Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) can be fundamentally understood as a condition characterized by difficulties in self-esteem regulation and a marked absence of emotional empathy. The actions undertaken by narcissists, which often cause pain to others, are primarily efforts to stabilize their unsteady self-esteem.
Now, let’s delve into why a narcissist adopts the roles of both the victim and the hero:
The Dual Persona of a Narcissist
Narcissists exist in their own emotional realm where their need for validation and feeling extraordinary outweighs all else. Although many narcissists seem supremely confident, this is merely a fragile front that can easily be shattered. Despite their outward portrayal, narcissists are far from being self-reliant. They depend on others to affirm their specialness; without it, they feel insecure.
This behavior can be likened to an outdoor thermometer. The thermometer doesn’t dictate the rise or fall of the mercury within it. Rather, the mercury adapts to the external environment — ascending with heat and descending with cold. Similarly, a narcissist’s self-esteem fluctuates based on external validation — it swells with praise and deflates when they’re neglected or belittled.
In essence, narcissists continually switch between the roles of the victim (to gain sympathy and attention) and the hero (to feel superior and unique), manipulating their surroundings to meet their incessant need for validation and regulate their self-esteem.
(Note: The terms ‘narcissist’, ‘narcissistic’, and ‘NPD’ have been used interchangeably here to denote individuals who meet the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder.)
Why Narcissist Plays The Victim And Hero?
Narcissists often oscillate between playing the roles of both victim and hero due to their inherent need for validation, control, and manipulation. Here’s a more detailed explanation:
Playing the Victim
Narcissists play the victim when they want to elicit sympathy, avoid taking responsibility, or divert attention away from their own behavior. By portraying themselves as the ‘victim’, they can manipulate others into providing them with the emotional support they crave, while simultaneously evading accountability for their actions. This tactic also allows them to maintain control over their image and to shift blame onto others.
Playing the Hero
On the other hand, narcissists also like to play the ‘hero’ as it feeds their grandiose self-perception. This role allows them to feel superior, powerful, and in control. When they’re the ‘hero’, they’re able to garner admiration, respect, and attention from others, further boosting their fragile ego.
Essentially, by adopting these two roles, narcissists are able to manipulate the narrative to suit their needs. As the ‘victim’, they receive sympathy and avoid blame; as the ‘hero’, they receive admiration and feel empowered.
Both roles enable them to control how others perceive them, thus fulfilling their constant need for validation and attention. It is important to note that this behavior is a key characteristic of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
Understanding why an individual who craves perfection and uniqueness would identify as a victim requires delving into the binary thinking of ‘all-good’ versus ‘all-bad’. It’s clear how a hero can be perceived as perfect, but surprisingly, so can a victim. This can be likened to the classic Superman comics and films. Superman, as a hero, devotes his life to rescuing people, but when exposed to kryptonite by a villain, he becomes vulnerable. The hero momentarily transforms into a victim.
Heroes are esteemed for their admirable qualities, while victims are regarded as faultless. Therefore, when individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) achieve any measure of success, they envision themselves as heroes, reinforcing their self-perception of being superior to others.
However, in the face of failure, they maintain their sense of perfection and superiority by attributing the failure to someone else’s fault. They see themselves as the innocent victims. Someone else is deliberately causing them harm or impeding their progress. In this scenario, you, their supposed victim, are recast as kryptonite.
Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder possess a deep-seated need to view themselves as flawless and superior to others in order to maintain their self-esteem. They don’t entertain the concept of mediocrity; being average is perceived as an affront. In their worldview, they’re either impeccable and extraordinary or defective and worthless. Given that no one is perfect, narcissists often resort to distorting reality when they err.
Their primary defense mechanism typically involves shifting the blame onto others for their mistakes, thereby avoiding accountability for their own actions. This is often rationalized by disregarding their own past behaviors that led to the current predicament, and instead, they position themselves as the innocent victims of someone else’s ill intentions.
Portraying themselves as victims serves an additional purpose: it allows them to boast about their martyr-like endurance. A martyr, after all, is just another form of a hero in their eyes.