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A Structural Theory of Narcissism and Psychopathy

The infant believes that mother/the breast/ food, everything, is part of itself; it experiences itself solely through neural input.


[T]the problem of group violence, is one of the most important issues facing society. Not only is this a most crucial topic for our American society but we are confronted with events that are occurring all over the globe, on all continents and in all countries…

So said Dr. Ernest Wolf in a talk given to the International Self-Psychology Symposium in Dreieich, Germany, in May of 2001, four months before 9-11.

This essay was recently brought to our attention, having been posted on the Cassiopaea Forum for the express purpose of highlighting Wolf’s description of Narcissistic Rage. Frankly, that was the best part of the essay; the rest was hopelessly muddled and naive.


Well, Dr. Wolf attempts to explain the causes of evil – individual and macro-social – using the framework of Heinz Kohut’s theory of “Self Psychology” (or psychoanalytic psychology of the self). With all due respect to Dr. Kohut and Dr. Wolf, we think that this theory isn’t bad if you are just talking about normal human beings who are born healthy and live in basically healthy environments. What this theory does not take into account is the role of pathogenic factors in our society – human beings who are carriers of abnormal psychopathological traits – who can infect groups and even entire societies, bringing pandemic evil on macro-social scales. More than that, it seeks to “spread the blame” over all people, to ignore the fact that moral evil and psychobiological evil are, in effect, interlinked via so many causal relationships and mutual influences that they can only be separated by means of abstraction. Yes, the body social must be weakened before it can succumb to an infection, but if there is no infecting pathogen, it will merely be weak and ineffectual.

In short, Wolf’s essay amounts to little more than apologia for Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Psychopathy and only adds to the confusion of our times when the problems pressed upon humanity by such types are nothing short of catastrophic.

But, like we said, Wolf has provided one heck of a description of Narcissistic Rage. Since it really is good, let’s take a look at it:

Talking about rageful behavior he [Kohut] observed that underlying the rage one often finds an uncompromising insistence on the perfection of the idealized other. The infant experiences itself still in a state of limitlessness power and knowledge, a state that we as outsiders deprecatingly call the child’s grandiosity, its grandiose self. 

If for a variety of reasons this infantile grandiose state of narcissism is prevented from maturing into healthy self-esteem we meet with what looks like an adult but really is a very shakily put together oversensitive and shame-prone narcissist.

The fanaticism of the need for revenge and the unending compulsion of having to square the account after an offense are therefore not the attributes of an aggressivity that is integrated with the mature purposes of the ego – on the contrary, such bedevilment indicates that the aggression was mobilized in the service of an archaic grandiose self and that it is deployed within the framework of an archaic perception of reality.

The shame-prone individual who is ready to experience setbacks as narcissistic injuries and to respond to them with insatiable rage does not recognize his opponent as a center of independent initiative with whom he happens to be at cross-purposes. Aggression, when employed in the pursuit of maturely experienced causes, is not limitless. However vigorously this aggression is mobilized, its aim is limited and definite: the defeat of the enemy who blocks the way to a cherished goal. As soon as the aim is reached, the rage is gone.

The narcissistically injured on the other hand, cannot rest until he has blotted out a vaguely experienced offender who dared to oppose him, to disagree with him, or to outshine him. It can never find rest because it can never wipe out the evidence that has contradicted its conviction it is unique and perfect. This archaic rage goes on and on and on.Furthermore, the enemy who calls forth the archaic rage of the narcissistically vulnerable is seen by him not as an autonomous source of impulsions, but as a flaw in a narcissistically perceived reality. The enemy is experienced as a recalcitrant part of an expanded self over which the narcissistically vulnerable person had expected to exercise full control. The mere fact, in other words, that the other person is independent or different is experienced as offensive by those with intense narcissistic needs.

Thus, not being in full control over self and over a narcissistically experienced world gives the afflicted individual an experience of utter powerlessness. Such powerlessness and the sense of helplessness via-a-vis the world are unbearably traumatic experiences that must be ended by any means whatsoever. The offending other must be wiped out.

Narcissistic rage occurs in many forms. They all share, however, a specific psychological flavor which gives them a distinct position within the wide realm of human aggressions. The need for revenge, for righting a wrong, for undoing a hurt by whatever means, and a deeply anchored, unrelenting compulsion in the pursuit of all these aims, which gives no rest to those who have suffered a narcissistic injury – these are the characteristic features of narcissistic rage in all its forms and which set it apart from other kinds of aggression.

Although everybody tends to react to narcissistic injuries with embarrassment and anger, the most intense experiences of shame and the most violent forms of narcissistic rage arise in those individuals for whom a sense of absolute control over an archaic environment is indispensable because the maintenance of self-esteem – and indeed of the self – depends on the unconditional availability of the approving-mirroring selfobject or of the merger-permitting idealized one.” (Search for the Self, vol.2, pp.643 etc.)

Wolf has described narcissistic and psychopathic rage masterfully; if you’ve ever been the target of a narcissist or a psychopath, you know that already and you were nodding your head all the way through that description. The problem is that this description which hits so many nails right on the head is so mixed up with other irrelevant concepts or cross-concepts, that it’s like trying to pick burrs out of a mohair sweater to sort it all out. He really captures the unbelievable persistence of the attacks of the narcissist and psychopath – what we call the “Energizer Bunny Effect”.

However, at this point, I would like to make note of a particular distinction. I have known three people in my life, close to me, who were diagnosed as having been “narcissistically wounded”. Yes, it is true that when these individuals were “triggered”, they really wanted to wipe their target out of existence. Thing is, they got over it quickly and easily and that, in itself, was part of the problem. They could blow up at you, say the most horrible things, do horrible things, and then be over it in 30 minutes and say “Right! Jolly good! I feel so much better now, how about a dish of that strawberry shortcake?” Their lack of empathy is so complete that you are not only not considered to have suffered by being a target of their rage, you are also not considered to have any reason to be angry about it afterward.

Now, what does that remind you of?

One observer of the phenomenon nailed this one by pointing out that “Garden Variety Narcissism” is like dealing with a six-year-old. What it does not remind you of is the pathological persistence of the psychopath or the more severe forms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

The question is, of course, what does behaving like a six-year-old have to do with “Group Helplessness” and the “Roots of Violence” and macro-social evil? Is this common to everyone? Can each of us become possessed by some primitive defense mechanism and go on a relentless rampage of revenge and retribution like kids playing cowboys and Indians until we are totally exhausted by the rage that possesses us or tired of the game? I doubt it, though certainly, as I have just said, there are those who have these characteristics: pathological deviants, and they are the pathogens of society that attack the body social when it is weakened. I’m not going to disagree that feeling powerless and helpless could very well be behind weaknesses of normal society – it can certainly be part of such a syndrome. But the drives and directives of pathogens are different from the drives and directives of the healthy flesh in any physical body, and so it is in the body social. A virus or a bacteria is not the same as a muscle cell or the cell of some organ in the body, even if that cell is run-down or aged or damaged in some way.

Wolf suggests that his (and Kohut’s) interpretations of narcissistic rage are what is at the root of all violent behavior everywhere on every scale; it’s in everybody, and it’s only a matter of degree. And, ultimately, at bottom, it really is just a question of feeling helpless and powerless. At one point, Wolf even suggests that it was the feeling of helplessness that turned good Germans into murdering Nazis.

Similar dynamic conditions in Germany during the economic depression of the 1930’s on top of a lost World War I provided an environment that was conducive to feeling helpless and their sense of importance and rightness threatened. In that state of weakened self one might easily experience an enhancement and strengthening of that self by putting on a uniform and, via marching with martial music under the leadership of a charismatically eloquent Führer, banish the experience of powerlessness. The whole Nazi movement can be seen as the narcissistic rage reaction of a whole people to their loss of national self-esteem.

