Is narcissism caused by nature or nurture?

narc_child
Credit: davidwolfe.com

Although the consensus seems to be that narcissism or NPD (clinical narcissism) is a result of abuse or neglect during childhood, there may also be genetic factors involved.   An article from The Narcissistic Life cites several studies and concludes that narcissism results from a combination of nature and nurture, describing it this way:

These factors include biological vulnerability, social interactions with early caregivers, and psychological factors that involve temperament. There are studies that suggest that a gene (or genes) for narcissism can be inherited but that a person also needs the “right” environment for narcissism to be manifested.

What this means is that while a child may be born with a predisposition to becoming a narcissist, they won’t unless environmental factors are also fulfilled.  If the parents do their job well and give the child a secure emotional foundation, they will not develop NPD even if they are predisposed to it.    In this way it works a lot like alcoholism:  alcoholics are probably born predisposed to becoming alcoholic, but if they don’t take their first drink until they are well past adolescence or if the culture they are raised in discourages heavy drinking (or drinking at all), they will not develop alcoholism.

Some babies are born more demanding or needy than others.   These may be “difficult” children who are easily hurt or upset and have trouble learning self-soothing.   Such a temperament doesn’t necessarily indicate the child will become a narcissist, but they are probably more likely to than a calm baby who can soothe themselves, if the parents fail to mirror them properly or don’t attend to their emotional needs.

Most children whose parents were abusive or neglectful do not become narcissists.  They may develop some other problem like C-PTSD or BPD or be prone to depression or anxiety instead.  These are probably children who have a calmer, less sensitive or less demanding temperament than children who grow up to be narcissists.  Personally I think people who develop narcissism were children who were especially sensitive and had no emotional defenses at all so they sent the true self into exile and replaced it with a false one.   No other mental disorder causes a person to completely reject their own vulnerability and authenticity.

geneticNPD

It’s not always abused children who become narcissists.  Some are children who are spoiled by their parents. Spoiling may actually be a form of abuse, because it’s a lie and doesn’t acknowledge the child’s real self.  It still fails to mirror them properly.  The child is constantly told how perfect they are and showered with gifts and praise for being so “perfect.”  As a result, they feel like they must always be perfect which of course is a lie.  They feel entitled to whatever they want because of this belief in how perfect they are, and they never learn how to deal with criticism or setbacks when they get out into the real world.

I also think the nature of the abuse and role in the family plays a big part in whether a child develops narcissism and what type of narcissism they develop.   Golden children, who are essentially spoiled children, are more likely to become narcissists than scapegoats are.   Children who serve as both scapegoats and golden children (common in only children) can also become narcissistic, but I think they’re more likely to become Borderlines.   If a scapegoated child does become a narcissist, it’s more likely they’ll become the covert, fragile type of narcissist than the grandiose, overt type.

Some studies have also shown that narcissists’ brains have less grey matter in the left anterior insula region of the brain, thought by researchers to be involved with both the regulation of emotion and the generation of empathy.   But the jury is out on whether these brain differences are genetic or if the brains of narcissists fail to develop properly due to being raised in a narcissism-inducing (abusive or spoiling) environment.

Further reading:

Does Excess Praise and Spoiling Create Narcissists?

 

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I think age of NPD onset correlates with malignancy and curability.

kids_different_ages

Because of a recent conversation I was having on Psychforums about age of onset and prognosis for a cure for different levels of narcissism, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this.

I do think how old a narcissist was when Ground Zero occurred–that would be the primary traumatic event that forced the child to create a False Self–determines the difficulty/ease of healing, and also how low or high the narcissist falls on the spectrum.

Here’s what I came up with.

Age of onset of Trauma/stage of child development (Piaget, Freud):

0-2 (Piaget’s Sensorimotor stage; establishing boundaries, physical and comfort needs met; Freudian Oral/Anal stage):

toddler_bear

High spectrum, malignant narcissism and/or psychopathy/sociopathy (if as an infant)– not curable except under extreme circumstances in very rare cases. May be self aware but has no incentive to change.

3-6 (Piaget’s Concrete Operations; Freudian Anal–Oedipal/Electra stage )

childabuse

Mid-high spectrum narcissist who may or may not be malignant. May become self aware but will be resistant to a cure. In unusual circumstances (total loss of supply or primary supply), a narcissist this high on the spectrum might seek therapy. They are unlikely to be willing to do all the work required for healing due to its difficulty for someone this high, but there might be a few exceptions.

