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Raw Concepts: Ego Math, Net Narcissistic Supply

Posted By T. AKA Ricky Raw On December 1, 2012 @ 2:13 AM In Uncategorized | Comments Disabled

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In response to this post [9], reader 691 posted this comment [10]. I address it in pieces below:

I think you might be projecting your understanding of narcissism onto the their psychology. Just as narcissists have a superficial charm, they also may have a superficial understanding of narcissism and of how they fit the diagnosis.

I’m confused. Isn’t that exactly what I said? Maybe my intent wasn’t communicated clearly enough? I’m not sure exactly what I said you’re trying to refute here. However I’m totally open to the possibility that maybe I wasn’t clear in my writing, so if indeed that was the case, then let me make it clear now, what you describe is exactly what I was trying to actually warn others against: Not to project their understanding of narcissism onto the narcissist. Not to think that because you have a thorough understanding of what a narcissist is, that the narcissist themselves has as deep an understanding of the term when he or she uses it as well. What you as a mature, more mentally sophisticated person mean when you say “narcissist” isn’t usually the same definition the narcissist himself is using for the word. His or her definition of the word is usually far more simplistic and self-serving.

Narcissists like being called narcissists because the act of calling them out is itself narcissistic supply; it’s attention focused on them and they never stop to think through what it means.

I totally agree with this.

Secondly, most people use the N-word from a position of weakness.It’s when you have been abused, manipulated or hurt by a narcissist that you call them out on it.

Yes and no. It’s not always the case that people only call narcissists out after being abused, manipulated or hurt by them. Some people call them out on it very early on before they’re heavily invested in the relationship. Or they call them out on their narcissism in order to embarrass them in front of an audience. Unfortunately most people are too polite to do this and instead just do their best to avoid them. But I’ve been out and called out entitled girls as self-centered or entitled for trying to pull stunts that they expected to get away with just because they were female and pretty. A lot of people call out self-centered behavior (although not enough by far).

For example, a person may learn about narcissism after being burned by a few, and may end up calling out those few narcissists from a position of weakness, after they’ve already been used, sure. But once (or rather, IF) a person learns from such experiences and educates themselves and says “never again,” they won’t ever get deep in a relationship with one again, and the only time they’ll ever use the “N” word is preemptively, when they see the warning signs and call the narcissist out early before giving them the boot. From that point the word is being used from a position of strength, effectively saying, “I see through you and your bullshit and you’re never getting a chance to use me. You’re a phony, a fraud, a front, an impostor.” To a narcissist that’s a huge form of narcissistic injury, especially if this shaming happens in front of an audience.

I’ll give you an example: there is this guy who runs this blog called Arachnoid.com and he has a great series of articles about narcissism. He was the victim of a malignant narcissism (he describes it in an article) and was totally blindsided by it, and educated himself on the topic. He also currently writes about computer and science related topics. Whenever he gets angry letters from obnoxious, self-centered people trying to pull their games on him in response to one of his science articles, he would call them out and utterly dismantle them and then post his exchanges with them online afterward for people to see. He would call them out for being narcissistic, and use the word “narcissism” as well, but if you look at the exchanges he is definitely not coming from a position of weakness. He’s also definitely not giving these people narcissistic supply if you go by their responses to him. They’re obviously severely narcissistically injured by his immunity to their tactics. The coup de grace, of course, is the audience. By publishing the results of the exchange, and thereby publicly getting the last word, he’s attacked the narcissist’s public image, even if the guy is an anonymous commenter. It’s beautiful:


See, many experts advise a “No Contact” rule when it comes to narcissists. And it makes sense to a degree to advise this. They advise this because narcissists often derive narcissistic supply from any attention, negative or positive, so the sentiment is that either way as long as they get attention, they win.

I slightly disagree however, and I’ll explain why. The context is important. Every social transaction with a narcissist is evaluated using a process that I call “ego math.” Ego math is the following equation:

B + A + S – I = NS 

B = Ego Boost Derived Derived from the Transaction.

