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

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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.

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Interview with Sam Vaknin explains why he wrote “Malignant Self-Love”

I have not yet finished Sam’s tome about NPD (it is VERY long but so far readable enough), so I cannot write a review of it myself (but I definitely will when I finish the book).

In the meanwhile, I came across this fascinating interview that sheds some light on Sam’s motivations for writing “Malignant Self-Love,” something I’ve wondered about almost obsessively ever since I saw “I, Psychopath” on Youtube over two months ago. Hey, we Aspies tend to obsess about things!

It’s an excerpt from a longer article by Tony C. Brown I found on FriedGreenTomatoes.org, another website for survivors of narcissistic abuse. The article itself is biased from the the side of Sam’s detractors (which goes into lengthy diatribe about Sam’s ever-discussed “fake degree”), but trashing his true motives or his credentials (which I don’t care about) isn’t my desire or my point in excerpting this interview. I think Sam is being as brutally honest about himself here as he appears to always be.

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The best insight I have found for understanding Sam’s intentions in writing “Malignant Self Love” came in an interview Bob Goodman conducted with Mr. Vaknin and was published on the Natterbox website in 2000. The following exchange helped me develop a better understanding of Mr. Vaknin’s motives and agenda.

Bob Goodman asks , “I’ve seen Malignant Self Love described in some contexts as a self-help book. Often in this genre, we see authors who have triumphed over some personal adversity and wish to help others do the same. But your approach is quite different. You write that your discovery of your own NPD “was a painful process which led nowhere. I am no different — and no healthier — today than I was when I wrote this book. My disorder is here to stay, the prognosis poor and alarming.” Do you see the book, then, as more a work of self-literacy than self-healing?”

Mr Vaknin replies, “I never described Malignant Self Love as a helpful work. It is not. It is a dark, hopeless tome. Narcissists have no horizons, they are doomed by their own history, by their successful adaptation to abnormal circumstances and by the uncompromising nature of their defense mechanisms. My book is a scientific observation of the beast, coupled with an effort to salvage its victims. Narcissists are absent-minded sadists and they victimize everyone around them. Those in contact with them need guidance and help. Malignant Self Love is a phenomenology of the predator on the one hand, and a vindication and validation of its prey on the other.”

Mr. Goodman: “You are a self-professed narcissist, and you warn your readers that narcissists are punishing, pathological, and not to be trusted. Yet hundreds of readers or customers seem to be looking to you for help and advice on how to cope with their own narcissism or their relationship with a narcissist. I’m struck by a kind of hall-of-mirrors effect here. How do you reconcile these seeming contradictions?”

Mr. Vaknin: “Indeed, only seeming. I may have misphrased myself. By “helpful” I meant “intended to help.” The book was never intended to help anyone. Above all, it was meant to attract attention and adulation (narcissistic supply) to its author, myself. Being in a guru-like status is the ultimate narcissistic experience. Had I not also been a misanthrope and a schizoid, I might have actually enjoyed it. The book is imbued with an acerbic and vitriolic self-hatred, replete with diatribes and jeremiads and glaring warnings regarding narcissists and their despicable behavior. I refused to be “politically correct” and call the narcissist “other-challenged.” Yet, I am a narcissist and the book is, therefore, a self-directed “J’accuse.” This satisfies the enfant terrible in me, the part of me that seeks to be despised, abhorred, derided and, ultimately, punished by society at large.”

One last bit of the interview with Goodman appears toward the end of the article.

Sam lives a nomad lifestyle which he describes in the interview with Bob Goodman.

Mr. Goodman asks, “I understand you’re something of a nomad now, hopping from country to country and job to job. Do you ever long for a more settled existence?”

Sam replies, “Never. You are describing a morgue, a cemetery. My life is colorful, adventurous, impossible, cinematic. Sure, I pay a price — who doesn’t? Is there no price to be for a sedentary, predictable, numbing existence? When one is 90 years old, all that is left is memories. You are the director of the movie of your life, a 70 years-long movie. Now, sit back and begin to watch: is it a boring film? would you have watched it had it not been yours? If the answers are negative and positive, respectively, you succeeded to live well, regardless of the price you paid.”

Oh hell yeah, Sam Vaknin is a narc!

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I got the three books I ordered from Amazon in the mail yesterday and started to read Sam’s book first because I really need to know about narcissism from the perspective of a narcissist. I said it before and I’ll say it again–it’s huge (but I like huge books).