7-11 (Piaget’s Formal Operational stage; abstract learning, competence; Freudian “latency” period)

sad_girl2

Mid-spectrum narcissist. Could become self aware and if so, there’s a good chance of them seeking therapy or treatment. They’re more likely to be cured, but it’s not a guarantee.
Therapy would be difficult at the higher end (onset before 8-9), moderately easy at lower end (onset between 9-11).

12-21 (adolescence)

sadness

sadness

Low-mid spectrum narcissist. Likely to become self aware and good chance of being cured.
Low spectrum at the higher ages (onset after 15/16), mid spectrum at the lower ages (younger than 15).
Good prognosis for a cure and self awareness. If very low, may be able to heal him or herself without outside help

21 +

How's my hair?

How’s my hair?

A person cannot become a true narcissist after age 21 or so. They may instead have a lot of narcissistic traits, have DNP (Destructive Narcissistic Pattern disorder–just below NPD on the spectrum), or in rare cases they could develop “acquired narcissism” (this is something a lot of celebrities and famous people get) which is temporary and lasts only as long as the adulation or fame lasts.

ETA: I got a rebuttal to this on Psychforums. I think this poster’s argument may be valid too, so I’m going to post it:

I believe the PD occurs in the first 5-6 years due to abuse/trauma, the critical level of which differs for each person depending on genetics (temperament, sensitivity).

I think NPD-like traits resulting from abuse/trauma after age 6 would be cPTSD to a normally developed personality.

I suspect traits from coddling/overvaluation after age 6 would be easier to “return to earth” from than something like sexual abuse and humiliation (say, having to testify in court) after age 6. I think the former might be unwind’able to a level of stable narcissism. I think the latter could be a more permanent scar/condition.

left-out_child

But, I don’t know much about. That’s just the way I think of it. It doesn’t seem feasible that PD could occur after the P(personality) is developed. I thought the whole point of a PD was that the P stopped developing, became a defective structure. Not merely unresolved trauma (like PTSD is?) but structural and permanent.

Basically his argument is that after age 6, true narcissism won’t develop but complex PTSD (C-PTSD) could. This could mean a child acquires a lot of narcissistic traits (what ACONs call “fleas”) that could resemble NPD in many ways but is more treatable/curable. I think this would be the same thing as the spectrum condition called the Destructive Narcissistic Pattern (DNP)
This would also take into account type of abuse inflicted and level of severity.

Is narcissism a product of confirmation bias?

confirmation_bias

I just read a very well written post on Psychforums (written by a self-proclaimed empath) suggesting that NPD could be a product of confirmation bias. In simpler terms, a happy, normal person became that way because from an early age, they perceived their caregivers as good and kind, and the world as a friendly, welcoming place. In contrast, a narcissist became a narcissist because they perceived, from an early age, that the world was full of pain and terror, people were hostile and untrustworthy, and life in general sucks.
People give back what they they get.

Confirmation bias also explains why most narcissists hang onto their narcissism the way a shipwrecked person hangs onto a block of wood to keep from drowning.

According to Wikipedia,

Confirmation bias, also called myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses while giving disproportionately less attention to information that contradicts it. It is a type of cognitive bias and a systematic error of inductive reasoning. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. People also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position. Biased search, interpretation and memory have been invoked to explain attitude polarization (when a disagreement becomes more extreme even though the different parties are exposed to the same evidence), belief perseverance (when beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false), the irrational primacy effect (a greater reliance on information encountered early in a series) and illusory correlation (when people falsely perceive an association between two events or situations).

thinking-conf-bias

So, here is that post:

I wonder if NPD might largely be a product of confirmation bias. I guess a less pretentious way of saying that would be that people tend to hear what they want to hear or what they expect to hear.

I was raised in a supportive environment by truly loving people. I was very lucky; like, winning-lottery-number lucky. I first experienced the world as a benevolent place, and so I now tend to approach it with love and warmth and openness. (I hate how sugary that sounds, but I have to accept that it’s true — it’s who I am.) I trust people. I believe they’re basically kind and well-intentioned and that their flaws don’t make them less beautiful. Generally, I feel safe and good and happy to be around them.

But meanwhile, if you’re a narcissist, you first experienced people as sources of abuse, neglect, manipulation. You are born into this cold, threatening world, and the people tasked with protecting you from it are capricious, deceitful, cunning, selfish. That’s bad enough, but what’s far crueller is that there’s a world of happy-looking people out there, and none of them — not one — seems to give a $#%^ about what is happening to you. No one comes to help. Everyone totally buys into your parents’ facade of being just the best parents ever. So you learn the importance of facades. You learn it again, later, when — as a consequence of your nightmare of a childhood — you start getting into trouble. This time it’s cops or doctors teaching you the lesson, but it’s the same: the inability to maintain a facade of normalcy can cost you everything.

