Putting the Broken Humpty-Dumpty Narcissist Back Together

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited

Positive feelings (about oneself or pertaining to one’s accomplishments, assets, etc.) – are never gained merely through conscious endeavor. They are the outcome of insight. A cognitive component (factual knowledge regarding one’s achievements, assets, qualities, skills, etc.) plus an emotional correlate that is heavily dependent on past experience, defense mechanisms, and personality style or structure (“character”).

People who consistently feel worthless or unworthy usually overcompensate cognitively for the lack of the aforementioned emotional component.

Such a person doesn’t love himself, yet is trying to convince himself that he is loveable. He doesn’t trust himself, yet he lectures to himself on how trustworthy he is (replete with supporting evidence from his experiences).

But such cognitive substitutes to emotional self-acceptance won’t do.

The root of the problem is the inner dialog between disparaging voices and countervailing “proofs”. Such self-doubting is, in principle, a healthy thing. It serves as an integral and critical part of the “checks and balances” that constitute the mature personality.

But, normally, some ground rules are observed and some facts are considered indisputable. When things go awry, however, the consensus breaks. Chaos replaces structure and the regimented update of one’s self-image (via introspection) gives way to recursive loops of self-deprecation with diminishing insights.

Normally, in other words, the dialog serves to augment some self-assessments and mildly modify others. When things go wrong, the dialog concerns itself with the very narrative, rather than with its content.

The dysfunctional dialog deals with questions that are far more fundamental (and typically settled early on in life):

“Who am I?”

“What are my traits, my skills, my accomplishments?”

“How reliable, loveable, trustworthy, qualified, truthful am I?”

“How can I separate fact from fiction?”

The answers to these questions consist of both cognitive (empirical) and emotional components. They are mostly derived from our social interactions, from the feedback we get and give. An inner dialog that is still concerned with these qualms indicates a problem with socialization.

It is not one’s “psyche” that is delinquent – but one’s social functioning. One should direct one’s efforts to “heal”, outwards (to remedy one’s interactions with others) – not inwards (to heal one’s “psyche”).

Another important insight is that the disordered dialog is not time-synchronic.

The “normal” internal discourse is between concurrent, equipotent, and same-age “entities” (psychological constructs). Its aim is to negotiate conflicting demands and reach a compromise based on a rigorous test of reality.

The faulty dialog, on the other hand, involves wildly disparate interlocutors. These are in different stages of maturation and possessed of unequal faculties. They are more concerned with monologues than with a dialog. As they are “stuck” in various ages and periods, they do not all relate to the same “host”, “person”, or “personality”. They require time- and energy-consuming constant mediation. It is this depleting process of arbitration and “peacekeeping” that is consciously felt as nagging insecurity or, even, in extremis, self-loathing.

A constant and consistent lack of self-confidence and a fluctuating sense of self-worth are the conscious “translation” of the unconscious threat posed by the precariousness of the disordered personality. It is, in other words, a warning sign.

Thus, the first step is to clearly identify the various segments that, together, however incongruently, constitute the personality. This can be surprisingly easily done by noting down the “stream of consciousness” dialog and assigning “names” or “handles” to the various “voices” in it.

The next step is to “introduce” the voices to each other and form an internal consensus (a “coalition”, or an “alliance”). This requires a prolonged period of “negotiations” and mediation, leading to the compromises that underlies such a consensus. The mediator can be a trusted friend, a lover, or a therapist.

The very achievement of such an internal “ceasefire” reduces anxiety considerably and removes the “imminent threat”. This, in turn, allows the patient to develop a realistic “core” or “kernel”, wrapped around the basic understanding reached earlier between the contesting parts of his personality.

The development of such a nucleus of stable self-worth, however, is dependent on two things:

  1. Sustained interactions with mature and predictable people who are aware of their boundaries and of their true identity (their traits, skills, abilities, limitations, and so on), and
  1. The emergence of a nurturing and “holding” emotional correlate to every cognitive insight or breakthrough.

The latter is inextricably bound with the former.

Here is why:

Some of the “voices” in the internal dialog of the patient are bound to be disparaging, injurious, belittling, sadistically critical, destructively skeptical, mocking, and demeaning. The only way to silence these voices – or at least “discipline” them and make them conform to a more realistic emerging consensus – is by gradually (and sometimes surreptitiously) introducing countervailing “players”.

Protracted exposure to the right people, in the framework of mature interactions, negates the pernicious effects of what Freud called a Superego gone awry. It is, in effect, a process of reprogramming and deprogramming.

There are two types of beneficial, altering, social experiences:

  1. Structured – interactions that involve adherence to a set of rules as embedded in authority, institutions, and enforcement mechanisms (example: attending psychotherapy, going through a spell in prison, convalescing in a hospital, serving in the army, being an aid worker or a missionary, studying at school, growing up in a family, participating in a 12-steps group), and
  1. Non-structured – interactions which involve a voluntary exchange of information, opinion, goods, or services.

The problem with the disordered person is that, usually, his (or her) chances of freely interacting with mature adults (intercourse of the type 2, non-structured kind) are limited to start with and dwindle with time. This is because few potential partners – interlocutors, lovers, friends, colleagues, neighbors – are willing to invest the time, effort, energy, and resources required to effectively cope with the patient and manage the often-arduous relationship. Disordered patients are typically hard to get along with, demanding, petulant, paranoid, and narcissistic.

Even the most gregarious and outgoing patient finally finds himself isolated, shunned, and misjudged. This only adds to his initial misery and amplifies the wrong kind of voices in the internal dialog.

Hence my recommendation to start with structured activities and in a structured, almost automatic manner. Therapy is only one – and at times not the most efficient – choice.

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Author Bio

Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction.
He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.
Visit Sam’s Web site at http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com

The Narcissist Loves His Narcissistic Personality Disorder

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited

The narcissist can get better, but rarely does he get well (“heal”). The reason is the narcissist’s enormous life-long, irreplaceable and indispensable emotional investment in his disorder. It serves two critical functions, which together maintain the precariously balanced house of cards called the narcissist’s personality. His disorder endows the narcissist with a sense of uniqueness, of “being special” – and it provides him with a rational explanation of his behaviour (an “alibi”).

Most narcissists reject the notion or diagnosis that they are mentally disturbed. Absent powers of introspection and a total lack of self-awareness are part and parcel of the disorder. Pathological narcissism is founded on alloplastic defences – the firm conviction that the world or others are to blame for one’s behaviour. The narcissist firmly believes that people around him should be held responsible for his reactions or have triggered them.

With such a state of mind so firmly entrenched, the narcissist is incapable of admitting that something is wrong with HIM.

But that is not to say that the narcissist does not experience his disorder.

He does. But he re-interprets this experience. He regards his dysfunctional behaviours – social, sexual, emotional, mental – as conclusive and irrefutable proof of his superiority, brilliance, distinction, prowess, might, or success. Rudeness to others is reinterpreted as efficiency.

Abusive behaviours are cast as educational. Sexual absence as proof of preoccupation with higher functions. His rage is always just and a reaction to injustice or being misunderstood by intellectual dwarves.

Thus, paradoxically, the disorder becomes an integral and inseparable part of the narcissist’s inflated self-esteem and vacuous grandiose fantasies.

