November 15, 2013

Narcissism Key: from healthy to pathological

Without a working framework, my blog might be confusing because I write about narcissism as a normal personality trait while writing about pathological narcissism as a clinical diagnosis. I also write about my struggles with unhealthy narcissism which should not be equated to a personality disorder. (Unless you hate me and then you can accuse me of having a NPD which a few people have surmised. Hint: none of them was my therapist or my kids, the latter being more credible...)

So what does narcissism mean to you? Is narcissism a concept in psychoanalytic theory, a trait, a process, a personality variable, a disorder? Narcissism confounds most people and yours truly is frequently confused which is why narcissism remains endlessly fascinating and frustrating. Social psychologists disagree with clinical psychologists who disagree among themselves: is narcissism a part of normal psychological development as Kohut theorized; or is narcissism as Otto Kernberg suggests: "the libidinal investment in a pathological self-structure,” i.e.: the inability to love others.

To most people, narcissism is an air of superiority, a lack of empathy, obliviousness to the impact their behavior has on others. Narcissism is blaming, shaming, and defaming anyone who dares offend or criticize. To many people, narcissism means "never having to say you're sorry" because everyone should want what's best for the narcissist, even if it isn't best for themselves. To most of us, narcissism is Gross Hypocrisy--saying one thing while doing another; claiming to be better than we actually are (okay social psychologists, it's true...everyone self-enhances but not to the point of absurdity-and-nonsense).

Descriptions of narcissism in the clinical/pathological literature also describe the normal narcissism of nonclinical/normal populations. Every human being needs admiration and attention, has an occasional lack of empathy, a desire for success and love. Every human being likes having power and control and might be a tad grandiose and self-important, once-in-a-while. Two other traits causing relational problems for all of us? Using others to meet our needs; i.e.: Entitlement and Exploitation. It's frustrating knowing where to peg someone on the narcissism spectrum, including where we might find ourselves. Now some people might argue that measuring someone's narcissism is an exercise in judgmentalism. That may be true in some cases but it's crucial for understanding how pathological someone's narcissism might be, especially when deciding to end the relationship or stay. We need to be as clear-eyed as possible. An everyday "normal narcissist" will hurt our feelings and push our boundaries beyond comfort levels; a malignant narcissist will push us "over the edge". Metaphorically and literally, my friends.

As you can see on the graph, normal narcissism doesn't necessarily mean healthy and quite honestly, the vast majority of human beings fall short of the ideal. Modifying unhealthy narcissism as soon as we 'catch ourselves in the act' allows us to live to our fullest potential. So instead of denying we have issues, let's cop to our crimes-and-misdemeanors and get to work on being human: interconnected, conscientious, compassionate, communal, and kind.

As a disclaimer: my graph is intended for self-helpers. I have referenced social and clinical psychologists most readers will recognize, including credible resources for each position on the graph. Numerous quotes are incorporated in my article because I'm not a psychologist and have zero-absolutely-no interest promoting myself as such. This graph is a working framework of my layperson understanding of social, clinical, normal, developmental and abnormal antisocial white flag narcissism.  Be sure to check out my bibliography and remember, if it's pink, it's a link.
Since this article is rather long, peg yourself (or others) on the graph and scroll down to the relevant information. I've added academic research to each section and the bibliography is hyper-linked to make it super-easy to find articles. If a link is broken, let me know. Thanks!

Normal Narcissism 
"In a broad sense, narcissism refers to feelings and attitudes toward one’s own self and to normal development and self-regulation. It is the core of normal healthy self-esteem, affects, and relationships. In psychoanalytic terms, normal narcissism is defined as a positive investment in a normally functioning self-structure.” ~(pg. 31) Elsa Ronningstam 
“The narcissistic self is perhaps most usefully conceptualized as a self-regulatory system: it is an interactive group of traits, abilities, beliefs, strategies, behavior, and emotions that mutually predict and reinforce each other, a strategy for regulating self-esteem via grandiosity.” (Campbell and Foster) 
"Normal narcissism is characterized by self-centeredness, self-aggrandizement, and a manipulative interpersonal orientation." ~Pinsky, Narcissism and Celebrity
"Narcissism is a sense of personal grandiosity and a preoccupation with promoting the self and its desires." ~Tamborsku and Brown
 "Narcissism is characterized first and foremost by a positive and inflated view of the self, especially on agentic traits (e.g., power, importance, physical attractiveness). In a sense, narcissism can be conceptualized as a self-regulating system, where self-esteem and enhancement are sought through a variety of social means, but with little regard for the consequences borne by others." ~Twenge, Egos Inflating Over Time 
Pulling this graph together required a more complex view of narcissism than the categorical: “yup, you got it”, “nope, you don’t" because the real truth is that we've all got it, some worse than others. Normal narcissism is the yucky narcissism staring back in the mirror when our inner-brat holds the outer-adult hostage. This unhealthy, age-inappropriate narcissism frustrates intimate relationships, especially when partners aren't in sync, leapfrogging their way to old age. (Erikson) Most people are commited to lifelong pair bonding as a value. But remember: the more value we place on commitment, the greater the impetus for personal change because we want to keep the relationship together. Relinquishing childish behaviors to improve the relationship, generates psychological growth and self-development. Unhealthy narcissism stagnates relationships with others and hinders our personal “joie de vivre”.

Recovery Work

Kohut’s self-psychology describes the narcissism familiar to people in “recovery work” since unhealthy narcissism is a predictable problem if we were raised in a dysfunctional family. And most of us were. Charles Whitfield suggested a mere 0-5% of families were healthy; 25% severely dysfunctional (1991). Recovery groups such as 12-step are phenomenally validating and educative as to what is normal maturation and what's not. Church groups, mutually compassionate friendships and even sibling relationships facilitate maturation and recovery. Codependency groups can be life-changing. Self-help books “kick-start” or augment a natural growth process. Healthier age-appropriate narcissism fosters healthier self-esteem leading to healthier relationships and a more meaningful life. I believe that.

The developmental approach towards healthy narcissism encourages people who were raised in dysfunctional families, proposing they can improve their lives IF: they are self-aware; are willing to do the work; can tolerate difficult emotions; have the capacity for insight; care about the effect their behavior has on others; have the ability to keep commitments; can face imperfection, failure and criticism; and have the ability and willingness to accept and mourn inevitable losses. And last but not least: are motivated to change.

“A person’s inner life is not a given, it is a construction. My life is ultimately my own creation; narcissism smothers that creation, does not allow it, and prevents energy from being available to make it possible.” ~Neville Symington  

Clinical Narcissism

“When the wish to be loved transforms into the need to be admired.” ~Frank Yeomans

Putting the Narcissistic Personality Disorder at the far right of the graph might be misleading but rest assured, without specific childhood conditions (and a possible genetic predisposition), you won’t turn into a malignant narcissist even if you're painfully focused on yourself. Readers often write that they're more self-absorbed than ever, shamefully concerned about being selfish, self-centered, bouncing between unstable highs and lows. Well, let me be honest. When my self-esteem plummeted to a frightening low, I bounced between Recovery-Hero-Extraordinaire and Complete-n-Total-Failure. The yo-yo-ing eventually settled down and thank god the people who loved me were able to deal with the whiplash. What I experienced was being narcissist-ick (emphasis on the "ick"). I knew something was wrong and my behavior was upsetting other people and I was motivated to change. That's not clinical narcissism.
"Being highly narcissistic or a narcissist, is not the same as having a diagnosed psychiatric disorder or a pathological level of narcissism." ~(pg.22) Twenge
Pathological narcissism (clinical narcissism) must meet five of nine criteria listed in the DSM.  A person with a NPD will suffer some form of impairment. Pathological narcissism is indicated by inter-personally destructive relationships and an intra-personally dysfunctional relationship with the self. NPD is diagnosed by a person's inability to live to their fullest potential, a failure to thrive at work and at home. At a certain point (which may not occur until midlife) it becomes only too obvious that something is wrong with that person. In my view, their narcissism failed to sustain an undeveloped grandiose self. This is not unhealthy narcissism, it's pathological.

At the root of the pathological narcissist is a grandiose self, compensating for low self-esteem by projecting a self-confident image. Their competency fools other people and the narcissist, too. Until it doesn't when their illusion of grandiosity is insupportable. While the extraordinary narcissist manages extreme stress without breaking a sweat, or breaking down, I can tell you from personal experience that pathological narcissists do. They become anxious and insecure, fearful they've promoted themselves beyond their ability to perform. The resultant fear of humiliation for having failed impossible expectations (i.e.: unlimited success and brilliance), can be overwhelming, the hound of failure and depression nipping at their heels. Treating pathological narcissism requires intensive therapeutic intervention, yet grandiosity fools them into believing they can “fix” themselves. They cannot. Even in the face of incontrovertible evidence, narcissists don’t believe anything is wrong with them. It's everyone else that's the problem. Narcissism is self-deceptive.

Such breathtaking defiance isn't the case for everyone with a NPD, however. A study by Russ, Shedler, Bradley and Weston verifies what many of us have witnessed: pathological narcissists suffer “underlying pain, vulnerability, inadequacy.” They also suffer low self-esteem. While psychologists continue studying the high self-esteem of "normal" narcissists, clinical narcissism is distinguished by low self-esteem.

Clinical narcissism is distinguished by low self-esteem.

It's the normal narcissists who believe they’re special, superior, and extraordinary. “There is no need to worry about the self-esteem of the [normal] narcissist," writes Dr. Allan Schwartz, "they have an over-abundance of it.”

Self-Help vs. Therapy

People with a narcissistic personality disorder cannot mature through self-help work alone, an important distinction between normal and clinical narcissism. Through corrective experiences and self-help, unhealthy narcissism can mature; without therapeutic support, pathological narcissism worsens. It does not get better. Unfortunately, people with a narcissistic personality disorder assume they’re walking the same path as the rest of us (only faster and better, ha!).  Dr. Schwartz writes, "[NPD] causes people to misunderstand what is really going on with the individual. For example, some one like this will seem to be arrogant and filled with self-confidence. However, just beneath this shallow surface lies a person who feels a deep sense of shame and humiliation and low self-esteem. That is why they are so easily hurt in the face of criticism."

In my view, each of us falls somewhere on the narcissistic continuum. Wherever we might peg ourselves on this graph, persistent effort toward healthier narcissism is a reasonable and worthwhile goal.