Notice above that Wolf does, at least, give token acknowledgment to a difference between the masses feeling helpless and the “charismatic and eloquent” Hitler. But instead of following the revelation of his own remark, Wolf continues on with his theory all leading… well, where? What is Wolf’s solution to the problem of group helplessness due to narcissistic wounding that he suggests is at the root of social violence? He writes:

What can be done? Our psychological reasoning would lead us to believe that in order to reduce the rage one must try to reduce the experience of helplessness and substitute gradually an experience of having some power. The first step would seem to be an effort to really listen to each other and try to understand the other’s experience. To really feel one is being seen, being listened to most often leads to feeling understood. The experience of being understood is a self-empowering experience. We know that from working with individuals who, when they feel understood in treatment, they immediately grow stronger.

Wolf continues with his “All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” school of psychological explanation with blithe disregard for the reality of evil, both individual and macro-social. If it weren’t for the fact that he’s written that fantastic description of narcissistic rage, we wouldn’t even be talking about it since everything else he has written is so silly. But since that amazingly accurate description is in there, it did make me think in certain ways and I felt that it must be accounted for. How can a person get one thing so right and everything else so wrong?

The thing is, Kohut’s interpretation of narcissistic rage DOES account for and describe the external behavior of exactly what it purports to describe: the rage of the narcissist – though there are distinct differences between this rage and that of the ordinary narcissist who is emotionally stuck at the age of Six. The serious narcissist really can and does persist in seeking to destroy his target no matter the cost, and he or she doesn’t get over it in half an hour and look for a Strawberry tart. More than that, this destruction can really include physical destruction as severe as if the narcissist had taken a gun and shot his target. And this is what leads me to think that there are a lot of people who are being passed as “narcissists” who are really psychopaths. Since High level narcissism is a key component of psychopathy, and many experts today talk about NPD as being on the spectrum of psychopathy, we can come back to Kohut and Wolf’s description of the rage of the narcissist and understand it to actually be the rage of the psychopath and their work as simply another attempt to divert and defuse the true exposure of psychopaths and psychopathy in our world.

If we go back and read the description of behavior provided by Kohut and Wolf, we see that they are essentially saying two things. First, in a fit of narcissistic rage, narcissists see other people as objects, not deserving subjects. In other words, they are completely egocentric, they have no empathy. Second, narcissists will pursue their goals with ruthless hyperactivity. In other words, they lack the normal human quality of inhibition in regard to pursuing their aims (which are inspired by simple drives and instincts such as aggression, sex, self-preservation, possessiveness, need for superiority, etc.).

What they are describing are actually the essential traits of a psychopath, not a “narcissistically wounded” individual. In a narcissist, not being in full control does not lead to “an experience of utter powerlessness”. On the contrary, the narcissist identifies completely with those base drives and whims which control his behavior. Their awareness and their intelligence are fully in service in the pursuit of fulfilling whatever drive is acting at a given moment. In other words, narcissists, being completely self-centered are constitutionally incapable of self-awareness. They CANNOT get “outside their own skin” and into the mind and feelings of another. The only inferiority a narcissist feels is knowing that someone else has something (some possession, some prestige, some power) that he does not. And he will then use his typical ruthlessness and aggression to get it from his ‘superior’.

In other words, what Kohut’s model does NOT describe is the internal landscape of either the severe narcissist or the psychopath.

How can we know this? Well, we have already noted differences between the depth, intensity and term limits of “narcissistic” vs “psychopathic” rage. There are other traits from which internal motivations can be inferred and those motivations also do not correlate to being narcissistically wounded. Sometimes it takes a long time and is very difficult to gather the material to assess these traits, because it is the primary nature of the psychopath to lie (and that is not always true of the narcissistically wounded individual). But it can be done.

According to Robert Hare, Cleckley, Stout, Salter, Brown, Łobaczewski, and many other experts in psychopathy, a diagnosis of psychopathy cannot be made on the basis of visible behavioral symptoms to the exclusion of interpersonal and affective symptoms because such a procedure essentially makes psychopaths of many people who are simply injured by life or society, and allows the true psychopaths who have a well-constructed “mask of sanity” to escape detection. Based on a growing body of literature, many (or most) psychopaths grow up in stable, well-to-do families, and become white collar criminals who, because of money and position, never have their private destructive behaviors exposed to public view and repeatedly avoid contact with the justice system. These types, who do untold damage to society at large, are not “classified” under present diagnostic systems.

This diagnostic problem has raged for years concerning psychopathy, sociopathy and antisocial personality disorder (and a few related and/or overlapping disorders). The problem is that the symptoms are mistaken for the disease and one or another of the symptoms will be studied in isolation leading to all kinds of graphs and numbers. Then, another symptom will be latched onto and studied the same way, and the graphs and numbers may contradict the studies that concentrated on the first symptom. It’s kind of like witch doctoring; person falls down and foams at the mouth, therefore person must be possessed by a devil; no awareness of the infectious agent Lyssavirus or the viral zoonotic neuroinvasive disease that causes acute encephalitis, i.e. Rabies.

The state of affairs regarding this Voodoo theory of psychopathy and NPD has gone on long enough and today I want to talk about a structural theory of psychopathy (and severe narcissism) that is by no means complete, but one has to start somewhere!

In order to explain these ideas, it is necessary to go back over some of Kohut’s concepts and talk about what he got right: that amazing description of psychopathic rage. Let’s begin there and try to to tease the various threads apart to see where they lead us. Kohut’s work is described by advocates of his theories as follows:

Self psychology is a developmental psychology deriving its understanding of the developing psyche from contemporary infant research. In addition, self psychology maintains the concept that human psychological functioning is always embedded in social interactions. (Martin Gossmann, MD)

[…] Unlike Freudian theory, self psychology is not a drive model and does not view the Oedipal conflict as central in human motivation or pathology. [In Kohut’s theory], the most serious psychological problems which result from injurious developmental experiences are expressed as uncontrolled anger, called narcissistic rage. [According to Kohut] Narcissistic rage arises from extreme fear and serves to bolster a threatened vulnerable self, giving a temporary sense of strength, cohesion, and self-esteem to a weakened and vulnerable self. Relationships, as well as creative, productive acts, provide needed self-object experiences of feeling valued and admired.

Since Kohut began publishing on empathy and self psychology in 1959, the theory has attracted increasing interest among psychoanalysts and psychotherapists, as well as among students of the humanities, such as philosophy and anthropology. Besides providing a open system structure as the theoretical basis for the successful clinical application of psychoanalysis, self psychology is useful in guiding the clinician in their daily practice and conceptualization of psychotherapy and counseling. (David Wolf, PsyD)

You can see why Wolf took the ideas where he did when you read “narcissistic rage arises from extreme fear and serves to bolster a threatened vulnerable self” which is then supposed to give a “temporary sense of strength, cohesion, and self-esteem to a weakened and vulnerable self.” Obviously, if rage arises out of fear in the individual, and strengthens the weakened and vulnerable personality, it should follow that extreme social fear could morph into rage also, thereby giving a temporary feeling of strength to a society. But, as we noted above, what is left out is the crucial element of the pathogen. The Germans felt helpless and powerless, sure, and this was a weakness of their body social, but it only became “narcissistic rage” when it was infected and exploited by Hitler and his Nazis. Harrison Koehli writes in his review of Martha Stout’s book The Paranoia Switch:

Traumatic events overload our limbic system. The heightened response of our amygdala, which registers the emotional significance of the event, leads to a decreased response in the hippocampus, which usually prioritizes information and allows the higher brain centers to create coherent memories, based on their emotional importance. So, traumatic events do not get integrated by the higher brain centers as true memories, but instead leave us with non-integrated fragments of memory: isolated images and sensations. These memories can then be “triggered” by similar images. In this way, a backfiring car can trigger a war vet into a state of paranoia. His “paranoia switch” has been flicked.

