When most people hear the term “narcissist,” they’re not asking themselves, “What do narcissists want?” They’re envisioning someone who talks about themselves too much or takes a lot of selfies.
That’s obvious, they’re likely thinking. Narcissists want attention.
So the stereotype goes. These traits are essentially harmless and may even be amusing when portrayed in pop culture.
However, some narcissists carry other more sinister traits.
Pathological narcissists lie excessively, wear different masks around different people, have secret lives, and fake positive emotions.
The heart of narcissistic abuse is the deliberate manipulation of others into willingly making themselves vulnerable enough so that they can be exploited. It results in an extraordinary amount of psychological damage.
It all sounds very Shakespearean.
And yet, still, it remains difficult to explain narcissistic abuse to someone who has never been in a relationship with a narcissist.
How do you explain what someone gets out of exploiting people when there’s nothing to gain other than someone’s dignity and humanity?
We have no frame of reference in our culture for that type of abuse. Abuse, to be abuse, must be direct. Abusers punch, insult, coerce sexual behavior, stalk, and harass.
They don’t play mind games. At least–not according to the way we define abuse.
The Film Version of What Narcissists Want
We can turn to hundreds of Hollywood films for understanding some of what narcissistic sociopaths do.
For example, two graphic films, Natural Born Killers and The Wolf of Wall Street, were both so successful at portraying narcissistic sociopaths who respectively killed and conned money out of innocent people, that the movies were accused of glorifying the behavior. [Read Watch These Movies about Narcissists]
But where in pop culture do we turn to understand how and why narcissists prey upon people’s minds and emotions?
Narcissistic abuse is not just about being a player.
It’s not just about breaking someone’s heart.
It’s not even just about someone who has a temper problem and lashes out abusively.
“Somebody being an asshole is not a personality disorder. If somebody is being an asshole consistently every moment of the day through multiple contexts and multiple scenarios even when you’re saying, ‘Please stop being an asshole, it hurts and you’re ruining my life,’ that’s a personality disorder.” – Richard Grannon
I mean, what is it that narcissists, as psychological abusers, even do? And, more importantly, why do it at all? What do they get out of it?
Larceny without a Story
We can also understand intellectually that those who have the desire to kill and hurt others may have one of many motivations: they desire vengeance, may stand to gain something through someone else’s murder, or maybe they, perversely, enjoy it.
Swindlers, we understand, con people out of their money.
We at least have a mental construct that provides reasons for what they do even while we are disgusted with the behavior and can’t put ourselves in their minds.
However, the things survivors endure in pathological love relationships–double lives, love bombing, brainwashing, smear campaigns, gaslighting, hoovering, silent treatments, trauma bonding, and so many other abuses– comprise a mystifying and horrifying-sounding jargon that, from an outsider’s perspective, likely seems dramatic and outrageous. [See The Narcissistic Abuse Dictionary to review unfamiliar terms]
The survivors come from all over the world and the stories of what they survived may differ, these same tactics appear again and again.
Yet we have no socially-recognized go-to blueprint for explaining what happened to us and why much less for understanding it ourselves.
It’s like a black hole exists where our experiences are concerned.
What Do Narcissists Want?
One of the keys to explaining the harm narcissists cause is to explain what it is they want.
Is it just that they get pleasure out of watching the chaos around them when they triangulate people against one another? Do they enjoy seeing people in emotional pain?
This too sounds like something straight out of a movie.
It is important to know:
Yes, there really are monsters walking around in human skin who orchestrate social mayhem for no other reason than to do it. It makes them feel powerful murdering souls instead of bodies.
However, the answer is more nuanced than that because these narcissists are the ones who share some of the traits of antisocial personality disorder.
What about the rest?
Narcissists Want Control
What narcissists want is control. Not just a little.
They want to wrap their love around you until it turns into their hate. They make you believe it’s directed at you, when really–it’s their own self-loathing with which they’re choking you.
A normal relationship won’t do it for them. They need people to focus all of their attention on them. They need to have total control because they are threatened by anything in their partner’s lives that isn’t them. Their motto is:
“Anything good that happens to you better be because of me… or else. Anything bad that happens to you is never because of me… or else.”
To protect their own image of themselves as perfect and avoid the shame and worthlessness they feel at their core, they feel entitled to perform all possible actions on the range of human behavior. Nothing is off-limits.
Angry desperation drives them to drain you until you feel nothing and they feel something. Then they blame you for having done it to avoid feeling criticized for it.
Narcissists violate their partners’ basic human rights to elevate their fantasies of greatness.
They want to become your liberator and your executioner. Over and over and over again.
Narcissists want to be gods.
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