His False Self (the pivot of his pathological narcissism) is a self-reinforcing mechanism. The narcissist thinks that he is unique BECAUSE he has a False Self. His False Self IS the centre of his “specialness”. Any therapeutic “attack” on the integrity and functioning of the False Self constitutes a threat to the narcissist’s ability to regulate his wildly fluctuating sense of self-worth and an effort to “reduce” him to other people’s mundane and mediocre existence.

The few narcissists that are willing to admit that something is terribly wrong with them, displace their alloplastic defences. Instead of blaming the world, other people, or circumstances beyond their control – they now blame their “disease”. Their disorder become a catch-all, universal explanation for everything that is wrong in their lives and every derided, indefensible and inexcusable behaviour. Their narcissism becomes a “licence to kill”, a liberating force which sets them outside human rules and codes of conduct.

Such freedom is so intoxicating and empowering that it is difficult to give up.

The narcissist is emotionally attached to only one thing: his disorder. The narcissist loves his disorder, desires it passionately, cultivates it tenderly, is proud of its “achievements” (and in my case, makes a living off it). His emotions are misdirected. Where normal people love others and empathize with them, the narcissist loves his False Self and identifies with it to the exclusion of all else – his True Self included.

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Author Bio

Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction.
He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.
Visit Sam’s Web site at http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com

Solitude as a Rational Choice

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited

“Purebred” schizoids shrug off their disorder: they simply don’t like being around people and they resent the pathologizing of their lifestyle “choice” to remain aloof and alone. They consider the diagnosis of Schizoid Personality Disorder to be spurious, a mere reflection of current social coercive mores, and a culture-bound artefact.

Narcissist, as usual, tend to rationalize and aggrandize their schizoid conduct. They propound the idea that being alone is the only logical choice in today’s hostile, anomic, and atomized world. The concept of “individual” exists only in the human species. Animals flock together or operate in colonies and herds. Each member of these aggregates is an extension of the organic whole. In contradistinction, people band and socialize only for purposes of a goal-oriented cooperation or the seeking of emotional rewards (solace, succor, love, support, etc.)

Yet, in contemporary civilization, the accomplishment of most goals is outsourced to impersonal collectives such as the state or large corporations. Everything from food production and distribution to education is now relegated to faceless, anonymous entities, which require little or no social interaction. Additionally, new technologies empower the individual and render him or her self-sufficient, profoundly independent of others.

As they have grown in complexity and expectations (fed by the mass media) relationships have mutated to being emotionally unrewarding and narcissistically injurious to the point of becoming a perpetual fount of pain and unease. More formalized social interactions present a substantial financial and emotional risk. Close to half of all marriages, for instance, end in a divorce, inflicting enormous pecuniary damage and emotional deprivation on the parties involved. The prevailing ethos of gender wars as reflected in the evolving legal milieu further serves to deter any residual predilection and propensity to team up and bond.

This is a vicious circle that is difficult to break: traumatized by past encounters and liaisons, people tend to avoid future ones. Deeply wounded, they are rendered less tolerant, more hypervigilant, more defensive, and more aggressive – traits which bode ill for their capacity to initiate, sustain, and maintain relationships. The breakdown and dysfunction of societal structures and institutions, communities, and social units is masked by technologies which provide verisimilitudes and confabulations. We all gravitate towards a delusional and fantastic universe of our own making as we find the real one too hurtful to endure.

Modern life is so taxing and onerous and so depletes the individual’s scarce resources that little is left to accommodate the needs of social intercourse. People’s energy, funds, and wherewithal are stretched to the breaking point by the often conflicting demands of mere survival in post-industrial societies. Furthermore, the sublimation of instinctual urges to pair (libido), associate, mingle, and fraternize is both encouraged and rewarded. Substitutes exist for all social functions, including sex (porn) and childrearing (single parenthood) rendering social institutions obsolete and superfluous social give-and-take awkward and inefficient.

The individual “me” has emerged as the organizing principle in human affairs, supplanting the collective. The idolatry of the individual inexorably and ineluctably results in the malignant forms of narcissism that are so prevalent – indeed, all-pervasive – wherever we direct our gaze.

Cold Empathy and Warm Empathy

Empathy is comprised of two components:

I. Cold Empathy: an intersubjective agreement as to the mental content (especially emotions) of two or more human subjects;

II. Warm Empathy: the emotional response to Cold Empathy.

Cold Empathy is an act of taxonomy and an attempt to overcome the barriers posed by the inaccessibility of the private languages of the empathee and the empathor. It entails a comparison of the mental states of the subjects, based on introspection and the classification of said mental states within agreed linguistic and cultural frameworks, vocabularies, and contexts.

Warm Empathy is the emotional arousal engendered by Cold Empathy in the empathor and the panoply of emotional responses it evokes.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica (2011 edition) defines empathy as:

“The ability to imagine oneself in anther’s place and understand the other’s feelings, desires, ideas, and actions. It is a term coined in the early 20th century, equivalent to the German Einfühlung and modelled on “sympathy.” The term is used with special (but not exclusive) reference to aesthetic experience. The most obvious example, perhaps, is that of the actor or singer who genuinely feels the part he is performing. With other works of art, a spectator may, by a kind of introjection, feel himself involved in what he observes or contemplates. The use of empathy is an important part of the counselling technique developed by the American psychologist Carl Rogers.”

Empathy is predicated upon and must, therefore, incorporate the following elements:

  1. Imagination which is dependent on the ability to imagine;
  2. The existence of an accessible Self (self-awareness or self-consciousness);
  3. The existence of an available other (other-awareness, recognizing the outside world);
  4. The existence of accessible feelings, desires, ideas and representations of actions or their outcomes both in the empathizing Self (“Empathor”) and in the Other, the object of empathy (“Empathee”);
  5. The availability of an aesthetic frame of reference;
  6. The availability of a moral frame of reference.

While (a) is presumed to be universally available to all agents (though in varying degrees) – the existence of the other components of empathy should not be taken for granted.

Conditions (b) and (c), for instance, are not satisfied by people who suffer from personality disorders, such as the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Condition (d) is not met in autistic people (e.g., those who suffer from Asperger’s Disorder). Condition (e) is so totally dependent on the specifics of the culture, period and society in which it exists – that it is rather meaningless and ambiguous as a yardstick. Condition (f) suffer from both afflictions: it is both culture-dependent AND is not satisfied in many people (such as those who suffer from the Antisocial Personality Disorder and who are devoid of any conscience or moral sense).

Thus, the very existence of empathy should be questioned. It is often confused with inter-subjectivity. The latter is defined thus by “The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 1995″:

“This term refers to the status of being somehow accessible to at least two (usually all, in principle) minds or ‘subjectivities’. It thus implies that there is some sort of communication between those minds; which in turn implies that each communicating mind is aware not only of the existence of the other but also of its intention to convey information to the other. The idea, for theorists, is that if subjective processes can be brought into agreement, then perhaps that is as good as the (unattainable?) status of being objective – completely independent of subjectivity. The question facing such theorists is whether intersubjectivity is definable without presupposing an objective environment in which communication takes place (the ‘wiring’ from subject A to subject B). At a less fundamental level, however, the need for intersubjective verification of scientific hypotheses has been long recognized”. (page 414).