“Most overwhelming of all are traumatic experiences caused not by accident (unintended explosions or car crashes), or by “acts of God” (earthquakes, volcanoes, etc.), but rather by the deliberate acts of other people, acts such as assault, violent abduction, rape – or terrorism. It would seem that, for whatever reason, we are hardwired to be most fearful of harm when it threatens to occur maliciously, at the hands of our fellow human beings, and this special variety of fear is the most contagious of all.” (62)

As Stout explains later in her book, fear brokers maintain their power through the exploitation of human weaknesses. Ironically, it is often the very people we are genetically “programmed” to fear (i.e. psychopathic individuals), that exploit this fear by focusing it on an arbitrary and convenient group. Hitler used anarchists, communists, and Jews. Bush is using “terrorists”, Muslims, and critics of his policies. […]

Even though a terrorist attack directly affects only a very small portion of a population, the whole country can feel its effects. This phenomenon has its roots in our limbic system. “[T]he limbic system plays a dominant role in regulating our feelings, the accessibility of our memories, our motivations to act, our ability to make meaning of our experiences, and even our consciences” (77). “[C]onscience is a compelling feeling of obligation that is always based in our proclivity to bond with others… it is precisely our capacity to form emotional attachments that gives rise to moral character…” (75).

“[W]ith information from any or all of our senses, processed through the limbic system, we can perceive the internal state of another human being – her or his physiological and emotional status – to which we would otherwise be “blind.” … Not only does the limbic system allow us to perceive the emotions of others … it functions, also, to align our emotions with those of the people around us, and vice versa.” (78)

In this way, the trauma of a terrorist event is contagious. We are each affected by the emotional state of those around us; we all become traumatized. “[L]imbic resonance is one of the many reasons that personality, and especially character, should be primary considerations in choosing our leadership. For good or for ill, a high-profile leader can have a radiating emotional influence on large numbers of people” (83). […]

When a leader chooses to exploit this contagion, rather than to calm and heal it, he is engaging in what Stout calls “limbic warfare.” “If a leader chooses to focus the group’s attention on the terrifying “others” – if he or she pounds the paranoia switch installed by trauma – the group’s fear level is likely to remain over the top for a long time, and, whether or not he is competent, the leader’s perceived authority will hold… [A]fter group trauma, large-scale social changes can be inaugurated, intentionally or not, by a handful of scaremongers who play to the anger and paranoia of a vulnerable population” (92-3, 95).

So we see clearly that macro-social evil, the helplessness of society, is not quite as simple as Wolf and Kohut would like us to think. Left to their own devices, it is unlikely that fearful people would get together and go into some kind of narcissistic rage and “temporarily” feel strengthened! What is needed is the pathogen, the driver, the infecting agent.

Pounding the “paranoia switch” over and over again was researched by Ivan Pavlov and he described the moment when everything “switched” as “transmarginal inhibition.” Transmarginal inhibition, or TMI, is an organism’s response to overwhelming stimuli. Ironically, the popular acronym TMI means too much information, which can be a common factor of transmarginal inhibition in today’s culture.

Pavlov discovered that an organism’s level of tolerance to various stimuli varied significantly depending on fundamental differences in temperament, a factor that is largely ignored today. He commented “that the most basic inherited difference among people was how soon they reached this shutdown point and that the quick-to-shut-down have a fundamentally different type of nervous system.” This led him to pay increasing attention to the need to classify subjects according to their inherited constitution before applying experimental conditioning.

Which brings us back to the point about the differences between visible behaviors and internal states. A person can fall down and foam at the mouth not only if they have rabies, but also when they have a stroke. To confuse the scientific causes is just as damaging as if there was no science involved at all and treatment for one sickness was being used when another treatment is called for.

So, let’s go to the very beginning and look at some of the ideas that Kohut’s theories are based on.

The experts tell us that, as infants and toddlers, we all feel that we are the center of the universe, that we are omnipotent and omniscient beings. In the beginning, we perceive our parents as merely “extensions” of ourselves in the sense that when we are uncomfortable in any way, these shadowy figures, the landscape of our universe, act on our behalf. Thus it is that, at the earliest stages of development, the “response of the universe” to our needs becomes our deepest belief about ourselves and life itself – a belief inculcated before verbal skills are developed. This is a central idea in modern “attachment theory”.

If, when we are hungry or cold or too warm, or lonely and in need of touching and comfort, the universe as mother responds immediately with the appropriate solution, our earliest and deepest sense of existence tells us that the universe is safe, that it is good, that it is responsive to us, that we have “power” over our selves and our environment, and this supports the development of a healthy type of infant narcissism (or a “secure” attachment). This becomes the fundamental platform from which we operate throughout our lives. We have learned that the universe is safe, that it is good to us, that we can reach out or cry out and the universe and all within it will provide. But then, of course, we have to grow up and learn that we are NOT the center of the universe, and it is this process of maturation that transforms healthy infantile narcissism into healthy adult self-esteem.

So far, so good.

We have here an individual that trusts the universe because the universe of the mother and others in the infant’s life always responded positively and lovingly. No matter what happens to this child later in life, it can be predicted that the child will carry this “safe universe” inside and will always have it to fall back on.

Interestingly, quite often, narcissistic parents are rather good infant caregivers because, as long as the infant is totally helpless and dependent, they feel that they are being fully appreciated for their every effort. And, of course, since they are “playing house”, they have an idealized image of the infant-mother bond in movie stills or great oil paintings that they try to act out so as to attract praise to themselves from those others who witness their great accomplishments as parental units!

This is fortunate for the child of the narcissist because, of course, as soon as they are old enough to tell mother or father “no” or disagree, or want to have their own way that opposes the will of the parent, the narcissistic wounding begins and they begin the process of dissociating and withdrawing into rich fantasy worlds.

The child also becomes VERY attentive to the environment so as to avoid the attacks of the narcissist and to try to get some love and attention (only normal) for the self. But getting love from a narcissist is like trying to hit a nonexistent target. So, the child of the narcissist gets very good at “reading reality” and adjusting their behavior accordingly because their life depends on it to a great extent. They also become great fantasists because when they are not directly involved with the narcissistic parent, they are creating a world for themselves where they receive love and attention for whatever marvelous qualities. There is the danger, of course, of becoming a narcissist themselves, of passing on the infection. There is also the very real danger of becoming entangled with severe narcissists and/or psychopaths romantically because “crazy love” is the only kind they’ve ever known! In The Narcissistic Family, Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robert M. Pressman write:

Links between the experiences of childhood and their sometimes permanent effect on adult behavior have long fascinated observers of human behavior. Of particular interest has been the impact of one’s family of origin on personal development. In the last decade, the concept of the “adult child of alcoholism” (ACOA) has helped us to understand the nearly predictable effects of being raised in an alcoholic family system. As therapists, many of us have worked for years with individuals suffering from what appeared to be immutable low self-esteem, inability to sustain intimacy, and/or blocked paths to self-understanding. The concept of the ACOA opened a new door to the understanding of such problems. […]

[A]long with the benefits of working with the ACOA and abuse models came a puzzle. What about individuals who had the traits of an ACOA but whose parents did not drink, or rape, or beat? True, there was dysfunction in their families, but the common thread was elusive. Among adult children of dysfunctional (but nonalcoholic and nonabusive) families, we found a body of personality traits previously identified with the ACOA model. These included chronic depression, indecisiveness, and lack of self-confidence.

Within this population we found common behavioral traits as well: a chronic need to please; an inability to identify feelings, wants, and needs; and a need for constant validation. This group of patients felt that the bad things that happened to them were well deserved, while the good things that happened were probably mistakes or accidents. They had difficulty being assertive, privately feeling a pervasive sense of rage that they feared might surface. They felt like paper tigers – often very angry, but easily beaten down. Their interpersonal relationships were characterized by distrust and suspicion (bordering on paranoia), interspersed with often disastrous episodes of total and injudicious trusting and self-disclosure.

