Excerpts from the Archives of the Narcissism List - Part 34

Listowner: Dr. Sam Vaknin


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1. Folie a deux (Shared Psychotic Episode)

The phenomenon you are describing is called "follies a deux" (madness in twosome). It consists of the co-creation of an imaginary universe in which certain values and beliefs of the co-creators (a couple, two friends, colleagues, political, or business leaders) are enhanced and magnified. This "magnification" and "support" (validation, empowerment, and "objective" "proof") is the result of the total conformity of both participants with an unwritten code of conduct which excludes critical thinking, contradiction, logic, and comparison. The parties are convinced of their superiority, victimhood, righteousness, and in ultimately prevailing over "others" "out there". They are certain of the authenticity and veracity of their beliefs and of the inevitability of the triumph of their values. In this warped sense, the follies-a-deux system is highly dependent on outside approval and highly vulnerable to criticism - this is why it was fostered in the first place: as a defence mechanism against an insensitive and cruel world...

2. When Can a Classic Narcissist Become an Inverted Narcissist?

A classic narcissist can become an inverted narcissist in one (or more) of the following circumstances:

  1. Immediately following a life crisis (divorce, devastating financial loss, death of a parent, or a child, imprisonment, loss of social status and, in general, any other narcissistic injury).
  1. That the injured narcissist then meets another - classic - narcissist who restores a sense of meaning and superiority (uniqueness) to his life. The injured narcissist derives Narcissistic Supply vicariously, by proxy, through the "dominant" narcissist.

c.      As part of an effort to secure a particularly desired Source of Narcissistic Supply. The conversion from classic to inverted narcissism serves to foster an attachment (bonding) between the narcissist and his source. When the narcissist judges that the source is his and can be taken for granted, he reverts to his former, classically narcissistic self.

Such a "conversion" is always temporary. It does not last and the narcissist reverts to his "default" or dominant state.

3. The Forms of Abuse

To be raised as the centre of attention and as the "special one" is to be abused.

The burden of expectations, being taken for granted, the fear to disappoint, the feeling that one is merely an object (of adulation, in this case), an instrument to fulfil other people's dreams, an extension of one's parents - this is the highest, most subtly refined, stealthily pernicious form of abuse.

4. The Psychopath and the Narcissist

The psychopath (the Antisocial Personality Disorder) feels no remorse. The narcissist feels blame and guilt but then he instantly shifts them to others (MAINLY and OFTEN to his victim).

Example:

A mentally ill, highly narcissistic mother would very often accuse her child. She would attribute to the child her own shortcomings - sadistic tendencies, severe paranoia, delusions and psychotic episodes and so on.

This is called "projection" and "projective identification". She then would proceed to BLAME the kid for her own faulty and destructive upbringing. She would say that the child was "born evil", was an "evil seed", or that he "provoked her". If she committed incest, she would say that he "seduced her".

This is called "alloplastic defences".

To summarize:

The narcissist is sometimes ego-dystonic (feels bad with himself and his actions). But he then immediately proceeds to shift the blame, guilt and unease to the OUTSIDE. The psychopath does the same - but he almost never feels guilty or responsible to start with. It is a question of frequency. Both types RATIONALIZE and INTELLECTUALIZE. they construct complex mental structure with impeccable inner logic to explain and justify their behaviour. Yet, the edifice often stands on a shaky foundation.

5. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)

The DSM-IV-TR has its (serious) drawbacks and handicaps, of course. The differential diagnoses are often fuzzy and unhelpful. Some diagnostic criteria are controversial. The Schizotypal PD is considered culture-dependent and the Antisocial PD too narrowly defined. Many disorders overlap and this creates an "epidemic" of co-morbidity. Some behaviors often co-occur with some disorders and lead to patterns of dual diagnosis which can and should be questioned - and so on.

Yet, in the absence of anything better - the DSM is indispensable in concentrating the practitioner's mind and in providing him or her with essential cues. It is like a laundry list or a checklist. Its importance should not be exaggerated ("the bible of the psychiatric profession") - but its practicality cannot be over-estimated.

