Test of the 3 R’s (acquired situational narcissism vs. NPD)

narcrealityshows

I just read an interesting article by Sam Vaknin (author of Malignant Self-Love) describing a condition that afflicts some celebrities and other high-profile people or people who achieved overnight success, called Acquired Situational Narcissism (ASN). It can also occur in codependents of a narcissist (what the ACON community calls “fleas”). ASN can mimic NPD, but tends to diminish over time or if the person’s fortunes change. But a more important difference is that a person with ASN isn’t lacking what he calls “The Three R’s.” These are:

1. Remorse
2. Remediation
3. Restoration

Narcissism is used as a coping strategy but doesn’t necessarily become a life sentence. I’ve done enough editorializing, so here is the article.

The Test of Three R’s
By Sam Vaknin
http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/the-test-of-three-rs

Acquired Situational Narcissism can be induced in adulthood by celebrity, wealth, and fame. But, it may also occur in a variety of other situations. Codependents, aiming to fend off gnawing abandonment anxiety, can resort to and evolve narcissistic and even psychopathic behaviours and traits in order to cater the whims of their “loved” ones; in anomic societies and depraved cultural or religious settings, people with a conformist bend tend to adopt antisocial modes of conduct and personal style so as to “fit in” and belong.

How can we tell whether one’s narcissism is of the ephemeral, derivative variety – or an integral, immutable, and inalienable feature of his or her personality? By applying the test of “Three Rs”: Remorse, Remediation, and Restoration.

To qualify, remorse has to be expressed repeatedly and must be heartfelt. It should entail a modicum of sacrifice, embarrassment, and inconvenience. Regretting one’s misdeeds in public is more convincing than sending a private missive or whispering “sorry” anonymously. Remediation requires making amends and offering reparations, which are commensurate with the offending acts and bear some symbolic relation to them. Thus, financial abuse can be absolved only with the aid of a monetary compensation that corresponds to the damage done and suffered. Finally, restoration involves affording one’s victims the opportunity for closure, if not forgiveness, so that they can move on with their lives.

True narcissists and psychopaths fail the Three Rs test at every turn: their remorse is feigned and ostentatious; they provide little or no recompense; and they never put themselves at the victim’s disposal to allow her to achieve that she needs most: closure.

Read the rest of Sam’s article here.

Related to this, on February 22, writer/producer Nancy Fulton will be interviewing Sam Vaknin about the portrayal of narcissists in media and entertainment. More info can be found here.

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Why does a narcissist need a false self?

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On one of Sam Vaknin’s discussion pages, someone asked a very good question:
Why does the narcissist conjure up another Self? Why not simply transform his True Self into a False one?

I’ve wondered about this too. Here’s Sam’s explanation, which is a link to one of his articles from his website. While his long answer is predictably bleak and hopeless, and I don’t agree with him about everything, taken as a whole, this article did answer a lot of questions I had been wondering about and as always it made me think.

The Dual Role of the Narcissist’s False Self
By Sam Vaknin

We often marvel at the discrepancy between the private and public lives of our idols: celebrities, statesmen, stars, writers, and other accomplished figures. It is as though they have two personalities, two selves: the “true” one which they reserve for their nearest and dearest and the “fake” or “false” or “concocted” one which they flaunt in public.

In contrast, the narcissist has no private life, no true self, no domain reserved exclusively for his nearest and dearest. His life is a spectacle, with free access to all, constantly on display, garnering narcissistic supply from his audience. In the theatre that is the narcissist’s life, the actor is irrelevant. Only the show goes on. The False Self is everything the narcissist would like to be but, alas, cannot: omnipotent, omniscient, invulnerable, impregnable, brilliant, perfect, in short: godlike. Its most important role is to elicit narcissistic supply from others: admiration, adulation, awe, obedience, and, in general: unceasing attention.

The narcissist constructs a narrative of his life that is partly confabulated and whose purpose is to buttress, demonstrate, and prove the veracity of the fantastically grandiose and often impossible claims made by the False Self. This narrative allocates roles to significant others in the narcissist’s personal history. Inevitably, such a narrative is hard to credibly sustain for long: reality intrudes and a yawning abyss opens between the narcissist’s self-imputed divinity and his drab, pedestrian existence and attributes. I call it the Grandiosity Gap. Additionally, meaningful figures around the narcissist often refuse to play the parts allotted to them, rebel, and abandon the narcissist.

The narcissist copes with this painful and ineluctable realization of the divorce between his self-perception and this less than stellar state of affairs by first denying reality, delusionally ignoring and filtering out all inconvenient truths. Then, if this coping strategy fails, the narcissist invents a new narrative, which accommodates and incorporates the very intrusive data that served to undermine the previous, now discarded narrative. He even goes to the extent of denying that he ever had another narrative, except the current, modified one.

The narcissist’s (and the codependent’s) introjects and inner voices (assimilated representations of parents, role models, and significant peers) are mostly negative and sadistic. Rather than provide succour, motivation, and direction, they enhance his underlying ego-dystony (discontent with who he is) and the lability of his sense of self-worth.

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“Buddha nature” True Self vs. “Ego” False Self. Click to enlarge graphic.

Introjects possess a crucial role in the formation of an exegetic (interpretative) framework which allows one to decipher the world, construct a model of reality, of one’s place in it, and, consequently of who one is (self-identity). Overwhelmingly negative introjects – or introjects which are manifestly fake, fallacious, and manipulative – hamper the narcissist’s and codependent’s ability to construct a true and efficacious exegetic (interpretative) framework.

Gradually, the disharmony between one’s perception of the universe and of oneself and reality becomes unbearable and engenders pathological, maladaptive, and dysfunctional attempts to either deny the hurtful discrepancy away (delusions and fantasies); grandiosely compensate for it by eliciting positive external voices to counter the negative, inner ones (narcissism via the False Self and its narcissistic supply); attack it (antisocial/psychopathy); withdraw from the world altogether (schizoid solution); or disappear by merging and fusing with another person (codependence.)

