Thursday, January 24, 2008

Do narcissists have a conscience?

Believe it or not, I have been so buried in the Australian Open and my Pro Shop that I had trouble thinking of a topic for my next post here. But someone just gave me a good idea.

Do narcissists have a conscience?

Sam Vaknin:

No. Conscience is predicated on empathy. One puts oneself in other people's "shoes" and feels the way they do. Without empathy, there can be no love or conscience. Indeed, the narcissist has neither. To him, people are sillhuettes, penumbral projections on the walls of his inflated sense of self, figments of his fantasies. How can one regret anything if one is a solipsist (i.e., recognizes only his reality and no one else's)?

A caveat: as I've said before, what he says about narcissists generally rings true to me. (What he says about others though is a different matter. His perceptions of others are being filtered at a bias through the disease.) And here he's talking about narcissists.

Now, I could pick a nit, but I think I would have to be intentionally misunderstanding him as saying more than he means to say here.

That nit? Well, you must always be careful when you make blanket statements about narcissists (or anyone for that matter). In other words, an objection can be raised if you declare that narcissists have no...
  • empathy
  • conscience
  • shame
  • feelings
  • and so forth.
These things are not organs that can be cut out. They are mental processes that the human brain is wired for.

But ALL people have great power to exert voluntary control to suppress or repress (to unconscious levels) any of these mental states. In other words, ALL people can make themselves lose self-awareness so that, for all practical purposes, they have no conscience, no empathy, no feelings, and so on.

Doubt it? Remember the countless proofs of this throughout history, beginning with throwing Christians to the lions in ancient Rome and ending with hacking people to pieces in Rwanda. Was empathy or conscience in evidence among the perpetrators and bystanders?

No, they had it turned off like a light switch.

In all such mass evildoing, masses of people killed their consciences and had none. More correctly, we could say that they replaced it it with an an unconscience instead - one that makes people able to charge a starving Jew a diamond ring for a loaf of bread at the fence around the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust.

Don't try to tell me that anyone with any conscience, empathy, or human feelings did that. And yet countless Poles went to Mass and Communion in the morning and then went out to the ghetto and did that. Without a twinge of conscience.

Yet this same person might feel very guilty a moment later for cursing over stubbing his toe.

Go figure. The way people mess with their minds is bizarre.

Clearly, these mental states of absence of conscience, empathy, shame and feelings are HABITS of MIND under conscious control. If you never use the wiring for them, those parts of the brain don't develop as much gray matter (connections). Which is why the brains of psychopaths actually look a bit different: they lack development in some areas like unused muscles do. And they show greater development in other areas.

That just shows what parts of the brain they're using the most, period.

Instead of using the emotional parts of the brain to process things that cause normal people to use them (and thus have an emotional response to something) they have a HABIT of using nonemotional parts of the brain to think about the matter. That's why narcissists and psychopaths are so cold-blooded and brutal.

In narcissists, this is the default mode. They are in it about everything all the time. Since early childhood. It's a habitual state of mind. They have chosen it.

They say they don't experience the full range of feelings other people seem to experience. But pardon me for not feeling sorry them, because this is no accident. It is no brain malfunction. It is the consequence of repressing their feelings all their lives, feelings which they view as "weakness" and despise.

Therefore, it takes some conscious effort for them to dig deep and get in touch with their buried feelings. I suppose it actually takes effort for them to empathize (when they want to put themselves in your shoes to see how various things would feel so they can hit you where it hurts most = be sadistic).

So, for all practical purposes, a narcissist has no conscience - except at rare and unwanted moments of self-awareness, when something happens to cause a sense of conscience to rise from its shallow grave and haunt the conscious centers of mind.

He will immediately repress it again though, immediately rebury that corpus delicti.

It's like his abysmal self-esteem: he keeps that buried too, under a delusion of its opposite.

Nonetheless, the twisted are so twisted that I don't blame anyone for making a blanket statement such as that narcissists have no conscience. For all practical purposes that is true. And quibbling that it is false on the technicality that a narcissist may, in spite of him- or her-self, experience the vague, phantom pain of a conscience for 5 seconds once or twice a year - THAT'S taking the deceitful position on the matter.

