If I was required to come up with one adjective to describe the internal life of a malignant narcissist...ummmmm...I couldn't do it. I require two.
Covetous and fearful--in that order.
I want to focus more on the latter descriptor. Fear. It is the outgrowth of the former. Fear is so pervasive in the psyche of the narcissist that they do not see it. They call it other things; they certainly don't call it fear. Usually those around them don't see it either. Yet nearly everything the narcissist does is an effort to outrun their fear.
Before I go further I want to explicitly state that an examination of the fear that moves the narcissist is not in any way a demand upon us to feel pity for them. Every single human being deals with fears. It is how we deal with our fears that largely determine what we become. I think we can safely label the narcissist as having pathological fear because it is so destructive to themselves and all those who have to deal with them. Their personal code of conduct, their broken coping mechanisms, their thinking patterns--all point to the fact that they have completely capitulated to their fears and are ruled by them. Another word for that is cowardice. Because I do not admire cowardice, my ruminations on the all-pervasive fears that move the narcissist do not inspire compassion or pity in me.
Fear that is caved to = cowardice.
Fear that is faced or fear that we act in spite of = courage.
Truly brave people are not fearless people. They are people who acted in spite of fear. It is bravery that inspires me and commands my respect.
I have observed the malignant narcissist's fear up close and very personally. You may think me hard for not pitying the fearful state of the narcissist. If so, consider this...the narcissist's efforts to forestall their fears is what motivates them to hurt you. You are expendable in their quest to evade their fears. You are the casualty of their fears. Their fears are slaked by your pain, your psychic injury. There...feel the pity evaporate like the morning dew? I hope so.
What is the narcissist afraid of?
Because of the need of the narcissist to garner all the attention and good will in the room, one of their most basic fears is loss of attention i.e. loss of narcissistic supply. The reason this fear is pathological is because of the pathological covetousness it springs from. It isn't enough for them to be satisfied with a portion of the human regard and attention in any given situation. They must have your share too. They perceive you getting attention as their losing attention. They must have it all. That is covetousness. Their most primal fear is the outgrowth of their infernal covetousness.
1. Excessively and culpably desirous of the possessions of another. See synonyms at jealous.
2. Marked by extreme desire to acquire or possess.
For the best explanation of what attention is, how we all need it to do well in life, and how the narcissist must have it all, see Kathy's site here. This is essential to understanding "what makes narcissists tick."
They can experience loss of attention (supply) as either you gaining some of their precious commodity through your real accomplishments or force of personality, etc., or through attrition of supply sources due to various reasons. This fear looms very large for the narcissist and motivates many (if not all) of their bad behaviors.
This is their most basic fear--loss of narcissistic supply.
Sam Vaknin identifies fear of abandonment as ever-present and directly connects that fear to the fear of losing a source of supply. All the other fears of the narcissist seem to tie into this one fear of losing supply. They fear emotional dependency even though they can be very dependent. They fear intimacy. (Both of these fears are linked to their need to see themselves as god-like and therefore better than the rest of humanity and entitled to whatever supply they demand.) They fear the loss of their looks or mental capacity (depending on whether they are somatic or cerebral narcissists). These are his/her stock in trade to gaining supply. They fear introspection (again, linked to the need to be god-like--introspection is detrimental to maintaining their sense of grandiosity. Being a god means they are entitled to their supply needs.) They fear being unmasked. They fear loss of status or reputation. These fears are all connected in some way to the loss of supply.
It is their covetousness and their fear of losing that which they covet (and must therefore steal from you), which inspire their predatory nature. They are thieves. They must steal what is by right yours and mine in order to feel any sense of equanimity or calm in the circumstance. But I digress.
Several years before I knew anything about NPD I was startled to recognize what a fearful creature my mother is. I watched her behaviors and began to analyze past events and behaviors. It became stunningly obvious that my mother was animated entirely by her fears. The more clearly I could see this fact the more pathetic she looked to me. And, yes, I pitied her. It was an earth-shaking as well as eye-opening understanding for me. My mother presents herself as a Rock of Gibraltar. She is in control of herself and her world. She is the pinnacle of human strength. T'was all an act. A pitiful and cartoonish act which had fooled me for decades. Having pulled back the curtain I could see the 'little man' operating the levers while fooling everyone into thinking her to be the Great Oz. My pity was eventually eclipsed by the recognition of the evil which this woman stoops to in order to get what she wants. I now save all my pity for her many victims. My mother's pathological covetousness, which leads to her pathological fears, is what she uses to justify her pathological narcissism. Being fearful doesn't make her pitiable, it makes her malignant.
What does the understanding that narcissists are animated by their pathological fears do for us? Hopefully it can help to depersonalize for us the crimes they commit against us so we can more easily sever our affections and connections to them. Everything is about them; none of it is about us from their perspective. We are always just a means to an end. We are tools in their hand, objects in the room, a reflection in their mirror. The quest to slake their vast thirsty covetousness must be done at our expense. It must be done to try and find a moment's peace from their clamoring lusts. Again, to see the world of the narcissist you have to step far outside yourself. They are living in another galaxy. The ability to see that they are cravenly following their lusts, and that they constantly scramble to outrun their fear that they may not gain what they crave, can help you to step away from this destructive force. They are addicts; addicted to their narcissistic supply sources. Like addicts they will steal, kill, lie, cheat and manipulate to get their next fix. Seeing this, you can better protect yourself and those you care about. Leave the narcissist to his fears. You can't save him from his fears. Just step off the tracks so the train doesn't hit you.