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While according to Greek origin of the term a narcissist is a person in love with himself, in reality, it is mostly the opposite. Narcissists suffer from the acute lack of self-respect. That's why narcissism is frequently discussed as a type of depression. And that's why aggression, anger at any threat to the image is the most valuable sign for diagnostics of narcissism.
So in a way this is mechanism of overcompensation of low self-esteem.
The overall pattern of narcissistic behavior is emotional instability and aggressive behavior caused by insecurity and weakness rather than any real feelings of confidence or self-esteem.
One very interesting and revealing feature of a narcissist (as well as several other types of psychopaths) pointed by Dr. Craig Malkin is emotion-phobia (5 Early Warning Signs You're With a Narcissist):
Emotion-phobia: Feelings are a natural consequence of being human, and we tend to have lots of them in the course of normal interactions. But the very fact of having a feeling in the presence of another person suggests you can be touched emotionally by friends, family, partners, and even the occasional tragedy or failure. Narcissists abhor feeling influenced in any significant way. It challenges their sense of perfect autonomy; to admit to a feeling of any kind suggests they can be affected by someone or something outside of them. So they often change the subject when feelings come up, especially their own, and as quick as they might be to anger, it’s often like pulling teeth to get them to admit that they’ve reached the boiling point — even when they’re in the midst of the most terrifying tirade.
It demonstrates itself in such ways as lack of interest to movies (because of the emotions they elicit), especially tragedies and theatrical plays. Or desire to avoid events connected with deep emotions such as funerals, or even celebrations. At the same time they themselves can behave like a "drama-queens" and kings) who respond to some minor "provocation" with level of emotion (for example anger) that is completely out of place. This allows them to feel that their lives have meaning, that they are at the center of a significant human story. We all need a sense of meaning, but trying to meet this need with our own emotional excess is ultimately a hollow exercise (and pretty tiresome for everyone around us). Anger and rage are the only acceptable emotions to a narcissist. They cover up every other emotion (hurt, desperation, pain, disappointment, fear, shame, guilt) with anger. It's a 'confusion to the enemy' sort of tactic - make everyone think you are mad, and blame them for it, and they'll never suspect that you are afraid. And if you dare show feelings you're accused of being over emotional or over sensitive when really our feelings are completely normal and appropriate!
Based on the emotional theory, the emotional life is crucial due to communication and finding a direction in difficult situations. When we communicate with other people, it is common to experience feelings that we don’t express and we may express other feelings than those we experience. For example we might cry when we feel angry, or yell when we are afraid. Family culture and socio-cultural settings affect our way of expressing and communicating our emotions. Avoiding certain emotions is called affect phobia or emotional phobia.
It is easy to think of a emotion communication misunderstandings that can occur between two people when one person is afraid, but is instead yelling. The other person interprets that as criticism, becoming angry and starting to cry. The first message, of being afraid never came to the other person’s knowledge because the yelling was misinterpreted as anger and the person in need of support (the person afraid) becomes the supporter of the person (feeling criticism) who begins to cry. This leads to discussions and quarrels about the wrong things.
What is especially interesting is that it is a subset of set of behaviour known as social anxiety, which run completely opposite to the image of self-confident successful human being narcissist is trying to project. Here is more general description of this set of behaviors (Social anxiety - Mayo Clinic) a
Signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder can include persistent:
For children, anxiety about interacting with adults or peers may be shown by crying, having temper tantrums, clinging to parents or refusing to speak in social situations.
The first time I heard the term "emotion phobia" was when I was a graduate student and attended a workshop on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) given by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. Over the years in my career as a Clinical Psychologist I've become more and more interested in learning and working with people who struggle with "emotion phobia."
What is emotion phobia? Emotion phobia is not an academic term per se, but it is a way to describe what clinicians and researchers in psychology refer to as "emotion regulation problems." Here is what you need to know: "Emotion phobia refers to any acction/attempt (s) to avoid any emotional reaction you have at a given moment."
As you know, every emotion has a life in it's own. They have a specific duration and intensity; they attempt to communicate us something about ourselves, others, or the environment; and finally, emotions ask us to do something immediately, right away. More often than not and as a natural response, every time we experience uncomfortable emotions like shame, fear, or guilt we do everything we can to stop experiencing them… we simply, run away from our pain by engaging in a particular avoidance response or a combination of them.
Avoidance responses include responses like trying to replace one emotion with another one, drinking, using drugs, behaviorally withdrawing, cutting, escaping from an uncomfortable situation/place, etc. If we look at the workability of these avoidance responses, they work in a short-term because they help us to stop our discomfort/pain right away. Unfortunately, in the long-term avoidance responses make things worse for ourselves, people around us, and our living situation in general. Research has consistently show us that the more we "run away, suppress, or avoid" an emotion, not only the more frequent we'll experience them but also their intensity will increase. At the end, we fundamentally ended up living a life that is based on our emotions (primary pain) and not on what truly matter to us (our values).
Now, here is a question for you: Are you struggling with emotion phobia? If you're not sure, you can take a free online self-asessment by clicking here. If your answer is "yes" this is what you need to learn: emotion regulation skills.
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