Studying My Death: Narcissists and Their Own Mortality

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin


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I study death as one would an especially curious insect, part metal, part decomposing flesh. I am detached and cold as I contemplate my own demise. The death of others is but a statistic. I would have made a great American governor, or general, or statesman - sentencing people to a bureaucratic, emotionless, end. Death is a constant presence in my life, as I disintegrate from within and from without. It is no stranger, but a comforting horizon. I would not seek it actively - but I am often terrified by the abhorrent thought of immortality. I would have gladly lived forever as an abstract entity. But, as I am, ensconced in my decaying corpse, I would rather die on schedule.

Hence my aversion to suicide. I love life - its surprises, intellectual challenges, technological innovations, scientific discoveries, unsolved mysteries, diverse cultures and societies. In short, I like the cerebral dimensions of my existence. I reject only the corporeal ones. I am enslaved to my mind and enthralled by it. It is my body that I hold in increasing contempt.

While I fear not death - I do fear dying. The very thought of pain makes me dizzy. I am a confirmed hypochondriac. I go into a frenzy at the sight of my own blood. I react with asthma to stress. I don't mind BEING dead - I mind the torture of getting there. I loathe and dread prolonged, body dissolving, maladies such as cancer or diabetes.

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Yet none of this motivates me to maintain my health. I am obese. I do not exercise. I am internally inundated by cholesterol. My teeth crumble. My eyesight fails. I can barely hear when spoken to. I do nothing to ameliorate these circumstances beyond superstitiously popping assorted vitamin pills and drinking wine. I know I am rushing towards a crippling stroke, a devastating heart attack, or a diabetic meltdown.

But I keep still, hypnotized by the on-coming headlights of physical doom. I rationalize this irrational behaviour. My time, I argue with myself, is too precious to be wasted on jogging and muscle stretching. Anyhow it would do no good. The odds are overwhelmingly adverse. It is all determined by heredity.

I used to find my body sexually arousing - its pearly whiteness, its effeminate contours, the pleasure it yielded once stimulated. I no longer do. All self-eroticism was buried under the gellous, translucent, fat that is my constitution now. I hate my sweat - this salty adhesive that clings to me relentlessly. At least my scents are virile. Thus, I am not very attached to the vessel that contains me. I wouldn't mind to see it go. But I resent the farewell price - those protracted, bilious, and bloody agonies we call "passing away". Afflicted by death - I wish it only to be inflicted as painlessly and swiftly as possible. I wish to die as I have lived - detached, oblivious, absent minded, apathetic, and on my terms.

Narcissists as Patients and Survivors of Accidents

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When narcissists fall victim to chronic or acute diseases, or survive a traffic accident, they react in either of four typical ways, depending on the type of narcissist:

1. The schizotypal reaction: the belief that the narcissist's predicament is a part of a larger, cosmic plan, or of a blueprint that governs the narcissist's life and inexorably leads him to greatness and to the fulfillment of a mission.

2. Narcissistic rage intended to allay feelings of helplessness, loss of control, and impotence and to re-establish the narcissist's omnipotent, grandiose self.

This is frequently followed by a schizoid phase (withdrawal) and then by a manic spurt of activity, seeking narcissistic supply (attention).

Read these:

The Narcissist as a Machine

Grandiosity, Fantasies, and Narcissism

Narcissists and Emotions

Narcissists and Mood Disorders


3. The paranoid reaction: the narcissist deludes himself that the accident was no accident, someone is out to get him, etc. The narcissist casts himself in the role of a victim, usually in the framework of some grand design or conspiracy, or as the outcome of "fate" (again, a schizotypal element).

4. The masochistic reaction: in the wake of the illness or accident, the narcissist's constant anxiety is alleviated and he is relieved, having been "punished" properly for his inherent "evilness" and decadence.

Narcissists hate weak (sick) people and hate it even more when their source of narcissistic supply ceases to function properly. Most of them just move on: they abandon the sick spouse and find another, healthier one. Some of them play the role of martyrs, victims, selfless saints and thus garner narcissistic supply as they "treat" their bedridden spouse.

The permanently disabled narcissists adopt one or more of three strategies:

1. Exaggerated helplessness which justifies emotional blackmail and the kind of insidious dependence that cripples his caregivers;

2. Control freakery in a frenzied attempt to reassert his grandiose sense of omnipotence now gravely challenged by his invalidity;

3. Sadism which renders his victim as helpless as he is and as frustrated as he feels and, thus, “levels the playing field” and normalizes his disability ("everyone is helpless and frustrated so there is nothing really wrong with me, I am, after all, still perfect.")


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