Excerpts from the Archives of the Narcissism List - Part 2

Listowner: Dr. Sam Vaknin


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1. A Letter to a Narcissist

I am very happy that you found the power within you to share. I am a narcissist, probably even worse than you are. It took me eternity to talk about IMPERSONAL things like my shirt size, let alone my painful history, my inner world. I still do so with trepidation. You write well and from the heart.

This outweighs any stylistic advantages I or others might have. I was MOVED by your letter. It is a HUMAN letter.

Intuitively, you seem to have chosen a path of healing. I sympathise with you. I also try to give selflessly (my websites, etc.). It is the only way to fight malignant self love - by real self love. This is the chemotherapy of love.

Unrepentant and "true" narcissists (as you paint yourself, into a corner of unconsciously cunning egotism) - are EGO SYNTONIC. This means in human-speak: they feel GOOD with themselves, they feel whole (well, most of the time, anyhow, according to the latest research). When a narcissist begins to feel BAD, UNHAPPY, REMORSEFUL - he is shedding his narcissism. I am not at this stage yet. I am still ego-syntonic. I am still fairly content with my incredibly destructive path. I don't feel remorse, pangs of awakening conscience. Sure, I feel depressed at times - over lost chances for the obtaining further Narcissistic Supply. I envy you. The worse you feel with yourself - the closer your salvation. Healing is bought with pain, with reliving the old pains that made you what you are, with re-enacting the old conflicts that defined you.

2. Narcissists in the Family

To react emotionally to a narcissist is like talking atheism to an Afghan fundamentalist. Narcissists have emotions, very strong ones, so terrifyingly strong and negative that they hide them, repress, block, and transmute them. They employ a myriad of defence mechanisms: projective identification, splitting, projection,  intellectualisation, rationalisation... Any effort to emotionally relate to a narcissist is doomed to failure, alienation and rage. Any attempt to "understand" (in retrospect or prospectively) narcissistic behaviour patterns, reactions, his inner world in emotional terms - are equally hopeless. Narcissists should be regarded as "stykhia", a force of nature, an accident. There is always the bitter question: "why me, why should this happen to me", of course...

There is no master-plot or mega-plan to deprive anyone. Being born to narcissistic parents is not the result of a conspiracy. It is a tragic event, for sure. But it cannot be dealt with emotionally without professional help and in an unplanned manner. Luckily, as opposed to narcissists, the prognosis for the victims of narcissists is fairly bright.

3. Narcissistic Identity

Narcissists very rarely acknowledge that they are narcissists. A MAJOR life crisis and a very prolonged and frustrating (for the therapist) therapy are needed before a narcissist admits that something MAY be wrong with him/her.

Narcissism is not an identity, it is a humiliation. To define oneself as a narcissist is to define oneself as a ridiculously pompous, unrealistic, predator of human emotions. This isn't very flattering and it is not much of an identity either because the narcissist has NO identity. He feeds off of his FALSE self as reflected by others. It is there, in others, that he lives.

4. Narcissists, Right and Wrong

Narcissists know the difference between right and wrong and to a large extent they do CHOOSE to do the things they do. They are lazy and have no empathy. To be considerate and understanding one has to invest effort and thought and to empathise. I don't know what is the attitude of the courts: do personality disorders constitute a "diminished responsibility" defence? NPD is NOTHING like BPD. It is FAR more cerebral, premeditated and controlled. In this sense it is much closer to the Antisocial personality disorder than to BPD (Borderline) or HPD (Histrionic).

5. In Defence of Narcissists

Fortunately, humanity is not a monolithic abstraction, or a dull formula. Its essence cannot be captured by symbolic representation. Humanity is elusive, it is diverse, it is vast. Without narcissists, or women, or blacks, or Jews, or Nazis, or the tribesmen of the Amazon - humanity would be a far less intriguing and successful proposition. It is in diversity that the secret of adaptation and survival lies. It is from adversity that resilience springs forth. We need narcissists because without them life itself would be - by definition - incomplete as narcissists are part of life. We need their drive to excel, their ruthlessness, their pathetic pursuit of our adulation, their neediness, their emotional immaturity - this is the stuff untrammeled ambition is made of. This is the stuff of life. Narcissists are beasts of prey lurking beneath a thin veneer of civilization. But it is thus that humanity first emerged. They are a reminder of our beginnings.

They are enamoured with their reflection, which is the reflection of us all. Staring deep into the lake that is our collective psyche, they reach for themselves, forever frustrated. Their death brings about a great flower of simple beauty. This is to teach us that in nature nothing is lost and everything has a reason, however cruel, however morally reprehensible, however tragic.

6. Narcissists Have Tables of Emotional Resonance

Narcissists are excellent at imitating emotions. They maintain (sometimes consciously) "resonance tables" in their minds. They monitor the reactions of others.

They see which behaviour, gesture, mannerism, phrase, or expression evoke, provoke, and elicit which kind of empathic reaction from their conversant or counter party. They map these correlations and store them. Then they download them in the right circumstances to obtain maximum impact and manipulative effect. The whole process is highly  "computerised" and has NO emotional correlate, no INNER resonance. The narcissist uses procedures: this is what I should say now, this is how I must behave, this should be the expression on my face, this should be the pressure of this handshake to foster this reaction. Narcissists are capable of sentimentality - but not of (experiencing) emotions.

