Excerpts from the Archives of the Narcissism List - Part 12

Listowner: Dr. Sam Vaknin


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1. The Narcissist and Total Institutions

The reactive patterns of people in "total institutions" (hospitals, boarding schools, army, prison and, THE total institution, the concentration camp) are unique.

Two questions come to mind:

  1. Does a normal person react to total institutions by becoming a narcissist (a very plausible reaction)?
  2. How do narcissists feel inside total institutions and adapt to them?

See: http://narcissism.cjb.net/msla.html

2. The Cultural Roots of One Narcissist

I was born in Israel to a Moroccan Jewish father and a Turkish Jewish mother. When I was born, the country was still largely run by Jews of East European and Central European and West European extract (Ashkenazim). I was a Sephardi, a member of a rather despised numerical majority. The Sephardim were considered to be primitive, maladaptive, devoured by ridiculous inferiority complexes, infested by superstitious traditions, uneducated and, in general, unfit to inhabit a modern, Western, liberal state such as the State of Israel aspired to become.

Reality was quite different. The Ashkenazim mostly came from the most regressive and retarded part of Europe (Poland and the Ukraine). The State of Israel until very lately was a socialist (not to say Bolshevik) bastion, very remote from Herzl's liberal ideal (Herzl was the personality disordered visionary founder of Zionism, the political movement that led to the formation of the State of Israel). And many Sephardim were much better adapted to Western culture and technology than thought, having been exposed to French rule for generations (remember "Casablanca"?).

I learned one thing in the process of becoming a non-Israeli and a non-Jew and, in general, a non-entity (do not succumb to definitions): melting pots are unpleasantly hot places. They produce homogenous, non-descript, rather useless alloys. They simply don't work. People are anyhow so self-absorbed and self-centred (this seems to be a survival mechanism) that they have very little patience and tolerance. Adding ethnic and cultural friction to the mixture makes it explosive.

I have since lived in 11 countries. I don't know whether to attribute it to my narcissism or whether this is a common reaction (I tend to suspect the latter) - but I find myself constantly culturally shocked. The Russians think nothing of things that would make any American (bar the most extreme and nutty militias) shudder. The Czechs are emotional zombies, inoperative, dysfunctional robots after years of brainwashing, the Macedonians are prone to fantasizing and very short on action, the Americans are children: provincial, naive, aggressive, scared and mitigate their panic with endless rules and litigation. This is how I see them, of course, not how they really are. But it is too much to ask such different people to co-exist.

Culture shock leads to narcissism. In the absence of unconditional, loving and unequivocal acceptance, in the absence of predictable behaviours (due to cultural differences) - whole groups of people retreat and develop mass NPD. They develop grandiose fantasies, a False Self, the whole lot (read: http://narcissism.cjb.net/npdglance.html again).

3. The Denial Mechanisms of the Narcissist

Some narcissists employ denial mechanisms which they apply to their "extensions" (family) as well. These narcissists  instruct, order, or threaten their children into hiding the truth of abuse, malfunction, mal-adaptation, fear, pervasive sadness, violence, mutual hatred, and mutual repulsion which are the hallmarks of the narcissistic family. "Not to launder the dirty laundry outside" is a common sentence. The whole family conforms to the fantastic narrative of  grandiosity, perfection, and superiority invented by the narcissist. The family becomes an extension of his False Self. This is an integral function of the Sources of Secondary Narcissistic Supply. Criticizing the narcissist, disagreeing with him, or exposing the lie, penetrating the facade, calling the fiction by its proper name - are considered to be mortal sins. The sinner is immediately subjected to severe and constant emotional harassment, guilt and blame - and to abuse, including physical abuse. This state of things is especially typical of families with sexual abuse to hide.

Behaviour modification techniques are liberally used by the narcissist to ensure that the skeletons do stay in the family cupboards. An amusing by-product of this atmosphere of concealment and falsity is mutiny. The narcissist's spouse or his adolescent children are likely to exploit this vulnerability of the narcissist to express their rebellion against him as a figure of reference and authority or a role model. The first thing to crumble in the narcissist's family is the mass denial so diligently insisted upon by him.

4. Therapy

The general idea in therapy is, indeed, to create the conditions for the True Self to resume its growth: safety, predictability, justice, love and acceptance ("holding").  Therapy is supposed to provide these conditions of nurturance and the guidance necessary (through transference, cognitive relabeling, or other methods). The narcissist must learn that his past experiences are NOT laws of nature, that not all adults are abusive, that relationships can be nurturing and supportive.