See my post: Corrective Life Events: Can the Narcissist Change?
“The ultimate blow to narcissism is the fact of our own death; coming to terms with death is a mark of maturity and wisdom. For Kohut, narcissism, successfully negotiated, leads to the capacity to accept mortality, to see oneself as one is without over-or-underestimation, to develop a sense of creativity and humour and to trust one’s intuition and empathy. The paradox of this process is that narcissism needs to be healthily established before it can be given up.”(pg. 43) Jeremy Holmes 


“The undoubted abuses of pernicious narcissism should not blind us to the necessity of healthy narcissism; it has been suggested that we learn to think in terms of a narcissistic continuum, with stable narcissism closest to healthy narcissism and the destructive narcissistic pattern closest to pathological narcissism.” Wikipedia link 

Healthy Narcissism 

“Kohut (1977) considers healthy narcissism in adults to be characterized by creativity, empathy, a sense of humor, awareness of finiteness and wisdom...Transformed narcissism, as used this way, appears to mean narcissism appropriate to age and phase of development that is expressed and experienced as a healthy appreciation and enjoyment of our activities, a sense of direction, a system of values that guides us and a helpful feeling of disappointment that incorporates some anger and shame when we fail to live up to our expectations of ourselves.” ~(pg.1-2) Brown, DNP

“Healthy narcissism plays a crucial role in the human capacity to manage challenges, successes and changes; to overcome defeats, illnesses, trauma, and losses; to love and be productive and creative; and to experience happiness, satisfaction, and acceptance of the course of one’s life.”~Ronningstam

“People with healthy levels of narcissism are able to step outside their own perspective long enough to assess how their behavior may be affecting others around them. This ability to avoid becoming stuck in narcissistic mode, and to consider the impact of your actions on the feelings of others, is one of the key distinctions between healthy and extreme levels of narcissism.” (pg. 90) Pinsky

“Healthy narcissism contains the seeds of assertiveness and self-respect.” ~Wendy T. Behary
Mature individuation
Communal concerns
Balance of self  and other
A grateful “Joie de Vivre”
Realistic self-evaluation
Appropriate Self-regard
A fully-developed conscience
Self and object constancy
Empathy, altruism, and compassion for others
Respect for the rights and feelings of others
Entitlement without infringing on the rights of others
A balance of agentic and communal traits
Reciprocal mutuality: the ability to give and take
Ability to satisfy one’s desires
Ability to grieve one's losses
Resilient self-esteem to life's "ups and downs"
Ability to create and sustain intimate relationships
Ability to live in accord with one’s moral values and principles
Capacities to self-reflect, acknowledge problems, and take responsibility (Payson)
Enlightened self-interest without neglecting needs and hopes for advancement (Stone)
Stable Narcissism

“Stable Narcissism is a concept proposed by Kohut (1977) to describe less than total expected or appropriate narcissism. That is, the individual has primarily age-appropriate narcissism but there are areas where he or she has not fully developed. For example, some variations of conceit, selfishness and vanity are considered by Kohut to be representative of stable narcissism. The individual functions well, has satisfying relationships but could also be described as smug, selfish on occasion, and is very concerned about the image he or she projects.” ~(pg. 17-18) Brown, DNP 

"Shame is the feeling that lurks beneath all unhealthy narcissism, and the inability to process shame in healthy ways---to face it, neutralize it, and move on as healthier individuals do---leads to the characteristic postures, attitudes, and behaviors of narcissists." (pg. 6) Hotchkiss

Extraordinary Narcissism (Ronningstam)
Heightened self-regard
Heightened entitlement
Heightened exhibitionism
Tremendous self-confidence and self-worth
Exaggerated sense of indestructibility
Unusual risk-taking and decision-making
Unusual sense of responsibility and commitment
Charismatic, dominant, competitive
Productive Narcissism (Maccoby)

"A narcissist may be either productive or unproductive. The difference is that the most productive narcissists, the ones who do change our world, have the charisma and drive to convince others to buy in to their vision or embrace a common purpose. They communicate a sense of meaning that inspires others to follow them, whereas the unproductive types retreat into their own world and blame others for their isolation." ~Michael Maccoby link

See my post: Extraordinary, Productive and Exaggerated Narcissism  


“The person with unhealthy narcissism is acting the way our parents probably meant when they told us not to be “selfish.” Yet what many of our parents didn't teach us was a healthy self-caring”. ~(pg. 95) Whitfield

“Children of the self-absorbed have to work particularly hard throughout their lives to attain [a healthy] level of development, as they were not allowed to complete the expected tasks at an earlier age. If you had a parent with a destructive narcissistic pattern, you may have areas of underdeveloped narcissism that need attention." ~Nina Brown link

Age-inappropriate narcissism causes enough distress to threaten important relationships which can lead to changed behavior, which then leads to  taking more responsibility for ourselves, not less. That means ‘growing up’ which usually means letting go of childish ways even if'n we don't wanna. Wherever you are right now is the perfect place to re-parent yourself, caretaking any needs that were not honored and met by a narcissistic partner or parent. Learned behavior can be unlearned.

Signs of codependency:
Poor boundaries
Dysfunctional communication
Problems with intimacy
Painful emotions (Lancer)
Pathological Altruism (Oakley)
I have reservations about the corollary codependency increasingly preached in narcissism groups. Certainly, codependency groups taught healthy principles for keeping the focus on myself: "How was I behaving? Was I causing, controlling, contributing to the mess?" Even so, defining everyone in a narcissistic relationship (or child of a narcissist) as a codependent is a bit ridiculous, especially if they function well in other areas of their lives. There are other ways to describe what happens in the narcissistic relationship, such as: cognitive dissonance, trauma bonds, the fantasy bond, intermittent reinforcement; and depending on the abuse: the Stockholm Syndrome, grief work and ptsd-trauma recovery (See Sandra L. Brown). Examining those relational dynamics keeps the focus on the perpetrator. Another important consideration is the situation, cultural norms, gender-divided roles, religious beliefs, etc. Unlike the typical "it takes two" dysfunctional relationship between EQUALS, narcissists deliberately and intentionally dominate family members to secure control, superiority and power over them. Nonetheless, BeattieBradshaw and Whitfield's observations about dysfunctional systems and codependency are illuminating and empowering albeit limited in explaining other determinants.

See my post: Is Lassie Co-dependent?
See my post: What Is It About Mary?

Co-Narcissism (Rappoport)

“People who behave co-narcissistically share the following traits: they tend to have low self-esteem, work hard to please others, defer to others’ opinions, focus on others’ world views and are unaware of their own orientations, are often depressed or anxious, find it hard to know how they think and feel about a subject, doubt the validity of their own views and opinions (especially when these conflict with others’ views), and take the blame for interpersonal problems.” ~ (pg. 2) Rappoport

Once again, depending on the degree of narcissism in your family-of-origin, you may or may not agree with Dr. Rappoport's conclusions. Because his article is based on his clientele, he isn't including people who grew up in narcissistic families yet found ways to mature/recover without subscribing to therapy. Some people want professional guidance; some don't. You can determine for yourself if the relationships you've created as an adult are healthy. Most people have at least a few things they'd like to change even if their family-of-origin was epitome of psychological health and development.

Signs of co-narcissism:
An undeveloped sense of self
Addictive compulsions
Lack of boundaries
Insecure, fragile sense of self
Codependency traits
Exists to fulfill dreams and expectations of parent  (Zomerland)
Even though my intuition placed codependency and co-narcissism as stable, unhealthy narcissism, I think both states can move towards destructive narcissism. Either concept is fluid enough to warrant a dimensional position on the continuum. Codependency might be pathological, such as the Dependent Personality Disorder. Covert narcissism (NPD) might be a manifestation of "pathological codependency", I really can't say for sure where the line might be between unhealthy codependency and a personality disorder. As I experienced in 12-step, some people got better within a few weeks, just having social support and a little self-help cognitive therapy. Other people had faithfully attended 12-step for years, still caught in the narcissistic web of endless chaos and misery.

See my post: Unbelieving the Unbelievable
See my post: Corrective life Events: Can the Narcissist Change?

Destructive Narcissism

“Destructive narcissism describes an individual who has some characteristics associated with pathological narcissism but may not be fully described or diagnosed as such. The individual has attitudes or behaves in ways that are destructive to self and others. He produces frustration in almost everyone who has to interact with him or her, devalues others, lacks empathy...As with the pathological narcissist, the DNP is best known by reactions produced in others from interactions with this person.” ~(pg.18) Brown, DNP

Destructive Narcissistic Pattern (Brown)

Signs of destructive narcissism:
Shallow emotions
Lack of empathy
Indifference to others
Strong admiration and attention needs
A strong self-focus and self-absorption
Unresponsive to others needs or concerns; manipulative
Grandiose, arrogant and contemptuous
Consideration of oneself as unique and special
An inability to relate to others in a meaningful way
An inability to grasp one's core self
See my post: NPD and DNP
See my post: Destructive Narcissistic Pattern

Unproductive Narcissism (Maccoby)

"The danger is that narcissism can turn unproductive when, lacking self-knowledge and restraining anchors, narcissists become unrealistic dreamers. They nurture grand schemes and harbor the illusion that only circumstances or enemies block their success. This tendency towards grandiosity and distrust is the Achilles' heel of narcissism. Because of it, even brilliant narcissists can come under suspicion for self-involvement, unpredictability and---in extreme cases---paranoia. It is easy to see why narcissistic leadership doesn't always mean successful leadership." ~Michael Maccoby link 

See my post: Extraordinary, Productive and Exaggerated Narcissism 

Healthy vs. Destructive Narcissistic Managers 
wikipedia ink

CharacteristicHealthy narcissismDestructive narcissism
Self-confidenceHigh outward self-confidence in line with realityGrandiose
Desire for power, wealth and admirationMay enjoy powerPursues power at all costs, lacks normal inhibitions in its pursuit
RelationshipsReal concern for others and their ideas; does not exploit or devalue othersConcerns limited to expressing socially appropriate response when convenient; devalues and exploits others without remorse
Ability to follow a consistent pathHas values; follows through on plansLacks values; easily bored; often changes course
FoundationHealthy childhood with support for self-esteem and appropriate limits on behaviour towards othersTraumatic childhood undercutting true sense of self-esteem and/or learning that he/she doesn't need to be considerate of others

*     *     *     *     *     *
“Narcissists are too busy proving their worth---or, more properly, denying their worthlessness to feel the love, appreciation and joy of human connectedness which their good works could potentially stimulate in themselves and others. These people are not character disordered. They are people tortured by narcissistic injury and crippled by developmental arrests in functioning which rob them of the richness of life they deserve. They are good people, contributing people who are hurting---and often very badly. They are living and suffering the narcissistic style.” ~Steven Johnson (pg. 3) 
*     *     *     *     *     *
"To only stress their suffering could lead to sentimentality and collusion." ~Linda Martin 
*     *     *     *     *     *

Pathological Narcissism

"People with NPD have difficulty maintaining relationships, are more likely to have mood disturbances, gravitate towards high drama, and have a much higher likelihood of using drugs and alcohol to excess." (pg. 14) Pinsky

