Pathologically self-centered individuals, such as sociopaths or narcissists, often project a level of self-confidence that is pathlogically tremendous. This can be a problem for others who, unlike the sociopath, will be prone to empathy and self-reflection, along with which come self-doubt and hence fluctuating, less dependable levels of confidence.
But the pathologically self-centered individual is often seemingly immune to self-doubt and can thus seem implacably, impressively confident. Why?
The answer is suprisingly simple: When your interest in others is principally, if not entirely, about what you can get, or take, from them; when you lack the capacity for, and/or inclination to, genuine, thoughtful self-reflection; and when the meaning, or purpose, of life is fundamentally reduced to the expectation, and pursuit, of continual gratification, you have a prescription not only for pathological self-centeredness, but its frequent concomitant—pathological self-confidence.
Think about it: for such an individual, it is mostly, and sometimes only, about what he wants. And if he knows what he wants, such an individual will feel entitled to it. And his sense of entitlement becomes self-validating—self-validating, that is, of whatever argument, rationalization, or manipulation brings him closer to his demand.
In other words, the pathologically self-centered individual has something very powerful in his favor—conviction. His is the conviction of his entitlement, of his right to have what he wants—whether it’s agreement, an apology, special attention, cooperation, sex, a favor, forgiveness, you name it.
And he wields his sense of conviction powerfully and persuasively—all the moreso if he’s also articulate and glib.
This explains how a sociopath can look you in the eye and blame you for something—even his victimization of you—and yet you struggle to fully disbelieve him. As I just noted, if he is intelligent and glib, he is in an even better position to erode your sense of reality. He can construct positions, however absurd and even confirming of his sociopathic orientation, that nevertheless have just enough superficial plausability to arrest your attention.
Once you’ve been disarmed, even slightly, his impregnably confident assertions, stemming from his pathological self-centeredness, can have a brainwashing influence.
You wonder if you’re not crazy? The “gaslighting effect” is in full throttle. It is disorienting, literally, to have someone present even a ridiculous proposition, demand, or accusation with unwavering confidence and certitude. And the disorienting effect is magnified exponentially when the assertion is simultaneously packaged in superficially intelligent, coherent, “rational”-sounding language. Confidence in one’s sense of reality can wane, and fail, under this combination assault.
This can explain why sometimes extremely intelligent, thoughtful and self-respecting individuals can actually be at greater risk of accepting and tolerating abuse. It can be a case of the exploiter’s pathologically inflated confidence overwhelming the more self-questioning, self-doubting individual’s reality.
(My use of “he” in this article was for convenience’s sake, and not to suggest that females are not capable of the behaviors described. This article is copyrighted (c) 2009 by Steve Becker, LCSW.)