The Pathological Narcissist in Friendships

In their friendships, the pathological narcissist will always attempt to dominate their current chosen victim friend. As solipsists, they lack empathy, therefore they do not understand what it means to be a friend; not in the normal sense of the word.
What they surround themselves with are mere acquaintances that are there to serve their constant need for narcissistic supply, just like they do with their spouse and their children.

Rather than being a friend, they are a ‘frenemy’ (a person who combines the characteristics of a friend and an enemy), so always they end up treating their friends badly. Consequently, these so-called friends come and go in the narcissist’s life with great regularity.
When a victim is targeted, you can be sure that there is something the narcissist is after, and they will go out of their way to get it.
The chosen victim will be charmed and seduced for the express purpose of providing oxygen, and a host of residual benefits that serve as narcissistic supply. In the beginning of the relationship (The Idealisation Phase) the pathological narcissist will give all the appearances of being a good friend. The victim will find themselves entering a whirlwind of attentiveness; where they will be lavished with the narcissists total attention, praise, admiration, time, and showered with gifts. But nothing is as it seems.

If the victim is chosen to be part of the narcissist’s “inner sanctum”, in a way it is a backhanded compliment. It means that the narcissist sees something special in you because they only like to be seen mixing with special people who mirror back their specialness to onlookers.
It could be that you have beauty, intelligence, or are successful in your own right. This makes them look even more powerful, besides, reveling in your glory helps them to draw more influential people into their sphere for further supply.
They want their “special new friend” to appear fascinating to others, and for a while, they will even help them to shine by telling everybody how beautiful, or smart, or successful they are.

But a word of caution, this will only work if the friend does not attempt to shine brighter than them, always they must be the brightest and shiniest star, so the friend must be willing to stay in the shadows.
Because the narcissist is completely self-absorbed, everything in the friendship is all about them and their needs.
When they know they have their victim hooked for giving them supply, their warm charismatic demeanour changes. The narcissist’s interpersonal relationships do not usually last long before their ego feels threatened by the victim (usually within four months). Once that happens the narcissist’s rage will be triggered, and their mask will slip to reveal the aggressive fake hiding behind the mask.

This shift in the relationship causes a hidden panic in the narcissist, simply because they know from experience that their house of cards will soon collapse, and with it their source of supply. Their equilibrium is so delicate that even the slightest disagreement or hint of criticism from the victim will cause their shame-proneness to be triggered.
Once that happens the relationship shifts into the second stage (The Devalue Phase) that will take the victim by complete surprise.

For a while, the new friend may be revered as being superior, but once the narcissist manages to extract what they want, they will then demote the victim to an inferior position. The unsuspecting victim may think that they are good friends for a while, but eventually, they become aware that they are in a one-sided relationship, devoted only to the narcissist’s needs.

Inevitably they are reduced to mere objects to be used for as long as they are willing to give adequate praise and admiration to the narcissist. However, should they complain, or dare to look for a reciprocal relationship, the narcissist will react with hostility and rejection.
This is the beginning of the end of the friendship, and the narcissist will then become very bored with the friend quickly. Suddenly the narcissist becomes cold, uninterested and remote, and to the bewilderment of the victim friend, the friendship comes to an abrupt and inexplicable end.

When it comes to envy, there is no one more envious than a pathological narcissist. Their envy is a rage reaction whenever they are unable to control or possess something another person has, especially when they are a “considered friend”. They bare intense resentment for anybody who they think has any form of advantage over them (it may be their educational abilities, their social status, their physical looks, their creativity, their success, their wealth, their popularity, or anything in fact).
Whatever the narcissist perceives another of having (the very something that they do not possess), their shame-proneness will be triggered, and they will be driven by an insatiable need to covet that asset.

