The Energy of Self

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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The personality is not a static structure which immutably permeates our being. It is a dynamic, on-going, process. It is a series of cognitive and emotional interactions compounded by extraneous input and endogenous feedback. It is ever-evolving, though following our formative years, all subsequent changes are subtle and infinitesimal. This labyrinthine complex of reactions, behaviour patterns, beliefs, and defence mechanisms consumes a lot of psychic energy. The more primitive the personality, the less organized, the more disordered - the greater the amount of energy required to maintain it in a semblance of balance, however precarious.

The predicament of the narcissist, the histrionic, and the borderline is even more multifarious. People suffering from these all-pervasive and pernicious personality disorders externalize most of the available energy in an effort to secure Narcissistic Supply and, thus, regulate a vicissitudinal sense of self-worth.

Normally, one's energy is expended on the proper functioning of one's personality. The personality disordered devote any shred of vitality to the projection and maintenance of a False Self, whose sole purpose is to elicit attention, admiration, approval, acknowledgement, fear, or adulation from others. The Narcissistic Supply thus obtained helps these unfortunates to calibrate a wildly fluctuating self-esteem and, thus, fulfils critical ego functions.

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Yet, the constant pursuit of this drug, the need to stay permanently attuned to one's human environment and to manipulate it ceaselessly - inevitably depletes the narcissist's vigor. His emotional exoskeleton - derived and Sisyphically constructed from the outside - is far more demanding than the normal endoskeletons that healthy people possess. To borrow from Freud, we can say that the narcissist sublimates his Libido. He is an artist with himself as his sole creation. His entire energy is committed to the theatre production that is his False Self.

Hence the narcissist's constant fatigue and ennui, his short attention span, his tendency to devalue Sources of Supply, even his transformed aggression.

The narcissist can afford to dedicate resources only to the most promising founts of Narcissistic Supply. The "path of least investment" - criminal shortcuts, violence, cheating, con-artistry, lies and confabulations - is always preferred by the narcissist because his élan is so run down, his vitality so drenched, and his verve so exhausted by the unusual need to secure from the outside what most people effortlessly produce internally and take for granted.


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