On the face of it, the difference between intersubjectivity and empathy is double:

  1. Intersubjectivity requires an EXPLICIT, communicated agreement between at least two subjects.
  2. It involves EXTERNAL things (so called “objective” entities).

These “differences” are artificial. This is how empathy is defined in “Psychology – An Introduction (Ninth Edition) by Charles G. Morris, Prentice Hall, 1996″:

“Closely related to the ability to read other people’s emotions is empathy – the arousal of an emotion in an observer that is a vicarious response to the other person’s situation… Empathy depends not only on one’s ability to identify someone else’s emotions but also on one’s capacity to put oneself in the other person’s place and to experience an appropriate emotional response. Just as sensitivity to non-verbal cues increases with age, so does empathy: The cognitive and perceptual abilities required for empathy develop only as a child matures… (page 442)

In empathy training, for example, each member of the couple is taught to share inner feelings and to listen to and understand the partner’s feelings before responding to them. The empathy technique focuses the couple’s attention on feelings and requires that they spend more time listening and less time in rebuttal.” (page 576).

Thus empathy does require the communication of feelings AND an agreement on the appropriate outcome of the communicated emotions (=affective agreement). In the absence of such agreement, we are faced with inappropriate affect (laughing at a funeral, for instance).

Moreover, empathy does relate to external objects and is provoked by them. There is no empathy in the absence of an empathee. Granted, intersubjectivity is intuitively applied to the inanimate while empathy is applied to the living (animals, humans, even plants). But this is a difference in human preferences – not in definition.

Empathy can, thus, be re-defined as a form of intersubjectivity which involves living things as “objects” to which the communicated intersubjective agreement relates. It is wrong to limit our understanding of empathy to the communication of emotion. Rather, it is the intersubjective, concomitant experience of BEING. The empathor empathizes not only with the empathee’s emotions but also with his physical state and other parameters of existence (pain, hunger, thirst, suffocation, sexual pleasure etc.).

This leads to the important (and perhaps intractable) psychophysical question.

Intersubjectivity relates to external objects but the subjects communicate and reach an agreement regarding the way THEY have been affected by the objects.

Empathy relates to external objects (Others) but the subjects communicate and reach an agreement regarding the way THEY would have felt had they BEEN the object.

This is no minor difference, if it, indeed, exists. But does it really exist?

What is it that we feel in empathy? Do we feel OUR emotions/sensations, provoked by an external trigger (classic intersubjectivity) or do we experience a TRANSFER of the object’s feelings/sensations to us?

Such a transfer being physically impossible (as far as we know) – we are forced to adopt the former model. Empathy is the set of reactions – emotional and cognitive – to being triggered by an external object (the Other). It is the equivalent of resonance in the physical sciences. But we have NO WAY of ascertaining that the “wavelength” of such resonance is identical in both subjects.

In other words, we have no way to verify that the feelings or sensations invoked in the two (or more) subjects are the same. What I call “sadness” may not be what you call “sadness”. Colours, for instance, have unique, uniform, independently measurable properties (their energy). Even so, no one can prove that what I see as “red” is what another person (perhaps a Daltonist) would call “red”. If this is true where “objective”, measurable, phenomena, like colors, are concerned – it is infinitely more true in the case of emotions or feelings.

We are, therefore, forced to refine our definition:

Empathy is a form of intersubjectivity which involves living things as “objects” to which the communicated intersubjective agreement relates. It is the intersubjective, concomitant experience of BEING. The empathor empathizes not only with the empathee’s emotions but also with his physical state and other parameters of existence (pain, hunger, thirst, suffocation, sexual pleasure etc.).

BUT

The meaning attributed to the words used by the parties to the intersubjective agreement known as empathy is totally dependent upon each party. The same words are used, the same denotates – but it cannot be proven that the same connotates, the same experiences, emotions and sensations are being discussed or communicated.

Language (and, by extension, art and culture) serve to introduce us to other points of view (“what is it like to be someone else” to paraphrase Thomas Nagle). By providing a bridge between the subjective (inner experience) and the objective (words, images, sounds), language facilitates social exchange and interaction. It is a dictionary which translates one’s subjective private language to the coin of the public medium. Knowledge and language are, thus, the ultimate social glue, though both are based on approximations and guesses (see George Steiner’s “After Babel”).

But, whereas the intersubjective agreement regarding measurements and observations concerning external objects IS verifiable or falsifiable using INDEPENDENT tools (e.g., lab experiments) – the intersubjective agreement which concerns itself with the emotions, sensations and experiences of subjects as communicated by them IS NOT verifiable or falsifiable using INDEPENDENT tools. The interpretation of this second kind of agreement is dependent upon introspection and an assumption that identical words used by different subjects still possess identical meaning. This assumption is not falsifiable (or verifiable). It is neither true nor false. It is a probabilistic statement, but without a probability distribution. It is, in short, a meaningless statement. As a result, empathy itself is meaningless.

In human-speak, if you say that you are sad and I empathize with you it means that we have an agreement. I regard you as my object. You communicate to me a property of yours (“sadness”). This triggers in me a recollection of “what is sadness” or “what is to be sad”. I say that I know what you mean, I have been sad before, I know what it is like to be sad. I empathize with you. We agree about being sad. We have an intersubjective agreement.

Alas, such an agreement is meaningless. We cannot (yet) measure sadness, quantify it, crystallize it, access it in any way from the outside. We are totally and absolutely reliant on your introspection and on my introspection. There is no way anyone can prove that my “sadness” is even remotely similar to your sadness. I may be feeling or experiencing something that you might find hilarious and not sad at all. Still, I call it “sadness” and I empathize with you.

This would not have been that grave if empathy hadn’t been the cornerstone of morality.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1999 Edition:

“Empathy and other forms of social awareness are important in the development of a moral sense. Morality embraces a person’s beliefs about the appropriateness or goodness of what he does, thinks, or feels… Childhood is … the time at which moral standards begin to develop in a process that often extends well into adulthood. The American psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg hypothesized that people’s development of moral standards passes through stages that can be grouped into three moral levels…

At the third level, that of postconventional moral reasoning, the adult bases his moral standards on principles that he himself has evaluated and that he accepts as inherently valid, regardless of society’s opinion. He is aware of the arbitrary, subjective nature of social standards and rules, which he regards as relative rather than absolute in authority.

Thus the bases for justifying moral standards pass from avoidance of punishment to avoidance of adult disapproval and rejection to avoidance of internal guilt and self-recrimination. The person’s moral reasoning also moves toward increasingly greater social scope (i.e., including more people and institutions) and greater abstraction (i.e., from reasoning about physical events such as pain or pleasure to reasoning about values, rights, and implicit contracts).”

But, if moral reasoning is based on introspection and empathy – it is, indeed, dangerously relative and not objective in any known sense of the word. Empathy is a unique agreement on the emotional and experiential content of two or more introspective processes in two or more subjects. Such an agreement can never have any meaning, even as far as the parties to it are concerned. They can never be sure that they are discussing the same emotions or experiences. There is no way to compare, measure, observe, falsify or verify (prove) that the “same” emotion is experienced identically by the parties to the empathy agreement. Empathy is meaningless and introspection involves a private language despite what Wittgenstein had to say. Morality is thus reduced to a set of meaningless private languages.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica:

“… Others have argued that because even rather young children are capable of showing empathy with the pain of others, the inhibition of aggressive behaviour arises from this moral affect rather than from the mere anticipation of punishment. Some scientists have found that children differ in their individual capacity for empathy, and, therefore, some children are more sensitive to moral prohibitions than others.