So far (I finished the first chapter) I can tell he’s a very good writer (in a verbose, almost old fashioned way) and I think it’s going to be a fascinating read. He also gives credit where credit is due, and cites experts in the field and the DSM-IV-TR as sources.

But something stood out to me right away that screamed narcissist. At the back of the book, there are SIX PAGES of Vaknin’s accomplishments and qualifications (“Curriculum Vitae” he calls it–he is very pedantic too). SIX PAGES. I kid you not.

Not only that, there are four pages of testimonials. That’s right, FOUR PAGES. Who includes four pages of testimonials and six pages listing their qualifications? A narcissist, that’s who!

I have no problem reading a book about narcissism by a narcissist. The way I see it, it’s coming directly from the source, not from some detached expert with 8-10 years of higher education who doesn’t know what the disorder feels like. Sam KNOWS what it feels like, and it sounds like hell. Narcs are not happy people, I can assure you of that. They may SEEM happy, but they are not. They live their lives in sheer terror of their masks being stripped off.

That doesn’t mean we should feel sorry for them though. Miserable or not, they aren’t nice people, and don’t deserve our pity.

Here is an excerpt of what Paul Shirley, MSW, has to say about Sam’s book in the Prologue:

Sam’s writing on the subject pulsated with heat, it ran red with blood, it crackled with flames of passion, it cried out in agony. Sam KNEW narcissism like the fish knows the water and the eagle knows the air, because he had lived it. He described its small insignificant currents, he knew what it does when the weather changes, he knew exactly what happened to little frogs, snakes and crickets whenever they fall into the stream. Most psychologists only KNOW about narcissism. Sam UNDERSTANDS it.

After I finish his book, I’ll write up an in depth review. So far, a good read though.
You can also order his book here.

Narcissism on the Internet: what Vaknin has to say

Narcissistic? Me?

Oh, hell. I’m going to milk this thing for all it’s worth at the moment. I admit it, I want this upward momentum to keep going for a little bit longer.

Let me start by confessing I’m just a wee bit star-struck because a somewhat famous person who writes about narcissism gave me validation and in doing so helped my blog become more visible, even though he’s a narcissist and we victims are all too aware what no-good gaslighting, manipulating, triangulating mind-fuckers narcissists are. I must remember that he IS a narc and is NOT my friend. I must not allow a few crumbs of flattery to somehow suck me into becoming some kind of online narcissistic supply to this man. I gotta keep it real.

But no worries: in a day or so (if not my next post), I’ll return to my regular scheduled programming and write a fluff post about something like kittens or a rant about fracking or toenail fungus.

In my second blog article about Sam Vaknin, he commented (when asked) that he did, in fact, Google himself (hey, don’t we all?) and that’s how he finds out which bloggers are writing about him. He provided an explanation as to why he looks himself up on Google and linked to his website. I decided to repost his journal entry because there’s a whole Pandora’s box of truth here, and whether we like it or not, there’s a little or even a lot of Narcissist in all of us who blog and find ourselves giddy with excitement when our blogs get views, likes, comments, or suddenly take off like 4th of July firecrackers.

WARNING: In typical Vaknin fashion, this post is extremely long winded. That said, it’s definitely worth your time to read the whole thing. There’s some great insights here that still apply today even though it appears to have been written some years ago.

Cyber (Internet) Narcissists and Psychopaths

To the narcissist, the Internet is an alluring and irresistible combination of playground and hunting grounds, the gathering place of numerous potential Sources of Narcissistic Supply, a world where false identities are the norm and mind games the bon ton. And it is beyond the reach of the law, the pale of social norms, the strictures of civilized conduct.

Indeed, many of the innovators who gave us the Internet and social networks can easily be described as narcissistic. Technology did not invent or even foster narcissism – rather, it was driven by it: an increasingly narcissistic populace demanded empowerment, self-expression, self-gratification, and self-aggrandisement via gadgets and software applications that catered to its pathology.

The somatic finds cyber-sex and cyber-relationships aplenty. The cerebral claims false accomplishments, fake skills, erudition and talents. Both, if minimally communicative, end up at the instantly gratifying epicenter of a cult of fans, followers, stalkers, erotomaniacs, denigrators, and plain nuts. The constant attention and attendant quasi-celebrity feed and sustain their grandiose fantasies and inflated self-image.

