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The Antisocial Narcissist

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Antisocial narcissists present the most serious pathology, mainly because they lack superego functioning. Their sense of entitlement is so pervasive that it overrides any capacity for remorse or guilt, including the ability to mourn or for self-reflection. In fact, the antisocial narcissist’s most dominant feature is the lack of capacity for guilt and remorse for his or her transgressions: “How come she never can say she’s sorry?” They may steal, lie, fail to live up to financial responsibility, inflict physical cruelty, cajole, get caught and even confess to their crimes yet lack any emotional link of guilt, remorse or concern for others.

With their extreme sense of omnipotence and their entitlement fantasies, antisocial narcissists delude themselves into thinking they can get away with their sociopathic behavior. When caught, they only feel sorry for themselves, not the others they put in harm’s way. One often wonders how such a person can function in a basically moralist society. The pathological, grandiose self matches the criminal behavior in a form of ego-synchronicity. The precursors of the persecutory superego cannot easily be absorbed into an overall integrated superego; rather, they are reprojected as paranoid traits. Melanie Klein (1927) in “On Criminality in Normal Children” emphasized how criminals ward off anxiety by blocking out guilt emanating from the superego, an aspect missing in the mind of a criminal.

The two most salient characteristics of the antisocial personality are as follows:

  1. Failure to conform to social, political, moral and legal guidelines, marked by repeated acts that are grounds for suspicion or legal action

  2. Manipulative, deceitful and defiant behavior, indicated by complete disregard for the welfare of others and perpetrated for one’s self-serving purposes of personal gain


Because of the considerable overlap among the various narcissistic disorders, it is quite a challenge to describe the antisocial personality disorder and to distinguish this disorder from other forms of narcissism. My relentless effort to make this distinction began by reading a variety of diagnostic descriptions of criminals, killers and sociopaths. But that alone did not seem to define the pathology sufficiently. Otto Kernberg came to the rescue when he admitted to the same frustration while reading the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) (APA, 1994), noting that the descriptions were based mainly on the behaviors and legalities and less on the pathology. He argued that the antisocial does not necessary fit within the guidelines of the DSM-IV because the syndrome should not be defined on the basis of criminality or behavioral or legal terms but rather in terms of its psychological meaning.

According to Kernberg (1992), antisocial personality disorder is not a clear personality disorder, for there are a group of patients who fit somewhere between the narcissistic personality disorder and the antisocial personality disorder. He characterized the latter as individuals who lack impulse control; who are callous, vilely selfish and irresponsible; and who have severe superego deficiency. This superego deficit is defined as the inability to experience guilt or remorse or to learn from experience. The antisocial disorder has been used in reference to sociopaths and psychopaths. The change in name implies that not all antisocials are serial killers and murderers. They are often highly successful people—excellent liars and manipulators with very little capacity for empathy or guilt. They owe their success to not caring what others think of their behavior. We constantly hear about corporate executives who blatantly steal from their employees and, when caught, convincingly cajole and lie.

Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish violent killers, like hit men, terrorists and child molesters, from those with who exhibit antisocial behaviors. For example, a Beverly Hills physician recently was prosecuted and found guilty of injecting beauty ingredients into patients that were the equivalent of car lubricant (Los Angeles Times, December 7, 2006). The prosecutors referred to him as Dr. Jiffy Lube. The effects he left on these women were devastating. One woman ended up with a hole in her face, another with a big lump on her lip, and yet another with such severe eye pain she could hardly open and close her eyes. The investigators found his home slovenly, full of unwashed syringes that were undoubtedly being used again and again. However, it is hard to say whether this individual was a full-blown antisocial narcissist or just a sloppy, disgustingly mindless person. By contrast, Saddam Hussein was executed in December 2006 for mass murders of Kurds and for killing hundreds of thousands of his own people. With his head held high, expressing no feeling of remorse for his heinous crimes, he was hanged by men in black masks. I imagine the difference between the antisocial and the child molester would be that child molesters have the capacity to express remorse and fear that they will not have the impulse control to stop themselves, whereas the antisocial personality is more invested in getting away with something. The child abuser or molester belongs more within the domain of impulse control unable to distinguish reality from fantasy: “It is okay to fantasize about molesting a child, but it is not okay to do it.”