Young children’s growing awareness of their own emotional states, characteristics, and abilities leads to empathy–i.e., the ability to appreciate the feelings and perspectives of others. Empathy and other forms of social awareness are in turn important in the development of a moral sense… Another important aspect of children’s emotional development is the formation of their self-concept, or identity–i.e., their sense of who they are and what their relation to other people is.

According to Lipps’s concept of empathy, a person appreciates another person’s reaction by a projection of the self into the other. In his Ästhetik, 2 vol. (1903-06; ‘Aesthetics’), he made all appreciation of art dependent upon a similar self-projection into the object.”

This may well be the key. Empathy has little to do with the other person (the empathee). It is simply the result of conditioning and socialization. In other words, when we hurt someone – we don’t experience his pain. We experience OUR pain. Hurting somebody – hurts US. The reaction of pain is provoked in US by OUR own actions. We have been taught a learned response of feeling pain when we inflict it upon another. But we have also been taught to feel responsible for our fellow beings (guilt). So, we experience pain whenever another person claims to experience it as well. We feel guilty.

In sum:

To use the example of pain, we experience it in tandem with another person because we feel guilty or somehow responsible for his condition. A learned reaction is activated and we experience (our kind of) pain as well. We communicate it to the other person and an agreement of empathy is struck between us.

We attribute feelings, sensations and experiences to the object of our actions. It is the psychological defence mechanism of projection. Unable to conceive of inflicting pain upon ourselves – we displace the source. It is the other’s pain that we are feeling, we keep telling ourselves, not our own.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica:

“Perhaps the most important aspect of children’s emotional development is a growing awareness of their own emotional states and the ability to discern and interpret the emotions of others. The last half of the second year is a time when children start becoming aware of their own emotional states, characteristics, abilities, and potential for action; this phenomenon is called self-awareness… (coupled with strong narcissistic behaviours and traits – SV)…

This growing awareness of and ability to recall one’s own emotional states leads to empathy, or the ability to appreciate the feelings and perceptions of others. Young children’s dawning awareness of their own potential for action inspires them to try to direct (or otherwise affect) the behaviour of others…

…With age, children acquire the ability to understand the perspective, or point of view, of other people, a development that is closely linked with the empathic sharing of others’ emotions…

One major factor underlying these changes is the child’s increasing cognitive sophistication. For example, in order to feel the emotion of guilt, a child must appreciate the fact that he could have inhibited a particular action of his that violated a moral standard. The awareness that one can impose a restraint on one’s own behaviour requires a certain level of cognitive maturation, and, therefore, the emotion of guilt cannot appear until that competence is attained.”

That empathy is a REACTION to external stimuli that is fully contained within the empathor and then projected onto the empathee is clearly demonstrated by “inborn empathy”. It is the ability to exhibit empathy and altruistic behaviour in response to facial expressions. Newborns react this way to their mother’s facial expression of sadness or distress.

This serves to prove that empathy has very little to do with the feelings, experiences or sensations of the other (the empathee). Surely, the infant has no idea what it is like to feel sad and definitely not what it is like for his mother to feel sad. In this case, it is a complex reflexive reaction. Later on, empathy is still rather reflexive, the result of conditioning.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica quotes fascinating research which dramatically proves the object-independent nature of empathy. Empathy is an internal reaction, an internal process, triggered by external cue provided by animate objects. It is communicated to the empathee-other by the empathor but the communication and the resulting agreement (“I know how you feel therefore we agree on how you feel”) is rendered meaningless by the absence of a monovalent, unambiguous dictionary.

“An extensive series of studies indicated that positive emotion feelings enhance empathy and altruism. It was shown by the American psychologist Alice M. Isen that relatively small favours or bits of good luck (like finding money in a coin telephone or getting an unexpected gift) induced positive emotion in people and that such emotion regularly increased the subjects’ inclination to sympathize or provide help.

Several studies have demonstrated that positive emotion facilitates creative problem solving. One of these studies showed that positive emotion enabled subjects to name more uses for common objects. Another showed that positive emotion enhanced creative problem solving by enabling subjects to see relations among objects (and other people – SV) that would otherwise go unnoticed. A number of studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of positive emotion on thinking, memory, and action in pre-school and older children.”

If empathy increases with positive emotion (a result of good luck, for instance) – then it has little to do with its objects and a lot to do with the person in whom it is provoked.

ADDENDUM – Interview granted to the National Post, Toronto, Canada, July 2003

Q. How important is empathy to proper psychological functioning?

A. Empathy is more important socially than it is psychologically. The absence of empathy – for instance in the Narcissistic and Antisocial personality disorders – predisposes people to exploit and abuse others. Empathy is the bedrock of our sense of morality. Arguably, aggressive behavior is as inhibited by empathy at least as much as it is by anticipated punishment.

But the existence of empathy in a person is also a sign of self-awareness, a healthy identity, a well-regulated sense of self-worth, and self-love (in the positive sense). Its absence denotes emotional and cognitive immaturity, an inability to love, to truly relate to others, to respect their boundaries and accept their needs, feelings, hopes, fears, choices, and preferences as autonomous entities.

Q. How is empathy developed?

A. It may be innate. Even toddlers seem to empathize with the pain – or happiness – of others (such as their caregivers). Empathy increases as the child forms a self-concept (identity). The more aware the infant is of his or her emotional states, the more he explores his limitations and capabilities – the more prone he is to projecting this new found knowledge unto others. By attributing to people around him his new gained insights about himself, the child develop a moral sense and inhibits his anti-social impulses. The development of empathy is, therefore, a part of the process of socialization.

But, as the American psychologist Carl Rogers taught us, empathy is also learned and inculcated. We are coached to feel guilt and pain when we inflict suffering on another person. Empathy is an attempt to avoid our own self-imposed agony by projecting it onto another.

Q. Is there an increasing dearth of empathy in society today? Why do you think so?

A. The social institutions that reified, propagated and administered empathy have imploded. The nuclear family, the closely-knit extended clan, the village, the neighborhood, the Church- have all unraveled. Society is atomized and anomic. The resulting alienation fostered a wave of antisocial behavior, both criminal and “legitimate”. The survival value of empathy is on the decline. It is far wiser to be cunning, to cut corners, to deceive, and to abuse – than to be empathic. Empathy has largely dropped from the contemporary curriculum of socialization.

In a desperate attempt to cope with these inexorable processes, behaviors predicated on a lack of empathy have been pathologized and “medicalized”. The sad truth is that narcissistic or antisocial conduct is both normative and rational. No amount of “diagnosis”, “treatment”, and medication can hide or reverse this fact. Ours is a cultural malaise which permeates every single cell and strand of the social fabric.

Q. Is there any empirical evidence we can point to of a decline in empathy?

Empathy cannot be measured directly – but only through proxies such as criminality, terrorism, charity, violence, antisocial behavior, related mental health disorders, or abuse.