They were chronically dissatisfied, but were fearful of being perceived as whiners or complainers if they expressed their true feelings. Many could hold their anger in for extremely long periods of time, then become explosive over relatively insignificant matters. They had a sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction with their achievements; this was found even among individuals who externally may have been viewed as very successful. The list of people included professionals who were obsessively involved in their enterprises, but were unable to achieve at a level at which they found satisfaction. In relationships, these individuals frequently found themselves in repeated dead-end situations. […]

The principle clue was that in the absence of alcohol abuse, other forms of dysfunctional parenting (such as incest, physical abuse, emotional neglect and physical absence) seemed to produce the same symptoms. […]

As we began to track common traits shared by the parent systems of the survivors, we identified a pattern of interaction that we labeled the narcissistic family. Regardless of the presence or absence of identifiable abuse, we found one pervasive trait present in all of these families: the needs of the parent system took precedence over the needs of the children.

We have found that in the narcissistic family, the needs of the children are not only secondary to those of the parent(s), but are often seriously problematic for the latter. If one is to track the narcissistic family on any of the well-known developmental scales (such as Maslow’s or Erikson’s), one sees that the most fundamental needs of the child, those of trust and safety, are not met. Furthermore, the responsibility of needs fulfillment shifts from the parent to the child. […]

In this family situation, the child must be reactive to the needs of the parent, rather than the converse. In fact, the narcissistic family is consumed with dealing with the emotional needs of the parent system. […]

Over time, these children learn that their feelings are of little or negative value. They begin to detach from their feelings, to lose touch with them. Often this denial of feelings is functional to the child, as to express them only adds fuel to the fire. Instead of understanding, recognizing, and validating their own needs, these children develop an exaggerated sense of their impact on the needs of their parent(s). Indeed, they become the reflection of their parents’ emotional needs. The needs of the parent become a moving target on which they struggle to focus. Because they feel responsible for correcting the situation without having the requisite power and control to do so, the children develop a sense of failure. Moreover, they fail to learn how to validate their own feelings and meet their own needs. In time, the children undergo a semipermanent numbing of feelings. As adults, these individuals may not know what they feel, except for varying degrees of despair, frustration, and dissatisfaction. (Pressman, The Narcissistic Family, Lexington Books, 1997)

In short, the individual raised by a narcissist is trained to be a slave and is a walking target for other narcissists and/or psychopaths. That’s the bad news. The good news is they can be helped. This kind of narcissistic wounding is fixable because, as mentioned above, for some strange reason, narcissists are often decent parents to newborn infants so that the child receives that particular foundation of trust for the universe that is so crucial in later life. Oh, of course, they later learn that trusting is bad, and this alternates with their feelings of trust in the way quoted above: holding back alternating with disastrous disclosure.

Now, let’s look at another child; this one has very attentive – perhaps too attentive – well-educated, parents who believe rigidly in schedules and child-rearing practices based on “science” and designed to raise a good Christian, long-suffering, Spartan child who is intelligent enough, manly (or girly) enough, and not a cry-baby. Being a hard worker is valued, so the baby has to learn not to be a slacker right from the start!

With a parental attitude like that, a newborn infant can be psychologically destroyed in no time!

When a child is treated, at the very earliest stages of life, as an “object” to be “molded and shaped” by regimentation (as one form of infant abuse), a dreadful crime against the essential self, at the deepest levels of being, is committed. A child who is left hungry because it is not the scheduled feeding time will be conditioned to believe the universe does not provide nourishment in response to his cries. His protective “grandiosity” is shattered. As the authors above put it, “the most fundamental needs of the child, those of trust and safety, are not met.” This leads to insecure attachment. A child who is not picked up and comforted when he is frightened, startled, or simply lonely and in need of being touched, is conditioned to believe that there is no point in reaching out or interacting with the universe in any way. His sense of being powerful is severely damaged. So it is that a child raised according to the Cartesian “man as machine” model, or the Christian “spare the rod and spoil the child” model has no sense of safety or sufficiency.

An infant subjected to abrupt and arbitrary “schedules,” promoted by parents who, convinced by “medical and psychiatric theories,” believe they are doing the “right thing,” end up with severe injuries to the primal self. Such injuries can be severe and irreversible, following along the line of transmarginal inhibition. In some cases, there is actual brain damage if a child is left to cry too long, or traumatized too severely and too regularly. Congestive centers form in the cortex and primitive defense mechanisms (PDMs) can be triggered by anything that reminds the individual of the original trauma, most of which, remember, is pre-verbal. And yes, in many cases, the child may dissociate into an alternate personality that is grandiose and all-powerful; this dissociation may be repeated to the point where it takes over the life of the individual, and it is very likely true that such cases of narcissism are fueled by having been made to feel helpless and powerless. And such an individual can hold in vast oceans of rage because the main damage was done at the most primitive level of brain function.

The empathic support of our “primary objects”, the parents, is crucial at these early stages. In its absence, our sense of self-worth and self-esteem in adulthood tends to fluctuate wildly between over-valuation of ourselves by regressing to the infantile narcissistic mode, or devaluation of ourselves as the helpless child slave of a sadistic, even if well-meaning, parent.

Such a child can grow up with a heavy sense of bitter disappointment and radical disillusionment with the universe as a whole. They are often unable to accept self-limitations, disappointments, setbacks, failures, criticism or disillusionment with grace and tolerance. Their self-esteem is inconstant and negative. There is a tendency to believe everything that happens to them is the result of outside events, or that everything is their fault, in some way. Sensitivity, or overexcitability, plays a large role in these reactions.

It seems pretty clear that any child who is neglected or abused at the earliest stages of development is going to have issues throughout their lives of some sort. Getting better depends on how long, how severe, the abuse and what kinds of corrections were made, how soon, and how consistently. And, most of all, it depends on the individual and their WILL to get better. But it is even more than that. Martha Stout writes in The Myth of Sanity:

Given the work I do, I naturally ponder whether there are any organizing systems of meaning and value – “good” ones or “bad” ones – that correlate with successful recovery from dissociative disorders, or any that militate against such an outcome. Are there souls, so to speak, for whom the prognosis is better than for others? And when I consider all my patients, over all the years, the answer is yes: there is in fact an astonishingly robust correlation between an individual’s successful recovery on the one hand, and on the other hand, a person’s preexisting conviction that she and she alone is responsible for something. This something could be an endeavor or a specific person, or is quite likely to be the conduct of her life in general. People who are compelled and organized by a sense of responsibility for their actions tend to recover.

And conversely, sadly, people whose directive meaning systems do not include such a conviction tend not to recover, tend to remain dissociatively fragmented and lost. … [T]he difference is that of tenaciously assuming personal responsibility for one’s own actions, and therefore taking on personal risk, versus placing the highest valuation upon personal safety, both physical and emotional, which often precludes the acknowledgment of responsibility. (If I acknowledge responsibility toward my child – or my friend or my ideas or my community – then I may be compelled to stick my neck out. I may have to do or feel something that will make me more vulnerable.)

Here, the psychology of trauma comes full circle, in that the original function of dissociation is to buffer and protect; and so by rights, patients who value self-protection above all else should be candidates for treatment failure…

A self-protective system of mind may express itself behaviorally in many ways. Three of the most common ways can be characterized as 1) action-avoidant dependency upon another person or upon a confining set of rules, 2) a preoccupation with reassigning blame, and actions and complaints that indicate a lack of perspective on one’s own problems relative to the problems of others. 3) The third behavioral expression of a self-protective soul – acting upon a lack of perspective on one’s own problems relative to those of others – is reflected in our society at large by the popular phenomenon of victim identification.

…A survivor of trauma is a victim, certainly; but “victim” does not comprise the totality of her, or anyone else’s, identity. Helpers must support the healing process in both of its phases: the survivor must endure the discovery that she is a victim, and then she must take responsibility for being that no longer. Both parts are equally important, and in neither phase can self-protection be the primary goal. Enabling someone’s long­term identity as a victim robs her of an important human right, that of being responsible for her own life. […]

[W]e cannot simultaneously protect ourselves and experience life fully. These two desires preclude each other proportionately. To the extent that we try to protect ourselves, we cannot truly live; and to the extent that we truly live, we cannot place our highest value upon protecting ourselves. This lesson, is not new, but it is interesting that the theme reiterates itself right down to our neurological blueprints. Maybe there is no salvation for any of us outside of the meaning system provided by personal responsibility, despite all the daunting risks. Perhaps this is why we so doggedly look for examples of accountability in our role models, our parents, our leaders.

