Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
April 2011 - Volume 11, No. 4
The Narcissist and His Woman
I wrote this originally for a few of my clients. I wanted to present a structure of understanding to help interpret what was behind that pervasive feeling of craziness many of them suffer. After some very positive responses, I decided to remake it as a Newsletter offering.
For certain, the narcissistic personality disorder phenomenon has various degrees and shades, and my interpretation here covers only a narrow perspective. Yet it is an honest attempt to make sense of a pattern I encounter all too often in the relationships of female clients. I generalize that the narcissist is male, which is frequently the case. In the case of a female narcissist, her narcissistic slave could be either a man, or (very frequently) another woman.
• • •
He carries that inner bind or split
The conscious - his need (hunger, necessity) to succeed at all costs. The unconscious - his deep fear of an immanent, illogical annihilation, - which is the source of a third element, though often very well hidden - his rage. He cannot understand the inner split that renders these elements irreconcilable, and if he could, the resultant anxiety would hit him like a tsunami. So the splitting must remain unconscious.
However, in his initial relationship with a woman he senses a hope - a hope of reconciling the irreconcilable within. But the structure of that hope carries an enslaving split for the woman - having the same idealizing and devaluing ‘pattern’ of his own inner bind: He must idealize her - have her perfect for him, and He must devalue her - make her an unworthy, inadequate, lower being.
He will never see the relationship between or even the presence of these two elements. He can comprehend cause/effect, but this is not cause/effect. He cannot see what he does (to her). And especially because he cannot see, the second half of the formula (her devaluation) must be played out unconsciously, and sometimes brutally.
She carries that inner duality which it is the heart/womb dream of every (perhaps I’m idealizing) woman to reconcile: To give herself completely (in love), and
To be herself fully (as a person in her own right and integrity).
This duality has the same ‘pattern’ as the narcissist’s bind, except his is a pathology (a destructive mental illness) and hers is inborn nature to a woman, albeit her duality also shares that same character of being irreconcilable.
For the narcissist, he finds a relief from the narcissistic distress in finding a woman to ‘love’ him - i.e. whom he can use, ’perfect’, and then destroy. This “love” of a woman becomes the enslavement of her.
For the woman, her deep self yearns to find resolution from the inner duality of her nature through loving and being loved by a man (or an other). Such loving of a woman can be a man’s greatest gift to her, in which there is no need for idealizing or devaluing.
Perhaps you can see the setup for a disaster here. He is the perfect persecutor, and she is the perfect prey. And in the beginning of a relationship, narcissists are wonderfully attentive - too wonderful.
But the narcissist, being split himself, cannot ‘love’ or allow himself to be ‘loved’ - nor allow this to happen in/for her. Therefore after the initial wonderfulness, all that’s left for him to do is to take and demolish.
Because the narcissist cannot stand to ‘know’ this (because he is, of course, a wonderful, good and upright person), he must deny feelings, especially any feelings of empathy for his woman - or anybody else for that matter. And, to make matters worse, if he does happen to dip into his well of feelings, the top layer frequently contains that old nemesis, his rage. A close second to the rage is a lifetime supply of dissociated (buried) anxiety.
Let me add a further comment about the narcissist and feelings. It’s difficult for most of us to comprehend that he doesn’t have feelings. What he has instead is an excellent catalog of mimicked ‘feelings’ - as if he’s studied human nature perfectly in order to mimic it. He’s the perfect actor, having no feelings of his own to get in the way of his ‘act.’ This is where that original inner necessity of ‘perfection’ shines. These people make excellent salespeople, business leaders, and politicians. (I could easily add some preachers and lawyers to the list as well.) Just look closely at their wives. But what I’m saying here about him, he can’t ever know - he actually has no idea what real feelings are. The only ‘crack in the armor’ is when the rage shows up. And it’s an open question of whether he actually ‘feels’ any anger, or is limited to only seeing (not feeling) himself as angry after the fact, if at all. But when you’re the object of that anger, you can’t or needn’t tell the difference. You fight or run - and in fighting you’ll rarely win on your own. Either way you’ll feel guilty, especially if you’re female.
Sometimes the woman herself cannot ‘feel’ his absence of any true feelings until it’s too late - especially if she has not ‘felt’ the difference, or the presence of real love, in her own formation (upbringing), or at least somewhere significant in her life. All that’s left for her to ‘feel’ is that she’s ‘crazy.’ And, of course, he’s all too ready to tell her that, again and again.
One difficult outcome is that even after such relationships, the woman will be constantly tempted to doubt herself - her thoughts and feelings (and her sanity). And the narcissist himself, though quite contrary to his protestations, will easily find a replacement - often again and again.
For the sake of these women, let’s all pay attention.
 Somewhere in my reading, I came across the following example or metaphor of the inner psychological structure of the narcissist: It’s as if his (generalizing to a preponderance of males in this category) parents have constantly insisted on his perfection. He is at all costs to excel in all (or at least all the important) things, so that they can be ‘proud’ of him. That’s the conscious message - which is bad enough. But there’s a double bind here (i.e. a contradictory and unconscious message) - that is if he supersedes them (i.e. becomes better than them) they’ll have to ‘kill’ him. It’s that unconscious destruction of self that he then must (unconsciously) project elsewhere.