by Kathleen Krajco
(Narcissists can be male or female - both are used here for illustrative purposes but the behavior is the same)
An infant in a crib is unaware of the difference between its mother and the mobile overhead. Both are just objects to it. It quickly learns that when it cries, the mother-object appears and fulfills all its needs. Ooh, power!
So, it uses its vocal chords as a remote control for the mother-object.
It assumes that the mother-object exists for its sake. It quickly learns how to operate the mother-object. It pushes the buttons on her control panel largely through big demonstrations of displeasure whenever she does not anticipate and fulfill its needs in advance. She is just one object in a world that revolves around it, for it. Mark Twain delightfully reminds us of what we are at this stage of human development:
I do not remember my first lie, it is too far back; but I remember my second one very well. I was nine days old at the time, and had noticed that if a pin was sticking in me and I advertised it in the usual fashion, I was lovingly petted and coddled and pitied in a most agreeable way and got a ration between meals besides. It was human nature to want to get these riches, and I fell. I lied about the pin — advertising one when there wasn‘t any. You would have done it; George Washington did it, anybody would have done it. During the first half of my life I never knew a child that was able to rise above that temptation and keep from telling that lie. -- Mark Twain
A narcissist remains forever such an infant. His world revolves around him. The people in it are but objects for him to use and control — existing for his sake, not their own. Like levers on a control panel or tools to be damaged through heavy use or livestock to be consumed. There to fulfill his needs and enhance his image. Beyond that, they have no importance. It never occurs to him that he owes them anything in return or that he should consider the effects of his actions on them.
Why do narcissists have such total lack of regard for others? What is this thing called "empathy" they lack?
Another word for it is humanity. The Italian word for it is pièta. It doesn‘t translate, because its meaning sublimely combines the notions of both pity and piety — two sides of the same coin. So, in the Inferno, Dante was able to use the word‘s full richness of meaning when Virgil chastises Dante for shedding tears for the twisted:
Here, pièta flourishes in relating from which it is wholly withheld.
Virgil was thus telling Dante that empathy for the inhuman is inappropriate, not only because there is no humanity in the twisted for a human being to relate to, but also because withholding it respects the Creator and the human victims they treat inhumanly. Not that Virgil recommended hatred, but he insisted that humanity was for human beings, not those who choose to be inhuman and inhumane. They have no feelings for any living thing but themselves. Having tender feelings for oneself is NOT humanity. And Virgil is here stating the flip-side of "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
How can a narcissist be so cold-blooded?
To her, you aren‘t a thinking, feeling human being like herself. She doesn‘t share her milieu with you: you are just part of hers. To her you are but an object. Like a pair of pliers or a screwdriver. Now, you might grab a screwdriver and abuse it by using it to pry something open, knowing you might break it. But you think nothing of doing that. That screw driver has no right to be: it‘s there for your sake, for you to use and abuse as you please. It‘s basically an extension of yourself, a tool, an executioner of your will, not its own. That‘s what YOU are to a narcissist. Narcissists just use people, all people. Any way they please.
In other words, her psychological development has been arrested at a very early phase of childhood.
To illustrate: You‘ve certainly seen a toddler delighted with some chick or puppy or bunny or other cute little animal you place before her. Then, on a whim, she shocks you by grabbing a stick and pounding the poor thing. The look in her eyes is the most shocking part — nothing there but fascination with the effect she‘s having on it = fascination with its agony. Picture an adult instead, and you are watching a sociopath or narcissist.
A little child does this because her person-ality isn‘t fully developed. Her sense of person-hood isn‘t differentiated so that she distinguishes between your personhood and hers. She‘s so brutal because while pounding Puppy she feels no pain. All she feels is powerful. So Puppy might as well be a nail she‘s hitting with a hammer.
This is why parents must closely supervise that little child, especially when vulnerable animals or other small children are around, and teach her that other living beings have feelings of their own and feel like she would if someone did that to her. She must be taught to respect other living beings as beings in their own right and to empathize with them. For whatever reason, sociopaths and narcissists never learn.
They know there‘s something wrong with them, and they try to hide it. To pass for normal, sociopaths and narcissists fake feelings. Usually their act comes off badly because it‘s just mimicry of the normal human reactions they see in those around them: Monkey see, monkey do. So, for example, they mimic the behavior of others at a funeral. Usually their acting job isn‘t true-to-life, because it‘s just a hollow outward show of feeling they do not really have. And it‘s often so overdone that it makes you do a double-take, wondering if it‘s parody. It‘s not; it‘s just the best facsimile of human feeling they can produce. In fact, from the narcissists I have known, I am left with a strong suspicion that narcissists actually practice facial expressions in a mirror — both tender feely ones and scary intimidating ones.
I know one who goes on and on in an Academy-Award act about how much she loves her cat. The lady doth protest way too much. I know of another whose eyes welled up in tears at any poignant moment for the flickers of light on a TV screen, whether it was a movie, a football game, or the singing of the national anthem. But he never gave up one bit of feeling for a real human being: regarding them as worth it would have killed him. Also, if you distract a narcissist during an acting job of faked feeling, he or she undergoes an instantaneous face change like an actor who drops character when the director says, "Cut!"
So, unless you‘re just a passing acquaintance of a narcissist, his or her total lack of empathy will show, despite their efforts to conceal it. And when it shows, it‘s unmistakable. It‘s chilling. And it‘s a warning sign to stay away from that person.
And so, to a narcissist, others are but objects to exploit and plunder for her ego gratification. It is impossible to overstate the significance of that. We relate to others humanly because we identify with our common humanity in them. (In fact, it goes further than humanity. In humaneness we identify with the living soul in a dog.) This is the spring from which humanity, humaneness, Wordsworth‘s "primal sympathy" and empathy flows. Most higher species of animals similarly relate to their own kind. Which is what keeps them from preying on each other.
But the narcissist doesn‘t. She doesn‘t conceive herself as of our kind: What god with nothing but contempt for mere mortals does? So, expect no more regard for your feelings from her alien mentality than you should expect from an extra-terrestrial who abducts you to use as a specimen for an experiment. No more than a lamb should expect from a wolf, a mouse from a cat, a baby seal from a killer whale, or a cockroach from you.
This points up why loose use of the term "narcissist" can do great and irreparable harm. There are clowns out there brashly portraying themselves as narcissists, because they think a narcissist is just somebody who thinks he‘s better than everybody else and they want to portray themselves as that pleased with themselves. NPD is as a serious mental disease as psychopathy (perhaps a variation of it or a stage on the way to it) and a grave danger to others. People who are just full of themselves are just full of themselves. But a person suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a predator.
All people can turn on and off their humanity like a light-switch. History is full of examples of people turning it off en-masse. What makes people suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (and those suffering from psychopathic disorders) different is that they have theirs turned off permanently for everybody but themselves. And everybody means even their own children. For the insurance money, a narcissist may burn down her house to kill one of her children and frame the other for the crime without the slightest twinge of conscience. Narcissists are as unfeeling toward whomever they abuse as you or I are toward a spike we are pounding with a sledgehammer. This is a hard truth to accept.
The good thing about accepting it is that there is no hating such a person. You can‘t hate what you can‘t relate to. You can no more hate a narcissist for being a narcissist than you can hate a snake for being a snake. You don‘t take it personally when a snake bites you. Don‘t take it personally when a narcissist does, either. It wasn‘t you. It wasn‘t anything you did. You were just there, that‘s all. Like plinkers, narcissists just shoot any small animal they see.