Once formed and functioning, the False Self stifles the growth of the True Self and paralyses it. Henceforth, the ossified True Self is virtually non-existent and plays no role (active or passive) in the conscious life of the narcissist. It is difficult to “resuscitate” it, even with psychotherapy. The False Self sometimes parades the child-like, vulnerable, needy, and innocent True Self in order to capture, manipulate, and attract empathic sources of narcissistic supply. When supply is low, the False Self is emaciated and dilapidated. It is unable to contain and repress the True Self which then emerges as a petulant, self-destructive, spoiled, and codependent entity. But the True Self’s moments in the sun are very brief and, usually, inconsequential.

This substitution is not only a question of alienation, as Horney observed. She said that because the Idealised (=False) Self sets impossible goals to the narcissist, the results are frustration and self hate which grow with every setback or failure. But the constant sadistic judgement, the self-berating, the suicidal ideation emanate from the narcissist’s idealised, sadistic, Superego regardless of the existence or functioning of a False Self.

There is no conflict between the True Self and the False Self.

First, the True Self is much too weak to do battle with the overbearing False. Second, the False Self is adaptive (though maladaptive). It helps the True Self to cope with the world. Without the False Self, the True Self would be subjected to so much hurt that it will disintegrate. This happens to narcissists who go through a life crisis: their False Ego becomes dysfunctional and they experience a harrowing feeling of annulment.

falseself_graphic
Anatomy of the mind of a narcissist.

The False Self has many functions. The two most important are:

1. It serves as a decoy, it “attracts the fire”. It is a proxy for the True Self. It is tough as nails and can absorb any amount of pain, hurt and negative emotions. By inventing it, the child develops immunity to the indifference, manipulation, sadism, smothering, or exploitation – in short: to the abuse – inflicted on him by his parents (or by other Primary Objects in his life). It is a cloak, protecting him, rendering him invisible and omnipotent at the same time.

2. The False Self is misrepresented by the narcissist as his True Self. The narcissist is saying, in effect: “I am not who you think I am. I am someone else. I am this (False) Self. Therefore, I deserve a better, painless, more considerate treatment.” The False Self, thus, is a contraption intended to alter other people’s behaviour and attitude towards the narcissist.
These roles are crucial to survival and to the proper psychological functioning of the narcissist. The False Self is by far more important to the narcissist than his dilapidated, dysfunctional, True Self.

The two Selves are not part of a continuum, as the neo-Freudians postulated. Healthy people do not have a False Self which differs from its pathological equivalent in that it is more realistic and closer to the True Self.

It is true that even healthy people have a mask [Guffman], or a persona [Jung] which they consciously present to the world. But these are a far cry from the False Self, which is mostly subconscious, depends on outside feedback, and is compulsive.

The False Self is an adaptive reaction to pathological circumstances. But its dynamics make it predominate, devour the psyche and prey upon the True Self. Thus, it prevents the efficient, flexible functioning of the personality as a whole.

That the narcissist possesses a prominent False Self as well as a suppressed and dilapidated True Self is common knowledge. Yet, how intertwined and inseparable are these two? Do they interact? How do they influence each other? And what behaviours can be attributed squarely to one or the other of these protagonists? Moreover, does the False Self assume traits and attributes of the True Self in order to deceive the world?

Read the rest of Sam’s article here.

A “new” personality disorder?

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I’ve heard of Passive Aggressive (Negativistic) Personality Disorder before, but it’s not currently recognized by the DSM. I think it should be added because I know people like this. In many ways it resembles narcissism, but some of the well known traits of narcissism are lacking, such as arrogance and grandiosity. It also resembles Paranoid Personality Disorder in some ways, without the schizoid traits. Passive-aggressives can be quite manipulative. They are well known for giving the “silent treatment” and sabotaging others. A person who complains constantly, is never satisfied, always sees the glass as half empty, and openly envies the more fortunate would probably qualify.

Negativistic (Passive-Aggressive) Personality Disorder
From “Personality Disorders Revisited” (450 page e-book) – by Sam Vaknin

Negativistic (Passive-Aggressive) Personality Disorder is not yet recognized by the DSM Committee. It makes its appearances in Appendix B of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, titled “Criteria Sets and Axes Provided for Further Study.”

Some people are perennial pessimists and have “negative energy” and negativistic attitudes (“good things don’t last”, “it doesn’t pay to be good”, “the future is behind me”). Not only do they disparage the efforts of others, but they make it a point to resist demands to perform in workplace and social settings and to frustrate people’s expectations and requests, however reasonable and minimal they may be. Such persons regard every requirement and assigned task as impositions, reject authority, resent authority figures (boss, teacher, parent-like spouse), feel shackled and enslaved by commitment, and oppose relationships that bind them in any manner.

Whether these attitudes and behaviors are acquired/learned or the outcome of heredity is still an open question. Often, passive-aggression is the only weapon of the weak and the meek, besieged as they are by frustration, helplessness, envy and spite, the organizing principles of their emotional landscape and the engines and main motivating forces of their lives.

Passive-aggressiveness wears a multitude of guises: procrastination, malingering, perfectionism, forgetfulness, neglect, truancy, intentional inefficiency, stubbornness, and outright sabotage. This repeated and advertent misconduct has far reaching effects. Consider the Negativist in the workplace: he or she invests time and efforts in obstructing their own chores and in undermining relationships. But, these self-destructive and self-defeating behaviors wreak havoc throughout the workshop or the office.

passive_aggressive_bitch

People diagnosed with the Negativistic (Passive-Aggressive) Personality Disorder resemble narcissists in some important respects. Despite the obstructive role they play, passive-aggressives feel unappreciated, underpaid, cheated, and misunderstood. They chronically complain, whine, carp, and criticize. They blame their failures and defeats on others, posing as martyrs and victims of a corrupt, inefficient, and heartless system (in other words, they have alloplastic defenses and an external locus of control).

Passive-aggressives sulk and give the “silent treatment” in reaction to real or imagined slights. They suffer from ideas of reference (believe that they are the butt of derision, contempt, and condemnation) and are mildly paranoid (the world is out to get them, which explains their personal misfortune). In the words of the DSM: “They may be sullen, irritable, impatient, argumentative, cynical, skeptical and contrary.” They are also hostile, explosive, lack impulse control, and, sometimes, reckless.

