First, here’s my own definition:
Narcissist (n.) a person who deceives others in order to take, deplete, and consume their life energy (“soul”) because the Narcissist lacks it
Let’s break this down and look at the Narcissist a bit more closely.
1. The Narcissist lacks life energy.
It’s well-known in the Narcissistic Abuse Recovery community that a Narcissist requires continual “Narcissistic supply” from other people. This energy comes in visible forms such as time, attention, effort, and sex.
(Money is a tangible thing that we usually acquire by exchanging our energy for it. It serves several roles in Narcissistic abuse and merits its own discussion elsewhere.)
In other words, a Narcissist is dependent on other people for a form of energy that they have (and can give) but the Narcissist lacks. Thus, the Narcissist needs one or more human targets as sources of supply.
Without this energetic “supply,” the Narcissist experiences such emotions as boredom, irritability, panic, and/or rage. These resemble withdrawal symptoms, so it seems that Narcissism can be compared to an addiction–a dependency on energy received from other people.
What is this energy?
It isn’t electricity. It isn’t food or nutrition. It isn’t sunlight or microwaves or gravitation. “Narcissistic supply” is another form of energy, one which can be exchanged between people and used in the process of human living. It can also be used up, hence the Narcissist’s continual demands for it.
I call it “life energy”.
2. Life energy is “soul”.
Non-Narcissists (that is, the rest of us grownups) don’t require this energy from others because we produce it within ourselves and use it for ourselves, sort of like having rechargeable batteries. We use this “life energy” to live and thrive as human beings. We also use the excess of it, beyond what we need for ourselves, as a sort of fuel to sustain our relationships.
If we run low on life energy, we have to replenish it by resting or “recharging” in some way. This is called “taking care of you.” We all need life energy just as we need food, and–also like food–we don’t have an unlimited supply of it. (Just ask anyone who has raised children.)
If we don’t have enough of this energy to give, our relationships suffer. When we continually give life energy to a Narcissist (or anyone else) who continually demands it, the giving of it drains us. Our supply becomes the Narcissist’s supply. Eventually, our relationships and even our health can fail because our life energy, our vitality, is drained.
This is how Narcissistic abuse weakens the target, invisibly, from the inside out.
What is this “life energy” that is not electricity or food; can take the form of time, attention, effort, or sex; can be depleted in the process of sustaining human life, health, and relationships; and can be shared or exchanged with others?
Basically, it’s emotional energy.
Emotion or feeling is a function of the heart–not the physical muscle, but the non-physical inner “feeling part” of a human being’s psyche. The heart, on a deeper level, is connected to the soul. (This is another subject that merits its own discussion elsewhere.)
Many people who have been targets of Narcissistic abuse describe the experience as “soul-crushing” or “soul-destroying.” Some have said that the Narcissist “has no soul.” This is because of the Narcissist’s continual demands for emotional energy from others, depleting their life energy, their vitality, their “soul”…as if the Narcissist lacks his or her own “soul.”
On the other hand, recharging our life energy–our emotions, our heart, our vitality–makes us FEEL good and strong on the inside; it’s “good for the soul.”
Narcissistic abuse is an assault on the heart and soul of a target. Ultimately, it’s an inner struggle between the target and the Narcissist, which is why other people do not recognize it.
3. A Narcissist takes, depletes, and consumes other people’s life energy (“soul”).
Let’s look at Narcissistic abuse from the other side, from the point of view of the Narcissist’s target of abuse (his or her source of supply).
In “normal” or healthy human relationships, people give of themselves to each other with some form of mutual understanding or reciprocity. What we give can be in the form of time, attention, effort, or sex–and we tend to receive these forms of energy from others in return.
In other words, “normal” or psychologically healthy people respect each other.
When we freely give other people our energy, and expect no gift in return, we call this “love”. Love is how we share our life energy with our children. It’s also how a (grownup) Narcissist expects and demands to receive it from others.
A Narcissist wants to receive other people’s life energy freely, without having to give anything in return. But the never-ending Narcissistic demand for supply is not love. It’s the opposite of love.
Love gives freely. Narcissism demands…for free. However, unbeknownst to the target who is willing to give freely to the Narcissist, there will be no end to the giving, nor to the demands for it.
Children will eventually grow out of their normal “narcissistic” developmental stage and stop demanding supply, becoming adults who can produce their own supply. Adult Narcissists will not, because they are apparently stuck in the “narcissistic” stage of childhood growth forever.
A Narcissist does not (and maybe cannot) respect his or her target–because the Narcissist is not psychologically healthy. For whatever reason, the Narcissist doesn’t have enough life energy to give to others, or the ability to produce or even sustain it. But the Narcissist can be quite good at faking it.
Indeed, pretending may be the Narcissist’s only strategy for survival.
4. The Narcissist deceives others.
Ideally, a person has enough life energy to fulfill his or her own needs and share some with others in respectful, loving relationships. I like to think of this as like a cup being filled to overflowing and spilling over to others.
A Narcissist, lacking this life energy in his or her own cup, seeks it from others–but, having none to give in return, the Narcissist (like a child) can only take it. But the Narcissist’s “cup” never seems to stay filled and always demands more, more, endlessly MORE.