(######6 Christ. As an aside, if anyone is wondering what having empathy feels like, it feels like wanting to throw up/cry/punch walls while writing the above paragraph.)

But right, okay: confirmation bias. Since my emotional experience of the world is positive, I tend to seek out and remember things that confirm and validate that worldview. I.e. in relationships I tend to remember the good things people do and forget the bad, and I tend to believe that the kind/honest/giving aspects of people’s personalities are “who they really are.” And I guess narcissists do pretty much the opposite: they dismiss the good stuff you do, but the bad stuff stays so front-and-center it’s as though you’re doing it fresh, day after day, every time they remember it. When they ultimately find out you have flaws, they take this as evidence that they were always right: people are basically evil & untrustworthy & disappointing.

I’m not saying narcissists are necessarily wrong. There’s ample evidence that people really are monstrous (just open a newspaper). I’m also not saying my tendency to be compassionate/forgiving makes me some kind of saint, because I’m pretty sure some of it is ego protection. Seriously, you can smash me over the head a dozen times with a blunt instrument and I will still stupidly, doggedly believe you didn’t mean it or it was an accident or you were just hurt so it’s okay. I believe that in part because I need to believe that. If I allow that some people simply view others with hate or callow indifference or cold, calculating self-interest, then I have to revise the whole framework on which my understanding of the world and my place in it is built. And I really don’t want to do that. That $#%^ is so core and so central it feels like changing it would destroy everything.

But it would be so much worse for someone with NPD trying to revise their worldview in order to “get better.” Because in my case I’d be moving from a place of trust to a place of distrust, which some animal part of me knows how to do: you get hurt and so you withdraw, harden, your eyes get cold. It’s not fun but it feels familiar and safe. Whereas I guess a narcissist would have to do exactly the opposite. Move from a place of distrust to a place of trust. Which…how would you even do that? How would you surrender the only thing that ever made you feel protected or safe or stable? That would be so terrifying I can’t even imagine it. And what would ever inspire you to do it? Except for trust that there really are kind, well-meaning, loving people out there, which trust a narcissist, by definition, does not have?

How my ex became a malignant narcissist.

I thought I’d repost this article again, because it shows exactly how narcissism can be passed from one generation to the next, due to emotional abuse of a child that stunts or halts their healthy development of a sense of self.

Since this article was written back in February, my ex was diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) and due to his “unemployability due to possible homicidal tendencies,” he got $31K in disability back pay AND an increase in disability payments. Commenting on this outrage is beyond the scope of this article and I’ve already ranted enough about it anyway. He has already gone through all the money, as I suspected he would. It still doesn’t sit well with me that his monthly income due to being a narcissistic, antisocial jackass who games the system and freeloads off others so he never has to work again exceeds mine.

Lucky Otters Haven

Martin-Luther-King-Good-vs-Evil

I’ve talked about several of my own family members and how narcissism has infected other family members with NPD and/or made them victims, but I haven’t focused too much on how my ex husband Michael, as malignant as they come, got that way.

So I am doing that now.

Michael, like most narcissists, wasn’t born that way. He was the only child of a machinist who was rarely home and when he was, stayed in the background, believing raising a child was “woman’s work.” The household was blue collar but back in the early ’60s, blue collar didn’t mean poor. A working class man could adequately support his family, buy a home, have two cars, and his wife didn’t have to work to help make ends meet.

From all accounts, Michael’s father loved him in his rough-around-the-edges macho way, but he spent hours every day in bars or at the…

View original post 1,593 more words

Building a narcissist

brick_man

I was browsing and NPD forum and came across this post by a woman who claims to be a narcissist or possibly a borderline (she is undiagnosed) and is begging to be healed (she is apparently undergoing a narcissistic crisis–which usually happens after a loss of a major or primary source of supply). What’s interesting is her memory–presented as a kind of list– of the events that led to her choosing narcissism as a coping strategy. It is a choice, after all–usually made in childhood, though the choice can be made as an adolescent or adult too. It may or may not be a conscious choice.

This could, of course, all be fabricated by someone who knows the psychology of NPD fairly well, but if it isn’t a fabrication, it’s a textbook case of how this personality disorder begins and evolves. It also illustrates my ideas about narcissists beginning life as highly sensitive people (HSPs) and how painful this illness can be for its sufferers.

In a most narcissist way I want to ask you how I can heal.
🙂

Working mom
Parents divorced at birth
Father disconnected.