Inevitably, passive-aggressives are envious of the fortunate, the successful, the famous, their superiors, those in favor, and the happy. They vent this venomous jealousy openly and defiantly whenever given the opportunity. But, deep at heart, passive-aggressives are craven. When reprimanded, they immediately revert to begging forgiveness, kowtowing, maudlin protestations, turning on their charm, and promising to behave and perform better in the future.

Click here to read about passive aggressive bureaucracies and collectives: http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com/personalitydisorders36.html#pacollect

Book Review: “Malignant Self-Love” by Sam Vaknin

malignantselflove
Vaknin’s “Bible of Narcissism”

I first heard about Sam Vaknin’s book “Malignant Self-Love” about 15 years ago–when I made a cursory online search about NPD after I realized my own mother was one. At that time, Vaknin was pretty much the only voice on the Internet about narcissistic abuse. Vaknin, a self-confessed narcissistic psychopath , had written a “bible of narcissism” and it became obvious, from scanning the selected pages he provided in PDF format on his website (which has never been upgraded to a more current look and format–he uses the ancient blogging site, Tripod), that this guy was obsessed with his own disorder to the point of unhealthy navel-gazing and what’s more, he and seemed to hate people like himself. What was this, some kind of pathology performance art?

His book and his own story that inspired the book intrigued me, but at the time, I was still trapped (or thought I was trapped) in my abusive marriage and my kids were still very young, so I filed this information away in the back of my brain, and quickly moved onto other things, such as trying to keep my doomed marriage together. In fact, I didn’t think about his book again until late last year, after I left my narcissist.

When I started my blog in September 2014, Vaknin still had a huge presence online (though he no longer had a monopoly on narcissism). He was often quoted on ACON blogs and even in more serious articles in publications like Psychology Today. The difference was, by now, he was no longer alone. There were other voices joining his–Kim Saeed, Michelle Mallon, and Kathy Krajco (who is with us no more) just to name a few, and of course psychologists and other authors like Dr. George K. Simon, Robert Hare, and Marsha Stout. And too many ACON (Adult Children of Narcissists) bloggers to count. By this time, Narcissism was a Very Hot Topic, at least on the Intenet. Sam Vaknin probably began that trend, in spite of his being so vilified by so many of the narcissism bloggers he paved the way for.

A self-professed malignant narcissist writing self help books for victims of abuse may seem like the ultimate irony–but when you look a little deeper, it makes a lot of sense. Who better than a narcissist to know what makes a narcissist tick? Every other expert who writes books about narcissism has to make educated — or not so educated — guesses.

If you’re not a narcissist, it’s almost impossible to imagine what such a disorder can feel like to its bearer, just as the pain of cancer can never be convincingly described by one who has never suffered from cancer. If a book were to be written about what it’s like to have cancer, the writer should be a cancer survivor–or one about to succumb. My point here being that Sam Vaknin, whether you like him or not, whether you think he’s doing ACONs a service or hurting them, whether he’s got the proper credentials or not (and personally I don’t care about the whole credential brouhaha because not once in the book does he say he’s a mental health professional and in fact it’s full of disclaimers), is definitely qualified to write about narcissism. His primary qualification–the only qualification that really matters–is that he is speaking from personal experience.

So I pulled out my debit card and ordered the huge black-and-red tome with its Caravaggio “Narcissus” illustration on the cover (which, for me, was a draw in itself, because I love the painting). It set me back about $40 on Amazon (you can get a copy signed by the author for about $54.95) I thought the price was a bit high, until I held the book in my hands. It was as big as the Bible! Maybe even bigger. I flipped through its onion-skin thin Bible-like pages and saw how tiny the print was.

Oh, man, I thought. I don’t think I can read this. But I was determined to. I wanted to understand what it felt like to be a narcissist, what it felt like to be inside Sam’s head. And so I began to read.

Malignant Self-Love is not a book you can read in one sitting–or even ten. Maybe not even twenty. Normally, I’m a very fast reader. Until I started blogging (and no longer had time to read much), I could consume about 3 good-sized books a week. People looked at me like I had three eyes and a horn growing out of my head when I’d tell them I finished a 300 page novel in 2 days. But Vaknin’s book is different. It’s not only got a LOT of information–almost more information about narcissism than you’d ever need or want to know–but it’s a dark and depressing read too, and I found that while reading it, I felt my mind being sucked into Vaknin’s bottomless black vortex of pain. He’s pessimistic, negative, and hates his own disorder. He also seems to hate himself for having NPD, and demonizes narcissists in general, referring to them as non-humans and machines. He demonizes himself in the process, and warns his readers to stay far away from people like himself. You would think from all this encouraging advice to the sort of people who would have been his prey, that he cares about the victims. I’m not so sure, since he himself is quoted as saying he never intended to help anyone by writing Malignant Self-Love, that his primary motive was narcissistic supply and attaining a guru-like status for himself.

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Sam Vaknin, the psychopathic, emotionless predator.

Yet in spite of his heart never having been in its creation, Malignant Self-Love is an outstanding piece of writing, and English isn’t even Vaknin’s native language. He weaves words together into a beautiful piece of literature the way a holy man weaves tiny colored threads together to create a Persian rug–with an intricacy and detail that is rare in modern writing.

Indeed, Vaknin’s writing at times can seem as if it’s from a bygone century. His phrasing is old-fashioned and his writing is highly descriptive, hearkening back to 19th century authors. At times it reads almost like poetry. And it’s very emotional writing. You come away from the pages (which feels somewhat like coming up for air after having been underwater too long), with the strong sense that whenever Vaknin refers to the “Narcissist,” he is really speaking about himself in the third person. There is passion and pain in these pages, but more than anything else, there is rage. White hot rage. Sam Vaknin is…intense. And so is his book.

Although some mental health professionals and other who study NPD have criticized Vaknin for appearing to take several related personality disorders–Antisocial, NPD (the less malignant type described in the DSM-V), Borderline Personality Disorder, and even autism–and churn them together into a mutation of the psychiatric definition of NPD into a devastating form of psychopathic malignant narcissism. Some mental health experts have even said Vaknin’s book has been damaging to the field of diagnostic psychology because it blurs the lines between several distinct personality disorders.

But since when is the field of diagnostic psychology a real science anyway? At best, it’s a social science; at worst, an art form–so in my mind, Vaknin’s theories about NPD make as much–or more–sense than some of the experts.’

