Book - 20 Shades of Narcissism
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Philosophy and Happiness
Site by David Thomas PhD
Are Narcissists Bad People?
Narcissists are not usually bad people. However, they cause others, their co-dependent, co-narcissist supporters, to do bad things as they try to satisfy the perceived needs of their narcissistic controller.
The behaviour of a narcissist is purely a reaction to the continual threat to his or her ego. The threat may be real or perceived. More often than not, it is perceived, the threat is just imagined, a situation created by an underlying fear which is at the root of all narcissistic behaviour. The fear of a blow to the ego is the source of most, if not all, of the narcissists' anguish. To assuage this potential suffering or even to remove it entirely is the reason why the narcissist is continuously on high alert to any form of ego threat. He develops amazingly fast reaction times to perceived threats, usually so fast that he has dealt with the problem before anyone else has even recognised that a possible ego hazard exists. The narcissist annuls, destroys, averts, or diverts the threat before it has the opportunity to cause him emotional harm.
Adolf Hitler was a narcissist and is widely acknowledged as having killed Jews, communists, homosexuals, gypsies, and many other groups of people that he 'hated'. Although six million Jews were murdered, it is likely that Hitler did not kill a single Jew himself. In fact, when a Jewish doctor treated his ill mother, not only did he thank the doctor, but he also allowed him to escape Nazi Germany. Hitler was like all narcissists; he wanted to gain power in order to be in control. Narcissists are power-hungry individuals and one way to gain power is to spread fear and panic about an enemy (real or imaginary), stir up hatred, and present yourself as the only person able to 'save' everyone.
In control, in power, is the place all narcissists want to be because it is the preeminent place to fight off ego threats. It is then when his admiring co-dependents spring into action. The bigger the ego of the narcissist, the more the co-dependent feels the need to do his narcissist's bidding, or what he perceives to be the narcissist's bidding. Once Hitler had 'used' the Jews, communists, homosexuals, gypsies, and the other groups as a means to gain control, the 'problem' took on a life of its own in the hands of his co-dependent supporters. They did what they perceived he wanted them to do. Whilst there is no doubt that Hitler was aware of what was going on, murder on an industrial scale, he did not do anything about it. The reason relates directly to another of the narcissist's traits, complete lack of empathy. He was indifferent; he simply did not care.1
In the absence of Adolf Hitler, most of these co-dependents would almost certainly have attached themselves to narcissists, and would have done their bidding. They would have done what all co-dependents do whilst under the control of a narcissist, behave unethically if necessary, and do whatever they consider is needed in an attempt to regulate the world around their narcissist, even if this means going against their own beliefs and principles.
A co-dependent who probably was not born evil, but never had the strength to say 'no' to his narcissistic controller, was the SS officer Arthur Liebehenschel. He was Commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp for five months during World War II. His daughter, Barbara Cherish, researched his life and found evidence that suggested that he was not intrinsically evil; he just got caught up in the Nazi regime and pledged his allegiance to Hitler.
The following quotation is from Fergal Keane during an interview with Barbara Cherish about her father on the BBC Radio 4 programme Taking a Stand:
'The truth of genocide, I think from my own experience of witnessing it, is not that the psychopaths wreak the most havoc, it's really the ordinary people like your father who are not innately evil, but who go along with the system, who become parts of it, willing parts of it, and wreak terrible evil.'
Mr. Keane encapsulates the problem in the above statement. Typical co-dependents have been brought up not only to obey the commands of their needy parents or carers, but also to anticipate their needs and act accordingly. This behaviour is evident in the daily lives of many people: wives who anticipate their needs of their domineering and narcissistic husbands; employees who cover for their bullying bosses; and husbands who are controlled by wives who demand and get what they want, their husbands doing whatever is necessary to comply, going beyond ethical boundaries.
It is not that the narcissists are bad; it is their indifference that is at the root of the problem. It is when their co-dependent supporters go beyond the ethical boundaries, and their narcissistic controller does nothing about it, that the serious problems occur. The co-dependent is too cowardly to stand up to the narcissist, and the narcissist is indifferent to the suffering of others, or too cowardly to do anything about it.
Are narcissists bad people? They do not intend to be bad; in fact, they want to be liked, even admired. But their pathetic behaviour and the behaviour of their gutless co-dependent supporters wreak suffering and pain on people who, more often than not, are entirely innocent.1. Thomas, David (2010), Narcissism: Behind the Mask, Book Guild, UK.
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