to justify staying in a relationship ANY way I could.

But the outbursts, anger and other irrational behavior or lies are big red warning signs. How would you feel if you saw your best friend in this exact same situation?

BE YOUR OWN BEST FRIEND. Arm yourself with information, like you are. And LET GO- then RUN.

Good luck...

 
At 4:55 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Back to topic- I think an N could best be compared to a chameleon, Kathy. You rarely see what they really look like, because their very existance relies on the ability to quickly adapt to their ever changing enviroment.

Like a puzzle that can't be solved or a brain teaser. You're NOT SUPPOSED to make sense of it- you're supposed to be constantly off-balance.

And if it's hard for US to comprehend, it must be confusing for the N, too. How do you keep 4,000 lies, created in layer upon layer, from tangling and tripping you up?

 
At 4:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree. My husband of 23 years is on a spiraling N episode and you already have an official diagnosis. It doesn't get any easier. It will never go away. It could get worse over time. If you're already seeking help now, you must be told to not marry this person. No matter how much you love him. It just won't work well. Sorry.

 
At 5:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

louise -I think you're right. It must be hard for them to track it too. It must be exhausting (except for the ones that thrive on it like the drama queens). I think my N calculates part of his behavior but I wonder sometimes if he is fully in control of it. Some of it seems on purpose, but sometimes he seems confused by his own behavior. Sometimes in the past he would ask me if he was okay. I felt like he was game playing and putting it on me which i resented. But sometimes he looks soooo tired. Kathy If it is due to past childhood injuries, then i think it would make sense that some of that old confusion would surface too. A child knows when they are acting up, but children don't always know how to identify their true feelings.I feel kind of (only kind of) sorry for him, but i feel sorrier for the rest of us. I think I am no longer a source for my N. I've been pulling back and watching him for a little while with new eyes. I think he has noticed but doesn't know what to do about it.He's pulled a couple of odd things and i think my reactions confused him. But unfortunately i think he's now testing out the kids to see what they can "do for him". That has me filled with apprehension. If we liken all this to a drug fix, i'm pondering if this might be his early experimenting with drugs. Maybe that's why i debate how much of it is under his control. Sometimes he looks almost a little strung out, slight rings around the eyes and sleeping more than what's cosidered healthy. If one of our kids was found out dabbling in drug use i would intervene. But is there such a thing as early intervention in what seems like escalating narcissistic supply seeking?

 
At 5:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry that all ran together when it posted. I tried to break it up into paragraphs. oops.

 
At 6:27 PM, Anonymous GH said...

So anon 1, like everyone here, my heart goes out to you. I know right now you are wondering how you can be sure it's really narcissism. Those of us who've been there want to tell you to run and never look back, but that's because we know lives with narcissists, not life with your fiance. We can't know for sure, though certainly if you respect the therapist otherwise, it's worth taking very seriously.

So how can you be sure? I would suggest removing the narcissistic supply and seeing how he reacts. If you are currently living together, tell him you or he needs to move out for awhile. Tell him you need time apart. Stick to joint counseling every couple weeks or once a month. But otherwise, pay him no attention. Tell him you need space to figure things out. If he loves you, he'll understand and respect that. If he's a naarcissist, ignoring him will make him crazy. I tink the anonymous below who described it as a drug fix is onto something -- withold the supply and see if he starts acting like a junkie going through withdrawal.

And remind yourself, whatever his story, you deserve the best.

 
At 8:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

gh kathy and all, 5:32 posting here. That is what i have been doing, witholding the supply. I see it now. At first it was instinct, then i questioned my motives. I thought maybe i was just checking, testing, to see if he cared enough to "check in" if i "checked out". But i think the reason for my increasing apprehension is because i feel guilty for "messing around" with him. A lot of my hunches look correct now. And now i see him looking elsewhere (for N supply) and i feel bad for unleashing him. God i'm sorry everyone(our kids, his coworkers). NOW what do i do?

 
At 4:47 AM, Blogger Louise said...

You hang tough, Anon- and you take a deep breath and start taking the steps to regain your LIFE. On an airplane, they say to "put the oxygen" on yourself first and help others- same here. YOU NEED TO GET YOURSELF RIGHT-HEADED FIRST.

And don't feel guilty- not one bit. "Dipping a toe in the water before plunging in" (as you've done with the withholding) is just good sense. The guilt factor is something MANY of us have dealt with, as well as 20/20 hindsights. YOU DIDN'T CREATE HIS CONDITION- it's not your fault.

Kids are resiliant. As long as they see you being calm, in control of yourself, honest and reasonable, they will have that to hang onto when the "weather gets rough". And that effort might get hard sometimes. If they know you love them and are trustworthy, they will borrow your strength to make good choices for themselves as they grow.

