The Relief of Being Abandoned
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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When the narcissists spouse, girlfriend, or intimate partner gets to know him better, warts and all, she recoils and withdraws: first sexually and then, to avoid further hurt, emotionally. The narcissist acutely senses this withdrawal. To avoid a major narcissistic injury, he detaches from her abruptly, thus deceiving himself into believing that he was the one to had bailed out first and to have pre-emptively abandoned her. Thus, to his mind, he had maintained and still remains in control.
The dissolution of the abuser's marriage or other meaningful (romantic, business, or other) relationships constitutes a major life crisis and a scathing narcissistic injury. To soothe and salve the pain of disillusionment, he administers to his aching soul a mixture of lies, distortions, half-truths and outlandish interpretations of events around him.
Some relationships are characterized by a
degree of laissez-faire and "freedom" that border on emotional absenteeism,
neglect, and abandonment.
Both members of these couples lead separate lives, minding their own business. They rarely enquire about the other's whereabouts. DADT (Don't Ask, Don't Tell). The reason they grant each other such latitude is because one of them is a codependent with extreme abandonment anxiety - and the other a histrionic, compensatory narcissist, or, more rarely, borderline who wants to be dumped by her intimate partner.
A man can give a woman total
freedom - but with little security. Or total security at the price of her
Only one man in a million - an extreme codependent with an all-consuming abandonment anxiety - gives his woman both: total freedom to do as she pleases with the total security that - never mind what she does, even if she shatters his heart and mind to smithereens time and again - he will always be there for her and take care of her needs.
All the benefits of a committed relationship, without a single one of its costs.
Total entitlement on the
receiving end and utter self-negation on the other pole.
Usually, such a man whose pecuniary generosity is unlimited, even profligate and reckless, believes that he has nothing else to share but his money and what his money can buy: he bribes his woman to stay with him, thereby commodifying the relationship.
Of course, this fully applies across genders. Simply switch the pronouns.
When such a partner is dumped
she feels good and relieved, even elated for 2 reasons:
1. It validates her view of herself as a bad and worthless object (usually the main message of the introjects - inner voices - of a sadistic-narcissistic mother or role models such as teacher or peers); and
2. It prevents intimacy. Such partners hate intimacy and fear it. Intimacy suffocates them. Being dumped puts an end to this threat.
So, they push their partners to dump them by being avoidant, passive-aggressive, plain aggressive, and verbally abusive.
If - no matter what they do and what they try - their partners keep loving them, they feel deeply frustrated. They begin to hate the patient, loyal, and loving partner viscerally and wholeheartedly.
But they are ambivalent about a breakup: Is
there life after the
narcissist, a second restorative and recuperative act? The narcissist finds
it impossible to believe and begrudges his victims their recovery. The
narcissist considers himself both irreplaceable and indispensable and his
absence from his prey's life nothing short of a fatal injury. To imply that
anyone who had experienced the narcissist can be happier without him is to
undermine the narcissist's grandiose perception of himself as a Magic Unicorn.
This delusional mindset is further exacerbated by the narcissist's inability to interact with real, 3-D people owing to his lack of empathy and all-pervasive object impermanence (inconstancy). Instead, the narcissist relates exclusively to avatars, imagoes, and introjects: internalized, largely immutable and idealized avatars, renditions and representations of others. When real life intervenes and people change, the narcissist is disconcerted, dismayed, and shocked.
At an early stage of the relationship, the narcissist creates a snapshot of a potential source of secondary supply ("intimate" partner), incorporates it in his mind as an internal object or introject, suffuses it with emotional energy (cathexis), and transforms it into an extension of his False Self.
From that moment, the narcissist proceeds to interact only with the internal object. Even when the source of supply is physically present, he responds to the avatar, the stored representation - essentially, an immutable and idealized (or devalued) snapshot.
The narcissist resorts to this subterfuge in order to assuage and ameliorate his extreme abandonment anxiety, the ineluctable outcome of his deficient or even absent object constancy or object permanence. Internal object never dump you.
