Narcissism is a disorder named after Narcissus, a young hunter who, according to Greek mythology, fell so much in love with his own reflection staring back at him in a pool of water, that he fell in the pool and drowned.
In actuality, while some narcissists are as vain as our Greek god, most would not necessarily fit the stereotype of a physically vain person. My narcissistic mother is vain, but my ex-husband is anything but. In fact, he cares very little about his physical appearance. Narcissists look like anyone else–it’s their actions and behavior that give them away.
Another misunderstanding about narcissists is that they love themselves. They don’t. People who love themselves are people who know who they are, and are a pleasure to be around. But narcissists don’t hate themselves either, at least not in the same way a neurotic individual with a poor self image hates himself. Narcissists don’t think they’re disturbed enough to seek therapy. They’re not suffering; you are. It’s everyone else who is nuts, not them. The reason they are so self-centered is because they have lost their true self and deep down, they know it.
While a few narcissists may have been born that way (there is some evidence narcissism has a genetic component), for the most part I don’t think there are “bad seeds.” Usually (though not always), at a very young age, their true self was lost, possibly by a parent failing to “mirror” them during the language learning stage when they were infants and toddlers. It’s my opinion that maternal neglect during early childhood can lead to NPD–as well as possibly autism (which is intriguing since autism and NPD are so vastly different from each other–and yet both share a failure to become sufficiently socialized or relate to others). So narcissists can’t love or hate themselves because they can’t access their true self, which is unknown to them. Their self centeredness stems from a need to be mirrored–something all babies need but their own parents may have failed or were unable to do. It would be interesting to find out if foster children are more likely to develop narcissism than children from loving families. It would also be interesting to find out if people with NPD and autism are more likely than others to have narcissistic parents, especially narcissistic mothers, who would be unable to “mirror” them adequately as infants. I would bet there’s a correlation.
Narcissists can’t experience genuine emotion because there is no true self there (or is greatly diminished)–so everything they say and do is an act. They are chameleons who can change their behavior or image at the drop of a hat because all they are doing is reflecting back what they see in the people they are dealing with. If you abandon them or wrong them, or even disagree with them, it devastates them because you are taking away their false acquired “self,” which means they are then forced to acknowledge their emptiness. In fact, that’s the only real pain they feel–the pain of their own emptiness. That’s why they must constantly fill the void. Like the vampires they are, they will suck you dry in an attempt to fill the black hole that has replaced their real self. Unlike Narcissus (but like vampires), when they look into the mirror, they don’t see a beautiful reflection. What they see is nothing, and that is so terrifying to them they must constantly seek to fill the void with whatever they can suck out of others.
In fact, that’s the only time a narcissist may contemplate suicide–when, for whatever reason, they are unable to attain “narcissistic supply,” they are forced to behold their own empty reflection in the mirror. Farther along the psychopathy spectrum, narcissists are more likely to retaliate against the person who abandoned or wronged them than to inflict self-harm, and this is where you’ll find murders and murder-suicides.
Narcissists both hate and envy vulnerability in others, and act out through both attaching themselves to and bullying such people. They desperately want that innate ability to feel and intuit things that a sensitive person has, but they also envy and are terrified of it because it’s the one thing that can expose them for the fakes they really are. I remember my mother raged at me often during my teen years, but her worst rages were the times when I called her out on her shallowness and lack of empathy. At those times there was always a look of utter fear in her eyes as she raged on, as if some truth had been exposed. I wasn’t even aware of this at the time, but in fact I nailed it and it scared her to death.
They would rather break the mirror than confront what isn’t there.