The Sad Dreams of the Narcissist

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin


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I dream of my childhood. And in my dreams we are again one big unhappy family. I sob in my dreams, I never do when I am awake. When I am awake, I am dry, I am hollow, mechanically bent upon the maximization of Narcissistic Supply. When asleep, I am sad. The all-pervasive, engulfing melancholy of somnolence. I wake up sinking, converging on a black hole of screams and pain. I withdraw in horror. I don't want to go there. I cannot go there.

People often mistake depression for emotion. They say: "But you are sad" and they mean: "But you are human", "But you have emotions". And this is wrong.

True, depression is a big component in a narcissist's emotional make-up. But it mostly has to do with the absence of Narcissistic Supply.

It mostly has to do with nostalgia to more plentiful days, full of adoration and attention and applause. It mostly occurs after the narcissist has depleted his Secondary Source of Narcissistic Supply (spouse, mate, girlfriend, colleagues) for a "replay" of his days of glory. Some narcissists even cry - but they cry exclusively for themselves and for their lost paradise. And they do so conspicuously and publicly - to attract attention.

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The narcissist is a human pendulum hanging by the thread of the void that is his False Self. He swings between brutal and vicious abrasiveness - and mellifluous, saccharine sentimentality. It is all a simulacrum. A verisimilitude. A facsimile. Enough to fool the casual observer. Enough to extract the drug - other people's glances - the reflection that sustains this house of cards somehow.

But the stronger and more rigid the defenses - and nothing is more resilient than narcissism - the bigger and deeper the hurt they aim to compensate for.

One's narcissism stands in direct relation to the seething abyss and the devouring vacuum that one harbors in one's True Self.

I know it's there. I catch glimpses of it when I am tired, when I hear music, when reminded of an old friend, a scene, a sight, a smell. I know it is awake when I am asleep. I know that it subsists of pain - diffuse and inescapable. I know my sadness. I have lived with it and I have encountered it full force.

Perhaps I choose narcissism, as I have been "accused". And if I do, it is a rational choice of self-preservation and survival. The paradox is that being a self-loathing narcissist may be the only act of self-love I have ever committed.

Read A Dream Interpreted - click HERE!

Two Dreams (Night of November 6/7, 2006)

I dreamt that I am a child. I am surrounded by family members who pay scant attention to me. They go about their bustling daily lives and I merely exist on the fringes of their awareness. Suddenly I notice a pure white bird, a cross between a seagull and a quail or a magpie. It is strutting on a cabinet shelf, turning itself into an impeccably shaped ball and rolling with brio among the statuettes and vases. I finally succeed to draw attention to myself by pointing to this magical bird and its nigh-impossible exploits. The fowl does nothing of value or utility - but it still garners narcissistic supply for me. This bird is my pathological narcissism.

Seamlessly and gradually, the bird metamorphoses into a swallow - plain, grey, small, and inconspicuous. Still, it is far more clever and useful than its erstwhile transformation. It fulfills functions: it cleans the house, it turns electrical appliances on and off, it even communicates, perhaps via telepathy.

Despite the fact that the sparrow - the drab adult incarnation of the flamboyant seagull-quail - is helpful and charitable, the adults around me reject it cruelly and consign it to the weather-beaten porch, behind a glass partition. The swallow is baffled; why is it being so punished? It tries to prove its merit by sweeping clean with a broom the entire balcony. To no avail.

I point out to the adults how incredible this tiny bird is and how productive. "See how it has scrubbed the verandah sparkling shine!" - I implore. But they are uninterested. I stare at my hyper-intelligent bird, deeply pained and sad. I know that I will never ever have a bird like this again: so clever, so industrious, so functional. I can communicate with it from now on only through a glass darkly. And one day she surely would be gone.

When narcissists grow old, society forces them to let go of major facets of their hitherto unbridled pathological narcissism. This coerced transfiguration makes them very sad, angry and bitter. Narcissists find it difficult to give up their narcissism. They are shocked by the fact that they no are no longer able to attract attention and adulation to themselves (to their magic birds). They then realize that their True Self (the child) is immature and helpless and their False Self (the bird) is a social outcast.

In my second dream, there was a black kid. He inhabited a tiny cubicle, crammed to the ceiling with books, amongst them, prominently displayed, my tome, "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited". This leads me to believe that this child is I, the author. But why black? And why a child? I am a white, middle-aged male.

Blacks were discriminated against, excommunicated, and persecuted throughout their sad history as slaves in the Americas and as natives under colonial administrations. I feel like that: a freak, shunned by one and all and victimized by "normal people". My True Self (that does the dreaming) is an immature child.