The root cause of their narcissistic envy can be traced, most likely, back to the serious inadequacies found in the mother/child or other caregiving relationships that they experienced.
Sadly, the dysfunctional relationship between the young child and their caregivers, especially if it was their mother, leads the child to experience a strong surge of aggression that manifests itself in the form of envy. Furthermore, when the child feels rejected by its primary caregivers for being too needy, the child learns to experience their needs as shameful. As adults, to protect themselves from further shameful feelings, the pathological narcissist convinces themselves that they do not have to depend on anyone but themselves.

To feel safe, the narcissistic personality strives for superiority, and the drive for perfectionism, grandiosity, and self-entitlement begins.
Unfortunately, the narcissist’s superiority is juxtaposed to an “inferiority complex” that harbours unconscious feelings of low self-esteem and inadequacy.
So, to maintain their superior position, they devalue other people who they imagine may have more prestige than themselves. But before they do this, they will go out of their way to become like that person, to learn what they can from them, to model them so that they feel more powerful than them, and finally, they discard that person by projecting “envy” on to them.

It is through these methods of projection or projective identification, that the narcissist gets rid of their own painful envious emotions so that they can maintain their feeling of superiority. There are no rules as to how they achieve this, they will do this any way they can, for example, by ruining the other person’s reputation, or breaking the person psychologically and financially, etc.
At this phase of the game, the friend has become the enemy.

It is not unusual for the narcissist to target their ex-supply’s personal friends as a new source of supply, and then use them to turn on the ex-friend with the lies they feed them with. They then coolly move on to the next cycle of hot pursuit, engorgement, and elimination which is endless.
When the relationship goes wrong (as it inevitably will), the narcissist’s typical and much-used excuse is to say that their friend was “jealous and envious of them”; therefore, they had no option than to end the relationship.
This, of course, is a pack of lies. The truth of the matter is, that without their investment in the other person, the relationship begins to fold, and this folding is experienced by the pathological narcissist’s fragile ego as rejection (a reminder of unemphatic and inconsistent early childhood interactions by their caregivers), which of course, fills them with dread and shame.
So, at the slightest whiff of rejection (real or imagined), the narcissist gives the so-called “friendship’ the chop. In this way, they are spared the intolerable shameful feelings of abandonment that they cannot tolerate in any relationship.

If you are a friend of a pathological narcissist, then you need to understand that it is nothing that you have done; their acts are because they respond to some events with extreme fear of abandonment – events that would have little meaning to a healthy person.
However, all of this leads to a lot of confusion for those unlucky enough to be in a committed friendship with someone with a narcissistic personality disorder. Once the pathological narcissist decides that the friendship is coming to its end, they now go on to hunt for another source of narcissistic supply to fill the gap of the so-called friend, and so the cycle continues.

Unfortunately, what the friend generally fails to work out is that they have been experiencing a utilitarian relationship (an absence of mutual involvement between friends).
Each loss the pathological narcissist experiences is yet another shameful narcissistic wound to their system, and to cope with the shame, they explain their deficit away by rationalising that friends always disappoint them, and in their mind, they are the one that has become the abused victim in the friendship.

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Christine is a Psychotherapist, Educator, Author and Supervisor of mental health professionals for over 28 years. She was part of a team in the Trauma Unit of St. Brendan’s Psychiatric Hospital, Dublin, and has worked specifically with victims of pathological narcissistic abuse in her private practice for many years.
Her books, “The Three Faces of Evil: Unmasking the Full Spectrum of Narcissistic Abuse” and “When Shame Begets Shame: How Narcissists hurt and shame their victims” set out to to help those who have been affected by a narcissist and also to address the shortfalls in a therapist’s education, so that they become better equipped to work with survivors of narcissistic abuse.Much of her knowledge has come from her post-grad studies in Criminology and Forensic Psychology, and it is through these disciplines that she has gained her understanding of “The Dark Triad”, (Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Psychopathy).
These three faces of evil are vital information for understanding the full spectrum of narcissistic abuse and the dire effects on the victims.It is her vision that narcissistic abuse becomes part of the curriculum of all Mental Health clinicians.
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