YOU CAN'T STOP HOW HE REACTS- that will be HIS own choice and the responsibility of those choices lies with him. All you can do is decide how YOU choose to act and raise your kids to do the same.

As I've said before and believe- we are not raising children, we are raising FUTURE ADULTS. We can only be successful at that if we also ARE ADULTS- and I'm very convinced Ns lack that ability. Kathy has described the rages as "3 year old tantrums" and been very eloquent on the topic...

 
At 8:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

louise,532/806 here, thankyou. I've taken to talking to myself lately when no one is around,and have said some of the same stuff you said to me, but it is sooooo nice to hear it from someone else :) . KATHY.--thankyou so much for this web site. I think i have said it before, but this is really turning out to be a real life line. The advice and coaching from all of you is helping me to sustain a calm exterior. Hopefully peace will follow. I have been too much consumed by all of this. I have compared the feeling to being on train tracks. I can hear the train. I'm not sure how far away it is or how fast it's going. But anyone with any sense knows better than to stay there and wait for it. Get the heck off the tracks! But to panic is silly - it may not even be on these rails. See -everyone else might say that.But to those of us who know better, the paranoia makes sense. The other comparison though - to a drug addiction- is why i feel pulled to action of some kind. It's hard to sit by and merely take witness. It feels wrong to let people drown when they're getting in over their head. You can tell i'm still fairly new to this because of how i vascilate between compassion and fury. Oh one more thought and then i'll give it a break. I see a lot of sense in the comparisson of a 3 year old, except you can often lead a 3yr old to better more mature behavior and understanding and turn them into reasonable people as they grow. A brat is the exception. I don't know why some of them don't progress from that (feed back encouraged). My husband is turning (back) INTO A BRAT. It's REALLY hard to take! When i think of him this way, i feel really angry but not afraid. When I look at him as an adult, I do feel afraid of him. It's hard for me to talk to the kids about dad's bratty behavior without undermining respect. He is supposed to be their father ,not some bratty little twerp they have to work around. His infantile behavior is disturbing to all of us. But yet there have been times when he's exposed his fangs enough to strike fear as well.

 
At 9:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 1 here. I agree this website is absolutely wonderful. It is just such a perplexing thing to deal with, living with a narcissist. I've never heard ANYTHING about it before in my life and no one around me understands what I'm going through. Thank you all so much for the support. I am still trying to make sense of everything and build my self esteem back up he has already emotionally broke me. We currently are not living together because I needed my space after our wedding was called off (from one of his angry fits) his most common is kicking me out of "his" house. I didnt talk to him for a while and even he desribed being away from me as a withdrawel, which is interesting to me to read that taking away NS from them is compared to a drug withdrawel. Its so easy to be sucked back in by his charm. I just feel like I've lost everything and I'm in a complete twilight-zone. It's saddening to read NOTHING good about N's being able to get better. I know deep down that its not going to get better.

 
At 9:59 AM, Anonymous GH said...

Anon 1 -- You can hope for him, pray for him, even care for him. No one really knows if recovery is possible -- just that it's uncommon. But in the meantime, you have to protect yourself and your kids. Sticking to the drug analofy, he'll never break the addiction if he doesn't lose his supply.

And yeah, it's hard to get outsider's to understand. It doesn't make any sense, after all. But don't worry about that. *You* understand and your thoughts and feelings are valuable. Whether others understand or accept that doesn't take away from the intrinsic worth of what you know. Hang tough!

 
At 10:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, we've been doing lots of praying.

 
At 5:34 PM, Blogger La Diabla said...

gh said to anon 1...And yeah, it's hard to get outsider's to understand. It doesn't make any sense, after all. But don't worry about that. *You* understand and your thoughts and feelings are valuable. Whether others understand or accept that doesn't take away from the intrinsic worth of what you know. Hang tough!

Don't forget - WE understand!!!
And this is a good place to come and learn and get that support you need.

 
At 9:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm currently divorcing a fully blown narcissist after 12 years of marriage. The "engagement" time was the ride of my life. He wrote me poetry, sang me songs, told me I was his soulmate and the love of his life. You can bet he was attentive also. He wanted to be involved in everything I did, because that's how loving couples treat each other. He wanted to be my best friend, my lover but mostly my hero. And then we married. Then the conditioning controlling process started by using his EXTREME OUTBURSTS at the slightest insult. I wouldn't, couldn't know when I would set him off so I would have to remain constantly on guard and choose my words carefully. Soon I was monitering my behaviors to suit his temperment. Anything to keep from a abusive situation. I could take you through 11 years of the downfall of my identity, my indepenpence, my spirit, my family, friends, my interests. Everyday, every situation was always about him. Let me tell you please that you're dealing with a narcissist.They do not change, they only become meaner, more vile and you'll be the brunt of his abuse hidden behind closed doors. When I read your post, a chill went down my spine.
I found an excellent doctor who deals in personality disorders and on my first visit 15 minutes into the session, he told me my husband was a narcissist and to run, run, run.
After seven months I finally got up the courage to move. I'm sad and lonely, I miss the man I thought and wished he was, grieve for the make believe relationship I thought I had.But this I know, I will heal, I know it will take time. Please read and re-read all the posts that you see here. You're listening to the experts.

