Excerpts from the Archives of the Narcissism List - Part 33
Listowner: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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1. Mirror Gazing
Mirror gazing in itself is, of course, not a narcissistic trait. We all do it. What sets narcissism apart is HOW LONG and HOW OFTEN they do it - and, more importantly, what is the internal dialogue that accompanies the act.
The somatic narcissist derives his emotional and ego sustenance from the reactions of others to his body, his figure, his fitness, his physical achievements, his sexual prowess, and his romantic conquests.
When the self-esteem and regulation of sense of self-worth of such a person are DEPENDENT upon such feedback from the outside - we have the makings of a narcissist. To the somatic narcissist, mirror gazing fulfils a few functions. It confirms the narcissist's (false and grandiose) self image. It allows the narcissist to preserve his bodily perfection. It serves as a "surrogate" or substitute observer - in lieu of real people. These are important functions without which the narcissist's precariously balanced personality will crumble. Hence, the frequent mirror gazing and the texts that the narcissist recites while doing it: "I AM perfect, shapely, attractive, irresistible, great, conquering, muscular, etc.".
2. More on the Grandiosity Gap
We all experience a gap between what we believe we ought to be or to have - and what we are or possess. Hope springs eternal precisely because of this healthy difference. Spinoza said that God cannot want or wish for anything - because he has it all. We, humans, don't - and can. I am not sure who got the raw deal. Imagine a world with nothing to look forward to, no aspirations, no achievements, no accumulation, no setbacks and, as a result, no sweet victories.
This is what the narcissist's world is like.
To the narcissist (God-like in his mind) this gap between the real and the desired induces SUFFERING and PAIN. Unable to pose realistic, realizable goals to himself, unwilling to recognize his limitations, always exaggerating and inflating his abilities, skills and possessions - the narcissist lives in a vacuum. It is an abyss of unrealized potentials and crushed dreams. There is no continuum of reasonable, detailed, realistic, gradual wishes and plans between where he is at the moment - and where he wishes to be (or believes himself to be) in future.
It is a common mistake to think that the narcissist's problem is his grandiosity. It is not. It is his lack of capacity to translate his fantasies into reality. His inability to design the programmatic bridge from here to there. His is a virtual reality where the only tangible element is frustration and the only force is the Sisyphean agony of striving without ever getting there. It is the "Promised Land" syndrome.
3. Self-Awareness and Healing
Ken: According to Masterson, all the personality disorders are due to a disordered, fragmented self that forms a triad. Self-activation leads to abandonment depression leads to defence. The various expressions of this triad depend on the type of defence: narcissistic, borderline, schizoid.
Therapy consists of working through the abandonment depression and thus lessening the need for defence. The patient must first get "worse" before he can get "better."
Is this not what you went through? In prison or later? On your own perhaps? You say in your book that the narcissist's only moments of possible improvement are when he is at the bottom of his game. I find it hard to believe that "Malignant Self Love" did not require some real self-activation on your part. Having witnessed the power of the narcissistic defences, I am in awe of your achievement.
Sam: This is all true. Yet it ignores the dynamics of a pathology. If not sustained by a holding environment, cognitive-behavioural insights coupled with correlated emotional maturation in a controlled setting - a remission invariably occurs.
Narcissistic defences are resilient. Cognitive insights alone are insufficient, nor do they constitute healing or lead to it.
I derive Narcissistic Supply from my pathology, its commercialization, helping others, the guru status, etc. In a way, my knowledge and self-awareness ENHANCE my narcissism because they are easily convertible to Narcissistic Supply.
Ken: Could it be that, while you continue to draw from Narcissistic Supply, the pursuits behind "Malignant Self Love" were/are activation of a True Self? Activation of a False Self would have been a fluctuation between "There's nothing wrong with me" and "I'm worthless, non-deserving, inadequate". The False Self is false because it does not represent/reflect reality. But you did/do face reality. Head-on. Is that not real self-activation? Cure, no. Self-activation, I should think so.
I understand (and do not argue with) your position/choice that cultivating your Narcissistic Supply Sources to keep dysphoria at bay might be wiser/more realistic (for you) than embarking on the long, uncertain road of trying to diminish your need for that defence. But is not that choice in itself self-activation? It certainly is a not based on any illusion. On the contrary, it is based on reality.
Sam: Yes, I agree. It appears in my writings. The narcissist gets in touch with his dilapidated True Self only during a life crisis.
But there is no choice or position. To assume so is a false premise.
Ken: Not by choice. I understand. But you are aware of that. You are not in denial. And denial is a narcissist's ticket to grandiosity.