Vaknin was also not the first narcissism writer to ever do this. While M. Scott Peck’s 1983 book “People of the Lie” is written from a completely different perspective from Vaknin’s–one with religious overtones written by psychiatrist who is also a born-again Christian–Peck’s book too seems to mix traits of NPD and ASPD. And while Peck didn’t call the hybrid disorder “malignant narcissism” (he calls it “evil”) because that term wasn’t in wide use in 1983, people could relate–because we almost all know someone like that. Vaknin’s book also describes people that victims of narcissistic abuse recognize–a dangerous kind of narcissist who has nothing but ill will toward others, but it was born from having been abused themselves, as Vaknin was abused.

Vaknin’s readers are mostly women, who are in a relationship with a narcissist or thinking about leaving one. Sam Vaknin does not disappoint. 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-–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 themselves. But on the plus side, he does tell them how to disengage and tell them WHY they should disengage and what makes their narcissist tick, and of course he’s right. Many of these women (and men too) claim Vaknin’s book saved their lives and helped them get started along the road to self-discovery and freedom from abuse.

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I think this picture shows a sad side Sam Vaknin rarely shows in public. That’s why I think it might have been a candid photo that caught him with his mask temporarily down. Of course he could be acting for the camera too.

If you don’t like ponderous, pessimistic tomes or books that don’t require the reader to think, then Vaknin’s bible of narcissism may not be for you. But if you like a book you can savor and digest over weeks or months, the way you would savor a fine wine by taking small sips and not chugga-lugging it down like a cheap bottle of Gallo, then I recommend his book if you’re in an abusive relationship with a narcissist, trying to go No Contact, or just interested in narcissism. His writing is so good it’s worth reading even as just a work of literature, even if you disagree with his assessment of NPD as a blight on humanity and the precious little hope he conveys that sufferers of NPD can ever get well (which is one of the few problems I have with his book).

It took me nearly three months to finish Malignant Self-Love, but only because I could only swallow a little of his brand of darkness at a time without making myself sick. However, when I finally read the last page, I came away feeling like I had an insight into my narcissists that no one else could have made possible. It was as if Mr. Vaknin provided a sort of mirror to my narcissists and made them talk to me– openly and honestly–about why they did the awful, hurtful things they did. In giving my narcs a voice, albeit a depressing, raging one–I felt as if Vaknin’s book had somehow stripped away some of their power over me. And that’s always a good thing.

“Ned’s Short Life” by Sam Vaknin

Can a narcissist feel empathy for a tiny creature like a goldfish? Maybe. I like this story, even though it’s sad.

Ned’s Short Life
by Sam Vaknin

gold_fish

Lidija returned home all dusty and breathless, as was her habit ever since we have bought the apartment and she embarked on its thorough renovation, long months ago. Between two delicate but strong fingers she held aloft a transparent plastic bag, the kind she used to wrap around half-consumed comestibles in the refrigerator. Instinctively, I extended an inquisitive hand, but she recoiled and said: “Don’t! There’s a fish in there!” and this is how I saw Ned for the first time.

“He is a male,”—Lidija told me—”and Fred is a female”. In the crowded and smelly pet shop the salesgirl elaborated on the anatomic differences between the sexes. So, now Fred had a mate.

“Fred” is Fredericka, our first attempt at a goldfish. One of the handymen gave her to Lidija “to keep your husband company while you are away”, he explained mischievously. Fred grew up in a bowl and then graduated into a small and rather plain aquarium. I placed a clay elephant and a plastic, one-legged ballerina in it, but this unlikely couple did little to liven it up. Fred’s abode stood on the kitchen counter, next to a pile of yellow bananas, flame-orange mandarins, and assorted shrink-wrapped snacks. She swam melancholily to and fro, forlorn and lonely, toying with her own reflection.

A fortnight later, Lidija and I purchased a bigger tank. I filled it with tap water and dumped Fred in it. Shocked and distressed, she hid under a shell and refused to emerge, no matter the temptation. Hence Ned.

I knew next to nothing about new fish tanks, the need to “cycle” them owing to the absence of nitrogen-devouring bacteria, and the stress that all these cause the unfortunate inhabitants of my aquarium. I dumped Ned in the crystal-clear waters as unceremoniously as I did his would-be mate. But Ned—having graduated far worse aquaria in dingy pet shops—swam a few triumphant laps around the receptacle and then settled down to the business of chasing food scraps. Fred eyed him shyly and then joined him hesitantly. It was the first time she had moved in days.

As the time passed, Fred, a codependent goldfish if I ever saw one, excitedly clung to Ned’s bright orange tail and followed him wherever he glided. But Ned did not reciprocate. Far more aggressive than Fred, he deprived her of food, pursuing her in circles and leveraging his longer body and broader amidship to tackle the silvery female. All my exhortations and threats went on deaf ears: Ned would coyly slink away only to resume his belligerence when he figured I am out of range.

Still, every few hours, Fred and Ned would align themselves, as arrow-straight as soldiers on parade, and swing to and fro in unison in the currents, perfectly at peace, their delicate fins flapping regally and slowly. It was a bewitching, hypnotizing manifestation of some primordial order. I used to sit on the armrest of a couch, enthralled by their antics, monitoring who does what to whom with the avidity of a natural scientist and the wonderment of a child. Gradually, the susurration of the air pump; the gentle breeze of bubbles; and the elegant motility of my fancies all conspired to calm my rampant anxiety. I made a living off the proceeds of books I have written about my mental health disorder and so was gratified to escape the stifling and morbid environment of my own making.

Then, one morning, I woke up to find the couple gasping at the shell-covered bottom of their tank, tail and fins streaking red and rotting away, bit by tiny and ephemeral piece. The magic gone, it was replaced with the nightmarish horror that permeated the rest of my existence. I felt guilty, somehow threatened, imbued with the profound sadness that other people—normal people—associate with grieving. Reflexively, I surfed the Internet frenetically for answers; I downloaded a dozen books and read them; and I got up at all hours of the night to change the water in my Ned and Fred’s minacious cesspool. I woke up with dread and bedded with foreboding and so did my version of Fred, my Lidija.