5. Traumas and Personality Disorders

A personality disorder rarely develops following a SINGLE, isolated event. Personality disorders are the result of a PATTERN of abuse. The abuse can be emotional, verbal, physical but asexual, or sexual. Depending on the severity of the traumatic event, certain dissociative reactions develop as a result of a single event of abuse. However, dissociation - even severe (such as DID) - does not constitute a "classical" personality disorder. Recurrent, deliberate, traumatizing abuse is a pre-requisite.

The issue of "false memories" induced by therapists using highly specific therapeutic techniques (such as regressive hypnosis) - is so far from being concluded and it relates to such a narrow part of the spectrum of mental disorders (mainly DID and BPD) that I don't see much point in going into it here.

NPD is the result of very real, recurrent abuse (usually NOT sexual but emotional). It rarely involves dissociation. And the abuse occurs well into early adulthood - when cognitive skills are sufficiently developed to screen out "false or severely modified" memories.

6. Narcissists and Medication

Narcissists generally are averse to medication. It is an implied admission that something is wrong with them. Narcissists  are control freaks and afraid to lose control. Additionally, many of them believe that medication is the "great equalizer" - it will make them lose their uniqueness, superiority, and so on. That is UNLESS they can convincingly present taking the medication as an "act of heroism", part of a daring enterprise of self-exploration, a distinguishing feature of the narcissist and so on. They will often claim that the medicine affects them differently than it does other people, or that they have discovered a new, exciting way of using it, or that they are part of someone's (usually themselves) learning curve ("part of a new approach to dosage" "part of a new cocktail which holds great promise"). Narcissists MUST dramatize their lives to feel worthy and special. Aut nihil aut unique - either be special or don't be at all.

Very much like in the physical world, change is brought about only through the incredible powers of torsion and breakage. Only when our elasticity gives way, only when we are wounded by our own intransigence - only then is there hope.

Most narcissists have simply not suffered enough. When they do - you find them courting therapists, studying their self, taking medicines, and changing. It takes nothing less than a real crisis. Ennui is not enough.

7. NPD Son

An NPD son is no different to an NPD husband. You MUST devise and design survival strategies. Try to split his good sides from his less agreeable ones and avoid the latter to the best of your ability. Involve professional help. Being  protective of him may be to his detriment.

Set your boundaries and stick to them. Be you, don't be fake, or play a part for his sake, or for the sake of domestic peace. Employ a balanced, just and predictable set of rewards and punishments. Educate him. If he becomes too onerous - get rid of him before he get rids of you. I am sorry to be so blunt but it is reality - not a textbook scenario.

(continued below)

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8. The Narcissist - a Gift to Humanity

The narcissist is a gift to humanity. His life carries a cosmic significance. His achievements are never less than earth shattering or paradigm shifting. His intelligence is forever penetrating and superior.

People around him are always pathologically deficient or simply refuse. Everything and everyone should succumb to his demands. His special rights are self proclaiming. His very existence is sufficient warrant. He is entitled by his very being. She who wants more from him is either mentally sick or mentally retarded for being unable to grasp all the above.

9. Co-Dependents and Narcissists

Narcissism is a RIGID, systemic pattern of responses. It is so all-pervasive and all-encompassing that it is a PERSONALITY disorder. If the non-narcissist in the couple is co-dependent, for instance, then the narcissist is a perfect match for her and the union will last till death them do part. Such co-dependents SEEK out narcissists and feels fulfilled ONLY in the presence of narcissists.

10. Forms of Aggression

Cynical humour, brutal honesty, scathing remarks, boredom, detachment, rage, pathological envy, suicidal ideation, self-berating and self-effacement - are all forms of aggression transformed and directed inwardly or outwardly. A narcissist ignored is a narcissist whose very existence is cast in doubt. He feels threatened. He reacts with fear and its attaching drive, aggression (a "fight or flight" response).

11. Narcissist the Sadist

There are many ways of being sadistic. A resounding silence is one of them. Often the voice of the narcissist is so well embedded in his victims that he no longer needs to say anything. His voice is internalized (very much as the voices of our parents and other meaningful caregivers and adults are supposedly internalized in our Superego during our formative years).