Now, what about a child whose every need is met at the early stages of life, whose family is not narcissistic, and who still manifests severe narcissism or psychopathy?

We now come to the point of bifurcation: the difference between narcissistic wounding and NPD/psychopathy.

Notice the characteristics of narcissistically wounded children: they grow up with a heavy sense of bitter disappointment and radical disillusionment with the universe as a whole. They are often unable to accept self-limitations, disappointments, setbacks, failures, criticism or disillusionment with grace and tolerance. Their self-esteem is inconstant and negative. There is a tendency to believe everything that happens to them is the result of outside events, or that everything is their fault, in some way.

When we try to use “narcissistic wounding” as the cause of all cases of narcissism, and shame and sensitivity as the intermediate step to the triggering of this “archaic rage”, we run into severe problems both empirical as well as theoretical/logical.

Let’s look at the logical problem: If the infant experiences itself in a state of limitless power and knowledge, a state called “grandiosity”, how does that translate into an adult personality structure that is “shakily put together”, oversensitive and shame-prone (i.e. psychoneurotic)? That’s a pretty remarkable transformation. If the infant state is “prevented from maturing”, as is suggested, then that must mean that it remains the same; it doesn’t change. And if that is the case, then the adult narcissist must be exactly like that undeveloped baby: he or she experiences him or herself in a state of limitless power and knowledge, and does so against all evidence to the contrary; it is a rock solid structure; it is unshakable! There is no “oversensitive” nor is there any “shame-proneness” because sensitivity and shame are learned in the process of maturation.

Many traumatized individuals do seem to REGRESS to that narcissistic state when under stress or certain types of stress. When they do this regressing, it’s called dissociating and the more you do it, the more likely you are to do it in the future and the easier and more automatic it becomes. (See Martha Stout’s The Myth of Sanity.)

So, such a narcissist as Kohut is describing would be one where development was arrested or distorted at some stage of normal maturation – because SOME development has taken place to lead to the ability to feel shame, to be sensitive, to advance and to regress, to associate and dissociate. Therefore, attributing the narcissist’s rage to compensatory reactions underpinned by “over-sensitivity” or “shame-proneness” would not be the same as attributing the narcissist’s rage to a primal, infantile narcissism. In short, you can’t have it both ways here. If there is an undeveloped infantile narcissism at the root of the rage, it cannot be partly developed because then there would not be infantile narcissism behind the rage.

And yet, there is that description of the narcissist’s rage, the psychopathic rage, that everyone who has ever experienced it recognizes it! (Of course, that’s what makes me suspicious of the whole theory and the people behind it, but I’m not going to go there right now.)

The bottom line is this, Kohut and Wolf must certainly be describing the REALITY of the narcissistic/psychopathic rage when Wolf writes:

[Kohut] observed that underlying the rage one often finds an uncompromising insistence on the perfection of the idealized other. The infant experiences itself still in a state of limitlessness power and knowledge, a state that we as outsiders deprecatingly call the child’s grandiosity, its grandiose self.

If for a variety of reasons this infantile grandiose state of narcissism is prevented from maturing into healthy self-esteem we meet with what looks like an adult….

I think we have figured out by now that we can discard completely the twisted ending that goes: “but really is a very shakily put together oversensitive and shame-prone narcissist.”


The fanaticism of the need for revenge and the unending compulsion of having to square the account after an offense are therefore not the attributes of an aggressivity that is integrated with the mature purposes of the ego – on the contrary, such bedevilment indicates that the aggression was mobilized in the service of an archaic grandiose self and that it is deployed within the framework of an archaic perception of reality. The shame-prone individual who is ready to experience setbacks as narcissistic injuries and to respond to them with insatiable rage does not recognize his opponent as a center of independent initiative with whom he happens to be at cross-purposes.

Here, we must discard “The shame-prone individual who is ready to experience setbacks as narcissistic injuries”, but what are we going to replace it with?

Carl Frankenstein suggested that the person that becomes a psychopath goes into an “ego expansion” state where, in order to feel safe, his ego “incorporates” everything in the outside world as part of himself. He writes:

Psychopathy has been defined as constitutional inability to establish objective (positive as well as negative) relationships and effective human ties or as a constitutional deficiency in volition and emotion (in contradistinction to intellectual deficiencies).

Lack of identification; a poorly defined ego concept; a tendency to mirror others in behavior; absence of superego awareness, of anxiety, of guilt feelings and of neurotic reactions to conflict or frustration; shallowness of fantasy material; lack of concern forobjective facts; weakness of the time concept are mentioned as the main characteristics of psychopathy in children. …

It is also a well established fact that a phenomenology of psychopathic behavior in adults reveals additional and still more serious deviations. There we find moral indolence, often leading to brutal crimes; lack of control over sexual and/or material desires;hysterical fanaticism, seemingly for the sake of a truth, a principle, an idea, but actually reflecting an insatiable need to be the center of attention, admiration or fear; the same need producing the well-known swindler and impostor type;narcissistic excitability; or almost unlimited seducibility. Sometimes the vagabond, the sex pervert, the addict are included in the list of psychopathic types. (Frankenstein, Psychopathy: A Comparative Analysis of Clinical Pictures, Grune & Stratton, NY and London; 1959)

Notice that the problem of “objectivity” is mentioned twice above. We could also consider the “weakness of the time concept” to be a problem of objectivity. What seems to be mainly wrong with the narcissist and the psychopath is relational inability. Relational ability is what grows out of healthy narcissism in an infant that gradually turns into appropriate adult self-esteem as the infant learns to distinguish between itself and others. The healthy child matures and comes to have a “reasonable and accurate representation” of his own true worth in relation to his world, his reality. Deficiency in the process of growing from no ego at all to ego identification to self-esteem can interfere with normal processes of acquiring a healthy introject (inner self), superego formation (inner parent). Without these two elements, there is no anxiety, no guilt, no neuroses, etc. In short, there is nobody home. This is exhibited by the noted intellectual peculiarities of the psychopathic child: lack of concern for objective facts, inability to form proper time concepts, inability to accurately experience time, and shallow fantasy life. Psychopaths lack an inner psychic milieu.

All these are just different ways of saying that the problem with the psychopath, the narcissist, is an inability to relate oneself to the environment either outside of the self or inside of the self! The psychopath/narcissist then, is left being little more than a machine, a two-dimensional construct with no inner or outer self, a ghost, a vampire that cannot be seen in a mirror and casts no shadow. He disappears in the bright sunlight of truth and objectivity.

Both of these concepts return us to consider the infant stage where the infant fails for some reason to establish the difference between self and other. Everything “out there” may seem to the psychopath as an extension of the self, or that it exists only for the incorporation to the self potential. In a sense, it might be like an infant that believes that mother, breast, food, everything, is part of itself, for its own pleasure and never grows beyond this emotional, egoistic state. Frankenstein writes:

Learning means internalizing the non-ego, transforming reality contents into conceptual emotional and functional parts of the ego. The ego coordinates not only the contents of consciousness (by relating them to each other in varying contexts of meaning) but also its own functions (by relating them to each other as well as to the actual and potential contents of consciousness, according to their relevance in a given situation).

In other words, learning is like drawing a map inside yourself – in your brain – of everything that is “out there” and learning how to read that map so that you can effectively navigate reality. The extent to which that map accurately describes the external landscape (the same way a map of a geographical location actually shows you the features of the real place when you visit it), determines how objective that internal map is.

What seems to be another important feature is being able to know that the map is a map and the reality out there is not the map, but is the reality.

Psychopaths may not build maps of reality because it appears that they don’t seem to know the difference between the map and reality. They do not seem to distinguish between what is outside and what is inside. The way a psychopath navigates reality may be so bizarre that we cannot even conceive of it.

