Chronos and Narcissus: The Narcissist and His Protégés

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin


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Chronos cannibalized his own sons. He devoured them and cast away their remains. This is often what I feel like doing to my more successful protégés. Young people - and not so young - tend to look up to me, stick to me, emulate me, admire me - in short: they are perfect Sources of Narcissistic Supply. I reciprocate. I give them letters of introduction and recommendations suffused with unmitigated enthusiasm. I acquaint them with my business and academic contacts. I help them with their homework. I listen to their dilemmas and give direction to their life. I play the older brother, the friend, the confidant, and the sagacious teacher.

And it often works. They all succeed. They become ministers or bankers or authors or scholars. I then feel left behind, stuck in the proverbial mud that is my life, drowning in a grimy wave of envy and self-pity. I think to myself: I am better than they are - more intelligent and more experienced, more knowledgeable and more creative. Yet, they are there progressing inexorably - and I am here, regressing and decaying.

I consider the numerous chances I was given and how I blew them. The sponsors I eroded with my infantile indecisiveness and amateurish attitude. The businesses I drove to bankruptcy with my narcissistic temper tantrums and superiority contests. The clients and investors I lost to my procrastination, abuse, or treason. The friends who turned to enemies. The enemies who abandoned me in sheer revulsion. The fortunes I squandered, the disgrace of drunken speeches, my barren life - no love, no intimacy, no sex, no family, no children, no country, and no language. I disappointed my benefactors and lovers and well-wishers with glee. I cherished and revealed in my self-annihilation.

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A central pillar in my thinking unravels as I age. My intellect is not enough. Not only is it not half as rare or as refined as I imagined it to be - it is simply insufficient. It cannot secure my happiness, or safety, or longevity, or health. It cannot buy me love or friendship. I eke out a living - but that is it. I don't have what it takes. And what it takes is a combination of intelligence with many other things: with empathy, with team work, perseverance, honesty, integrity, stamina, a modicum of optimism, true assessment of reality, sense of proportion, the ability to love, selflessness in measure. Intelligence without these is cold and sterile. It gives birth to nothing but recursive exercises.

To be fully human, it takes much more than memory and analytic skills. In the absence of emotions and empathy, there is only artificial intelligence - a lame and pitiable simulation of the real thing. Artificial intelligence can beat chess masters and memorize entire encyclopaedias. It can blaze a trail of written articles. It can add, subtract, and multiply.

But it can never enjoy another person. It can never intertwine, or care, or warm its heart, or hope. It can produce some poems but never poetry. It is even deprived of the ability to feel lonely. And though it may fully grasp its own deficiencies - try as it may, it can never change. For it is artificial and synthetic - a fiction, a two-dimensional creation, a part and not a whole. It is a narcissist.


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