No one wants to be described as psychologically stagnant. Ideally, we would each be in a growth mode, learning and expanding our understanding of the ingredients of a life well lived. In fact, our best thinking doesn’t even begin until middle age as we reflect upon the legacy we want to leave with those inside our sphere of influence. As we age, the accumulation of life experiences can lead to increasing wisdom.
Narcissists, having poor insight and self-reflection, not only do not grow psychologically, but they can regress in the sense that they become more deeply entrenched in the ingredients that work against psychological maturation.
Remember, narcissism is a pattern on a spectrum, which implies fluidity related to its core ingredients. Included within that pattern are qualities like raw selfishness, entitlement, exploitation, lack of empathy, controlling mannerisms, and more. With the lack of self-examination, many narcissists worsen as they age, and sometimes develop habits associated with sociopathic inclinations.
When we refer to sociopathy, we mean that individuals have disregarded accepted norms and standards, developing a reckless disregard for the rules of decency.
Sociopathic qualities include impulsivity, lack of concern for harm generated in others, and a suspension of morality. They can intellectually understand right from wrong, yet immediate gratification inhibits them from embracing it as personal impulses arise. Sociopathic individuals live with pervasive dishonesty. They are quite willing to exploit and use others for temporal thrills and they can be charming while also devious.
How many times have you heard of narcissistic individuals taking their selfishness to the next level?
For instance, they may decide that an affair or other sexual exploits are the way to find gratification. They may become enamored with money and materialism to the extent that they will cut corners to gain more. They can set aside former values, opting instead for ongoing efforts to indulge their hunger for power, prestige, and influence, even if it means compromising basic goodness. They may publicly give the appearance of virtue while privately embracing the opposite.
In other words, they are already on the spectrum of narcissism, but instead of maturing, they move further and further down the path toward disruptive and insensitive preferences.
As you try to make sense of this trend, know that narcissists have to lie to themselves to rationalize their brazenness. For instance, they may think:
- I’m truly different from the rest of the crowd. I’m especially unique.
- The rules that apply to others don’t apply to me.
- I know the difference between right and wrong, but being a do-good person is boring.
- When people apply personal boundaries, I’m offended. I feel little need to consult others about what I think, say, or do.
- Nobody tells me what to do. If I want something for myself, that’s reason enough.
- I just like excitement. Who’s going to complain about that?
- My pleasure overrides your pain.
- If others can get me what I want, I’ll gladly use them. If not…I’m looking elsewhere.
- If I want something, I deserve it. Don’t put barriers around me.
As you recognize how pervasive this rationale is within the narcissist, know you are witnessing a deteriorating of an individual’s internal guidance system. Perhaps earlier these individuals would go along with collective norms, but as they age, they have decided that they no longer wish to play nice.
As sociopathic tendencies increase, these individuals reveal how shallow their thinking is.
They feel no need to blend or harmonize. Instead, power and control become so all-consuming that they eschew common decency and coordination. Setting aside the moral principles they once were taught, they become increasingly committed to self-gratification. Efforts to connect with others at a heart level are not valued.
Of course, as you witness narcissists sliding down the spectrum into a deepening self-absorption, you can feel greatly distressed and disillusioned. This might set you up to plead your case with the narcissist. Or perhaps you will be inclined to suppress your concerns for fear of reprisal. You may become numb emotionally as a type of psychological paralysis sets in. Perhaps you’ll become increasingly argumentative and combative.
And yet, the narcissist will continue, unimpressed by your angst.
Simply put, narcissists who lean into sociopathy hurt people willingly. They create pain, yet somehow, they convince themselves that their behavior is not as problematic as you might presume, which means they refuse to adjust.
Your task is to see sociopathy and sociopathic tendencies for what it is and individualize your commitment to growth and maturation knowing the narcissist will not join you. You are in the presence of an alligator who will devour you rather than listen to you. It is truly a disruptive way to live, yet the absence of a reasonable conscience ensures that they will persist.
Your growth does not have to cease when they choose not to join you. Seek wisdom despite their lack of it.
~Les Carter, Ph.D.
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