The more you make the focus of your attack how butthurt you feel from how the narcissist treated you, or you are pleading to make the narcissist understand your point of view and feel empathy for you or are frustratingly trying to get the narcissist to admit he/she was wrong and apologize, this will give an ego boost. The more you try to reason, or show impotent rage and act hurt, the bigger the ego boost because you are coming from a place of weakness, like 691 says. If on the other hand, you attack the narcissist where it hurts, by attacking his image, his false self, and targeting his shame and pushing his inadequacy buttons and find a way to embarrass him, especially in front of an audience (narcissists live for the approval of strangers and acquaintances), you have minimized the amount of ego boost that can come from the confrontation.

A = Alternate Fallback Sources of Narcissistic Supply.

Narcissists like to move on to a new source of supply before letting go of old sources, just like most people like to have a new job lined up before leaving an old job, so they almost always have a love interest in their life if possible. They also like to have a circle of acolytes that they call friends, but who they really think of as an entourage or minor supporting cast or an on-call audience.

S = Current Overall Ego Strength.

Let’s say the narcissist has had a bunch of personal “wins” in life lately. He or she has gotten a new glamorous job, got a new supermodel or investment banker partner, got a raise, lost a bunch of weight, has saved a bunch of cash, got a great new haircut, just went shopping, is attending the best party of his or her life, and is feeling particularly grandiose as a result. At this point the narcissist’s ego strength is pretty high. On the other hand, say the narcissist just suffered a crushing, humiliating break up, is stalled in his or her career or worse got fired, has lost a lot of friends, is sitting home alone and lonely, had someone close to them die, or is just bummed out in general due to being recently forced to face a grandiosity gap [11]. At this point, the ego strength will be low. At times when the narcissist is especially demoralized and has low ego strength, if a person calls them out at this time and provides negative attention, the amount of narcissistic supply derived will be at its minimum. When the narcissist is sitting on top of the world, calling him out does the opposite of the intended effect, and that is when any attention, positive or negative, still provides optimum narcissistic supply.

Take for example this scene from Mad Men [12], episode “Dark Shadows,” after Don torpedoes Ginsberg’s idea by not presenting it to the client, then scores a major victory when he presents only his own idea to the client and it is a hit. He just scored a major win, got a huge dose of narcissistic supply, and his ego strength was at its peak. Ginsberg calls him out while he’s still riding high off his accomplishment, and the results are disastrous for Ginsberg:

But say Don got busted right before the pitch meeting, and someone caught him trying to dispose of Ginsberg’s pitch? Say his underhanded move was exposed in front of an audience, especially an audience of people whose approval he valued? Say the cab driver saw the idea by Ginsberg that Don “accidentally” dropped in the cab, picked it up, brought it into the building, and it was sent up to the meeting room while Don was still pitching. Say Don was then forced to show the second idea, the client ends up loving Ginsberg’s idea more than Don’s and chooses it. Now say on top of that, word gets back to the people at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce about what happened with Ginsberg’s idea almost being lost and people put two and two together and realize that Don must have been trying to sabotage Ginsberg and must therefore feel threatened by his talent. So, after losing the battle of the pitches, after being publicly rejected by a client, after being publicly exposed as being desperate and threatened enough to cheat, his ego strength would be incredibly low. Say in that case, then Ginsberg, the young and up and comer who just scored a major win against him, cornered him in the elevator and called him a piece of work, in a similar way as he did in the clip. Would Don still have netted narcissistic supply from the negative attention of being called out as a narcissist? Likely not. It would likely have registered as narcissistic injury instead. It’s very much a timing issue.

INarcissistic Injury Derived from the Transaction.

I once knew a girl who had been in a relationship for years with a narcissist. We went out for drinks one night and over a few hours she described her tumultuous relationship in detail. Because people who have encountered narcissists love exchanging war stories, we exchanged a lot of war stories and details, and she told me what follows, which was very informative for me and made me realize that the No Contact Rule wasn’t airtight.

