Narcissistic traits and behaviors are exacerbated by undeserved success.
Within a single year,Obama’s Nobel Prize will Exacerbate His Narcissistic Tendencies Articles Barrack Obama had been elected to the Presidency of the United States and had won the Nobel Peace Prize. While the merits of the first achievement are debatable, there is a consensus, even among his most ardent supporters, fans, and acolytes that he absolutely does not deserve the second honor.
What happens to a narcissist (Obama) whose grandiose delusions suddenly come true? What are the psychological effects on a narcissist when his fantasies of success and perfection materialize, even though his real-life accomplishments do not warrant such a turn of events and are wildly incommensurate with the adulatory feedback he keeps getting?
I. The Narcissist’s Delusions of Grandeur
A delusion is “a false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everyone else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary”. Delusion is, therefore, a belief, idea, or conviction firmly held despite abundant information to the contrary. The partial or complete loss of reality test is the first indication of a psychotic state or episode. Beliefs, ideas, or convictions shared by other people, members of the same collective, are not, strictly speaking, delusions, although they may be hallmarks of shared psychosis.
There are many types of delusions. The narcissist typically holds grandiose-magical convictions that he is important, omnipotent, omniscient, irresistibly charming, brilliant, perfect, possessed of occult powers, deserving of special treatment (entitlement), or a historic figure of cosmic-messianic significance.
II. The Narcissist’s Reaction to Success: The Grandiosity Bubble
A Grandiosity Bubble is an imagined, self-aggrandizing narrative involving the narcissist and elements from his real life: people around him, places he frequents, or conversations he is having. The narcissist weaves a story incorporating these facts, inflating them in the process and endowing them with bogus internal meaning and consistency. In other words: he confabulates – but, this time, his confabulation is loosely based on reality.
In the process, the narcissist re-invents himself and his life to fit the new-fangled tale. He re-casts himself in newly adopted roles. He suddenly fancies himself an actor, a guru, a political activist, an entrepreneur, or an irresistible hunk. He modifies his behaviour to conform to these new functions. He gradually morphs into the fabricated character and “becomes” the fictitious protagonist he has created.
All the mechanisms of pathological narcissism are at work during the bubble phase. The narcissist idealizes the situation, the other “actors”, and the environment. He tries to control and manipulate his milieu into buttressing his false notions and perceptions. Faced with an inevitable Grandiosity Gap (the abyss between his fantasies and reality), he becomes disillusioned and bitter and devalues and discards the people, places, and circumstances involved in the bubble.
III. When Reality Intrudes: The Grandiosity Gap and the Grandiosity Hangover
The grandiose fantasies of the narcissist inevitably and invariably clash with his drab, routine, and mundane reality. We call this constant dissonance the Grandiosity Gap. Sometimes the gap is so yawning that even the narcissist – however dimly – recognizes its existence. Still, this insight into his real situation fails to alter his behaviour. The narcissist knows that his grandiose fantasies are incommensurate with his accomplishments, knowledge, status, actual wealth (or lack thereof), physical constitution, or sex appeal – yet, he keeps behaving as though this were untrue (i.e., keeps denying reality’s intrusions).
The situation is further exacerbated by periods of relative success in the narcissist’s past. Has-been and also-ran narcissists suffer from a Grandiosity Hangover. They may have once been rich, famous, powerful, brilliant, or sexually irresistible – but they no longer are. Still, they continue to behave as though little has changed.
The Grandiosity Hangover and the Grandiosity Gap are the two major vulnerabilities of the narcissist. By exploiting them, the narcissist can be effortlessly manipulated. This is especially true when the narcissist is confronted with authority, finds himself in an inferior position, or when his Narcissistic Supply (admiration, adulation, affirmation, or any form of attention) is deficient or uncertain.
IV. The Roller-Coaster Narcissist
The narcissist cathexes (emotionally invests) with grandiosity everything he owns or does: his nearest and dearest, his work, his environment. But, as time passes, this pathologically intense aura fades. The narcissist finds fault with things and people he had first thought impeccable. He energetically berates and denigrates that which he equally zealously exulted and praised only a short while before.
This inexorable and (to the outside world) disconcerting roller-coaster is known as the “Idealization-Devaluation Cycle”. It involves serious cognitive and emotional deficits and a formidable series of triggered defence mechanisms.
The Cycle starts with the narcissist’s hunger for Narcissistic Supply: the panoply of reactions to the narcissist’s False Self (his feigned facade of omnipotence and omniscience). The narcissist uses these inputs to regulate his fluctuating sense of self-worth.
It is important to distinguish between the various components of the process of Narcissistic Supply:
The Trigger of Supply is the person or object that provokes the source into yielding Narcissistic Supply by confronting the source with information about the narcissist’s False Self;
The Source of Narcissistic Supply is the person that provides the Narcissistic Supply;
Narcissistic Supply is the reaction of the source to the trigger.
The narcissist homes in on Triggers and Sources of Narcissistic Supply – people, possessions, creative works, money – and imbues these sources and triggers with attributed uniqueness, perfection, brilliance, and grandiose qualities (omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience). He filters out any data that contradict these fantastic misperceptions. He rationalizes, intellectualizes, denies, represses, projects – and, in general, defends against – contrarian information.
The narcissist realizes and resents his dependence on Narcissistic Supply. Moreover, deep inside, he is aware of the fact that his False Self is an untenable sham. Still, omnipotent as he holds himself to be, the narcissist believes in his ability to make it all come true, to asymptotically approximate his grandiose fantasies. He is firmly convinced that, given enough time and practice, he can and will become his lofty False Self.
Hence the narcissist’s idea of progress: the frustrating and masochistic pursuit of an ever-receding mirage of perfection, brilliance, omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. The narcissist dumps old sources and triggers of supply because he is convinced that he is perpetually improving and that he deserves better and that “better” is just around the corner. He is driven by his own impossible Ego Ideal.
V. Some Successful Narcissists Develop Paranoia
Paranoid ideation – the narcissist’s deep-rooted conviction that he is being persecuted by his inferiors, detractors, or powerful ill-wishers – serves two psychodynamic purposes. It upholds the narcissist’s grandiosity and it fends off intimacy.
Grandiosity Enhancing Paranoia
Being the target of relentless, ubiquitous, and unjust persecution proves to the paranoid narcissist how important and feared he is. Being hounded by the mighty and the privileged validates his pivotal role in the scheme of things. Only vital, weighty, crucial, essential principals are thus bullied and intimi