The Embarrassing Narcissist

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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I was convinced that I possess an unerring sense of rhythm until my wife told me I had none. I thought that my comments, observations, and insights are original and pithy - until I discovered that I am numbingly verbose, repetitive, and coarse. I attributed to myself a great sense of humour until I re-read some of my writings and found how convoluted and dull my pitiful efforts at being witty were. To my mind, my prose was arabesque but lucid and incisive. I have since learned that it is no such thing.

This utter lack of self-awareness is typical of the narcissist. He is intimate only with his False Self, constructed meticulously from years of lying and deceit. The narcissist's True Self is stashed, dilapidated and dysfunctional, in the furthest recesses of his mind. The False Self is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, creative, ingenious, irresistible, and glowing. The narcissist often isn't.

Add combustible paranoia to the narcissist's divorce from himself - and his constant and recurrent failure to assess reality fairly is more understandable. The narcissist overpowering sense of entitlement is rarely commensurate with his accomplishments in his real life or with his traits.

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When the world fails to comply with his demands and to support his grandiose fantasies, the narcissist suspects a plot against him by his inferiors.

The narcissist rarely admits to a weakness, ignorance, or deficiency. He filters out information to the contrary - a cognitive impairment with serious consequences. Narcissists are likely to unflinchingly make inflated and inane claims about their sexual prowess, wealth, connections, history, or achievements.

All this is mighty embarrassing to the narcissist's nearest, dearest, colleagues, friends, neighbours, even on-lookers. The narcissist's tales are so patently absurd that he often catches people off-guard. Unbeknownst to him, the narcissist is derided and mockingly imitated. He fast makes a nuisance and an imposition of himself in every company.

But the narcissist's failure of the reality test can have more serious and irreversible consequences. Narcissists, academically unqualified to make life-and-death decisions often insist on rendering them. I "treated" my father for muscular pain for five days at home. All that time, he was enduring a massive heart attack. My vanity wouldn't let me admit my diagnostic error. He survived. Many others don't.

Narcissists pretend to be economists, engineers, or medical doctors - when they are not. But they are not con-artists in the classic, premeditated sense. They firmly believe that, though self-taught at best, they are more qualified than even the properly accredited sort. Narcissists believe in magic and in fantasy. They are no longer with us.


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