When the supply source is nearby, the narcissist ignores her or even rejects her in order to avoid a dissonance-inducing conflict between the real person and her imago (internalized copy). When she is away, not present, the narcissist maintains a constant interaction with her image
So, if she misbehaves in any way (e.g., cheats on him), he is likely to grieve the betrayal by the simulacrum, not by the real woman! He would not be romantically jealous and would not mind the extramarital exploits of the flesh and blood partner. But he would be heartbroken to behold the shattered vision of her in his febrile mind! The narcissist mourns fictional narratives, not real people.
Moreover, unlike psychopaths
and like borderlines, narcissists
suffer from extreme abandonment anxiety. In most narcissists it is
unconscious. It is channeled via various self-defeating and reckless behaviors,
deteriorating impulse control, and acting out.
The narcissist is terrified of losing his source of secondary narcissistic supply, usually his spouse. One of her roles is to serve as his external memory: to record, recall, and replay his moments of glory ("You looked so great up there on the podium last year!"). She also buttresses the narcissist's grandiosity by colluding with him in a shared psychosis ("You are a misunderstood and much envied genius, honey"). Her personality perfectly matches his pathologies and resonates with them: if he is a masochist, she hurts him; if he is sadistic, she submits; if he is a paranoid, she concurs with his persecutory delusions; if he is power-crazed, she envies him and competes with him - only to succumb time and again.
To allay his anxiety over the impending and ineluctable loss of the relationship, the narcissist pushes his intimate partner away: "preemptive abandonment". This counterintuitive behavior fulfills two psychodynamic needs: 1. To regain control and mastery of the relationship ("She did not abandon me! It is I who discarded her!") and 2.To resolve the cognitive dissonance of being so utterly dependent on an inferior person and thus exposed to possible hurt and rejection: "I didn't really love her or need her - so I got rid of her!"
Having rejected and humiliated his partner (counterdependence), the narcissist is mortified by the possible consequences of his actions. He tries to make amends, compensate, hoover, and reacquire his better half. He suddenly becomes romantic or sexual or generous or kindly or caring or helpful or supportive or protective. This is especially discernible when the injured partner is in bad mental and physical shape or in need of assistance. It is the infamous "approach-avoidance repetition compulsion"
All abusers present with rigid and infantile (primitive) defense mechanisms: splitting, projection, Projective Identification, denial, intellectualization, and narcissism. But some abusers go further and decompensate by resorting to self-delusion. Unable to face the dismal failures that they are, they partially withdraw from reality.
The Masochistic Avoidant Solution
The abuser directs some of this fury inwards, punishing himself for his "failure". This masochistic behavior has the added "benefit" of forcing the abuser's closest to assume the roles of dismayed spectators or of persecutors and thus, either way, to pay him the attention that he craves.
Self-administered punishment often manifests as self-handicapping masochism a cop-out. By undermining his work, his relationships, and his efforts, the increasingly fragile abuser avoids additional criticism and censure (negative supply). Self-inflicted failure is the abuser's doing and thus proves that he is the master of his own fate.
Masochistic abusers keep finding themselves in self-defeating circumstances which render success impossible and "an objective assessment of their performance improbable" (Millon, 2000). They act carelessly, withdraw in mid-effort, are constantly fatigued, bored, or disaffected and thus passive-aggressively sabotage their lives. Their suffering is defiant and by "deciding to abort" they reassert their omnipotence.
The abuser's pronounced and public misery and self-pity are compensatory and "reinforce (his) self-esteem against overwhelming convictions of worthlessness" (Millon, 2000). His tribulations and anguish render him, in his eyes, unique, saintly, virtuous, righteous, resilient, and significant. They are, in other words, self-generated Narcissistic Supply.
Thus, paradoxically, the worst his anguish and unhappiness, the more relieved and elated such an abuser feels! He is "liberated" and "unshackled" by his own self-initiated abandonment, he insists. He never really wanted this commitment, he tells any willing (or buttonholed) listener and anyhow, the relationship was doomed from the beginning by the egregious excesses and exploits of his wife (or partner or friend or boss).
