The Narcissist's Grandiosity Deconstructed

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin


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Sometimes I find myself bemused (though rarely amused) by my own grandiosity. Not by my fantasies - they are common to many "normal people".

It is healthy to daydream and fantasize. It is the antechamber of life and its circumstances. It is a process of preparing for eventualities, embellished and decorated. No, I am talking about feeling grandiose.

This feeling has four components.

Omnipotence

I believe that I will live forever. "Believe" in this context is a weak word. I know. It is a cellular certainty, almost biological, it flows with my blood and permeates every niche of my being. I can do anything I choose to do and excel in it. What I do, what I excel at, what I achieve depends only on my volition. There is no other determinant. Hence my rage when confronted with disagreement or opposition - not only because of the audacity of my, evidently inferior, adversary. But because it threatens my world view, it endangers my feeling of omnipotence. I am fatuously daring, adventurous, experimentative and curious precisely due to this hidden assumption of "can-do". I am genuinely surprised and devastated when I fail, when the Universe does not arrange itself, magically, to accommodate my unlimited powers, when it (and people in it) does not comply with my whims and wishes. I often deny such discrepancies, delete them from my memory. As a result, my life is remembered as a patchy quilt of unrelated events.

Omniscience

Until very recently I pretended to know everything - I mean EVERYTHING, in every field of human knowledge and endeavour. I lied and invented to avoid proof of my ignorance. I pretended to know and resorted to numerous subterfuges to support my God-like omniscience (reference books hidden in my clothes, frequent visits to the restroom, cryptic notation or sudden illness, if all else failed). Where my knowledge failed me - I feigned authority, faked superiority, quoted from non-existent sources, embedded threads of truth in a canvass of falsehoods. I transformed myself into an artist of intellectual prestidigitation. As I advanced in age, this invidious quality has receded, or, rather, metamorphosed. I now claim more confined expertise. I am not ashamed to admit my ignorance and need to learn outside the fields of my self-proclaimed expertise. But this "improvement" is merely optical. Within my "territory", I am still as fiercely defensive and possessive as I have ever been. And I am still an avowed autodidact, unwilling to subject my knowledge and insights to peer scrutiny, or, for this matter, to any scrutiny. I keep re-inventing myself, adding new fields of knowledge as I go: finance, economics, psychology, philosophy, physics, politics... This crawling intellectual annexation is a round about way of reverting to my old image as the erudite "Renaissance Man".

(continued below)


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Omnipresence

Even I - the master of self-deception - cannot pretend that I am everywhere at once in the PHYSICAL sense. Instead, I feel that I am the centre and the axis of my Universe, that all things and happenstances revolve around me and that disintegration would ensue if I were to disappear or to lose interest in someone or in something. I am convinced, for instance, that I am the main, if not the only, topic of discussion in my absence. I am often surprised and offended to learn that I was not even mentioned. When invited to a meeting with many participants, I assume the position of the sage, the guru, or the teacher/guide whose words survive his physical presence. My books, articles and Web sites are extensions of my presence and, in this restricted sense, I do seem to exist everywhere. In other words, I "stamp" my environment. I "leave my mark" upon it. I "stigmatise" it.

Narcissist the Omnivore (Perfectionism and Completeness)

There is another "omni" component in grandiosity. The narcissist is an omnivore. It devours and digests experiences and people, sights and smells, bodies and words, books and films, sounds and achievements, his work and his leisure, his pleasure and his possessions. The narcissist is incapable of ENJOYING anything because he is in constant pursuit of the twin attainments of perfection and completeness. Classic narcissists interact with the world as predators would with their prey. They want to do it all, own it all, be everywhere, experience everything. They cannot delay gratification. They do not accept "no" for an answer. And they settle for nothing less than the ideal, the sublime, the perfect, the all-inclusive, the all-encompassing, the engulfing, the all-pervasive, the most beautiful, the cleverest, the richest. The narcissist is shattered by discovering that a collection he possesses is incomplete, that his colleague's wife is more glamorous, that his son is better than he in math, that his neighbour has a new, impressive car, that his roommate got promoted, that the "love of his life" signed a recording contract. It is not plain old jealousy, not even pathological envy (though it is definitely a part of the psychological make-up of the narcissist). It is the discovery that the narcissist is NOT perfect, or ideal, or complete - that does him in.


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