The Discontinuous, Dissociative Narcissist
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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"But you hate kiwi!" protests my wife, "How can anyone detest kiwi and then eat it so eagerly?". She is baffled. She is hurt. To some extent, she is even frightened to find herself with this kiwi-guzzling stranger.
How can I tell her that, in the absence of a self, there are no likes or dislikes, preferences, predictable behaviour or characteristics? It is not possible to know the narcissist. There is no one there. His Ego functions are imported from the outside by this pernicious, all-distorting interface, the False Self.
Feedback from other people regulates the narcissist’s sense of identity, self-worth, boundaries, even his reality test (his correct awareness of the world around him). The narcissist needs this constant input to maintain a sense of continuity. Thus, the narcissist’s nearest and dearest – his sources of secondary narcissistic supply - serve as “external memories” and as “flux regulators” whose function it is to maintain a regular, stable flow of affirming and cohering data.
The narcissist was conditioned - from an early age of abuse and trauma - to expect the unexpected. His was a world in motion where (sometimes sadistically) capricious caretakers and peers often engaged in arbitrary behaviour. He was trained to deny his True Self and nurture a False one.
Having invented himself, the narcissist sees no problem in re-inventing that which he designed in the first place. The narcissist is his own creator.
Hence his grandiosity.
Moreover, the narcissist is a man for all seasons, forever adaptable, constantly imitating and emulating, a human sponge, a perfect mirror, a non-entity that is, at the same time, all entities combined.
The narcissist is best described by Sartre's phrase: "Being and Nothingness". Into this reflective vacuum, this sucking black hole, the narcissist attracts the Sources of his Narcissistic Supply.
To an observer, the narcissist appears to be fractured or discontinuous.
This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"
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Pathological narcissism has been compared to the Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly the Multiple Personality Disorder). By definition, the narcissist has at least two selves. His personality is very primitive and disorganized. Living with a narcissist is a nauseating experience not only because of what he is - but because of what he is NOT. He is not a fully formed human - but a dizzyingly kaleidoscopic gallery of mercurial images, which melt into each other seamlessly. It is incredibly disorienting.
It is also exceedingly problematic. Promises made by the narcissist are easily disowned by him. His plans are ephemeral. His emotional ties - a simulacrum. Most narcissists have one island of stability in their life (spouse, family, their career, a hobby, their religion, country, or idol) - pounded by the turbulent currents of a dishevelled existence.
Thus, to invest in a narcissist is a purposeless, futile and meaningless activity. To the narcissist, every day is a new beginning, a hunt, a new cycle of idealization or devaluation, a newly invented self.
There is no accumulation of credits or goodwill because the narcissist has no past and no future. He occupies an eternal and timeless present. He is a fossil caught in the frozen lava of a volcanic childhood.
The narcissist does not keep agreements, does not adhere to laws, and regards consistency and predictability as demeaning traits. The narcissist hates kiwi one day - and devours it passionately the next.
Dissociative Gaps and Confabulation
Narcissists and psychopaths
dissociate (erase memories) a lot (are amnesiac) because their contact with the
world and with others is via a fictitious construct: the False Self.
Narcissists never experience reality directly but through a distorting lens
darkly. They get rid of any information that challenges their grandiose
self-perception and the narrative they had constructed to explicate, excuse, and
legitimize their antisocial, self-centred, and exploitative behaviors, choices,
In an attempt to compensate for the yawning gaps in memory, narcissists and psychopaths confabulate: they invent plausible "plug ins" and scenarios of how things might, could, or should have plausibly occurred. To outsiders, these fictional stopgaps appear as lies. But the narcissist fervently believes in their reality: he may not actually remember what had happened - but surely it could not have happened any other way!
These tenuous concocted fillers are subject to frequent revision as the narcissist's inner world and external circumstances evolve. This is why narcissists and psychopaths often contradict themselves. Tomorrow's confabulation often negates yesterday's. The narcissist and psychopath do not remember their previous tales because they are not invested with the emotions and cognitions that are integral parts of real memories.
Common dissociative states
include sex, sleep, watching films, daydreaming, driving, hypnosis, and
alcohol-induced blackouts. They all have several things in common:
Paranoid ideation (an outcome of disorientation and loss of control)
Belabored self-efficacy (to appear to others as present and functioning)
Emotional quarantine (fending off emotions to avoid being overwhelmed and dysregulated)
Automatism (auto-pilot) and boredom
Time loss and attention deficits
Will substitution (obeying others who are perceived as more present)
Amnesia (impairment of memory creation and storage, both short-term and long-term)
Exceptionalism (accomplishing feats or behaving in ways which one finds surprising, shocking, or alien)
Cognitive deficits and impaired reality test
Empathy inversion (empathy reduced for nearest and dearest and enhanced for strangers)
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