Chapter 7, The Soul of a Narcissist, The State of the Art
The Concepts of Narcissistic Accumulation and Narcissistic Regulation
The narcissist derives his Narcissistic Supply from PNSSs and SNSSs (Primary and Secondary Narcissistic Supply Sources). But this supply is used by the narcissist much the same as one uses perishable goods.
He has to replenish this supply and, as is the case with other drug addictions, he has to increase the dosage as he goes. He uses the supply to substitute for certain ego functions (example: to regulate his self-esteem and sense of self-worth).
While the narcissist uses up his supply, his partner accumulates it by serving as a silent witness to the narcissist's accomplishments and moments of grandeur.
When the narcissist has a spouse or girlfriend, for instance, he can use her to supplement his Narcissistic Supply (NS). To him, she represents a multipurpose instrument. She is both a SNSS and a reservoir of NS. We limit the following discussion to a female mate because, usually, she is a mother substitute, a mock Primary Object and meaningful other. But the function of the accumulation of NS is performed by all SNSSs, male or female, inanimate or social.
To elucidate this matter further, let us study an example:
A narcissist becomes a celebrity and his partner is witness to his meteoric rise as a media star. She constitutes living proof of his moments of glory. In a way, to her, he remains famous forever and she constitutes a constant, reliable Source of Narcissistic Supply. She is always there to adore him and reflect his erstwhile fame, even after it had long faded.
Being with a partner reduces the narcissist's need to pursue other NSSs. Thus, it reduces his motivation to generate NSSs through creative activities. Narcissists create exclusively in the pursuit of NSSs (which garners them attention, adulation, publicity, and recognition). They create not because they love to or are compelled to do so.
The narcissist dedicates a lot of energy to managing his portfolio of NSSs. He invests his objects with instincts. We can say that there is a narcissistic libidinal cathexis when the narcissist invests libido in his self (Reserved Libido) instead of investing it in objects, in creative activities, in real achievements, in writing, or in business, in short: in the real world out there (Residual Libido).
This explains why the narcissist is so disinterested in others, lacks empathy, is indifferent to emotionally invested sex, prefers autoerotic and exhibitionist sex, etc. A huge amount of libido is invested in trying to "break through", "prove to them", and "be the biggest and bigger than life". Because the amount of libido available to any individual is limited (Freud's concept of the economy of the libido) not much is left for meaningful psychosexual interactions, for creativity, and for the task of maturely confronting the world on its own terms.
The Reserved Libido is initially used up in the process of attaining goals and for acts of creativity. These are meant to facilitate the formation and maintenance of NSSs. But once this overriding goal is achieved and NSSs are formed, part of the Reserved Libido is no longer needed (Free Libido).
The reason some libido is freed is because NSSs substitute for certain libido functions. This is not to give the impression that the narcissist is an efficient user of libido. On the contrary, the allocation of his energy resources is completely distorted by the need to direct libido towards his self and by the need to maintain a hot pursuit of NSSs. The narcissist's libido functions under a narcissistic constraint: obtain NSS!
The narcissist uses the Free Libido and directs it at objects. But the quantity of Free Libido fluctuates unpredictably. Whenever the NSS dwindle, the Free Libido is expropriated and transformed into Residual Libido. It is then used to replenish the NSS. The Free Libido is also used to transform the partner into a NSS.
This scheme of allocation of various types of libido explains a few phenomena.
The narcissist loses his drive and his creativity when he finds a partner. Partly, this is what Freud called "sublimation". The partner consumes the Free Libido and thus reduces the total amount of Residual Libido available to the narcissist. Gradually, a new equilibrium is reached.
The reduced Residual Libido is not sufficient to create new NSS. The remaining Free Libido is then enlisted and is transformed into Residual Libido. The relationship with the partner is severely damaged, to the point of abandonment, because there remains no Free Libido to sustain it.
