Narcissist, the Machine

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin


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“My mind is like a calculating machine.”

(Adolf Hitler)

I always think of myself as a machine. I say to myself things like "You have an amazing brain" or "You are not functioning today, your efficiency is low". I measure things, I constantly compare performance. I am acutely aware of time and how it is utilized. There is a meter in my head, it ticks and tocks, a metronome of self-reproach and grandiose assertions. I talk to myself in third person singular. It lends objectivity to what I think, as though it comes from an external source, from someone else. That low is my self-esteem that, to be trusted, I have to disguise myself, to hide myself from myself. It is the pernicious and all-pervasive art of unbeing.

I like to think about myself in terms of automata. There is something so aesthetically compelling in their precision, in their impartiality, in their harmonious embodiment of the abstract. Machines are so powerful and so emotionless, not prone to be hurting weaklings like me. Machines don't bleed. Often I find myself agonizing over the destruction of a laptop in a movie, as its owner is blown to smithereens as well. Machines are my folk and kin. They are my family. They allow me the tranquil luxury of unbeing.

And then there is data. My childhood dream of unlimited access to information has come true and I am the happiest for it. I have been blessed by the Internet. Information was power and not only figuratively.

Information was the dream, reality the nightmare. My knowledge was my flying info-carpet. It took me away from the slums of my childhood, from the atavistic social milieu of my adolescence, from the sweat and stench of the army - and into the perfumed existence of international finance and media exposure.

So, even in the darkness of my deepest valleys I was not afraid. I carried with me my metal constitution, my robot countenance, my superhuman knowledge, my inner timekeeper, my theory of morality and my very own divinity - myself.

When my ex-wife left me, I discovered the hollowness of it all. It was the first time that I experienced my True Self consciously. It was a void,  annulment, a gaping abyss, almost audible, an hellish iron fist gripping, tearing my chest apart. It was horror. A transubstantiation of my blood and flesh into something primordial and screaming.

It was then that I came to realized that my childhood was difficult. At the time, it seemed to me to be as natural as sunrise and as inevitable as pain.

But in hindsight, it was devoid of emotional expression and abusive to the extreme. I was not sexually abused - but I was physically, verbally and psychologically tormented for 16 years without one minute of respite.

Thus, I grew up to be a narcissist, a paranoid and a schizoid. At least that's what I wanted to believe. Narcissists have alloplastic defences - they tend to blame others for their troubles. In this case, psychological theory itself was on my side. The message was clear: people who are abused in their formative years (0-6) tend to adapt by developing personality disorders, amongst them the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I was absolved, an unmitigated relief.

I want to tell you how much I am afraid of pain. To me, it is a pebble in Indra's Net - lift it and the whole net revives. My pains do not come isolated - they live in families of anguish, in tribes of hurt, whole races of agony. I cannot experience them insulated from their kin. They rush to drown me through the demolished floodgates of my childhood. These floodgates, my inner dams - this is my narcissism, there to contain the ominous onslaught of stale emotions, repressed rage, a child's injuries.

(continued below)


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Pathological narcissism is useful - this is why it is so resilient and resistant to change. When it is "invented" by the tormented individual - it enhances his functionality and makes life bearable for him. Because it is so successful, it attains religious dimensions - it become rigid, doctrinaire, automatic and ritualistic. In other words, it becomes a PATTERN of behaviour.

I am a narcissist and I can feel this rigidity as though it were an outer shell. It constrains me. It limits me. It is often prohibitive and inhibitive. I am afraid to do certain things. I am injured or humiliated when forced to engage in certain activities. I react with rage when the mental edifice supporting my disorder is subjected to scrutiny and criticism - no matter how benign.

Narcissism is ridiculous. I am pompous, grandiose, repulsive and contradictory. There is a serious mismatch between who I really am and what I really achieved - and how I feel myself to be. It is not that I THINK that I am far superior to other humans intellectually. Thought implies volition - and willpower is not involved here. My superiority is ingrained in me, it is a part of my every mental cell, an all-pervasive sensation, an instinct and a drive. I feel that I am entitled to special treatment and outstanding consideration because I am such a unique specimen. I know this to be true - the same way you know that you are surrounded by air. It is an integral part of my identity. More integral to me than my body.

This opens a gap - rather, an abyss - between me and other humans. Because I consider myself so special, I have no way of knowing how it is to be THEM.

In other words, I cannot empathize. Can you empathize with an ant? Empathy implies identity or equality, both abhorrent to me. And being so inferior, people are reduced to cartoonish, two-dimensional representations of functions. They become instrumental or useful or functional or entertaining - rather than loving or interacting emotionally. It leads to ruthlessness and exploitativeness. I am not a bad person - actually, I am a good person. I have helped people - many people - all my life. So, I am not evil. What I am is indifferent. I couldn't care less. I help people because it is a way to secure attention, gratitude, adulation and admiration. And because it is the fastest and surest way to get rid of them and their incessant nagging.

I realize these unpleasant truths cognitively - but there is no corresponding emotional reaction (emotional correlate) to this realization.

There is no resonance. It is like reading a boring users' manual pertaining to a computer you do not even own. It is like watching a movie about yourself. There is no insight, no assimilation of these truths. When I write this now, I feel like writing the script of a mildly interesting docudrama.

It is not I.

Still, to further insulate myself from the improbable possibility of confronting these facts - the gulf between reality and grandiose fantasy (the Grandiosity Gap, in my writings) - I came up with the most elaborate mental structure, replete with mechanisms, levers, switches and flickering alarm lights. My narcissism does two things for me - it always did:

  1. Isolate me from the pain of facing reality;
  1. Allow me to inhabit the fantasyland of ideal perfection and brilliance.

These once-vital function are bundled in what is known to psychologists as my "False Self".


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