To recognize the difference between a malignant narcissist and an antisocial, I take the liberty of differentiating further by noting the similarities and overlap into other narcissists described in this book have some semblance of antisocial behavior. Even pathological narcissists show little or no remorse for others because of their lack of empathy. What about murderers, terrorists and serial killers? Do they have a superego or conscience? How can someone who kills millions of Jews or smashes airplanes into the Twin Towers possibly have some semblance of morality? Invariably, such narcissists do have a conscience. Even if it is by our standards a twisted or perverse one, it is still there, that inner voice to which they adhere.

However, they differ in that they answer to a higher authority: their superegos. Even a malignant narcissist answers to a so-called higher authority, such as a Mafia member to “The Godfather,” a gang member to “The Leader,” a terrorist to Allah. The main difference is that the antisocial narcissist lacks a conscience. One could ask about terrorists and mass murderers­—do they have a conscience? Oddly enough, they do, as perverted and twisted as it may be. They believe that they answer to a higher power, e.g., God or Allah, Hitler to the Fatherland. He believed he had a responsibility to kill all the Jews and “purify” Germany. Hitler did not have the inner voice of what we con-sider normal Christian morality: “Thou shalt not kill.” But he answered to the voice of the “Fatherland” and adhered to a sadistic superego so stringent and demanding that it ran amok. Hitler had to prove to his fellow Germans that his plot to exterminate all Jews was for the greater cause. Osama bin Laden also has a cause: a strict loyalty and devotion to an internal object father, the voice of Allah (indeed a far cry from the Freudian voice of the father).

Briefly stated, in most cases, the antisocial does not adhere to any voice other than his or her own, including his or her self-serving desires. This differs from someone like a child abuser who beats and batters his wife and children until they are black and blue and who answers to no one. Others with antisocial pathology are people like hit men, who merely enjoy the challenge and the thrill of killing a very powerful man and getting away with it: “It is a great rush and heroic feat.”

Women Who Choose to Stay With Antisocial Narcissists

It is common for women with narcissistic, borderline, dependent, histrionic and depressive personalities to stay with men with criminal tendencies. Narcissistic women may stay with antisocial men for secondary gain—status, power, fame and financial reward. They are often in denial and act as though they do not have a clue about the unsavory behavior of their partner. Although most of these abused women are not married to terrorists, they can feel just as violated as women in third-world countries: “He says if I tell anyone about how he frauds people in his business, he will destroy me.”

Why would women who are raised in a strict moral home—some even by very religious stoic parents—take up with someone with amoral values? One woman said she thought her therapist was a fool when he pointed out how hooking up with a criminal was revenge against her neglectful father and that instead of choosing the moral route she lashes out against her father and chooses the corrupt one. Crime is often exciting and addictive and can be a highly erotic experience. There’s a thrill in getting away with something.

Women with borderline tendencies are more inclined to fuse with their partners—to rationalize, to deny and to look away from their reality. One woman, a shopaholic, enacted her uncontrollable urges by freely spending her husband’s ill-earned money: “She was a shopping terrorist. She thinks I don’t know what she buys, yet I don’t really care. She can buy whatever she wants. No dime off my back.” In some instances, women who suffer from severe deprivation fantasize that material possessions will fulfill them, a replacement for their internal emptiness. Many of these women bond with the pain and merge with the object to thwart feelings of emptiness, the void, or the black hole: “At least I have some semblance of aliveness. It is better to be with a crook or a criminal than have to live with dullness and deadness.”

In other cases, women who stay with antisocial narcissists are the designated victims, living a delusional fantasy that if they tolerate the abuse and mistreatment long enough the antisocial will feel remorse and take pity on them. Along with the criminality comes a very charming façade, someone who can seduce and falsely play the role of the good, nurturing self-object. Often these are the Don Juan sociopathic types who brilliantly seduce their partners: “I’m stealing for you, baby.” Borderline women and others who do not have a sense of self often tend to deny their partner’s criminality, claiming to know nothing about it. One woman who contacted me after my article appeared in Oprah’s O Magazine (September 2004) was horrified at the prospect that she would have to go to prison along with her husband for laundering money from their company: “Even though I did the bookkeeping, I didn’t know anything about it.” These women often having severely defective egos and tend to live exclusively in denial: “I didn’t know he was a crook. I kind of suspected something was going on but just kept turning the other way.”

