One of the reasons that narcissists are so difficult to spot, and indeed to understand, is because they have a split personality – one that maintains a public image of the very pillars of society, and another private one that wreaks havoc and abuse on anyone misfortunate enough to get close to them.
Why the Split Personality?
Generally, people develop Narcissistic Personality Disorder in their early infancy. It happens as a result of serious trauma experienced as a young child – physical or sexual abuse, for example – as a result of which the child feels a sense deep shame towards their “Real Self”. Their real character is buried deep in their psyche, and suffers arrested development – that is to say certain emotions develop no further as they grow older but are frozen in time at the age that the abuse happened. Key regulatory emotions affected include empathy, remorse, love, and compassion. They compensate by establishing a “false self”, in essence a charade, an act that mimics mannerisms learnt from their parents, friends and family, films etc.
Real or Authentic Self
Deep underneath, their real self is wracked with self-loathing and shame. They hate themselves and are thoroughly jealous of normal range people who are able to feel joy, love, empathy. They are desperate that they are not exposed for who they really are. They know they have another side to them, but they will do all they can to avoid admitting it – not least to themselves. They compensate by abusing those closest to them which gives them temporary escape from their own misery.
Their false self is the perfect camouflage to play counterpart to their awkward and self-loathing reality. Expect most types of narcissist to be brimming with apparent confidence, and for them to be thoroughly charming and charismatic.
To they well-trained eye, however, they are not all they’re cracked up to be. A number of subtle traits are incongruous with their more lovable and admirable aspects. Often they will harbour disdain for those they believe beneath them (eg waiting staff in restaurants). They are extremely susceptible to criticism, which will invariably spark narcissistic rage – a foul explosion of anger and hostility, but that can die down and be forgotten (by them at least) as quickly as the outburst exploded. Their circle of acquaintances is wide but shallow (it is simply too tiring for them to continually invest the time and effort into developing numerous deep friendships), and instead they become expert manipulators at garnering positive attention from a wider spectrum whilst isolating and undermining any potential rivals or enemies.
Incredibly to many of the friends and acquaintances, they are pathological liars. This may be hard to believe at first, until one fully comprehends that their entire lives are one extended lie – the charade that obscures their real self.
The Narcissistic Gap
The gap, the difference between their real and false selves, is referred to as the Narcissistic Gap. Maintaining this gap is hard work and is a lifelong toil and challenge for the narcissist, and requires narcissistic supply in abundance. It is for this reason that they need such admiration and control (which reinforces the sense of false self), and are so adverse to any kind of reprimand, criticism and humiliation (consider that any of these remind them of the real self they are trying to escape from).
Simply put, their life’s mission is to cultivate and enhance their false self and will react with extreme hostility to anything and anyone that points to their real self.