Unmasking the Communal Narcissist: Understanding Their Complex & Toxic Personality
Today's post comes from a reader's request to better understand communal narcissism. While we have previously discussed situations such as what if you might be in a romantic relationship with a narcissist such as your Twin Flame, narcissism is on a spectrum and exists in all people to a certain degree for the purposes of survival. While you may find that it's concerning if your romantic partner happens to exhibit narcissistic traits, according to the experts, not every person who has some narcissistic tendencies always meets the criteria for full blown narcissism. There are many types of narcissism ranging from Grandiose narcissism, Vulnerable/Malignant narcissism but have you ever heard of a Communal narcissist?
Within the sphere of narcissistic personality disorders, or NPD for short, the communal narcissist emerges as a captivating yet relatively obscure persona. In contrast to the typical notion of narcissism, which often brings to mind traits of self-absorption and grandiosity, communal narcissism offers a distinct perspective. In this article, we will embark on a journey into the realm of communal narcissism, unveiling its essence, delineating its distinctive features, and illuminating the impact it can have on those who encounter it.
Understanding Communal Narcissism
Communal narcissism, also known as "altruistic narcissism," is a subtype of narcissistic personality disorder. Unlike the more familiar grandiose narcissist who craves admiration and attention, communal narcissists derive their self-esteem from appearing generous, selfless, and virtuous. In other words, communal narcissists exploit their victims by receiving validation and attention by doing for others. They believe themselves to be the ultimate benefactors of society, often positioning themselves as saviors or pillars of their community.
But wait, doing for others sounds like an okay thing, right? Isn't doing for others a helpful thing? Not so fast...
Communal narcissists employ something called virtue signaling as a strategic tool to bolster their self-esteem and public image. They conspicuously engage in acts of charity, social activism, or altruism, not out of genuine empathy but with the primary aim of showcasing their supposed moral superiority and benevolence to others.
By broadcasting their good deeds, they seek admiration and validation, often using social media platforms as a stage to garner attention and admiration. This performative altruism allows communal narcissists to maintain their facade as selfless individuals, ensuring they receive the praise and recognition they desire while concealing their underlying narcissistic tendencies.
How To Spot Characteristics of a Communal Narcissist
Exaggerated Benevolence: Communal narcissists love to flaunt their supposed altruism. They engage in acts of charity, volunteer work, or social activism, not out of genuine concern but to garner praise and admiration. They offer to assist you as an individual or as a collective group, basking in the praise and attention they receive as a result. In some situations communal narcissists tend to believe that they're an empath. This is usually found among your self-styled gurus in online spiritual communities. I recently saw an article about Spiritual narcissism, in which case spiritual practices can be used as a tool to bolster the narcissistic self, enhancing one's feeling that one is special and entitled to special privileges.
Moral Superiority: The communal narcissist firmly believes that they are morally superior to others, often condemning those who do not share their views or values. This moral high ground is a crucial source of their self-esteem. Communal narcissists may even possess characteristics of a Messiah Complex. The Messiah complex, also known as the Christ complex or savior complex, is a psychological condition in which an individual holds the belief that they are destined to be a savior or possess savior-like qualities. This term can also describe a mindset where an individual perceives themselves as responsible for rescuing or aiding others in some profound way.
Need for Validation: Just like their grandiose narcissist counterparts, the communal narcissists have an insatiable need for validation and attention. They seek constant affirmation for their acts of "kindness." Whether this is pioneering charities, fundraising, activism, self-styled experts or online gurus in the spiritual marketplace, a communal narcissist is not always easy to spot due to their tendency to be a compulsive giver.
Manipulative Charm: Communal narcissists can be charming and persuasive, making it easy for them to influence and manipulate others into supporting their causes or views. Because the communal narcissist's currency is attention, most people do not realize they're dealing with a narcissist.
Intolerance for Criticism: The communal narcissist is highly sensitive to criticism and reacts defensively when their motives are questioned. Their purported selflessness serves as a carefully constructed facade, which they protect fervently. Any hint of skepticism or criticism is met with a vehement defense, often involving tactics aimed at diverting attention away from their true intentions. This defensive posture is a crucial shield for communal narcissists, enabling them to preserve the image of moral superiority and unwavering benevolence that forms the bedrock of their self-esteem. In the face of criticism, they may resort to manipulation, guilt-tripping, or even shifting the blame onto others, all in an effort to maintain the illusion of selflessness they've meticulously created.
What The Communal Narcissist is Like in Action
Understanding communal narcissism becomes more apparent when observing their behavior in various contexts:
Social Media Stunts: Communal narcissists are avid users of social media platforms, where they transform their acts of charity and volunteerism into highly orchestrated performances. They meticulously curate their profiles, uploading pictures and stories that showcase their involvement in the community. Every post is strategically designed to project an image of selflessness and compassion. The ultimate goal? To accumulate admiration, likes, and comments that feed their insatiable need for external validation. They see social media as a virtual stage where their altruistic acts become a means to bask in the spotlight of adoration.
Charitable Donations: While communal narcissists may indeed contribute to charitable causes, their underlying motivation is rarely pure altruism. Instead, they view their donations as a transactional investment in their public image. These individuals expect their charitable contributions to be acknowledged and celebrated publicly. They seek recognition for their generosity, often attaching their name to donations or orchestrating public ceremonies to ensure that their actions are visible and lauded by others. Their giving is a calculated effort to reinforce their perceived moral superiority.