Robert Dallek’s (1991) fascinating book, Lone Star Rising, gives a biographical account of President Lyndon Johnson. Johnson was described as a flaming and raving narcissist; an absolute egomaniac intoxicated with his own power; a perverse, sadistic and manipulative man. Dallek described the near-death of Johnson’s aide, who almost drowned in the White House swimming pool because Johnson was so absorbed in talking about himself that he did not notice the man’s condition. Johnson couldn’t get the U.S. Army out of Vietnam because of his own ego, which wouldn’t allow him to admit defeat. Whenever criticized on the Vietnam issue, he refused to speak and would become enraged.

Dallek (1991) stated that when his aides confronted him, Johnson uri-nated on them. He was a womanizer who made former president Bill Clinton look like a saint (he would often bring home not just one woman but two). Why did Lady Bird Johnson stay? I’m not sure how high functioning she was, but for her there were many secondary gains. Dallek claimed that Lady Bird was a good-hearted soul who was able to contain her husband’s insatiable needs. She was his anchor or, in Kohutian terms, a good self-mirroring object. Yes, she was passive and did suffer greatly, but she did enjoy the excitement, the prestige of being the First Lady. The world of opportunities her position as First Lady opened up to her made it all worthwhile.

The antisocial narcissist is probably one of the most difficult to communicate with. One can only mirror the antisocial’s behavior and try to show how, even though he doesn’t worry about what people think, his behavior may impact people he cares about and who care about him, such as sons who emulate the inappropriate behavior: “I can understand how you are enjoying using the funds from the money you laundered from the human rights foundation and the great high you get from feeling you got away with something, but how would you feel if your son knew you used this money for his Bar Mitzvah? Would you want him to grow up thinking this is the way to make a living?”

Case of Brenda and George

Brenda is an example of woman who stays with an antisocial narcissist for material gain, power and status. Brenda, a stunningly beautiful 30-year-old wife and mother, was enough to evoke Kleinian envy in anyone. At each appointment, she drove up in a new car, wore beautiful jewels and designer clothing and sported gorgeous Italian handbags and shoes. She was a picture-perfect representation of an upper-middle-class housewife. Her children attended the finest private schools and participated in daily sports and musical activities. Brenda hosted posh elegant parties that made most banquets look like Taco Bell.

One day she called to cancel her session, something that was very rare for her. A few days later she called to reschedule. When she entered, I hardly recognized her. She was shaking, crying and choking on her words. She proceeded to explain that the day she cancelled was like black Monday: Two FBI agents came to their door to arrest her husband for embezzlement, tax evasion and fraud. She confessed that she knew something undercover was going on but didn’t have a clue about the enormity of the situation: “He is being accused of stealing over 1 million dollars from the accounting firm he worked for.” She begged me to see him because “he knows he will be going to jail and he is extremely upset.” When George entered, he looked rather stone-faced, but I was able to tell how scared and upset he was. I presumptuously assumed that he was feeling bad about all the money he had illegally embezzled: “No, it’s not that at all. I could care less about those fools. I feel bad that I got caught and also for my wife and kids. I tried to keep them in the style they were accustomed to.”

Case of Haley and Chuck

As noted earlier, there is a mixture of various personality features in the antisocial narcissist. The following case could fit the pattern of a malignant narcissist. However, because of the severe pathological lack of conscience, guilt and concern for what others think, I believe it fits here.

Haley and Chuck had been married for three years. They had baby twin girls. Haley was a very timid woman who was once a professional ballroom dancer and winner of many awards. At the time of her therapy she worked as a nutritionist. Chuck was a coach who took great pride in his ability to train some of the top boxers in the country. Haley, the designated victim, initially contacted me, desperately pleading for help with her abusive, cruel and vindictive husband. Chuck was a very aggressive man. He came home, plopped on the couch, and expected his wife to give him a blow job. It never occurred to him to pleasure her; he truly believed that giving him oral sex was just as gratifying for her as it was for him. Furthermore, he put down her achievement as a dancer and told her that what she did was nothing compared with what he did in his training and workouts: “You just glide along the floor in your little high heels in a ball gown. Big deal!”

She came in exhausted, dark circles under her eyes, which were red from crying. She claimed she stayed with Chuck because she had hope that one day her husband would take pity on her and see how he hurt her. Chuck, an ex-gang member, had recently gotten out of jail, where he had been incarcerated for theft and assaulting a police officer. Haley waited patiently for his release, recognizing that she would have to be the sole breadwinner to care for him, herself and her babies.

Therapist (Th): Hi, Haley, come on in.