The Internet is an extension of the real-life Narcissistic Pathological Space but without its risks, injuries, and disappointments. It allows the narcissist to enact and act out his grandiose fantasies of omnipotence and omnipotence, brilliance and perfection, self-righteousness and superiority with impunity.
Many moderators and owners of discussion groups and support forums, for instance, are tyrannical narcissistic bullies with little or no impulse control and the tendency to form cult-like settings where the wayward are sadistically penalized and publicly humiliated by peers for speaking out of turn and in contravention of the “party line.”

In the virtual universe of the Web, the narcissist vanishes and reappears with ease, often adopting a myriad aliases and nicknames. He (or she) can thus fend off criticism, abuse, disagreement, and disapproval effectively and in real time – and, simultaneously, preserve the precarious balance of his infantile personality. Narcissists are, therefore, prone to Internet addiction.

The positive characteristics of the Net are largely lost on the narcissist. He is not keen on expanding his horizons, fostering true relationships, or getting in real contact with other people. The narcissist is forever the provincial because he filters everything through the narrow lens of his addiction. He measures others – and idealizes or devalues them – according to one criterion only: how useful they might be as Sources of Narcissistic Supply.

The Internet is an egalitarian medium where people are judged by the consistency and quality of their contributions rather than by the content or bombast of their claims. But the narcissist is driven to distracting discomfiture by a lack of clear and commonly accepted hierarchy (with himself at the pinnacle). He fervently and aggressively tries to impose the “natural order” – either by monopolizing the interaction or, if that fails, by becoming a major disruptive influence.

But the Internet may also be the closest many narcissists get to psychodynamic therapy. Because it is still largely text-based, the Web is populated by disembodied entities. By interacting with these intermittent, unpredictable, ultimately unknowable, ephemeral, and ethereal voices – the narcissist is compelled to project unto them his own experiences, fears, hopes, and prejudices.

Transference (and counter-transference) are quite common on the Net and the narcissist’s defence mechanisms – notably projection and Projective Identification – are frequently aroused. The therapeutic process is set in motion by the – unbridled, uncensored, and brutally honest – reactions to the narcissist’s repertory of antics, pretensions, delusions, and fantasies.

The narcissist – ever the intimidating bully – is not accustomed to such resistance. Initially, it may heighten and sharpen his paranoia and lead him to compensate by extending and deepening his grandiosity. Some narcissists withdraw altogether, reverting to the schizoid posture. Others become openly antisocial and seek to subvert, sabotage, and destroy the online sources of their frustration. A few retreat and confine themselves to the company of adoring sycophants and unquestioning groupies.

But a long exposure to the culture of the Net – irreverent, skeptical, and populist – usually exerts a beneficial effect even on the staunchest and most rigid narcissist. Far less convinced of his own superiority and infallibility, the online narcissist mellows and begins – hesitantly – to listen to others and to collaborate with them.

Ultimately, most narcissists – those who are not schizoid and shun social contact – tire of the virtual reality that is cyberspace. The typical narcissist needs “tangible” narcissistic supply. He craves attention from real, live, people, flesh and blood. He strives to see in their eyes their admiration and adulation, the awe and fear that he inspires, the approval and affirmation that he elicits.

There is no substitute to human contact, even for the narcissist. Many narcissists try to carry online relationships they nurtured into their logical extension and conclusion offline. Other burst upon the cyber scene intermittently, vanishing for long months, only to dive back in and reappear, reinvigorated. Reality beckons and few narcissists resist its siren call.

Narcissists, Social Media, and Porn

Social media, such as Tumblr.com, have become the playground of narcissists, psychopaths, and sadists who post extreme and, at times, illegal porn and revel in the reactions to it, thus garnering vicarious narcissistic supply. Via such postings, they express their rabid misogyny by objectifying women and subjecting them to humiliating subjugation and to aggression bordering on outright violence.

Yahoo and Tumblr’s protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, some of the content is illegal and can land even an accidental viewer in hot waters. Relatively innocuous search terms such as “family”, “wife”, “sister”, or “daddy” often yield sleazy and actionable photo and video results, displayed automatically on the user’s screen and saved to his or her browser cache without any warning or consent. Tumblr is not alone in this. Twitter and Facebook, although to a lesser degree, also host porn on a massive scale.

Porn addiction ties well with the narcissist’s fantasy sex life. Social media enable and legitimize a host of sexual fetishes and paraphilias, including pedophilia. Via these platforms, the narcissist finds an eager audience and a sense of empowerment and immunity, aided and abetted by his anonymity.