I don't blame anyone for saying that narcissists have no feelings (for anyone but themselves), no empathy, and no conscience without qualifying it every single time with that knotty caveat. You'd never get anything said about narcissism if you had to interrupt yourself at every point to explain how everything about a narcissist is a thoroughly twisted, compensatory complex. That's what they get for being so complex.

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At 3:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While we're on the topic of reader questions, here is one. Do you think that it is possible to overcome the damage of an N? I am not completely unscarred and unscathed, but wiser and stronger and becoming my own person again. I feel that I am indeed recovering. I don't believe that there is no hope once an N crushes a person.

I am getting the impression from an online support group that others in the group do not like it when I say that I will overcome. I will overcome!

At 1:58 PM, Blogger sonicido said...

You never cease to amaze me. :) Loving the book, too! Soni

At 12:43 AM, Anonymous barbarany9 said...

shame? a narcissist?


At 1:58 PM, Blogger sonicido said...

Dear Anonymous, I think that Kathy would agree with me: YES! of course you can overcome the damage done. It is obvious that you already achieved some triumphs-because you are no longer in the clutch of the N.That is the first step. Many people never get it, or refuse to take it when it is possible.

The only thing that keeps one from overcoming, is, ignorance.
Stay in fellowship with people who know better than those who wallow in hopelessness.

:) Soni :)

At 11:26 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

Could it be that they misunderstand you, taking it as hint to them? Or it could be that they aren't genuine? Remember that you never really know about people online. One could be an N posing as a victim.

In any case, there may be material damages or damage to your good name that you can never repair. (Which is why justice is a good, not evil, thing.) But I really think the emotional damage and the psychological injuries can always be overcome and usually are. But it takes time. Another thing that the N should have to pay for.

(I have a problem with idiots who would agree that he should have to pay for damaging your physical property, like a car, but must be forgiven for ruining your life. You know, the idiots who would agree that he should be liable for your pain and suffereing if he breaks your arm in a car accident but think it's mean to make to make him pay for putting you through far, far, far worse hell.)

At 3:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like to share my thoughts on this one.
I often wondered about their conscience and I think there is something there in narcissists.
In my work I met a few real psychopaths and there is a striking difference with narcissists (npd) I observed.
The psychopaths I met did not realy try to- or were not able to hide their bad behaviour or their sins. They even often took pride in telling about it. The ones I met were not putting great effort in investing in a 'great' image.
They didn't compensate anything. They were just who they were; people with no conscience whatsoever.
No sign of it and thus no sign of real effort of compensating for it.
In this way psychopaths for me are more easy to spot and and see through than narcissist. In this way they are less dangerous I think. But very dangerous offcourse!

Narcissist on the contrary take tremendous effort in exposing a perfect image. They constantly invest in compensating their misdeeds by configurate them in 'good'-deeds by chancing the script and blaming others.
Just to repair there perfect image.
Just as you often say Kathy, I also believe they rather die than realy admit they did something wrong and allow a crack in the mirror especialy when they grow older.
This behaviour illustrates that they know perfectly the difference between good and bad. They are in a way even experts on this I believe.
It could therefor be that their -in fact- sensetive conscience drives their bad behaviour.
Cause if you can not allow yourself to make any faults you have to surpress them if you make any and turn them in something contrary.
I believe this is what narcissists (npd) constantly do and maybe this is also the reason why it becomes worse when they get older: every sin treated this way (denial and projection) comes on top of the previous till the point your live is one big lie and everyone around you is weak, bad or anyway imperfect.
And I think they know it. That's why they get worse and worse I think.
Hitler was the ultimate example maybe; he tried to kill everyone else in the end and only shot himself when he knew he could not succeed.
So, is there a conscience in narcissists? I think there is but it's so totaly surpressed in time that the effect is the same as if there was none.
But in my opinion it's worse and more dangerous than psychopaths for it's hidden behind this perfect image for the majority of people.
They project the contrary of their bad-conscience to the world.
And they often do it very, very convincing.

greetings, Gerard

By the way, I like to order your boork Kathy. How does it work to Holland?

At 6:05 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

Gerard, If you take these two groups - narcissists and a subset of them, psychopaths - many people have a view similar to yours. This is what supports the idea that narcissism is a continuum, and that psychopathy is an extreme form of the disease.

