In the last part, we gave a pretty good introduction into Narcissistic Personality Disorder. In case you need a refresher, here’s the link. Now, in this post, we’re gonna discuss the psychology behind NPD.
Let’s dig in.
Of course. Narcissism is in the name of the disorder. It is the biggest facet of the disorder. Again, narcissism manifests as inflated self-esteem, but as we’ve said before, it’s often an aggressive attempt to cover weaknesses that set in during traumatic periods. Let’s look at two popular TV show characters who have been called narcissists:
Harvey Specter from Suits
Anybody who has seen suits is aware that Harvey considers himself the best thing since sliced bread. He regularly declares that he is the best lawyer, the toughest fighter and the most swoon-worthy man on the planet.
Now, as the series goes on, we get to look deeper into Harvey’s psychology, especially his adolescence. Then, it becomes clear that Harvey constantly strives to be “strong.” What that means, most importantly, is that he tries really hard to not be his mother: someone he believed was disgustingly weak due to her infidelity. We also notice that Harvey’s mother made him cover for her, which Harvey obviously didn’t like. Thus, Harvey ends up embodying a zero-tolerance policy towards cheaters and rule-breakers. He also picks up boxing. Why? Well, because he never wants to be vulnerable enough to be used as cover for something he does not approve of. The biggest issue with Harvey as an adult is his refusal to show vulnerability even in intimate relationships.
The point, here, at the end of the day, is that Harvey’s Narcissism came from an aggressive ideal to never ever ever show any kind of weakness. EVER. He kept a lid on his inner demons for a long time. But once they came out, the viewers would have noticed that his narcissism came down DRASTICALLY. He allowed Mike and his various paramours to get to him on the inside like he’d never allowed anyone before, not even the person he considered his previous best bud a.k.a Jessica Pearson.
Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones
Right from the get go, Cersei owns her power. More so, than her brothers or even her father who was really the reason for the Lannisters’ power in the first place. There could be no doubt in anyone’s mind that she was a narcissist who considered herself the best and most powerful creature to ever walk the Earth. She felt no hesitation whatsoever in killing Bran Stark, a high born from an important family. She felt no fear in arranging for Robert’s demise while he was king of the seven kingdoms, and she also responded to Ned Stark’s threat of Robert’s wrath with, “And what of my wrath, Lord Stark?” Bear in mind that even Tywin Lannister who, as we’ve said before, was the real reason for the Lannister fame, would not have violated a house as important as the Starks in this way. So, yes, there can be no doubt at all that Cersei Lannister had always been a narcissist.
Similar to Suits, as the show goes on, we get a good look at what goes on inside Cersei’s head. We learn about a prophecy that told of a queen who would supplant her and a brother who would kill her. The prophecy also said that all of her children would die in the process. Now, we see very early that Cersei’s narcissism seemed to focus mainly on her own position as queen and the survival of her children. We also notice that Cersei was rather cold towards Jamie when she wanted to be. But this was only because she had never received love from Robert, despite, in her own words, calling their wedding day the “happiest day of her life.”
You see? Cersei’s narcissism, again, was an aggressive attempt to cover weaknesses; weaknesses that she perceived due to the prophecy and due to Robert’s abusiveness towards her.
While it’s true that TV can be an untrue depiction of real life, in the case of Harvey Specter or Cersei Lannister, they got it right. Narcissism is the result of trying too hard to cover weaknesses, which ultimately manifests as a state where one appears to believe that they have no weaknesses.
Now that we know that narcissism is a cover for internalized weaknesses, we can go on to discuss how a lifetime of feeling weak can lead to the hateful energy that we often see in Narcissistic people. There are several stepping stones along the path to NPD that develop this hateful energy. Let’s look at each of them.
The person feels like they can’t hold the pain around their perceived weakness in any longer, and thus they have an emotional outburst. The emotion could show as crying, screaming etc and is followed by a bout of near catatonic depression. The point at which this happens is called the breaking point. It is the first step of feeling alarming levels of destructive and hateful energy.
For Harvey Specter, the breaking point came when his mother brought her new boyfriend home during a family dinner. This breaking point meant that Harvey had finally decided to never again be so weak that someone could use him to hurt those he loved. He had decided to fight back, no matter who got hurt in the process. As for Cersei Lannister, we don’t really know when the breaking point came. It was likely during her marriage to Robert, when his neglect and abuse of her had begun to undermine her position as queen.
Sensitivity to abuse of privilege
People who show hateful energy tend to feel as if others don’t really know pain and just cause drama for some excitement. This is known as sensitivity to abuse of privilege. It’s a big driver for aggressive intent. It’s also the start of responding to others concerns with irritation and judgement.
