Narcissists, Paranoiacs and Psychotherapists
Frequently Asked Questions # 26-27
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Do narcissists tend to react with paranoia when threatened (or when they feel threatened) and how long do these "attacks" last? Does the narcissist forever decry and fear the subjects of his paranoia (his "persecutors")?
Specific paranoid reactions tend to fade and the narcissist frequently homes in on new "agents of persecution".
Arguably the most hurtful thing about a relationship with a narcissist is the ultimate realisation of how interchangeable one is, as far as the narcissist is concerned. The narcissist is hungry for Narcissistic Supply. Thus, even his paranoia is a "grandiose" fantasy aimed to regulate his sense of self-worth.
It is through his paranoia that the narcissist proves to himself that he is sufficiently important, interesting, and enough of a threat to be threatened back, to have people conspire and worry over him, in other words: to be the subject of incessant attention. Yet, this untoward mode of attracting Narcissistic Supply wanes easily if not fed constantly.
It is true, however, that many narcissists are paranoid by nature. Narcissism is the deformed emotional reaction to the narcissist's perception of the world as unpredictably hostile, precariously balanced, and illusory. In such a universe, the inclination to see enemies everywhere, to guard against them and to imagine the worst is almost adaptive and functional.
Moreover, the narcissist falls prey to delusions of grandeur. Important Men deserve Important Enemies. The narcissist attributes to himself influence and power much greater than he really possesses. Such overreaching power would look dubious without a proper set of opponents. The victories that the narcissist scores over his (mostly imagined) foes serve to emphasise his superiority. An unfriendly environment and the threats it poses, overcome by the superior skills and traits of the narcissist, are an integral part of the personal myth of the narcissist.
The narcissist's partner (mate, spouse) usually craves and encourages his (paranoid, or threatening) attention. Her behaviour and reactive patterns tend to reinforce his. This is a game of two.
But the narcissist is not a full-fledged paranoiac. He maintains his reality test. His paranoid reactions are triggered by reality itself, and egged on by the ostensibly innocent (the narcissist's partner or mate or spouse or colleague, etc.). Actually, the narcissist's partner is likely to feel barren and vacuous when these games are over (for instance, after she divorces him).
Moreover, the paranoid lives in constant fear and tribulation. This (plus the deficient structure of the narcissistic personality) allow the partner to assume a position of superiority, elevated moral ground and sound mental health. The partner feels justified in regarding the narcissist in inferior terms: a child, a monster, an invalid, or a misfit.
She tends to play the missing parent or, more often, the "psychologist" in the relationships. In this mind game (which passes for a relationship), the narcissist is assigned the role of the "patient" in need of care and of being "objectively mirrored" (for his own good) by the partner.
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This endows the partner with authority and provides her with a way to distance herself from her own emotions (and from the narcissist's). This presumption of superiority is, therefore, analgesic. The partner is permanently enmeshed in a battle to prove herself (both to the ever critical and humiliating narcissist and to herself) as worthwhile. To restore her shattered sense of security and self-esteem, the partner must resort to narcissistic techniques.
This phenomenon is "narcissistic mirroring" (see note at the bottom). It happens because the narcissist succeeds in turning himself into the partner's preferred - or even exclusive - frame of reference, the axis around which all her judgements revolve, the fountain of common sense and prevailing logic, the source of all knowledge and an authority on everything of import.
The narcissist's paranoid delusions extend to the therapeutic setting.
One of the most important presenting symptoms of the narcissist in therapy is his (or her) insistence that he (or she) is equal to the psychotherapist in knowledge, in experience, or in social status. The narcissist in the therapeutic session spices his speech with psychiatric lingo and professional terms.
The narcissist distances himself from his painful emotions by generalising and analyzing them, by slicing his life and hurt and neatly packaging the results into what he thinks are "professional insights". His message to the psychotherapist is: there is nothing much that you can teach me, I am as intelligent as you are, you are not superior to me, actually, we should both collaborate as equals in this unfortunate state of things in which we, inadvertently, find ourselves involved.
Finally, the partner gathers enough courage to confront the narcissist with the facts about the narcissist's self (as seen from the partner's vantage point). The threshold of tolerance is crossed, the measure of suffering exceeded.
The partner does not expect to induce changes in the narcissist (though, if asked, she is most likely to insist otherwise). Her motivation is more basic: to exact revenge for a period of mental slavery, subservience, subjugation, subordination, exploitation, humiliation and objectification. The aim is to anger the narcissist, and, thus, to make him vulnerable, inferior for just a minute. It is a mini-rebellion (which does not last long), sometimes possessed of sadistic elements.
Living with a narcissist is a harrowing experience. It can tilt one's mind toward abnormal reactions (actually, normal reactions to an abnormal situation). The capriciousness, volatility, arbitrariness and vicissitudinal character of the narcissist's behaviour can facilitate the formation of paranoid reactions in both the narcissist and his closest.
The less predictable the world, the more ominous and precarious it is and the more paranoid the reactions to it are. Sometimes – through the mechanism of narcissistic mirroring – the partner reacts to a prolonged period of emotional deprivation and stress by emulating the narcissist himself. The narcissist is then likely to reproach the partner by saying: "You became I and I became you!!! I do not know you anymore!"
The narcissist has a way of getting under his partners' skin. They cannot evade him because he is part of their lives and part of their selves, as internalised as any parent is. Even after a long sought separation, his partners typically still care for the narcissist greatly – enough to be mulling over the expired relationship endlessly. The partner discovers to her horror that she may be able to exit the narcissist's life – but he is unlikely exit hers.
A narcissist's partner wrote to me these heartbreaking words:
"I have made him sound like a monster, and in many ways he really is. At the same time, I have always seen a vulnerability in him, the small terrified hungry child (almost split-off from the rest of him) and I suppose this is why I tried so hard with him. I knew, almost intuitively, that while his (False) Ego was constantly swelling, his heart (True Ego) was starving…
I tried as hard as I could, in as many ways as I could, to feed the real person inside (and I believed there was a fragment of that person still alive, represented by the child). In a way, I think the violence of his reactions near the end was due to my coming so close, in arousing those ordinary needs. When he realised he has become dependent on me, and that I knew it, I think he just couldn't take it. He could not finally take the chance of trusting me.
It was an orgy of destruction. I keep thinking I could have handled it better, could and should have done things differently. Maybe it wouldn't have made any difference, but I will say that there was a real person in there somewhere, and a quite delightful one.
But as you pointed out, the narcissist would always prefer his invented self to the true one. I could not make him see that his real self was far more interesting and enchanting than his grotesque inflated grandiose superman construct. I think it is a tragic loss of a truly interesting and talented human being."
Note: Types of Mirroring
There are three types of narcissistic mirroring.
1. Narcissistic REFLECTION
When people REFLECT to the narcissist his FALSE SELF. When they AFFIRM and APPLAUD his grandiose fantasies.
Narcissists, Narcissistic Supply and Sources of Supply
2. Narcissistic MIRRORING
When the partner of the narcissist moulds herself in order to CONFORM to the narcissist's values and requirements.
A technique used by abused partners to cope with the narcissist. Consists of imitating the narcissist' behavior.
How to Cope with a Narcissist?
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