Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Narcissist and Emotional Intelligence

Our reactions with each other have extensive biological impact, spreading cascades of hormones that regulate everything from our hearts to our immune systems, making good relationships act like vitamins - and bad relationships like poisons. We can "catch" other people's emotions the way we catch a cold, and the consequences of isolation or relentless social stress can be life-shortening.

Daniel Goleman, who authored "Social Intelligence" explains the surprising accuracy of first impressions, the basis of charisma and emotional power, the complexity of sexual attraction, and how we detect lies. He describes the "dark side" of social intelligence, including narcissism. I want to further explore this "dark side' by comparing and contrasting Emotional Intelligence (EI) and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

Emotional Intelligence (EI) has several facets, which are grounded in our:
  • self-knowledge: simply an understanding of yourself and your goals and abilities
  • empathy: a very eloquent definition was provided by psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut, who defines empathy as “the capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person
  • likability: how well you are liked with critical elements of personality encompassing friendliness, empathy, realness, and capacity to connect
  • ability to connect people and ideas
NPD symptoms are as follows:
  1. grandiosity / exaggeration
  2. fantastic thinking / romantic
  3. believes special / unique
  4. requires admiration
  5. entitled / demanding
  6. exploitative / manipulative
  7. lacks empathy
  8. envious / jealous
  9. arrogant / haughty
Narcissism leads to breakdowns in relationships. This doesn’t surprise me. Compare and contrast the two lists above. The first facet of EI is possessing self-knowledge which the NPD's vision of himself doesn't match his true self (grandiose/exaggeration, believes special/unique). The second facet of EI is being empathetic, and the NPD exhibits very little, if not any, empathy toward others. The third facet of EI is likeability, which may be the only facet that the NPD may be able to pull off for a short period of time. Narcissists tend to be likeable, friendly and easy to get on with; often they are fun to be with. But it is all a sham - in reality they are only behaving like this in order to get your attention and fuel their addiction for being seen as wonderful. The last facet of EI is the ability to connect people and ideas, which the NPD possess a kind of street-smart EI. They are acutely aware of whether people are with them wholeheartedly and know who they can use and can be brutally exploitative

Most of us have dealt with narcissists in the workplace, home, or social settings. When we interact with a narcissistic individual, there’s no real relating going on. It’s all about one person. There’s an absence of empathetic exchange and mutuality, two prerequisites for healthy and rewarding relationships. Research evidence (Student Research in Psychology at Southeast Missouri State University) was found that those with higher levels of NPD symptomatically described themselves as lacking emotional control and emotional repair, and as being emotional preoccupied and concerned with the public impression of their emotional experiences. These results clearly indicate that people with NPD need to overcome several deficiencies in their emotional functioning.

In regard to the four constructs of EI, the following is a discussion of my Dad's behavior ( My Dad, the Narcissistic King) in comparison:
  • Self Awareness: Since he's been retired, his narcissism has gotten much worse. I project that the loss of people to bark orders to and make him feel like the big shot has caused his ego & self esteem to take a hit. I also think that aging has caused the narcissism to become more prominent due to loss of looks and weight gain. Furthermore, his wife has fallen ill, and he has not been empathetic to her-- displaying rather cold reactions to her diagnosis and treatment.
  • Self Management: He flies off the handle at the drop of the hat-- and when he loses his temper you'd better watch out. In 1979 when the divorce hit (You Dropped a Bomb on Me) and he discovered his wife (my mother) had been messing around with his friend, he was a MESS. He used us kids as pawns, being spies for him & brainwashing us against our mother. He had a private detective following her, trying to catch her in some act that he could use against her in court.
  • Social Awareness: My Dad was always the life of the party since as early as I could remember. He's always been the center of attention, the boisterous talker with plenty of long-winded stories, and a laugh that could be heard around the block. When you're having a conversation with him, the conversation is actually dictated and managed by him. He controls the topic and the amount of time you have to speak. Even if you initially started talking about one thing, he will interject and twist the conversation into a totally different direction-- usually into some long story about something completely unrelated. He repeats the same stories without realizing he's already told you-- and I am amazed that he doesn't realize he's boring the listener to tears when the glazed over looks appear. He has been a status seeker, whether owning his own business, joining a country club, or always owning a new car. He loves to talk about the famous people he has brushed elbows with. We used to go out of our way to attend events where we may meet someone famous. I specifically remember one where we actually met ML King's mother! To this day, he always has a story about the highfalutin people he's met.
  • Relationship Management: He has always been particular about 'his' time. When he's had enough of the kids on a holiday, he'll ask everyone to leave so that he can have time for himself. When he remarried to my step-mother, they would retreat into their master bedroom at 8:30pm, telling the kids not to bother them. He feels he's the expert on many topics, and he doesn't hesitate to interject how you should do this or that. If you're in a conflict with him, a disagreement or otherwise, he will want to have a 'talk' with you. This means that he wants to have your undivided attention, one on one, to tell you how you're wrong, need to apologize, and change. Even if you have what you want to say figured out before the 'talk', he can have you so discombobulated by time the 'talk' is over that you don't know what just hit you.
Further with relationship management, my Dad inflicted great emotional distress on my brother and me when he engaged in tactics to alienate us from our mother. See subsequent blog post: Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome for details.

In each of these constructs, my Dad shows deficiency in how he conducts his emotions. My Dad being an overt manipulative narcissist (My Dad, the Narcissistic King) with an apparent low EI mirrors the results of many studies evaluating the EI of NPD's. Given the definition of NPD ("a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy"), a low EI is only a natural bi-product of the disorder. How can an individual with a skewed sense of self, constant need for emotional reassurances, and lacking in the ability to put one's self into someone else's shoes have a high emotional intelligence? Having an emotionally unstable Dad for decades has made for an unstable relationship, one that has been severely strained from conditional love, criticisms, judgments, and careless treatment.


  1. I think you have met my mother! Thank you for your blog!

  2. "addiction for being seen as wonderful"

    bingo, npd in 6 words