That is reasonable.

I do have a caveat about viewing narcissists as fundamentally different from psychopaths though. Narcissists are not clones. They each are unique, because of their unique environment and style. Some are probably better at supressing their conscience than others. In fact, at different times in their life they are different. For example, as a young person, they have not yet developed such an ingrained habit of supressing their feelings, so they actually "have" more feelings then and more often have an attack of empathy. Also, they may not have done any truly atrocious thing yet, so they are not fled as far into denial as they will be after, say, having driven a victim all the way to suicide.

So, it is possible that these differences you and others notice are just variations in the state of the same mental illness, not actually seperate diseases. In other words, they could be the result of how good the N has gotten at completely suppressing feelings and conscience.

I'm not saying that IS the case, but it MAY BE the case.

Also, most psychopaths have been caught red-handed doing something terrible. It isn't hard to understand why they would switch from lying to bragging about it. I have seen narcissists do this too. One literally thumbed his nose at me when caught red-handed. Was he a psychopath that day?

And then consider the common scenario when an imprisoned psychpath comes before the Parole Board. He typically suddenly "finds Jesus" = his conscience. Does this mean he suddenly reverted back to being just a narcissist?

Hence, here again we slam into the problem of viewing as credible what these pathological liars tell you about themselves.

I have no strong opinion either way, because though I see these problems with your view, they don't rule it out. There are reasons for thinking along those lines. Only good science can answer the question.

At 6:27 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

PS - almost forgot. I know that many Europeans purchase the ebook in the International Edition, either from Share-It (based in Germany) or 2CheckOut. Both take many orders from all over the world, and 2CheckOut allows me to decide which countries pose too high a fraud risk. (You can Google for a list of countries considered a high fraud risk, but rest assured that none of them are in western Europe, Japan, Australia, or the Americas.)

As for the Print Edition from the CafePress, the CafePress says it accepts credit-card payments from all over the world. You can find information about international orders here.

At 10:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Kathy. And you are right: only good science can answer this questions at last.
It's offcourse only my thoughts which came through my own experiances.
NPD isn't studied that much still as far as I know but I hope that all our stories, thoughts and experiance contribute to make the issue better understood and wider known. And I believe it does.
But indeed only good science can proof things here.
I know psychopathy is studied for over a 100 years and NPD is only acknowlegded as a seperate disorder since 25 or so.
In psychopathy they find significant frontal-brain disfunction for example.
Wonder if they ever found or studied something like this with narcissists.
And like you say in your other articles; they are very difficult to study. Find one who will subject himself to be studied! Maybe Sam Vaknin would?
And as you mention, I also believe that many academics these days would see themselves if they started studying NPD. That's not inviting..
The political or acadamic acknowledgement that NPD is realy a big social problem with very serious negative impact on many aspects and a real threath not only for individuals, is also most important I think.
And that it's differant from the well studied forms of psychopathy.
It's in my view a kind of sofisticated psychopathy that looks 'good'. Most of them stay out of yale or the justice-circuit, healthcare, have jobs, 'normal' lives.
We know that they are often doing 'great'! And in our society they realy often other words; they get away with it.
Maybe we all are still in the process of un-masking them.
Bringing the problem under more attention. Make things clearer.
And then I hope good science will follow soon.


At 11:59 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

Thank you. A comment on the "dysfunctional" parts of a psychopath's brain.

This is one of many examples of academics making (misleading) claims they cannot make. As far as I know, no dysfunction of a psychopath's brain has been established. And I am confident in asserting that, because if you Google "Dr. Robert Hare," you will see that he often mentions that the evidence we have could very well be explained differently and that their brains may NOT be defective in any way.

This is because what the tests show is differential development in their brains. That is, their brains develop more gray matter in some areas than normal and less gray matter in other areas than normal. Hare himself has studied them and found that they use non-emotional centers to process information that a normal person would process mainly in emotional centers. This of course strongly indicates why they lack empathy.

But this isn't necessarilly a malfunction.

No two brains are alike. Each person's brain develops the way muscles do - the parts you use are the ones that develop the most. That's because gray matter is the connections between brain cells where memory is stored.