Interview granted to Misty Harris of CanWest on February 23, 2005

Q. How might technology be enabling narcissism, particularly for the Internet generation?

A. To believe that the Internet is an unprecedented phenomenon with unique social implications is, in itself, narcissistic. The Internet is only the latest in a long series of networking-related technological developments. By definition, technology is narcissistic. It seeks to render us omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent – in other words, Godlike.

The Internet allows us to replicate ourselves and our words (through vanity desktop publishing, blogs, and posting online content on Web sites), to playact our favorite roles, to communicate instantly with thousands (narrowcasting), to influence others, and, in general, to realize some of our narcissistic dreams and tendencies.

Q. Why is it a bad thing to have a high opinion of yourself?

A. It is not a bad thing if it is supported by commensurate achievements. If the gap between fantasy and reality is too big, a dysfunction that we call “pathological narcissism” sets in.

Q. What does it say about our culture that we encourage narcissistic characteristics in people? (example: Paris Hilton – we made her a star for loving herself)

A. Celebrity culture is not a new thing. It is not a culture-dependent phenomenon. Celebrities fulfil two emotional functions for their fans: they provide a mythical narrative (a story that the fan can follow and identify with) and they function as blank screens onto which the fans project their dreams, hopes, fears, plans, values, and desires (wish fulfilment).

Western culture emphasizes ambition, competitiveness, materialism, and individualism. These admittedly are narcissistic traits and give the narcissist in our society an opening advantage.

But narcissism exists in a different form in collectivist societies as well. As Theodore Millon and Roger Davis state in their seminal tome, “Personality Disorders in Modern Life”:

“In an individualistic culture, the narcissist is ‘God’s gift to the world’. In a collectivist society, the narcissist is ‘God’s gift to the collective'”.

Twitter: Narcissism or Age-old Communication?

It has become fashionable to castigate Twitter – the microblogging service – as an expression of rampant narcissism. Yet, narcissists are verbose and they do not take kindly to limitations imposed on them by third parties. They feel entitled to special treatment and are rebellious. They are enamored with their own voice. Thus, rather than gratify the average narcissist and provide him or her with narcissistic supply (attention, adulation, affirmation), Twitter is actually liable to cause narcissistic injury.

From the dawn of civilization, when writing was the province of the few and esoteric, people have been memorizing information and communicating it using truncated, mnemonic bursts. Sizable swathes of the Bible resemble Twitter-like prose. Poetry, especially blank verse one, is Twitterish. To this very day, newspaper headlines seek to convey information in digestible, resounding bits and bites. By comparison, the novel – an avalanche of text – is a newfangled phenomenon.

Twitter is telegraphic, but this need not impinge on the language skills of its users. On the contrary, coerced into its Procrustean dialog box, many interlocutors become inventive and creativity reigns as bloggers go atwitter.

Indeed, Twitter is the digital reincarnation of the telegraph, the telegram, the telex, the text message (SMS, as we Europeans call it), and other forms of business-like, data-rich, direct communication. Like them, it forces its recipients to use their own imagination and creativity to decipher the code and flesh it out with rich and vivid details. It is unlikely to vanish, though it may well be supplanted by even more pecuniary modes of online discourse.

Interview granted to Agencia Efe, Spain, April 2008

1. Does the Internet make a special amplification of narcissism or is just the reflection of reality? How, despite of the fact that many people is disturbed by the anonymous characters that you can adopt in the Internet, the exhibitionism is, maybe, more usual. I mean, in terms of narcissism? Can a person be addicted to the web because is own narcissism?

A. The narcissist likes to appear to be mysterious. It enhances his self-perceived sense of omnipotence, it renders him “unique” and “interesting”. The right moniker (Internet alias or handle) imbues the narcissist with a sense of immunity and superiority and permits him to commit the most daring or heinous acts.

2. What kind of lacks or necessities there are behind this behaviour? What are we expecting when we search our name on Google? Can we construct our image with the pieces of us in the internet?

A. The Internet is the hi-tech equivalent of a giant mirror. Like the mythical Narcissus, it allows us to fall in love with our reflection every day anew. We gaze into the depths of the Internet to reassure ourselves of our continuity and very existence. It is our modern photo album; a repository of snippets of our lives; and our external memory.

In psychoanalytic terms, the Internet replaces some of our ego functions: it regulates our sense of self-worth; puts us in touch with reality and with others; and structures our interactions (via its much vaunted peer-pressure of the Netiquette and the existence of editors and moderators).