Creativity and achievement (NSSs) are hampered by the diversion of Free Libido to the partner. Once the partner is gone, the Residual Libido - strengthened by the now available Free Libido - finds new NSS and thus allows the narcissist to develop a new relationship, as doomed to failure as its predecessors.
The narcissist finds it easier to enter a relationship when NSSs are abundant because NSSs are libidinal substitutes. By fulfilling libidinal functions they free a part of the Residual Libido (the type of libido engaged in obta
This is the reason that the narcissist prefers to be loved due to and following narcissistic circumstances. The partner is bound to fulfil the role of accumulation of Narcissistic Supply better that way. She is more likely to become a permanent NSS, thus allowing for the stable diversion of Free Libido towards the sustenance of the relationship.
The trade-off in the narcissist's relationships is a reduction in the overall Residual Libido, in the narcissist's creativity, in his drive to achieve (ambition) and even in the formation and maintenance of new NSS.
Mental Map # 5
provides accumulation of Narcissistic Supply
and becomes a (home-made) NSS.
This frees libido (Free Libido)
Free Libido diverted to the relationship ("I love her")
Residual Libido reduced by the amount of diverted Free Libido
NSSs dwindle (narcissist feels "No one is interested in me")
Free Libido expropriated and Residual Libido enhanced
("I must become famous again")
New NSS formed (workaholism, publicity)
Abandonment by partner
("You are absent, the relationship is empty")
Another partner attracted to narcissistic circumstances
This could help clear a few misconceptions:
1. The narcissist does not try to be successful and famous in order to "make it" with women. Success with the objects of sexual desire is a pleasant by-product due to the formation of Free Libido.
2. The narcissist cannot be blamed for not being able to do both things simultaneously - maintain a relationship and succeed in his job, for instance. He has a very limited amount of available libido.
3. To the narcissist, sex is imbued with emotion. Some narcissists tend to label sex as "dirty" and "degrading". It carries with it the possibility of abandonment and the negation of the narcissist's uniqueness. Sex could lead to a relationship of dependence from which the narcissist is unable to extract himself. The narcissist does not have any interest in sex devoid of a narcissistic correlate. Even then his interest in conventional mating is low.
Cerebral narcissists regard the risk to reward ratio involved in sex as high. Too great an investment is needed compared to the reward and this also entails a disruption of the creation of PNSS.
Sex, of course, is a peak of intimacy and the narcissist is afraid of closeness, even in a casual relationship. Some narcissists are, therefore, described as asexual or frigid.
4. PNSS and SNSS are linked by association in clusters. Libido is directed at these clusters and complex behaviours can be easily explained by mapping the interconnectedness of PNSS and SNSS within the clusters and the relationships between the clusters themselves.
5. A long absence of PNSS and an inability to divert the Free Libido to search for additional sources (because of an existing relationship) lead to narcissistic frustration and to aggression. This frustration-aggression cycle brings about the breakdown of the relationship.
Mental Map # 6
a Narcissistic Defence (anticathexis) which is the Grandiose False Self.
Narcissistic Defences (anticathexis) faced with an object of idealisation:
Cathexis (most of the libido, some of the aggression)
Cathexis (most of the aggression, some of the libido)
Splitting and Projective Identification (defence mechanisms)
External regulation of self-esteem and of ego functions (volatility, discontinuity)
(Obeying a sadistic and punishing Superego,
part of an unresolved Oedipal Conflict, a Repetition Complex)
Creation of Transference Relationships with women (leading to abandonment)
and with authority figures (leading to punishment)
End result of all the above:
Demolition of the relationship
(re-enactment of the unresolved Oedipal Conflict,
fear of abandonment which leads to it)
But why does the narcissist "prefer" NSS to a relationship? Why not the other way around? After all, a woman partner can fulfil most of the functions of a NSS more reliably and more believably. We are forced to conclude that the narcissist's optimisation algorithms have gone astray, that something has gone awry with his rational apparatus.
This perturbance is called the Superego.