With Harvey, we notice that he often labels others who complain about their losses as wimps and losers. This is because he thinks they are abusing privilege and being needlessly dramatic; and with Cersei, we notice that she seems cold to the suffering of others, including those closest to her like Jamie. Again, this is likely because she senses a privilege in them that she never had.
The persecution complex and the feeling that “they” deserve it
At this point, the hatefulness is already hatching plots. He/she is of the mindset that someone else deserves to know what it’s like to truly struggle. This plants the seeds of abusive egotism, coldness and sadism. The aim is to stop once the target realizes what they’ve been fussing unnecessarily about. But hate tends to go too far. Other factors that may aggravate this state of mind are: 1) feeling persecuted by the notion of life is so unfair, which makes the person want the same for others whose lives are too smooth 2) False agreement, where another agrees to your face and then turns around and forgets what they agreed to 3) False hope, where another gives you hope and then takes it away.
Attacking harder and more ferociously with each pushback
The hate has likely been expressed in some way at this stage. Now, the person feels increasingly like they’ve had to put up with way too much already. So they get more and more violent with each pushback and they slowly lose their regard for extremely hurtful consequences. This “pushback” may be a direct counter-attack against the individual or an attempt to “rub” character/positivity/hope in their face.
Against Harvey, the pushbacks came when he was threatened physically or verbally. The same was true for Cersei. The point is these pushbacks made them more and more unapologetic towards their opponent.
Going on a power-trip: it’s nice to feel in charge for once
It is often the case that for most of the individual’s life, they’ve been oppressed. So feeling the effect of dominance gives them a pleasurable feeling of power.
Itching to release grudges and resentment from feeling wronged, manipulated and humiliated
A person brimming with hate has likely accumulated a lot of frustration and anger in their life, and they are itching to let it all go, even if that means that others get hurt.
Overexposure and desensitization to pain and suffering
Normally, watching someone else suffer gives a human being pause. This may not happen for a hateful individual because they become too caught up in defending/avenging themselves, along with being too desensitized to painful emotions.
Capability for force and dominance
If the person showing hate is in a position to use overwhelming force and dominance, the chances of him/her actually doing something violent goes up considerably. This is the case with both Harvey and Cersei, both of whom became more dominant the minute they acquired the capability for it (boxing and lawyer awesomeness, in Harvey’s case, and power, in Cersei’s case).
Hitting rock bottom
At this stage, the person has likely been very violent already. They’ve hit rock bottom from the guilt and emptiness from thriving on others’ suffering, and they may wish to make one last horrible mistake before they “put their lights out.” Harvey’s character arc never led to this stage, and Cersei died before she could get to this stage. But many school shooters and suicide bombers in the real world do end up getting to this stage.
Mental, Physical, Personality and Behavioral Disorders
There are many mental health, physical health, personality and behavioral disorders that prominently feature anger, volatility and aggression, all of which amount to hate. For example, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, conduct disorder, depression, bipolar disorder and so on. These disorders may cause hate or be caused by it. They may also cause aggressive weakness covering behaviors including narcissism.
Having psychopathy or verging into psychopathy
A psychopath can set someone’s house on fire and not feel an ounce of remorse. Some people have a psychopathic personality. However, such a personality is not necessary to develop psychopathy. For example, a person with long-accumulated hate can eventually feel utterly unapologetic. This would also be psychopathy, even though the personality might not have played a big role. In the end, psychopathy is a good indicator of long-accumulated hate since purely personality-based psychopathy is exceedingly rare. This kind of hate can come with a considerable degree of narcissism.
ANSWERS TO 3 BURNING QUESTIONS
1) Is narcissism intentional?
Well, yes and no. No, because narcissism is a subconscious development. Nobody ever consciously decides to become a narcissist. Yes, because once they do become a narcissist, they carry an intention to portray themselves as strong, even if that involves abuse of their target.
2) Is any affection shown by a narcissist real?
Yes, narcissists can and do show real affection. It’s just that as they feel that affection, they cannot help but attach an element of strength showcasing to it. So, the affection starts out as real, but then ends up being tainted by the need to portray the self as strong under any circumstance.
3) Don’t we all worry about self image? Don’t we all try to be strong?
Yes, we do. But given a good explanation, we can admit that we are flawed. We can admit that we are wrong. Narcissists cannot, even after being given a good explanation.
LET’S SUM UP
Thus, we conclude part II of this series. We had an in-depth discussion on the psychology behind Narcissism. The topics that we covered are:
2) Hateful Energy
3) Answers to 3 burning questions
The Narcissism is mildly annoying to witness, but the hateful energy is the part that gets seriously abusive. In the next part of the series, we’ll discuss the impact of NPD on the lives of those involved. As for references and readings, they are the same as those used on the previous article of this series.
As always, we’d love to get your thoughts on the comments below!