Excerpts from the Archives of the Narcissism List - Part 11

Listowner: Dr. Sam Vaknin


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1. The Productive Narcissist

A good feeling is also a kind of Narcissist Supply. This insight - that a narcissist can gain Narcissistic Supply by HELPING others - was instrumental in my transformation. Narcissists have been rejected and abused early on in their lives, so they became defensive. Their personality disorder makes them the target of scorn, hate and contempt. It is a vicious circle. It makes them even more defensive. So they ignore or deny the possibility of GETTING ALONG with people, of engineering positive emotions, of being loved.

To survive, we all MUST give love. But so very few of us know how to ACCEPT it. Narcissists wouldn't recognize love if it hit them on the head. Their world is inhabited by dependency, control, power and fear, not by love.

I do good things but I am not a good person in the sense that, to me, people are bi-dimensional, instruments for my satisfaction, the fountains of my Narcissistic Supply, objects.

Since I derive most of my Narcissistic Supply from constructive and productive sources - there is no need for me to go to the negative extremes that I did go to previously. But I still do sabotage myself incredibly.

2. Abandoning the Narcissist

The narcissist INITIATES his own abandonment BECAUSE of his fear. He is so afraid of losing his sources (and, unbeknownst to him, of unconsciously being emotionally hurt) - that he would rather "control", "master", "direct" the potentially destabilizing situation - than confront its effects if initiated by the meaningful other. Remember: the personality of the narcissist has a low level of organization. It is precariously balanced.

Being an abandoned could constitute a narcissistic injury so grave that the whole edifice comes crumbling down. Narcissists usually entertain suicidal ideation in such cases. BUT, if the narcissist did the initiation, if HE directed the scenes, if the abandonment is perceived by him to be a goal HE set to himself to achieve - he can and does avoid all these untoward consequences. See the section about Emotional Involvement Prevention Mechanisms in: http://narcissism.cjb.net/msla.html

3. Unloving the Sick or Needy Spouse

The narcissist lives in a world of ideal beauty, incomparable (imaginary) achievements, wealth, brilliance and unmitigated success. The narcissist denies his reality constantly. This is what I call the "Grandiosity Gap" - the abyss between the narcissist's sense of entitlement and his inflated grandiose fantasies - and his incommensurate reality and achievements.

The narcissist's partner is perceived by him to be a Source of Narcissistic Supply, an instrument, an extension of himself. It is inconceivable to the narcissist that - in his blessed presence - such a tool should malfunction. The needs of the partner are perceived by the narcissist as THREATS and INSULTS. He considers his very existence as sufficiently nourishing and sustaining. He feels entitled to the best without investing in maintaining the relationship or in catering to the well-being of his spouse. To rid himself of deep-set feelings of (rather justified) guilt and shame - he pathologizes the partner. He projects sickness unto her. Through the intricate mechanism of projective identification he forces her to play an emergent role of "the sick" or "the weak" or "the naive" or "the dumb" or "the no good". What he denies in himself, what he is terrified of facing in his own personality - he attributes to others and moulds them to conform to his prejudices against himself.

The narcissist MUST have THE best, the MOST glamorous, stunning, talented, head turning, mind boggling spouse in the WORLD. Nothing short of this fantasy will do. To compensate for the shortcomings of his real life spouse - he invents an idealized figure and relates to it instead. Then, when reality conflicts too often and too roughly with the ideal figure - he reverts to devaluation. His behaviour turns on a dime and becomes threatening, demeaning, contemptuous, berating, reprimanding, destructively critical, and sadistic - or cold, unloving, detached, "clinical". He punishes his real life spouse for not living up to his standards as personified in his Galathea, in his Pygmalion, in his ideal creation. The narcissist plays God.

4. Moving On

There is always a risk of judging harshly when we are in pain.

Moving on is a process, not a decision or an event. First, we have to realize what happened and acknowledge the facts. It is a volcanic, shattering, agonizing series of little, nibbling, thoughts countered by strong resistances. The battle won, we can move on to learning.

We attach a label to what bothers us. We assemble material. We gather knowledge. We compare experiences. We digest.

Then we decide and we act. This is "to move on". The success of this list is measured by the numbers of its deserters. Having gathered sufficient sustenance, support and confidence - they leave to face the battlefields of their relationships, fortified and nurtured. This stage is reached by those who come here not to mourn - but to fight; not to grieve - but to replenish their self esteem; not to hide - but to seek; not to freeze - but to move on. This list should be a safe house, a library, an arsenal - in short: a home.

5. Inspirational Messages

What matters is not necessarily the content. What matters is the timing and the music and the meaning attributed by the listener/reader to the content. The same speech that aroused millions yesteryear, looks quaint, even ridiculous today. The same message might revolt you - and motivate another. The pertinent questions are: WHO reads it, WHEN does he read it, WHAT are the circumstances (context), WHAT meaning does he attribute to it, DOES it motivate him. If it is sugar-coated, sentimental, Polyannish but it WORKS - this is IT. In matters of the heart perhaps it is best not to look for the truth - but to seek the heart.

6. The Phases of Mourning

After being betrayed and abused - we grieve. We grieve for the image we had of the traitor and abuser that we will never have again. We mourn the damage he did to us. We experience the fear of never being able to love or to trust again - and we grieve this incapacitation. In one stroke, we lost someone we trusted and even loved, we lost our trusting and loving selves, and we lost the trust and love that we felt. Can anything be worse? I should think not.

The emotional process of grieving is multi-phased. At first, we are dumbfounded, shocked, inert, immobile. We hope that our monsters will let go if they can't find us. So, we remain immobile and frozen. We die. Ossified in our pain, cast in the mould of our reticence and fears. Then we feel enraged, indignant, rebellious and hateful. Then we accept. Then we cry. And then - some of us - learn to forgive and to pity. And this is called healing.