“Patients with narcissistic behavior disorders loudly proclaim their sense of grandiose entitlement along with their expectation that others acknowledge and defer to it. Such character pathology is to be distinguished from narcissistic personality disorders, in which the behavioral picture is dominated by feelings of emptiness, a lack of vitality, and a tendency toward depression.” ~Arthur Malin, pdf link 

“Pathological narcissism spans a spectrum from failing to give others credit for their contributions to outright plagiarism or stealing of other’s ideas. Normal to pathological forms of competitiveness show themselves in innumerable areas of human activity.” ~(pg. 17) Stone

See my post: Blogduggery: This is not okay, even IF you're in Recovery

Personality disorders

"Personality disorders are associated with ways of thinking and feeling about oneself and others that significantly and adversely affect how an individual functions in many aspects of life. They fall within 10 distinct types: paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, schizotypal personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality, narcissistic personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder, dependent personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder."~DSM5 factsheet

“Diagnostic overlap cuts across all three clusters in the DSM, specifically Cluster B co-morbidity." (pg. 28)  Silverstein 
Cluster B disorders

"Despite the low numbers of individuals who are diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorders, there has been an obvious increase in narcissistic and other Cluster B styles of behavior." (pg. 9) Pinsky
AntiSocial: a pervasive disregard for the law and the rights of others. 
Borderline: extreme "black and white" thinking, instability in relationships, self-image, identity and behavior often leading to self-harm and impulsivity.
Histrionic: pervasive attention-seeking behavior including inappropriately seductive behavior and shallow or exaggerated emotions. 
Narcissistic: a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy
See my post: One of These Folks is Not Like the Others

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

"Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder in which the individual is described as being excessively preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity. This condition affects one percent of the population. First formulated in 1968, it was historically called megalomania, and is severe egocentrism." ~Wikipedia 

"Kernberg classified narcissism along a dimension of severity from normal to pathological and distinguished among high, middle, and low-functioning pathological narcissists. At the highest level, patients are able to achieve the admiration necessary to gratify their grandiose needs. These patients may function successfully during their lifetime, but are susceptible to breakdowns with advancing age as their grandiose desires go unfulfilled. At the middle level, patients present with a grandiose sense of self and have little interest in true intimacy. At the lowest level, patients present with comorbid borderline personality traits. These patients’ sense of self is generally more diffuse and less stable; they frequently oscillate between pathological grandiosity and suicidality. ~ Levy

Signs of NPD: 
Identify diffusion, primitive defenses, unstable reality demonstrating a facsimile of integration (Kernberg)
Rigid and brittle defenses
Unrealistic sense of grandeur
Aggressive and boastful
Excessive rage and angry hostility
Inability to forgive
Impaired sense of self (Payson)
Need to be admired, perceived as special
Envy, shame and guilt at other’s success
Poor self-awareness: little to no capacity to observe self
Rejects dependency (eliminates relationships with others)
Denial of attachment needs (Dimaggio)
Views others as hostile, inept, incompetent (Dimaggio)
Believes they are empathic when they aren’t (Dimaggio)
Overreacts when others set limits
Lack of engagement in work and love life
Marginally developed conscience (not fully developed)
Swings from hyper-valued to self-derogation (Dimaggio)
Aggressive reactions to perceived criticism and social rejection
States of emptiness, emotional numbing and devitalization (Dimaggio)
Did not learn to consider the needs of others/raised to see the self as “special”
Severe exploitation; possible criminality; feels above the rules and laws governing others
Sexual pathology (total inhibition or a chaotic sex life) 
See my post: Pathological Narcissism Worsens with Age; the Rest of Us Get Better
See my post: The DSM, Axis II, Cluster B
See my post: The X-Y-Z Files

Pathological Narcissism Plus +++ 

On the pathological section of the graph, a white downward arrow points toward another continuum ranging from narcissistic personality disorder to malignant narcissism to anti-social personality disorder to psychopathy. Grandiosity (self-importance), envy, high entitlement, high exploitation, and low empathy leads to callous and remorseless use of other people.  This degree of narcissism might include sadistic and/or violent behavior, even crimes. The antisocial personality disorder represents the most severe form of pathological narcissism.

Malignant Narcissism 

"A more severe level of superego dysfunction in people with a narcissistic personality structure has been captured by the term "malignant narcissism". This is a form of characterological functioning that falls between NPD and AsPD...people with malignant narcissism differ from people with AsPD since they still have the capability for loyalty and concerns for others, and for feeling guilty." ~(pg. 106) Ronningstam

"Kernberg contends that, despite the absence of depression, malignant narcissists are at high risk for suicide because such behavior represents sadistic control over others, a dismissal of a denigrated world, or a display of mastery over death." ~Levy

“The lower functioning NPD individual (in closer proximity to the sociopath on the continuum) will be prone to constantly bending the rules for himself although outwardly he may criticize others for a similar infraction or transgression…[he has] no remorse for the effects of his offenses on others and will rationalize his deceptive manipulations in any number of ways. The degree to which deceptive, harmful, and unlawful behaviors are present in an NPD individual is of utmost importance if you are in a significant relationship.” (pg. 19) Payson
Antisocial Traits
Paranoid features
Capacity to feel guilt
Take pleasure in aggressive and sadistic behavior towards others (and) self
Capable of loyalty and concern for others
Chronic suicidal behavior (as triumph)
Thrill-seeking, grandiose ecstasy (Ronningstam)
Self-righteous retaliation to maintain superiority (and restore self-esteem)
Ambitious striving for power and control (political dictators, tyrants, cult gurus)
Projection of darker traits onto others, splitting the world in two 
See my post: Normal or Malignant Narcissism?

Anti-Social Personality Disorder 

"The antisocial personality disorder (psychopathic) merits distinction from Cluster B disorders and may be considered a subgroup of the narcissistic personality". (pg. 228) Kernberg

"NPD and AsPD share interpersonal exploitativeness, lack of empathy and envy...Expoitative behavior, typical for both NPD and AsPD, may in narcissistic people be unconsciously motivated, a result of feeling superior or entitled, and serve to enhance self-image by gaining attention, admiration, and status. Exploitativeness can also stem from the narcissistic person having compromised empathy and being unable to identify the boundaries and feelings of others." (pg. 109-110) Ronningstam 
Failure to conform to social norms
Irritability and aggressiveness
Reckless disregard for safety of self or others
Consistent irresponsibility
Lack of remorse
Callous unconcern for the feelings of others
Gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility
Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships
Low frustration tolerance; low aggression threshold
Incapacity to experience guilt or to profit from experience
Blames others or offers plausible rationalizations (wikipedia link)

"Our psychopath, meanwhile, has no ethics, and thus no need for rationalizations. He has affairs because he wants to. Life, for him, is a game. The game is about figuring out how to get what he wants now, by whatever stratagems necessary. And it’s a game without rules. Without rules, there is no violation, no exploitation; and even if there is, it’s part of the game. So our psychopath makes up the rules as he goes along, duping this individual and that, lying like a shameless child as he improvises his way in and out of his schemes, sometimes smoothly, sometimes not—but always heedless of, and absolutely indifferent to, the damage he causes." ~Steve Becker 
Glibness/superficial charm
Grandiose sense of self-worth
Pathological lying
Lack of remorse or guilt
Shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)
Callousness; lack of empathy
Failure to accept responsibility for his or her own actions
Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
Parasitic lifestyle
Poor behavioral control
Lack of realistic long-term goals
Juvenile delinquency
Early behavior problems
Revocation of conditional release
Criminal versatility (Hare and colleagues)  

A Dimensional Measure
Trait narcissism

"Social-personality narcissism is associated with positive psychological well-being and high self-esteem (Sedikides et al., 2004); likewise, there is little evidence for the ‘‘brittleness’’ found in the clinical description, although there is evidence of externalizing, aggressive responding to certain provocations (e.g., Bushman & Baumeister, 1998). Nevertheless, the social-personality construct of narcissism does predict many of the behaviors noted in the clinical description (e.g., entitlement, fantasies of success, a desire for admiration)." ~Miller

How'd you score on the test? The average score in the American population is 15.3 and the score for celebrities was 17.8. If you're unfamiliar with the NPI, published an explanatory article by Dr. Drew Pinsky referring to his book, The Mirror Effect. What type of narcissism was Dr. Pinsky measuring? Normal narcissism. Subclinical narcissism. People with 'high' rather than 'low' levels of functioning.

"Narcissism is a particular constellation of personality traits." ~Dr. Drew Pinsky. 

Those seven traits measured by the NPI are: Authority; Self-sufficiency; Superiority; Vanity; Entitlement; Exhibitionism; Exploitativeness. It's easy to remember all seven if you use this acronym for narcissism: ASSvEEE. I know, don't say it. How childish. "People at the psychologically healthy end of the narcissism continuum exhibit these traits in normal, moderated levels," Pinsky writes. "People at the other end manifest their narcissistic traits in such extreme ways that they demonstrate the pathologies of narcissistic personality disorder. In between lies a spectrum of infinite gradation."

Dr. Drew Pinsky thus validates my inclusion of personality traits on the narcissistic continuum graph. While there isn't solid research proving the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) fully captures maladaptive narcissism, I think it's reasonable to assume a high score on the NPI would equate to less-than-healthy narcissism. And I think the NPI might do a fair job pointing towards psychopathology, despite being a measure of subclinical/normal narcissism.

Some of the traits measured by the NPI are suggested to be adaptive such the association between Authority and positive personal adjustment, optimism, warmth, self-confidence, friendliness, etc. (Hill) But there are two traits in the constellation that are maladaptive with a potential for physical aggression. Those two traits aren't surprising: Exploitation and Entitlement, associated with competitiveness, suspiciousness, exhibitionism, being domineering, aggressive, acquisitive and ambitious. (Hill)

"[Our] research indicated that narcissistic entitlement and exploitativeness were the narcissistic subtraits that best predicted all measures of aggression. The findings support existing research that identifies these traits as particularly maladaptive traits of narcissism." (Reidy)

So instead of focusing on Vanity, the greater concern is narcissistic Entitlement and Exploitativeness. (Who cares if someone stares at their reflection in a pool?) If someone lacks empathy, is unable to recognize their impact on others, justifies feeling good about themselves no matter who gets hurt, then narcissistic traits like exploitativeness and entitlement could lead to a marriage proposal. Now you can call me cynical AND childish 

See my post: Therapy too Expensive? Wait'll You Have a Midlife Crisis!
See my post: Healthy narcissism and Self-Admiration
See my post: Take the Narcissistic Personality Inventory
See my post: Narcissistic Traits and the NPI

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"Freedom is choosing what you do with what's been done to you." ~John-Paul Sartre

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Develop An Action Plan

If you see yourself doing, saying, and thinking things that contradict the values and principles you have striven to live by, consider talking with professional therapists, religious leaders, counselors, etc. Include people in your recovery plan who are not family members. Many people with narcissistic personalities prefer a closed circle---relying on partners (family members or intimate friends) rather than asking for outside help. The fear of being shamed,  the humiliation of dependency or deficiency, makes it seem like a good idea to keep your problem in the family. But it's not. It's a terrible plan. It's one thing to fire your therapist because you realized he was an idiot. It's entirely worse to fire your spouse. Or your best friend. Always, always ask for therapeutic support beyond what family and friends can offer.

