Excerpts from the Archives of the Narcissism List - Part 45

Listowner: Dr. Sam Vaknin


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1. Alloplastic Defenses and Magical Thinking

Alloplastic defenses are an integral and important part of most personality disorders (and all Cluster B PDs). Yet, personality disorders are frequently co-morbid with other mental health disorders where autoplastic defenses are more prominent. Additionally, magical thinking - common to Cluster B PDs and to the Schizotypal PD - often intervenes.

Narcissists think: "I am immune, I am untouchable, nothing can happen to me, I am a perfectly functioning machine". It is like an incantation.

But there is also the opposite kind of magical thinking.

Instead of saying "I am perfect - but the Universe (or God) is against me", people with developed magical thinking might think: "I attract bad luck, I am a magnet for mishaps and bad fortune". But, in both cases, it is the Universe, or God, or Society, or Something Outside the patient that is to blame for the patient's misfortune. The patient's failures and misadventures are none of his responsibility or fault. He is - in both cases - passive, the victim of a persecutory world.

2. Perceiving Others

Narcissistic psychopaths have no friends, or lovers, or spouses, or children, or family - they have only objects to be manipulated.

Narcissists have no problem perceiving ideas (many narcissists are intellectually gifted). But they do have a problem perceiving other people's ability to conceive of ideas, to have their own needs, emotions, and preference. Wouldn't you be startled if your television set suddenly informed you that it would rather not work on a Sunday? Or if your vacuum cleaner wanted to befriend you?

To narcissists, other people are instruments, tools, sources - in short: objects. Objects are not supposed to have opinions or to make independent choices and decisions - especially if they don't comply with the narcissist's worldview or plans, or if they do not cater to his needs.

3. Sources of Supply

Narcissists feel so bad when abandoned or confronted - this is called narcissistic injury or narcissistic wound - that it prompts them either to coerce you back into an imagined relationship (stalking) - or to delete you altogether from their mind and history (discard and devalue).

Yet, compelled by their addiction - by the inexorable need to regulate their labile sense of self-worth - narcissists cannot remain for long without Sources of Narcissistic Supply. So they move on to the next source in lightning speed.

But narcissists/psychopaths rarely abandon a Source of Supply. He may be keeping you on ice, part of his "stable", a reserve - and will re-emerge when he is in need of a dose of Narcissistic Supply and all other sources have been depleted.

4. The Eye of the Psychopathic Storm

Contrary to misinformed opinion, all narcissists and psychopaths maintain a stable island in their otherwise tumultuous lives. It could be a job, a mother, an ideology, an imagined lover (erotomania), a collection, a hobby, an object (car or house), or even a pet.

Stalking is about maintaining this "eye of the storm" and about possessing it. The stalker exerts control over the prey's life by intruding and, thus, by intimidating. To him, fear equals possession and possession equals "love". Being ambivalent about women, the stalker has swings between the Saint and the Whore views of womanhood.

To the sick mind of the stalker, a "no" is never a "no". It is proof that you want further contact or that you don't know what is good for you or that you want him so much that you are denying it or that it is actually a yes.

5. Splitting and Choice

Splitting involves no choice. It is an automatic defense in which bad traits are attributed to a "bad object" (devaluation) and "good qualities" to a "good object" (idealization).

Writing off a narcissist or a psychopath is a personal, deliberate, cognitive choice. Society, at large, does not "give up" on them. It offers them therapy, rehabilitation, medication, jobs, and community services. But each individual must makes decision whether to invest in a narcissist or a psychopath - or in someone who is neither. Some people prefer the former.

(continued below)


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6. Personality Traits or Styles and Personality Disorders

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision [Washington DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000] defines "personality" as:

"…enduring patterns of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and oneself … exhibited in a wide range of important social and personal contexts."

The difference between having a personality and having a personality disorder is not in degree - but in flexibility. Personality disorders are rigid patterns of perceiving and reacting to people and to events. It takes concerted and intensive intervention (therapy and medication)  to alter them (even to an imperceptible degree). As a result of this pathological straitjacket, people with personality disorders are dysfunctional. "Normal" personalities adapt much faster and more easily to changes in external circumstances, to new demands, new people and new situations.

Patients with personality disorders share certain characteristics:

1.     Except those suffering from the Schizoid or the Avoidant Personality Disorders, they are insistent and demand preferential and privileged treatment. They complain about numerous symptoms, though they frequently second guess the diagnosis and disobey the physician, his treatment recommendations and instructions.

2.     They feel unique, are affected with grandiosity and a diminished capacity for empathy. Consequently, they regard the physician as inferior to them, alienate him and bore him with their self-preoccupation.

3.     They are manipulative and exploitative, trust no one and find it difficult to love or share. They are socially maladaptive and emotionally labile.

4.     Disturbed cognitive and, mainly, emotional development peaks in adolescence.

5.     Personality disorders are stable and all-pervasive – not episodic or transient. They affect all the dimensions of the patient's life: his career, his interpersonal relationships, his social functioning.

6.     Though the patient is sometimes depressed and suffers from mood and anxiety disorders - defenses - splitting, projection, projective identification, denial, intellectualization - are so strong, that the patient is unaware of the reasons for his distress. The character problems, behavioral deficits and emotional deficiencies and instability encountered by the patient with personality disorder are, mostly, ego-syntonic. This means that the patient does not, on the whole, find his personality traits or behavior objectionable, unacceptable, disagreeable, or alien to his self.

7.     The patient is prone to suffer from other psychiatric disturbances, both personality disorders and Axis I disorders ("co-morbidity"). Substance abuse and reckless behaviors are also common ("dual diagnosis").

8.     Defenses are alloplastic: patients tend to blame the external world for their misfortune and failures. In stressful situations, they try to preempt a (real or imaginary) threat, change the rules of the game, introduce new variables, or otherwise influence the external world to conform to their needs.

9.     The personality-disordered are not psychotic. They have no hallucinations, delusions or thought disorders (except those who suffer from a Borderline Personality Disorder and who experience brief psychotic "microepisodes", mostly during treatment). They are also fully oriented, with clear senses (sensorium), good memory and general fund of knowledge.

7. Toxic Relationships

Many things bind people together: love, fear of abandonment, pity, memories (nostalgia), or dependence.

With the exception of love, the other motivations I mentioned are shaky and unhealthy grounds for a long-term relationships.

But easier said than done. You evidently KNOW that you should let him go - but you do not FEEL it. What you feel is possessiveness, pity, (abandonment) anxiety, and the risk of losing your emotional investment (in the "rescue" operation).

The fact that you had bailed out of previous relationships demonstrates a PATTERN of instability in your relationships. You seem to knowingly commit yourself to unsustainable liaisons, predicting full-well their ultimate demise. These are self-defeating behaviors.

Such deep set issues require protracted professional help.

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