Conspicuous Existence: Narcissism and Omnipresence

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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The narcissist is a shell. Uncertain of his own reality, he engages in "conspicuous existence".

"Conspicuous existence" is a form of "conspicuous consumption", in which the consumed commodity is Narcissistic Supply. The narcissist elaborately stage manages his very being. His every movement, his tone of voice, his inflection, his poise, his text and subtext and context are carefully orchestrated to yield the maximum effect and to garner the most attention.

Narcissists appear to be unpleasantly deliberate. They are somehow "wrong", like automata gone awry. They are too human, or too inhuman, or too modest, or too haughty, or too loving, or too cold, or too empathic, or too stony, or too industrious, or too casual, or too enthusiastic, or too indifferent, or too courteous, or too abrasive.

They are excess embodied. They act their part and their acting shows. Their show invariably unravels at the seams under the slightest stress. Their enthusiasm is always manic, their emotional expression unnatural, their body language defies their statements, their statements belie their intentions, their intentions are focused on the one and only drug - securing Narcissistic Supply from other people.

The narcissist authors his life and scripts it. To him, time is the medium upon which he, the narcissist, records the narrative of his recherché biography. He is, therefore, always calculated, as though listening to an inner voice, to a "director", or a "choreographer" of his unfolding history. His speech is tumid. His motion stunted. His emotional palette, a mockery of true countenances.

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But the narcissist's constant invention of his self is not limited to outward appearances.

The narcissist does nothing and says nothing - or even thinks nothing - without first having computed the quantity of Narcissistic Supply his actions, utterances, or thoughts may yield. The visible narcissist is the tip of a gigantic, submerged, iceberg of seething reckoning. The narcissist is incessantly engaged in energy draining gauging of other people and their possible reactions to him. He estimates, he counts, he weighs and measures, he determines, evaluates, and enumerates, compares, despairs, and re-awakens. His fatigued brain is bathed with the drowning noise of stratagems and fears, rage and envy, anxiety and relief, addiction and rebellion, meditation and pre-meditation. The narcissist is a machine which never rests, not even in his dreams, and it has one purpose only - the securing and maximization of Narcissistic Supply.

Small wonder the narcissist is tired. His exhaustion is all-pervasive and all-consuming. His mental energy depleted, the narcissist can hardly empathize with others,  love, or experience emotions. "Conspicuous Existence" malignantly replaces "real existence". The myriad, ambivalent, forms of life are supplanted by the single obsession-compulsion of being seen, being observed, being reflected, being by proxy, through the gaze of others. The narcissist ceases to exist when not in company. His being fades when not discerned. Yet, he is unable to return the favour. He is a captive, oblivious to everything but his preoccupation. Emptied from within, devoured by his urge, the narcissist blindly stumbles from one relationship to another, from one warm body to the next, forever in search of that elusive creature - himself.


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