See my post: Resources for People with a Narcissistic Personality


A free download of Chapter Four in The Mirror Effect: "The Genesis of Narcissism"

Baumeister, RoyF. Jennifer Campbell, Joachim Krueger, and Kathleen Vohs. (2003) "Does High-Self-Esteem cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness or Healthier Lifestyles?" Psychological Science in the Public Interest 44-page pdf Article

Beattie, Melody. (1987) Codependent No More. Harper/Hazeldon Books

Becker, Steve. Differentiating Narcissists and Psychopaths

Bradshaw, John. (1988) The Family: A revolutionary way of self-discovery. Health Communications, Inc.

Brown, Nina W. (2001) Children of the Self-Absorbed. New Harbingers Publications

Brown, Nina W. (2003) Loving the Self-Absorbed. New Harbingers Publications

Brown, Nina W. (1998) The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern. Praegers Publishers

Brown, Sandra L. (2009) Women Who Love Psychopaths: Inside the Relationships of Inevitable Harm with Psychopaths, Sociopaths, & Narcissists. Mask Publishing

Campbell, Keith W. and Joshua D. Foster. “The Narcissistic Self: Background, an Extended Agency Model, and Ongoing Controversies.” 24-page pdf article

Dimaggio, Giancarlo. (2012) "Rethinking What We Know". Psychiatric Times

Erikson, Eric. Stages of psychosocial development

Hill, Robert and Gregory Yousey. (1998) "Adaptive and Maladaptive Narcissism among University Faculty, Clergy, Politicians, and Librarians" 8-page pdf article

Holmes, Jeremy. (2001) Narcissism (Ideas in Psychoanalysis). Totem Books

Hotchkiss, Sandy. Why is it Always About YOU? (2002) The Free Press

Johnson, Steven M. (1987) Humanizing the Narcissistic Style.W.W. Norton & Company (pdf)

Kernberg, Otto. (1992) Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism. Jason Aronson, Inc. 

Kohut, Heinz. (1977). The Restoration of the Self.  International Universities Press.

Lancer, Darlene. (2012) Symptoms of Codependency PsychCentral

Levy, Kenneth. (2012) "Subtypes, Dimensions, Levels, and Mental States in Narcissism and
Narcissistic Personality Disorder". Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session

Lowen, Alexander. (1985) Narcissism: Denial of the True Self. Touchstone books

Maccoby, Michael. (2003) The Productive Narcissism: The Promise and Peril of Visionary Leadership. Broadway Books

Malin, Arthur. "Psychotherapy of the Narcissistic Personality Disorders". Review of Psychiatry, Volume 9. 16-page pdf link 

Miller, Joshua and Keith Campbell. "Comparing Clinical and Social Personality Conceptualizations of Narcissism". 29-page pdf

Oakley, Barbara. (2011) Pathological Altruism. Oxford University Press

Payson, Eleanor D. (2002) The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way relationship in Work, Love and Family. Julian Day Publications

Pinsky, Drew and Mark Young. (2006) "Narcissism and Celebrity". Journal Research in Personality 9-page pdf article

Pinksy, Drew and Mark Young. (2009) The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America. HarperCollins (pdf download of Chapter Four)

Rappoport, Alan. "Co-Narcissism: How We Accommodate to Narcissistic Parents". pdf article

Raskin & Terry (1988) Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) Wikipedia page

Reidy Dennis, Amos Zeichner, Josh Foster, Marc Martinez. "Effects of narcissistic entitlement and exploitativeness on human physical aggression." Science Direct link

Ronningstam, Elsa F. (2005) Identifying and Understanding the Narcissistic Personality. Oxford University Press.

Ronningstam, Elsa and John Gunderson. (1996) Narcissistic Personality: A Stable Disorder or a State of Mind?  Psychiatric Times

Russ, Eric and Jonathan Shedler, Rebekah Bradley, Drew Westen. "Refining the Construct of Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Diagnostic Criteria and Subypes." Am J Psychiatry 165:11, November 2008. 9-page pdf article

Sedikedes, Constantine, Aiden Gregg, Eric Rudich, Madoka Kumashiro and Caryl Rusbult. "Are Normal Narcissists Psychologically Healthy?: Self-Esteem Matters" pdf article

Silverstein, Marshall L. (2006) Disorders of the Self: A personality Guided Approach. American Psychological Association pdf article

Stone, Michael H. (2008) “Normal Narcissism: An Etiological and Ethological Perspective,” Disorders of Narcissism: Diagnostic, Clinical and Empirical Implications by Elsa Ronningstam, editor.  

Swartz, Allan. "The Narcissist versus the Narcissistic Personality Disorder" on

Symington, Neville. (1993) A New Theory. Karnac Books.

Tamborski, Michael and Ryan P. Brown. (2012) "The Measurement of Trait Narcissism in Social-Personality Research" Link

Twenge, Jean and W. Keith Campbell. (2009) The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. Free Press

Twenge, Jean, Sara Konrath, Joshua Foster, Keith Campbell and Brad Bushman (2008). "Egos Inflating Over Time: A Cross-Temporal Meta-Analysis of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory". Journal of Personality 28-page pdf article 

Whitfield, Charles. (1991) Co-dependence: Healing the Human Condition. Health Communications, Inc.

Zomerland, Gudrun. Narcissism and Co-narcissism.


  1. Amazing piece of work, this post. Such a useful and lucid compilation, with great resources and research. Btw, I took the NPI twice for myself--first time, being overly kind to myself, and I scored 10. Took it a second time, being brutally self-honest, and scored a 16 (high on authority, and higher than I'd like on entitlement). Then I took it for ET, being as generous as I could. ET scored 28. Then for my NF, again being as honest as I could. He scored 36. Whoah.

    My own higher score was influenced by longtime narc fleas and wounds, which I'm working on. The lower score was influenced by my age now (vanity not high anymore. Gotta be real). I suspect that overall therefore I average somewhere in the 12-15 range, depending on how things are going in my life. But always high on authority. That's probably both personality/temperament, and years in my profession.

    I really admire the way you capture in this post how we are all implicated somewhere in the Narcissistic Spectrum; this is the best cross-referenced analysis I've read, and it's written with your usual care and wit. Great references too: "if it's pink, it's a link." Brilliant! Thank you for doing this hard work of researching, writing, organizing for us. You help so many people. love CS

    1. Hello dear CS!

      I appreciate you so much. I didn't expect anyone to reply to this post because it doesn't really invite conversation. I half-expect someone to take umbrage with my organization---putting codependency on the "unhealthy narcissism" continuum; and yet Heinz Kohut's developmental narcissism model offers hope for healthy change.

      My primary reason for organizing a graph was to create a framework of "my" view of narcissism after having read enough books and papers to write a master's thesis. Now I can point to a specific part of the graph and people can read the linked articles and books themselves. Hopefully, people will understand that narcissism is a part of everyone's personality and eliminate some of the either/or, black/white, good/evil thinking. However, as you know---there's a huge difference between normal and pathological narcissism and even then, there's a big difference between NPD and AsPD. I love talking with people about their experiences with narcissists because "behavior is the pathology". It's what narcissists do that defines the disorder.

      Like you, my NPI score was lower than average and I had to make myself "tick" boxes that felt uncomfortable. I noticed cultural taboos coming up for me and gender restrictions. We can take the test again, allowing ourselves to sit with the thoughts and feelings that arise when we ask ourselves those questions! Very very interesting...

      Your idea about narc fleas and wounds suppressing the score is interesting! I've wondered about "unhealthy narcissism" when reporting scores as low as 3.

      One of the common low scores for adults raised in narcissistic families is entitlement. My daughter and I call this our sense of "havingness"...and some people need to increase their havingness in order to be healthy. They need to believe they DESERVE to have nice things, good friends, happiness, and love. Some people need to believe they deserve to live. The narcissistic family can severely distort a child's self-worth and entitlement.

      My nephew took the test and scored a 3 which gave me a good sense of what I could do to help him increase his sense of self-worth and "havingness." Being born with a disability takes a toll on a child's self-worth, when acceptance by peers is fundamental to self-esteem. Having an absent father takes another toll and losing a beloved uncle (my X) can be the final knock-down.

      P.S. Did you notice Hill and Yousey's article in the bibliography? "Of four occupations sampled, politicians scored highest in total narcissism, as well as in leadership and authority; university faculty and librarians did not score particularly high or low on any narcissism indices; and clergy were lowest in exploitativeness and entitlement..."

      Love and gratitude,

  2. All I can say is "Wow". I have pushed you to write a book, and with this, I think you have. They only thing missing is your own vast experience with narcissists and the destruction they wrought.

    I have so many thoughts on what I just read. It really throws me into a deeper process with the numerous narcissists around the FOO and in a previous marriage, teachers (instructors that I paid dearly for for years...) insulting public people, and more.

    Since I have written about my FOO and in particular about my NM...and everything for years went to her via a very stupid and ignorant new sisterinlaw, I pulled back from such public comments. However, I just don't care anymore. The destruction she has caused to so many people, and those that don't realize it , or are just opportunists waiting for the will...has been extreme. It has been immoral. But then again, by any standards, Narcissists of such extreme proportions are immoral.

    A few points:

    "Kohut’s self-psychology describes the narcissism familiar to people in “recovery work” since unhealthy narcissism is a predictable problem if we were raised in a dysfunctional family." I totally agree with this. It is just about impossible to escape. I know for myself, raised in an extremely dysfunctiional family, exhibited by both the mother and father....(the father an alcoholic and the mother a fulling functioning narcissist...though there wasn't any words for her then...) that I dwell in a place of fantasy and illusion for years. I felt shame, afraid of feeling anger (maybe because this would validate how messed up my family was?), depression and dejection....that this was 'valid' because of my family. So what does one do? They elevate themselves in their minds, a panacea for the abuse and neglect, and in some cases, it's a question of over reaching.

    We isolate ourselves by our actions, and in my case, we bring over some of the 'maternal' behavior that we know: not good, not constructive, punatative, just destructive. We teach/raise what we know because of so much unresolved anger. Talking to my just 26 year old son the other night on his birthday, I apologized to him for all my own emotional abuse: it was keeping the home fires burning. He was wonderful about this: said that with a mother like mine, I never had a chance to become a 'normal' mother....but that I was doing the best I could. We talked about the first time she met him (we adopted him at three years) and she slapped him across the face because he 'spit' at her. I should have taken her to the airport at that point, but didn't. But this is something that can never be forgiven. But it can be understood in the nature of an extreme narcissist.

