What draws weak women to narcissistic men

"Narcissists live on admiration instead of love"

DEFAULT: They claim that a certain amount of narcissism is basically a positive thing for everyone. In what way?

Kernberg: People with a healthy level of narcissism like themselves, can enjoy life and have a sense of inner unity in terms of central areas of life - work and profession, love and sexuality, social relationships and creativity. They enjoy the reciprocity of love and friendship with people who are important to them. It is central to our well-being that we act out affective impulses, including aggression in the sense of self-assertion and sexual feelings. Even having a certain amount of dependence on others and allowing others to be dependent on us strengthens healthy narcissism. This addiction is not like alcohol or drug addiction, and it has nothing to do with being dependent on someone in a self-destructive relationship.

DEFAULT: What determines whether narcissism develops in a pathological direction? Early Childhood Experiences?

Kernberg: Early personal development is certainly crucial - if, for example, children do not learn to endure ambivalences. This happens when the child cannot integrate the split between idealized and negative parts of an experience or a person. If, for example, the "ideal mother" and the "bad mother" remain separate and cannot be thought of together - then a permanent division of the child arises. It will divide other people into those who are either good and ideal and are on its side, and those who are evil and its enemies. If a child misses loving relationships and surroundings in the first few years of life, but they are admired for certain skills or their looks, it increases the narcissistic problem. Instead of love, the child then lives on admiration, and his ego develops in a problematic direction.

DEFAULT: What can parents do to ensure that children integrate the simultaneity of "good" and "bad", endure ambivalences and develop a healthy self-image?

Kernberg: An example from my practice: The mother of a patient is nice and friendly as long as you obey her. Then she's the best mother in the world. But as soon as someone contradicts her, she goes completely crazy and has a 20-minute tantrum. She blames her child, blames him. And the child apologizes without having done anything. It learns to submit. When the seizure is over, the mother will be loving again. Your tantrums are never discussed - it's impossible to talk about evil when all is well. Both sides of the mother seem as if they do not belong together and therefore cannot be integrated into the mother's image by the child. In addition, there is a father who has submitted to the mother and supports her in this way. This is one of the most harmful family constellations for children.

DEFAULT: What would be the way out of this constellation?

Kernberg: One should argue normally in a family and then say to one another: "This and that bothered me, can you understand that?" In this way, different experiences and emotions can be combined. Relationships are always ambivalent because reality is complicated. Narcissistic personalities will not tolerate this complexity.

DEFAULT: What is the key difference between healthy and pathological narcissism?

Kernberg: Even if both forms look similar at first glance: While normal narcissism is governed by a healthy self, with the pathological form an abnormal and grandiose self dictates. As a result of previous frustrations and traumatizations, those affected have developed a pathological psychological structure that manifests itself as an overpowering feeling of greatness. This greatness needs permanent admiration from the outside in order not to collapse. Dependent on admiration is the central problem of the narcissistic personality. Admiration protects those affected from self-doubt - but at the expense of the relationship with other people. Diseased narcissists are unable to think about themselves, to see their own flaws and deficits.

DEFAULT: How else can you recognize pathological narcissism?

Kernberg: Those affected appear very self-confident and do not tolerate criticism, because that contradicts their feeling of greatness. You lose the ability to realistically see the effects of your own actions and run the risk of no longer understanding the outside world. Many develop paranoid attitudes when everything around them does not go as they wish. They see themselves permanently surrounded by enemies, are suspicious and try to control everything so as not to fall into a trap. And they project their aggression onto other people. When a narcissistic and a paranoid pathology come together, it creates serious problems.

DEFAULT: Is the impression that the number of pathologically narcissistic personalities in our society is increasing?

Kernberg: Under normal circumstances, weak personality disorders are rarely seen. But there are times when not only narcissistic pathology but all serious personality disorders promote. These times are characterized by high population density, increasing poverty, social trauma and neglect, crime, drug abuse and the loss of traditional family structures. If fathers are no longer present, if poverty is rampant and young women are having children they cannot care for - then this promotes severe family pathologies and narcissistic disorders come to the fore more clearly. The normalizing effect of social structures is then missing. (Lisa Mayr, October 1, 2017)