Haley (H): Hi!

Th: What’s wrong, Haley?

H: I’m exhausted. I worked all day, then came home to take care of the babies, and Chuck was just lying around watching football. I asked him to diaper Ali and Annie, but he just laughed and said, “You gotta be kidding!”

Th: Kidding?

H: Yes, he thinks it is beneath him to diaper the babies. I told him I didn’t sleep for three nights, feel faint, but he could care less. Also I have to go to a dance rehearsal.

Th: Seems the more you tell him how you feel, the meaner he is to you.

H: Right, but I don’t know what to do about it. He has no sympathy or compassion for me.

Th: So, you think by being a victim he will feel sorry and show you more compassion?

H: He is not always like that; sometimes he can be so loving and sweet.

Th: It is often that way with abusive men. One part can be loving and kind and the other cruel and sadistic. Creates confusion doesn’t it?

H: Yes, but it’s worth waiting for because when he does give to me it is just the greatest feeling.

Th: So you think it’s worth waiting for a crumb?

H: I guess so. Just for a crumb, but it is better than nothing.

Th: But that’s what you were telling me your childhood was like—nothing?

H: Just emptiness and deprivation.

Th: So a crumb to you is like receiving the crown jewels.

H: But he’s more than that. He has a lot of potential. He works as a boxing instructor and is totally tops in his field. I know he could become very successful. He is great at what he does.

Th: So why isn’t he successful?

H: Well, he has a weak spot. His clients often cancel at the last minute, and he is afraid to charge them or raise their fees. He’s afraid to confront his boss, ask for a raise.

Th: So he can box with his muscles, be a bully with you, get into a boxing match with you, but with his clients he turns into mush.

H: (laughing) Right. I guess you are saying it should be reversed. He should use his aggression with them.

Th: Oh, but you are telling me he is too grandiose to change a diaper because it is beneath him. But when a client cancels at the last minute he is too timid to charge them. Maybe he feels that it is too much beneath him to ask for his needs to be met.

H: Interesting to me that he never expresses any remorse, never apologizes, and then attacks me and says everything is my fault. His friend Tony, who was in jail, is different now. He became a born-again Christian and when he got out of jail, he expressed great sorrow, cried and begged his girlfriend for forgiveness.

Th: Well, I guess you can figure that one out.

H: Oh, you mean he could repent because now he has Jesus in him?

Th: Yes, exactly. Chuck doesn’t have anyone inside to account to.

H: Hmmmm. That is what’s missing, and all the time I thought it was about me.

Th: Yes, but if you feel everything is your fault and you are to blame then he will never feel that he is accountable.

H: How do I make him feel accountable?

Th: How about setting some boundaries and limits? Just buy the bare essentials, but don’t give him any of your hard-earned money. Let him be the one to get the crumbs.

H: Isn’t that manipulative?

Th: Don’t worry. It is not manipulation; it is a way of starting to instill some morality.

H: But what if it doesn’t work?

Th: The goal is not necessarily for it to work, but for you to function—and for you not to enable him because you can’t wait for a crumb.

H: Got it. Thanks, doctor. This is very helpful. I’m a bit scared, but I’m tired of being treated like shit.

Th: But I’m not afraid to change your diapers and help clean up this mess.

H: See you next week.

Th: Bye now, Haley.

Case of Kathy and Tim

After I had written The Many Faces of Abuse: Treating the Emotional Abuse of High-Functioning Women (Lachkar, 1998b), and The Narcissistic/Borderline Couple (Lachkar, 1992), Kathy, a young medical resident living in Alabama, contacted me to help her sort out a severely maladaptive relationship. She was in a relationship with an ex-convict who had been convicted on robbery and drug charges. When she first contacted me, she was in the process of completing her medical residency. Kathy was an unusually attractive, personable, bright young woman with a great scientific and analytic mind. She exhibited symptoms of severe depression and anxiety, exacerbated by a torturously abusive relationship.

She met Tim at the medical clinic, where he was applying for drug rehabilitation while she was doing her residency. Tim was a gang member now on probation and had to report regularly for drug testing: “He is not my usual type of guy. Even though he was covered with tattoos, pierced rings, and chains, there was something mesmerizing about him. It was love at first sight. Our eyes met and that was it.” They lived together for the first couple of months. As time went by, Kathy became more withdrawn, depressed and ashamed. She complained that although her relationship was tumultuous and combative, it was also enormously wild and intense. Tim would replay her worse nightmare of a unavailable and betraying father (e.g., make plans on major holidays, birthdays, and then at the last minute not show up because he was out drinking beer out with the guys).

