Decompensation - Excerpts Part 42

Excerpts from the Archives of the Narcissism List Part 42

  1. Decompensation
  2. Introspection
  3. Why does He Keep Coming Back?
  4. Acting Civil, Saying Goodbye
  5. Avoiding Pain
  6. Prevalence of NPD
  7. Long-term Planning
  8. Love and Being Loved

1. Decompensation

Narcissism is a primitive (early life) defense mechanism. It is one of many deployed by the narcissist to prevent his personality from disintegrating (a state known as psychosis). The others are splitting, projection, projective identification, intellectualization, rationalization, denial and so on.

Under severe stress and duress, these defense mechanisms crumble. This is called decompensation.

At first, decompensation leads to acting out - outbursts, childish behavior, criminal activities, atypical substance abuse or reckless behavior, violence.

But if the stressful situation is prolonged and with no end in sight, psychotic micro-episodes are common and they may last from a few minutes up to 4 days each.

2. Introspection

Narcissists are incapable of introspection. This inability to "watch themselves from the outside" is what often gets them into trouble.

Only when the narcissist goes through a massive life crisis (divorce, death in the family, near death experience, bankruptcy, incarceration, abuse, humiliation, exile, etc.) - only then does he begin to reflect on his life and on himself.

But, even then, narcissists are interested in getting things "back to how they were" - not in changing.

Moreover, KNOWING something is not transformative. You've got to feel it, too (to have an "emotional correlate" amounting to an "insight").

3. Why does He Keep Coming Back?

Narcissists act (or refrain from acting) based solely on the availability of narcissistic supply (or lack thereof). If the narcissist keeps coming back - he does so because he is convinced that there is narcissistic supply to be obtained - or because he has yet to secure an alternative source of supply.

Narcissistic supply is about attention, however thwarted and depraved. Adversity, intrigue, fighting, notoriety, infamy, quarrelling, active rebuffing - all constitute narcissistic supply. If ignored consistently for a sufficiently long time, though, the narcissist is likely to let go, if he is not vindictive.

All past sources "qualify" for "re-activation" once the narcissist's supply has been depleted and no other sources are in sight.

Only past sources who made it unequivocally clear that they will allow no further contact are "exempt". But this is very rare. Even a divorce is not the end of the relationship with the narcissist. There is common property, common children, the occasional phone conversation, mail to be forwarded, etc.

Sources of PRIMARY supply are ranked by social status, fame/celebrity, wealth, power/influence, etc. Narcissistic supply emanating from a top politician or the CEO of a large company far outweighs anything offered by the neighborhood grocer.

Spouses or girlfriends provide secondary supply and, as sources, they are utterly interchangeable. Their role is to "accumulate" information about past supply and release it to the narcissist when supplies are low ("remember how famous you were in 1985?", "remember how you won the tournament?"). This is called "regulation" of narcissistic supply.

Thus, to recap, reversion to old sources of secondary supply is automatically triggered when the narcissist's supply has been depleted and no other sources are in sight.

4. Acting Civil, Saying Goodbye

The narcissist acts civil only towards potential sources of narcissistic supply. If your narcissist believes that you may supply him in the future - he will not devalue and discard you and will make the separation as courteous as possible. If he judges you to be "useless" as far as future narcissistic supply goes - he will likely dump you, discard, devalue and even purposefully hurt you in the process.

That's all there is to it. Narcissists regard other people as you might regard a faucet. As long as it spews forth water - you maintain it. Once it stops - you ignore it without giving it a second thought.

But narcissists sometimes fail to say goodbye because they find it difficult to confront their own failure. It is too painful and threatening. The narcissist is a confabulation of omnipotence and perfection built on shaky, fallacious foundations. Failure means exposure and exposure might lead to the disintegration of the entire edifice. The narcissist thus prefers to simply abandon the scene of his defeat even as he declares victory unilaterally and counterfactually.

5. Avoiding Pain

Narcissists are terrified of pain. The False Self - the essence of pathological narcissism- is an elaborate, multilayered reaction to past traumas and their attendant anguish. The narcissist is conditioned by his torturous past to avoid grief at any cost - even at the cost of self-annihilation and re-invention as a narrative, a piece of fiction.

6. Prevalence of NPD

The incidence of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) may be MUCHhigher than the reported figures (up to around 5% of the adult population). The reason NPD is under-reported is because narcissists rarely go to therapy, tend to charm and deceive the therapists once they do , and never admit that something is wrong with them even then.

7. Long-term Planning

The typical narcissist has a short attention span and believes that the world is a random, menacing place. Catch as catch can. Carpe Diem (seize the day). The narcissist lurches at any potential source with a "charm attack" that often, alas, proves irresistible.

Very few narcissists are sufficiently cold and calculated to cultivate long-term Sources of Supply.

Pathological narcissism - the addiction to and pursuit of Narcissistic Supply to regulate a labile sense of self-worth - is not a conscious choice, or a lifestyle, or a profession. It is the quiddity (the essence) of the narcissist. Do bees plan to sting? Do tigers analyze their hunting patterns? Do mothers love their children by design?

It just comes to the narcissist naturally.

I see a beautiful woman, who is also reasonably clever - and I want to "convert" her, to make her admire me, to cause her to spread news and views about me and "proselytize" to ever expanding circles of family and friends.

This wish is the psychological equivalent of hunger or thirst (or sex drive). It is a craving gradually translated into a plan of action.

But first comes the insatiable addiction to narcissistic supply - and only then a cognitive "blueprint" of hunting, conversion and conquest.

8. Love and Being Loved

Fear of commitment ("commitmentophobia") and intimacy is one thing. Inability to love and be loved is another.

All narcissists share the first. And, surprisingly, all narcissists share the second also!

The word "love" is understood by the narcissist to mean "dependence", "neediness", "ability to provide narcissistic supply", "becoming the narcissist's extension and property".

In these - distorted and sick - senses of the word, all narcissists love to be loved...

next:   Excerpts from the Archives of the Narcissism List Part 43

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 16). Decompensation - Excerpts Part 42, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 15 from

Last Updated: October 16, 2015

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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