Ned’s body was decaying fast. Fred continuously nudged him: “Are you alive? You come to play?” But, when she saw how serious his condition is, her whole demeanour changed. His swim bladder affected, his dwindling scales plastered with burrowing parasites, besieged by toxic levels of ammonia, Ned’s compromised immune system—ravaged by his crammed and foul apprenticeship in the pet shop—didn’t stand a chance. He wobbled pitifully. Fred stood next to him, still as a rock, allowing his sore body to rest against hers, giving him respite and the solace of her company. Then, exhausted by her own condition and overpowered by his much larger weight, she would swim away, glancing back sorrowfully as Ned sank and darted, staggered and careened.

Yet, Ned wouldn’t give up. His magnificent tail consumed, he still took after the flakes of food that drifted down the water column; he still toured his new home, leftover fins flailing, bullet-like body strained, eyes bulging; he still teased Fred when he could and Fred was much alive when he revived. They slept together, occupying an alcove that afforded them protection from the filter-generated waves.

As the days passed and I added salt to the aquarium, Ned seemed to have recovered. Even his tail began to show some signs of black-tipped resurrection. He regained his appetite and his territorial aggression and Fred seemed delighted to be again abused by a reanimated Ned. I was the proudest of fish-owners. And Lidija’s crystalline laughter reverberated whenever Ned’s truncated trunk ballistically caroused the waters.

But this was not to last: the salt had to go. The fresher the water became, the sicker Ned grew, infested with all manner of grey; shrunken; lethargic; and immobile except when fed. This time, he ignored even Fred’s ichtyological pleas. Finally, she gave up on him and drifted away sullenly.

One morning, I lowered a tiny net into the water. Ned stirred and stared at the contraption and then, with an effort that probably required every last ounce of his strength, he bubbled up, rolling over and over, like a demented cork, all the while eyeing me, as though imploring: “You see? I am still alive! Please don’t give up on me! Please give me another chance!” But I couldn’t do that. I kept telling myself that I was protecting Fred’s health and well-being, but really I was eliminating the constant source of anxiety and heartbreak that Ned has become.

I captured him and he lay in the net quiescent, tranquil. When his mutilated body hit the toilet, it made a muffled sound and, to me it sounded like “goodbye” or maybe “why”. I flushed the water and Ned was gone.

Notes of first therapy session with Sam V., male, 43, diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

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The following is about ten years old, I think. I’m not going to editorialize this further, but let the therapist’s words speak for themselves. (I do not know who the therapist was). Pretty interesting stuff and a vivid picture of how NPD can manifest itself in one person, in this case a well known author who writes about his own disorder. Sam Vaknin suffers from the cerebral form of narcissism; the other type is somatic.

Notes of first therapy session with Sam V., male, 43, diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com/personalitydisorders65.html

Sam presents with anhedonia (failure to enjoy or find pleasure in anything) and dysphoria bordering on depression. He complains of inability to tolerate people’s stupidity and selfishness in a variety of settings. He admits that as a result of his “intellectual superiority” he is not well placed to interact with others or even to understand them and what they are going through. He is a recluse and fears that he is being mocked and ridiculed behind his back as a misfit and a freak. Throughout the first session, he frequently compares himself to a machine, a computer, or a member of an alien and advanced race, and talks about himself in the third person singular.

Life, bemoans Sam, has dealt him a bad hand. He is consistently and repeatedly victimized by his clients, for instance. They take credit for his ideas and leverage them to promote themselves, but then fail to re-hire him as a consultant. He seems to attract hostility and animosity incommensurate with his good and generous deeds. He even describes being stalked by two or three vicious women whom he had spurned, he claims, not without pride in his own implied irresistibility. Yes, he is abrasive and contemptuous of others at times but only in the interests of “tough love.” He is never obnoxious or gratuitously offensive.

Sam is convinced that people envy him and are “out to get him” (persecutory delusions). He feels that his work (he is also a writer) is not appreciated because of its elitist nature (high-brow vocabulary and such). He refuses to “dumb down”. Instead, he is on a mission to educate his readers and clients and “bring them up to his level.” When he describes his day, it becomes clear that he is desultory, indolent, and lacks self-discipline and regular working habits. He is fiercely independent (to the point of being counter-dependent – click on this link: http://samvak.tripod.com/faq66.html ) and highly values his self-imputed “brutal honesty” and “original, non-herd, outside the box” thinking.

He is married but sexually inactive. Sex bores him and he regards it as a “low-level” activity practiced by “empty-headed” folk. He has better uses for his limited time. He is aware of his own mortality and conscious of his intellectual legacy. Hence his sense of entitlement. He never goes through established channels. Instead, he uses his connections to secure anything from medical care to car repair. He expects to be treated by the best but is reluctant to buy their services, holding himself to be their equal in his own field of activity. He gives little or no thought to the needs, wishes, fears, hopes, priorities, and choices of his nearest and dearest. He is startled and hurt when they become assertive and exercise their personal autonomy (for instance, by setting boundaries).

Sam is disarmingly self-aware and readily lists his weaknesses and faults – but only in order to preempt real scrutiny or to fish for compliments. He constantly brags about his achievements but feels deprived (“I deserve more, much more than that”). When any of his assertions or assumptions is challenged he condescendingly tries to prove his case. If he fails to convert his interlocutor, he sulks and even rages. He tends to idealize everyone or devalue them: people are either clever and good or stupid and malicious. But, everyone is a potential foe.

Sam is very hypervigilant and anxious. He expects the worst and feels vindicated and superior when he is punished (“martyred and victimized”). Sam rarely assumes total responsibility for his actions or accepts their consequences. He has an external locus of control and his defenses are alloplastic. In other words: he blames the world for his failures, defeats, and “bad luck”. This “cosmic conspiracy” against him is why his grandiose projects keep flopping and why he is so frustrated.

If you choose to stay with your narcissist…

velveteen_rabbit

Lidija Rangelovska (Sam Vaknin’s wife) recently wrote about staying with her narcissistic husband and how she handles him.