ALL stages are absolutely necessary and good for you. It is bad NOT to rage back, not to shame those who shamed us, to deny, to pretend, to evade. But it is equally as bad to stay like this forever. It is the perpetuation of our abuse by other means. By endlessly recreating our harrowing experiences, we unwillingly and defiantly collaborate with our abuser to perpetuate his or her evil deeds. It is by moving on that we defeat our abuser, belittling him and his importance in our lives. It is by loving and by trusting that we annul that which was done to us. To forgive is never to forget. But to remember is not necessarily to re-live.

7. Forgiving Enemies, Forgetting Friends

Forgiving is an important capability. It does more for the forgiver than for the forgiven. But, to my mind, it should not be a universal, indiscriminate behaviour. I think it is legitimate not to forgive sometimes. It depends, of course, on the severity or duration of what was done to you. In general, it is unwise and counter-productive, in my view, to establish "universal" and "immutable" principles in life. Life is too varied to succumb to rigid principles. Sentences which start with "I never" are either not very credible or, worse, they lead to self-defeating, self-restricting and self-destructive behaviours.

How can the worst enemy suddenly become a friend?

(continued below)


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Your friendship must not mean much to you if you give it away so easily and so profusely. Friendship is a gradual thing, based on many trials and errors. It is profound and, at its best, it is nourishing and supportive. How can you get all this from a former worst enemy? And how can you become "instant" friends with anyone, let alone your worst adversary?

Conflicts are an important and integral part of life. One should never seek them out willingly - but when confronted with a conflict, one should not avoid it. It is through conflicts and adversity inasmuch as through care and love that we grow.

Some people will always dislike you. It is inevitable and a good thing it is because it allows you to separate the wheat (your true friends) from the chafe (those who dislike you). That someone dislikes you says a lot about HIM or HER - not necessarily about you. People are not objects to be manipulated. They have their own emotions, opinions, judgements, fears, hopes, dreams, fantasies, nightmares, role models and associations. What are the chances for a perfect fit every time? Nil.

Human relationships are dynamic. We must assess our friendships, partnerships, even marriages periodically. The past is insufficient to sustain a healthy, nourishing, supportive, caring, and compassionate relationship. It is a good pre-condition, perhaps a necessary one - but not a sufficient one. We must gain and regain our friendships on a daily basis. Human relationships are a constant test of allegiance and empathy.

8. Self-Confidence and Real Achievements

This is how we go about life: we find out what we excel at, we develop these talents and gifts, we show the results to people, we secure their appreciation, and this adds to our self-confidence. We should be proud of our REAL achievements and qualities.

9. Communicating Emotions

Impressive "emotional intelligence" is typical of people who were hurt in the past. They are more attuned to the emotional needs of others. But there is a big difference between "being mean" and expressing emotions, even negative emotions. I think you should communicate your emotions. If you are angry you should say so and explain both what made you angry and how it can be avoided in the future. If you are jealous, you should express your jealousy in a constructive way. Suppressed emotions are bad. They are like an untreated infection. They poison you. They are likely to bring about short depressive episodes.

10. Possessive Jealousy

If you have a work of art at home - would you hide it behind a curtain and peak at it only secretly or would you share it with family and friends and maybe with the public?

If you have a friend and you can make her happy - would you still qualify as a friend if you prevented this happiness from her by withholding the knowledge necessary for its attainment?

If you see two imperfections which complement each other and in thus doing can reach perfection - would you not sin by preventing their encounter?

And if all this were to involve an intercourse of the body as well as of the mind - should this technical detail derail your resolve to increase the welfare of others rather to decrease it through greed and envy?

11. Pessimism versus Realism in the Treatment of Narcissists

I personally opt for "realism" rather than "optimism" or "pessimism".

Here are some hard facts which I think could serve as an undisputed basis for discussion:

  1. There are gradations and shades of narcissism. Lacking grandiosity and possessing empathy are not minor variations. They are serious predictors of future dynamics. The prognosis is much better if they do exist.
  1. There are cases of spontaneous healing and of "short term NPD" (Gunderson and Roningstam, 1996).
  1. The prognosis for a classic NPD case (grandiosity, lack of empathy and all) is decidedly not good IF we are talking about LONG TERM and COMPLETE HEALING. Moreover, NPDs are intensely disliked by therapists.

BUT

  1. Side effects, associated disorders (such as OCD), and SOME aspects of NPD (certain behaviours, the dysphorias, the paranoiac dimensions, the outcomes of the sense of entitlement, the pathological lying) CAN be modified (using talk therapy and, depending on the problem, medication). We are not talking about SHORT term solutions - but there are partial solutions and they do have long term effects.
  1. The DSM is billing and administration oriented. It is intended to "tidy" up the psychiatrist's desk. The PDs are ill demarcated, they tend to intermingle and be cross referenced. The differential diagnoses are vaguely defined, to use a gentle understatement. There are some cultural biases and judgements (see the Schizotypal PD). The result is sizeable confusion and multiple diagnoses. NPD was introduced in 1980 (in the DSM III). There isn't enough research to substantiate one view or another. The DSM V might abolish it altogether within the framework of a cluster or a single "personality disorder" diagnosis. As it is, the difference between HPD and somatic NPD is, to my mind, rather blurred in the extreme cases. So, when we discuss the question: "Can NPD be healed?" we need to realize than we don't know for sure what is NPD and what constitutes long term healing in the case of an NPD. There are those who seriously claim that NPD is a CULTURAL disorder with a massive societal determinant.

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