How Does the Narcissist React to Illness and Disability?
Sam Vaknin writes:
When narcissists fall victim to chronic or acute diseases or survive a traffic accident, they react in either of four typical ways, depending on the type of narcissist:
1. The schizotypal reaction the belief that the narcissist’s predicament is a part of a larger, cosmic plan, or of a blueprint that governs the narcissist’s life and inexorably leads him to greatness and to the fulfillment of a mission.
3. The paranoid reaction: the narcissist deludes himself that the accident was no accident, someone is out to get him, etc. The narcissist casts himself in the role of a victim, usually in the framework of some grand design or conspiracy, or as the outcome of “fate” (again, a schizotypal element).
4. The masochistic reaction: in the wake of the illness or accident, the narcissist’s constant anxiety is alleviated and he is relieved, having been “punished” properly for his inherent “evilness” and decadence.
Narcissists hate weak (sick) people and hate it, even more, when their source of narcissistic supply ceases to function properly. Most of them just move on: they abandon the sick spouse and find another, healthier one. Some of them play the role of martyrs, victims, selfless saints and thus garner narcissistic supply as they “treat” their bedridden spouse.
The permanently disabled narcissists adopt one or more of three strategies:
1. Exaggerated helplessness which justifies emotional blackmail and the kind of insidious dependence that cripples his caregivers;
2. Control freakery in a frenzied attempt to reassert his grandiose sense of omnipotence now gravely challenged by his invalidity;
3. Sadism which renders his victim as helpless as he is and as frustrated as he feels and, thus, “levels the playing field” and normalizes his disability (“everyone is helpless and frustrated so there is nothing really wrong with me, I am, after all, still perfect.”)
Possessing a distorted physical self-image is called a Body Dysmorphic Disorder. All narcissists have it to some degree. Somatic narcissists are especially prone to misjudge their bodies – either positively or negatively. They believe themselves to be physically irresistible, exuding sex and energy, statuesquely shaped, and, in general, stunning hunks. This grandiose self-image rarely corresponds with reality, though.
Aware of this, the somatic narcissist dedicates inordinate amounts of time and effort to bodybuilding, exercising, mastering sexual advances and foreplay and the intricacies of the coital act itself. To enhance his belief system, the somatic narcissist co-opts others by forcing them to compliment his build, shape, constitution, health, sexual prowess, physical regime and attractiveness. The somatic narcissist is a compulsive consumer of “body complements or extensions” – objects that he thinks increase his attraction, irresistibility, appeal, and the value of his propositions. Fancy cars, flashy clothing, sumptuous residences, first class flights, luxury hotels, platinum credit cards, lavish parties, name-dropping, celebrity “friends”, hi-tech gadgetry – all serve to enhance the narcissist’s self-image and to bolster his grandiose fantasies.
Thus, this positive Dysmorphic Disorder serves to elicit Narcissistic Supply and buttress a distorted, unreal, self-image. But it is also a control mechanism. It allows the narcissist’s False Self to manipulate both the narcissist and his human environment. It is as though by morphing his body – the narcissist moulds and designs his world, his nearest and dearest, his self in flux, his projected image and the reactions to it. By lying about his body, his health, his sex appeal, his longevity, his possessions (his bodily extensions), his sexual prowess, his attractiveness, his irresistibility, his friends and lovers, adventures and affairs – the narcissist transforms the REAL world. To him, the REAL world – is how people PERCEIVE him to be. By changing their perceptions, by indoctrinating and “brainwashing” them – the narcissist secures a Pathological Narcissistic Space in which his Self False can thrive, fully nourished.
This phenomenon is not limited to the somatic narcissist. The cerebral narcissist also deforms the true image of his body in his mind. He may exaggerate the dimensions of his head, the height of his forehead, or the length of his (sensitive) fingers. He may attribute to himself ailments and syndromes typical of high-powered intellectuals – consumption (tuberculosis), tendonitis, headaches. The cerebral narcissist almost always lies about his IQ, his mental capacities, his skills. He tends to completely ignore and belittle the rest of his body. To him, it is a burdensome and unnecessary appendage. He may complain of the need to “maintain” the flesh and of the derided dependence of his magnificent brain on his abject and decaying body. “I would have willingly placed my brain in a laboratory jar, to be artificially nourished there, and given up my body” – they may say. They rarely exercise and regard with disdain the activities, proclivities, and predilections of the somatic narcissist. Physical pursuits – sex included – are perceived by them to be bestial, demeaning, common, wasteful, and meaningless. This is also a result of Body Dysmorphic Disorder. The cerebral narcissist underestimates the needs of his own body, misreads its signals, and ignores its processes. The body, to him, becomes abstract, a background noise, or nuisance.
Cerebral narcissists sometimes go through somatic phases and somatic narcissists – if capable – adopt cerebral behaviour patterns. Their attitudes change accordingly. The temporarily somatic narcissist suddenly begins to exercise, groom himself, seduce, and have creative and imaginative sex. The somatic made cerebral tries to read more, becomes contemplative and a-social, and consumes culture. But these are passing phases and the narcissist always reverts to true – or should I say, false – form.
by Guest Author Sam Vaknin, who 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.