The Opaque Mirror: Narcissists Face Reality

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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I cannot confront my life - that dreary, aimless, unpromising stream of days and nights and days. I am past my prime - a pitiable figure, a has been who never was, a loser and a failure (and not only by my inflated standards). These facts are hard enough to face when one is not burdened with a grandiose False Self and a sadistic inner voice (Superego). I have both.

So, when asked what do I do for a living, I say that I am a columnist and analyst (I am neither - I am a Senior Business Correspondent for United Press International - UPI. In other words, a glorified hack).

I say that I am a successful author (I am far from one). I say that I was the Economic Advisor to the government. True, I was - but at long last I was fired, having pushed my client to the point of nervous breakdown with my endless tantrums and labile fickleness.

But these lies - both outright and borderline - are known to me as such. I can tell the difference between reality and fantasy. I choose fantasy knowingly and consciously - but it doesn't render me oblivious to my true condition.

There is a different sort of self-deception which runs much deeper. It is more pernicious and all-pervasive. It is better at disguising itself as true and veritable. In the absence of outside help and reflection, I can never tell when (and how) I am self- deluded.

On the whole, I am that rarity, the reification of that oxymoron, the self-aware narcissist. I know that my teeth are rotten, my breath is bad, my flesh is flabby. I recognize my preposterous pomposity, my tortured syntax, my often disordered thinking, my compulsions, my obsessions, my regressions, my intellectual mediocrity, my perverted and melancholy sexuality. I know that my cognition is distorted and my emotions thwarted.

What appears to me to be genuine achievements - are often grandiose fantasies. What I take to be admiration - is mockery. I am not loved - I am exploited. And when I am loved - I exploit. I feel entitled - for no good reason. I feel superior - with no commensurate traits or achievements. I know all this. I have written about it extensively. I have expounded about it a thousand times.

And, yet, I keep getting surprised when confronted with reality. My feelings are hurt, my narcissism injured, my self-esteem shaken, my rage provoked.

One becomes aware of one's place in various hierarchies - some implicit, some explicit - through social interactions. One learns that one is not alone in this world, one gets rid of the solipsistic and infantile "I am the (centre of the) world" point of view. The more one meets people - the more one becomes aware of one's relative skills and accomplishment.

In other words, one develops empathy (see: http://samvak.tripod.com/empathy.html).

But the narcissist's social range and repertoire are often limited. The narcissist alienates people. Many narcissists are schizoids (see: http://samvak.tripod.com/faq67.html). They interactions with others are stunted, partial, distorted, and misleading.

They learn the wrong lessons from the dearth of their social encounters. They are unable to realistically evaluate themselves, their skills, their achievements, their rights and privileges, and their expectations. They retreat to fantasy, denial, and self-delusion. They become rigid and their personality becomes disordered.

(continued below)


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The other day, I said to one of my fiancée's girlfriends, full of my usual hubris: "Do you think I am a spy?" (i.e., mysterious, romantic, dark, clever). She looked at me disdainfully and responded: "Frankly, you remind me more of a shopkeeper than a spy".

I am a graphomaniac. I write prolifically about every subject, near and far. I post my work on Web sites and discussion lists, I submit it to the media, I publish it in books, I like to believe that I will be remembered by it. But people mostly find my essays lacking - the verbosity, the triteness, the convolutions of argumentation which often lead to a syllogistic dead-end.

It is when I write about the mundane that I excel. My political and economic columns are reasonable, though by no means spectacular and often in need of thorough editing. My few analytic pieces are good. Some of my poems are excellent. Many of my journal entries are praiseworthy. My work about narcissism is helpful, though badly written. The rest - the bulk of my writing - is trash.

Yet, I respond with outrage and shock when people tell me that. I attribute their well meant words to envy. I reject it fiercely. I counter-attack. I draw my bridges and ensconce myself in a shell of indignation. I know better. I am farsighted, a giant among intellectual dwarves, the tortured genius. The alternative is too painful to contemplate.

I like to think of myself as menacing. I like to think that I impress others with my clout and might. The other day someone said to me: "You know, you want to believe that you are frightening, you want to deter, to instill fear. But when you rage - you are merely being hysterical. It has the opposite effect. It is counter-productive."

I nurture my self-image as a machine: efficient, relentless, industrious, emotionless, reliable, and precise. I am always taken aback when people tell me that I am exceptionally emotional, that I am ruled by my feelings, that I am hyper-sensitive, that I have clear borderline traits.

Once, in response to a contemptuous remark I made about someone (call him "Joe"), his friend retorted: "Joe is cleverer than you because he makes more money than you. If you are so clever and efficient - how come you so poor?"

"I am not as corrupt as he" - I responded - "I wouldn't act as criminally and in collusion with the local venal politicians". I felt self-righteous and triumphant. I really BELIEVED in what I said. I felt indignant and infuriated by Joe's nefarious acts (of which I had no knowledge, nor any proof).

Joe's friend looked at me, not comprehending.

"But, in the last two years, you have served as advisor to these very venal politicians. Joe never worked with them as directly as you did" - she said softly - "And you did spend a year in jail for white collar crimes. Joe never did. What gives you the right to cast the first stone at him?"

There was sad amazement in her voice. And pity. A great pity.


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