My life has been uniquely blessed by the sheer number of narcissists that have entered into it. A narcissist destroys your self-esteem and manipulates you emotionally. If you feel strong, their first tactic is to make you feel weak. Under that weakness, they have a greater chance to gain control over you. By the sheer number of narcissists that I have encountered and the understanding of psychology based on Sāñkhya, I have gained some insights into their nature. This post discusses the nature of the narcissist based on the progressive development of material nature.
Table of Contents
The Prevalence of Insecurity
All material existence begins in something called mahā-māyā. Mahān, mahat, and mahā mean “great”. And māyā means “that which is not”. So, mahā-māyā means “that which is not great”. This mahā-māyā covers the soul, and constantly makes the soul feel that “I am not great”. The influence of mahā-māyā causes a person to feel inferior, insecure, fearful, and anxious. In the material world, everyone is conditioned by mahā-māyā, so everyone is insecure, fearful, and anxious, to some extent. However, there are different grades of mahā-māyā; some people are suffering from insecurity more than others.
The first trait of a narcissist is that he or she is highly conditioned by fear, inferiority, insecurity, and anxiety. This aspect of mahā-māyā is also called prakśepātmikā or the “throwing potency”. When a person is suffering from insecurity, he or she is constantly on the move, talks incessantly, and becomes restless. The term prakśepātmikā or the “throwing potency” means restlessness. It forces you to be constantly on the move because you cannot stay calm due to inner anxiety and inferiority. You can imagine an anxious person who is pacing the floor due to the feeling of nervousness. Basically, we are all being thrown around by material nature due to the inner feeling of anxiety and insecurity.
In contrast, āvaraṇātmika or the “covering potency” of māyā causes relaxation, laziness, complacency. Under this covering, a person thinks: I’m all right; I have so much money, property, friends, prestige, power, and so on, so, there is nothing to be anxious about; I can relax. This relaxation comes after a bout of anxiety and restlessness, so, if a person suffers from greater anxiety, then he or she also becomes conditioned to seek greater comfort, relaxation, laziness, and lethargy. Thus, many people use the phrase “work hard and play harder”. They are talking about this cycle of anxiety and relaxation. The bigger the anxiety, the more relaxation is required to quench its bad effects.
Freedom from mahā-māyā means freedom from this cycle of restlessness and languor. As mahā-māyā reduces, a person is naturally stable; he or she performs their duties, doesn’t feel overly anxious about anything, and never becomes complacent upon any success. But if mahā-māyā increases, then the oscillation between restlessness and complacency increases. The trait of a narcissist is this cycle of restlessness and complacency. You will sometimes see them extremely anxious, and then suddenly complacent to the point of being careless.
When they are anxious, they will criticize other people, blame them for their problems, and generally spread anxiety and fear all around. They will conjure up the worst things that can happen, and try to scare everyone. But when this fear phase subsides, then the person will go into extreme complacency, carelessness, and laziness. They will act as if they are on top of the world, with nothing to worry about.
The Prevalence of Dominating Nature
The first byproduct of mahā-māyā is called pradhāna or “I am the boss”. This bossiness is a form of the āvaraṇātmika or the “covering potency” under which a person feels complacent, relaxed, and satisfied. Unlike prakśepātmikā which makes a person anxious, restless, and insecure, āvaraṇātmika makes a person complacent, relaxed, satisfied, and forgetful about the previous anxiety. The pradhāna can be understood as the next-level product of the prakśepātmikā, or a manifestation of āvaraṇātmika.
This can seem confusing, but it is not actually so. The greater the sense of insecurity in a person, the greater is their need to project outwardly power and confidence. A narcissist is a person who suffers from inner fear and projects outward confidence, power, and satisfaction. So, the idea that “I am the boss” is not based on true inner confidence and fearlessness; it is rather based on insecurity. The greater the inner insecurity, the greater is the restlessness and then outwardly projected confidence. Since the whole thing is paradoxical, therefore, it is hard to spot such people, because they are alternating between supreme confidence and excessive insecurity.