We crave attention and feedback: proof positive that we matter, that someone cares about us, that we are not mere atoms in a disjointed and anomic Universe. In this sense, the Internet substitutes for God and many social functions by reassuring us that we fit into a World that, though amorphous and protean, is sustaining, predictable, constant, and nurturing. The Internet replaces our parents as a source of nourishment, support, caring, discipline, and omniscience.

3. In the case of the blogs, what’s the point in common in the idea of doing a private diary and be available for everybody?

A. I am not sure what you mean. Blogs are anything but private. They are explicitly meant for public consumption, thrive on public attention, and encourage interaction with the public (through the comments area). One can set one’s blog or online journal to “private”, though, as the hi-tech equivalent of a personal diary.

4. Internet, with their blogs, Facebook, Myspace or YouTube, has create the possibility of make yourself famous without promotion, just with the progressive diffusion of your material. Examples like the singers Mika and Lilly Allen or many bloggers, can it make a new way of realizing the “American dream” for the users of the Internet?

A. Being famous encompasses a few important functions: it endows us with power, provides us with a constant Source of Narcissistic Supply (admiration, adoration, approval, awe), and fulfils important Ego functions.

The Internet caters to our narcissistic traits and propensities and allows us to become “celebrities-by-replication”. The image that the blogger or artist projects is hurled back at him, reflected by those exposed to his instant celebrity or fame. By generating multiple copies of himself and his work, he feels alive, his very existence is affirmed and he acquires a sensation of clear boundaries (where he ends and the world begins).

There is a set of narcissistic behaviours typical to the pursuit of celebrity. There is almost nothing that the Net celebrity refrains from doing, almost no borders that he hesitates to cross to achieve renown. To him (or, increasingly, her), there is no such thing as “bad publicity”: what matters is to be in the public eye at any price.

Because narcissistic individuals equally enjoy all types of attention and like as much to be feared as to be loved, for instance – they don’t mind if what is published about them is wrong (“as long as they spell my name correctly”). The celebrity blogger or artist experiences bad emotional stretches only when he lacks attention, or publicity.

It is then that some bloggers, artists, and Webmasters plot, contrive, plan, conspire, think, analyse, synthesise and do whatever it takes to regain the lost exposure in the public eye. The more they fail to secure the attention of the target group (preferably, the entire Internet community), the more daring, eccentric and outlandish they become. A firm decision to become known is transformed into resolute action and then to a panicky pattern of attention seeking behaviours.

It is important to understand that the blogger/artist/Webmaster are not really interested in publicity per se. They appear to be interested in becoming a celebrity, but, in reality, they are concerned with the REACTIONS to their newly-acquired fame: people watch them, notice them, talk about them, debate their actions – therefore they exist.

5. There are many new applications to feed human narcissism on the net: Googlefight, Egosurf.org, the blogs themselves… Could be used narcissism as a business?

A. Every good business is founded on the mass psychology of its clientele. In a narcissistic civilization, business is bound to adapt and become increasingly more narcissistic. The Internet started off as an information exchange. The surge of (mainly American) users transformed it in profound ways. User-generated “content” is a thin veneer beneath which lurks the seething and pathological narcissism of the masses. Narcissism is our main business organizing principle outside the Internet as well: cosmetics, fashion, health, publishing, show business, the media, and the financial industries all rest on firm narcissistic foundations. The management class itself is highly narcissistic!

6. Can be satisfied the true and pathologic narcissism just with the feed-back on the Internet or it needs, finally, to put in “real” his power of attraction.

A. What’s not real about the Internet? This dichotomy between virtual and real is false. The Internet is as real as it gets and, for many of its users, it is the only reality and the only frame of reference. It is “reality” as we used to know it that is gradually vanishing and being replaced by “virtual” substitutes: print media are dying and giving way to blogs and online news aggregators; iTunes and Napster and BitTorrent and eMule are ruining the very physical music CD; there is more published on the Internet than is available in many brick and mortar libraries, and so on.

7. Could presence or non-presence in Internet create a new kind of social class?

A. Like every other social phenomenon, the Internet gave rise to a stratified society with hackers, crackers, nerds, geeks, Wikipedians, bloggers, etc. occupying various niches. Not using the Internet – a kind of Internet Luddism – may yet become a badge of honor. Internet addicts may become either outcasts or the new elite. Who knows? Everything digital is still in its formative years and still in flux.