Most development is finished by the mid 20's, but brains do continue devloping most all your life.

Therefore, if you constantly supresses feelings and conscience, those parts of your brain won't develop as much as normal = fill in with as much gray matter (connections/memory) as normal. Simply because you never use them.

That would not be a malfunction. That is what is supposed to happen.

Also none of this research proves that psychopaths can't empathize or have conscience. It's just that those brain centers are less easily aroused than in a normal person.

In fact, THIS is the more likely explanation = that psychopaths' brains don't malfunction but rather just have developed as habits peculiar ways of thinking, ways that repress feelings and conscience.

Hare says that this does, of course, put them in a class by themselves, a class of people who are mentally funadamentally different, but he says he is "uncomfortable" calling it a real "disease." They are the way they want to be.

At 12:45 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

>We know that they are often doing 'great'! And in our society they realy often other words; they get away with it.
Maybe we all are still in the process of un-masking them.
Bringing the problem under more attention. Make things clearer.
And then I hope good science will follow soon.<

I hope so. If people knew that there are people like this out there, and that they are not rare, everyone would be careful. They would take the signs seriously. Think how much pain and suffering would be avoided! Just by warning people that there are predators among us, that we all occasionally have a close encourter with one, and that we don't dare be so naive as we are. That we must spot and STAY AWAY from such people.

Academics seem to think we have no right to.

Let's make THEM walk blindfolded into a lion's cage and see if that teaches them what's so stupid about their idea.

It would be GOOD if society is warned so that the INNOCENT spot narcissists and shun these predators. Anyone who thinks that would be bad has their head on backward. What's more, that would be negative reinforcement - the only thing may have a salutory effect on narcissists.

At 5:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the meantime think it would be wise to teach psychologie on schools. Student learn a lot of things, why not psychologie.

For instance everybode learns about history and the "dictators", but not why these people come so far and do the things they do.

Awareness and more common knowledge about these disorders would help all people and society in general.

Above that it would save us all a lot of money. Last week a Universaty in the Netherlands, released the first study's on disorders and the economical (besides the emtional) impact on only the Netherlands. It costs us over here per year between 3.6 and 7 billion Euro's. The amount of people suffering from disorders in generall is estimated on 13.5 %.

So it IS a huge problem!! The impact is enormous, because 13.5 % and than count, mates, spouses, children etc. etc. I find it devostating.

Jt B

At 7:14 PM, Blogger sonicido said...

Kathy, you said:
"so they actually "have" more feelings then and more often have an attack of empathy."
This is EXACTLY how I got suckered.
After a while you start to look of for any sign of humanity-and this "attack" they get-can cause you to cling them because, "I SAW it, so it must be true."

Gosh, darn it!

At 9:16 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

"In the meantime think it would be wise to teach psychologie on schools. Student learn a lot of things, why not psychologie."

I wholeheartedly agree! You touched a subject close to my heart.

At least in some schools, they do teach a course called psychology, but as I far as I could tell, no one learned anything worth knowing in it. Kids don't get taught to spot the warning signs of an abuser or psychopath in it. Educators see no benefit in their students learning useful stuff like that.

Schools also teach a course called History, but the kids never learn the most important thing history teaches in it = how every despot from Nero to Hitler pulls the same stunt every schoolyard bully does to stampede the populace like cattle. It seems to me that when we have 2 populist demagogues running for president, our "educated" populace should know what one is and be able to recognize these guys as such, seeing the danger. And seeing it also in foreign mass con artists like Chavez.

They have a class called Social Studies, but the teachers can't be bothered to teach kids the patented MO of a group like the KKK: Target communities in recession where many in the working class are being laid off. Then move in to swoop down on that town and "help" its people by informing them that the blacks are to blame for them losing their jobs - blacks moving in and taking their jobs and blah, blah, blah.

(Fortunately, when this happened in my town, the RADIO STATIONS broadcast this EDUCATION to our people, so that the whites took to the streets by the thousands and threw the KKK out. Poor Jeraldo Rivera was so disappointed when THAT turned out to be the story.)

Why did the radio station have to educate us? Why didn't our local high schools teach us how propaganda works so that we would be the wiser? Why aren't our students taught how groups like the KKK and cults WILL try to mass manipulate them? No. Our stupid teachers don't think it's important for our children to learn that.