A good example is managers and leaders in the corporate world who project supreme confidence outwardly, but they are always scared of losing their job, getting reprimanded, etc. They lack leadership because they are fearful. Their inner insecurities and fears prevent them from making righteous decisions. All their decisions are meant to protect themselves. They project outward power, but they are weak inside. Hence, they oscillate between extreme bouts of anxiety over small issues and then project great outward power as if they are truly confident.
A truly confident person is calm. A narcissist is not calm, even if they are projecting boldness outwardly. At the slightest of trouble or problem, their insecurity, fear, restlessness, anxiety, etc., becomes apparent. Then, they get angry, start blaming other people, conjuring the worst, and spreading fear and stress to others. They are always prone to sacrifice others in order to protect themselves.
Hence, their so-called bossiness is not a sign of leadership, tenacity, strength, etc. It is just a projection. When they can dominate other people, they feel more confident, relaxed, and stress-free. Hence, they are constantly aching to control, dominate, and subjugate others. This is known as the “narcissistic supply”. They need to feel good about themselves, and they will always catch those people whom they can control, and dominate, and use them to create their “supply” of egoistic fulfillment. All these people that the narcissist uses, are generally lower in status, age, wealth, position, or power. People who are lower in social status are prone to naturally respect those who are higher in status. The narcissist feeds on those who are lower in status, because they are naturally respecting, and easy to dominate.
The Absence of a Moral Compass
The by-product of pradhāna is mahattattva. As noted above, mahat means “greatness” and tattva means “essence”, so mahattattva means the “essence of greatness”. We commonly call these moral virtues such as truthfulness, kindness to others, sacrificing nature, and cleanliness or organized life.
The narcissist lacks a moral compass. They do not hesitate in lying, cheating, and deceiving others. They are often manipulative, and they manipulate to gain control over people, to use them as fodder for their “narcissistic supply” or egoistic fulfillment. A simple example of this manipulation is that they will never share complete information about anything with you. They will always present what is favorable for them and hide what is unfavorable for them. They will always tell you one-sided stories to fool you. Whatever they are saying is untrustworthy; they will highlight problems that don’t exist to prod you into fear and anxiety (to evoke some action from you) and hide the real problems from your vision.
A narcissist is never sacrificing and never kind to others. They will create a big hue and cry if they are asked to make a small sacrifice, even if that means a lot for the other person. They will terrorize the person who is making a small demand, and make it seem like it is a huge ask being made of them. Even if they do something for you, they will constantly gloat about it, and try to make you feel guilty about having made such a demand from them. This is their tactic so that you will stop asking them.
A good example of this is selectively miserly behavior toward others. A miser doesn’t want to spend money at all, but a narcissist only doesn’t want to spend money on others. If he or she is forced to spend, then they will make you feel guilty. They will constantly tell you about the great thing they have done for you, and how you should feel gratitude toward them. Meanwhile, the narcissist will spend excessively on his or her egoistic needs. Their need for egoistic fulfillment is so big that any expenditure is justifiable but the big needs of others are so insignificant that any expense on them is a waste of money. This creates a paradox in which money is spent on useless things when it comes to the narcissist’s needs, and not spent on important things when it comes to the needs of others. To boost his or her ego, the narcissist will spend any amount of money and then complain about others spending too much—even if those others are spending money on their basic necessities.
Many narcissists do charity and donate money to distant and unrelated people because it makes them feel good about themselves. Meanwhile, people in their home may not have clothes, food, or education, because—as the narcissist will tell them repeatedly—“there is no money for luxuries”. Again, a paradox is created in which distant people will praise the narcissist for his munificence and generosity, while those who are living close to them will struggle for the basic necessities of existence.
