The Narcissist’s Conflicted Relationship with His Fans, Followers
By Sam Vaknin
Author of "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"
The narcissist depends on his coterie for Narcissistic Supply. He resents this addictive dependence and himself for being so frail and impotent. It negates his self-delusional grandiose fantasy of omnipotence.
To compensate for this shameful neediness, the narcissist holds his sycophantic acolytes in contempt. He finds his fans, admirers, and followers repulsive and holds them to be inferior. He sees himself reflected in their presumptuousness and sense of entitlement and resents this constant and tawdry reminder.
Fans often claim to possess inside information about their idol and to have special rights to privileged access simply by virtue of their unbridled adulation and time-tested loyalty. But, the narcissist, not being a mere mortal, believes himself to be beyond human comprehension and refuses to render anyone special by granting him or her concessions denied to others. Being special is his exclusive prerogative. His followers conduct implies a certain egalitarian camaraderie which the narcissist finds abhorrent, humiliating, and infuriating.
Groupies and hangers-on somehow fancy themselves entitled to the narcissist’s favour and largesse, his time, attention, and other resources. They convince themselves that they are exempt from the narcissist’s rage and wrath and immune to his vagaries and abuse. This self-imputed and self-conferred status irritates the narcissist no end as it challenges and encroaches on his standing as the only source of preferential treatment and the sole decision-maker when it comes to the allocation of his precious and cosmically significant wherewithal.
The narcissist is the guru at the centre of a cult. Like other gurus, he demands complete obedience from his flock: his spouse, his offspring, other family members, friends, and colleagues. He feels entitled to adulation and special treatment by his followers. He punishes the wayward and the straying lambs. He enforces discipline, adherence to his teachings, and common goals. The less accomplished he is in reality – the more stringent his mastery and the more pervasive the brainwashing.
Cult leaders are narcissists who failed in their mission to "be someone", to become famous, and to impress the world with their uniqueness, talents, traits, and skills. Such disgruntled narcissists withdraw into a "zone of comfort" (known as the "Pathological Narcissistic Space") that assumes the hallmarks of a cult.
The – often involuntary – members of the narcissist's mini-cult inhabit a twilight zone of his own construction. He imposes on them an exclusionary or inclusionary shared psychosis, replete with persecutory delusions, "enemies", mythical-grandiose narratives, and apocalyptic scenarios if he is flouted.
Exclusionary shared psychosis involves the physical and emotional isolation of the narcissist and his “flock” (spouse, children, fans, friends) from the outside world in order to better shield them from imminent threats and hostile intentions. Inclusionary shared psychosis revolves around attempts to spread the narcissist’s message in a missionary fashion among friends, colleagues, co-workers, fans, churchgoers, and anyone else who comes across the mini-cult.
The narcissist's control is based on ambiguity, unpredictability, fuzziness, and ambient abuse. His ever-shifting whims exclusively define right versus wrong, desirable and unwanted, what is to be pursued and what to be avoided. He alone determines the rights and obligations of his disciples and alters them at will.
The narcissist is a micro-manager. He exerts control over the minutest details and behaviours. He punishes severely and abuses withholders of information and those who fail to conform to his wishes and goals.
The narcissist does not respect the boundaries and privacy of his reluctant adherents. He ignores their wishes and treats them as objects or instruments of gratification. He seeks to control both situations and people compulsively.
He strongly disapproves of others' personal autonomy and independence. Even innocuous activities, such as meeting a friend or visiting one's family require his permission. Gradually, he isolates his nearest and dearest until they are fully dependent on him emotionally, sexually, financially, and socially.
He acts in a patronising and condescending manner and criticises often. He alternates between emphasising the minutest faults (devalues) and exaggerating the talents, traits, and skills (idealises) of the members of his cult. He is wildly unrealistic in his expectations – which legitimises his subsequent abusive conduct.
The narcissist claims to be infallible, superior, talented, skilful, omnipotent, and omniscient. He often lies and confabulates to support these unfounded claims. Within his cult, he expects awe, admiration, adulation, and constant attention commensurate with his outlandish stories and assertions. He reinterprets reality to fit his fantasies.
His thinking is dogmatic, rigid, and doctrinaire. He does not countenance free thought, pluralism, or free speech and doesn't brook criticism and disagreement. He demands – and often gets – complete trust and the relegation to his capable hands of all decision-making.
He forces the participants in his cult to be hostile to critics, the authorities, institutions, his personal enemies, or the media – if they try to uncover his actions and reveal the truth. He closely monitors and censors information from the outside, exposing his captive audience only to selective data and analyses.
The narcissist's cult is "missionary" and "imperialistic". He is always on the lookout for new recruits – his spouse's friends, his daughter's girlfriends, his neighbours, new colleagues at work. He immediately attempts to "convert" them to his "creed" – to convince them how wonderful and admirable he is. In other words, he tries to render them Sources of Narcissistic Supply.
Often, his behaviour on these "recruiting missions" is different to his conduct within the "cult". In the first phases of wooing new admirers and proselytising to potential "conscripts" – the narcissist is attentive, compassionate, empathic, flexible, self-effacing, and helpful. At home, among the "veterans" he is tyrannical, demanding, wilful, opinionated, aggressive, and exploitative.
As the leader of his congregation, the narcissist feels entitled to special amenities and benefits not accorded the "rank and file". He expects to be waited on hand and foot, to make free use of everyone's money and dispose of their assets liberally, and to be cynically exempt from the rules that he himself established (if such violation is pleasurable or gainful).
In extreme cases, the narcissist feels above the law – any kind of law. This grandiose and haughty conviction leads to criminal acts, incestuous or polygamous relationships, and recurrent friction with the authorities.
Hence the narcissist's panicky and sometimes violent reactions to "dropouts" from his cult. There's a lot going on that the narcissist wants kept under wraps. Moreover, the narcissist stabilises his fluctuating sense of self-worth by deriving Narcissistic Supply from his victims. Abandonment threatens the narcissist's precariously balanced personality.
Add to that the narcissist's paranoid and schizoid tendencies, his lack of introspective self-awareness, and his stunted sense of humour (lack of self-deprecation) and the risks to the grudging members of his cult are clear.
The narcissist sees enemies and conspiracies everywhere. He often casts himself as the heroic victim (martyr) of dark and stupendous forces. In every deviation from his tenets he espies malevolent and ominous subversion. He, therefore, is bent on disempowering his devotees. By any and all means. The narcissist is dangerous.