From House of Mirrors:
Let’s take a look at why malignant narcissists not only don't change but become worse. Keep in mind, they have mastered a lifetime of this twisted way of being in the world, and are always pushing their warped behavior to the limits...
Narcissists are grandiose. They really believe they are perfect and there is nothing wrong with them. A prime example is my malignant narcissist sister stalking me on narcissist blogs, and reading about all the people who have been harmed by narcissists. Her response was, “Why should I have to act a certain way?! Why can’t YOU just be complaisant?!” The narcissist believes it’s your job to always please them. And if you don’t do your job and acquiesce to all their demands then the narcissist feels deflated and they must reinflate by diminishing, degrading and debasing you.
This one was a toughie for me. The definition of “grandiose” in my brain did not match with anything I had ever observed in either my mother or any of the other difficult people in my life. Rather than dismiss this symptom, however, I decided to research “grandiose” in context with narcissism—and boy! did I get a surprise!
Grandiosity, it turns out, is an inflated sense of self worth, a belief in one’s self, one’s abilities, one’s value, that is not borne out by fact. It can be expressed in a bewildering variety of ways from bombastic boorishness to what appears to be quiet withdrawal. But it all comes down to one common inner belief: the narcissist believes him/herself to be above reproach—and every one else, reproachable. One of the ways my mother expressed her grandiosity (which is intimately tied to entitlement) was assuming the mantle of neighbourhood arbiter of acceptable behaviour—and then setting up the poor neighbour woman, Mrs. McKenzie, as her foil so she could battle and vanquish the evil in our midst.
Another way my mother gathered NSupply was to hold herself up as the perfect loving mother of a dismally, hopelessly difficult child (me). That no one saw her rages, that she could explain away my bruises and lash marks in a way that “forced” her to use brutal disciplinary methods, that my brother (who was, in my grandmother’s words, “a little pill”) was held up as the example of the perfect child, all fed into her image as a long-suffering, well-meaning, sympathetic victim of a dreadful daughter who could, despite her travails, rise to the occasion and save the whole neighbourhood from poor Mrs. McKenzie and her daughters.
Yet another way my mother expressed her grandiosity was to become a stage mother (I was a cute little kid with a great big voice), dragging me to singing lessons, auditions, shows, subjecting me to costume fittings, tortuous hair settings, trowelling make up onto my little face, all in the name of making me the next Shirley Temple (in her own words). How is this narcissistic? Because she viewed me as a possession, an extension of herself, and I was going to make her rich—and the fame that came to me she could usurp, or at least share, in the same way the owner of a prize winning dog or horse takes glory simply through ownership. I was a thing, not a person, to be used for her own advancement and she knew better than everyone who objected, from me to my father to my grandparents.
Narcissists’ lives are one big exercise in cognitive dissonance. They hold others to standards they refuse to apply to themselves, believing themselves somehow special and those rules should not apply to them. At the same time my mother was beating me with a thin leather strap that left whip-like marks on my legs, she was calling the police to report Mrs. McKenzie for “beating” her daughters. This kind of cognitive dissonance would be obvious to a normal person, but to the narcissist, she is special, her reasons are special, her rationalizations and justifications make it OK—rather like Rick Santorum finding nothing wrong in his wife having an abortion, but not wanting you are me to get one because it is wrong!
One of the best definitions of narcissistic grandiosity I found on Sam Vaknin’s site, here: It is quite lengthy, but goes into great detail, including some examples of grandiosity: “The grandiose fantasies of the narcissist support his inflated sense of self, regulate his sense of self-worth, and buttress his False Self…The narcissist’s grandiosity is comprised of: omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence (fame and celebrity), and omnivorousness [sic].”
From another site: “Most observers regard grandiosity as the most important single trait of a narcissistic personality. It is important to note that grandiosity implies more than boasting or prideful display as such—it signifies self-aggrandizement that is not borne out by reality. For example, a person who claims that he or she was the most valuable player on a college athletic team may be telling the truth about their undergraduate sports record. Their claim may be bad manners but is not grandiosity. On the other hand, someone who makes the same claim but had an undistinguished record or never even made the team is being grandiose. Grandiosity in NPD is related to some of the diagnostic criteria listed by DSM-IV-TR , such as demanding special favors from others or choosing friends and associates on the basis of prestige and high status rather than personal qualities. In addition, grandiosity complicates diagnostic assessment of narcissists because it frequently leads to lying and misrepresentation of one's past history and present accomplishments.”(Emphasis mine.)
Wikipedia claims “Two types of narcissism: Those who have been diagnosed with narcissistic grandiosity express behavior ‘through interpersonally exploitative acts, lack of empathy, intense envy, aggression, and exhibitionism.’ Another type is Narcissistic Vulnerability. It entails (on a conscious level) “helplessness, emptiness, low self-esteem, and shame, which can be expressed in the behavior as being socially avoidant in situations where their self-presentation is not possible so they withdrawal or the approval they need/expect is not being met.” (Emphasis mine). It is important to note that those exploitative acts, the lack of empathy and intense envy can manifest in very quiet, subtle ways, too.