    Do we ever recover? I wonder. The fleas are deep, the seeds of our childhood are deeper. However, reading what you have written is so damn helpful, CZ.

    One other minor point: this healthy approach to finiteness that a destructive narcissist can't obtain: So true. The chief NM in my life (actually now outside of my life...finally...NC applies here for sanity) is at 93, incredibly afraid of the end. When I drove her through a beautiful, historic memorial park one beautiful autumn day, she hunched down in the passenger's seat and growled "Get me out of here, get me out of here." I thought I was listening to a demon! Didn't even recognize her voice. She was that afraid...but she had this weird smile on her face. At that point, I started to seriously try to find out 'what' she was. M.Scott Peck's first book: "People of the Lie" gave the earliest answers. You continue that much more extensively.

    With love and respect,

    1. Hello LadyNyo, thank you so much for commenting!

      You wrote: "in my case, we bring over some of the 'maternal' behavior that we know: not good, not constructive, punatative, just destructive. We teach/raise what we know because of so much unresolved anger."

      The denial people have about their family-of-creation is stunning. That a child could be raised by narcissistic parents without suffering lifelong implications, is absurd! Far better to admit we have have a few "challenges" (lol) and take responsibility for the course of our lives. We are the ones who have to live with ourselves. Some of us have a greater capacity for insight than others; some of us are more resilient. I don't want to clump everyone in the same group since we're unique. When we become parents ourselves and "catch ourselves in the act" as you have done, that's a defining moment for an ACoN. We now have the opportunity to change our "unconscious parenting."

      We treat our children the way we were treated unless we're lucky---unless we have that pivotal moment when we take a deep breath and vow to do better. For myself, therapy was the best way to look at myself as I was, not how I wanted to see me. I needed guidance because like most people, I'd like to think I'm better than I really am. ha!

      You wrote: "He was wonderful about this: said that with a mother like mine, I never had a chance to become a 'normal' mother....but that I was doing the best I could."

      That's so touching, when your son offered you some peace about your "mothering." He sounds like a nice young man, recognizing your human limitations. After all, your mother is a total shit ass and you aren't so right there, you've done your job for evolution. ha!

      Another problem ACoN parents have is holding themselves to impossible expectations that no human being could live up to. Well, anyone other than super moms on Time covers, nursing kindergartners and typing memos to foreign dignitaries while defending their thesis to an academic committee and making homemade cheese on the side---oh my holy hell give me a break!) Now I look at MEDIA images and create a realistic backstory---the scenes that weren't photoshopped; the sounds that weren't recorded; the story that wasn't told. Getting Real and Grounding Myself in Reality is MY lifework. (Which is why your fabulous dance stories make me smile---getting back in your body and out of your head.)

      Not calling your mother to task when she spit in your son's face may have been the point when you could start to see that your mother was abusive, not you. It can take a long time for people to be strong enough to face their abusive childhoods. When you start to wake up from the fog (maybe in your thirties) you can't leap too soon and fall apart because after all, you're a wife and mother. Your family needs you. So we Sneak Up on Healing bit-by-bit even if it takes an entire lifetime. Facing our imperfections, warts and fleas really isn't anything to be afraid of. What we should be afraid of is "unconscious parenting." Don't you thank your lucky stars and kiss the moon each time you "catch yourself in the act?"

      p.s. About the death thing? I used to think narcissists feared death because they didn't believe in an afterlife. That's not the answer. I think they fear death because they don't have control. Control is essential to their 'sanity' which could be why malignant narcissists view suicide as an ultimate victory over death. They controlled life up to their very last breath. My X spoke of suicide before he left and he still does. It's not an expression of his inner pain and emptiness as other people's suicidal threats might be. It's an expression of his ultimate victory over life itself.

      Love and respect back,

  3. Hi CZ, LN, I agree that the fleas are deep. They are really hard to eliminate and some of mine will probably never go away. But I can see them in action, and reflect on them now, with honesty and efforts to self-correct. This is something that pathological narcissists seem incapable of doing. The more in denial they are, the worse it is.

    One more thing I wanted to say in my previous comment but omitted--you don't put up new posts as frequently as some others do, CZ, but when you do, they always go way beyond your own situation and point the way for others. This is something I deeply admire about you. Unlike me, you never post something just to kvetch (neither do you, LN). You are good role models, as bloggers.

    1. Dear CS,

      I'd love to be a model for somebody other than Lane Bryant. ;-P

      One of my readers told me she hated the way I blogged because it wasn't personal enough. She could read a textbook; she wanted personal situations she could learn from. Well, I used to write about my divorce in an open manner, including direct dialogue from our arguments/confrontations. Those "message board" stories are hilarious in retrospect and that's what got me started writing a blog---my appreciative and loyal audience that felt tremendous relief they weren't me. When LadyNyo encourages me to write a book, THAT book that would be a hit BUT if it were, I'd be paying alimony to my X. It's in the divorce agreement.

      "Of course it is," you're thinking.

      A "taker" will make sure he gets his share from the "giver". I'm sure my X's insistence he share my future earnings was a way for him to mock me. He knew I had no income potential. It was another insult to my ego. That I was reeling from cognitive dissonance (how does a man leave his family of thirty+ years??!!!) made me a sitting duck in divorce mediation. My confusion increased his aggression. When the little dizzy ducky is swimming in circles, that's an opportune time for great big hunters to load, aim and fire. And they do.

      I started writing on forums in 2002. That's where my journey replicates yours CS, because I was focused on 'my' situation, hoping other people would fill me in with the technical stuff. Everything clicked when first reading about narcissism and while it made sense to me, it took years to understand it well enough to write about narcissism in a less personal way. Running a forum has 'shaped' my blogging style, too. My primary goal in blogging was to attract members to our forum. (We have limited exposure on search engines so people have a hard time finding us).

      Then I discovered how much I needed to blog for me. My problems haven't gone away just 'cuz the rat bazturd left. This blog has been an important way for me to work through my struggles with both FOO and with the people in my household. We do a very difficult thing trying to create a family with two divorced women, my adult daughter and 21-year old nephew. I'm not sure I could have done this without psych studies under my belt and a healthy dose of 12-step recovery skills.

      Plus, each year deepens my understanding of pathology and the way it impacts people. Now that Twenge and Campbell have reported increasing levels of narcissism in our society, I'm curiouser and curiouser. I am sooooooooo grateful to have met people who are curious people like me, willing to engage in vulnerable and intimate conversations. We are trying to be the best people we can be, to live and love our family-friends-and-animals, to write good posts and dance the flamenco and bake perfect Focaccia and be grateful, so grateful, we're alive.


  4. Amen to that, CZ.

    Recovery....from everything, physical (I broke a wrist last year and I am still numb and crippled in that arm and hand. In flamenco, I look like I'm dragging a long over my head.) to mental/emotional.

    A few points: The quote by Steven Johnson irks me.

    These people are not character disordered. They are people tortured by narcissistic injury and crippled by developmental arrests in functioning which rob them of the richness of life they deserve. They are good people, contributing people who are hurting---and often very badly. They are living and suffering the narcissistic style.” ~Steven Johnson (pg. 3)
    * * * * * *

    "To only stress their suffering could lead to sentimentality and collusion." ~Linda

    Who sez they area good people? my direct, personal experience says that they pervert every sort of human emotion and relationship to their own benefit...short, childish, got to have it immediately...benefit. That is part of the entitlement behavior. they will stop at nothing.

    And sitting around demanding their 'entitlement' (in their own eyes, either class, culturally defined...) doesn't mean they 'deserve' a good life. It just means they are crazed with entitlement.
    They have no real self-reflection...and like vampires, narcissists don't see themselves as they truly are in a mirror of introspection. They ain't got none. At least the ones I know and suffered.

    And when in HELL did narcissism become a 'style'? Like a fashion trend? Something a person can throw on or off? Hell no, it's a deep seated pathological ingraining that is destructive to life around them. I will never forget this: when my father had his stroke, the N said first thing when I got there: "I don't want to be married to a man in a wheelchair." Don't worry, in 9 more months you won't be. He will be dead. This is not a 'style' it's the degeneration, or perhaps the fulfillment of pathological narcissism somewhere on the spectrum.

    No, they are not living the narcissistic style. They are metering out the corruption, the perversion, the destruction of what narcissism does. It can't be explained or apologized away.

    The quote beneath it is more to the matter. Our sympathies should be for the real sufferers of these paths. They are the ones whose lives have been truncated and they are the ones who are truly suffering. I sincerely believe that path narc. don't have the ability towards emphathy. They make the proper noises, but it doesn't come from the heart.

    We start from the personal. We start from our experience, and hopefully we broaden that from reading, from our angst, from therapy...IF those therapists are versed in what narcissism does and how dangerous it is...the fall out from the early childhood. Kohut was right in that narcissism is proper at a certain age, but when it lags and grow over into middle age (actually early 20's I think is the age where things get nasty or firm up on this issue) you got people, narcissists that use their own experience and victories over others to cement a lifetime of destruction and dismay.

    However, your article here CZ, is something to go back to numerous times. It's so damn helpful. I just wish that 30 years ago....more...since I was a teen, that there was something like this around. There is now, so there is no excuse for those of us who have suffered at the hands of narcissists to continue our confusion.

    Thank you, both of you.


    1. Morning guys, I'm with Lady N on not sentimentalizing the suffering of pathological narcissists (and I know you are too, CZ). Most of us can tell the difference between suffering and the deep, invested pleasure narcissists take in spewing their contempt at others. I've been on the receiving end of my mother's contempt my entire life, and whatever suffering she had she externalized and dumped onto me, making me her emotional scapegoat. My father, he's not suffering at all! He's a classic grandiose narcissist, and there aint no suffering in that man. He's all self, all entitlement, all the time, and always has been. There hasn't been a moment of serious self-reflection on what kind of father (emotionally) he's been, ever. For ACoNs who have spent decades struggling to understand what motivates the cruelty and disregard of their NP, there comes a point when we say Basta!

      Re the article, though, having the multiple perspectives on narcissism, that allow for paths to understanding, is immensely helpful especially for those of us who also carry on and pass along our parent's disorder, who want and need to understand ourselves. We can only do so by comprehending how tiny pathological narcissists actually feel underneath it all. This is something I experienced first hand with my father this summer. I saw the weakness beneath the narcissistic rage. It's been there all along, but the power of money always masked it.

    2. "when in HELL did narcissism become a 'style'? Like a fashion trend?" ~LadyN

      hahaha! What a great post to wake up to!! Wonderful to read! You aren't the only person who disagrees with Dr. Johnson's humanistic approach. I think by using 'style', he was broadening our understanding of narcissism without limiting it to a "personality disorder" (mental illness). He offers a kinder approach than Scott Peck's "People of the Lie."