The narcissist has a sadistic and punishing Superego. Quite like his Ego, the narcissist's Superego is primitive (Ideal Superego). The narcissist's aggression, for reasons which we have elaborated upon earlier, is directed at his self instead of at objects outside himself. It is closely associated with his libido.
The narcissistic personality has four elements (in lieu of three). There is the Superego (SEGO), which punishes the narcissist for the deeds and misdeeds of his False Ego (FEGO). There is also the degenerated True Ego (TEGO), which does not function. Then there is a classical, unaffected ID - but it is not reined in by a functioning EGO.
There is no effective mediation between the narcissist's personality and reality and the narcissist is unable to postpone gratification and the immediate satisfaction of desires and of drives. The narcissist's personality is disjointed (not integrated) and its parts are incommunicado. The only integrating element is the SEGO, which keeps in touch with all the disparate segments.
Mental Map # 7
transformations of aggression on weak True Ego (TEGO).
These include: dysphoria, suicidal ideations, depression, anhedonia, self-loathing.
TEGO introverted, weak, disintegrative, partially differentiated.
SEGO exercises externalised transformations of aggression on False Ego (FEGO).
These include: self-sabotage, delinquency, boredom, envy, Projective Identification,
rage, cynicism, vulgar honesty, paranoid ideas, avoidance (sexual, emotional),
directed at objects through the mediation of FEGO.
FEGO is grandiose, extroverted, contains narcissistic defence mechanisms,
characterised by intellectualisation and infantilism.
FEGO communicates with ID:
Libido and sex vested in SELF through FEGO
defective (False) reality control (test),
partial control of drives and impulses
(all mediated through FEGO).
FEGO directs aggression at objects
(PNSS, SNSS and other objects)
and reaps abandonment, losses, and punishments through
the recreation of conflicts and transference relationships
(This is a manifestation of the long arm of the SEGO).
FEGO invests in objects NSS-oriented libido and extracts from objects
functions of accumulation of Narcissistic Supply and adulation.
The sources of the narcissist's self-destructive urges are in
the interactions SEGO-TEGO and SEGO-FEGO.
SEGO is the main cause of self-destruction.
The narcissistic defence mechanisms are all embedded in FEGO together with a libidinal investment.
SEGO punishes the narcissist for what FEGO does. But the punishment is felt by TEGO. FEGO is very primitive emotionally. It is binary: I feel good/bad or I have/do not have (Narcissistic Supply).
This split between the nominally punished (FEGO) and the structure which really experiences the punishment (TEGO) creates within the narcissist feelings of paranoia and injustice. He feels punished having done nothing wrong.
The libido is invested in the SELF and is intended to secure PNSSs. When these are secured, the libido is re-directed to objects (SNSSs) whose functions are to provide Narcissistic Supply (adulation) and narcissistic memory (through accumulation).
Moreover, the narcissist tries to modify his environment to make it conducive to his narcissistic needs.
He creates a Pathological Narcissistic Space (PN Space). This is a geographical area, a group of people, or an abstract field of knowledge in which the narcissistic pathology attains its maximum expression. The FEGO's boundaries overlap the geographical ones and the PN Space becomes the FEGO's domain and hunting grounds.
This domain is typically confined to the workplace, the family residence, and to a few other select locations (school, university, the homes of some friends, a political party headquarters, a club). But some narcissists use fame and celebrity to enlarge their PN Space. The various defence mechanisms (part of the FEGO) expand together with the FEGO to operate in all the territory of the PN Space. The existence of the PN Space is independent of the existence of PNSSs and SNSSs.
Put differently, the very existence of the PN Space and its characteristics are not altered or affected by the fluctuations in Narcissistic Supply (NS) which are a function of the availability of PNSSs and of SNSSs. A narcissist can, for instance, cease to be famous and still feel a narcissistic pathology throughout the PN Space (but not outside its borders).
The PN Space constantly consumes and drains NS. It has a function of negative accumulation of NS (a "sink").
PNSSs and SNSSs balance this negative accumulation by constantly providing the narcissist with NS and positive accumulation, respectively.
