How I "Became" a Narcissist

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin


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I remember the day I died. Almost did. We were in a tour of Jerusalem. Our guide was the Deputy Chief Warden. We wore our Sunday best suits - stained dark blue, abrasive jeans shirts tucked in tattered trousers. I could think of nothing but Nomi. She left me two months after my incarceration. She said that my brain did not excite her as it used to. We were sitting on what passed as a grassy knoll in prison and she was marble cold and firm. This is why, during the trip to Jerusalem, I planned to grab the Warden's gun and kill myself.

Death has an asphyxiating, all-pervasive presence and I could hardly breathe. It passed and I knew that I had to find out real quick what was wrong with me - or else.

How I obtained access to psychology books and to Internet from the inside of one of Israel's more notorious jails, is a story unto itself. In this film noire, this search of my dark self, I had very little to go on, no clues and no Della Street by my side. I had to let go - yet I never did and did not know how.

I forced myself to remember, threatened by the immanent presence of the Grim Reaper. I fluctuated between shattering flashbacks and despair. I wrote cathartic short fiction. I published it. I remember holding myself, white knuckles clasping an aluminum sink, about to throw up as I am flooded with images of violence between my parents, images that I repressed to oblivion. I cried a lot, uncontrollably, convulsively, gazing through tearful veils at the monochrome screen.

The exact moment I found a description of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder is etched in my mind. I felt engulfed in word-amber, encapsulated and frozen. It was suddenly very quiet and very still. I met myself. I saw the enemy and it was I.

The article was long winded and full of references to scholars I never heard of before: Kernberg, Kohut, Klein. It was a foreign language that resounded, like a forgotten childhood memory. It was I to the last repellent details, described in uncanny accuracy: grandiose fantasies of brilliance and perfection, sense of entitlement without commensurate achievements, rage, exploitation of others, lack of empathy.

(continued below)


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I had to learn more. I knew I had the answer. All I had to do was find the right questions.

That day was miraculous. Many strange and wonderful things happened. I saw people - I SAW them. And I had a glimmer of understanding regarding my self - this disturbed, sad, neglected, insecure and ludicrous things that passed for me.

It was the first important realization - there were two of us. I was not alone inside my body.

One was an extrovert, facile, gregarious, attention-consuming, adulation-dependent, charming, ruthless and manic-depressive being. The other was schizoid, shy, dependent, phobic, suspicious, pessimistic, dysphoric and helpless creature - a kid, really.

I began to observe these two alternating. The first (whom I called Ninko Leumas - an anagram of the Hebrew spelling of my name) would invariably appear to interact with people. It didn't feel like putting a mask on or like I had another personality. It was just like I am MORE me. It was a caricature of the TRUE me, of Shmuel.

Shmuel hated people. He felt inferior, physically repulsive and socially incompetent. Ninko also hated people. He held them in contempt. THEY were inferior to his superior qualities and skills. He needed their admiration but he resented this fact and he accepted their offerings condescendingly.

As I pieced my fragmented and immature self together I began to see that Shmuel and Ninko were flip sides of the SAME coin. Ninko seemed to be trying to compensate Shmuel, to protect him, to isolate him from hurt and to exact revenge whenever he failed. At this stage I was not sure who was manipulating who and I did not have the most rudimentary acquaintance with this vastly rich continent I discovered inside me.

But that was only the beginning.


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