The DSM was invented to cater to the needs of medical insurers. This is cause for much derogation. Yet, it should not be. Money, insurance, medical facilities and medication are all part of the healing machinery. They should be respected.

6. The Professional Victims

Some people adopt the role of a professional victim. In doing so, they become self-centred, devoid of empathy, abusive, and exploitative. In other words, they become narcissists. The role of "professional victims" - ones whose existence and very identity is defined solely and entirely by their victimhood - is well researched in victimology. It doesn't make for a nice reading. These victim "pros" are often more cruel, vengeful, vitriolic, discompassionate and violent than their abusers. They make a career of it. They identify with this role to the exclusion of all else. It is a danger to be avoided. And this is precisely what I called "Narcissism by Proxy".

(continued below)


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I said that narcissism is contagious and that many victims tend to become narcissists themselves: malevolent, vicious, lacking empathy, egotistical, exploitative, violent and abusive.

These affected entertain the (false) belief they can compartmentalize their narcissistic behaviour and direct it only at the narcissist. In other words, they trust in their ability to segregate their behaviour patterns: verbally abusive towards the narcissist - civil with others, act with malice where the narcissist is concerned - and with Christian charity towards all others.

They cling to the "faucet theory".

They believe that they can turn on and off their negative feelings, their abusive outbursts, their vindictiveness and vengefulness, their blind rage, their non-discriminating judgement.

This, of course, is untrue.

These behaviours spill over, into daily transactions with innocent others.

One cannot be partly or temporarily vindictive and judgmental any more than one can be partly or temporarily pregnant. To their horror, these victims discover that they have been transmuted and transformed into their worst nightmare: into a narcissist.

7. Amelioration of Narcissism

As the narcissist ages, and only in RARE CASES, his behaviour changes. The nature of his interaction with others changes. He adapts. Certain side effects or co-morbid mental health disorders (such as depression, obsession-compulsion) vanish or are ameliorated. He becomes subdued and schizoid (see FAQ67). This is what FAQ12 talks about: the narcissist and others. FAQ62 deals with the inner reality of the narcissist which, alas, is immutable. The narcissist is a fossilized child or early adolescent. He is trapped in the amber of his own defence mechanisms against progressively more imaginary hurts. He is delusional and paranoid with strong sadistic impulses to control, to subsume, to revenge. This inner landscape is never-changing but, as some narcissists age - it is less and less exposed to the outside world.

NPD has been known (rarely) to have been cured through therapy (or, lately, through a combination of talk therapy and medication). As the narcissist gets in touch with his emotions and re-commences the hitherto stunted processes of growth - he experiences depression, fears and a depletion of energy. But this phase - if healing is successful - is transient and succeeded by maturation and learning to trust.

Narcissists do not trust anything and anyone. As long as the Narcissistic Supply continues to flow, they are with the supplier. When it ceases, they move on.

The relationship between the narcissist and his Supply Sources resembles the relationship between the drug addict and his pusher.

8. Inside, Outside

Language is the mirror of the soul. Most people use different linguistic styles either to:

  1. conform to a social role they assume or enhance it, or
  2. to accurately reflect an inner emotional state.

This distinction - between inside and outside - is lost on the narcissist.

The roles he acts ARE his inner states. He has only an outer shell with a void for a self. Hence the very frequent fluctuations in behaviour (including tone of voice and choice of vocabulary). The narcissist's behaviour and reactions are dictated by cues from the outside. These cues are numerous, inconsistent, rapid. The narcissist, as a result, is unpredictable, contradictory and startling. He is a reflection and nothing but a reflection.

9. How Does the Narcissist Perceive My Indifference to His Abuse?

He perceives this as aggression combined with stupidity. To him, you are not sufficiently intelligent to grasp his complex and cosmically important world. You are unaware of your transgressions and you are abstruse because you refuse to accept the narcissist's verdict regarding your behaviour and to learn from his penetrating insights and comprehension. When he idealizes you and you remain unmoved - you are frustrating and ingrate. When he devalues you and you ignore him - you are obstinate and deserving of even worse punishment. In short: you are infuriating because you won't be controlled.

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