8. How dangerous is narcissism, inside or outside the web?

A. Very dangerous. Just read the list of diagnostic criteria for the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD): the narcissist lacks empathy, is arrogant, exploits people, is envious, has a strong and unjustified sense of entitlement, and is obsessive and delusional. Many narcissists are also psychopaths. Pathological narcissism is often diagnosed with other mental health disorders (a phenomenon called “co-morbidity”). Narcissists are over-represented among criminals, gamblers, and people with reckless and inconsiderate behaviors.

Interview granted to About.com about Online Dating

1. In your opinion, why does the Internet seem to be an easy forum to fall in love?

A. Frequently, in online dating, the partners are treated as “blank screens” onto which the online dater projects her dreams, wishes, and unfulfilled needs and yearnings. The Internet allows the two sides to maintain an emotionally riskless intercourse by fully controlling the interaction with their interlocutors or correspondents. While thoroughly gratified, they are less likely to get hurt and feel less vulnerable because they invest – emotionally and otherwise – far less than in a full-fledged, “real” life liaison. Of course, they are usually disappointed when they try to flesh out their online fantasy by moving the relationship offline, “down to earth” and into “brick-and-mortar” venues.

2. Despite an online relationship being made up of text messages and pictures, why does it seem people more easily get into Internet relationships than they do in real life?

A. “Internet relationship” is an oxymoron. A relationship entails the existence of a physical dimension, time spent together, friction and conflict, the satisfaction of all the senses, and experiences shared. IM, chat, webcams, and the like can seemingly bring people closer and create the illusion of intimacy, but actually it is a narcissistic sham, an echo chamber, a simulacrum. People “fall in love” with their own reflections and with idealized partners, not with the real items. Their counterparty is merely a peg on which they hang their desire for closeness, a sounding board. It is like watching a film: one can be moved to tears by what is happening on the screen, but very few confuse the flickering lights with reality itself.

3. What dangers are there in falling in love online?

A. Online “love” is not love at all and, therefore, it is less prone to heartbreak and disappointment. The parties fully control their side of the interaction and limit it at will. The information exchanged is doctored and there is no way of verifying it (for instance, by paying attention to body language and social cues). Online “love” is more akin to infatuation, comprised of equal measures fantasy and narcissism. The parties fall in love with the idea of falling in love: the actual online partner is rather incidental. The extant technology dictates the solipsistic and self-centered nature of these exchanges.
Online dating is inherently unsafe as it affords no way to ascertain the identity of your interlocutor or correspondent. When you date online, you are missing out on critical information such as your potential partner’s body language; the pattern of his social interactions; his behavior in unexpected settings and circumstances; his non-scripted reactions; even his smell and how he truly looks, dresses, and conducts himself in public and in private. The dangers, like in real life, is when one comes across a predator: a psychopath, a stalker, or a bully. Click on this link to learn how to avoid these people: How to Recognize a Narcissist or Psychopath Before It is Too Late?

4. What tips can you share with readers who have fallen in love online and have been burnt by the rejection of a breakup online who might do it again?

A. The Internet is merely a sophisticated, multimedia communication channel, a glorified videophone. “Distance relationships” don’t work. Real, lasting, emotionally-rewarding relationships that lead to happiness and personal growth require propinquity, familiarity, intimacy, and sacrifices. Don’t make the Internet your exclusive dating venue and don’t use it to shield you from life itself . Deploy it merely to find information and reach out and, on the first opportunity, log off and go out there to confront multidimensional reality with all its complexity and ambiguities. Do not use the Internet to fend off potential hurt: there is no growth without pain and no progress without experience.

5. Despite some problems, do you think the Internet should be sworn off as a means of finding love?
A. Online dating is a great tool for people who, for various reasons, have limited access to other dating options or venues where you can date “real” people face-to-face, instead of mere avatars.

Sam Vaknin read my post (and has a few corrections)!

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I feel silly and a little childish being so impressed by this, but Mr. Vaknin himself commented on yesterday’s article and also said there were a few corrections to be made. I made the changes to that post, but I also thought this warranted a brand new post. There is some information I neglected to include in the article, which includes a video (one of many on his Youtube channel), a rebuttal on his website, and a IMDB review of “I, Psychopath” that paints Vaknin as a psychopathic monster but at least an HONEST monster–while painting Ian Walker, the director, as a dishonest, unethical monster who misrepresented Vaknin’s credentials and character by using clever editing.

