The Self-Deprecating Narcissist

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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I have a riotous, subtle, ironic, and sharpened sense of humour. I can be self-deprecating and self-effacing. I do not recoil from making my dilapidated Ego the target of my own barbs. Yet, this is true only when I have Narcissistic Supply aplenty. Narcissistic Supply - attention, adulation, admiration, applause, fame, celebrity, notoriety - neuter the sting of my self-directed jokes. In my more humorous moments I can present myself as the opposite of what is widely known to be true. I can unfold a tale of fatuous decisions followed by clumsy misbehaviour - yet, no one would take me to be fatuous or clumsy. It is as though my reputation protects me from the brunt of my own jocular modesty. I can afford to be magnanimously forgiving of my own shortcomings because they are so outweighed by my gifts and by my widely known achievements or traits.

Still, the gist of what I once wrote stands:

"A narcissist rarely engages in self-directed, self-deprecating humour. If he does, he  expects to be contradicted, rebuked and rebuffed by his listeners ('Come on, you are actually quite handsome!'), or to be commended or admired for his courage or for his wit and intellectual acerbity ('I envy your ability to laugh at yourself!'). As everything else in a narcissist's life, his sense of humour is deployed in the interminable pursuit of Narcissistic Supply."

I am completely different when I lack Narcissistic Supply or when in search of sources of such supply. Humour is always an integral part of my charm offensive. But, when Narcissistic Supply is deficient, it is never self-directed. Moreover, when deprived of supply, I react with hurt and rage when I am the butt of jokes and humorous utterances. I counter-attack ferociously and make a complete arse of myself.

Why these extremes?

"The absence of Narcissistic Supply (or the impending threat of such an absence) is, indeed, a serious matter. It is the narcissistic equivalent of mental death. If prolonged and unmitigated, such absence can lead to the real thing: physical death, a result of suicide, or of a psychosomatic deterioration of the narcissist's health. Yet, to obtain Narcissistic Supply, one must be taken seriously and to be taken seriously one must be the first to take oneself seriously. Hence the gravity with which the narcissist contemplates his life. This lack of levity and of perspective and proportion characterise the narcissist and set him apart.

(continued below)


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The narcissist firmly believes that he is unique and that he is thus endowed because he has a mission to fulfill, a destiny, a meaning to his life. The narcissist's life is a part of history, of a cosmic plot and it constantly tends to thicken. Such a life deserves only the most serious attention. Moreover, every particle of such an existence, every action or inaction, every utterance, creation, or composition, indeed every thought, are bathed in this cosmic meaningfulness. They all lead down the paths of glory, of achievement, of perfection, of ideals, of brilliance. They are all part of a design, a pattern, a plot, which inexorably and unstoppably lead the narcissist on to the fulfillment of his task. The narcissist may subscribe to a religion, to a belief, or to an ideology in his effort to understand the source of this strong feeling of uniqueness. He may attribute his sense of direction to God, to history, to society, to culture, to a calling, to his profession, to a value system. But he always does so with a straight face, with a firm conviction and with deadly seriousness.

And because, to the narcissist, the part is a holographic reflection of the whole - he tends to generalise, to resort to stereotypes, to induct (to learn about the whole from the detail), to exaggerate, finally to pathologically lie to himself and to others. This tendency of his, this self-importance, this belief in a grand design, in an all embracing and all-pervasive pattern - make him an easy prey to all manner of logical fallacies and con artistry. Despite his avowed and proudly expressed rationality the narcissist is besieged by superstition and prejudice. Above all, he is a captive of the false belief that his uniqueness destines him to carry a mission of cosmic significance.

All these make the narcissist a volatile person. Not merely mercurial - but fluctuating, histrionic, unreliable, and disproportional. That which has cosmic implications calls for cosmic reactions. The person with an inflated sense of self-import, will react in an inflated manner to threats, greatly inflated by his imagination and by the application to them of his personal myth. On a cosmic scale, the daily vagaries of life, the mundane, the routine are not important, even damagingly distracting. This is the source of his feelings of exceptional entitlement. Surely, engaged as he is in securing the well being of humanity by the exercise of his unique faculties - the narcissist deserves special treatment! This is the source of his violent swings between opposite behaviour patterns and between devaluation and idealisation of others. To the narcissist, every minor development is nothing less than a new stage in his life, every adversity, a conspiracy to upset his progress, every setback an apocalyptic calamity, every irritation the cause for outlandish outbursts of rage. He is a man of the extremes and only of the extremes. He may learn to efficiently suppress or hide his feelings or reactions - but never for long. In the most inappropriate and inopportune moment, you can count on the narcissist to explode, like a wrongly wound time bomb. And in between eruptions, the narcissistic volcano daydreams, indulges in delusions, plans his victories over an increasingly hostile and alienated environment. Gradually, the narcissist becomes more paranoid - or more aloof, detached and dissociative.

In such a setting, you must admit, there is not much room for a sense of humour."


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