My view, my principle…
People, unconsciously, but more often intentionally, complicate their lives in order to make some sense of their existence and to justify their actions. Me included. We are all, as my FB friend put it: “personal strength junkies”, who try so hard to be accepted and to belong. It comes from our upbringing, our unstable environment, and the fear of being alone. So, when we find a person that loves us or shows us affection, we are “hooked” and we won’t give up on that person. But we also don’t want to compromise, we want to keep our freedom and to have control over the other. And what now? It’s simple: we have to adapt to the changes and find a new meaning in life!
For me personally freedom is the most important. So, I assume that it is the same with all others and I do give people space… where their selves emerge and grow. If there is a person who has common sense and similar views of life to mine, there is a solid and healthy ground on which to develop the relationship.
But we should learn to communicate, share experiences and emotions, be honest and truthful… not be afraid and manipulative. We should learn to trust in order to understand and accept the other. We should build safe grounds for unconditional love to grow on. And isn’t this all that matters in life?

And later…

…my mother tongue is “narcissist”, literally. I was raised by malignant narcissists and HAD to learn how to communicate with them. And I wouldn’t name it as such, because it’s not the “language” of the narcissist, but of the abused. The “language” consists of understanding the abuse that occurred in the narcissist’s early childhood owing to which s/he adopted the False Self later in the adolescence. It is the ONLY self that the narcissist is aware of and if you can’t accept it, you won’t be able to understand her/him.

My advice would be to not even try to go there, as I call it, the “twilight zone”… it’s the “unknown and forbidden” to some people. For me that zone was my natural habitat. I was there… growing up in an emotionally and physically abusive family. I became codependent and was raised to be a good Source of Supply. I honestly don’t wish that on anyone!

So, then, why am I with Sam?
We are both emotionally damaged and we do understand each other’s pain. It’s in a space and at a time where we fulfill each other’s our unique psychodynamic needs. Where conditions don’t exist and there isn’t a room for any – that is where unconditional love exists… at least, where I found it.

[Anonymous] explained this dynamic […] in a very subtle way. “Personal strength junkies” is her term, not mine…

I’m glad there are people who really want to explore their and other people’s nature/character driven by their curiosity to learn more about themselves in order to relate to their significant others. Indeed, a person has to have the courage to do so… they’re the real heroes, not the ones that deny their existence and adopted the “go with the flow” principle… that’s selfish.

Then she posted the beautiful quote above from the children’s book “The Velveteen Rabbit.” It’s amazing how profound certain books for children can be but there’s a wonderful message about unconditional love for adults too.

Several other people who are married to or in relationships with narcissists discussed how they are able to cope with staying with them without losing themselves or developing mental disorders like PTSD. Without exception, the narcissistic spouses (all male) have insight into their disorder and their wives have learned how to “speak narcissist.” There seem to be two primary requirements (besides the patience of a saint): (1) a strong maternal instinct, and (2) an unflappable sense of humor. Under these unusual circumstances, a relationship with a narcissist may actually work for both partners. Some may think of this as an unequal, codependent and even abusive partnership, but if framed as a kind of eternal mother/child relationship, it doesn’t have to be pathological.

elizabeth_bowen

As for myself, I could never work things out with my malignant narcissist ex-husband and I went No Contact early last year (it’s actually Low Contact because we have children, so being completely No Contact isn’t really a possibility.) He had zero insight and denied he was a narcissist at all (instead, he projected his narcissism onto me and made himself out to be the victim and me the abuser). I think when a narcissist has no capacity for insight (which is probably most of them) and is in denial, No Contact (or Low Contact) is the best way to go to avoid psychological damage to ourselves. Even insightful narcissists who are not in denial about their disorder are highly dangerous people and should be handled with extreme caution. They are ticking time bombs.

What [Anonymous] and Lidija have shared provide hope that for SOME narcissists, there may be a way to stay with them and nurture them while not allowing them to obliterate our psyches–and in some cases even benefit from the relationship. It would take someone with a LOT of empathy and even more patience but I believe it can be done in some cases. Having a strong maternal instinct is of utmost importance because essentially, a narcissist is an emotional infant, unable to see others as separate from them. You must accept the fact they are probably never going to get “better.”

As for reproducing with them? Having children with a narcissist you are voluntarily and mindfully nurturing would be disastrous because to the narcissist, a child would be competition and have demands that would need to be met before theirs. This would enrage them in the same way a new brother or sister enrages a three year old. If you are married to or in a relationship with a narcissist and wish to stay with them and nurture them instead of going No Contact, they must be your ONLY “child.” When you choose to be with a narcissist, you are adopting an eternal infant. You would have to accept the fact they will most likely never grow up. Obviously, this choice wouldn’t be for everyone.

Second to a strong desire to “mother” your narcissist would be the ability to laugh at their antics and not take things too seriously. In one woman’s case, she said her narcissistic husband laughs WITH her, even though she admits the joke is usually on her.

I’m happy to hear there are people who can actually make things work with a narcissist. It requires a great deal of unconditional love and the ability to always put your own needs in a distant second place. I don’t recommend it for most people though.

ETA: I would recommend another requirement to making a relationship with a narcissist work: establish FIRM and VERY CLEAR boundaries, early in the relationship. Lidija clearly does this– I remember her saying in “I, Psychopath” when asked who made the rules she said she did. You would have to! Part of the maternal relationship requires the ability to provide discipline when it’s needed too. A narcissist who respects you because you established boundaries and can laugh with them and speak to them in their language won’t have a problem following your rules but may need to be reminded sometimes. 😉

Making love last with a narcissist: the rules

Old Couple

In summary, here are the cardinal rules for keeping your sanity intact while in a relationship or marriage to a narcissist:

1. Be a high empathy person with a strong maternal instinct.

2. Accept the fact they will probably never be cured.

3. Establish FIRM boundaries as early as possible and don’t be afraid to remind them of the rules when they balk or disobey. Remember you are dealing with an emotional toddler.

4. Be willing to always be in their shadow and not steal the show from them

5. Be able to LAUGH and not take what they do and say too personally.   It’s not about you.

6. Do not have children with your narcissist.  He/she is your child. (I used to joke that my MN ex husband was my “other child.” How true that was, and in some ways I wish I had known some of these rules back then, which might have made my life a little easier while still with him.)

The narcissist has to fulfill a requirement too. He or she must be insightful enough to recognize they are narcissists and mentally ill.

