Impulse Control and Narcissistic Fear of Failure
By Sam Vaknin
Author of "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"
Many narcissistic defences, traits, and behaviours revolve around the compulsive need to sustain a grandiose self-image of perfection (“perfectionism”.) Paradoxically, deficient impulse control helps achieve this crucial goal. Impulsive actions and addictive behaviours render failure impossible as they suggest a lack of premeditation and planning.
Moreover: to the narcissistic patient, these kinds of decisions and deeds feel immanent and intuitive, an emanation or his core self, the true expression of his quiddity, haecceity, and being. This association of the patient’s implied uniqueness with the exuberance and elation often involved in impulsive and addictive acts is intoxicating. It also offers support to the patient’s view of himself as superior, invincible, and immune to the consequences of his actions. When he gambles, shops, drives recklessly, or abuses substances he is “godlike” and thoroughly happy, at least for a fraction of a second.
Instant gratification – the infinitesimal delay between volition or desire and fulfilment – enhance this overpowering sense of omnipotence. The patient inhabits a sempiternal present, actively suppressing the reasoned anticipation the future consequences of his choices. Failure is an artefact of a future tense and, in the absence of such a horizon, success is invariably guaranteed or at least implied.
Some patients are ego-dystonic: they loathe their lack of self-control and berate themselves for their self-defeating profligacy and self-destructive immaturity. But even then, their very ability to carry out the impulsive or addictive feat is, by definition, a success: the patient is accomplished at behaving irresponsibly and erratically, his labile self-ruination is his forte as he masterfully navigates his own apocalyptic path. Only by failing to control his irresistible impulses and by succumbing to his addictions, is this kind of narcissistic patient able to act at all. His submission to these internal “higher powers” provides him with a perfect substitute to a constructive, productive, stable, and truly satisfactory engagement with the world.
Thus, even when angry at himself, the patient castigates the ominous success of his dissolute ways, not their failure. His rage is displaced: rather than confront his avoidant misconduct, he tries to cope with the symptoms of his underlying, all-pervasive, and pernicious psychodynamics. Ironically, it is this ineluctable failure of his life as a whole that endows him with a feeling of self-control: he is the one who brings about his own demise, inexorably, but knowingly.