Kathy had an aversion to perfunctory forms of therapy, such as those she had encountered in prior treatment. One therapist advised her that she would not treat her until she broke up with her boyfriend. Another offered hypnotherapy. Another terminated her on the basis that she was “resisting therapy.” Another claimed it all had to do with repressed memories. And yet another said she didn’t need treatment; she just needed to “go find another boyfriend.”

None of these therapists seemed to recognize that the kind of treatment Kathy required went beyond Kathy’s object choice: “What would happen if my friends, colleagues or interns found out about him?” I let her know it was hard for her to imagine that anyone could be empathic to her dilemma, how one can get sucked into the private madness of a love bond. While Tim was in jail they continued their relationship through correspondence, but prior to his release they broke up.

Her father, who left home when Kathy was 2 years old, always canceled plans because he had to be with his many girlfriends. Her mother was depressed, was an alcoholic and sexually abused Kathy when she was 7 years old (asked the child to tickle her vagina). She went to her father’s house only to find his girlfriend dead drunk in the hot tub. Meanwhile, Kathy excelled in school, was a straight-A student and performed extremely well in all areas. Eventually, she was able to separate herself from Tim, listed herself in personal ads, started dating and developed a new relationship with Mark, a clinical director of a veterinarian hospital. Even though Mark was a marked improvement over Tim, he still reenacted similar dynamics, stirring up many unresolved abandonment issues.

The other therapists never helped Kathy understand that she really was not “in love”; rather, she was in an addictive, obsessive relationship that served as a cover to mask things Kathy had avoided in her life—social contacts, real loving relationships, work. Furthermore, these therapists failed to recognize Kathy’s ego deficits (poor judgment, confusion about feelings over rational thinking). They gave “advice” but failed to offer a transitional space to help her deal with her shame and withdrawal.

I agreed to do twice-weekly telephone sessions with the idea that we would take a different approach. We would not work on “the relationship” but on the developmental issues the relationship aroused: What was it about Tim that stirred Kathy’s V-spot? Not only was Kathy pleased to work within this mode; she was also relieved to understand there could be a healthy component attached (see Chapter 2, “Treating the Relationship Versus the Individual”). At work, Kathy’s functioning was phenomenal, but as soon as she was in the presence of Tim, her primary relationship at the onset of treatment, she would suddenly regress. It is amazing how such a bright, intelligent woman was unable to see clearly the destructive, abusive nature of her boyfriend. This inability indicated a defective ego.


As we can see, there is considerable overlap between the antisocial narcissist and the malignant narcissist. Haley was aware that Tony, the other man who got out of jail, at least prayed to Jesus to reach some kind of salvation; he had an internal object or higher power to answer to, as compared with Chuck, who answered to no one. In all three cases just provided, the men share the common denominator of inability to express any sorrow or remorse for their actions. The case of Haley furthers our understanding of why women stay with men who are cruel and sadistic; they can also have another side that is loving and seductive. This creates confusion and ambivalence, especially for someone like Haley, who is already bonded to a painful internal object and is easy prey for a personality like Tom: “Even a crumb is better than nothing.”

In confronting the challenge distinguishing the relationships in these cases, it is essential to note that these women are easy targets. They feel responsible for the abuse or believe they have some omnipotent power that will make their love and caring curative. Treatment consists of helping these women disidentify with the mistreatment and criminality by reinforcing the idea that not only are they not deserving of it but also that they become a partner in crime: “Yes, your partner is a druggie, a robber, a criminal, but you have a drugged mind thinking his behavior and mistreatment toward you is okay. It’s not.” The case of George is an example of someone who is not a serial criminal. He is a family man whose entitlement fantasies are inextricably linked to his wife’s insatiable needs. Yet he shares the same superego dysfunctionality as his fellow antisocials and psychopaths. In essence, criminality alone does not constitute the diagnosis of an antisocial personality. Even though some of these men are out of jail and on their way to recovery and rehabilitation, they still exhibit severe antisocial pathology within the dynamics of their relationship. Practically all criminals are antisocial, but not all antisocials are criminals.

Thank you guys for taking time to read this chapter, next day we will go to chapter 5 " The Depressive Narcissist".

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Written by   166
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