      Peck's writing quickly divided people into evil or good categories and with my history, that's a dangerous proposition. Too many folks have called themselves good while they were doing horrific things to people perceived to be evil! I tried to go with the 'evil people' thing that was fundamental to forums and blogs in 2002. I even read Baumeister's psychological work on evil and Zimbardo's too---hoping to liberate the concept of evil. It might be my limitation, my inability to move beyond a religious upbringing, but I understand where you and others are coming from when applying the term 'evil' to intentionally malicious and harmful behavior. If evil could be used to describe a human being, the Psychopath/Malignant Narcissist would be a closer fit than the narcissist. That's entirely my opinion and as you know my opinions are subject to change.

      "To only stress their suffering could lead to sentimentality and collusion."~Linda Martin

      I hoped this graph would encourage disagreement so thanks for mentioning Johnson's quote. Martin's quote was intended to be an anchor "ker-plunking" the flood of sympathetic feelings and romantic fantasies Johnson's "reprimand" stirs up. Reminders that narcissists are suffering, that they were injured as infants, have low self-esteem, etc. beckons our Inner Florence Nightingales to bandage THEIR wounds when we're hemorrhaging emotionally ourselves.

      I hoped by placing Martin's quote next to Johnson's, people would have an immediate Reality Check on their reactions (sympathy, self-blame, guilt and rescue fantasies). It might even be a moment of self-awareness, realizing those feelings are there (and easily triggered, too!). I have the Nightingale Complex and that's why I do sneaky things like placing Martin's quote right next to Johnson's. ;-P

    3. You wrote: "I've been on the receiving end of my mother's contempt my entire life, and whatever suffering she had she externalized and dumped onto me, making me her emotional scapegoat. My father, he's not suffering at all! He's a classic grandiose narcissist, and there ain't no suffering in that man." ~CS

      The new DSM5 retained DSM-IV definitions for the NPD with additional criteria. It's my understanding that a narcissistic person (with a 'style', lol) must be suffering a degree of impairment in order to qualify for a NPD, distinguishing it from normal narcissism. Normal, as the graph points out, does not necessarily mean good-and-healthy. Might someone be pathologically narcissistic yet as long as life rewards them with success, fame, and/or fortune, they don't suffer significant impairment? They will still have a destructive impact on others if those other people continue to meet the narcissist's needs. They may never suffer a breakdown/impairment bringing their pathological narcissism to a psychologist's attention.

      What has to be considered though is the price narcissist's "supporters" pay for being in relationship with him/her. Untreated narcissists make other people SICK. Staying in relationship with narcissists requires a loss of self/individuation because of demands for perfect admiration, perfect "supply". It means children must cater to their narcissistic parents, living a false life because 'who they really are' threatens the connection to the N-parent. So even if the N-parent is not clinically depressed, failing at work and in their personal life which might bring them into the NPD clinic, they cause significant distress and misery for the people who love them.

      Especially IF those people are ignorant about narcissism (and most of us are). My therapists never brought up the term and I managed to get through therapy without resorting to labels of any kind. I would have preferred being informed about narcissism/borderline conditions to better understand what "I" was up against, as a child AND as an adult. It's important to learn about ourselves, our reactions, beliefs, weaknesses, triggers, etc. That's still not enough because we need to understand that while we can mature our immature narcissism (Brown/Kohut), narcissists may or may not be able to do that. If they cannot 'grow and change' overtime, then we must learn NEW ways to deal with their condition/impairment/style.

      Professionals hate seeing layfolk use labels like "narcissist" or "borderline". I think it's imperative for us to understand pathology, protecting ourselves from further injury. I cannot emphasize too much, the importance of EDUCATION in a society that's becoming increasingly narcissistic. The line between pathology and normal is blurring as people become more individualistic (such as Masterson mentioned in the video I posted this morning).

    4. I don't care what the DSM says. I know for a fact that my father is a pathological narcissist, of the grandiose variety. He's not malevolent; but he's married to another controlling narcissist, the two of them co-feed each other, and he worked in an industry for many years that lavishly rewarded CEO narcissism, as well as living in a moment in history that still entirely privileged patriarchy. His entire life is set up exactly how he wants it; he has no complaints about anything because he literally doesn't care about what he doesn't control. I agree with you that the "professionals" may have quite limited awareness of what falls outside their diagnostic purview. CS

  5. Whew! This article is so gooood that it makes the hair stand up on my arms! I think that Nina Brown nailed it on Destructive Narcissism.

    Shallow emotions
    Lack of empathy
    Indifference to others
    Strong admiration and attention needs
    A strong self-focus and self-absorption
    Unresponsive to others needs or concerns; manipulative
    Grandiose, arrogant and contemptuous
    Consideration of oneself as unique and special
    An inability to relate to others in a meaningful way
    An inability to grasp one's core self

    Wow...,my N certainly scores a 100 on all of these! These have been the most outstanding traits in her behavior with others. It sometimes confuses people because she tries to 'impress' people, depending upon how 'valuable' they are to her socially, etc. But it does all fall through. The refrain I have heard from so many others over her life is 'what is wrong with her?'. Well, since the public has little actual knowledge about the basis elements of narcissism, this is the reason for the confusion. But people move away from her, and have all her life. She complains that she is lonely, but hell yes. When you have only 'user' relationships with people, and have contempt for them, people start to smell a rat. That's if they aren't getting some bennies from being the narcissistic supply. With my brother and sisterinlaw, they still,...after 40 plus years, are trying to 'get her to the Cross'...which is hilarious because she insists that they are idiots and she is an agnostic.

    I want to raise something here: From what I have seen, in the case of my mother and ex-husband, the core of their narcissism has to deny God, a superior power, etc. Very much part of the narcissistic syndrome (when they really are hitting it with all pistons...) is their superiority to all 'else' over them. That's any authority, legal, political, ethical, moral....and any random.spirituality. Their ego can not tolerate this. They must be Supreme in their eyes, unreproachable.

    And what Peck says about Evil, I think we have forgotten. We, as modern intellectuals, aren't comfortable with the rather religious concept of evil. But I think it does exist, and it's not with horns and a pitchfork. How much of evil does a true narcissist do to others? Peck says somewhere in People of the Lie that a predominant characteristic of those he calls evil is scapegoating. In their hearts they consider themselves above reproach. The attack any one who does reproach them. They sacrifice everyone to maintain their self-image of prefection. Deep down, or not so deep down, they feel they are faultless. All the traits of this pathology feeds this.

    Sadism: I don't know exactly, but I feel that when narcissism crosses with a constant sadistic behavior, it becomes a pathology. It attempts to destroy, to main, to blot out not only self-confidence and joy, but very lives. It's a meanness that goes beyond the word. It cripples, and it cripples with glee. I think CS, that your mother, along with mine, have strong sadistic tendencies. This is the only way to 'explain' their behavior towards us. Three years ago I got my last letter from her, and it was so typical of the attempts of a destructive narcissist. I was to blame for all inability for her to form any 'real' relationship with her, I was to blame for her not being able to love me. This is classical crap from narcissists. IS evil, because what it attempts (and does) to the other.

    I have forgotten how powerful Peck's early book was. He was one of the first voices on this pathology, and the very first psychiatrist who brought forth the concept of evil in Narcissism.

    Thank you, both of you. We learn together, and we learn from the hard knocks of life.


    1. Both ET and my NF correspond nearly entirely to Nina Brown's list. My mother does a much better job of pretending to have empathy and passing for normal than my father does. She's a covert destructive narcissist. She and Lady Nyo's mother both did complete dump jobs on us, in letters a few years ago. I just had something "malevolent switch on" in me and she has tried "everything." Classical crap indeed.

    2. LadyNyo wrote: "I want to raise something here: From what I have seen, in the case of my mother and ex-husband, the core of their narcissism has to deny God, a superior power, etc...Their ego can not tolerate this. They must be Supreme in their eyes, unreproachable."

      Or they "identify" with God and punish others. ;-P As I recall from reading Peck a long time ago, his point was the "un-submitted will", is that right? For the record, I have no problem with people believing whatever they want as long as it doesn't infringe on my freedom to do likewise. ;-P Discussions about religion get me in hot water so I'm treading carefully here. I've screwed up a time or two online and ended up with Hate Blogs about my hardheartedness and narcissism. The problem wasn't my heart or my narcissism. The problem was my inability to handle delicate situations via email. Always use BIFF *brief, informative, friendly, firm* when asking someone to stop proselytizing for-or-against God.

      I decided to google Scott Peck yesterday, since he created such a stir with "People of the Lie". Since I dismissed his book because he indulged in exorcisms and labeled narcissists as evil, I googled Mr. Peck's life story. I have this pesky skepticism about self-help leaders, especially those who don't live what they preach. This is a brief excerpt from an article you might find interesting:

      "To the millions of people who read his [Peck's] 1978 masterwork "The Road Less Traveled", that's no surprise--after all, the self-help book's very first sentence warns that "Life is difficult." What's surprising is how difficult Peck made life for everyone around him. The man who advised seekers that "commitment is the foundation, the bedrock of any genuinely loving relationship" humiliated his long-suffering wife Lily with an endless, anonymous string of infidelities with both women and men. While his book preached that "delaying gratification is the only decent way to live," he smoked, drank heavily, and let his children roll joints for him because they enjoyed his sometimes oppressive company more when he was stoned. "Children who are truly loved . . . unconsciously know themselves to be valued. This knowledge is worth more than any gold," he waxed in his writing, but his funeral notice cold-bloodedly announced he was survived by two children, not three, since one of his daughters despised him."

      "You cannot write people out of life," declares writer Arthur Jones, who considers Peck's postmortem excise of his daughter the most "horrifying" transgression recounted in his 2007 biography The Road He Travelled: The Revealing Biography of M. Scott Peck. "

      This is the url:

      Maybe his inability to walk his talk shouldn't dismiss his contributions; however, when someone lives his life like a narcissist, you have to question his projected animosity towards his fellow narcissists. Whenever someone's True Story is as hypocritical as it appears Peck's life was, you gotta question the narcissism of his thought processes. I ordered the book about his life (The Road He Travelled) and will read it and post. Then we can talk about what happens when normal people follow Pied Pipers. YIKES

    3. Have you seen Vikram Gandhi's 2011 documentary "Kumare"? It's a must. I just finished watching it. Talk about guru expose! An astonishing and disturbing and funny and gruesome documentary. Never seen anything like it, but your comment here makes me think you would find it way interesante.

