The Ubiquitous Narcissist

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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The narcissist’s False Self is grandiose. The narcissist seeks to maintain his inflated fantasy of himself. He denies, slices and splits off, and “evacuates” or projects onto others emotions, cognitions (thoughts), traits, impulses, behaviors and qualities that contradict and contravene it. In the idealization and devaluation phases, the narcissist also attributes to his sources of primary or secondary narcissistic supply ideal/positive or negative traits and behaviors, some of which he may actually possess.

Additionally, the narcissist feels omnipresent, all-pervasive, the prime mover and shaker, the cause of all things. He is also convinced that everyone is exactly like him when it comes to negative emotions and motivation. Hence his constant and facile projection of his own traits, fears, behaviour patterns, beliefs, and plans onto others. The narcissist is firmly convinced that he is the generator and regulator of other people's emotions; that they depend on him for their well-being; that without him their lives will crumble into grey mediocrity. He regards himself as the most important component in the life of his nearest and dearest.

To avoid painful contradictions with reality or cognitive dissonances and also to ameliorate his raging abandonment or separation anxiety, the narcissist aims to micromanage and control his human environment by subsuming it or by merging and fusing with it (exactly as codependents do). His nearest and dearest are reduced to mere representations, avatars, extensions of himself, or internal objects.

This is where projective identification comes into play. Like the simpler projection defense mechanism, it consists of the attribution of the narcissist’s own psychological makeup, urges, desires, and processes to others. But it also involves forcing the target of the projection to conform to its contents: to actually become someone else and behave in ways prescribed by the narcissist (to undergo introjective identification).

In the idealization phase, the narcissist cajoles, coerces, extorts, and incentivizes his chosen source of supply to transform herself into the kind of person that the narcissist projects: intelligent, for example, or “strong”. Similarly, in the devaluation stage, the “target” is manipulated to assume, adopt, and exhibit the narcissist’s shortcomings and unmanageable, chaotic, and dysregulated emotions and behaviors, such as rage, envy, contempt, abusive conduct, and shame.

The narcissist rejects these and refuses to own them because they challenge his self-perception, his False Self, and his ability to regulate his sense of self-worth. So, instead, he “farms them out” and “outsources” them to others around him, while also pressuring them to playact these roles in the screenplay of his life and to affirm what he knows about the world and about himself, i.e., his comfort zone, or Pathological Narcissistic Space. They become convenient props, containers of unwanted bits of the narcissist’s persona and psyche, and constant reminders of his superiority and magnanimity.

Still, it is important to realize that the material that is cast off in the process of projective identification remains a part of the narcissist because the people it is projected onto are integral parts of him: his extensions and appendages, mere inner spectres. With the narcissist, projection and projective identification don’t work because, in his mental world, there are no “others”, no “outside”, and no “reality”, but a mere interplay between internal psychological constructs and structures, having little to do with the world. The narcissist’s solipsistic worldview prevents him from successfully getting rid of what bothers him the most: his imperfections.

But this only one aspect of the pathology.

The second aspect is malignant cynicism. A healthy modicum of doubt and caution is... well... healthy. But the narcissist is addicted to excess doses of both. To the narcissist, all people are narcissists - others are simply hypocritical when they pretend to be "normal". They are weak and fear society's reactions, so they adhere to its edicts and behavioural-moral codes. The narcissist magically feels strong, immune to punishment, and invincible and thus able to express his true nature fearlessly and openly.

Consider generosity and altruism, the daughters of empathy - that which the narcissist is absolutely devoid of.

(continued below)

This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"

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I cannot digest or fathom true generosity. I immediately suspect ulterior motives (though not necessarily sinister ones). I ask myself: Why the helping hand? How come the trust placed in me? What do they really want from me? How (unbeknownst to me) do I benefit them? What is the disguised self-interest which drives their perplexing behaviour? Don't these people know better? Don't they realize that people are all, without exception, self-centred, interest-driven, unnecessarily malevolent, ignorant, and abusive? In other words, I am surprised that my true nature does not show instantly. I feel like an incandescent lamp. I feel that people can see through my transparent defences and that what they see must surely horrify and repel them.

When this does not happen, I am shocked.

I am shocked because altruistic, loving, caring, and generous behaviours expose as false the hidden assumptions underlying my mental edifice. Not everyone is a narcissist. People do care for each other for no immediate reward. And, most damaging of all, I am loveable.

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