Community Involvement: Communal narcissists are often highly visible within their local communities, actively participating in events, charities, and organizations. However, their involvement is seldom driven by a genuine desire to effect positive change. Instead, they engage with their communities primarily to uphold and bolster their self-created image as selfless benefactors. Their active participation in community affairs is a carefully calculated move to maintain a reputation as an altruistic individual. Beneath the surface, their true motivation remains self-centered, rooted in the pursuit of admiration and validation.
Relationships: In personal relationships, communal narcissists are skilled at appearing caring, supportive, and attentive. They excel at creating an illusion of emotional connection and genuine concern. However, beneath this facade lies a more self-serving agenda. Their seemingly caring behavior is a means to an end – the acquisition of admiration and validation from those they are close to. They thrive on being seen as the caring partner, friend, or family member, and they meticulously maintain this image to keep the praise and admiration flowing. Genuine emotional connection often takes a backseat to their relentless pursuit of external validation.
What Is An Example of Communal Narcissism?
Imagine Rhoda, a communal narcissist with a large following on various social media platforms. She's known for her frequent posts about her charitable activities, volunteer work, and acts of kindness. Her online image has been carefully crafted to present an image of unconditional selflessness and love to the world.
One day, Rhoda decides to post a dramatic announcement on her social media accounts. She posts a heartfelt message expressing her intention to leave social media indefinitely! But why? She does so much for others (per her posts.)
She writes about needing a break to focus on her mental health and to "disconnect from the superficial online world" to find inner peace. Her post is accompanied by a melancholic photo of her looking contemplative.
Her followers, who have grown accustomed to her regular updates and inspirational posts, are taken aback by the announcement. The comment section quickly fills with messages of support, concern, and pleas for her to stay. Rhoda responds to each comment with gratitude, emphasizing the toll that being a "selfless giver" has taken on her.
Over the next few days, Rhoda continues to engage with her audience, occasionally posting cryptic messages about her journey of self-discovery and self-care. Her followers become increasingly invested in her story, offering words of encouragement and admiration for her courage.
After a few weeks of this attention-grabbing hiatus, Rhoda returns to social media with a triumphant post. She shares how the outpouring of love and support from her followers during her "break" has deeply touched her heart. She expresses gratitude for her online community, claiming that they've given her the strength to continue her mission of making the world a better place. This post is accompanied by a series of carefully curated photos highlighting her triumphant return.
Rhoda's departure from social media was never about genuine self-care but a calculated stunt to generate attention, sympathy, and admiration. It allowed her to reinforce her image as a selfless, caring individual while keeping her followers engaged and eager to shower her with praise upon her return. For the communal narcissist, even a temporary departure from social media becomes a means to maintain the spotlight on themselves.
How About Another Example of Communal Narcissism?
Meet Paul, a highly regarded figure in a local charitable organization. He's known for his tireless efforts to raise funds for a worthy cause, and he often takes the lead in organizing fundraising events. However, behind the scenes, Paul's motivations are far from purely altruistic.
Every year, he spearheads a high-profile charity gala that draws significant attention from the community and media. He spares no expense in promoting the event, securing sponsorships, and ensuring that his name is prominently featured in all press releases and promotional materials. The gala itself is a lavish affair, complete with a red carpet and celebrity guests, all of which serve to elevate Paul's status as a benevolent philanthropist.
While Paul does indeed raise substantial funds for the charity, his primary motivation is not solely to make a difference in the lives of those the charity serves. Instead, he revels in the recognition and admiration he receives for his role in these events. Paul strategically places himself at the center of attention, constantly reminding attendees and the media of his unwavering commitment to the cause. In doing so, he manages to maintain his image as a selfless do-gooder, all while basking in the glow of the spotlight and the accolades he receives.
Dealing with a Communal Narcissist
If you suspect that someone in your life may exhibit communal narcissistic traits, here are some essential strategies for effectively managing such individuals:
Set Healthy Boundaries: It's crucial to establish and maintain clear boundaries when dealing with communal narcissists. Recognize their manipulative tactics and their insatiable need for validation. By setting boundaries, you protect yourself from being drawn into their self-centered games and manipulation. Make it clear what behavior is acceptable and what crosses the line.
Stay True to Yourself: Communal narcissists often wield their perceived moral superiority as a tool for influence. However, it's vital to remain steadfast in your own values and beliefs. Don't let their convictions sway your decisions or lead you away from your principles. Staying true to your authentic self is essential when navigating relationships with such individuals.
Limit Engagement: If your interactions with the communal narcissist become emotionally draining or toxic, consider reducing your contact with them. Minimizing engagement can help protect your emotional well-being and reduce the impact of their manipulative behavior. Create space to maintain your own mental and emotional health.
Seek Help: Dealing with communal narcissists can be overwhelming and emotionally taxing. If you find yourself struggling to cope with their behavior or if the relationship becomes increasingly toxic, consider seeking support from a therapist or spiritual counselor. If you prefer not to seek mental health assistance, perhaps seeking help from a member of your clergy who is trained to assist you in such matters will be the best direction for you.
Prof. Sam Vaknin has created a number of excellent videos on the subject of communal narcissism.
Communal Narcissist (Prosocial Giver): Altruistic Pleaser or Controlling Sadist?
Narcissists Who Forgive, Communal Psychopaths
Recognizing and handling communal narcissists requires a combination of assertiveness, self-preservation, and sometimes professional intervention. By setting boundaries, maintaining your authenticity, limiting engagement, and seeking support when necessary, you can navigate relationships with these individuals more effectively while safeguarding your emotional well-being.