12. Somatic versus Cerebral Narcissists

A somatic narcissist uses his/her body to seduce. It is the act of seduction that matters, not the actual physical sex that sometimes follows. In other words: the somatic narcissist derives his/her Narcissistic Supply more from his ability to discernibly influence others (tease) than from actual sex (let alone, from a romance, or a relationship). This is so much like Histrionic PD (HPD) that I once suggested that HPD was, in effect, NPD where the Source of Narcissistic Supply was the body.

(In the following sentences male=female)

A somatic narcissist might also derive his NS from cultivating his body, observing his nutrition and health (up to the point of developing an eating disorder - see http://narcissism.cjb.net/faq65.html - and hypochondriasis), exercising, competitive sports. In short: anything related to the body.

Somatic narcissists are often infidel and serial lovers.

13. The Narcissist and the Therapist

The Narcissist thinks (and often says aloud):

"I know best, I know it all, my therapist is bound to be less intelligent than I, I can't afford the top level therapists who are the only ones qualified to treat me (as my intellectual equals), I am actually a therapist myself...." 

This is a litany of self-delusion and fantastic grandeur (really, the manifestation of defences and resistances).

"He should be my colleague, in certain respects HE should accept my professional authority, why won't he be friends with me, after all I can use the lingo (psycho-babble) even better than he can? It's US (I and he) against the ignorant world."

Then there is: 

"Just who does he think he is asking me all these questions?"

"What are his professional credentials? I am a success and he is a nobody therapist in a dingy office, he is trying to negate my uniqueness, he is an authority figure, I hate him, I will show him, I will humiliate him, prove him ignorant, have his licence revoked (transference)."

"Actually, he is pitiable, a zero, a failure ..."

And all this - in the first three therapy sessions...

14. Being Nice to Others

Narcissists (full fledged, etc.) are nice to others if:

  1. They want something - Narcissistic Supply, help, support, votes, money... They prepare the ground, manipulate you, and then come out with the "small favour" they need, or ask you blatantly or surreptitiously for Narcissistic Supply ("What did you think about my performance?", "Do you think that I really deserve the Nobel Prize?").
  1. They feel threatened and they want to neuter the threat by smothering it with oozing pleasantries.
  1. They have just been infused with an overdose of Narcissistic Supply and they feel magnanimous and generous and magnificent and ideal and perfect. To show magnanimity is a way of flaunting one's impeccable angelic credentials. It is an act of grandiosity. The recipient are not relevant, a mere receptacle of the narcissist's overflowing, self-contented infatuation with his False Self.

It is transient. Victims tend to "thank God for little graces" (God being the narcissist). This is the Stockholm syndrome: hostages tend to emotionally identify with the terrorists rather than with the police. We are grateful to our abusers and tormentors for ceasing their hideous activities and letting us breathe for awhile.

15. Prostituting Our Selves

Women who, otherwise, have struck me as charming, witty and emotionally delectable often engage in berating themselves and upbraiding their own behaviour. A random selection: "slut", "dirt" and "tramp".

It is one thing to feel bad about indiscriminate, short term, unfulfilling relationships - and another thing to mislabel oneself.

Our society is still male chauvinistic. We still maintain the infamous double standard. To engage in sex with many women is an achievement (for a man) - to do the same with men is prostitution (for a woman). To allow others to make use of your BRAIN for money is to be a consultant - to allow them to make use of your GENITALS for cash is to be a whore. To enjoy sex in the framework of an exclusive arrangement is almost mandatory - to enjoy the same with many men is considered degrading.

To sell your sexual services on an exclusive basis to one man (no matter how abusive) is to be a respectable wife - to do so serially with more than one, no matter how empathic and helpful - is to be a sinful slut.

My training is in philosophy. Each of the statements above and all of them put together are INDEFENSIBLE. No rigorous, rational and culturally independent argumentation and reasoning can yield the above conclusions. Men instilled and embedded in women these insidious control mechanism to protect their sexual exclusivity and to maintain it and to ascertain that their progeny was indeed theirs. It is moral hypocrisy to call a sexually active woman "dirt" or "whore" or "slut".

The very definition of promiscuity is highly dependent on the specific period, society or culture. In many societies and cultures in history, prostitutes officiated in RELIGIOUS rites. In others, they were considered sacred and privy to divine information. Unlimited sex constituted an integral part of many religions. In some cultures uninhibited sex was encouraged among women and taught to them from an early age. In others, guests were invited to share the host's female folk (never against their will, by the way).

Feel GOOD about your body and your sexuality. I have yet to come across something more aesthetically elating than an excited and exciting sexual woman. Don't let society, culture and the men in your life tell you what you are.

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