Perhaps this is your contribution to treatment. That is, not to set an impossible goal of core (intra-psychic) restructuring. But strive for awareness of and acceptance of your pathology (a huge challenge) and thereby learn to live with the pathology in greater harmony, even use it productively. In other words, know thyself. That act alone is self-activation. And to demonstrate one's ability to self activate should be of some benefit.
Perhaps this is the message that therapists should take away from your work and your example.
Sam: Denial is a defence mechanism. This means that it has a cognitive component and an emotional one.
The opposite of denial is NOT knowledge or awareness. Knowledge or awareness constitute ONLY a cognitive component.
The opposite of all defence mechanisms is emotional integration through insight.
To say that a narcissist who deploys his pathology to benefit and help others is better than a narcissist who doesn't (or deploys it to negative effect) is a VALUE judgement.
This sentence is true ONLY in a given social-cultural context (specific morality, ethics, etc.).
It has nothing to do with narcissism.
A narcissist who deploys his pathology is a narcissist who deploys his pathology - regardless of its eventual utilitarian, social, or moral outcomes.
Ken: Let me start over. The defence that we call narcissism is the illusion of being perfect and/or of being capable of attaining perfection. It is false. It does not reflect reality. It is an illusion. Challenge a narcissist with the reality of an imperfection and he will do one of two things: a) Activate the grandiose unit of his False Self, or b) Activate the harsh, attacking unit of his False Self.
At some point life presented you with the reality of an imperfection. I do not know how you reacted: big-time denial? ("How dare you even entertain such thoughts about me? You have no appreciation for what I am. Etc.") Rage? Eventually you did accept the imperfection as reality. At least for that moment, I would think that you activated the True Self in you. By definition a True Self, because it reflected reality. There was no attempt to distort that reality.
There are two kinds of alcoholics: those who are but deny it and those who are and admit it. I am not passing judgement on anything. I am just saying that False Selves don't see anything as it really is. It takes a True Self to do that. False Selves distort and hide. True Selves accept and cope. I am not saying that admitting an addiction fixes it or lessens one's dependence on that addiction. I am merely suggesting that it was your admission that allowed you to go on your journey of research and discovery, and that a False Self could not have done that.
This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"
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Sam: Yes, I agree absolutely.
But then the False Self took over this new gained knowledge and now exploits it within a grandiose fantasy.
4. Narcissistic Vulnerability
The narcissist is vulnerable because:
There are gradations and shades of narcissism. There is reactive narcissism, temporary narcissism (Gunderson-Roningstam, 1996), narcissistic personality, narcissistic traits, narcissistic overlay (i.e., together with another, dominant PD), co-morbidity, and full blown NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder).
BUT - my advice to you is to stay away from ALL variations and shades of narcissism. There are three reasons:
5. Narcissists, Domestic Violence and Abuse
The narcissists defends himself against abuse by becoming the abuser. Early childhood abuse is fended off by resorting to grandiose fantasies of omnipotence, omniscience, brilliance, unmitigated success, and eternal love.
The narcissists feels unique, unprecedented, indescribably special. His actions are of cosmic significance. As a result, he feels entitled to special treatment, even if such treatment is incommensurate with his talents, skills, or actual achievements.
The narcissist is incapable of loving, or even empathizing with other people. To him, they are instruments in the compulsive pursuit of gratification, adulation, attention and affirmation (Narcissistic Supply).
He does not fathom the human experience because his emotions are thoroughly repressed and he is obsessed with obtaining his "drug" (the aforementioned supply).
The narcissist has conflicting needs. On the one hand, he derives his sense of self-worth and the regulation of his self-esteem from others. On the other hand, he needs to feel superior and contemptuous towards the very sources of his sustenance. Hence his erratic unpredictability, callousness, cruelty, and dangerous capriciousness.
The narcissist inflicts pain and suffering on his nearest and dearest: spouse, children, colleagues, employer, friends. While he rarely exercises physically violent, he is a master of mental torture and psychological nightmares.
I have written extensively about narcissistic behaviour, its roots, dynamics and sad outcomes. The issues of bullying, domestic abuse, violence and narcissism are inseparable.
On the formation of the narcissistic defence and the psychodynamics of narcissism: https://samvak.tripod.com/msla.html
Start by reading about the inverted narcissist here: The Inverted Narcissist - FAQ #66
These Frequently Asked Questions deal with the damage narcissists inflict on their milieu:
For a complete index of all 82 FAQs - go HERE:
There is a lot more about these subjects here:
My poetry: Poetry of Healing and Abuse - My Poems
Finally, I must refer you to what I regard to be the best web site on bullying and mental health disorders which lead to bullying: The Serial Bully
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