Sensitive child. (nature/animals/people)
left at 8 weeks with babysitters constantly
LOVING MOTHER
over indulged (spoiled)
only child
childhood trauma at 4 (seeing something with animals)

I tipped and decided that all people were cruel.
I shielded myself for years from TV, movies and news articles that I deemed disturbing.

I learned pedophiles were real and a problem at age 40.
That is how well I shielded myself.

Now, today I am 52 years old. My husband divorced me. I changed when I was put on Prozac. I had a bipolar episode and life went downhill for 14 years. I came off all medication 2 years ago.

No help with detox. No therapy as I don’t trust people.

Now, I am having problems and after reading your articles believe that I am a narcissist, possibly borderline personality.

Depression overwhelms me when I think of offering myself to the world.
I don’t want to be rejected.

I understand this fear is from perceived trauma.

How do I get passed this?

How do I resolve anger after (feeling like) I lost 14 years of my life due to mis management of psychotropic medication.

I have searched for a therapist, I have called therapists and interviewed them. I get confused and really don’t know with whom I should place my trust.

How my ex became a malignant narcissist.

Martin-Luther-King-Good-vs-Evil

I’ve talked about several of my own family members and how narcissism has infected other family members with NPD and/or made them victims, but I haven’t focused too much on how my ex husband Michael, as malignant as they come, got that way.

So I am doing that now.

Michael, like most narcissists, wasn’t born that way. He was the only child of a machinist who was rarely home and when he was, stayed in the background, believing raising a child was “woman’s work.” The household was blue collar but back in the early ’60s, blue collar didn’t mean poor. A working class man could adequately support his family, buy a home, have two cars, and his wife didn’t have to work to help make ends meet.

From all accounts, Michael’s father loved him in his rough-around-the-edges macho way, but he spent hours every day in bars or at the pool hall after work to avoid his nagging, manipulating, self-centered, never-satisfied wife, Helen, who was a dangerous malignant narcissist and probably psychopathic.

Michael was a sweet, obedient child and a good student. He always tried to please his mother, making her things at school, picking flowers to bring home to her, and always, always trying to hug her. He was very physically affectionate, desperately trying to elicit love from a woman who didn’t have any to give. He told me his childish hugs were met with an unyielding stiffness and sometimes she would even push him away.

sad_little_boy

I remember during our engagement, during a dinner following a wedding rehearsal, Helen was almost bragging at the dinner table about how she never would have gotten pregnant at all if “Neil hadn’t got me drunk.” The woman swears she never had sex during their marriage and the only time she did was because her husband got her drunk. (She did have sex once in 1965, got pregnant and miscarried, or so she says). She liked to show off Michael’s baby pictures as if he was some kind of doll, but I don’t think she ever had any real love for him. He was her toy and her possession. She dressed him up like Little Lord Fontleroy and made him wear a Safari Suit to his 8th grade graduation.

Michael’s early photos show a child with a sad expression, although he was always smiling. But there was sadness and fear there. I was reminded of a picture of my mother taken when she was two–and she was wearing a similar sad and dejected expression, looking close to tears. She had been sitting on an oversized chair, her little feet in brown high top shoes, and clutching a teddy bear. Narcissists are sad little children before they turn to narcissism as a defense mechanism. They are never born this way. It is something that is done to them (although they have some part in having made the choice to become narcissists).

When Michael was five years old, his father brought him home a small white puppy, who was named Buster. Michael loved that dog, and spent all his time playing with him when he wasn’t at school. Buster would sit on the floor next to Michael while he played with his toys or drew in his coloring books with crayons.

One summer day, Michael and Buster were sitting in the middle of the hardwood floor in the living room, in a patch of sun that came in through the picture window. Michael got up to go do something else, maybe go to the bathroom, and left his crayons on the floor in the patch of sunlight. Some purple and red crayons melted in the sun and the dog Buster somehow got some red wax on his white fur. There was also a pair of child’s plastic scissors nearby.

boy_and_dog

While Michael was gone, Helen came into the room and saw the waxy mess and the red crayon on the dog. She marched off to find Michael and dragged him into the room.
“See what you did, you stupid child. That dog is bleeding.” She pointed to the plastic scissors.
“See, you cut him. Well, that does it. Buster must be put to sleep.”
Michael started to cry. “But he’s not tired.”
Helen flew into a rage. “I don’t mean it that way. We are taking him to the pound where he will be destroyed. You are not capable of caring for a dog. Look what you did to him.”
Michael tried to appeal to his father, but his father, tired from work, and an enabler to Helen, just said, “I’m sorry, son, but we have to do what your mother says.”
Michael never forgot this and was never able to forgive his mother for this. He thinks this was the point at which he started to hate her and stopped trying to appeal to her love. He stopped making her things and bringing her gifts.