 

Moreover, it is extremely difficult to separate the effects of deterrence from the effects of empathy.

 

If I don’t batter my wife, torture animals, or steal – is it because I am empathetic or because I don’t want to go to jail?

 

Rising litigiousness, zero tolerance, and skyrocketing rates of incarceration – as well as the ageing of the population – have sliced intimate partner violence and other forms of crime across the United States in the last decade. But this benevolent decline had nothing to do with increasing empathy.

The statistics are open to interpretation but it would be safe to say that the last century has been the most violent and least empathetic in human history. Wars and terrorism are on the rise, charity giving on the wane (measured as percentage of national wealth), welfare policies are being abolished, Darwininan models of capitalism are spreading. In the last two decades, mental health disorders were added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association whose hallmark is the lack of empathy. The violence is reflected in our popular culture: movies, video games, and the media.

Empathy – supposedly a spontaneous reaction to the plight of our fellow humans – is now channeled through self-interested and bloated non-government organizations or multilateral outfits. The vibrant world of private empathy has been replaced by faceless state largesse. Pity, mercy, the elation of giving are tax-deductible. It is a sorry sight.

 

ADDENDUM – The I=mcu Theorem

 

I postulate the existence of three basic modes of interpersonal relatedness:

 

(1) I=mcu (pronounced: I am seeing you)

 

(2) I=ucm (pronounced: I am what you see in me)

 

(3) U=icm (pronounced: You is what I see as me)

 

Mode (1) and (3) represent variants of empathy. The ability to “see” the other is indispensable to the development and exercise of empathy. Even more crucial is the capacity to identify with the other, to “see” the other as “me” (i.e., as oneself).

 

Mode (2) is known as pathological narcissism. The narcissist forges a False Self that is designed to elicit external input in order to sustain itself and perform some important ego functions. The narcissists exists merely as a reflection in the eyes of others. In the absence of Narcissistic Supply (attention), the narcissist crumbles and withers.

 

Cold Empathy vs. Warm Empathy and the Concept of “Unacanny Valley”

Click HERE to watch the video

Contrary to widely held views, Narcissists and Psychopaths may actually possess empathy. They may even be hyper-empathic, attuned to the minutest signals emitted by their victims and endowed with a penetrating “X-ray vision”. They tend to abuse their empathic skills by employing them exclusively for personal gain, the extraction of narcissistic supply, or in the pursuit of antisocial and sadistic goals. They regard their ability to empathize as another weapon in their arsenal.

I suggest to label the narcissistic psychopath’s version of empathy: “cold empathy“, akin to the “cold emotions” felt by psychopaths. The cognitive element of empathy is there, but not so its emotional correlate. It is, consequently, a barren, detached, and cerebral kind of intrusive gaze, devoid of compassion and a feeling of affinity with one’s fellow humans.

Narcissists and psychopaths also appear to be “empathizing” with their possessions: objects, pets, and their sources of narcissistic supply or material benefits (often their nearest and dearest, significant others, or “friends” and associates). But this is not real empathy: it is a mere projection of the narcissist’s or psychopath’s own insecurities and fears, needs and wishes, fantasies and priorities. This kind of displayed “empathy” usually vanishes the minute its subject ceases to play a role in the narcissist’s or psychopath’s life and his psychodynamic processes.

Cold Empathy evokes the concept of “Uncanny Valley”, coined in 1970 by the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori. Mori suggested that people react positively to androids (humanlike robots) for as long as they differ from real humans in meaningful and discernible ways. But the minute these contraptions come to resemble humans uncannily, though imperfectly, human observers tend to experience repulsion, revulsion, and other negative emotions, including fear.

The same applies to psychopathic narcissists: they are near-perfect imitations of humans, but, lacking empathy and emotions, they are not exactly there. Psychopaths and narcissists strike their interlocutors as being some kind of “alien life-forms” or “artificial intelligence”, in short: akin to humanoid robots, or androids. When people come across narcissists or psychopaths the Uncanny Valley reaction kicks in: people feel revolted, scared, and repelled. They can’t put the finger on what it is that provokes these negative reactions, but, after a few initial encounters, they tend to keep their distance.

The Insanity of the Insanity Defense

Aron Levy, who kidnapped, murdered and dismembered 8-year old Leiby Kletzky in Brooklyn now faces a battery of defense-appointed experts in an attempt to plead NGRI (“Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity”). He has a history of “psychiatric disorders” and had been hearing voices, his lawyers claim.

The insanity defense in criminal trials is nothing new. The Babylonian Talmud had this to say 1800 years ago: “It is an ill thing to knock against a deaf-mute, an imbecile, or a minor. He that wounds them is culpable, but if they wound him they are not culpable.”

But even the Talmudic rabbis – renowned for their intellectual acuity – would have been stymied by the modern version of the insanity defense.

To start with, no one seems to be able to define “insanity” unequivocally. Insanity in legalese is not the same as the colloquial expression (“he is nuts”) and is equally distinct from the way psychiatrists use the term (which they rarely do.)

Indeed, when it comes to the antiquated insanity defense, the legal profession is completely at odds with modern psychiatry.

The legal system applies three tests to determine whether an accused should be held not responsible for his criminal actions:

1. Can s/he tell right from wrong? Does s/he lack substantial capacity to “know and appreciate” the criminality or wrongfulness of her/his (mis)conduct (aka “diminished capacity”)?

2. Did s/he intend to act the way s/he did (“mens rea”)?

3. Could s/he not control her/his behavior (“irresistible impulse”)?

But, mental health scholars regard these “tests” as subjective, biased, and ludicrous. A “guilty but insane” verdict is a contradiction in terms, they insist. What matters is whether the defendant’s perception or understanding of reality (his “reality test”) is impaired and not only when he had committed the criminal act.

This rigorous criterion applies only to psychotics, such as Jared Lee Loughner, the Tucson shooter (whose reality test is subverted by bouts of psychosis, i.e., delusions). All others should be deemed both sane and culpable for all intents and purposes, insist most psychiatrists.

Moreover: the “perception and understanding of reality” can co-exist even with the severest forms of mental illness. Even when a criminal is clinically mentally-ill, as long as s/he maintains a perfect reality test, s/he should be held criminally responsible (Jeffrey Dahmer, who was denied the insanity defense, comes to mind).

Consider the cases of the Norway shooter, Anders Breivik or of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber: they both have coherent (albeit reprehensible) worldviews, a consistent internal logic, and rules of right and wrong (their own, personal, overriding ethical codes).

Breivik, for instance, is not delusional or otherwise psychotic. And, yet, his lawyer is seriously considering to use the insanity defense and, under the current, irredeemably flawed legal definition of insanity, may well get away with it!

This is not to say that a defendant’s mental state at the time he had committed the crime is irrelevant: he may have held mistaken (even delusional) beliefs or may have misread the situation, may have been misinformed, may have been under the influence of mind-altering drugs, may have lacked criminal intent, may have been unable to tell right from wrong, or to control his or her urges.

As the scholar Christopher Slobogin argues convincingly in his Virginia Law Review essay titled “An End to Insanity”: mental illness should play a part in and inform the traditional defenses already available in a criminal trial – but, shaky as it is, it should not stand on its own. Indeed, it can’t.

