Few things appear more perplexing than a someone aware of and seeking recovery from narcissistic abuse in full-throated support of “unpresidented” Donald J. Trump, a man that a significant number of psychologists have been compelled beyond usual ethical constraints to point out the pattern of malignant narcissistic behavior of (behavior that could also be explained by drug use, dementia or syphilis). After all, wounded healers that we are have sought answers that we’ve sacrificed for to move beyond the suffering we happened to find ourselves in and many of us share what we’ve learned so that others might do the same. That any of us could or would become enamored with a prime textbook example of the very thing we struggle to liberate ourselves from seems beyond the pale. And yet it happens.
A LOT is being made of narcissism as deliberate evil as symbolized by charming vampires, merciless terminators and wicked witches orchestrating hoards of flying monkey minions. “They know what they’re doing,” we say. “They just don’t care how it affects who they’re doing it to.” But how aware and, more importantly, in control of themselves are they really?
To err is human. To forgive is divine, but to repeat is stupid.
For those of us estranged from our families during the family fetishized holidays shoring up the end of the year, the pressure to forgive and forget can be especially pronounced. Society at large tells us that – to borrow a turn of phrase from the poet, Alexander Pope – to err is human; to forgive, divine. And that the victim is the perpetrator, the betrayer, the pariah should forgiveness be withheld — to be pitied, subjected to public scorn and, ironically, unforgiven for being unwilling to forgive. Rather than emphasis on understanding and compassion, this is institutionalized blaming of the victim that I think most of us were raised to believe, wrongly.
The narcissist exhibits an intuitive, almost preternatural awareness of who we are and what buttons to push in order to elicit the responses they want. Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and diagnosed NPD, labels this sense “cold empathy” — that is to say, a dispassionate, more strictly cognitive form of empathy. But I don’t think it’s any kind of empathy.
As a black hole is a failed star collapsed under its own gravity into an inescapable singularity, the narcissist is a failed child reduced to a single function: the insatiable acquisition of attention to feel special (narcissistic supply). We can’t see black holes but for the distortion of space and effect on objects surrounding them. Similarly, narcissists hide in plain sight belied only by the social disruption left in their wake.