The Losses of the Narcissist

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin


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Narcissists are accustomed to loss. Their obnoxious personality and intolerable behaviours makes them lose friends and spouses, mates and colleagues, jobs and family. Their peripatetic nature, their constant mobility and instability causes them to lose everything else: their place of residence, their property, their businesses, their country, and their language.

There is always a locus of loss in the narcissist's life. He may be faithful to his wife and a model family man - but then he is likely to change jobs frequently and renege on his financial and social obligations. Or, he may be a brilliant achiever - scientist, doctor, CEO, actor, pastor, politician, journalist - with a steady, long term and successful career - but a lousy homemaker, thrice divorced, unfaithful, unstable, always on the lookout for better Narcissistic Supply.

The narcissist is aware of his propensity to lose everything that could have been of value, meaning, and significance in his life. If he is inclined to magical thinking and alloplastic defences, he blames life, or fate, or country, or his boss, or his nearest and dearest for his uninterrupted string of losses. Otherwise, he attributes it to people's inability to cope with his outstanding talents, towering intellect, or rare abilities. His losses, he convinces himself, are the outcomes of pettiness, pusillanimity, envy, malice, and ignorance. It would have turned out the same way even had he behaved differently, he consoles himself.

In time, the narcissist develops defence mechanisms against the inevitable pain and hurt he incurs with every loss and defeat. He ensconces himself in an ever thicker skin, an impenetrable shell, a make belief environment in which his sense of in-bred superiority and entitlement is preserved. He appears indifferent to the most harrowing and agonizing experiences, not human in his unperturbed composure, emotionally detached and cold, inaccessible, and invulnerable. Deep inside, he, indeed, feels nothing.

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Four years ago, I had to surrender my collections to my creditors (who then proceeded to loot them egregiously). Over ten years, I have painstakingly recorded thousands of movies, purchased thousands of books, vinyl records, CD's and CD-ROM's. The only copies of many of my manuscripts - hundreds of finished articles, five completed textbooks, poems - were lost as were all my press clippings. It was a great labour of love. But, when I gave all that away, I felt relief. I dream about my lost universe of culture and creativity from time to time. But that is it.

Losing my wife - with whom I spent nine years of my life - was devastating. I felt denuded and annulled. But once the divorce was over, I forgot about her completely. I deleted her memory so thoroughly that I very rarely think and never dream about her. I am never sad. I never stop to think "what if", to derive lessons, to obtain closure. I am not pretending, nor am I putting effort into this selective amnesia. It happened serendipitously, like a valve shut tight. I feel proud of this ability of mine to un-be.

The narcissist cruises through his life as a tourist would through an exotic island. He observes events and people, his own experiences and loved ones - as a spectator would a movie that at times is mildly exciting and at others mildly boring. He is never fully there, entirely present, irreversibly committed. He is constantly with one hand on his emotional escape hatch, ready to bail out, to absent himself, to re-invent his life in another place, with other people. The narcissist is a coward, terrified of his True Self and protective of the deceit that is his new existence. He feels no pain. He feels no love. He feels no life.


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