The Narcissist’s Victims
Frequently Asked Question # 38
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By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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You describe the narcissist as a cunning, immoral extortionist. How does the narcissist affect people around him?
Sooner, or later, everyone around the narcissist is bound to become his victim. People are sucked – voluntarily or involuntarily – into the turbulence that constitutes his life, into the black hole that is his personality, into the whirlwind, which makes up his interpersonal relationships.
Different people are adversely affected by different aspects of the narcissist's life and psychological make-up. Some trust him and rely on him, only to be bitterly disappointed. Others love him and discover that he cannot reciprocate. Yet others are forced to live vicariously, through him.
There are three categories of victims:
Victims of the narcissist's instability
The narcissist leads an unpredictable, vicissitudinal, precarious, often dangerous life. His ground is ever shifting: geographically as well as mentally. He changes addresses, workplaces, vocations, avocations, interests, friends and enemies with a bewildering speed. He baits authority and challenges it.
He is, therefore, prone to conflict: likely to be a criminal, a rebel, a dissident, or a critic. He gets bored easily, trapped in cycles of idealisation and devaluation of people, places, hobbies, jobs, values. He is mercurial, unstable, and unreliable. His family suffers: his spouse and children have to wander with him in his private desert, endure the Via Dolorosa that he incessantly walks.
They live in constant fear and trepidation: what next? where next? who is next? To a lesser extent, this is the case with his friends, bosses, colleagues, or with his country. These biographical vacillations and mental oscillations deny the people around him autonomy, unperturbed development and self-fulfilment, their path to self-recognition and contentment.
To the narcissist, other humans are mere instruments, Sources of Narcissistic Supply. He sees no reason to consider their needs, wishes, wants, desires and fears. He derails their life with ease and ignorance. Deep inside he knows that he is wrong to do so because they might retaliate – hence, his persecutory delusions.
Victims of the narcissist's misleading signals
These are the victims of the narcissist's deceiving emotional messages. The narcissist mimics real emotions artfully. He exudes the air of someone really capable of loving or of being hurt, of one passionate and soft, empathic and caring. Most people are misled into believing that he is even more humane than average.
They fall in love with the mirage, the fleeting image, with the fata morgana of a lush emotional oasis in the midst of their emotional desert. They succumb to the luring proposition that he is. They give in, give up, and give everything only to be discarded ruthlessly when judged by the narcissist to be no longer useful.
Riding high on the crest of the narcissist's over-valuation only to crash into the abysmal depths of his devaluation, they lose control over their emotional life. The narcissist drains them, exhausts their resources, sucks the blood-life of Narcissistic Supply from their dwindling, depleted selves.
This emotional roller coaster is so harrowing that the experience borders on the truly traumatic. To remove doubt: this behaviour pattern is not confined to matters of the heart. The narcissist's employer, for instance, is misled by his apparent seriousness, industriousness, ambition, willing to sacrifice, honesty, thoroughness and a host of other utterly fake qualities.
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They are fake because they are directed at securing Narcissistic Supply rather than at doing a good job. The narcissist's clients and suppliers may suffer from the same illusion.
The narcissist's false emanations are not restricted to messages with emotional content. They may contain wrong or false or partial information. The narcissist does not hesitate to lie, deceive, or "reveal" (misleading) half-truths. He appears to be intelligent, charming and, therefore, reliable. He is a convincing conjurer of words, signs, behaviours, and body language.
The above two classes of victims are casually exploited and then discarded by the narcissist. No more malice is involved in this than in any other interaction with an instrument. No more premeditation and contemplation than in breathing. These are victims of narcissistic reflexes. Perhaps this is what makes it all so repulsively horrific: the offhanded nature of the damage inflicted.
Not so the third category of victims.
These are the victims upon whom the narcissist designs, maliciously and intentionally, to inflict his wrath and bad intentions. The narcissist is both sadistic and masochistic. In hurting others he always seeks to hurt himself. In punishing them he wishes to be penalised. Their pains are his.
Thus, he attacks figures of authority and social institutions with vicious, uncontrolled, almost insane rage – only to accept his due punishment (their reaction to his venomous diatribes or antisocial actions) with incredible complacency, or even relief. He engages in vitriolic humiliation of his kin and folk, of regime and government, of his firm or of the law – only to suffer pleasurably in the role of the outcast, the ex-communicated, the exiled, and the imprisoned.
The punishment of the narcissist does little to compensate his randomly (rather incomprehensibly) selected victims. The narcissist forces individuals and groups of people around him to pay a heavy toll, materially, in reputation, and emotionally. He is ruinous, and disruptive.
In behaving so, the narcissist seeks not only to be punished, but also to maintain emotional detachment (Emotional Involvement Preventive Measures, EIPMs). Threatened by intimacy and by the predatory cosiness of routine and mediocrity – the narcissist lashes back at what he perceives to be the sources of this dual threat. He attacks those he thinks take him for granted, those who fail to recognise his superiority, those who render him "average" and "normal".
And they, alas, include just about everyone he knows.
“I Attract Abusers like a Magnet”
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Many victims of narcissists are firmly convinced that they have been "chosen" by their abusers because of their capacity to empathize, their innate sensitivity, compassion, and their ability to love and care. Indeed, these qualities tend to attract exploitative psychopathic predators who leverage these human emotions to their advantage. "Classical" narcissists, however, are actually repelled by such displays of contemptible "mushy" frailties. They regard natural born empaths as deplorable and nauseating weaklings who deserve all the abuse and ill-fortune that life and the narcissist mete out to them.