Genes or Environment?

The issues of nature vs. nurture just don’t seem to go away. There is the school that says all people are pretty much the same, and people who are badly treated as children, grow up to treat others badly; they learn from the adult examples set for them; they identify with the aggressors; this is the nurture school. The nature school says there is wide variation in inherited dispositions and that many people who are treated badly do not grow up to treat others badly, that those who do would have done so anyway, even if treated well, because they were born “bad.” They also point out the not inconsiderable evidence that there are many narcissists and psychopaths that do not have the abusive backgrounds postulated by the nurture school.

Robert Hare, psychopathy expert, says that there are varying components of nature and nurture involved, but that nature – heritability – is the strongest factor. Opponents of this idea oppose it for the very simple reason that being inherited would mean that there is no cure. As Liane Leedom wrote to me privately:

“It is indefensible that many researchers proclaim that one of the most terrible of all conditions psychopathy, is genetic and yet give no word of advise (sic) to anyone about how to cope with this fact. When you meet a mother and her baby in person, it puts a very personal face on an impersonal and inhumane proclamation.”

Well, that sounds noble and empathic and humanistic, but nature does not always submit itself to our demands for being humane; nature is often, as the old saying goes, “red in tooth and claw.” If we are going to understand anything about our reality, we must build accurate, objective maps.

What we are seeing here is really another attempt to muddy the waters, to promote the “dimensional” model because it can be shown to be more “humane.” Of course, Dr. Leedom also has a vested interest in this point of view because her claim to fame is that she was married to a psychopath who ruined her good name and left her with a child that could possibly be a psychopath! So, of course, she claims that she wants to figure this problem out to “save my child.” Leedom wants psychopathy to be dimensional and not categorical. She has pointed out that there are similar issues with the mentally retarded; they, too, are a continuum although some are clearly more dysfunctional than others. Is there a cut-off point where you can say this retarded person is categorically different from that one for some listed reasons? One retarded person may score very low on a test, but be more functional than another retarded person who scores higher on the test. And there are idiot savants:

Savant syndrome describes a person having a developmental or mental handicap of some sort with extraordinary mental abilities not found in most people. This usually means (but not in all cases) a lower than average general intelligence (IQ) but very high narrow intelligence in one or more fields. Savant syndrome skills involve striking feats of memory and arithmetic calculation and sometimes include unusual abilities in art or music. (Wikipedia)

Retardation is, in fact, a very useful model to compare to NPD and psychopathy (and other related and overlapping personality disorders) since it could be said that the afflicted individual is certainly retarded in a specific respect and there are also dimensional aspects to the condition. There is Down’s Syndrome (Mongolism) which is genetic and Cretinism caused by a thyroid deficiency which leads to brain damage. There can be any of a number of reasons for this thyroid deficiency including injury at birth, lack of nutrients in the diet, illness such as diphtheria, etc.

There is retardation caused by hydrocephalus which leads to brain damage, (and you can go in several directions looking for the cause of a specific case of hydrocephaly); there is Microcephaly that can be the result of any of a number of factors from intrauterine infections and pelvic irradiation of the mother during the early months of pregnancy. Genetics are suspected to be involved, but the role is not clear.

There is mental retardation caused by Phenylketonuria, a rare metabolic disorder. In PKU the baby appears normal at birth but lacks an enzyme needed to break down phenylalanine, an amino acid found in protein foods. When this condition is undetected, the phenylalanine builds up in the blood and leads to brain damage. The resulting mental retardation may be moderate to severe, depending on the degree to which the disease has progressed before it is discovered and corrective measures taken. PKU is thought to result from metabolic alterations involving recessive genes, and 1 person in 70 is thought to be a carrier.

Also, “Dr Gecz, a senior researcher who is based at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide, has collaborated with an international research team to reveal that various mutations of a small part of the X chromosome lead to mental retardation.”

So, as we can see, there are a number of etiological factors involved in mental retardation, but the bottom line is still that the brain is unable to develop normally in rather specific ways and this is the definition of retardation. The brain is RETARDED.

And we come back to our question: Is there a cut-off point where you can say this retarded person is categorically different from that one for listed reasons?

I think that our brief review of mental retardation indicates that, yes, retarded individuals can be categorically AND dimensionally different from one another and this can be crucially important in terms of how their care is managed. There is more than one kind of genetic retardation and there is more than one kind of mechanical retardation, but in all cases, retardation is still the defining factor and that will never change; it is incurable, though that does not mean it is not manageable or that it does not need to be managed, and that we do not need to do research to try to prevent such tragedies. But certainly, as human beings, we do not for an instant consider it acceptable to do away with those who are mentally retarded or have been mentally damaged by some mechanical means just as it is not acceptable to consider doing away with those who are born with physical handicaps.

The problem is that the same approach needs to be taken toward psychopathy, NPD and related and overlapping personality disorders. For all we know, various “overlapping” personality disorders are merely variations of emotional retardation in the same way there are variations of mental retardation; psychopathy is just one of them like Down’s Syndrome is one form of mental retardation, one that happens to be genetic.

Therapists will argue that no definition of the clinical state of an individual can be exact because each individual is so different; each individual is a “mixture” of different clinical pictures. It will be argued that a thorough and exhaustive analysis of the individual is far more important than a comprehensive, abstract, structural frame of reference such as a definitive diagnosis. Such a therapist is constantly on the lookout for unifying rather than differentiating concepts, he looks for the common human needs and drives, the psychodynamics, and the mechanics of the thing – brain structure and chemistry – rather than looking for the essentials of a specific structure of behavior deviation. That’s like a doctor looking for all the unifying concepts of retardation between an individual with Down’s Syndrome and another with PKU. Certainly, they are both retarded and there may be similar symptoms that look the same on the outside, but they are dynamically different from the inside and how you arrange the care of the two individuals may be heavily reliant on which diagnosis is given. This brings us to the point of view articulated by Carl Frankenstein who writes:

[W]e believe that only with the help of concepts of structure, of structural tendencies and structuralization can human behavior be made intelligible; that structure and dynamics, far from being contradictory or mutually exclusive concepts, supplement each other insofar as each means both the condition and the result of the other; that the various forms of pathologic behavior differ from each other not only in the dynamics, the intrapsychic relations and processes, but also in the relative role of structural versus environmental determinants and of structurization versus modification; and that no clinical statements is meaningful, unless it is based on a preceding analysis of “discriminating essentials,” that is, on clinical phenomenology. […]

For the pragmatically oriented clinician, a psychopath is but an incurable patient with some form of dissocial behavior patterns. For us, incurability is not an essential element of definition but only the necessary outcome of the operation of certain structural and dynamic factors. These factors, though present in many behavioral pathologies, constitute, in their specific constellation, the essence of psychopathy. (Frankenstein, Carl, Psychopathy: A Comparative Analyisis of Clinical Pictures, Grune & Stratton, NY, London, 1959)

Clinical psychologist, Andrew Lobaczewski, refers to these neuroanatomical structures as the human “instinctive substratum”. Lobaczewski writes:

In order to understand humanity, however, we must gain a primary understanding of mankind’s instinctive substratum and appreciate its salient role in the life of individuals and societies. This role easily escapes our notice, since our human species’ instinctive responses seem so self-evident and are so much taken for granted that it arouses insufficient interest. A psychologist, schooled in the observation of human beings, does not fully appreciate the role of this eternal phenomenon of nature until he has years of professional experience.

Man’s instinctive substratum has a slightly different biological structure than that of animals. Energetically speaking, it has become less dynamic and become more plastic, thereby giving up its job as the main dictator of behavior. It has become more receptive to the controls of reasoning, without, however, losing much of the rich specific contents of the human kind.