    4. Wow. Again, the documentary "Kumare." I agree with you, if Peck's life was as narcissistic as it sounds like it was, it throws his writings into question. Still, the whole walk the talk truth is open to some questioning, as Vikram Gandhi does in the documentary when he pretends to be a guru (as an expose) and ends up with a cult following of people whose lives he transforms. Then he's faced with the task of "the unveiling." YIKES

    5. YES! I watched Kumare on Netflix. What interested me the most were Kumare's followers, their belief in him as a guru awakening parts of themselves that had always been there--even if their guru was a liar and/or hypocrite. What WE bring to the relationship changes our lives and usually good people are grateful, attributing their insight and competence to the guru. Unfortunately, some of those gurus believe their own press.

      The book on Peck's personal life finally showed up in the mail. I bought a used copy so it took forever get it. I can't possibly get to it for another month.

      I like investigations into people's behavior when they purport to be wise and leader-ish, tru-ish and all things authentic. I am particularly interested in New Age leaders (or New Wage as Cosmic Connie puts it) since so damn many of these folks have turned out to be full-fledged narcissists. They say one thing and do another, putting themselves above the rules of common morality. The people who admire New Age Gurus, even emulating them as some kind of super powers, are part of the problem.

      The way Peck went on and on about evil, made me wonder if he weren't "splitting", casting narcissists into the bad/evil category while he himself had specific narcissistic traits that he must have hated in himself. Projecting maybe? No offense to anyone who adores Scott Peck but seriously, you can't act like a narcissist and not be one. That's my big deep thought for the day, ha!

    6. Sorry for belated catch-up here CZ! I will be very interesting to hear about Peck's personal life. I hope you'll review the book when you can. The Kumare documentary interested me because Vikram Gandhi had to reveal who he really was, he was so torn up about it. It made me realize though that people are so desperate for someone to make them feel "seen" or "heard," that they'll project it on anyone who presents to them as a screen, the way that those poor baby monkeys in the experiment clung to terrycloth 'mothers' on wire. It's so deeply sad, people feel so very alone, even when surrounded by those who supposedly love them. It IS evident that many "new age" leaders are pathological narcissists. I can watch any of those PBS documentaries anymore that they run during "pledge-drives": the Wayne Dyer crap, the all those 'health' 'experts.' Thank god Vikram Gandhi had the graciousness to stick with his project and not ever ever forget that he was playing "Elmer Gantry." And I agree with you, if Peck acted like a narcissist, hurt his children and treated people in his life like crap, that does give one pause. He lost me with the exorcism rituals crap; but his description of "people of the lie" still has a lot of usefulness, just like some of the infamous Sam Vaknin (your best bud-- :-) ) has had some useful things to say, even though he's utterly preposterous as a person. xo CS

    7. I have read many of Peck's books. I remember he did mention infidelity & thought he felt remorseful. Don't think so anymore - disappointed to hear about how harmful he was to others & self.

  6. Yes, and in the face of an attack of the 'mother' it really does a willie on our heads! LOL!
    Narcissists can NEVER accept the responsibility for what they do or say...therefore they rewrite history as to what happened, what they said, everything. Even the time of day. LOL! It's amazing to me how our minds become like recorders when faced with these things. Perhaps it's an evolutionary defense mechanism because we know their behavior and what it does?

    One thing I have learned recently, and again from CZ's key here, is the lines blur. Behavior crosses lines, and jumbled together, it's hard for us mere mortals to get a total picture of the Narcissist. But over years, decades of conflict with them, we get a much clearer picture, and the pieces fall together. Actually, Narcissists look powerful, but they are a MESS inside. Mine puffs up like a blow fish, and tries to wither anyone who contradicts her on anything...and it's usually minor stuff. I always wondered why her damn heart didn't give out, but I think there must be studies somewhere that all that adrenaline clears the arteries? At 93 she is a virilent as ever!. She puts on quite a show....the eye brow goes up, she pulls herself up to her (under) 5 foot height, her face gets rigid, her eyes spark, she is in the full throttle of anger and YOU WANT TO SLAP HER SILLY! LOL! We call her 'the Little Napeolon" behind her back.


    1. Unhealthy narcissism fluctuates. In a crisis or during active addiction, our defenses take over and we're more reactive, more defensive, and suspicious of other people's motives. This passes, though. What defines pathological narcissism is the rigidity of the traits, the rigidity of the pattern. You can look at the narcissist's life and what you'll see is a Lack of Change. They might change homes, change partners, change jobs but they act the same way they did decades ago. I hope younger generations will have a chance to correct "narcissistic patterns" before they reach midlife. Psychotherapists are making headway. Education will empower those in relationship with someone who has a narcissistic personality. Sure, people can get a divorce...but what do you do when the narcissist is your child? Yourself?

      There's hope for change but old narcissists are probably beyond help---there seems to be a window of time and at 93, that window's nailed shut. Ever since learning about "lonely old narcissists", I've had a different perspective on nasty people in retirement homes whom nobody wants to visit. Maybe, just maybe---the problem isn't their kids.

      Little Napoleon indeed!

  7. Well, Peck DID warn that his book was a 'dangerous book'. And it was, in part because no one really, outside of the religious community, ever made the connections with psychology and evil.

    Psychiatry was uncomfortable with this term. It was too...religious. I got his book down last night and after a few chapters, put it down. It triggers things in me that made me uncomfortable, probably because 20 some years ago it was the first 'answer' as to what my mother was: a narcissist of some dimension. That gave some answers to this issue (and countered one stupid therapist who said: "She's your mother, you have to love your mother". Not at all helpful) but also raised more questions.

    I have escaped seeing evil in a religious context because I escaped church and most religious principles. But! I believe that evil exists not in a religious sense, but in a moral sense...of course you can choose, but I don't have the religious experience. If a woman says: "I don't want to be married to a man in a wheelchair", right after he has had his first and only stroke, what does that mean? What does that mean for the care of that person? Will he be shunned because he is a burden and the other can't maintain their usual routine? They will have to attend to the needs of the patient? This to me, is an example (and a personal one) of what evil as a moral question is.

    Peck says this and I think it must have made some impression because I highlighted it those two decades ago...LOL!

    "If evil people can't be defined by the illegality of their deeds or the magnititude of their sins, then how are we to define them? The answer is by the consistency of their sins. While usually subtle, their destructiveness is remarkably consistent. This is because those who have 'crossed over the line' are characterised by their absolute refusal to tolerate the sense of their own sinfulness."

    Ok, I'm not comfortable with the useage of the word sin, but that is because I don't have a religious background but I certainly understand what Peck is getting at. I CERTAINLY understand this 'consistency' issue. And their refusal to even look at what they do and what they wrought in others.

    Perhaps that is sin...

    And to me, that is the 'sin' of Narcissism. The wanton destruction of people by the pathological behavior of the narcissist. And I truly believe that pathology is involved in much of the spectrum of narcissism. It's a mental disease, regardless how much it hurts the other...underneath the skin of the narcissist? It's a jungle in there.


  8. I re-read this post this morning, and am struck all over again by what a big piece of work it is, what a gift to have such a clear and thorough compendium. Thank you for doing this, for all of us! xo CS An instant classic.

    1. It was a hugely big piece of work, yes. It has summed up years of study, collecting my links in a usable fashion that has already helped me. I hope it will be of benefit to others, too! Thank you for commenting, CS. I appreciate so much, your validation AND your gracious appreciation.


  9. Hi CZ,
    I'm going to need to read this a few times to get my head round it ;) It's a brilliantly compiled comprehensive guide to the whole spectrum of Narcissism. I really appreciate the (huge) amount of work you put into it. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.
    Kara xx

  10. Hi CZ,
    Thank you for putting this together. This is really helpful and I am bookmarking because I know I will come back to it. I'm analytical and the visual aid was helpful in keeping all the descriptions in order. I kept going back to the bigger picture in it and then drilling down to the details with your posts that go into more detail.

    The other way this is extremely helpful for me personally is the conversations I have with DH. When I use the word narcissism to describe my FOO he sees no problem with using the 'N' word but as soon as I use with his FOO he thinks they are bad people. And I often have to remind him there is a range because he sees the extremeness of my mother (where I put her between destructive and pathological) as equating to his friends, and that isn't the case. I am going to show him this post and I hope the thought and research and clarity will help in our discussions about how to deal with our FOO and friends.

    This brought clarity to my own narcissism and understanding it better and what work I will need to make in developing healthy narcissism.

    Thank you so much. I'm bookmarking this over at IBC.

    Hugs, TR

    1. Hi TR!

      Scrolling down to the specific information is the intended method for using this graph! It would have been really cool if I could have linked descriptions in the graph but that's way beyond my technical expertise.

      If you or anyone has suggestions or questions, please don't hesitate asking.

      Hugs to you, too!

  11. This unhealthy, age-inappropriate narcissism frustrates intimate relationships, especially when partners aren't in sync, leapfrogging their way to old age.

    "Age-inappropriate" is bullshit because you cannot derive an ought from an is. Furthermore it is subjective. The emotional age is different, which means the ability to cope with emotional distress.

    1. I so enjoy rational interlocutors challenging Kohut's theory of age-inappropriate narcissism. ;-P

      Have you read Kohut? He provides a way to understand developmental delays, the places we get stuck in our narcissistic muck over a lifetime of experiences. My comment about "Leapfrogging to old age" refers to each person's individual maturation in a committed relationship. They are not in sync all the time, thus the idea of "leapfrogging." And sometimes one person goes as far as they can go in which case the relationship might end---a risk we take when agreeing to partner with someone.

      Before psychobabble dominated conversations, we used to tell our kids: "Marry someone who can grow up with you." Great advice but I don't think there's any way to determine that ahead of time.

  12. Thanks for these great posts and articles. It deepens my understanding of my relation that has been killing me for so long.

    Many people I have had contact with have said that psychopaths and narcissists are the same crap, and that they are soulless, but I always sensed the fragile self under the layers and layers of armor of my partner and your writing gives my own feelings about it credibility.

    That my partner has severe destructive narcisstic traits and she is probably bordering to NPD is very clear to me. For instance, she scored ~25 in an online NPI test, based on her own replies to questions I asked over a period of time and the emotional roller coaster I have been going through tells the tale.

    I have however come to the conclusion that I (as a bit of a co-dependant person) will never be able to survive in the environment caused by this Jekyll/Hyde-persona, but at least I start to understand the mechanisms.


    PS: And I do agree on the font ;)

  13. Wow! I can't believe I haven't found this site before (too busy buried in academic research, I guess).

    I just want to compliment you on what an impressive job you've done compiling and translating all the research. Truly amazing. I love the graphic for the continuum with the NPI score! You've brought nuance and depth to an often polarizing subject, and I've no doubt the information here helps a huge number of people. I notice you posted my huff interview--not my favorite one, since I never really got to say we were discussing high spectrum narcissists or even what that meant. Ah well.

    I've got a book coming soon, happy to share more if you're interested, but just wanted to pop in and say hello and thank you for this resource. I plan to check out the forum soon (a little slammed).