Helen never allowed Michael to stay home from school, not matter how sick he was. Once he had scarlet fever and was sent to school anyway. The school nurses, concerned, called Helen and asked her why she would send a child sick enough to be in the hospital to class.
Instead of apologizing and getting Michael the medical care he needed, she attacked him, blaming him for “getting her into trouble with the school.”
Any time anything went wrong, it was always Michael’s fault.

When Michael was about 11 or 12, there was a huge custody dispute over an older daughter from his father’s first marriage. The father went to court to try to win custody and lost. During this time, Michael was sent to live with neighbors, to “keep him out of the way.” He felt rejected by his own parents in favor of his father’s daughter from an earlier marriage.

Helen was a pious churchgoer, involved in every activity, but was not well liked by the other women. She was known as a troublemaker and had no real friends. But she loved to tell everyone how “everyone loves me” and “they all listen to me.” In actuality she was doing nothing but spreading gossip and lies about the other women in her church groups. The old Saturday Night Live character “The Church Lady” could have been Michael’s mother. She even looked like that character.

church_lady
Dana Carvey as “The Church Lady.”

She also got involved in Michael’s school, and got the same reputation there as a troublemaker. This reflected badly on Michael, who was embarrassed by his mother’s antics and his friends’ dislike of her. She was always interfering in things that were none of her business and stirring up drama, playing divide and conquer games between other women and breaking up their friendships through her malicious lies and triangulation.

Michael hated his mother by now and tried to avoid her, but did not become a narcissist until he was almost 13.

It happened in January 1973. His father had not been in good health for some time, and suffered from atheriosclerosis, hardening of the arteries. He was only 57 when he suffered a massive stroke and died suddenly at home.

Michael went into the bathroom to get ready for school and found his father’s dead body lying on the cold ceramic tiles of the bathroom floor. He screamed and tried to revive him, but the man was already cold and wouldn’t wake up. He had been dead for several hours already.

Crying hysterically, he found his mother in her bedroom, fast asleep. He started shaking her and yelling at her to wake up.
She finally did, and was annoyed to find Michael crying at her bedside and pointing to the hallway toward the bathroom.
“Mom, I think Dad’s dead.” he sobbed.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” She marched off to follow him into the bathroom.
She stood at the doorway and looked at her dead husband on the floor, grimaced, and then turned on her heel and said to her son, “Well, I have no idea what to do about this. You take care of it.” Not one shred of empathy, grief or compassion was shown. This was her own husband, and she acted as if he was a bag of trash that needed to be taken outside.

bathroom

Michael changed after that. He went through the motions of doing what is done when a family member dies, calling all the relatives himself, arranging the funeral, and all that goes with that, but inside he wasn’t the same.

After his father was buried (and his mother put on a huge show at the funeral of crying louder and more hysterically than anyone else present), Michael began to drink and get into trouble. His grades remained acceptable, but he began to show a lot of narcissistic behaviors and started to use people for his own advantage. He went into the city on the weekends and sold his body to older men for money. He thinks he killed a guy once by pushing him into a glass table, but if he did kill him he was never caught.

The malignant behavior soon became ingrained and for Michael, there was no turning back. He’d given up on life and turned to narcissism to protect himself against further injury from those who were supposed to love him. As the years progressed he became a skilled manipulator and con artist, expert at gaslighting, lying, projection of his own defects onto others, and triangulating. This was exacerbated by intermittent drug abuse and alcoholism. The rest of his progression into full-blown malignant narcissism is described in my posts about our marriage under “My Story,” which appear in the header.

Michael had turned into his enemy: his mother. At the same time, he projected his hatred of his mother onto all women he became close to. In the process, this once-brilliant man eventually burned all his bridges, both romantically and professionally. Today he is a burned out shell of a human being, now living at the Salvation Army subsisting on handouts and disability payments. He’s a “needy” narcissist, mooching and freeloading off others, and taking, taking, taking in a pathetic effort to procure the maternal love he never received as a child. He still blames “society” and other people for “making him homeless and unemployable.”

Even his children want little to do with him. He has lost everything. But he made his own choices so I can’t feel too badly for him.