A narcissist is generally disorganized and unsystematic, especially when it comes to doing something for others. This is due to their previously noted complacency and restlessness; both can be the cause of chaos and disorder. Sometimes things are chaotic because they are complacent and at other times because they are restless. Look into their closet and you might find that things are disorganized. Look into their kitchen, and it may be very dirty. Look at their work, and it will likely be shoddy. Their finances may not be in disorder, their bills may not be paid on time, and whatever they produce may be sloppy. The net result of this uncleanliness is that you stop asking the narcissist for anything because you know that even if they give you something, it will be of poor quality. Not only are they not interested in giving you anything, but even if they give you something, it is so bad that you will stop asking them. You feel: It is better to just do it myself.
This, by the way, is very good for the narcissist; he or she now says: You never asked me for anything, so how can I provide it? That way, the narcissist shifts the blame of their disorder onto others: It is the others who are at fault as they are not asking the narcissist to do anything. The person who was previously suffering from the bad output of work now suffers from the blame or guilt of not asking.
The Absence of Empathy
From the mahattattva springs the ahaṃkāra, which gives a person emotional perceptiveness. This is also sometimes called “emotional intelligence” or empathy. Ahaṃkāra binds a person emotionally to family, society, organizations, nation, humanity, etc. and it is also often called “attachment”, “association” or sanga. From this sanga or attachment springs the love, affection, and desire for the other person.
The narcissist has no attachment to family, society, nation, or profession because his or her sole need is narcissistic supply. Anything that quenches their insecurity or fulfills their need for domination is good. Even if they are helping other people, it is to gain control over others and project themselves as saviors. They lack a true understanding of a person’s emotional condition, and they cannot feel their pain. They can never love anyone. Even if they appear to care about someone, it is only because they need them for their own sake—e.g., the person they “love” may be providing them with safety, security, money, luxuries, etc. One symptom of this lack of empathy is that the narcissist will never make true friends. A friendship is where a “friend in need is a friend indeed”, but the narcissist will never be present in the time of need—unless, of course, by helping others, the narcissist can pretend to be the savior of others. Even as they are helping others, they cannot help but gloat about their greatness, how their presence truly saved an irredeemable situation, and how their absence would have meant disaster.
By and large, the narcissist is always insensitive to other’s feelings, pain, and suffering. If you tell them your problem, they will rarely say: “I understand, I’m sorry, how can I help?” Their dominant response is “This is how things are, you have to learn to accept them”. They expect you to stop bothering them with your problems. If you do not get over your problem quickly, then they will start criticizing you for talking about your problems. Now, they will accuse you of being too weak and frail. Women narcissists especially emasculate men by calling them weak, thus manipulating them based on the manly need to be strong. Instead of helping the person get over their problem, they exacerbate the problem by calling the person weak, incompetent, lazy, etc. Men narcissists on the other hand say the same thing differently: “Why are you always unhappy?” This is a tactic to make a person feel guilty about being unhappy, in pain or in a difficult situation.
In general, loving and caring people also offer good advice that might have some similarities with the rants of a narcissist. However, loving and caring people also go out of their way to help the person they are advising. A narcissist, however, will just offer empty advice, and never offer comfort, support, and rejuvenation to elevate the person. They will never make sacrifices or do something for others. The narcissist needs the person suffering in pain to miraculously get up, become strong, and start providing the narcissist what he or she needs in their life.
In short, a narcissist is all demand and no supply. They will stand on the sidelines and offer empty advice, and often much criticism, but you can look closely at their life, and you will find them never offering help, consolation, moral support, or any kind of material support. They just don’t want to do anything for anyone. But they want to feel superior to others by giving them advice and criticism. They will ride the high moral horse and pretend to be great people, but they have nothing to contribute to anyone. If you pressure them into giving something, then they will denigrate you in many ways. Instead of saying that they don’t want to help, they will try to undermine you personally by making you feel bad about yourself. Their trump card is making you feel guilty and using it to make you give them something.