The Delusional Narrative Solution
This kind of abuser constructs a narrative in which he figures as the hero brilliant, perfect, irresistibly handsome, destined for great things, entitled, powerful, wealthy, the centre of attention, etc. The bigger the strain on this delusional charade the greater the gap between fantasy and reality the more the delusion coalesces and solidifies.
Finally, if it is sufficiently protracted, it replaces reality and the abuser's reality test deteriorates. He withdraws his bridges and may become schizotypal, catatonic, or schizoid.
The Antisocial Solution
This type of abuser has a natural affinity with the criminal. His lack of empathy and compassion, his deficient social skills, his disregard for social laws and morals now erupt and blossom. He becomes a full fledged antisocial (sociopath or psychopath). He ignores the wishes and needs of others, he breaks the law, he violates all rights natural and legal, he holds people in contempt and disdain, he derides society and its codes, he punishes the ignorant ingrates that, to his mind, drove him to this state by acting criminally and by jeopardizing their safety, lives, or property.
The Paranoid Schizoid Solution
Another class of abuser develop persecutory delusions. He perceives slights and insults where none were intended. He becomes subject to ideas of reference (people are gossiping about him, mocking him, prying into his affairs, cracking his e-mail, etc.). He is convinced that he is the centre of malign and mal-intentioned attention. People are conspiring to humiliate him, punish him, abscond with his property, delude him, impoverish him, confine him physically or intellectually, censor him, impose on his time, force him to action (or to inaction), frighten him, coerce him, surround and besiege him, change his mind, part with his values, victimize or even murder him, and so on.
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Some abusers withdraw completely from a world populated with such minacious and ominous objects (really projections of internal objects and processes). They avoid all social contact, except the most necessary. They refrain from meeting people, falling in love, having sex, talking to others, or even corresponding with them. In short: they become schizoids not out of social shyness, but out of what they feel to be their choice. "This evil, hopeless world does not deserve me" goes the inner refrain "and I shall waste none of my time and resources on it."
The Paranoid Aggressive (Explosive) Solution
Other abusers who develop persecutory delusions, resort to an aggressive stance, a more violent resolution of their internal conflict. They become verbally, psychologically, situationally (and, more rarely, physically) abusive. They insult, castigate, chastise, berate, demean, and deride their nearest and dearest (often well wishers and loved ones). They explode in unprovoked displays of indignation, righteousness, condemnation, and blame. Theirs is an exegetic Bedlam. They interpret everything even the most innocuous, inadvertent, and innocent comment as designed to provoke and humiliate them. They sow fear, revulsion, hate, and malignant envy. They flail against the windmills of reality a pathetic, forlorn, sight. But often they cause real and lasting damage fortunately, mainly to themselves.
Millon, Theodore and Davis, Roger Personality Disorders in Modern Life, 2nd Edition New York, John Wiley and Sons, 2000
This is the subject of the next article.
My Personal Experience
At the beginning of a relationship with a woman, I am always very possessive and severely restrict what my women can do alone with other men (basically nothing).
I aggressively push my woman towards other men only when I want to get rid of her or as a form of preemptive abandonment (I dump her before she breaks up with me): If I find her sexually repulsive, if she stops having sex with me or otherwise rejects me, if she is interested in other men and provokes abandonment anxiety, if she is grandiose and competes with me rather than adulate me, if she is defiant, or if she makes demands on my time or money. So, I get rid of her by pushing her to cheat on me, often introducing her to her future lover.
But, why do I disintegrate when she finally succumbs to my prompting and cheats on me? Because this strategy does entail the loss of a dream or fantasy of togetherness: I revert to loneliness without my playmate.
The act of abandonment itself is very triggering for me owing to my painful personal history. It is also a self-inflicted narcissistic injury (she chooses another man over me, she does not fight harder to keep me in her life, the unique treasure that I am).
It isn't about the "cheating" woman herself - I couldn't care less about her, I pushed her to cheat because I wanted her gone!!! I disintegrate because of my incipient and impending solitude and because my own wounds are reopened by the "cheating". It is a highly dysfunctional and self-destructive (life threatening) way to end relationships: by pushing my women to cheat (rather than by talking to them, for example). Why do I use this agonizing strategy?
