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Why Some People Can’t Love (Pathological Narcissism)

Posted Mar 15 2012 9:59am

I see an abundance of people in my practice that were partners of the pathological narcissist (pathological as opposed to normal narcissism in which self-centeredness is necessary sometimes or you become too self-centered other times…that is not pathological). I believe this is because narcissists tend to destroy people and normal people cannot understand what it is like to be a narcissist and continually try to put the narcissist into a normal frame of reference and ask, “How can (he or she) ACT like that?”

This was an interview of Otto Kernberg that I read in graduate school. The two dueling “fathers” of narcissism are Kernberg and Kohut and I’ve studied both and their differences. Not something to get into here, but I’ve held onto this paper for 18 years now and I still find it stunningly accurate so I’m just posting some of the quotes which may help people. This is taken from an interview by Linda Wolfe who was, at the time, a writer for Psychology Today. So the quotes are written for the PT reader (most of whom are not professionals):

Wolfe writes: Dr. Kernberg makes a careful distinction between normal and pathological narcissism. We are all in love with ourselves to some extent and seek validation through the approval of others. But the pathological narisssit differs from the rest of us in the extreme intensity of his self-absorption. However, the pathological narcissist holds himself in low self-esteem.

Kernberg: If our self-esteem is totatlly dependent on the manifestations of admiration by others, then something is wrong with us. The pathological narcissist cannot sustain his or her self-regard without having it fed constantly by the attentions of others.

However, he usually resents the people he is dependent on for admiration. He experiences little empathy for them and doesn’t really like them. Other people count ONLY as admirers.

The pathological narcissist will anticipate receiving tribute from others and may for a time be very charming to them. But once the tribute is given, he quickly becomes restless and bored. Then he treats his admirers with contempt. In general his relationships are exploitative or parasitic, although this may be masked behind a surface which is often engaging and attractive.

Narcissists lack emotional depth. Their feelings tend to be undifferentiated and they have quick flareups of emotional followed by sudden dispersal of feeling. They are deficient in genuine feelings of sadness and mournful longing. They are incapable of depressive reactions. When abandoned or disappointed it manifests as anger loaded with vengeful wishes rather than real sadness at disappointment.

Narcissists suffer from intense unconscious envy that makes them want to spoil, depreciate, and degrade what others have and that lack the capacity to give and receive love.

The narcissist never falls in love (though they claim to). The narcissist cannot idealize any individual for too long. As soon as an idealized person responds to the narcissist, that person loses his or her value. The narcissist is purely exploitative in his relationship with others.

A narcissist frequently talks about a partner’s parts or features rather than the person him or herself. Deep down he knows that he cannot fully possess the other person. By dismembering that person into body parts, he gratifies a need to deny the importance of the other.

Narcissism takes a bit of a different form in women but the dynamic is the same. The female narcissist can’t find love or howld onto it.

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