The man you love to hate…or hate to love.

samvak2

For victims of narcissistic abuse, Sam Vaknin is the man you love to hate–or the man you hate to love. He’s a controversial figure in the field of narcissism. He has ardent fans within the community as well as seething haters. Just taking a quick scan of the comments under his many Youtube videos will give you an idea of just how polarizing Sam Vaknin really is.

Vaknin, self-professed malignant narcissist and possible borderline psychopath, is in the unlikely and highly ironic position of being a guru and hero for countless victims of narcissistic abuse, and remains one of the most famous voices on the subject.

Until narcissism became a thing a few years ago and blogs by survivors of narcissistic abuse began to proliferate like wildfire, Vaknin was one of the only voices on the Internet who delved deeply into the subject of narcissism and its effects on victims, outside of mental health professionals and psychologists–and not even many of them paid much attention to the problem of narcissistic abuse. Sam was a voice in the wilderness and offered hope to many who felt they had no hope at all. And yet Sam was exactly the kind of person they were trying to get away from.

Sam is a conundrum. If he’s a malignant narcissist who is also a self-professed misanthrope and psychopath, why on God’s green earth does he feel the need to write self help books for victims of abuse and run forums and discussion groups for them? Why does he warn us against people like himself?

When I first found out about Sam Vaknin, there was no way I thought he could be a real narcissist. I was already aware of his books and already knew he was a self professed narcissist, but other than that, knew very little about him. Later on, after watching “I, Psychopath,” I decided he was a narcissist wannabe who more likely had Borderline personality disorder (BPD) with some narcissistic and schizoid traits, and I wrote this article stating my case.

Sam found this article and apparently really liked it, because he disseminated it all over social media. It wasn’t particularly complimentary. I nearly accused him of being a huge fraud, and yet Sam began to visit this blog and share some of the other posts I wrote about him. I read in one of his interviews, that Sam loves to be hated and feared. He doesn’t like to be liked or thought well of. He hates to be loved. But he does like to be thought of as a guru and an expert. Maybe he liked the fact I was critical of him in that post, although I did say some nice things too. Whatever the reasons for his approval and attention, I was inadvertently feeding his narcissistic supply and in return, he was helping give my new blog much needed visibility. This quickly became a mutually beneficial arrangement (though due to his being much more famous than me, I’m sure I benefited more than he did).

Going back to the film “I, Psychopath,” Vaknin’s behavior toward the filmmaker and others, including his submissive, endlessly patient, high-empathy wife Lidija, was as whiney, argumentative and petulant as a three year old who needs a nap or maybe a spanking. He seemed impossible to please. Ian Walker (the filmmaker) who was also in the film, seemed to be losing his mind and it was clear there was no love lost between them. I wasn’t sure how much of Sam’s childish and explosive behavior was an act for the camera to appear more narcissistic than he actually was, but when Walker secretly filmed Vaknin at one point to prove it wasn’t just an act, Sam’s behavior remained just as abusive.

samvak3

Walker, for his part, seemed to have bit off far more than he could chew in making this film, and seemed nearly destroyed by Vaknin’s abuse. (I read it took him two years to recover from the experience). But to be fair, Walker had chosen to make this film about a self professed malignant narcissist and possible psychopath, so what did he expect? Candy and roses?

Vaknin became petulant when one of the psychological tests he took (the one that scored in all known personality disorders) had him scoring higher in schizoid and avoidant traits than narcissistic ones. In fact, his N score wasn’t really all that high. Other tests he was given gave him much higher scores, and Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist (the test that’s given to criminals to make sentencing and judging decisions in courts of law) gave Vaknin a whopping score of 18 in psychopathy, which is extremely high, even for conscienceless criminals.

An intelligent man like Sam, of course, could be faking the answers. Having a lot of knowledge of personality disorders and general psychology, he could have answered the questions in the manner a psychopath would have answered them to get the results he wanted.

The brain scans were more telling. He was definitely missing some essential connections that people with a conscience possess. But I still didn’t buy it. I didn’t believe he was a psychopath and if he was a narcissist at all, he was a very weak one.

Sam seemed to be all over the place, but his behavior in the film, while mostly unpleasant, still didn’t scream “narcissist.” I was initially confused by him–and then I was fascinated, and finally mesmerized. Even though I had never met the man or spoken to him, I was falling under his spell, which I hear is legendary. This could prove he is dangerous.

