How sadistic are narcissists
The disturbing link between narcissism and sadism
Narcissism is a broad term for a common personality trait and also refer to the clinical disorder known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a strict and ubiquitous personality style that underlies an individual's overall approach to others and the world around them. This disorder is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
A narcissistic personality is difficult to understand for people who are not narcissistic because the outside looks completely different from the inside. Analysis of narcissistic personality becomes even more complex because of the many differences between narcissistic individuals. Theodore Millon suggests that there are four different types of narcissists (Millon, 1996). This is not widely accepted in the literature, but to be fair, there isn't much about narcissism that is accepted well beyond the obvious signs of clinical disorder (e.g., little empathy for other outward appearances of superiority).
Perhaps research on narcissism is severely limited due to some challenges in studying. Think about it: how many narcissists will volunteer to take part in a psychological study? And among those who would do so, how honestly would they report how they really feel if their primary defense is to maintain an image of power and superiority?
One area of research that I wish was easier to explore is the relationship between narcissism and sadism. When a person is sadistic, it means that they get satisfaction from punishing, hurting, or abusing others. I'm particularly interested in the narcissism-sadism connection because a client of mine has a boss who is extremely sadistic about her. Based on their description, my client's boss probably meets the criteria for narcissism, but with the added component of a sadistic streak that causes him to regularly punish employees in pointless ways. While there is often an overlap between narcissistic personality and sadistic behavior, not all narcissists get satisfaction when they hurt or upset others.
To expand further, we need to discuss the term "satisfaction," which is not synonymous with enjoyment or actual pleasure. The satisfaction I am referring to - the way narcissists look for - is called "narcissistic care". This refers to the attention and admiration of others who make the narcissist feel noticed and special. In some ways, narcissists are not that different from young children, whose emotional needs are unmet and who are desperately seeking appreciation from others. Those who are in close relationships with narcissists see the inconsistencies that others don't see: how the narcissists appear on the surface day after day is in direct contrast to how they really feel inside. This is the paradox of narcissism. How can narcissists feel so bad but act like legitimate kings and queens? It doesn't make sense for the people around the individual.
This bias - superior but inferior - is central to the disordered, narcissistic personality. A narcissist has two different selves: his true self and the self they have wish You are. The narcissist's true, true self is best understood as a wounded child whose emotional development has been halted due to emotional abuse or neglected by early caregivers.
Why are some narcissists sadistic and others not? In my clinical experience, I have found that sadistic narcissists were seriously neglected or emotionally abused in childhood than other narcissists. Many narcissists are difficult to understand, have terrific self-esteem, and do not take responsibility for their actions, but they have no driving need to punish others. I have found that the sadistic narcissist is lower in self esteem than the non-sadistic narcissist, even though neither is really high in self esteem. The most important point to understand is that the effort to regularly punish or anger others is usually due to a person receiving confusing, mind-blowing behavior from a parent at a young age.
I hope readers can avoid relationships with narcissists, especially those with a sadistic streak. Those who have encountered a severe narcissist and got too close know how confusing and frustrating the experience can be. And I sincerely hope that anyone currently connected to a sadistic narcissist - whether someone at work or theirs - can continue to educate themselves about narcissism and sadism in order to better protect themselves and get out of there as soon as possible.
Discover my book on Dysfunctional Romantic Relationships, Overcoming Relationship Repeat Syndrome, and Finding the Love You Deserve.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (5th Edition). Washington, DC: author.
Millon, Theodore (1996). Personality Disorders: DSM-IV-TM and Beyond. New York: John Wiley and Sons. p. 393. ISBN 0-471-01186-X.
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