A narcissist has no idea of how other people feel, although they have a good idea about how they feel. Even if they know how other people feel, they don’t care about them. There is no love or concern. Everyone is simply a portal to supply them with something that they want.
A narcissistic mother for example doesn’t love her children but needs them to supply her with something. A narcissistic mother may push the child to achieve greatness if that will give her social prestige. If, however, that greatness requires the mother to make some sacrifices, then that greatness is not required. The narcissist mother will quickly forget about her earlier push for greatness the moment she feels that her needs are being fulfilled in other ways, where she doesn’t have to make any sacrifices. Likewise, a narcissistic mother will stop her affection if she sees that the child is happy. She will start abusing the child, hurt him or her physically and mentally to bring them down, control them, and use them to get something that she wants. If the child tries to leave the narcissistic abusive mother to be successful (or escape the torture), the mother will prefer that the child remains unsuccessful, pray for his or her failure, so that she can keep her control over the child. A narcissistic mother never sees anything from a child’s perspective. She always sees everything from the perspective of her needs.
This creates a huge paradox in their behavior because narcissists often make strong demands of others, and then suddenly seem to not care about it at all. Their strong demands are based on the expectation they have to make no sacrifices, and that they can actually enjoy all the fruits without labor. If it turns out that they have to sacrifice something, or that they will not be able to get the fruits to the extent that they expected earlier, then they don’t care about what they were demanding previously. Consequently, a narcissist becomes an unreliable partner as they will make commitments and then back out of them quickly. Their commitment was based on their interest, and their backing out is also their interest. The person to whom they committed was never in the picture—not at the start, and not in the end.
If you are supplying a narcissist with what they want, then they are the most charming people. But the moment you don’t supply them with what they want, they become the most vicious people around. A narcissist relies on extracting things from others, more than he or she will give them in return. They achieve this by making themselves very attractive to their prey. They are extremely charming when they are trying to entice their prey into their orbit of influence. They will say the sweetest things, they will praise you endlessly, and they will pretend to care about you like no one else. But once you enter their orbit, you will find that they are completely indifferent toward you. Thus, people far away will think that the narcissist is very caring, and the people close to them will realize their complete indifference.
This creates a huge inner conflict in the victims of the narcissists as they can never explain what they are seeing to other distant people because those distant people will always say that the narcissist has been very charming, kind, and considerate toward them. The victim of the narcissist constantly suffers from guilt because on one hand he or she hears the constant praise of the narcissist from those who are distant. On the other hand, he or she can see the true indifference due to proximity. The discordance between what you see and what you hear creates cognitive dissonance. Due to this dissonance, the victim of a narcissist starts blaming himself or herself and thinks: It must be my fault that I am even perceiving these faults because other people keep praising this person. Instead of coming out of the narcissist’s orbit, the victim now endures even more torture due to blaming oneself for seeing what they are seeing. This guilt in the victim makes the narcissist’s life easier as they exploit the victim even more.
A classic example of this inner conflict in victims is the sexual abuse perpetrated by many religious institutions. The victims—mostly children, but even adults—develop a cognitive dissonance due to the high praise offered to the abusers from those who are distant, while they see complete indifference to their suffering from proximity. They are unable to reconcile the fact that so many people praise these abusers, with the fact that they are being abused. They start blaming themselves: It must be that I am at fault. And that emboldens the narcissistic abusers; thus, the same people are abused repeatedly.
Narcissists are Evil People
Modern society is filled with narcissistic people; they are everywhere, and not always easy to spot. Narcissism is the by-product of material conditioning, so in a way, everyone is a narcissist to some extent. The term “narcissist” however can be applied to those in whom the material conditioning is very high. This increase in material conditioning leads to the four classic traits noted above: (a) the prevalence of insecurity, (b) the prevalence of dominating nature, (c) the absence of a moral compass, and (d) the absence of empathy for others. These four are progressive results of material conditioning.