 
At 4:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In grieving about the relationship you thought you had - I am doing so with my ex-boyfriend. He was so involved in making me happy (trying to, because honestly he did not, really) at first. After about 3 months he got more and more passive. By 6 months I was doing all the work. He dumped me only a week or so after I started spoke up about how his lack of initiative hurt my feelings.
This was my second N, I now realize! I'd even talked to him about how the previous guy was an N when we first met - how ironic. And I'm embarassed to admit I was dumb enough to do it twice. I want so bad to never date an N again, I'm doing all I can to learn what it is about me that either attracts me to them, or attracts them to me. (Any suggestions welcomed.)
Thanks for this site so much.

 
At 5:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the last anonymous: I have recently learned that I am a co-narcissist. I think this is a relatively new term but what it means is that I am conditioned to live as an extension of another person. I'm not really an inverted narcissist that lives for only one narcissist, as is my mother, but I do attract narcissists. Amazingly, my husband is not one at all but I still found narcissists and others to attach myself to. I have never thought I was good enough and when I had children that anxiety increased as I didn't want to raise them the way I was raised. I attached myself to my sister and others who I thought had an 'ideal' family and emulated them. The sad thing is these people were narcissists and I allowed them to control me and my kids through me. It makes me sick but it's true. It hurt my kids and my youngest has narcissistic tendencies but...we have started working with him since his late teens and we do see improvement. We concentrate on not giving any emotional response to his tantrums and on making sure that when we do something for him, we ask for something in return. I have also talked to him about the hurt child inside of him and how he reflects to people what they want to see. My husband and I and his brother all concentrate heavily upon letting him know that we love him just because he is in the world. I talk to him about my own shortcomings and account for the mistakes I've made. He has also seem my family up close and personal and recognizes himself in them and doesn't want to be like them. We started this effort when he was 17 and he is now 24 with a child of his own (which terrified us) but he truly loves his son and I am convinced that if caught early enough, and insight is achieved, narcissists can be helped. I don't know if he will ever be normal but he is definitely growing. He also spent much time in psychotherapy in his teens and his psychologist works with us to help him as an adult.

I am convinced that there is a genetic disposition that is reinforced by circumstance. Even though I'm not a narcissist, my co-narcissism fed the natural tendency along with some severe trauma in his early teens that cemented the condition. I refuse to give up on my son, I give all of my support to my grandson's mother (she comes to us with problems and my son is always confronted about them and not allowed to bully)and we guard my little grandson like a hawk. We love my son but we don't fool ourselves about him. I remain hopeful for him.

It would be good to get help for yourself before you have a family. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. My main weakness was being conditioned to accept manipulation as love, as being done by a wiser person for my own good. I didn't recognize it for what it was until just a few years ago.

 
At 8:11 PM, Anonymous Grace said...

I'm the woman who left her husband seven months ago after 12 years of marriage. I wanted to share the two excellent books that my doctor recommended.
"The Wizard of Oz and other Narcissists" by Eleanor D. Payson
and "Why is it Always about You?" by Sandy Hotchkiss
After having read these more than once, things started to make sense and I began to understand I wasn't the crazy one. I wasn't at fault for every bad thing that happened in our relationship. Narcissism is always mixed with control and abuse, verbal and physical. These people are usually quite intelligent and quite good at making you feel confused and misunderstood, especially when they need to PROJECT all their shame back on to you. Make you think that it WAS your fault. Narcissists cannot and will not allow themselves to feel shame or take the blame for their actions. They can be evil and toxic and they will try and destroy whatever gets in their way to stop them from shame dumping. They do not have a natural empathy for others and will never truly be sorry for anything because they truly do not believe they're capable of wrong-doing. I filed for a divorce today. I want my life back.

 
At 7:37 PM, Blogger Barbara said...

The last N I was involved performed for some and hid from others. The most distrubing thing he did, which still boggles my mind - was literally STEALING pieces of my personality & personal history and telling them to others AS IF THEY WERE HIS OWN. Made me wonder if he was just a mishmash of people he'd met and not a real person himself - like THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY.

I once read q&a where an abuser victim asked if her abuser KNEW what he was doing? The answer said that if he was NICE around other people or in public and ABUSIVE in private to her? Then he CERTAINLY knew what he was doing and was taking the pains to cover up his actions!

Wonderful writing & insightful, as always.

 
At 5:33 AM, Anonymous Millie said...

Hi Kathy,

I know two women who I believe are narcissists - yet, their behaviour couldn't be more different, even though they belong to the same social circle.