To recap: the PN Space is a geographical area, a group of people, or an abstract field of knowledge in which the narcissistic pathology reaches its full expression and effectiveness. The PN Space is, really, a territorially expanded FEGO. The expansion is achieved through PNSSs.
As far as narcissists in positions of authority go, a level of fame or notoriety is achieved through the media in a given territory, or by projecting power or wisdom or wealth onto a territorially bound group of people.
The Pathological Narcissistic Space has a few characteristics:
1. It is ubiquitous (all-pervasive) - it applies throughout the entirety of a homogeneous territory (a political, social, functional, cultural, or lingual unit with clear boundaries).
2. It has a critical mass - It is independent of the quality and identity of the Supply Sources. Example: the narcissist does not have to be famous among a specific, elite group of people. Any publicity and recognition will do, providing that a certain quantitative critical mass is reached.
3. It is size indifferent - The PN Space does not have to have a minimum size.
4. It is a derivative of PNSS - It cannot be derived from SNSSs. The latter only serve to regulate the flow of NS. Their role is to prevent a net loss (negative accumulation) of NS in the PN Space.
5. It is constant - Once created, the PN Space is independent of its sources (the PNSSs) and its stabilisers (SNSSs) and continues to exist regardless. It continues to exist even in the absence of NSSs of any sort.
6. It generates negative Narcissistic Accumulation - The very existence of the PN Space generates a negative accumulation of NS. The spatialisation of the FEGO drastically increases the quantity of NS needed and provided by PNSSs and SNSSs. The larger the PN Space - the more NSSs are needed.
A narcissist whose PN Space is "the family", for instance, consumes much less Narcissistic Supply than a narcissist whose PN Space is "the country" or "literary works in the English language".
These properties of the PN Space are also the attributes of the FEGO. It too is a product of some critical mass of observers, it is equally fed by PNSSs, stabilised by SNSSs, is constant and independent of the availability of NS. It too requires constant NS - which proves that it too generates a negative accumulation of NS. A PN Space is merely a spatialised FEGO. Every FEGO develops a FEGO Field - its own, private PN Space in which it operates optimally (or, at least, strives to do so).
With time, the narcissist abandons the PN Space as he abandons other meaningful things in his life. The narcissist attaches a PN Space to every geographical or functional human unit in which he operates (his family, his workplace, his friends, his profession). He then neutralises his emotional investments in these PN Spaces by using Emotional Involvement Preventive Measures (EIPM). This leads to estrangement, alienation, hard feelings and, ultimately, abandonment.
One of the reasons the narcissist forms a PN Space is because it makes it easier for him to obtain SNSSs. It is safe for him to assume that every subsystem of the PN Space possesses an SNSS profile. Where a PN Space does not exist, an SNSS profile has to be created first.
In other words: it is easier for the narcissist to find a girlfriend or to establish a business in a PN Space in which he is already known. Otherwise he has to "establish an SNSS profile", that is to introduce and to promote himself. A PN Space is the equivalent of having a good reputation or being well-known, which make it easier for the narcissist to locate NSSs.
The negative accumulation, which characterises the PN Space, creates a Grandiosity Gap. This is a gap between reality and the by-products of the various narcissistic defence mechanisms (such as the grandiose fantasies and the idealisations). There is always a very discernible and sizeable abyss between what the narcissist imagines himself (and those dear to him) to be - and the much less exhilarating reality.
These gaps are overcome by the constant infusion of Narcissistic Supply. When there is a drain on this supply (as happens with the introduction of a new PN Space), the gaps can no longer be bridged and devaluation sets in. The narcissist berates himself and all the people that he is in touch with. By doing so he hopes to narrow the glaring gap between what he says about himself and what he really is.
Another result of this yawning gap is the uncontrollable urge to obtain NSSs (objects). This is how the primary drive to find PNSS develops. But, as we know, in the absence of SNSS, Grandiosity Gaps again develop in the PN Space (even in the presence of PNSS).