It is precisely this phylogenetically developed basis for our experience, and its emotional dynamism, that allow individuals to develop their feelings and social bounds, enabling us to intuit other people’s psychological state and individual or social psychological reality. It is thus possible to perceive and understand human customs and moral values. From infancy, this substratum stimulates various activities aiming at the development of the mind’s higher functions. In other words, our instinct is our first tutor, whom we carry inside all our lives. Proper child-rearing is thus not limited to teaching a young person to control the overly violent reactions of his instinctual emotionalism; it also ought to teach him to appreciate the wisdom of nature contained and speaking through his instinctive endowment.

Notice particularly this point: “Energetically speaking, [the human instinctive substratum] has become less dynamic and become more plastic, thereby giving up its job as the main dictator of behavior. It has become more receptive to the controls of reasoning.”

Nearly all creatures other than man have well-developed and powerful instinctive drives. Some of them stand and walk within a short period of birth; they can find their way to a source of food; all kinds of marvelous “hard-wired” behaviors exist in myriads of creatures that are only hinted at in man because of this plastic substratum that relies more on training than hard-wired behaviors to help man survive.

Now, suppose a condition – either trauma or genetically caused – that either prevents the proper development of the human instinctive substratum, or restricts it to a more dynamic, less plastic role, or even produces one that is more like that of our animal cousins in the evolutionary tree? Imagine the emotional nature of a crocodile in a human being? Gives an all-new meaning to the “Reptilian Brain,” doesn’t it?

Given a retarded or damaged instinctive substratum, it is highly possible – even probable – that psychological deviations will manifest even to the extent that a person’s emotional development either is or appears to be completely frozen in the earliest infantile state. Such cases are likely beyond the ability of current medical science to help and, in many cases, can lead to anti-social, violent and/or criminal behavior. Keep in mind that a normal instinctive substratum for an animal is not normal for a human being and we can only infer what is inside from behaviors. What strikes me as important here is that the apparent behaviors of Narcissistic/ Psychopathic Rage are dynamically similar to the emotional behaviors of certain animals in certain states driven by instinct. And notice that I am focusing on emotions here, not intelligence.

But here is the rub: when considering a grown up psychopath, there are highly complex neurological circuits that have developed apace in the process of learning what works to get his needs and demands met. A complex and even brilliant intelligence is harnessed in service of a restricted or deviant emotional nature. But that apparent internal infantile core of being nothing but a hunger at the center of a bundle of neurological inputs and outputs is static – it never changes. In other words, there is no core self, just a sort of black hole that wants/needs to suck everything into it.

And here we come to the reason for the insatiable rage.

Under the influence of this internal structure – this ever-present, never fulfilled, hunger – the psychopath is not able to appreciate the wants or needs of other human beings, the subtle shades of a situation or to tolerate ambiguity. The entire external reality is filtered through – made to conform to – this rigid and primitive internal structure, in the service of primitive drives.

When the psychopath is frustrated, i.e. doesn’t get what they want, satisfaction of the hunger is denied or delayed, what they seem to feel is that everything in the world “out there” is against them while they are only good. This may, of course, translate into actual thought loops of being good, long-suffering and only seeking the ideal of love, peace, safety, beauty, warmth and comfort that comes with satiation (never mind that they can never achieve it), but the most fundamental thing about it is that “the infant experiences itself still in a state of limitlessness power and knowledge, a state that we call its grandiose self”. That is, when a psychopath is confronted with something displeasing or threatening to his hunger, that object (person, idea, group, whatever), is placed in the “all bad” category the same way that a newborn infant reacts to a negative trauma or denial of wants or needs: a mindless, instinctive, screaming rage that is designed to be so unpleasant (possibly evolutionarily so) that the caretaker immediately does whatever is necessary to bring the infant’s rage to an end, to satisfy the hunger (for whatever).

In short, if we are positing that the psychopath’s inner reality is structurally similar to that of a newborn infant – or at least apparently similar – then we must also realize that the rage is also structural. Whatever triggers it MUST come into compliance, the infant/psychopath cannot be denied; the rage, the crying, the fit, whatever, will continue until the infant either gets what is wanted/needed or is so exhausted that it cannot strive any longer. And, of course, with a grown up psychopath, this structural rage has far more support and possibilities (including utilizing a very complex brain) for sustaining it for a very long time: as long as necessary for THAT OBJECT of the rage to be incorporated as was originally desired.

The bottom line is: there is never even an instant when the psychopath feels “traumatized” or “shamed” or “helpless” – the structural grandiosity is ever present along with the rage/rejection of denial.

When dealing with a grown up psychopath, things get a bit more complicated, of course, because, as mentioned above, the brain has continued to grow and develop without the concomitant emotional maturation (and this can vary from individual to individual, though the structure remains the same). If the brain of the psychopath is forced to face mounting evidence that some choice or act of his/hers has created a problem or made a situation worse, this must be denied by the brain, driven by the emotions, as part of the self and projected as coming from “out there.”

The internal structure of the psychopath will admit to no wrong (it cannot), nothing bad, no errors and so, anything that is defined as “bad” is naturally – structurally – projected onto someone or something else. And keep in mind that this is not because they choose to do thatit is because they cannot do otherwise. There is nothing at the core but a hunger connected to neural inputs and outputs, wrapped up in emotional grandiosity and eternal perfection; that is the way they are made.

As a consequence of having such a primitive core structure coupled with a complex – and in some cases, brilliant – brain, psychopaths become masters of projective identification. That is, they project onto and into others everything that is bad (remembering that “bad” changes according to what the psychopath wants at the moment – that’s part of the structure), and seek in manipulative ways to induce in that other person what is being projected, and seek to control the other person who is perceived as manifesting those “bad” characteristics. In this way, the psychopath gains enjoyment and feels “in control” which amounts to getting “fed” or “nurtured” in some way.

Keep in mind that what the psychopath considers to be good has nothing to do with truth, honor, decency, consideration for others, or any other thing other than what the psychopath wants at any given moment. In this way, any violation of the rights of others, any foul, evil deed, can be perpetrated by a psychopath and he will still sleep like a baby (literally) at night because he has done nothing wrong!

©Usha Sutliff
USC researcher Adrian Raine: “There’s faulty wiring going on in psychopaths. They’re wired differently than other people. It’s literally true in this case.”

It is from these pathological elements that stem all kinds of antisocial, violent and criminal behavior, so to apply the maxim that “violence and aggression mainly occur because deep down, narcissists feel hurt and helpless” (which is what Dr Wolf’s paper boils down to) is to naively give pathological individuals a way to manipulate us via our sympathies. Certainly, much violence IS committed by individuals who have been psychologically wounded during their development, but they do not necessarily meet the criteria for NPD. Clarity and consistency in terminology is something that is desperately needed in this area.

Now, let’s turn again to Andrew Lobaczewski’s work “Political Ponerology”, where he has delineated a categorical and dimensional model of psychopathy and its various sub-categories, for a more reasonable answer to this problem of group violence, which he identifies as a matter of societal maladjustment taken advantage of by pathological elements within a society.

If various circumstances combine, including a given society’s deficient psychological world-view, in order to force a particular individual to exercise functions which do not make full use of his talents, said person’s professional practice would be no better, and often even worse, than that of a worker with satisfactory talents; he would feel cheated and inundated by duties which prevent him from achieving self-realization. His thoughts would often wander from his duties into a world of fantasy, or into matters which are of greater interest to him; in his daydream world, he is what he should and deserves to be. Such a person always realizes it if his social and professional adjustment has taken place in a downward direction; at the same time, however, he fails to develop a healthy critical faculty concerning the upper limits of his own talents. His daydreams allow him to “fix” an unfair world, “all you need is power”. Revolutionary and radical ideas find fertile soil among people in downward social adaptations.

Some people, on the other hand, achieve important posts because they belong to privileged social groups or organizations which have gained power; their talents and skills are therefore not sufficient for their duties, especially the more difficult problems. Such persons then avoid the problematic and dedicate themselves to minor matters quite ostentatiously. A component of histrionics appears progressively in their conduct. Tests indicate that their correctness of reasoning deteriorates after only a few years’ worth of such activities. In order to maintain their position, they direct their attacks against anyone with greater talent or skill, removing him from the appropriate posts and playing an active role in degrading their social and professional adjustment, which of course engenders a feeling of injustice.