She had been gathering red flags about him for a while, and was starting to see through his bullshit, but she kept giving him passes and when she noticed a lot of his phoniness and that he was an imposter about a lot of things, to be nice she let a lot of things slide and didn’t call him on incongruities she noticed. One thing she noticed was that he like to fancy himself an intellectually and spiritually superior person, but when she would borrow his books and read them and try to discuss them with him, he didn’t really know much about the books, or he had only the most superficial understanding of the themes and messages. Sometimes he had less than a superficial understanding, and was outright wrong about what the books were about. He apparently skimmed and half-assed enough just to be able to be pretentious and quote, look smart, impress people (especially people who hadn’t read the book and couldn’t expose his intellectual or spiritual deficiencies). He absorbed nothing of substance and gained no insight from things he read, he just used them as fantasy fuel. She mentally collected a checklist of all the ways he was a fraudulent impostor, all the ways in which the false, idealized self he presented didn’t match up with his drab reality, and started noticing all the things he was insecure about when he let the mask slip and let his low self-esteem leak into his conscious awareness.

So one day, he did something so heinously disrespectful involving cheating (and it wasn’t the first time) that she finally snapped and lost it. They got into an argument and she let go of everything she had been holding in. Normally when they had arguments, she made them about trying to make him understand her feelings, get empathy from him, save the relationship, show how hurt and jealous she was about his cheating.

This time was different. She had no desire to save the relationship or make him understand her pain. She didn’t care about salvaging anything. She said she lost it so badly, all she wanted to do was hurt him and hold nothing back.  She told him off about all the ways he was a narcissist. But she didn’t use any language that could be ambiguously reinterpreted in a positive fashion. She didn’t say “Oh you hurt me so bad. How could you!? I loved you so much, and you used me.” That would register as narcissistic supply to him. She didn’t say “You asshole.” A lot of narcissists love being called assholes and wearing the title as a badge of honor. Look at Tucker Max. She didn’t call him a jerk. After all, chicks are known to dig jerks, so he could have taken that as acknowledgment that he was a player. She didn’t call him a narcissist, because many laypeople don’t really understand the full meaning of the term in any depth.

No, what she did was different. She used targeted, specific attacks at his image (which is all a narcissist really cares about) using words [13] that could only be interpreted badly (like “bitch”, which no man can spin into a positive) and brought up specific embarrassing instances to back her case up. She screamed things like “You are such a loser, that’s why you cheated on me with a young dumb girl [14] who doesn’t know any better because she’s too stupid to ever figure out what a fraud you are the way. You know I wasn’t fooled by your bullshit anymore and it burns you up I can see the real you. You try to front like you’re rolling in dough but you have to borrow everything from me and your credit cards are all maxed out. You think I haven’t noticed the collection calls? You’re a phony. Like when we all went to dinner with my friends and family and you tried to front like you were some baller and show off by paying and your card was declined? [She knew this incident really embarrassed him] Nobody believed your bs story about it being some bank mistake, they were all laughing about it after and telling me to dump your ass for being a phony scrub. [She told me that her friends didn't actually say this, but she was just angry and was specifically targeting things she knew were his sore spots]. You’re always lying and manipulating to cover up what a loser you are, but everyone eventually figures it out!” Then she delivered the killing blow, and attacked his most prized aspect of his false self: “And that’s why you can’t even understand those books you try to read and pretend to know so much about.”

She said at that point, he flew across the room in a blind rage and wrapped his hands around her neck, insane with fury. She said she was scared for her life like never before. She said she broke away just before he managed to squeeze, and he was so emotional he was sobbing with rage, something she had never seen before. She scrambled out of there relatively unharmed, but no one can say that he netted narcissistic supply from that negative attention.

The reason why has to do with the concept of shame, which I’m going to discuss in more depth in later posts. Shame and guilt are used interchangeably by many people, but their very different things. Shame is feeling bad about what you are, your very identity, and the main remedy for it is to cover up and conceal what one is. Actions don’t matter, because to a shame-based person actions don’t change one’s identity. For example, materialism and snobbery are shame-based vices. If a materialist, snobby person were to own a crappy, old rusty Dodge, he would not stop feeling bad about it because it’s a Dodge. Let’s say this Dodge was overhauled to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars so that every last thing about the inside of the car was top notch. It could actually outperformed every other car on the road. He still would be focused on the fact that it’s a Dodge and not a Mercedes. How well it performed or how dependable it is would still be what mattered least. He’d rather have a shiny new gas guzzling Mercedes Benz SUV that was a lemon on the inside yet still impressed people on the outside. A shame-based person’s main concern is impression management rather than actual performance. Even when they care about performance, they only care about it to the extent

