Narcissists thrive on their narcissistic supply, it is the very oxygen of attention that they need. So, a serious illness or is like manna from heaven for a narcissist. They can demand almost unlimited attention from their family and carers, even potentially regaining control of adult children who have fled the nest and all of them have to, because who would ignore a sick or dying parent ?
Being seriously ill is no picnic for anyone and normally sympathy and help are due, quite rightly. The trouble is if the sick person is a narcissist, then what would normally be offered, falls far short of what is required.
Let me tell you about my tumour
When well, a narcissists will boast about their physical achievements and in particular a somatic narcissist will put on great physical displays. Their physical achievements will be the subject of grandiose gestures and boasts. Should their health fail however, they can quickly turn tragedy into an advantage, turning their illness into a mission for attention.
Should a narcissist have major surgery, a car accident where they are hurt, or develop cancer then their journey with the illness will be the subject of equally grandiose boasts. Either their operation will be the most complex, their cancer rarer, their chemo more gruelling, or their survival more miraculous than anyone else’s, ever! In addition, they will be able to recount exactly how many times their “died” in the table.
The illness will give them a new lease of life as they feast on the narcissistic supply of attention. Even when in remission or when given the all clear they will hang on to the care and attention by claiming to need something to carry on living healthily. This may include everything from a reduction in stress, so they need ongoing care to reduce that, to a special diet which a loving carer will have to travel miles to get on their behalf. This exaggerated helplessness ensures the continuity of the narcissistic supply.
My doctor is incompetent
Another peculiar aspect of a sick narcissist is their relationship with the medical profession. Narcissists require “the best”. If they are offered the top surgeon or the specialist with a reputation, this of itself will satisfy their need for grandiosity and narcissistic supply. They will see it as their due and something to boast about.
However, in certain circumstances, a narcissist may denigrate the professionals who care for them:
Firstly, a young medic or a junior will automatically be “not good enough” to deliver their care because there will not be enough reflected glory. Plus, any fear that they may have about their body failing may cause them to panic, a feeling which can only be reduced by access to THE expert.
Secondly, if the medical practitioner suggests a change in lifestyle such as losing weight might help, then of course in the eyes of the narcissist they know nothing of the difficulties that achieving such a change may bring to their poor suffering:
“Because of this disease, I can’t even go the gym now and you are asking me to give up pasta!”
Thirdly, if a doctor disagreed with the narcissists self-diagnosis and acts as a gatekeeper for a higher power or referral. For example, a person convinced they have pancreatic cancer may be told that their pain is merely IBS and treatable by anti-spasmodic. This could provoke full blown narcissistic rage including formal complaints and telephone calls to superiors.
Lastly, the doctor who lets a person know they are cured and can resume normal activities may also be denigrated since this will deprive the narcissist of the attention and care they have been getting from their “sick role”. The narcissist may not accept the loss of their supply without a fight which may involve letter writing and meetings with senior management of the hospital.
Treating a narcissist may well seem like being caught in a catch 22 scenario for an inexperienced medic and is best avoided if at all possible.
This could have been prevented
A narcissistic patient may well become an expert on their condition, researching and learning everything about the illness, the correct terminology, the latest research and media speculation. Examples such as environmental pollution, radio waves from transmitters, failed drugs or vaccination tragedies could all fit the bill here.
They will seek attention for the injustice they have suffered, less concerned with putting matters right or preventing future injustice, but rather to bask in the sunshine of their avoidable suffering (This role could also be adopted by a narcissistic parent with a sick child because attention is attention, who cares where it comes from right?).
In the role now of expert they will make a lot of noise about what has gone wrong and may even be instrumental in setting up charities, information websites, Facebook groups or even appear in Vox pop slots on TV as a “patient expert” or advocate.
I only have weeks to live
Once diagnosed as ill then the quest for attention and the narcissistic supply begins. Such a quest is now made easier by the role of social media in almost everyone’s lives these days. Post which provide graphic detail of a narcissist’s suffering can be liked and shared as often as those with genuine “appeal” since most users of social media including Twitter and Facebook, rarely apply their critical faculties to the stuff they read and share.
This can present a vital opportunity for a narcissist since they can get actual numbers
on their narcissistic supply for example:
“My post about how sick the medicine made me received 500 likes and 250 shares!”
And, whilst this supply isn’t as nutritious as that from family and friends face to face, it can be the gift that keeps on giving as posts can achieve penetration slowly and notifications can keep on arriving for days.
Illness and disability suck for everyone including narcissists but they can make something of it that the rest of us can’t.