Joanna Ashmun provides an extensive description of grandiosity and grandiose behaviours that few of us recognize for what they really are. I once had a boss who I thought was just a really bad micromanager until I read Ashmun’s description. I quickly realized that my boss undermined the work of her subordinates not because she was an egregious perfectionist but because the only way she could be a “star” was to rescue her staff from what looked to the outside as their own incompetence. She got a double dose of Nsupply from her management style: uninformed people felt sorry for her having to work with such an incompetent bunch, and admired her for all the hours and effort she put in saving their sorry asses. What these admiring outsiders never saw was that the boss gave instructions that meant a project could not progress without her specific review and approval and then she was never available for the reviews. Once a project was hopelessly behind, she would crack the whip, order mandatory unpaid overtime, and “lead the team” to victory, never seeing that the problems she was “overcoming” were those of her own making. And it was not like her review and input was essential: these were highly qualified individuals who could take a project to completion without anything more than regular progress reports. Her objective was not to get the projects executed on time, her objective was to make herself look like a hero…and if she had to undermine and demoralize her staff to do it, that was acceptable since there were always more people she could hire to replace the disgruntled who resigned.
She had an inflated sense of self, both with regard to her persona and her abilities. She overrode written company policy regarding signature authority of her staff—including senior staff—and caused a huge backlog of unpaid invoices that plagued the accounting staff for more than a year, because she was unwilling to give up control of that small part of her budget, per corporate policy. She knew better, she was the final word, and for a while it worked. Upper management didn’t see her subterfuge, just her successes. Her budget looked terrific because hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of charges against it had never gone through—the invoices sat on her desk, literally gathering dust, awaiting her approval. She was made an officer of the Board, and enjoyed the esteem and camaraderie of executive management until a new management team came on board and, in an audit, her subterfuge came to an end. Oddly, her staff, the people who worked with her daily and whom she abused, knew exactly what was going on and they not only talked about it among themselves, some of them actually complained to HR. But people see what they want to see and the grandiose façade of the narcissist is what they want to see if seeing the truth will make them “wrong.” Rather than admit they had been fooled into thinking this woman walked on water, they dismissed the complaints as the ravings of the disgruntled and promoted her!
Grandiosity is actually a kind of lying, a refusal to take the truth on board and deal with it. It is seeing oneself as bigger, better, smarter, more important, more entitled than anyone else. The grandiose are the masters of spin, the ability to make a sow’s ear look like a silk purse. They are susceptible to flattery for they flatter themselves. Narcissist’s believe themselves in superior terms and the rest of us as inferiors.
It is important to be able to distinguish pathological narcissism from the popular use of the term. According to Ashmun, “Sometimes [the term is] applied to people who are simply full of themselves—even when their real achievements are spectacular. Outstanding performers are not always modest, but they aren't grandiose if their self-assessments are realistic; e.g., Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, was notorious for boasting “I am the greatest!” and also pointing out that he was the prettiest, but he was the greatest and the prettiest for a number of years, so his self-assessments weren't grandiose.” But if some also-ran boxer, his face damaged from too many direct hits, were to make the same claim and also believe it and expect you to believe it, too…now that would be narcissistic. And there goes that cognitive dissonance again.
Not all grandiosity is manifested in boastful manners. Sometimes it is more subtle than that. The immaculately dressed, quiet woman in the corner who is silently judging everyone around her—and finding they do not measure up to her standard and therefore can be dismissed—is engaging in quiet but grandiose behaviour. Another site, Narcissist Victim Syndrome Survivors gives additional information: “devaluing others (even while hiding behind a guise of false concern or flattery) is the way narcissists aggrandize themselves, and grandiosity is the essence of narcissistic abuse: Narcissists puff themselves up by putting you down. They raise themselves by lowering you. They bolster their ego by diminishing your self-worth. Narcissists play the grandiosity game in every interaction. Of course, the narcissist’s grandiosity is just a game of pretend because they only identify with their image not their true selves. They don’t care about being good; they just want to “appear” good. They are vandals, liars and frauds and they go about glorifying their “image” NOT by developing virtues of their own, but by debasing others...This game of one-upmanship happens in every interaction with a narcissist… so beware. Narcissists do not relate to others as equals, they relate to others from a position above.”
Kathy Krajco, author of “What Makes Narcissists Tick,” wrote: “I have known narcissists that would strike you as anything but grandiose, vain, and haughty. They kept their immodesty well hidden behind a cloak of false modesty. You can still detect it though if you're observant, because covert and subtle grandiosity shows in the inappropriate way narcissists relate to others from above as their judge. Presumptuous expectations, however subtly expressed are sugared over with feigned humility. It shows in the narcissist's bragging, however subtle and left handed.”
Getting a handle on the grandiosity of a narcissist can be the most difficult part of determining if the difficult person you are dealing with is a narcissist or not. But through all the various ways of expressing their narcissism, from modest maiden to bombastic blowhard, there is a single common thread that identifies them all: the narcissist, in his own mind, is the superior being in all things that matters. And that is grandiosity.
It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.