Narcissists, therefore, are highly unlikely to be drawn to such displays of tenderness, understanding, and sympathy. They are bound to consider them fake manipulative ploys whose sole purpose is either to extract something of value from the gullible narcissist by harping on his emotional needs - or to hurt and torment him once having secured his attachment and reciprocal love. Narcissists attribute to empathic, sensitive persons their own faults, traits, and motives - a primitive psychological defense mechanism known as projection.
So, what is the profile of the "typical" victim of narcissistic abuse?
There is none. Victims come in all shapes, sizes, professions, genders, and ages. They vary in educational and professional attainment; levels of self-esteem and self-confidence; family background; personal history; socio-economic strata; political affiliations; and any other parameter you can think of. Narcissists are not choosy and have no predilections when it comes to sources of narcissistic supply. They shack up with anyone who shows them adulation and showers them with attention.
You ought to get rid of this self-defeating refrain: "I attract abusers like a magnet, I am a narcissist-magnet (N-magnet)"!
Review you life in minute detail. Over the years and in a variety of settings - your family, your workplace, church, voluntary organizations - many people of both sexes must have found your company desirable and your personality agreeable. Were they all narcissists? Surely not! Were all those who found you sexually attractive and sought your friendship and companionship monstrous abusers? Were you victimized in all your relationships whether romantic and intimate or not? There is no way you can answer any of these questions in the affirmative!
If you chose your partners badly, or if you did not extricate yourself post haste once you have been mistreated it must have been your doing! Magnets are passive, they have no judgment, and cannot exert control over their destiny. They are a bad simile: human beings are not an inert, helpless, mindless substance. They are aware of what they are doing; can distinguish right from wrong; can and do act upon information; and exercise judgment. Bad relationships, however harrowing, constitute opportunities to learn lessons. If you fail to do so, you have no one to blame but yourself!
Narcissists and psychopaths become
aggressive and devaluing when their unrealistic expectations and impossible
fantasies are - inevitably! - thwarted and disappointed.
Then they proceed to annihilate the unwitting and hapless sources of their frustration: the people they hold responsible for quashing their hopes and forestalling their dreams, even if manifestly through no fault of their own.
The victims of such whiplash are shocked and disoriented by the rapid cycling and transition from being cherished, cared for, or even love-bombed - to being raged at, hated, betrayed, undermined, and abused.
But narcissists and psychopaths are also callous and ruthless purveyors of dreams, hopes, fantasies, and wishes. They promise to change the usually dreary, miserable, and lonely lives of their victims for the infinitely better. They coerce their targets to collude in shared psychoses and to make irreparable sacrifices and irrevocable decisions.
With their prey or target driven to the point of no return with bridges burned and emotions evoked as well as other people impacted - the narcissist or psychopath suddenly loses interest in the chase or the conquest, becomes cold, distant, and detached or even hostile and verbally abusive. Devalue and discard soon follow.
Using cold empathy, narcissists
and psychopaths scan for vulnerabilities, traumas, pains, and weaknesses in
others: frailties and chinks in the armor through which to invade and penetrate
the defenses of potential sources of supply or victims
These predators tend to carelessly, off-handedly, absentmindedly, and sometimes, sadistically, push all the buttons and realize the worst nightmares of their quarries, the scenarios their victims dread most. To narcissists and psychopaths, people who have outrun their usefulness are mere collateral damage with an expiry date.
Once in a blue moon, the narcissist or psychopath encounters his match: one of his kind
The narcissist or psychopath then becomes the prey, abused, betrayed, humiliated, shunned, or abandoned altogether
The worst fears of the narcissist or psychopath and the most terrifying outcomes are thus rendered surrealistic facts and the resulting narcissistic injury and traumatic shock are so extreme that some narcissists decompensate and disintegrate
In extreme cases of abuse, the narcissist or psychopath on the receiving end of the taste if his own medicine develops suicidal ideation and experiences psychotic microepisodes.
of prolonged abuse often introject (internalize) their abusers and convert them
into permanent persecutory objects. Henceforth, they trauma bond with this
inner tormenting voice even when the original bully is long out of their lives.
Victimhood becomes a cozy comfort zone and the victims is emotionally invested (cathected) in maintaining it pristine and operational. It becomes a determinant of the victim's identity and helps her to regulate her emotions and ameliorate her anxiety and mood lability.
Perpetual victimhood serves four indispensable psychological needs:
1. It restores a sense of agency and self-efficacy and reverts the locus of control from external to internal. Many victims garner attention and make money from their newly found "profession";
2. It makes sense of the victim's personal history and of the world around her thereby rendering them meaningful: structure, order, and even a sense of "karmic" justice are restored;
3. It legitimizes avoidant behaviors. The world out there is challenging and painful: shunning it guarantees tranquility and an inert peace of mind;
4. Victimhood allows the victim to indulge her grandiosity and sense of moral superiority: it paints her as immaculate, angelic, empathic, supportive, loving, caring, compassionate, and, in short, perfect, blesmishless, and blameless. It is a morality play or a crusade and she is the warrior angel fighting off the demonic narcissists.
Victimhood affords the victim membership in tight-knit communities of like-minded people and a sense of belonging and being finally understood, vindicated, and elevated. It is an intoxicating mix and victims become aggressive if and when you try to take it away from them by alerting them to their own imperfections and contributions to their sad state of affairs.
With one or two laudable exceptions, unscrupulous "coaches" and "experts" online seek to perpetuate this state of victimhood: telling your clients what they want to hear and what they are willing to pay for is good for business. The truth and healing have a negative effect on their burgeoning bottom lines.
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