7. Contradictory Behaviours of Narcissists

To need to be loved is not synonymous to loving. The narcissist is looking for power, adulation, attention, affirmation, etc. This is called Narcissistic Supply. The narcissist experiences this as "love".  But he is incapable of giving love back, of loving. And because he is afraid of being abandoned he initiates the abandonment. It gives him a feeling that the situation is under control, that he is the one who is doing the abandoning and that, therefore, it does not "qualify" as abandonment. He brings about his own abandonment to "get it over with" and to be able to say: "I made her leave me and good riddance. Had I not acted the way I did she would have stayed on."

A relationship is a contract. I provide intelligence, money, insight, fun, good company, status and so on. I expect Narcissistic Supply in return. The contract runs its natural course until it is terminated, as all business contracts do.

(continued below)


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8. From "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho

VERY free translation from the French:

"The Alchemist took in his hands one book which was brought by someone from the convoy. The book was not bound but anyway he could find the author's name: Oscar Wilde. Leafing through the pages he came across a story about Narcissus.
The Alchemist knew the legend of Narcissus, the beautiful youth who used to daily observe his own beauty reflected in the waters of a lake. He was so blinded by his reflection that one day he fell into the lake and drowned. Where he drowned, a flower sprouted which was named after him, a narcissus. But the Oscar Wilde story did not end this way.
According to him, after the death of Narcissus, the forest deities,  the Oreads (The author is mistaken. The Oreads were mountain deities - SV), came ashore this sweet water lake and found it transformed into an urn filled with bitter tears.
- Why are you crying? Asked the Oreades.
- I am crying for Narcissus - the lake answered.
- That doesn't surprise us at all, they said. We often chased him in these woods in vain. Only you could observe his beauty closely.
- Was Narcissus beautiful? Asked the lake.
- And who else can know this better than you? Answered the Oreads, amazed. Didn't he bend over your waters every day!
The lake remained speechless for a moment. After that it said:
- I am crying for Narcissus but I have never noticed that Narcissus was beautiful. I am crying for him because every time he bent over my waters, I could have seen deep in the bottom of his eyes the reflection of my own beauty.
This is truly a nice story, the Alchemist said."

9. Narcissism's Gifts to Humanity

Narcissism is an awesomely powerful drive, force, compulsion. I know that when I get the urge to impress someone there is VERY little I won't do.  It gets you places, though. Narcissism may be responsible for many scientific, literary, artistic and political achievements.

A wise person, whom I hold in high respect (not idealising, just respecting) once made two pertinent (I think) observations:

1.     That perhaps narcissism is bad for the individual but good for the community.

2.     That acts of self destruction may actually be acts of liberation from unwanted situations in life.

10. Narcissists and Manipulation

Narcissists are adept at manipulating what I call their Narcissistic Pathological Space ( country, family, friends, colleagues, workplace). They are excellent imitators (Zelig-like types, chameleons). In the workplace they will project work ethic and the sharing of basic goals in a team work. To their spouse they will reflect "love", to their colleagues - collaboration and mutual respect. Scratch the surface though and out springs the ever-youthful narcissist: indignant, rageful, vengeful, dangerous, painful.

11. Narcissist Employer

To a narcissist-employer, his "staff" are Secondary Sources of Narcissistic Supply. Their role is to accumulate the supply (in humanspeak, remember events that support the grandiose self-image of the narcissist) and to regulate the Narcissistic Supply of the narcissist during dry spells (simply put, to adulate, adore, admire, agree, provide attention and approval, and so on, in other words, serve as an audience). The staff (or should I say "stuff"?) is supposed to remain passive. The narcissist is not interested in anything but the simplest function of mirroring. When the mirror acquires a personality and a life of its own, the narcissist is incensed. He may even fire the employee (an act which will help the narcissist recover his sense of omnipotence).

An employee's presumption to be his employer's equal (friendship is possible only among equals) narcissistically injures the narcissist. The narcissist is willing to accept the employee as an underling, whose very position as such serves to support his grandiose fantasies. But the grandiosity rests on such fragile foundations, that any hint of equality, disagreement, or of his needs (for a friend, for instance) threatens the narcissist profoundly. The narcissist is exceedingly insecure. It is easy to destabilise his impromptu "personality". His reactions are merely in self-defence.

Classic narcissistic behaviour is when idealisation followed by devaluation. The devaluating attitude develops as a result of disagreements OR simply because time has eroded the employee's capacity to serve as a FRESH Source of Supply.

In time, the employee is taken for granted by the narcissistic employer, and becomes uninspiring as a source of adulation, admiration and attention. The narcissist needs new thrills and stimuli.

The narcissist is notorious for his low threshold of resistance to boredom. He exhibits impulsive behaviours and has a chaotic biography precisely because of his need to introduce uncertainty and risk to what he regards as "stagnation" or "slow death" (=routine). Even something as innocuous as asking for office supplies constitutes a reminder of this deflating, hated, routine.

Narcissists do many unnecessary, wrong and even dangerous things in pursuit of the stabilisation of their inflated self-image.

Narcissists feel suffocated by intimacy, or by the constant reminders of the REAL, nitty-gritty, world. It reduces them, makes them realise the Grandiosity Gap (between their self image and reality). It is treated as a threat to the precarious balance of their personality structures (mostly "false" and invented).

Narcissists will forever shift the blame, pass the buck, and engage in cognitive dissonance. They "pathologise" the other, foster feelings of guilt and shame in the other, demean, debase and humiliate the other, in order to preserve their sense of grandiosity.

Narcissists are pathological liars. They think nothing of it because their very self is FALSE, an invention.

Here are a few useful guidelines:

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