(An edited version was originally published in New-York Daily News)

Psychopathic Narcissists: The Uncanny Valley of Cold Empathy

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited”

Cold Empathy evokes the concept of “Uncanny Valley”, coined in 1970 by the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori. Mori suggested that people react positively to androids (humanlike robots) for as long as they differ from real humans in meaningful and discernible ways. But the minute these contraptions come to resemble humans uncannily, though imperfectly, human observers tend to experience repulsion, revulsion, and other negative emotions, including fear.

The same applies to psychopathic narcissists: they are near-perfect imitations of humans, but, lacking empathy and emotions, they are not exactly there. Psychopaths and narcissists strike their interlocutors as being some kind of “alien life-forms” or “artificial intelligence”, in short: akin to humanoid robots, or androids. When people come across narcissists or psychopaths the Uncanny Valley reaction kicks in: people feel revolted, scared, and repelled. They can’t put the finger on what it is that provokes these negative reactions, but, after a few initial encounters, they tend to keep their distance.

Contrary to widely held views, Narcissists and Psychopaths may actually possess empathy. They may even be hyper-empathic, attuned to the minutest signals emitted by their victims and endowed with a penetrating “X-ray vision”. They tend to abuse their empathic skills by employing them exclusively for personal gain, the extraction of narcissistic supply, or in the pursuit of antisocial and sadistic goals. They regard their ability to empathize as another weapon in their arsenal.

I suggest to label the narcissistic psychopath’s version of empathy: “cold empathy“, akin to the “cold emotions” felt by psychopaths. The cognitive element of empathy is there, but not so its emotional correlate. It is, consequently, a barren, detached, and cerebral kind of intrusive gaze, devoid of compassion and a feeling of affinity with one’s fellow humans.

Narcissists and psychopaths also appear to be “empathizing” with their possessions: objects, pets, and their sources of narcissistic supply or material benefits (often their nearest and dearest, significant others, or “friends” and associates). But this is not real empathy: it is a mere projection of the narcissist’s or psychopath’s own insecurities and fears, needs and wishes, fantasies and priorities. This kind of displayed “empathy” usually vanishes the minute its subject ceases to play a role in the narcissist’s or psychopath’s life and his psychodynamic processes.

What is Empathy?

 

Normal people use a variety of abstract concepts and psychological constructs to relate to other persons. Emotions are such modes of inter-relatedness. Narcissists and psychopaths are different. Their “equipment” is lacking. They understand only one language: self-interest. Their inner dialog and private language revolve around the constant measurement of utility. They regard others as mere objects, instruments of gratification, and representations of functions.

 

This deficiency renders the narcissist and psychopath rigid and socially dysfunctional. They don’t bond – they become dependent (on narcissistic supply, on drugs, on adrenaline rushes). They seek pleasure by manipulating their dearest and nearest or even by destroying them, the way a child interacts with his toys. Like autists, they fail to grasp cues: their interlocutor’s body language, the subtleties of speech, or social etiquette.

 

Narcissists and psychopaths lack empathy. It is safe to say that the same applies to such patients who are co-diagnosed (co-morbid) with other personality disorders, notably the Schizoid, Paranoid, Borderline, Avoidant, and Schizotypal.

Empathy lubricates the wheels of interpersonal relationships. The Encyclopaedia Britannica (2011 edition) defines empathy as:

“The ability to imagine oneself in anther’s place and understand the other’s feelings, desires, ideas, and actions. It is a term coined in the early 20th century, equivalent to the German Einfühlung and modelled on “sympathy.” The term is used with special (but not exclusive) reference to aesthetic experience. The most obvious example, perhaps, is that of the actor or singer who genuinely feels the part he is performing. With other works of art, a spectator may, by a kind of introjection, feel himself involved in what he observes or contemplates. The use of empathy is an important part of the counselling technique developed by the American psychologist Carl Rogers.”

This is how empathy is defined in “Psychology – An Introduction” (Ninth Edition) by Charles G. Morris, Prentice Hall, 1996:

“Closely related to the ability to read other people’s emotions is empathy – the arousal of an emotion in an observer that is a vicarious response to the other person’s situation… Empathy depends not only on one’s ability to identify someone else’s emotions but also on one’s capacity to put oneself in the other person’s place and to experience an appropriate emotional response. Just as sensitivity to non-verbal cues increases with age, so does empathy: The cognitive and perceptual abilities required for empathy develop only as a child matures… (page 442)

In empathy training, for example, each member of the couple is taught to share inner feelings and to listen to and understand the partner’s feelings before responding to them. The empathy technique focuses the couple’s attention on feelings and requires that they spend more time listening and less time in rebuttal.” (page 576).

Empathy is the cornerstone of morality.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2011 Edition:

“Empathy and other forms of social awareness are important in the development of a moral sense. Morality embraces a person’s beliefs about the appropriateness or goodness of what he does, thinks, or feels… Childhood is … the time at which moral standards begin to develop in a process that often extends well into adulthood. The American psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg hypothesized that people’s development of moral standards passes through stages that can be grouped into three moral levels…

At the third level, that of postconventional moral reasoning, the adult bases his moral standards on principles that he himself has evaluated and that he accepts as inherently valid, regardless of society’s opinion. He is aware of the arbitrary, subjective nature of social standards and rules, which he regards as relative rather than absolute in authority.

Thus the bases for justifying moral standards pass from avoidance of punishment to avoidance of adult disapproval and rejection to avoidance of internal guilt and self-recrimination. The person’s moral reasoning also moves toward increasingly greater social scope (i.e., including more people and institutions) and greater abstraction (i.e., from reasoning about physical events such as pain or pleasure to reasoning about values, rights, and implicit contracts).”

“… Others have argued that because even rather young children are capable of showing empathy with the pain of others, the inhibition of aggressive behaviour arises from this moral affect rather than from the mere anticipation of punishment. Some scientists have found that children differ in their individual capacity for empathy, and, therefore, some children are more sensitive to moral prohibitions than others…”

Young children’s growing awareness of their own emotional states, characteristics, and abilities leads to empathy–i.e., the ability to appreciate the feelings and perspectives of others. Empathy and other forms of social awareness are in turn important in the development of a moral sense… Another important aspect of children’s emotional development is the formation of their self-concept, or identity–i.e., their sense of who they are and what their relation to other people is.

According to Lipps’s concept of empathy, a person appreciates another person’s reaction by a projection of the self into the other. In his Ästhetik, 2 vol. (1903-06; ‘Aesthetics’), he made all appreciation of art dependent upon a similar self-projection into the object.”

Empathy – Social Conditioning or Instinct?

This may well be the key. Empathy has little to do with the person with whom we empathize (the empathee). It may simply be the result of conditioning and socialization. In other words, when we hurt someone, we don’t experience his or her pain. We experience OUR pain. Hurting somebody – hurts US. The reaction of pain is provoked in US by OUR own actions. We have been taught a learned response: to feel pain when we hurt someone.

We attribute feelings, sensations and experiences to the object of our actions. It is the psychological defence mechanism of projection. Unable to conceive of inflicting pain upon ourselves – we displace the source. It is the other’s pain that we are feeling, we keep telling ourselves, not our own.