The child is despondent and depressed. He shuts himself in his room and refuses to eat or drink and, most alarmingly, won't even touch his precious books. A procession of adults gently force themselves into his living space in order to cheer him up. Among them is a white cheerleader (adolescent girl), beating a drum and blowing a trumpet and a colored magician with a top hat. They represent my defense mechanisms: narcissism (the cheerleader) and magical thinking (the magician).

The child in the dream is instantly reassured and uplifted by their presence. He says to himself: How wonderful for any kid to be surrounded by such support and love. My defense mechanisms, including my pathological narcissism, keep me alive. I need them in order to survive and function. By ignoring them or trying to suppress them, I place myself at risk.

A Dream (Night of May 8/9, 2009)

Throughout my dream life, Nazism (the regime, its operatives, and its visual manifestations) represented my mental health disorder, the rot that is my being.

In my dream, a squadron of high-ranking Nazis invades my rented apartment with the aim of confiscating my collections (mainly books I had packed in cardboard boxes and stashed in what passed for storage space in my real abode in Israel many years ago). The physical premises in the dream are a combination between my parents' house and the apartment I shared with my first wife. In other words: they represent the entirety of my life.

As they roam my home, fingering objects and evaluating them, I desperately try to explain to the them that I have abstained from other expenses to be able to afford my prized possessions. They ignore my pleas as they boisterously participate in the hustle and bustle, climbing up and down stairs and calling to each other. It then occurs to me that I envy Hitler who remains untouchable despite his vast library. Despite the dire circumstances, I am still hopeful that my things will be returned to me, unmolested, once the misunderstanding that is at the base of these ominous proceedings is cleared up.

Thus, even in my dream, I realize how my disease is set dead against everything I love and cherish: my privacy, my person, my learning, and the accumulated goods that make an existence. My narcissism is all-pervasive, hideously energetic, tyrannical, and unfair. It is a malignant manifestation of my self-destructive and self-defeating urges.

A senior Nazi orders me to join an SS doctor-officer in his rounds as he compiles an inventory of tangibles in the neighborhood. There are two of us detailed to this ostensibly pedestrian mission: myself and a street-wise and resourceful child whose face I never see, but whose presence is clear. His cheer and acumen immediately render him my competitor. It is clear that only one of us will survive.

This impish child is my True Self and to outlive my disorder (my Nazi tormentors), I have to eliminate him. The only way to come on top is to demonstrate to our indifferent slavemaster how profoundly and overwhelmingly more intelligent I am. I want to make it worth the SS officer's while to keep me alive, even as he sacrifices my co-worker. In other words: terrified by my sickness, I choose to become the False Self.

I have a stomach-churning four-pronged epiphany right there and then: (1) This ordeal is not going to end soon; (2) I have to make it to the end of the War (another 2 years, as the dream inexplicably takes place in 1943); (3) As death is administered randomly and off-handedly by the Nazis, my chances to survive are not good; (4) I am ill-equipped to cope in an environment that values practical, or somatic skills above intellectual achievements and capacities.

The three of us proceed from one backyard to another, taking stock of all the physical objects in them. As we progress, I commit a mistake and the SS man notices it. Endowed with the gifts of gab and blarney, I assure him that it was intentional and that he has nothing to worry about, he can leave it all to me. "If this happens again, feel free to torture me!" - I protest to his bemusement. He seems skeptical, but doesn't put a bullet through the back of my skull, as I dreaded he would.

The tour ends at a familiar site: the lane of semi-detacheds, among which is my grandparents'. The entire row of dilapidated houses (in reality, long demolished) is enclosed within a wire fence. The objects strewn in the weed-grown backyards are borrowed from my childhood. The door to my grandparents' unit is ajar. The great commotion inside indicates that this is the Headquarters of the Nazis (read: where my disease originated). My streetwise and resourceful colleague enters it and at first I can hear his voice, but then it ceases. I know that he is dead.

The SS-officer turns to me and says: "It's time to complete the ethics chapter of our report". I seethe inside: "The hypocrite! What do the Nazis have to do with ethics?" Something in me, a sliver of sanity, rebels against the inane demands of my disorder and is revolted by its confabulated fakery. I flip through the notepad that we have used to take the inventory and mutely indicate that it has run out of empty pages. The officer dives into an inner vest pocket and emerges with a cheap, blue plastic-bound diary. He searches for an empty leaf. As he turns the pages, I notice handwritten comments about the genocidal activities of various "gangs".

Next I know, the SS doctor is holding a baby in his arms, examining it in a clinically-aloof but thorough manner. The boy is deformed: the skin on the right side of his face is covered with a patchwork of purplish scales; his lips are bumpy; his eyes wander aimlessly, unfocused and dim.

The doctor takes meticulous notes and then rises from his crouch, the baby cooing, still in his embrace. He enters my grandparents' house, I hear a shot and the baby's pale body is hurled on top of a heap of still corpses in the garden.


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