Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Do Narcissists Have Emotions?

It is often said that narcissists and psychopaths don't experience the full depth and range of human emotions. I have known some narcissists very well for a very long time, and I am sure there is something different about their emotions.

Sam Vaknin discusses the matter here, starting off clearly by saying that narcissists repress their emotions. Which makes sense. After that he gets into fuzzy abstractions that don't seem to add a lot.

But I wonder if there isn't more to it.

Maybe a large part of the difference is simply due to their idenitification with their image instead of themselves. I've read that they view their bodies as a machine or tool, not really an integral part of themselves. And I believe it, because the narcissists I have known were amazingly out of touch with their bodily sensations. One had a heart so enlarged it was thumping against her sternum 24/7 for about a year, and when the doctor asked her how long she had been feeling it do that, it was news to her! The other never seemed to know when he was sick. His wife had to tell him. When he got old, life was such an out-of-the-body experience for him that he couldn't even tell where, or if, anything hurt! Welcome to The Twilight Zone.

If you're that out-of-touch with even your physical sensations, you certainly aren't in touch with your emotional ones either.

And it stands to reason, because they identify with something external and immaterial, their image. They relate to it as themselves. So, they aren't connected properly to their real selves.

What's more, their emotions are pretended. They don't get mad because something really made them mad. They pretend to get mad when they throw a fit to bully you. But that isn't genuine anger. It's an act. Otherwise they couldn't turn it on and off like a light switch.

Sure, they work themselves up into a lather as they summon anger to put on a temper tantrum, but that isn't the natural emotion of anger.

Narcissists have about two emotional acts: their happy act and their mad act. These are just acting jobs in their game of Pretend. The emotions are shallow because the narcissist conjures them up and then pumps them up. So, they're artificial, not the real thing.

As for feelings, they regard feeling as weakness, vulnerability. So they repress them.


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At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if this ignorance of their inner selves affects other "feelings". My mother--a presumed N--shows no emotions except to manipulate other people. I doubt that she ever feels anything except smirking amusement, anger, or vague depression.

She also doesn't "feel" direction. The woman literally cannot tell east from west. She argues (until she's blue in the face, of course) that a city she goes to often lies north of our home. In fact it lies south west--as the road signs plainly state. If it weren't for her children I suspect she would have become terminally lost years ago.

She seems to feel nothing from within though she is acutely aware of what (she thinks, anyway) other people are feeling about her.

At 3:59 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Good question. I thought she had emotions, but now I'm not so sure at all. It might have just been the "mirror" effect.

I'm reminded of one time Lil Sis was hospitalized overnight at age 7 for 'stomach pains'- they never did figure out what was wrong with her and it never happened again. But at one point, the nurses had to draw blood- she sat up, held her arm out utterly void of any emotion, and said NOTHING. Watched as if she was watching a bug. It completely unnerved the medical staff.

I wonder if she had feigned the pains for the sake of seeing what Mom, who didn't drive, and Dad, who worked 16+ hours a day and was at work, would do. Of course, they were quite upset and worried for their little girl. I think she learned right then and there that she could manipulate all of us.

At 8:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy,

This post and the one above seem inter-related to me so I'll give my unprofessional opinion to both at once.:0)

I think narcissists do have emotion but they act in opposition to what they feel. I have recently watched my niece, who I don't believe to be N but was raised by two N's, teach her own children to behave differently from how they feel and I know this is something she is passing down from her own upbringing. If one of her children doesn't like someone or is angry toward someone, she punishes them until they behave in the way she directs them rather than giving them a way to express what they feel while still be considerate of another. Also from experience with my N's, they are extremely self sensitive and have emotion that is directed inward but they have almost no compassion. They know they should and will try at times to fake it but it is obviously fake.

A psychopath, as I understand it, actually does not feel and is wholly calculating. The word, love will illicit the same emotional response from them as the word, tree. They are not dangerous unless you get in the way of their acquiring their perceived need. If in their calculations, they can remove you by killing you and not getting caught, they have no more feeling in doing so than a farmer would have in cutting down a tree in order to plant a crop. I think this is the difference. I don't think my N's would purposely kill however, they might become so caught up in a drama they have created for attention that they may hurt or kill another or themselves by accident.

I think it is important to remember that someone suffering from a personality disorder may suffer some aspects of many disorders. The development of personality is highly complex and will not often follow a set pattern. Also, there are no blood or lab tests to help psychiatrists diagnose illnesses and it is for that reason, still a very soft science.

These are the differing ways that I have observed my three N's deal with pain or physical weakness or strong emotion in another: I have seen my sister drive 100 miles while having a miscarriage and admit herself. After delivering her children, she always came home in her smallest pair of jeans. Once when we were both pregnant, we spent a hot summer afternoon in town shopping. I was miserable and pretty vocal about it, while she characteristically, was stoic. When we got back to her house that evening, she put on a pair of shorts and I was shocked to see a large burn that covered her entire thigh. She had not even mentioned it. She despises illness in others and views it as weakness as she also views emotional displays, no matter how appropriate. My son has to be forced to go to the doctor and won't wear glasses or contacts as they don't correspond with his image of himself. My dad however, latches on to illness as a way to garner much needed attention and will even fake illnesses if that seems to be the only way he can be in the center of attention.

They are all alike in many ways, including genetics, but they are also individual. They are alike in their inability to face truth head on and they retreat into magical thinking during stressful events or when having to face their own wrong doing. They all three love an audience though they have different ways of obtaining that audience. They also are low on compassion but highly self sensitive and can only relate to the pain of others as it relates to them. They are all three highly manipulative.

Okay...I'll stop before I write my own book about it. Sorry.:-}


At 9:49 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

Emotions and feelings aren't exactly the same thing. feelings normally repressed can surface occassionally. Some are better at repressing them than others.

Also, I wonder if a sensation like excitement (at risk-taking) can trump a feeling like fear.

The brains of psychopaths are known to be different. (N brains haven't been studied). They do process information differently.

It's rather an immature way, the way people under 25 process emotional language and visual or audio language: instead of imagining it like an adult does, they process it as language.

For example, if I ask whether it is a good idea to eat a cockroach, most tennagers will think a moment and then matter-of-factly say they think not. Long before that, every adult in the audience has been totally grossed out by imagining the ugly deed and yelled, "YUCK!"

That's the difference between processing language as language and processing it by reference to raw memory data in the imagination.

BTW, the brain difference is at least as likely to be a RESULT of psychopathic thinking as a CAUSE of it. The way we think really does affect the way the brain develops.


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