Additionally, we have been taught to feel responsible for our fellow beings (guilt). So, we also experience pain whenever another person claims to be anguished. We feel guilty owing to his or her condition, we feel somehow accountable even if we had nothing to do with the whole affair.

In sum, to use the example of pain:

When we see someone hurting, we experience pain for two reasons:

1. Because we feel guilty or somehow responsible for his or her condition

2. It is a learned response: we experience our own pain and project it on the empathee.

We communicate our reaction to the other person and agree that we both share the same feeling (of being hurt, of being in pain, in our example). This unwritten and unspoken agreement is what we call empathy.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica:

“Perhaps the most important aspect of children’s emotional development is a growing awareness of their own emotional states and the ability to discern and interpret the emotions of others. The last half of the second year is a time when children start becoming aware of their own emotional states, characteristics, abilities, and potential for action; this phenomenon is called self-awareness… (coupled with strong narcissistic behaviours and traits – SV)…

This growing awareness of and ability to recall one’s own emotional states leads to empathy, or the ability to appreciate the feelings and perceptions of others. Young children’s dawning awareness of their own potential for action inspires them to try to direct (or otherwise affect) the behaviour of others…

…With age, children acquire the ability to understand the perspective, or point of view, of other people, a development that is closely linked with the empathic sharing of others’ emotions…

One major factor underlying these changes is the child’s increasing cognitive sophistication. For example, in order to feel the emotion of guilt, a child must appreciate the fact that he could have inhibited a particular action of his that violated a moral standard. The awareness that one can impose a restraint on one’s own behaviour requires a certain level of cognitive maturation, and, therefore, the emotion of guilt cannot appear until that competence is attained.”

Still, empathy may be an instinctual REACTION to external stimuli that is fully contained within the empathor and then projected onto the empathee. This is clearly demonstrated by “inborn empathy”. It is the ability to exhibit empathy and altruistic behaviour in response to facial expressions. Newborns react this way to their mother’s facial expression of sadness or distress.

This serves to prove that empathy has very little to do with the feelings, experiences or sensations of the other (the empathee). Surely, the infant has no idea what it is like to feel sad and definitely not what it is like for his mother to feel sad. In this case, it is a complex reflexive reaction. Later on, empathy is still rather reflexive, the result of conditioning.

The 1999 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica quoted some fascinating research that supports the model I propose:

“An extensive series of studies indicated that positive emotion feelings enhance empathy and altruism. It was shown by the American psychologist Alice M. Isen that relatively small favours or bits of good luck (like finding money in a coin telephone or getting an unexpected gift) induced positive emotion in people and that such emotion regularly increased the subjects’ inclination to sympathize or provide help.

Several studies have demonstrated that positive emotion facilitates creative problem solving. One of these studies showed that positive emotion enabled subjects to name more uses for common objects. Another showed that positive emotion enhanced creative problem solving by enabling subjects to see relations among objects (and other people – SV) that would otherwise go unnoticed. A number of studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of positive emotion on thinking, memory, and action in pre-school and older children.”

If empathy increases with positive emotion, then it has little to do with the empathee (the recipient or object of empathy) and everything to do with the empathor (the person who does the empathizing).

ADDENDUM – Interview granted to the National Post, Toronto, Canada, July 2003

Q. How important is empathy to proper psychological functioning?

A. Empathy is more important socially than it is psychologically. The absence of empathy – for instance in the Narcissistic and Antisocial personality disorders – predisposes people to exploit and abuse others. Empathy is the bedrock of our sense of morality. Arguably, aggressive behavior is as inhibited by empathy at least as much as it is by anticipated punishment.

But the existence of empathy in a person is also a sign of self-awareness, a healthy identity, a well-regulated sense of self-worth, and self-love (in the positive sense). Its absence denotes emotional and cognitive immaturity, an inability to love, to truly relate to others, to respect their boundaries and accept their needs, feelings, hopes, fears, choices, and preferences as autonomous entities.

Q. How is empathy developed?

A. It may be innate. Even toddlers seem to empathize with the pain – or happiness – of others (such as their caregivers). Empathy increases as the child forms a self-concept (identity). The more aware the infant is of his or her emotional states, the more he explores his limitations and capabilities – the more prone he is to projecting this new found knowledge unto others. By attributing to people around him his new gained insights about himself, the child develop a moral sense and inhibits his anti-social impulses. The development of empathy is, therefore, a part of the process of socialization.

But, as the American psychologist Carl Rogers taught us, empathy is also learned and inculcated. We are coached to feel guilt and pain when we inflict suffering on another person. Empathy is an attempt to avoid our own self-imposed agony by projecting it onto another.

Q. Is there an increasing dearth of empathy in society today? Why do you think so?

A. The social institutions that reified, propagated and administered empathy have imploded. The nuclear family, the closely-knit extended clan, the village, the neighborhood, the Church- have all unraveled. Society is atomized and anomic. The resulting alienation fostered a wave of antisocial behavior, both criminal and “legitimate”. The survival value of empathy is on the decline. It is far wiser to be cunning, to cut corners, to deceive, and to abuse – than to be empathic. Empathy has largely dropped from the contemporary curriculum of socialization.

In a desperate attempt to cope with these inexorable processes, behaviors predicated on a lack of empathy have been pathologized and “medicalized”. The sad truth is that narcissistic or antisocial conduct is both normative and rational. No amount of “diagnosis”, “treatment”, and medication can hide or reverse this fact. Ours is a cultural malaise which permeates every single cell and strand of the social fabric.

Q. Is there any empirical evidence we can point to of a decline in empathy?

Empathy cannot be measured directly – but only through proxies such as criminality, terrorism, charity, violence, antisocial behavior, related mental health disorders, or abuse.

 

Moreover, it is extremely difficult to separate the effects of deterrence from the effects of empathy.

 

If I don’t batter my wife, torture animals, or steal – is it because I am empathetic or because I don’t want to go to jail?

 

Rising litigiousness, zero tolerance, and skyrocketing rates of incarceration – as well as the ageing of the population – have sliced intimate partner violence and other forms of crime across the United States in the last decade. But this benevolent decline had nothing to do with increasing empathy.

The statistics are open to interpretation but it would be safe to say that the last century has been the most violent and least empathetic in human history. Wars and terrorism are on the rise, charity giving on the wane (measured as percentage of national wealth), welfare policies are being abolished, Darwinian models of capitalism are spreading. In the last two decades, mental health disorders were added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association whose hallmark is the lack of empathy. The violence is reflected in our popular culture: movies, video games, and the media.

Empathy – supposedly a spontaneous reaction to the plight of our fellow humans – is now channeled through self-interested and bloated non-government organizations or multilateral outfits. The vibrant world of private empathy has been replaced by faceless state largesse. Pity, mercy, the elation of giving are tax-deductible. It is a sorry sight.

Click on this link to read a detailed analysis of empathy:

http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com/empathy.html

Other People’s Pain – click on this link:

http://samvak.tripod.com/narcissistpain.html

Narcissist’s Reactions to Deficient, Fake, Negative, Low-grade, or Static Narcissistic Supply

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited”

The narcissist presents to the world a facade of invincibility, equanimity, superiority, skilfulness, cool-headedness, invulnerability, and, in short: indifference.