Guilt is feeling bad about specific things you did, rather than about who you are, and the main remedy for it is atonement and taking actions toward restitution. A guilt-based person wouldn’t mind a fancy car that was also dependable, but if his only choices were a solid, dependable car that wasn’t fancy and wouldn’t impress anyone or an impressive, fancy car that was undependable and performed terribly, he would choose the former. Actions and results matter more to him than impressing people. Guilt is a more highly evolved trait than shame.

The problem many people do when confronting narcissists is they try to use guilt. This is because they are mature and more evolved and operate out of guilt.  So when they call out the narcissist, they focus on the narcissist’s actions. But narcissists don’t feel guilt, they only feel shame. Shame is the key component of narcissism and all narcissists are shame-based. They only care about criticisms of their actions to the extent that such actions reveal how defective their identity is and threatens their image. Whether their actions are moral or immoral, productive or lazy, effective or ineffective, all that is only relevant to the extent that such actions are exposed and how the image benefits or suffers as a result. That’s why during earlier arguments when this girl used to call her ex a liar, a cheat, and bring up all the ways his actions were hurting her, all her negative attention did was provide him narcissistic supply. However in the last argument, when she focused the attention on how the ways his very self and his very identity were defective and how his false, idealized outer image was actually transparent to the people most worth impressing and everyone could actually see the defective self he was trying to cover up, he totally lost it.

Even when she did criticize his actions, she went from criticizing them for guilt reasons to criticizing them for shame reasons. Before she would have said, “You cheated, and it really hurt me. It was wrong to do. It’s evil, and you’re an asshole for doing so.” Now she switched it to, “You cheated, and it’s because you’re a loser with no money, no career, no accomplishments but your dick. You cheated because you know a woman who’s going places and is a real catch like me is always going to see through you eventually and you needed someone new, young, and stupid enough to not see through your bullshit.” And so on and so on. Everything was about what he was rather than what he did. And even when it was about what his actions, it was only about them to the extent that they revealed what  he secretly feared he was: a defective loser.

This was a shame-based attack. It’s the only type of confrontation that can disarm a narcissist. For example, ridicule is a shame-based attack. A lecture is a guilt-based attack. Guilt-based attacks can work on a narcissist, but usually only when there is an audience. For example if there is an audience of people who the narcissist wants to impress and get admiration from and recruit/keep as acolytes, giving them a guilt-based attack in front of such people will embarrass the narcissist and make him feel shame, plus the audience will no longer admire him and he will lose all that potential narcissistic supply, which will cause even more narcissistic injury. Appearing moral can still be important to narcissists and other shame-based people, even though actually being moral isn’t important at all.

[If you want to read more about shame, check this post [15]. Also, it has a pretty good chart that drives home the differences between shame and guilt pretty effectively.]

Now here is a real interesting paradox, something I call The Narcissistic Guilt Paradox. If you keep repeatedly trying to guilt a narcissist by pointing out how terrible his actions are, but you never shame them by attacking what actually matters to them, their image, you not only have no negative effect on them, but you actually end up enhancing their image and feeding their narcissism. Why is this? Because they start to think, “Wow, if I can really do all these terrible, terrible things and get away with it with my image still pristine, then I really must be intrinsically great. My identity, my false idealized self, must be so awesome and bulletproof that nothing I do, no matter how shitty it is, can lower my perceived value.” It’s one thing if you do everything right and treat everyone good and you walk away with a good image. Anyone can do that. But someone who can do a lot of evil things and treat people shitty and still walk away with a good image? By the narcissists warped private logic, the intrinsic value of such a person must truly be great.

Also, because a narcissist views everything through the prism of status and image comparison rather than right and wrong, all they care about is whether or not they appear superior in status to whoever they’re dealing with at any given time. When someone is appealing to a narcissist’s nonexistent sense of guilt, they are investing time and psychic energy to win the narcissist over to their way of thinking. The message is, “I need something from you. I need you to see the ways in which you were wrong,” which to the narcissist registers as a form of pleading and approval seeking, because you are basically asking the narcissist to validate your frustration and see your side of things in order to get closure. By making your case using facts and logic, you’re obviously invested in winning over the narcissist to your viewpoint, which to the narcissist is a form of pleading and acknowledging his or her superiority.

