Maybe you remember Diane Downs, the woman who shot her three children killing one and permanently maiming the other two. I lived in Oregon back when she cold-bloodedly shot her own children execution style and pretended a "bushy-haired stranger" did it. The year was 1983. She has been in prison, minus one successful 10-day prison escape in 1987, for nearly 25 years. She is eligible for parole hearings every two years now which is why she is suddenly in the spotlight again.

Downs has been labeled (quite properly) a narcissistic psychopath. The Oregonian article is interesting and provides a brief history of her crime as well as her current mental state. I will excerpt one paragraph for the purpose of this post:

A recent psychological evaluation of Downs reiterated her narcissistic personality disorder diagnosis: "By year 20 one hopes that the life prisoner has come to a place of deeper self-reflection and introspection regarding their life and incarceration. By this time there should be some struggle in contemplation with existential life issues. Regardless of guilt or innocence, one normally would be asking the how and why questions of life. The thing that is most troubling regarding Ms. Downs is that she appears to have done very little of this."
I have noticed that psychologists who work primarily with criminals have a much better grasp of NPD than psychologists whose practices don't include convicted criminals. It is impossible to understand NPD if you don't have a working knowledge of the criminal mind. The criminal mind and the person with NPD are, in the most fundamental ways, synonymous. Malignant narcissists are criminals through and through if we simply compare the way they think about themselves, their relation to others, and the world. Whether or not they end up in prison depends on the scope and audacity of their crimes. Most remain out of the hands of the law. This paragraph above shows the better-than-average knowledge the evaluators have of NPD by seeing Down's profound lack of introspection and reflection as being a confirmation of the original diagnosis of NPD. I say, well observed!

This is a stark reality with full-blown narcissists. They do not get wiser with age. More cunning and perfidious, yes, but not wiser in the full sense of the word:

  1. The ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting; insight.
  2. Common sense; good judgment
Wisdom cannot be acquired without an ability to engage in deep introspection, i.e. insight.
The reason I'm highlighting the lack of introspection observed in narcissists is because it is essential you are fully aware of this universal quality of malignant narcissists. The temptation for you is to believe that that putting the narcissist in their room (i.e. no contact) for a period of time will result in a reformed narcissist. Or, as in Diane Down's case, in a prison cell for 20 plus years. Not going to happen. Time and introspection are wonderful teachers to those willing to employ them, but you must understand that in the narcissist's calculation there is no gain in it for them. The "what's in it for me" question they pose before every exertion of effort shuts down the process of introspection before it can ever really start because the answer that comes back to them is always "nothing!". The feedback they would receive from introspection will not flatter them, will not support their false reality, will not reinforce their grandiosity, will not gain them an unfair advantage over someone else, etc. So any introspection they may engage in will be abbreviated at best. Not that they have to think it through this methodically. They are instinctually revulsed by introspection as a cat is to being thrown into a tub of water. Just like that cat immediately reacts to its revulsion of the water so the narcissist is instinctively repelled by any exercise in introspection.

I have been in the past shocked at the "profound lack of introspection and reflection" in the narcissists of my acquaintance. Then, wiser, I came to expect this lack and have never been disappointed by them since.

If you are convinced you are dealing with a malignant narcissist then be convinced of this too: they will not get better with time. It is impossible for them to acknowledge the enormity of their crimes because they excuse, rationalize, blame-shift and project all their problems and bad behavior onto you and others. No amount to time being confined to isolation from you and your life will render them capable of suddenly understanding that which they utterly refuse to look at. If you are possessed of a savior complex my exhortations on this point may well be lost on you. Maybe, though, you've grown tired of your endlessly dashed hopes for the reformation of the narcissist. Having been worn down by endless disappointment perhaps you're now more willing to consider and believe my observations over the promises of the reprobate narcissist or the insistence of your more enlighted conscience that all others can be persuaded to a similar keen self-reflection as you yourself are capable of. Don't be that naive. Clearly, it is quite possible for a person to shut down their conscience by a persistent and consistent refusal to even consider the possibility of ones wrong doing. It is this absolute refusal to believe themselves to have done wrong that makes them refuse all opportunity for introspection.

Once you've decided to exile the malignant narcissist from your life do not fall prey to fanciful ideas of his reformation. Time will not render him the wiser for his 'confinement'. Like Diane Downs he or she will persist in their rationalizations and justifications to the bitter, ugly end. The malignant narcissist easily believes the whole world wrong and themselves alone right rather than risk a confrontation with the opposite reality. Hence, introspection = anathema.

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