Our schools also have courses in government but the kids learn not the first thing about an economy. How many people understand that the coming tax rebate of about $1.5 billion should pay for itself? Most people are totally clueless about how an economy works. They have no idea that a stimulated economy increases income > increases the amount of taxes paid on that HIGHER income, duh!

Come on, why should a public education leave our children so ignorant?

Schools also have have a class called Health, but they don't teach kids how to do CPR. Think how many lives would be saved every year if every high school graduate knew how to do CPR.

When I was teaching, I tried my best to get this added to the curriculum, but everyone I talked to gave me nothing but a one slow blink to glazed eyes and a change of subject as though they hadn't even heard me.

Now you know why education is so lousy. Educators are just too damned lazy and steeped in mediocrity to bother going to the work of setting up a new curriculum, no matter how beneficial it would be. Their lessons plans have to be made for them. They don't even write their own tests any more. A new class, with new subject matter is work. They would then have learn that stuff themselves, you know. And they are too intellectually lazy to get excited about the prospect of learning and teaching any new knew and beneficial. So, forget it. They can't be bothered.

At 9:34 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

PS, this is a global problem. I live in the center of a vast continent, but even I know that if I am ever vactioning on the shores of an ocean and see the sea going away, I should NOT walk out there on the exposed ocean floor and marvel at what is happening. Instead, I would know that I should should turn an run in the opposite direction as fast as my legs can carry me, because a tsunami is coming.

The reason so many people were killed by the Indian Ocean tsunami is because one hadn't struck in living memory and their governments' criminally negligent public education system never bothered to teach them that.

At 11:35 AM, Blogger sonicido said...

I've been dabbling in Toastmasters. I plan to, "Make a Message of my Mess" in that I will be organizing speeches all about the subject of Bullying-which really, is simply: Narcissism and sociopath behavior.

In relation to children, it is no secret that bullying is a big problem in and outside of, families, schools, and neighborhoods.

Children (including the bullies) grow into adults. Some have been "conditioned" to allow it to go on, as I was; some have been allowed to grow into monsters; and not enough have learned to stop it OR ELSE-not enough have learned how to make to stop-OR ELSE.

The thing is, the OR ELSE has GOT to become more and more usable. Victims do not have enough tools to use against perpetrators. Perpetrators have a societal system set up in their favor.

The tricky thing is, how to get a system set up so that the victim is not twisted into a perpetrator.

This, I'd say, begins with folks like Kathy whose purpose is to: educate and make aware.

This is where I am at, also.

At 11:51 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

Several years ago, I saw a documentary on an anti-bullying program being piloted in some public schools. It started with elementary school children in the 1st grade. They were shown examples on film of bullying behavior, such as the kid who never misses a chance to run up and push DOWN on another kid. They were told that when they see a fellow student getting bullied, they should go stand beside the victim and (yelling if necessary) tell the bully to stop it.

Guess what? If a kid knows that he or she won't be the only one to stick up for the victim, he or she probably WILL follow these instructions. The documentary actually showed film of little kids doing this on the playground.

With older kids, you can explain more. You can show them how the bully is intimidating the bystanders this way, controlling them. This shows kids why it's in their own best interest to stick up for the victim.

I don't know what happened to this program. Apparantly it never took off.

At 12:17 PM, Blogger sonicido said...

If Kathy would allow it, I'd like to inform everyone that Toastmasters is not just about giving toasts and public speaking. Generally, a Toastmaster group will contribute to your ability to articulate your thoughts on any level of speaking i.e. one-on-one; in families; small groups or large groups. They are all about building confidence in participants. Even if you simply wish to present your sewing project. They will build you up and make you strong in your presentation.

Many times, a victim of a narcissist, will lose their ability to articulate well enough to defend themselves to the Narcissist, and to those who sympathize with the narc.

I have not yet used Toastmasters curriculum, but I have spent a lot of time going to meetings and listening to others. Many of the speeches are self-help and/or informative. I have learned about cool things like building roads and GPS systems.

I have met people who went from, studdering in the grocery line- to presenting proposals in front of building commissioners!



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