The two cycles of Narcissistic Supply emerge:
1. PNSS - Overvaluation - a PN Space Grandiosity Gap - Devaluation - Primary Drive to obtain PNSS - obtaining PNSS - Narcissistic Supply.
2. Grandiosity Gap - Secondary drive to obtain SNSS - obtaining SNSS - stabilisation, regulation and accumulation of Narcissistic Supply - Overvaluation - and so on and so forth.
Mental Map # 8
Grandiose self and fantasies fed by
Reserved and Residual Libidos as means (to obtain PNSS).
often leads to the use of:
Creativity (not primary drive)
Invented or real biography
(Principles of operation: maximum cost effectiveness, path of least resistance)
(Primary Drive) PNSS
Formation of Free Libido and NSS addiction
(Secondary Drive) SNSS
(Functions: accumulation, adulation, a feeling of superiority)
Stabilisation of Narcissistic Supply
Conflict with internalised ideal object
Recreation of basic conflict with the mother
Initiation of loss leads to a resolution of the conflicts
(The Wunderkind Mask)
Loss and Loss Dysphoria
Reactive Repertoire (escapism), relief
Dysphoria of Deficiency
Notes and remarks to the map:
1. The partner fulfils the function of Narcissistic Accumulation by serving as a kind of external memory available and accessible to the narcissist. This ready supply encourages his addiction and enhances it.
The partner herself is an SNSS. She provides Narcissistic Supply through adulation, submissiveness and by making the narcissist feel that he is superior. Thus, she fortifies his feeling of being unique.
2. Sometimes the partner ceases to fulfil her SNSS functions (ceases to admire the narcissist, or to stabilise his NS by acting as an external, living witness to his grand moments and exploits). This also happens when the partner is not sophisticated or educated enough to provide the narcissist with meaningful admiration (adulation which does not sound hollow or contrived). She then provides defective or partial accumulation.
Another possibility is when "familiarity breeds contempt". The physical proximity between the narcissist and his sources eliminates the information gap (mystique), the affective asymmetry, and the source's emotional ability to admire the narcissist. This is the most realistic threat posed by intimacy.
Non-functioning or dysfunctional SNSSs are caused by the loss of information asymmetry (loss of the elements of distance and mystery which are a prerequisite to any adulation). The narcissist much prefers admiration to intimacy and he often finds that the latter negates the former.
3. When there are no PNSSs around, there is nothing to admire or to accumulate. The presence of PNSSs forms an addictive habit, which facilitates the existence of constant SNSSs. The latter regulate the flow of NSSs over time. They smooth the bumps in the supply curve. When rendered non-functioning, the SNSSs really become anti-narcissistic agents. The "dysfunctional" partner's mere presence is a constant reminder of the narcissist's failure to sustain a flow of NS through the PNSSs.
The partner in such a (narcissistically) sorry state becomes a passive anti-narcissistic agent. Her accumulated past Narcissistic Supply provokes a deficiency dysphoria in the narcissist. When he compares his current situation (obscurity, for instance) with his past (fame), as evidenced and accumulated by the SNSSs, he becomes dysphoric. He feels how deficient his NS is at this stage.
The partner is also transformed into an active anti-narcissistic agent by criticising the narcissist and by humiliating him. This is part and parcel of the transference relationship and of the recreation of the Oedipal Conflict.
This, naturally, leads to the erosion of intimacy.
In many ways the narcissist's relationships are booby-trapped. On the one hand, he wants to have a sophisticated, educated, independent, and accomplished woman to be his partner. Only adulation which emanates from such a source has any meaning at all. But the likelihood of finding such a partner who would also be willing to fulfil the SNSS functions (adulation, submissiveness, playing the inferior so as to accentuate the narcissist's superiority) is minimal.
On the other hand, the narcissist finds interpersonal relationships impossible when the function of accumulation is not provided by his partner and when she fails to provide him with constant adulation and submissiveness. Yet, the partner is not likely to provide these things when there are no PNSS available or when she is intimate with the narcissist.