Many narcissists can be quite charming, and Sam, for all his toolish and childish behavior, certainly could turn on the charm. He was intelligent, incredibly so, and sometimes funny. He was self aware and quick to admit how much of a bastard he was. Sometimes he was nice. He was always brutally honest, something most narcissists are not. He was definitely unpredictable and moody. He wasn’t someone I’d want to spend much time alone with, and part of me wanted to protect his sweet little wife Lidija from her unstable husband, whatever his psychological problem was. He was a ticking time bomb, and although he has never been physically abusive, he was clearly verbally abusive and the poor woman seemed to have “settled” for a disordered man who could never really return the love she constantly showered on him, as much as he sometimes appeared to try.

In the film, she said she wanted to have a baby with him but knew it probably wouldn’t happen (partly due to her age but also because they have barely any sex life. Sam is not interested in sex. He lives inside his head). What a sterile, joyless life any normally wired woman would have to endure to be married to him. But Lidija, in her codependent way, seems happy and satisfied. It’s very dysfunctional but apparently works for both of them. She’s his constant supply and she’s more than happy to fulfill that role, or says she is.

So, moving on…I think it’s a very good thing that they never had children. I read somewhere (I can’t find the link now) they mutually decided not to reproduce, in order to protect any potential child from either becoming NPD or a victim of its effects, which to my way of thinking shows a side of Sam that does not want to inflict his disorder on a child–so does that mean he has some semblance of a conscience? In another video, I saw how impatient Sam seemed toward some children playing nearby. “Why can’t they just be born adults?” he said. Clearly Sam would not be an ideal father to a child.

It didn’t take long for Sam’s brilliant but disordered mind became my latest Aspie obsession (we do get obsessed over things). I wanted to find out what really made Sam Vaknin tick. I wanted to get inside Sam’s mind and feel what it felt like to be him, and maybe that would give me some answers in solving the puzzle of him. By now, having read more of his writings and seen his interviews, I was becoming convinced that Sam was really a narcissist, but probably not a malignant one.

I read everything I could about him. Interviews, articles, his own stuff. I read blog posts and articles by both his fans and his haters. I watched his videos. I read the comments under them. I read his personal journals and poetry, which are publicly available on his website

Sam’s poetry and personal journals show a side of him that cannot be detected in his almost robot-like Youtube videos where his face is nearly devoid of expression or emotion. It’s my belief this intellectual automaton he wants everyone to believe is the real him is a mask he wears to fool everyone into thinking he is just a walking, talking brain with no emotions, a person who cannot feel anything, a person with no vulnerabilities. I believe these creative writings are the only windows we have into Sam’s true character–his lost self.

Sam’s emotionality can’t be directly detected in “Malignant Self-Love,” although he does write with passion and there’s an odd underlying mood of darkness and pain I’m picking up that I don’t get from watching his videos. I can’t explain why I feel this underlying anger and pain emanating from the pages because it’s not really present in the words themselves. He’s a powerful writer and it just comes through, whether he intended it to or not. Other people have said the same thing about this book.

It’s taking me longer to read than I anticipated, partly due to its length, but also because I’m finding I need to put it down from time to time, because the rage and hurt I can detect that underlies his intellectual, scholarly prose can make me feel depressed. I feel like I’m being drawn against my will into a dark night of the soul. It’s nothing I can put my finger on, just a mood of bottomless sadness and hopelessness that filters through his words. I haven’t reviewed his book yet but I will say this. In spite of his having written “Malignant Self Love” primarily to obtain narcissistic supply for himself, it’s actually one of the most insightful books on narcissism I’ve ever read. Who better than a narcissist to be able to write about what the disorder feels like and what really causes it? But if you’re sensitive at all, it’s not a fun book to read.

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Sam has said even in his videos that he often feels sad and depressed. There are flashes of humanity occasionally too. In one of them he is being questioned about something he did to another boy when they were about 12. He had tried to brainwash this other boy, and the boy was so damaged by the psychological abuse that he had to be hospitalized. When the interviewer asked if Sam felt any remorse, he replied he knew it was wrong on an intellectual level but couldn’t feel any remorse or shame. But his face told another story. For just a moment, Sam’s face changed. It seemed to clench and then softened and he looked away quickly from the interviewer, as if he didn’t want his humanity to be seen. I saw him grimace a little, as if remembering this was causing him a jolt of pain.

His journals and poetry are where I believe is Sam’s true self really comes out. Creative writing is the only form of expression it has. Even with all the honesty and insight he has into his disorder (and what I believe a strong desire to be rid of it too) his true self is eternally dissociated from the hostile, volatile, intellectual mask of protection he shows to the world. I no longer have any doubt Sam is a narcissist on the higher end of the spectrum, if not malignant, but even for such an insightful intelligent narcissist as Sam, a cure is probably not going to happen.