Since we are unable to easily spot the deeper levels of material conditioning, therefore, the most outward symptom of the absence of empathy is the easiest to spot; the absence of a moral compass, the prevalence of dominating nature, and the prevalence of insecurity, are successively harder.
The fact is that the narcissist suffers immensely due to constant inner fear and insecurity, so, from a spiritual perspective, we can feel sorry for them. But if you actually feel sorry and try to help them, they will suck you into their orbit and constantly manipulate and exploit you, because they can never appreciate your good intentions. They cannot see anything beyond their own needs and will leave you feeling empty, drained, and exhausted by their constant manipulation and exploitation. Your goodwill toward them will be met with incessant demands, and paradoxical behaviors, which will leave you utterly confused about what is truly happening. You can understand these paradoxes if you realize that the narcissist doesn’t care about your good intentions; he is or she is just using you for their end.
Therefore, it is best to leave the narcissist alone. Never try to educate them, teach them, help them, or engage with them. If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, then understand their nature, because by these insights you will be able to remain calm and composed, and not succumb to their tactics. Never bring up their true nature with them, because if you point a flaw in them, then they will immediately try to point a hundred more flaws in you (whether or not they truly exist). This is called “gaslighting”. The narcissist will always try to gaslight you the moment you expose their flaws and problems.
Effectively, you cannot change the narcissist, you cannot point out their problems, you cannot try to help them, and you should not feel sorry for them. Just leave them alone. Disengage, talk the least, and always be aware of their tactics. Some people might tell you: Here are some ways to control a narcissist. Never fall for those; even if you win sometimes, remember that something worse is about to happen soon, where the narcissist will try to exact revenge for having being exposed previously.
I offer this advice after a lifetime of having interacted with numerous such people; they can never be changed; they will never accept flaws, and they will never try to improve, especially if you want them to. Changing themselves based on the needs or requests of others is the antithesis of a narcissistic person.
If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, chances are very high that they will leave you emotionally scarred. They will destroy your self-esteem, make you constantly feel guilty and anxious, and terrorize you with their anger if you do not fulfill their demands. You will feel like a slave, where you are too scared to exit the relationship because you know that it will immediately produce a much worse situation, and you don’t want to stay in that relationship because you know that it is destroying you from deep within. This is an impossible situation, and there is simply no good advice for it, because you have been destroyed emotionally and don’t dare to face their anger, and you fear being destroyed even more if you stay in the relationship. If you are lucky, then help from genuine friends who care about your well-being can help you get out of the situation. But if you are not, then either you have to gather the courage to exit yourself, or develop some other kind of inner resilience to survive.
What doesn’t break you, will make you stronger. The narcissist relies on breaking you because that’s the only way they can control and manipulate you. If you can survive this incessant onslaught, then you will become spiritually stronger. But if you cannot, then the narcissist can also destroy you completely. The key to staying or leaving rests in your hand, and it depends on how strong you feel about your ability to tolerate narcissistic abuse. Remember that there is a lot to gain spiritually from living with such people, but that is possible only if you have crossed a certain threshold of inner strength and tenacity. That threshold is the determination to leave this world behind and enter into a relationship with God. The vision of evil in this world can continuously firm your resolve to leave this world. But, if that conviction is not as strong, then narcissistic abuse can destroy you emotionally and your spiritual practice completely. Therefore, no good universal advice regarding this matter can be given; it is an individual prerogative to determine what you must do because the situation can be completely different for others.
Whether we leave or stay in a narcissistic relationship, one thing is clear: The material world is evil because narcissism is in everyone to greater or lesser extents as a by-product of material conditioning. By seeing the exaggerated expressions of evil behavior in narcissists through the lens of philosophy, we can realize why this world is not a suitable place for any decent person. That realization is universally applicable, and momentary or persistent encounters with evil people reinforce our desire to go to a world whose foundation is love, sacrifice, truth, and unselfishness. That is the only way to be happy.