This is why the more you forgive a narcissist for wrongdoing and don’t shame them for it, and the more you try to make a factual case to prove a narcissist’s guilt to the narcissist, the more they are likely to view it all as ego-boosting and keep repeating and escalating the wrongdoing as a warped way to prove their own unstoppable intrinsic value to themselves.

NS = Net Narcissistic Supply.

This is the final result after all the narcissistic supply and narcissistic injury sources has been added up and subtracted. If when it’s all done net narcissistic supply is positive, then the narcissist has received an ego boost from the social transaction. If when it’s all done net narcissistic supply is negative, then the narcissist has received a bruised ego from the social transaction. It’s all about making the narcissistic injury outweigh the narcissistic supply.

To recap and summarize in a simpler way: To calculate how much narcissistic supply or narcissistic injury a narcissist is deriving from an encounter, you have to figure out how much ego boosting and  image enhancement the N is getting, then offset it by the amount of ego bruising and image ruining the N is deriving. If the former outweighs the latter, the N gets narcissistic supply and the whole thing is a worthwhile endeavor. If the latter outweighs the former, the N gets narcissistic injury, and crashes down to earth in a heap.

Of course there are two problems with all of this type of confrontation, and these two problems are why so many experts recommend No Contact as the best strategy for dealing with narcissists.

Problem 1: First, it’s very hard for most people to effectively launch a shame-based attack. This difficulty is because most people are not psychologically savvy and technically skilled enough at doing it (good shamers get that way from a lot of practice). It takes pinpoint precision to hit the proper shame targets, targets so devastating that even the narcissist’s incredible ability to reframe all negatives in a self-serving way short-circuits. Shaming is also difficult because it requires a lot less empathy than guilting, and a lot more ruthlessness. The more psychologically healthy, mature, and positive you are, the more shaming goes against your natural instincts. The girl I mentioned became more and more ruthless, and less trusting and empathetic, from being burned so much by this guy. So by the time she reached her breaking point, she reached a level of ruthlessness and a lack of empathy for him that she never thought she could have for another human being. Which directly leads up to…

Problem 2: The toll on your soul it takes to get that ruthless and lacking in empathy to the point you can beat the narcissist at his own game is tragic. To a degree, you become more narcissistic yourself. This phenomenon is called Narcissistic Contagion, and Sam Vaknin elaborates on the risks of fighting a narcissist’s fire with fire in the video below:

So I disagree that all confrontations with a narcissist are doomed to end up with an increase in narcissistic supply for the narcissist. Depending on the context and various factors, negative attention doesn’t always have to end up feeding a narcissist’s ego. However a good case can be made that it is very hard to pull off and may be a no-win situation for your soul, so for those reason No Contact is still probably the best solution for 90% of the population.

Next post, I am going to show you one of the best resources on the Internet for seeing examples of narcissists being taken down in real-life verbal confrontations using the principles I describe in this post. Can you guess what I’m talking about?

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[9] to this post: http://therawness.com/the-self-awareness-of-the-narcissist/

[10] posted this comment: http://therawness.com/the-self-awareness-of-the-narcissist/#comment-33094

[11] grandiosity gap: http://therawness.com/raw-concepts-grandiosity-gap-2/

[12] Mad Men: http://therawness.com/mad-men/

[13] words: http://therawness.com/words/

[14] dumb girl: http://therawness.com/dumb-girl/

[15] check this post: http://therawness.com/mad-men-season-5-ep-12-commissions-and-fees/

[16] Raw Concepts: Narcissistic Supply: http://therawness.com/raw-concepts-narcissistic-supply/

[17] The Easiest, Fastest Way to Understand Narcissists: http://therawness.com/the-easiest-fastest-way-to-understand-narcissists/

[18] Hecklers, Part 2: Examples: http://therawness.com/hecklers-part-2-examples/

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