Video: A Brief History of Psychopaths and Antisocials

Sam Vaknin posted a new video yesterday, “The Morally Insane Psychopath: A Brief History of Psychopaths and Antisocials.” I decided to repost it on this blog because it’s such a fascinating subject that isn’t widely known or easy to find information about in one place. I never really looked into the history of the field of psychopathy and narcissism before, and whether or not you agree with Sam and his views about narcissism (or are on the fence like I am), Mr. Vaknin does have encyclopedic knowledge about this field of psychology.

So much has changed!

Sam looks like he’s lost weight.

“The Con Man Cometh”

I found a short story from Sam Vaknin’s website, that really may not be that fictional. Fiction often says more about the writer of a story than even confessional nonfiction. This story, really a monologue to a hypothetical “mark,” seems as if it could be a look inside Sam’s motives for writing about narcissism and running forums and online groups for its victims. I think it speaks for itself.

Yes, Sam could be conning us all, and most likely is, but frankly I don’t care and never will. His words, regardless of his true motives, have helped me and other victims of narcissistic abuse, and his writing, as always, is hauntingly poetic.

His eloquent words provide a searingly vivid look inside the mind of malignant narcissist who may also be psychopathic. It helps us to know the way they think. It’s prudent to be very careful not to engage directly with even an insightful, intelligent narcissist as they too are dangerous. But if you keep your distance they can teach you something.

The Con Man Cometh

con_man
Image of Abhishek Bachchan (Bollywood actor) from Apunkchoice.com

Swathed in luminosity, we stir with measured competence our amber drinks in long-stemmed glasses. You are weighing my offer and I am waiting for your answer with hushed endurance. The armchairs are soft, the lobby is luxurious, as befits five-star hotels. I am not tense. I have anticipated your response even before I made my move.

Soon, temples sheathed in perspiration, you use the outfit’s thick paper napkins to wipe it off. Loosen your tie. Pretend to be immersed in calculations. You express strident dissatisfaction and I feign recoil, as though intimidated by your loudness. Withdrawing to my second line of defense, I surrender to your simulated wrath.

The signs are here, the gestures, the infinitesimal movements that you cannot control. I lurk. I know that definite look, that imperceptible twitch, the inevitability of your surrender.

I am a con man and you are my victim. The swindle is unfolding here and now, in this very atrium, amid all the extravagance. I am selling your soul and collecting the change. I am sharpened, like a raw nerve firing impulses to you, receiving yours, an electrical-chemical dialog, consisting of your smelly sweat, my scented exudation. I permeate your cracks. I broker an alliance with your fears, your pains, defense compensatory mechanisms.

I know you.

I’ve got to meld us into one. As dusk gives way to night, you trust me as you do yourself, for now I am nothing less than you. Having adopted your particular gesticulation, I nod approvingly with every mention of your family. You do not like me. You sense the danger. Your nostrils flare. Your eyes amok. Your hands so restless. You know me for a bilker, you realize I’ll break your heart. I know you comprehend we both are choiceless.

It’s not about money. Emotions are at stake. I share your depths of loneliness and pain. Sitting opposed, I see the child in you, the adolescent. I discern the pleading sparkle in your eyes, your shoulders stooping in the very second you’ve decided to succumb. I am hurting for what I do to you. My only consolation is the inexorability of nature – mine and yours, this world’s (in which we find ourselves and not of our choice). Still, we are here, you know.

I empathize with you without speech or motion. Your solitary sadness, the anguish, and your fears. I am your only friend, monopolist of your invisible cries, your inner hemorrhage of salty tears, the tissued scar that has become your being. Like me, the product of uncounted blows (which you sometimes crave).

Being abused is being understood, having some meaning, forming a narrative. Without it, your life is nothing but an anecdotal stream of randomness. I deal the final, overwhelming coup-de-grace that will transform the torn sheets of your biography into a plot. It isn’t everyday one meets a cheat. Such confident encounters can render everything explained. Don’t give it up. It is a gift of life, not to be frivolously dispensed with. It is a test of worthiness.

I think you qualify and I am the structure and the target you’ve been searching for and here I am.

Now we are bound by money and by blood. In our common veins flows the same alliance that dilates our pupils. We hail from one beginning. We separated only to unite, at once, in this hotel, this late, and you exclaim: “I need to trust you like I do not trust a soul”. You beseech me not to betray your faith. Perhaps not so explicitly, but both your eyes are moist, reflecting your vulnerability.

I gravely radiate my utter guarantee of splendid outcomes. No hint of treason here. Concurrently I am plotting your emotional demise. At your request, not mine. It is an act of amity, to rid you of the very cause of your infirmity. I am the instrument of your delivery and liberation. I will deprive you of your ability to feel, to trust, and to believe. When we diverge, I will have molded you anew – much less susceptible, much more immune, the essence of resilience.

It is my gift to you and you are surely grateful in advance. Thus, when you demand my fealty, you say: “Do not forget our verbal understanding”.

And when I vow my loyalty, I answer: “I shall not forget to stab you in the back.”

And now, to the transaction. I study you. I train you to ignore my presence and argue with yourself with the utmost sincerity. I teach you not to resent your weaknesses.

So, you admit to them and I record all your confessions to be used against you to your benefit. Denuded of defenses, I leave you wounded by embezzlement, a cold, contemptible exposure. And, in the meantime, it’s only warmth and safety, the intimacy of empathy, the propinquity of mutual understanding.

I only ask of you one thing: the fullest trust, a willingness to yield. I remember having seen the following in an art house movie, it was a test: to fall, spread-eagled from a high embankment and to believe that I am there to catch you and break your lethal plunge.

I am telling you I’ll be there, yet you know I won’t. Your caving in is none of my concern. I only undertook to bring you to the brink and I fulfilled this promise. It’s up to you to climb it, it’s up to you to tumble. I must not halt your crash, you have to recompose. It is my contribution to the transformation that metastasized in you long before we met.

But you are not yet at the stage of internalizing these veracities. You still naively link feigned geniality to constancy, intimacy and confidence in me and in my deeds, proximity and full disclosure. You are so terrified and mutilated, you come devalued. You cost me merely a whiskey tumbler and a compendium of ordinary words. One tear enough to alter your allegiances. You are malleable to the point of having no identity.