"You are not good enough, you are not lovable, you failed again, you should be punished" (my mother's introject) "Why can't I have a normal relationship with a woman? Why can't I simply enjoy female company, friendship, and intimacy? It makes me so sad and angry at myself! I am not a real man!" So, I need to punish myself for my self-imposed deprivation. I hate that I am like that. I would have traded my brain for a normal one any time.
I "execute" myself time and again for the "crime" of my abnormality.
There is no going back from cheating. I want to truly GET RID of these women, once and for all. Cheating guarantees that my codependency and borderline sides will not take over and make me crawl back to the woman despite all her shortcomings.
On the other hand, I consider myself a treasure worthy of any cost and sacrifice by my nearest or dearest.
I expect my women to tolerate my acute verbal abuse and pernicious psychological manipulation, awed by my intellectual pyrotechnics and grateful to have been granted privileged access to my diamond mind.
I expect my business partners to overlook my brutish rudeness and infantile fickleness in return for my sempiternal fount of knowledge and creativity.
I feel entitled to inflict hurt and confusion all around, simply because I am a genius.
Everyone should listen with rapt attention to my boundless rants, should accommodate my most egregious whims, and should succumb with alacrity and grace to my most outrages outbursts and spoiled brat temper tantrums.
All these submissions are proof positive that I am indeed majestically endowed. My brain and mind are such unique creations that I expect worship replete with nothing less of human sacrifice.
And when a rare person in my life rebels, discards me, and gives me a taste of my own medicine or worse, I am aghast with indignation, shocked and traumatized.
I devalue the source of such insufferable frustration, pathologize them, and deny them access to the Kingdom of Intellectual Heaven: me - a cruel and unusual punishment if ever there was one.
do narcissists seek intimacy if they find it so stifling and reprehensible? Why
do they get married if the marital bond feels more like a prison? Why do they
commit, love bomb, court, and propose if all that time they experience
themselves as hostages within the growing attachment?
Typically, they end up ghosting, undermining the intimacy, cheating, deceiving, lying, and becoming passive-aggressive or even aggressive outright. Why go through this cycle countless times?
Because it feels wonderful to be unshackled and freed from the demands of an intimate relationship. Breaking up induces in the narcissist an intoxicating and addictive manic euphoria. The narcissist seeks closeness and commitment IN ORDER to renege and withdraw! When he cheats on his spouse, or absents himself from her life, or dumps her - he feels omnipotent and thrilled and elated and liberated. Suddenly even the sky is not the limit.
The narcissist's ideal romantic partner is someone who colludes in this approach-avoidance repetition compulsion by embracing him and restoring the faux intimacy every time he returns from his forays of destructive or obstructive independence. She herself may engage in the very same behaviors out of the very same reasons: an all-pervasive dread of true love, companionship, and togetherness.
There is also a common grandiose defense:
"It will not happen to me, I am different: smarter, more experienced, irresistible, addictive, empathic ..."
Your intimate partner or spouse has a history of relationships. He developed an MO (method of operation): a habitual - by now, almost reflexive - set of behaviors, reactive patterns, precedents, and choices. She is extremely likely to use the same MO with you regardless of who you are, how long you have been together, and how strong the bond is.
If in the past she dumped her intimate partners - she will dump you, too. If he cheated before, he will do so again. If she was emotionally or physically absent from her dyads, you can count on such behavior repeating itself. If he preferred distance interactions via chats and sexting to any real-life liaison, you are unlikely to ever meet him. If she deceived her former paramours, lied to them, abused them, or stole from them - you are next. If he never cohabited or shared his life - he never will.
In the phase of limerence (infatuation plus), we tend to idealize figures of attachment and ignore their predilections if they contravene the idealized image.
We also consider ourselves so unique and omnipotent that we can singlehandedly transform our beloved. It never works. It is the recipe for heartbreak and worse.
"Trauma Bonding" and the Psychology of Torture
Case Studies on the Psychopath and Narcissist Survivors Support Group
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