Sam Vaknin is the rock star of narcissism.
Vaknin–self-professed malignant narcissist, possible psychopath, and author of a dark and pondering tome about his own NPD (a book he himself had admitted was never meant to do anything other than serve his need for adulation and the attainment of a guru-like status) has, over the past fifteen years or so (since he first began having an online presence), achieved his goal of attaining an endless torrent of narcissistic supply–both negative and positive–from strangers he has never met, especially from white middle aged women all over the world.
It’s exactly the same demographic that obsesses over TV singing show contestants (I’m not entirely sure what the correlation would be here), but with one major difference: Vaknin’s “fans” are almost all victims of abuse by narcissistic families or spouses. Most of these women are in a lot of emotional pain and having failed to find adequate help elsewhere, have turned to the Internet to find solace, community, and support.
If you Google “narcissistic abuse,” “escaping from a narcissistic husband,” “I want to string up my abusive narcissistic drug addicted asshole of a lover by his testicles,” or anything containing the N word, you are going to find that Sam Vaknin and his writings dominate this particular psychological field on the web. You are going to see the many links to his website, his Youtube channel with its hundreds of videos about narcissism, his many forums and discussion groups on Google and Yahoo, and to pages and pages of articles written by or about him (just do a Google search if you don’t believe me). If you are a survivor of narcissistic abuse who uses a computer, you cannot avoid him. He is everywhere.
So Sam Vaknin–precisely the kind of person these victims are trying to escape from–is the first stop for many of these hurting, vulnerable women in their long journey from abuse to freedom. Personally I have never been involved in any of Vaknin’s discussion groups or forums but a lot of women say they have really been helped by them. It’s a huge irony that Vaknin’s intention was never to help them at all (although I don’t think his intentions were ever bad, just selfish). His book “Malignant Self-Love” is also among the best known (and definitely the most visible) books about narcissistic abuse on the Internet, and these same women say his book has changed their lives and given them the courage to go No Contact with their abusers–a concept Vaknin encourages and approves of.
Because of the emotionally fragile and vulnerable state many of these women are in when emerging from or trying to cope with an abusive relationship, Vaknin himself–whether he deserves it or not–has become a kind of guru to them. But attaining a guru-like status also means attaining a status as a sex symbol, not really any different than the adoration a middle aged fangirl has for, say, Jon Bon Jovi.
It doesn’t matter that he may be a psychopath or have psychopathic tendencies. Most cult leaders have or had the same sort of charisma and women fawned all over them too. Even serial killers have their ardent supporters and fans–and a few have even received marriage proposals!
While I would not classify Vaknin in the same category as someone like Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, or L. Ron Hubbard, he does possess a lot of cult-leader-like charisma. Many narcissists do, especially famous ones. Although not classically handsome, Sam has the “tall and dark” thing going and he certainly isn’t ugly. He also has an intense and magnetic dark gaze that can be felt even from watching his videos. He has a pronounced (Israeli?) accent which makes him seem exotic but he speaks English more fluently than a college professor.
His writings, especially his poetry and journal entries, are available for public consumption (through his website, linked above) and are as deeply personal as his videos are pedantic and robotic. This vulnerable side to Vaknin–or what appears to be vulnerability–makes women want to reach out to him. He brings out their maternal, nurturing instincts at the same time he’s a kind of father figure. He is also extremely intelligent, purportedly having an IQ of 180. High intelligence is sexy as hell.
This is why he’s so attractive–and so dangerous. Women leaving or still trapped in relationships with narcissists tend to be codependent, nurturing “givers”–women who cater to their abuser’s many emotional needs, especially their need to be adulated–and they find in Vaknin an intriguing mix of the charismatic, authoritative, intelligent politician/celebrity and a sensitive, “deep” poet and wordsmith who writes about his dark and tragic life and resulting disorder in an emotional and passionate way. This vulnerability is what disarms so many susceptible people.
He’s a study in contrasts and contradictions: a man who is unfeeling, cold and prone to unpredictable rages, yet releases through his creative writings what appear to be emotions that are almost too intense to bear; a malignant narcissist who hates other narcissists and warns his “fans” to stay away from people like himself; a man who says he can’t feel empathy but has helped victimized people in spite of that; and a man who is as much hated and dismissed as a fraud as he is adored and looked up to as a guru. His high intelligence, craggy good looks and encyclopedic knowledge of a devastating mental disorder they are trying desperately to understand all combine to give this man an irresistible attractiveness. He’s a perfect storm of characteristics targeted at precisely the right audience and demographic. If a manufacturer was told to design a man with devastating charisma and intelligence who could appear to be anything you wanted him to be, the result would be someone a lot like Vaknin.
Add to this the fact that codependent, victimized women are often attracted to narcissists. If they look up to Sam Vaknin as their savior and mentor, they are likely to find themselves a little–or a lot– obsessed. There’s also the issue of transference. Victimized, emotionally damaged women see Vaknin as a kind of online therapist (especially those who frequent his discussion groups and forums), and the “transference” of strong feelings of a patient to their therapist is an important development in the psychotherapeutic relationship. If they’re using the Internet as their therapist, Vaknin can easily become the object of these feelings of transference. He becomes a kind of mirror reflecting back to them all the admirable qualities they have imbued him with–which may or may not be accurate at all–but it’s what they want or need to see in him. The problem is, unlike with a therapist in a controlled psychotherapeutic setting, women experiencing transference toward a online cult hero like Vaknin have no idea what to do with these feelings or how to use them to learn more about their own disorders.
Sam Vaknin may not sell out arenas, dress in glittery stage clothing, play an instrument, sell merchandize or T-shirts with his likeness on them, or appear on the cover of People Magazine (…and I have no idea whether he can sing or not), but I bet there are hundreds if not thousands of desperate women attending all his lectures, following him around to all his events like groupies, and reading all his writings and books any chance they can get. Who knows, someone may even be writing Sam Vaknin fan fiction (no, not me!). 😮
For Vaknin’s part, he has admitted he looks down on those who look up to him, but he also loves the adulation and admiration his admirers give him. He also loves to be hated. He obviously enjoys being the rock star of narcissism and all that goes with it, and probably hates the idea of anyone else ever stealing his one-man show. I doubt that will happen any time soon though.