Comment from Sam Vaknin:
Thank you for this honest take on “I, Psychopath”. Just several minor corrections: (1) I have twice diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (in 1986 and in 1995); (2) My book was first published in 1997; (3) The PDF version available on my Website comprises only EXCERPTS; (4) I have commented on “I, Psychopath” here: http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com/rebuttal.html I find Shmezl’s review of the film to most accurately reflect my opinion of it: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1407219/reviews?ref_=tt_urv Thank you again. Sam http://www.youtube.com/samvaknin

Thanks for the update! 🙂 — Lucky Otter

***

ETA: I found Shmezl’s IMDB review of “I, Psychopath” and will repost what he says here. He doesn’t seem to have many positive things to say about Vaknin, but I guess Vaknin approves of being classified this way, because it makes him the big bad psychopathic narcissist he believes he is (and maybe he really is!) Schmezl doesn’t seem to hold the film’s director, Ian Walker, in very high regard either. Perhaps both of them are raging narcissists, and that probably isn’t too far from the truth, because Vaknin and Walker seemed to dislike each other intensely in the film. When two narcissists are put together, they almost always can’t stand each other. Neither will allow themselves to be used as “narcissistic supply,” unless one of the narcissists is stronger and overtakes the weaker one. But they will still hate each other.

Can’t trust the director
7/10
Author: Shemzl from Israel

24 March 2010
Sam Vaknin, the subject of this documentary, we are told, has a high IQ (185!!!), a sense of humor, an irresistible charm, a fake doctorate, and a submissive-codependent doll of a wife. I saw no sign of the first three. Sam is nothing short of loathsome, with a reptilian quality that would send shivers down any normal spine. He is a sadistic and robotically methodical verbal thug who exalts in his handiwork as he reduces everyone around him to stammering nervous wrecks. His wife, Lydia, is a tragic, heart-wrenching, truly lovable figure. What she sees in this physically and spiritually repulsive putrid shell of a human being is beyond me. The moments with her were the strongest in the movie and Walker made a bad call of not pivoting the film around her demure presence. >I hope she doesn’t get her wish and have kids with Vaknin. She and her children deserve far better.

But I harbor grave suspicions regarding the director of this “gem”, Ian Walker. Clearly, there is no love lost between him and his protagonist, Vaknin. Equally clearly, we cannot trust him to be truthful and to avoid the kind of editing that borders on misleading the viewer.

Consider Sam’s allegedly forged academic degree. Whatever his shortcomings and repugnant traits, Sam is brutally and unflinchingly and invariably and unfailingly honest about himself, his disorder, and what a monster he is. Why would he lie about an irrelevant and minor topic like his academic degree? Throughout the film and in its closing 2 minutes Sam protests that he had attended a full-fledged university with campus, faculty and students; that he had submitted a doctoral dissertation (indeed, it can be found in the Library of Congress!); and that he has had to defend it. Walker than plucks a sentence out of context and adds it artificially to Vaknin’s previous protestations to create the (patently false!) impression that Vaknin admits to having a fake doctorate!!!

Or, consider this: Walker meticulously documents Vaknin’s abusive raging outbursts. On many occasions, it is crystal-clear that Vaknin is reacting to off-camera taunting and ill-treatment by Walker. Walker even admits in his PR material to having “poked this snake with a stick”. The film’s logo is an image of Walker decapitating Vaknin! But Walker never shows us what he did to Vaknin – only what Vaknin did to him, ostensibly unprovoked. Walker uses clever, one-sided editing to achieve a highly unethical result: a misrepresentation of what happened, for sure!

This is what I mean when I say that I cannot trust the seethingly hateful, resentful, and envious Walker to be an impartial guide to Vaknin’s circumstances, conduct, and psyche.

Shouldn’t documentary filmmakers harbor at least a modicum of sympathy and compassion in order to avoid the voyeuristic pornography that most exposes become? Walker failed to skirt this particular trap. Hence 7 stars instead of 10.

Sam Vaknin: Narcissist or narcissist wannabe?

samvaknin

Who in their right mind would want to be a narcissist?

Sam Vaknin evidently does. Vaknin, a self-identified narcissist, is a bit different from the average narcissist. He seems to fit the profile in many ways, but he is surprisingly introspective and in 1997, wrote a self-help book called “Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited. It can be purchased through Amazon or through his own site, but you can also read free excerpts from the PDF version which is also available through his website.