Without wanting to sound arrogant, I have been a victim of both of them because of various factors such as my looks (tall, skinny, and well-dressed) and my career success (I have studied for a PhD and I now work at a very prestigious university).

One woman "Woman S" used to bully me in childhood, and even as a grown-up has a reputation for her temper tantrums, her bitchy remarks, and her expectations of other people. She completely fits the bill of a narcissist as described by authors such as Sam Vaknin - her life is a non-stop string of events such as traveling, she is always talking about her latest grand plans, and she loves to overtly impress people.

Woman S has made some nasty remarks towards me – such as being negative about my career and lifestyle choices and telling me how I might miss out on other things in life.

The other woman who I also believe to be a narcissist is completely different. “Woman D” is a practicing Christian, who doesn’t appear to care for such frivolities as her appearance, clothes or shopping, who has done charity work in Africa, who married young, who appears meek and mild in nearly all social settings, who is always complementing others, and who appears to put other people's needs before her own…basically, she seems perfect!

YET…I think Woman D bears more hatred towards me than Woman S.

Woman D dated, then married the man who used to be my best friend, and since they got together my friendship with the man completely died (Woman D would even insist she speaks to me on the phone, even if I explicitly requested to speak to her husband).

Woman D likes to give me awful presents. I don’t own a car or drive one. So for my 21st birthday Woman D gave me spider elastics for securing luggage on the roof of a car. I don’t do DIY nor am I responsible for fixing anything – oh, and I am a WOMAN. So one Christmas, in front of everyone, Woman D gave everyone else nice boxed games and puzzles, while I got a 42-piece screwdriver set. One time, Woman D asked me what I wanted for my birthday – I suggested book tokens. So what did she get me? Absolutely nothing.

When Woman D found out that I was applying for a position at a prestigious university, in front of others she would appear to celebrate this (see below). Yet, when I spent time with just her and her husband, it was clear she was resentful of my career aspirations. She could barely say anything positive about my application, and was cold and distant to me the whole time.

The worst thing is that Woman D ‘baits’ Woman S to be nasty to me, as though Woman D is getting someone else to do her dirty work for her. Once, when the three of us met up, Woman D began talking about my job application, and it was clear to me Woman S did not like hearing about it. Yet, Woman D persisted in discussing it until Woman S launched an attack on me. A couple of months later at a party, Woman D chose to discuss my job application with me when Woman S was within earshot – Woman S looked miserable when I spoke about it.

Narcissists come in very different forms – and I think the worst ones are those that go to great lengths to hide their hatred of others – really, this makes sense, as the darker and nastier the person is on the inside the more they need to cover up – exactly what you say on your post about ‘dissimulation’.

What amazes me most is how most people cannot see through Woman D’s façade!

 
At 10:39 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

I agree Millie, the thicker they put it on the more they've got to hide.

In fact, I have seen this in the life of a particular N more than once. Something happens to remove a rein on them, so they go wild, becoming much more abusive simply because there's no one to stop them from doing even outrageous things now. Guess what? In both cases I know of that N suddenly became extremely pious - to the point of going to daily mass, and putting on an Academy Award act of being oh-so-charitable and caring for the very people they were abusing.

And other people are always fooled by this acting job. We're conditioned to give people who make a big show of "goodness" the benefit of the doubt, but we shouldn't. The truly good don't do that.

People who do things to be seen doing them are always hypocrites.

 
At 7:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the woman with the fiance. I am saying this from experience. I married a man who's ex-wife is a N. Of course I didn't know it when I was dating him. There were odd things going on that I would point out to him, but it wasn't until after we were married that we realized what was going on. My husband had a miserable marriage. She was perfect in the beginning. He said "it was too good to be true"! Not much after that she started to show her true colors. She was not loving. She criticized him, made him feel stupid because of course "she was the smartest". She never wanted sex. Once they see that their significant other loves them so much, they turn away. They do not know how to love. They only do and say things to gain something for themselves. Please don't ever had children with him. If you ever divorce, he will make your life miserable. My husband had three children with her all of which were not planned. She holds them as leverage over him. she tries to control every situation, and of course he gets persecuted all the time for not doing things right. You would not believe the things she has done. Most of the people in this town can't stand her. She has hurt alot of people to get what she wants. Four of us go to counseling because of her. Her daughter left her and has been with us for three years. Her 17 year old son requested to go to a counselor just to try to understand. The youngest is so stressed, he also asked to see a counselor. If you get married, do not have children. Eventually, the N gets tired of the one he is with and wants something better. They DON'T KNOW HOW TO TRULY LOVE. It doesn't seem like it now and I know you love him but if he truly has NPD, you will spend the rest of your life with him trying to please him because if you ever slip up, you will be on your way out. If you ever want to know more about what we have gone through, and believe me there is alot, I would be happy to fill you in.

 

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