You crave my touch and my affection. I crave your information and unbridled faith. “Here is my friendship and my caring, my tenderness and amity, here is a hug. I am your parent and your shrink, your buddy and your family.” – so go the words of this inaudible dialog – “Give me your utter, blind, trust but limit it to one point only: your money or your life.”

I need to know about your funds, the riddles of your boardroom, commercial secrets, your skeletons, some intimate detail, a fear, resurgent hatred, the envy that consumes. I don’t presume to be your confidant. Our sharing is confined to the pecuniary. I lull you into the relief that comes with much reduced demands. But you are an experienced businessman! You surely recognize my tactics and employ them, too!

Still, you are both seduced and tempted, though on condition of maintaining “independent thinking”. Well, almost independent. There is a tiny crack in your cerebral armor and I am there to thrust right through it. I am ready to habituate you. “I am in full control” – you’d say – “So, where’s the threat?” And, truly, there is none.

There’s only certainty. The certitude I offer you throughout our game. Sometimes I even venture: “I am a crook to be avoided”. You listen with your occidental manners, head tilted obliquely, and when I am finished warning you, you say: “But where the danger lies? My trust in you is limited!” Indeed – but it is there!

I lurk, awaiting your capitulation, inhabiting the margins, the twilight zone twixt greed and paranoia. I am a viral premonition, invading avaricious membranes, preaching a gospel of death and resurrection. Your death, your rising from the dead. Assuming the contours of my host, I abandon you deformed in dissolution.

There’s no respite, not even for a day. You are addicted to my nagging, to my penetrating gaze, instinctive sympathy, you’re haunted. I don’t let go. You are engulfed, cocooned, I am a soul mate of eerie insight, unselfish acumen. I vitiate myself for your minutest needs. I thrive on servitude. I leave no doubt that my self-love is exceeded only by my love for you.

I am useful and you are a user. I am available and you avail yourself. But haven’t you heard that there are no free lunches? My restaurant is classy, the prices most exorbitant, the invoices accumulate with every smile, with every word of reassurance, with every anxious inquiry as to your health, with every sacrifice I make, however insubstantial.

I keep accounts in my unstated books and you rely on me for every double entry. The voices I instill in you: “He gives so of himself though largely unrewarded”. You feel ashamed, compelled to compensate. A seed of Trojan guilt. I harp on it by mentioning others who deprived me. I count on you to do the rest. There’s nothing more potent than egotistic love combined with raging culpability. You are mine to do with as I wish, it is your wish that I embody and possess.

The vise is tightened. Now it’s time to ponder whether to feed on you at once or scavenge. You are already dying and in your mental carcass I am grown, an alien. Invoking your immunity, as I am wont to do, will further make you ill and conflict will erupt between your white cells and your black, the twin abodes of your awakened feelings.

You hope against all odds that I am a soul-mate. How does it feel, the solitude? Few days with me – and you cannot recall! But I cannot remember how it feels to be together. I cannot waive my loneliness, my staunch companion. When I am with you, it prospers. And you must pay for that.

I have no choice but to abscond with your possessions, lest I remain bereft. With utmost ethics, I keep you well-informed of these dynamics and you acknowledge my fragility which makes you desirous to salve my wounds.

But I maintain the benefit of your surprise, the flowing motion. Always at an advantage over you, the interchangeable. I, on the other hand, cannot be replaced, as far as you’re concerned. You are a loyal subject of your psychic state while I am a denizen of the eternal hunting grounds. No limits there, nor boundaries, only the nostrils quivering at the game, the surging musculature, the body fluids, the scent of decadence.

Sometime, the prey becomes the predator, but only for a while. Admittedly, it’s possible and you might turn the tables. But you don’t want to. You crave so to be hunted. The orgiastic moment of my proverbial bullets penetrating willing flesh, the rape, the violation, the metaphoric blood and love, you are no longer satisfied with compromises.

You want to die having experienced this eruption once. For what is life without such infringement if not mere ripening concluding in decay. What sets us, Man, apart from beast is our ability to self-deceive and swindle others. The rogue’s advantage over quarry is his capacity to have his lies transmuted till you believe them true.

I trek the unpaved pathways between my truth and your delusions. What am I, fiend or angel? A weak, disintegrating apparition – or a triumphant growth? I am devoid of conscience in my own reflection. It is a cause for mirth. My complex is binary: to fight or flight, I’m well or ill, it should have been this way or I was led astray.

I am the blinding murkiness that never sets, not even when I sleep. It overwhelms me, too, but also renders me farsighted. It taught me my survival: strike ere you are struck, abandon ere you’re trashed, control ere you are subjugated.

So what do you say to it now? I told you everything and haven’t said a word. You knew it all before. You grasp how dire my need is for your blood, your hurt, the traumatic coma that will follow. They say one’s death bequeaths another’s life. It is the most profound destination, to will existence to your pining duplicate.

I am plump and short, my face is uncontrived and smiling. When I am serious, I am told, I am like a battered and deserted child and this provokes in you an ancient cuddling instinct. When I am proximate, your body and your soul are unrestrained. I watch you kindly and the artificial lighting of this magnific vestibule bounces off my glasses.

My eyes are cradled in blackened pouches of withered skin. I draw your gaze by sighing sadly and rubbing them with weary hands. You incline our body, gulp the piquant libation, and sign the document. Then, leaning back, you shut exhausted eyes. There is no doubt: you realize your error.

It’s not too late. The document lies there, it’s ready for the tearing. But you refrain. You will not do it.

“Another drink?” – You ask

I smile, my chubby cheeks and wire glasses sparkle.

“No, thanks” – I say.

Poetry by Sam Vaknin #2

dark_night_soul
I can’t get enough of Sam’s poetry. It takes me to a dark and desolate place, but it also draws me in. I can’t read too much of it at a time. When it comes to Vaknin, tiny nibbles are better for you than large gulps.

Cutting to Existence

In the Concentration Camp called Home

Prowling

When You Wake the Morning

Selfdream

A Hundred Children

Snowflake Haiku

Getting Old

There’s more of his poetry here: http://samvak.tripod.com/contents.html