This front is penetrated in times of great crises that threaten the narcissist’s ability to obtain Narcissistic Supply, or when the Narcissistic Supply is spurious (fake or low-grade), negative, or static.

In the majority of cases, narcissists react to deficient narcissistic supply by resorting to several adaptive solutions:

The Delusional Narrative Solution

 

The narcissist constructs a narrative in which he figures as the hero – brilliant, perfect, irresistibly handsome, destined for great things, entitled, powerful, wealthy, the centre of attention, etc. The bigger the strain on this delusional charade – the greater the gap between fantasy and reality – the more the delusion coalesces and solidifies.

 

Finally, if it is sufficiently protracted, it replaces reality and the narcissist’s reality test deteriorates. He withdraws his bridges and may become schizotypal, catatonic, or schizoid.

 

The Antisocial Solution

 

The narcissist renounces reality. To his mind, those who pusillanimously fail to recognize his unbound talents, innate superiority, overarching brilliance, benevolent nature, entitlement, cosmically important mission, perfection, etc. – do not deserve consideration. The narcissist’s natural affinity with the criminal – his lack of empathy and compassion, his deficient social skills, his disregard for social laws and morals – now erupt and blossom. He becomes a full-fledged antisocial (sociopath or psychopath). He ignores the wishes and needs of others, he breaks the law, he violates all rights – natural and legal, he holds people in contempt and disdain, he derides society and its codes, he punishes the ignorant ingrates – that, to his mind, drove him to this state – by acting criminally and by jeopardizing their safety, lives, or property.

 

A variant of this pattern of conduct is the Passive-Aggressive solution.

 

Passive-aggressiveness wears a multitudes of guises: procrastination, malingering, perfectionism, forgetfulness, neglect, truancy, intentional inefficiency, stubbornness, and outright sabotage. This repeated and advertent misconduct has far reaching effects. Consider the Negativist in the workplace: he or she invests time and efforts in obstructing their own chores and in undermining relationships. But, these self-destructive and self-defeating behaviors wreak havoc throughout the workshop or the office.

Despite the obstructive role they play, passive-aggressives feel unappreciated, underpaid, cheated, and misunderstood. They chronically complain, whine, carp, and criticize. They blame their failures and defeats on others, posing as martyrs and victims of a corrupt, inefficient, and heartless system (in other words, they have alloplastic defenses and an external locus of control).

Passive-aggressives sulk and give the “silent treatment” in reaction to real or imagined slights. They suffer from ideas of reference (believe that they are the butt of derision, contempt, and condemnation) and are mildly paranoid (the world is out to get them, which explains their personal misfortune). In the words of the DSM: “They may be sullen, irritable, impatient, argumentative, cynical, skeptical and contrary.” They are also hostile, explosive, lack impulse control, and, sometimes, reckless.

The Paranoid Schizoid Solution

 

When narcissism fails as a defense mechanism, the narcissist develops paranoid narratives: self-directed confabulations which place him at the center of others’ allegedly malign attention. The narcissist becomes his own audience and self-sufficient as his own, sometimes exclusive, source of narcissistic supply.

 

The narcissist develops persecutory delusions. He perceives slights and insults where none were intended. He becomes subject to ideas of reference (people are gossiping about him, mocking him, prying into his affairs, cracking his e-mail, etc.). He is convinced that he is the centre of malign and mal-intentioned attention. People are conspiring to humiliate him, punish him, abscond with his property, delude him, impoverish him, confine him physically or intellectually, censor him, impose on his time, force him to action (or to inaction), frighten him, coerce him, surround and besiege him, change his mind, part with his values, victimize or even murder him, and so on.

 

Some narcissists withdraw completely from a world populated with such minacious and ominous objects (really projections of internal objects and processes). They avoid all social contact, except the most necessary. They refrain from meeting people, falling in love, having sex, talking to others, or even corresponding with them. In short: they become schizoids – not out of social shyness, but out of what they feel to be their choice. “This evil, hopeless world does not deserve me” – goes the inner refrain – “and I shall waste none of my time and resources on it.”

 

The Paranoid Aggressive (Explosive) Solution

 

Other narcissists who develop persecutory delusions, resort to an aggressive stance, a more violent resolution of their internal conflict. They become verbally, psychologically, situationally (and, very rarely, physically) abusive. They insult, castigate, chastise, berate, demean, and deride their nearest and dearest (often well wishers and loved ones). They explode in unprovoked displays of indignation, righteousness, condemnation, and blame. Theirs is an exegetic Bedlam. They interpret everything – even the most innocuous, inadvertent, and innocent comment – as designed to provoke and humiliate them. They sow fear, revulsion, hate, and malignant envy. They flail against the windmills of reality – a pathetic, forlorn, sight. But often they cause real and lasting damage – fortunately, mainly to themselves.

 

The Masochistic Avoidant Solution

 

The narcissist is angered by the lack of narcissistic supply. He directs some of this fury inwards, punishing himself for his “failure”. This masochistic behavior has the added “benefit” of forcing the narcissist’s closest to assume the roles of dismayed spectators or of persecutors and thus, either way, to pay him the attention that he craves.

 

Self-administered punishment often manifests as self-handicapping masochism – a narcissistic cop-out. By undermining his work, his relationships, and his efforts, the increasingly fragile narcissist avoids additional criticism and censure (negative supply). Self-inflicted failure is the narcissist’s doing and thus proves that he is the master of his own fate.

 

Masochistic narcissists keep finding themselves in self-defeating circumstances which render success impossible – and “an objective assessment of their performance improbable” (Millon, 2000). They act carelessly, withdraw in mid-effort, are constantly fatigued, bored, or disaffected and thus passive-aggressively sabotage their lives. Their suffering is defiant and by “deciding to abort” they reassert their omnipotence.

 

The narcissist’s pronounced and public misery and self-pity are compensatory and “reinforce (his) self-esteem against overwhelming convictions of worthlessness” (Millon, 2000). His tribulations and anguish render him, in his eyes, unique, saintly, virtuous, righteous, resilient, and significant. They are, in other words, self-generated narcissistic supply.

 

Thus, paradoxically, the worst his anguish and unhappiness, the more relieved and elated such a narcissist feels!

In extremis, when all these default behaviors and solutions fail, or when only negative, fake, low-grade, and static narcissistic supply is to be had, the narcissist “falls apart” in a process of disintegration known as decompensation (the inability to maintain psychological defenses in the face of mounting stress.) This is accompanied by “acting out”: when an inner conflict (most often, frustration) translates into aggression. It involves acting with little or no insight or reflection and in order to attract attention and disrupt other people’s cosy lives.

The dynamic forces which render the narcissist paralysed and fake – his vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and fears – are starkly exposed as his defences crumble and become dysfunctional. The narcissist’s extreme dependence on his social milieu for the regulation of his sense of self-worth is painfully and pitifully evident as he is reduced to begging and cajoling.

At such times, the narcissist acts out self-destructively and anti-socially. His mask of superior equanimity is pierced by displays of impotent rage, self-loathing, self-pity, passive-aggressiveness, and crass attempts at manipulation of his friends, family, and colleagues. His ostensible benevolence and caring evaporate. He feels caged and threatened and he reacts as any animal would do: by striking back at his perceived tormentors, at his hitherto “nearest” and “dearest”.

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