    PS--my colleagues and I developed a new measure for narcissism which includes both healthy narcissism (really healthy self-enhancment as I'm sure you're aware--a line of research Kohut would have loved!) and the lack of healthy narcissism, which we call echoism) I've reconfigured the spectrum to run from 0, the inability to enjoy feeling special in any way (necessary for secure attachment) through healthy narcissism (the center) to 10 (malignant narcissism). Results have been great--and validity findings have been much clearer than the NPI.

    Hope to visit more soon! Take care, Craig Malkin

    1. Hello Dr. Malkin! I am familiar with your work and am totally surprised and flattered by your comment. As a layperson, it means a great deal to have a respected psychologist recognize the depth of my studies. While I have a "nose" for research, not everyone has the time, interest or the patience to delve into academic papers and theoretical books. It's just one of my quirks. If I'm gonna write about narcissism, I oughta do the hard work of understanding it.

      My initial focus was listening to people and offering validation while they restored their lives from the "inevitable harm" of a pathological relationship. My original intent has expanded to the narcissism continuum: how each of us is affected by a society obsessed with celebrity worship and self-gratification.

      About Your Test

      Many of the people reading my blog, have extremely low scores on the NPI. Some have assumed this low score meant they were healthy because narcissism was associated with pathology. In other words, the lower their score, the healthier they believed themselves to be. I'm not sure that's true. I am very interested your new measure of narcissism, most especially "echoism."

      In the event you read this comment, would you mind posting a link to your research, if it's available? I would love to read it before your book is released in July. (which I pre-ordered).

      Take Care and I do hope you have time to visit again soon!


    2. If you prefer, you can contact me by email here:

    3. Dear CZ--
      I just typed you a lengthy reply but it disappeared on me :-(. Happily I have some time to try to duplicate it.

      I'm so flattered that you know my work, and I hope it's resonated for you. Interviews and articles are a hard format to convey the full range of my perspective.

      You've done an incredible job here. All your research has clearly paid off. If I'd known about you sooner, I'd have listed you as resource in Rethinking Narcissism.

      Too many forums and sites are fixated on malignant narcissism and seem devoted to convincing people that's the only kind there is. People who have to struggle with milder narcissists in their lives are left completely confused --and sadly--thoroughly stuck. They can't see their partners as monsters (because they're not), but they can't figure out when to call it quits because they're not facing physical and emotional abuse. There are simple ways of assessing hope for change (really for any relationship), and I lay them out in Rethinking Narcissism. I don't spend a lot of time on the question of whether or not cold, remorseless, abusive people can be reached because, even as a couples therapist, I won't see partners together when there's ongoing abuse, no matter what the cause.

      You're right that scoring low on the NPI isn't necessarily healthy. It means saying no to questions like "I am assertive" and a range of behaviors we should all embrace sometimes. Healthy narcissism deficits have been overlooked and that's why I developed the Narcissism Spectrum Scale. We'll have research up at this link soon In the mean time, I'll privately send you some results in email.

      So glad to connect with you and I hope to have time to thoroughly digest your wonderful site and even check out the forum.

      Take care,

    4. The Narcissistic Spectrum Scale will be a welcome addition to the public's growing awareness about narcissism. At this point, people assume narcissism is a bad thing, a dangerous thing because "extreme narcissism" is easy to see, easy to condemn. The mistake is assuming anyone with recognizable narcissistic traits is dangerous to the workplace, the family, the neighborhood.

      I think that yes, there are dangerous narcissists who are more akin to psychopathy than "normal narcissism." And contrary to the popular view at this point, they are far fewer than people with unhealthy narcissism or destructive narcissism. The majority of people frequenting sites and blogs like mine, are not dealing with "extreme narcissists" although they fear they are because the information about narcissism has been so misleading and incomplete. There are a few lone voices like mine on the web and we usually deal with a rash of criticism for taking a broader perspective. The allegation being that we are setting people up for murder and abuse because we're minimizing the dangers of narcissistic traits/personality.

      So my hope is that your NSS will give people like myself some credibility. That your NSS will stop the No Contact Brigade from doing unconscionable things to people's lives (and their own!). My hope is that your NSS will be voice of sanity.

      There are, as you mentioned, cold, remorseless and abusive people who meet the categorical criteria for a NPD. This should not be the narrow measure for all people with narcissistic traits. A disservice has been done to the average person seeking information and help on the web, polarizing discussions to "either/or". Either you're a narcissist and deserving of horns and a pitchfork; or you're not and deserving of angel wings. ;-P

      Thank you for sending your research. It's been a long time coming.....and I'm grateful you let me know about your work!


  14. This blog is virtually a scholarly library on NPD, available for anyone to research in. CZBZ has done more reading and thinking and writing on NPD than most therapists and academic psychologists, aside perhaps from Ronningstam, Campbell and Twenge. As someone who has been greatly helped by her writing, resources, and friendship, I'm also very happy to see this comment here.

    1. Thank you, CS. Your recognition means a great deal to me. Though my online time has been limited because of extenuating circumstances, there's still nothing I enjoy more than curling up in bed with new book about narcissism. And now that we've expanded this idea to include "normal narcissism", it's even more fascinating.

      How does normal but exaggerated narcissism function in a narcissistic society? Are we more easily persuaded by media role models if our narcissism is unhealthy? What about moral development if we're narrowly focused on ourselves? Society reinforces the notion of self-admiration/gratification even at the expense of others.

      Learning about NPD is a necessary precaution for people who are dealing with pathological relationships. They will be harmed. It's inevitable. But what's even more fascinating is how narcissism affects our development as individuals, as moral human beings. Pathology is not hard to define because the behavior trespasses social boundaries and limits. But how does normal/unhealthy narcissism create an unhappy life after years of self-serving behavior that was never too bad, never too outrageous to be defined as "pathological"?

      These are the questions keeping me awake at night. ha...jest kiddin'

      Maybe Dr. Malkin's book will offer some insight and understanding. I'm looking forward to it.


    2. "But how does normal/unhealthy narcissism create an unhappy life after years of self-serving behavior that was never too bad, never too outrageous to be defined as "pathological"?
      Yes!! That's the question no one is addressing. I call these people subtle narcissists in my book. And I spend the majority of the parts one and two focused on who they are and how, if it all to reach them-- or leave when change isn't possible.

      I agree with CS, who, by the way, has an awesome handle (Shakespeare fan?). You'd put most therapists to shame with your knowledge.

      PS I trained with Andy Morrison--such a sweet man. He helped so many and I miss him dearly. Elsa and I are friends and colleagues at Harvard--and I'm sure she'd love this site too.

      I'm not a fan of Twenge's work. She's made a lot of two points on a scale (The NPI) that's more and more fallen out of favor (It's being replaced by the NARQ, which like our NSS, measures healthy and unhealthy narcissism more clearly). I don't believe there's enough evidence to declare a narcissism epidemic and certainly can't see how stereotyping an entire generation (negatively) will do anyone any good.
      So wonderful connecting.
      Here's my latest article critiquing that research that prompted the media to claim that praise "creates" narcissists.

    3. Dr. Malkin, I agree that therapists/psychologists and especially academic researchers into the subject of narcissism all along the spectrum, from the individual to the individual within the family, to that within micro-social environment, is a set of Russian nesting dolls. One aspect that has been left out of the vast majority of popular writing on the topic (of which I'd include Campbell and Twenge), is the lived experience of ACoNs. I'd read a library of scholarly books and articles on personality disorders. And on NPD, and HPD, and the overlaps. But nothing actually enabled me to internalize emotionally, affectively, what I understood cognitively, until I began reading reputable blogs about NPD. There are many that are mere exercises in personal griping. But this blog is the most balanced, rational-minded, well-researched, and genuinely altruistic of all that I came across four years when I started finding blogs. There are MANY ACoNs; one thing you'll discover is that as we write our personal stories, the superficial details all differ, but the patterns--of disregard, parental contempt, dismissal, neglect ("benign neglect" is an oxymoron), belittling, DARVOing (Denial Argument, Reverse Victim and offender) is nearly universal. Therapists have concentrated on blatant abuse, such as openly hostile verbal, physical and sexual abuse; but they have vastly misunderstand how deep the damage can be from the subtle forms of NPD. This blog, and several others, have helped to uncover that in great detail and depth of understanding. I'm an academic. And I can tell you that aside from Kohut, Kernberg, Martin Kantor (his book on Passive Aggression is a masterpiece), and Ronningstam, I have not encountered smarter, more nuanced writing on the subject that the compendium that is The Narcissistic Continuum. CZBZ has a done a major work of research here, and I'm thrilled to praise her for it. And delighted to see someone such as yourself, a fellow scholar, doing the same. CS

    4. and I wish we were able to correct our grammar/syntax typos, but alas we aren't allowed to edit comments!

    5. "Elsa and I are friends and colleagues at Harvard--and I'm sure she'd love this site too."

      Dr. Elsa Ronningstam has been my go-to resource since 2005 when she published "Identifying and Understanding the Narcissistic Personality." Her work has guided my studies and hopefully, kept me honest in my attempts to facilitate online learning about narcissism-all-sorts. I would love it if she knew how influential her work has been to a self-help woman like myself! This is such a delight!!

      I appreciate your views about Twenge's work although I also sense society to be increasingly focused on agency, rather than community. Twenge and Campbell offered much food for thought in their book about "The Narcissism Epidemic", at least from a layperson's perspective.

      I will read your article in the Huffington Post and maybe write a response on my blog since it fits right in with my perspective of good parenting. Telling our kids they're nobodies, in an attempt to prevent unhealthy narcissism, is a sure-fire way to create it. Every child deserves to be the Apple of their Mother's Eye.

    6. Dear CS,

      You can't pretend with ACoNs. ACoNs spot pretenders in no time because if you didn't grow up in a narcissistic family, you won't understand the cumulative damage of "narcissistic abuse" (defined by Alice Miller, not popular appropriation of this term).

      There's an emotional depth of understanding that rings true in ACoN's writing. Our initial anger and hatred is to be expected, though never normalized. We cannot normalize behavior that is condemned in others, but justified for ourselves. This is where many ACoNs get stuck and blogs showing "movement and change" can lead people towards healthier more meaningful lives.

      You and several others have provided an alternative to the hate-mongering and fear-based sites proliferating on the web because web traffic is drawn to "extremists". I have learned (and hope other people have, too) that high traffic on the web, is not an indication of mental health. ;-P

      I have yes, devoted myself to understanding narcissism for a couple of reasons:

      1) to be a voice for academia, applying research to real-life experiences

      2) narcissism runs through my family; I married someone with "pathological narcissism"; I'm an ACoN

      You can't fake these facts. The only way to change the transgenerational transmission of narcissism is to learn, unlearn and relearn.

      Thanks for learning with me,

  15. And thank your for pre-ordering Rethinking Narcissism!


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