The Pathological Narcissist
by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
Author, Attorney, Podcaster, Media Commentator, Motivational Speaker, and Creator of the World's Most Successful Breakup Program.
- Getting Past Your Breakup: How To Turn A Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You (Hachette Book Group 2009)
- Getting Back Out There: Secrets to Successful Dating and Finding Real Love After the Big Breakup (Hachette Book Group 2015)
- Getting Past Your Past Workbook: The Definitive Workbook to Emotional Healing, Health and Happiness (La Bella Vita Publishing 2012)
- GPYP Power! Affirmations (La Bella Vita Publishing 2019)
Backstory to this post: This is a requested repost.
This is an edited version of an article that was published, once upon a time, in Psychology Today. It was one of several articles on narcissism I wrote for them – long before others were talking about narcissism. Then, we had a falling out. (To hear about it go to this podcast). Though both the classic narcissist and the subtype, covert narcissist, share many traits, they don’t share all traits. This article is mostly about the classic narcissist, with only a few references to the covert narcissist. The covert narcissist will be covered in other articles.
The Pathological Narcissist
A person void of empathy, love or
enjoyment is not someone to love – Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
Kernberg and Kohut are known as the “fathers” of narcissism. Because so many of my clients have been involved with narcissists, I have been re-reading Dr. Kernberg and Dr. Kohut. I was married, the first time, to an overt narcissist who gaslighted me (see my video on gaslighting HERE) and abused me in many ways, all the while blaming it on me (one of my articles on the abusive nature of my first marriage, “Journey From Abuse” is HERE).
I spent years in therapy recovering from the trauma and learning everything I could about personality disorders. I went to graduate school and worked, for years, in psychiatric services. As a survivor of narcissistic abuse and someone who has spent decades researching it, I have attracted a large percentage of clients who have been involved with pathological narcissists. It is difficult to treat them until they understand, truly understand, what pathological narcissism is. GPYB is a program of observation, preparation and cultivation. (To understand the steps of the program, go HERE).
The bottom line is that a narcissist is completely incapable of love and void of empathy. This person will never ever ever love you. Any overtures they have made that appear to be love have simply been to get you to admire them. Yet, because they suffer from feelings of inadequacy, they actually disdain those who admire them. There is NO winning with the narcissist. It sounds crazy because it is crazy. If you’re a normal person, it is hard to wrap your head around it. But once you read below, you might have a better grasp of it and be able to protect yourself from these people.
Pathological versus Diagnosis
Pathological is usually another word for mental disorder or personality disorder. However, personality disorder is typically established as an official diagnosis. There are many people with personality disorders who have never been diagnosed. And since you shouldn’t go around diagnosing people who don’t subject themselves to it, it’s better to use “pathological.”
The clinical definition is a DSM Axis II personality disorder (2020 Note: DSM V no longer uses the axes model) whereas pathological narcissism is more an observation. It’s a conclusion you come to in order to keep yourself safe, but no one asked you to fill out a form.
People will often say, “Oh you can’t diagnose someone else!” or something along those lines, but you also can’t go through life ignoring people’s deeply disturbed psychological profiles, especially when you are being victimized by them. Therefore, I encourage my readers and clients to observe others and draw conclusions to keep themselves safe or keep a distance after a breakup from a narcissist. I can’t definitively diagnosis someone with a personality disorder via a third party, but I can give you my opinion as well as information to protect yourself from someone who is inherently incapable of loving you because he or she acts as if they have a personality disorder.
There Is Healthy Narcissism
All of us are narcissistic to some degree. If we have healthy self-esteem, that is healthy narcissism. On one side of the narcissism spectrum is healthy self-esteem, on the other side is personality disorder (unhealthy or malignant narcissism).
We are all people seeking admiration to some extent, but a person with good self-esteem will give themselves positive feedback before seeking it from others. A person with good self-esteem will gravitate toward like-minded others but doesn’t need to be liked by everyone. A person with good self-esteem understands that he or she will not be everyone’s cup of tea. And where overly harsh or undue criticism is concerned, a person with good self-esteem will have the attitude, “What you think of me is none of my business.” A person with good self-esteem can take constructive criticism from trusted friends or colleagues and learn from it. A person with good self-esteem isn’t above hearing good, honest, reflective feedback from those who care.
Dr. Kernberg posited that we are all in love with ourselves to some extent, many of us much more than others. And, also to some extent, we seek validation and approval from others. As a young therapist, my mentor told me that to be psychological healthy, a person had 4 needs to be met:
to be loved,
to have self-worth and
to have others see that worth.