Posted by: counselorcarmella | August 12, 2011

Understanding Narcissism Part Three

Some researchers feel that the DSM-IV is not  painting a clear enough picture of the different ways narcissism comes across. The DSM-III-R alluded to at least two types of narcissists, but the DSM-IV-TR committee chose to delete this. Their criteria accurately describes the  classic narcissist but not what is called the “compensatory” narcissist. Info on the compensatory narcissist was compiled by Dave Kelly. The basic trait of the Compensatory Narcissistic Personality Type is a pattern of overtly narcissistic behaviours (that) derive from an underlying sense of insecurity and weakness, rather than from genuine feelings of self-confidence and high self-esteem.”  Other  researchers call them fragile or vulnerable narcissists.  The classic narcissist  acts out of a sense of superiority or one up position, while the compensatory narcissist  acts from a place of inferiority or feeling “less than” other people (one down position) that he or she is trying to cover up.   

The difference in these two types seems to be related to  childhood experiences. Classic narcissists were  spoiled, catered to, and made to feel extraordinarily special (the golden child).  They could do no wrong, were praised for everything they did, and didn’t have to  experience the consequences of their actions. They usually got whatever they wanted. Compensatory narcissists often have backgrounds that involve  significant losses, parental neglect or abuse, and more negative childhood experiences.


Another distinction that has been  articulated is Somatic vs Cerebral narcissists. I knew of one guy who used steroids to stay very  buff.  He was what we call a somatic narcissist.  That is,  a person who’s narcissism comes out in  their  attention to their physical attractiveness and the props that enhance that attractiveness.  He used his size to intimidate. He  constantly nagged his wife, an  attractive woman, to   work out more so she wouldn’t “get fat.”  He bugged her to have  botox and  cosmetic surgeries and got angry  when she refused. He also  chased women and had multiple affairs during his 12 year marriage. His house was  beautiful and he spent thousands of dollars  to find  just the right  furnishings and décor.  He loved  giving  anyone available “the tour.”  He also had to have the  new cars and the boat and the  golf clubs, etc.  He wanted people to know he had stuff and  could afford nice things.  He liked  the idea that he was making people jealous. 

If the somatic narcissist focuses on physical attractiveness, strength, and  possessions, the cerebral narcissist uses  intellect to try and  get their way. They like to show how smart they are and to use big words. With another guy who came in with his wife, he’d try and debate with me and his wife in session, or he’d try to tell me her side and his and ask me who was “right.”  He was all about what made the most logical sense.  He was one of those superreasonable people.  If she got emotional, he  would  talk to her like she was weak and illogical. He would  point out inconsistencies in what she said to try and  make her admit that he was right.  He also  was bothered by the fact that she was becoming more religious.  He was an atheist and thought religion was just so illogical and didn’t make any sense. I suspect  he  also didn’t want to have to compete with God to be right about things.

Dr. Lopes DeVictoria says, “They have taught themselves to stuff and disconnect their own feelings for years. Because of this, they tend to live inside their heads, in the realm of so called reason. They are likely to live in the world of rational principles, laws, rules, which are all linear. This domain is a realm they feel they can control. It is devoid of feelings. The realm of the heart or feelings is very intimidating and unsafe to them because it is non-linear and there is very little control of the outcomes.”  He states that  a  major part of  healing for the narcissist is  to be willing to open themselves up to feeling their emotions and letting go of this particular defense mechanism.

Dr. Samuel Lopes DeVictoriaalso talks about the “victim narcissists.” The narcissist can hide behind misfortune and victimization in order to shame you into feeling and believing that they suffer more than you do,” he says.  “They will say that you don’t care enough for them. They will make you feel that you have not done enough to help them. The ego wants attention, control, gain, and power over others by positioning itself as a “poor and helpless” victim… Victimized extreme narcissists are on the constant prowl looking for any gullible soul that will believe their version of calamity whether it is real, exaggerated, or fictitious.”  

They’ll  milk a physical injury or illness for  the attention.  They’ll  also make the most of a psychiatric diagnosis. I knew a guy who  did that with ADD.  He’d tell his girlfriend it wasn’t fair for her to expect him to listen to her when she talked or to remember  important  dates or  even  be  on time for things because she knew he had ADD. They love counselors who’ll give them what they consider a get out of jail free card based on their childhood problems or  based on an undiagnosed or unmedicated  mental illness.  I do think these things can play a very important role and can make certain behaviors and ways of thinking more likely, but  for someone truly narcissistic, it is way more than   a mood or biochemical thing.  They want a label so they can blame their problems on  a “condition” that is beyond their control or  on someone else from their past.


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