Sam’s journals, short fiction, and poetry are so filled with sadness, rage, hopelessnes and pain it takes my breath away. It’s almost too painful to read them. His writing, as emotional as his videos are intellectual, makes you feel like you’ve been punched several times in the gut. People have accused him of being a fake, but there’s nothing fake in the raw emotion he is able to express in his creative writing and journals. No one could fake that.

His words tell what it really feels like to have NPD–from the inside of a sufferer who really does suffer and at the same time is all too aware of it. And it’s pure hell, worse than anything you can imagine. Knowing you can never escape, wanting to be human but not knowing how. Knowing you can never give or receive love like a normal person. That you long to be good but don’t know how. That you feel superior and worthless at the same time. That you want to be hated and feared because deep inside you feel like you don’t deserve any love because of what was done to you by your mother as a child. That you hate and envy others for what you want but can’t have. It’s like being possessed. Maybe it is being possessed. Maybe when one chooses to become a narcissist (Vaknin said he chose to become one at a very young age to protect himself from further hurt) you are drawn into darkness, and once you’ve entered you can’t ever escape.

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I read an interview where he admitted he has memories of himself as a very young child, and these are indicative of a person who may have been an empath had he not been subjected to horrific abuse. I think Sam is actually a deeply emotional man with very sensitive feelings but these are unfortunately limited to just himself. Any ability he once had to feel empathy and love for others was cut off like a leg that was amputated for no good reason other than his mother’s malignant envy of him. Sam’s overreaction to a slight on this blog proved to me just how sensitive he actually is. It’s tragic that sensitivity was not allowed to develop into empathy for others. Here is an excerpt from that interview (because I found it posted on another blog with no link, I don’t know where it came from or who was interviewing him):

Q: So can you remember not being a narcissist?

A: That is a really good question. I do remember a period before I became a narcissist, that must have been around age 3 or 4, I do remember forming my narcissism as a conscious effort. I remember I’ve been diagnosed with 180+ IQ, very high, which allowed me to achieve results which were not age-appropriate, advanced. Also my memories are unusual for a child of three, I remember as a child of ¾ inventing the narratives, the stories that became my narcissism later. Inventing the stories of my omniscience, how I knew everything, and inventing fictitious figments of me that are very powerful. Telling myself I would not feel pain if I told myself not to. I remember assembling it like Lego. Before that, I remember being a spoiled child, admired and loved because I was achieving things that were not typical for a child, the entire neighborhood was there first, then the whole nation. So I became a spoiled brat. Later I was subjected to horrific physical abuse up until the age of 16. The answer to the question is yes – I remember the exact moment where I decided to be a narcissist.



Q: So you remember the empathic abilities you have lost in this process?

A: No, I was too young to develop real empathy.



Q: A little compassion, do you remember that at least?

A: I remember being compassionate, that I cried when my mother was sad, that I was a good-hearted kid, I used to give away my things, tried to understand other peoples emotions. But these are just flickers of memory, they have receded so fare. It’s like the shades on the wall of Plato’s cave. I do not relive them, do not have access to them. I just know of them.

Sam is a paradox, an enigma, a person too complicated for anyone to ever be able to really understand, and he is just as flummoxed by his complexities as those who try to understand him. I believe he’s a good person trapped forever in a disordered mind that betrays him and makes him lash out at a world that never gave him a chance to become fully human. Having so much insight just makes it all so much harder.

Do I think he’s dangerous? Yes, without a doubt. Even if he doesn’t want to, he can draw you into his illness. He can infect you with his misery and darkness. I don’t think it was necessarily Sam’s abuse of Ian Walker that made him feel the need to symbolically wash himself clean at the end of the film and that changed him for the worse for two years hence. After all, Walker chose to make that film and knew what he was getting into. I think it was the darkness that surrounds Sam that infected Walker and threatened to engulf him. Sam has to live with that every day of his life and can’t free himself from it like Walker can.

When I think about Sam Vaknin, I’m reminded of “Demons” by Imagine Dragons. The protagonist is warning us of his malignancy.

Sam is warning us too. That’s why I don’t think he should be demonized and dismissed as a fraud or someone with malignant intentions, even if they’re primarily self-serving and intended to procure narcissistic supply for himself. There’s a good core in Sam that wants to separate himself from the rest of humanity. That’s why he went into exile by moving to Macedonia and lives a life as a near recluse. He knows what he has become and I think he hates it. But he’s helping people. People look up to him for advice about how to deal with their abusers, and the advice he gives is good. So does it really matter if his primary motives are selfish? I don’t think it does. Just don’t get too close.