Upwardly-adjusted people thus favor whip-cracking governments which would protect their positions.

Upward and downward social adjustments, as well the qualitatively improper ones, result in a waste of any society’s basic capital, namely the talent pool of its members. This simultaneously leads to increasing dissatisfaction and tensions among individuals and social groups; any attempt to approach human talent and its productivity problematics as a purely private matter must therefore be considered dangerously naive. Development or involution in all areas of cultural, economic and political life depend on the extent to which this talent pool is properly utilized. In the final analysis, it also determines whether there will be evolution or revolution. […]

In any society in this world, psychopathic individuals and some of the other deviants create a ponerogenically active network of common collusions, partially estranged from the community of normal people. Some inspirational role of the essential psychopathy in this network also appears to be a common phenomenon. They are aware of being different as they obtain their life-experience and become familiar with different ways of fighting for their goals. Their world is forever divided into “us and them”; their little world with its own laws and customs and that other foreign world full of presumptuous ideas and customs in light of which they are condemned morally. Their sense of honor bids them to cheat and revile that other human world and its values. In contradiction to the customs of normal people, they feel non-fulfillment of their promises or signatures is customary behavior. They also learn how their personalities can have traumatizing effects on the personalities of those normal people, and how to take advantage of this root of terror for purposes of reaching their goals. This dichotomy of worlds is permanent and does not disappear even if they succeed in realizing their youthful dream of gaining power over the society of normal people. This proves that the separation is biologically conditioned.

In such [pathological] people a dream emerges like some youthful Utopia of a “happy” world and a social system which would not reject them or force them to submit to laws and customs whose meaning is incomprehensible to them. They dream of a world in which their simple and radical way of experiencing and perceiving reality would dominate, where they would of course be assured safety and prosperity. Those “others”, different, but also more technically skillful, should be put to work to achieve this goal. “We”, after all, will create a new government, one of justice. They are prepared to fight and to suffer for the sake of such a brave new world, and also, of course, to inflict suffering upon others. Such vision justifies killing people, whose suffering does not move them to compassion because “they” are not quite conspecific. They do not realize that they will consequently meet with opposition which can last for generations.

Subordinating a normal person to psychologically abnormal individuals has a deforming effect on his personality: it engenders trauma and neurosis. This is accomplished in a manner which generally evades sufficient conscious controls. Such a situation then deprives the person of his natural rights: to practice his own mental hygiene, develop a sufficiently autonomous personality, and utilize his common sense. In the light of natural law, it thus constitutes a kind of illegality–which can appear in any social scale–although it is not mentioned in any code of law.

We have already discussed the nature of some pathological personalities, e.g. frontal characteropathy. Essential psychopathy has exceptionally intense effects in this manner.

Something mysterious gnaws into the personality of an individual at the mercy of such a [pathological] person and is then fought like a demon. His emotions become chilled, his sense of psychological reality is stifled. This leads to de-criterialization of thought and a feeling of helplessness, culminating in depressive reactions which can be so severe that psychiatrists sometimes misdiagnose them as a manic-depressive psychosis.

Many people evidently also rebel much earlier and start searching for some way of liberating themselves from such an influence.

Many other life situations involve less mysterious results of many other psychological anomalies upon normal people (which are always unpleasant and destructive) and their carriers’ unscrupulous drive to dominate and take advantage of others. Governed by unpleasant experiences and feelings, as well as natural egoism, societies thus have good reason to reject such [damaged] people, helping to push them into marginal positions in social life, including poverty and criminality.

It is unfortunately almost the rule that such behavior is amenable to moralizing justification in our natural world-view categories. Most members of society feel entitled to protect their own persons and property and enact legislation for that purpose. Being based on natural perception of phenomena, and on emotional motivations instead of an objective understanding of the problems, such laws are in no position to safeguard the kind of order and safety we would like; those others perceive them as a force which needs to be battled.

Such a social structure dominated by normal people and their conceptual world easily appears a “system of force and oppression” to individuals with various psychological deviations. Psychopaths reach such a conclusion as a rule.

If a good deal of injustice does in fact exist in a given society, pathological feelings of unfairness and suggestive statements can resonate among those who have truly been treated unfairly. Revolutionary doctrines may then find approval among both groups, although their motivations will actually be quite different.

A recent SOTT editorial discussed “Learned Helplessness” as a phenomenon being experienced by many of the normal human beings on this planet who are struggling to survive the global pathocracy that is currently consolidating its control.

This state of learned helplessness no doubt applies to many of the mainstream researchers in the psychological disciplines. The knowledge of psychopathy and ponerology is what “opens the cage door”, yet it seems the heavily conditioned psychologists and psychiatrists of the mainstream are too afraid to “go there” – to step out of the cage and really see where this knowledge could lead them. Thus there are endless attempts and theories to fit the square peg of psychopathy into the round hole of “humanist dogma” that insists on the uniform nature of the core Self for every single human-looking being. Sometimes this wishful thinking can fuel a more egotistical attitude – Lobaczewski refers to this as the “egotism of the natural world view”:

Moving further, we often meet with sensible people endowed with a well-developed natural world view as regards psychological, societal, and moral aspects, frequently refined via literary influences, religious deliberations, and philosophical reflections. Such persons have a pronounced tendency to overrate the values of their world view, behaving as though it were an objective basis for judging other people. They do not take into account the fact that such a system of apprehending human matters can also be erroneous, since it is insufficiently objective. Let us call such an attitude the “egotism of the natural world view”. To date, it has been the least pernicious type of egotism, being merely an overestimation of that method of comprehension containing the eternal values of human experience.

Today, however, the world is being jeopardized by a phenomenon which cannot be understood nor described by means of such a natural conceptual language; this kind of egotism thus becomes a dangerous factor stifling the possibility of objective counteractive measures. Developing and popularizing the objective psychological world view could thus significantly expand the scope of dealing with evil, via sensible action and pinpointed countermeasures.

The objective psychological language, based on mature philosophical criteria, must meet the requirements derived from its theoretical foundations, and meet the needs of individual and macrosocial practice. It should be evaluated fully on the basis of biological realities and constitute an extension of the analogous conceptual language elaborated by the older naturalistic sciences, particularly medicine. Its range of applicability should cover all those facts and phenomena conditioned upon cognizable biological factors for which this natural language has proved inadequate. It should, within this framework, allow sufficient understanding of the contents, and varied causes, for the genesis of the above-mentioned deviant world views.

Elaborating such a conceptual language, being far beyond the individual scope of any scientist, is a step-by-step affair; by means of the contribution of many researchers, it matures to the point when it could be organized under philosophical supervision in the light of above-mentioned foundations. Such a task would greatly contribute to the development of all bio-humanistic and social sciences by liberating them from the limitations and erroneous tendencies imposed by the overly great influence of the natural language of psychological imagination, especially when combined with an excessive component of egotism.

We at have been charting the disastrous global trajectory for years, and our research has made clear the role that psychopaths and those in the spectrum of pathology – such as narcissistic personality disorder – play in maintaining that trajectory. A unified approach to the problem of pathological individuals is desperately needed within mainstream psychology. Lobaczewski has shown us the first step – the formulation of an objective psychological language in conjunction with a dimensional and categorical model of the psychopath and its related disorders. This work was accomplished via the efforts of many researchers. But, at the present time, there are many, many researchers who seek to use psychiatry for control of others, usually normal people who are diagnosed by external behaviors while the preternaturally deceptive psychopath is not apprehended because his mask of sanity is too good.

It is not group helplessness that leads to narcissistic rage, it is narcissistic rage that produces group helplessness, as Martha Stout has shown above. And a helpless group can be driven to any evil, even to their own destruction.

That’s where it looks like it is heading.

Originally Published 2008_04_20