No amount of giving to a Narcissist ever seems to be enough.
A human being’s life energy is not unlimited. Most people do not wish to endlessly pour their own life energy into another person’s “cup” on demand and deplete their own until (and beyond) the point of self-harm. Psychologically healthy people may be willing to sacrifice their soul for love, but they don’t wish to sacrifice it for nothing.
However, since this is exactly what a Narcissist requires, he or she must therefore deceive other people into giving their life energy freely to the Narcissist.
Deception is the Narcissist’s primary (and also the easiest) way to get his or her “fix” of supply. The ways in which this plays out in a close relationship is all-too familiar to the target of Narcissistic abuse.
The Narcissist lies. The Narcissist cheats. The Narcissist makes “future” promises. The Narcissist swears to God, on the children’s lives, on his or her own life. The Narcissist betrays. The Narcissist leaves…and then comes back.
No one likes to be lied to. When the target has had (given) enough, and the “fix” of supply is threatened, the Narcissist lashes out at the target. The Narcissist belittles. The Narcissist blames. The Narcissist threatens. The Narcissist attacks, goes for the throat, desecrates the soul.
The Narcissist abuses. Why?
It’s simple. The target of abuse is the source of supply. Abuse is how the Narcissist keeps supply flowing.
This doesn’t make sense, though. How does it work?
For a young child who demands attention (“supply” or emotional energy) from the parent, even negative attention is better than none at all. Likewise, a Narcissist thrives on other people’s emotional responses to the Narcissist, whether positive or negative.
Sometimes this requires that the Narcissist provoke a negative emotional response. If this is successful (the Narcissist gets supply), and the target stays in the relationship (the Narcissist gets supply), the Narcissist has “won” (the Narcissist gets supply)–and is assured that the supply will continue (the Narcissist gets supply).
And so deception leads to quite the powerful source of supply…if the Narcissist has chosen well…and the target proves his or her willingness to stay with the Narcissist…by enduring the Narcissist’s disrespect, lies, and abuse…which transfer the target’s vitality to the Narcissist…as merely a temporary “fix” of supply…and ruins the target’s relationships and health…and perhaps even damages his or her soul…all so that the Narcissist can continue…to be a Narcissist.
5. The Narcissist is a person.
Maybe a Narcissist is a broken person. Maybe a Narcissist is a hurt child, forever trapped in an adult’s body. Maybe a Narcissist is an extremely spoiled and abusive grownup. Maybe a Narcissist is an unfortunate soul, possessed by a demon. Maybe a Narcissist is a human being who has no soul. Maybe a Narcissist is a real-life vampire who feeds on other people’s life energy instead of blood. Or a human robot, or an alien pretending to be human in a “snatched” human body.
I don’t know. What I do know is that, for the purpose of dealing with a Narcissist, it doesn’t matter who or what the Narcissist is–or how he or she got that way.
Whatever we may think and feel about the Narcissist(s) in our lives, under every law of human society Narcissists are people and we must treat and regard them as people. This attitude towards them is absolutely necessary, for the protection of both ourselves and our children.
However, it does not mean that we have to pretend to ourselves that the Narcissist is (or behaves) like the rest of us.
After enduring the torture of Narcissistic abuse, it can be easy to see the Narcissist as a non-person: an evil, self-serving, all-consuming, slippery, sneaky, lying, sadistic shell of a creature that only looks like a human being…but has no real person inside.
This perception may be true.
Nevertheless, we must remember that Narcissists have the same rights under the law that we do, as human beings, as adults, and as parents. We may be all-too familiar with his or her ability to make up lies–and believe them wholeheartedly, with a convincing emotional display–but in a court of law, the Narcissist’s word is as good as ours.
Therefore, we must remember (and be able) to back up our words with facts. We must be able and prepared to have documentation and even witnesses whenever we know we’re dealing with a Narcissist, especially when we have children with one.
We may not like it, and may not even know it, but to a Narcissist we are the enemy.
That’s not quite true. To a Narcissist, we are food, a potential source of energetic supply. A Narcissist is a predator, like a lion or a crocodile–not someone to “heal”, or help, or be more patient with, or give the benefit of a doubt “this time” or (yet) “another chance” (to consume you).
6. What does this mean for the rest of us?
Never forget that for all practical purposes, and in the eyes of everyone else, you are dealing with a person as decent and rational as yourself (and maybe even more so) when you are dealing with a Narcissist.
Better yet, just stop dealing with the Narcissist as much as you possibly can, right now. You cannot win a battle for your soul when the battle itself destroys your soul. So fight as little as possible, get as far away as you can, and stay there.
This is the only way to win.
Once you are away from the Narcissist, your life energy can begin to recharge, your vitality can start to return, your cup can start to fill again, and your soul can begin to heal. Only then can you be any good to anyone else, because only then will you have enough energy to take care of yourself AND share with those who both need and deserve it.
Fighting with a Narcissist will only empower the Narcissist and weaken you–and people you care about, too. If you continue to fight with a Narcissist, you will not be able to help others, or even yourself.
If this isn’t clear to you yet, or if you don’t understand why, please re-read this article.