The main narcissistic defence mechanism (grandiose self) and its parallel energy mechanism (Reserved Libido invested in the self) preclude real, lasting interpersonal relationships. Proximity and intimacy endanger the grandiose self. Knowing the narcissist intimately, the partner is unlikely to continue to submissively provide him with accumulation and adulation and to continue to play the "I am inferior - you are superior" game. The narcissist cannot allocate enough Free Libido to invest in an emotional and sexual partner that is not a SNSS.
The narcissist's personality maintains an equilibrium at a minimal level of energy investment. All his mental processes are on the path of least resistance. The narcissist prefers means that do lead to PNSS but consume the least energy on the way there. An example that we used before is now further elucidated:
If works of art or intellect created by the narcissist long ago supply him with all the PNSSs that he requires - he ceases to create. His drive to create is not a primary drive. It is an instrument in the never-ending quest for PNSS. He can easily abstain from creating if the (high) level of Narcissistic Supply he obtains regularly does not warrant it.
But this is only one part of a larger picture.
There is a constant battle going on between the TEGO and the much stronger SEGO. When TEGO is marginally strengthened the emphasis shifts to SNSSs (mate, work). The result is a shortage of PNSSs and narcissistic frustration.
The narcissist is a man of extremes. He does not properly balance his energy and his needs, maybe because he is not aware of the latter. So he allocates all his resources to a single task, neglecting the others.
FEGO is now activated. Using aggression received from SEGO, FEGO leads to a situation in which TEGO is no longer able to express or manifest itself. Put plainly: FEGO creates circumstances which make it impossible for the narcissist to find a partner and to live with her or to find a job which does not yield Primary Narcissistic Supply (PNS).
The narcissist experiences this mental putsch in the form of a sudden negative reaction to women and to "unglamorous", "no limelight", unexciting workplaces and jobs. He is likely to act out and permanently damage his relationship with a significant other or in a promising job.
To reiterate: the narcissist regards other people (and society at large) as mere Narcissistic Sources of Supply (functions). When someone is thought of as a function - he or she is abstracted, transformed into a symbol. Symbols are easily interchangeable - and so are Sources of Supply.
Some narcissists - in specific phases of his pathology - refrain even from the direct handling of what they regard as mere symbols. In other words, they decline to make and maintain contact with human beings as individuals and with society as a whole. It is a strange kind of reclusiveness. This kind of narcissist may be outwardly outgoing, gregarious, successful, and famous - but inwardly he is an autarkic hermit, the epitome of "object withdrawal".
The schizoid narcissist uses his mate/spouse as a substitute for the objects, which he had forgone. She is capable, in principle, of supplying all his needs (sexual, social, and narcissistic). She fulfils the function of "object replacement" through "object representation". She stands for the world.
The narcissist has precious little mental energy (the bulk of it is constantly invested in himself). It is better (and more efficient) for him to deal with a single representation than with the baffling and energy consuming array of phenomena, people, and social structures in the outside world.
Gradually, the narcissist displaces all the emotions which were previously reserved for objects (the outside world) and projects them onto his partner. She cannot stand this emotional barrage and his impossible set of expectations and soon she breaks down and ceases to fulfil the narcissistic functions of adulation and submissiveness. She rebels against the conventions of this shared psychosis (folie a deux), against the narcissist's self-declared superiority and refuses to actively witness and record his life. She is thus rendered useless from the point of view of Narcissistic Accumulation.
The narcissist reacts by devaluing the mate or spouse, that he had previously idealised and overvalued, and the relationship ends. The narcissist's reactions to women (and to other SNSSs, notably money) are pathological and make use of mental constructs poorly correlated with reality. He assimilates them without accommodating them - a process doomed to backfire through acting out.
Vaknin, S. (2008, November 7). Chapter 7, The Soul of a Narcissist, The State of the Art, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, February 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/personality-disorders/malignant-self-love/chapter-seven-the-concepts-of-narcissistic-accumulation-and-regulation