I have read the PDF full version and while it’s extremely long, verbose, and often repetitive (the published version may have better editing but I am not sure), Vaknin tells you everything you want to know about narcissism (and a few things you may not have known) and offers advice to “normals” on how to deal with narcissistic people like himself. He does not glorify narcissists and in fact is quite critical of them. While it appears he wants to help people handle or even cut themselves off from narcissists, one can’t help but wonder if he wrote the book as a way to promote himself and if he might not actually take pride in having the disorder. After all, narcissism has become Vaknin’s claim to fame and he purports himself as an expert on the disorder (which I can’t argue with, despite his lack of professional credentials). It was Vaknin who coined the term “narcissistic supply,” which is now used by bonafide professionals in the field who specialize in NPD.

Most books about narcissistic personality disorder or malignant narcissism are written by doctors, psychologists, or other professionals who deal with them in their practice, so reading such a book by a self-proclaimed narcissist is an odd experience but gives the reader an entirely different perspective about what really makes narcissists tick–and in a way, perhaps a more accurate one.

vakninandbook
Vaknin with a copy of his book.

Vaknin also differs from the garden variety narcissist because of his brutal honesty. Pathological lying is one of the narcissist’s calling cards, but in 2009 Australian filmmaker Ian Walker made a fascinating and somewhat disturbing but at times extremely funny documentary about Vaknin called I, Psychopath. (I highly recommend watching this film, the extended version of which can be viewed on Youtube (I have linked the first section). In the film Vaknin lies about nothing, and in fact he’s as brutally and cruelly honest as Simon Cowell used to be when judging American Idol contestants (I definitely suspect Mr. Cowell is himself a narcissist, but I digress). That being said, there has been some controversy about Mr. Vaknin’s educational credentials. During one of his interviews with a psychologist, she questions him about his degree–he had written on the questionnaire that he has a Ph.D, but it turned out that doctorate is actually from a diploma mill and its validity is questionable at best. So dishonesty is not unknown to Sam Vaknin (as it isn’t unknown to the rest of us).

In the film, we are treated to interesting and slightly creepy, oddly lit stills of Vaknin superimposed over things like clanking machinery (hinting at how the narcissist is more machine than human), strange landscapes, and time-lapsed highways at night.

Vaknin was born in 1961 to a Turkish mother and an Israeli father. We find out that Vaknin has an extremely high IQ and he is in fact a genius. In his native Israel, he became extremely wealthy at a shockingly early age through clever (and probably dishonest) financial wheelings and dealings, and was a successful dot-com entrepreneur until he was busted for securities fraud in 1999, and lost all his money. He also postulated a scientific theory on chronons and time asymmetry.

At the tender age of 21, Vaknin was living the high life, flying around the world in a private jet, eating in the most expensive restaurants, visiting exotic locales all over the world, and raking in enormous amounts of money. The film describes how the most successful entrepreneurs and corporate bigwigs tend to possess three important traits that make them so successful: good looks, high intelligence, and most importantly, a high level of psychopathy (determined by giving the tycoons Dr. Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist, which is most commonly used to make sentencing decisions for criminals.). Sam Vaknin possesses all three of these traits.

One of the psychologists who tests Vaknin during the film finds that while he does score high in traits that signify NPD, he scores even higher in traits that indicate Schizotypal Personality Disorder, Paranoid Personality Disorder, and bizarrely, scores highest of all in AvPD (Avoidant Personality disorder–a common disorder in narcissists’ victims). This psychologist does not think Mr. Vaknin is actually a psychopath, but that he may be narcissistic. Vaknin, for his part, seems petulant, insulted and almost angry that he is not more of the big, bad psychopath that he believed he was.

Later, his wife, Lidija, is also tested to find out if she is a typical “victim” (highly empathic, sensitive, putting other’s needs ahead of her own) and it is found that she is. And yet, although Sam and Lidija argue frequently, their relationship (at least on film) seems to work for them and Vaknin doesn’t seem excessively abusive, although he insists he has no capacity to feel love the way his wife does. It’s possible he may be more abusive toward Lidija off screen, but this is another thing we are left wondering. One issue that is raised is she wants a baby, but is unsure if her husband would make a good father, due to his narcissism.

vakninandwife
Vaknin with his wife, Lidija.

Vaknin gives his filmmaker, Ian Walker, a difficult time, and while we don’t see an excess of bullying on screen, in Walker’s commentary, he frequently discusses the way Vaknin abuses and calls him terrible names when the camera is off. So to try to capture Vaknin’s alleged abusive behavior on screen, he has Vaknin take over the filming and film Walker. Indeed now we hear Vaknin hurling insults and abuse at him. Walker, for his part, seems hurt, but could this just be the two of them acting out a part for the sake of giving the film more credibility of making it more interesting? There’s no way to tell, but the experiment is entertaining enough.

During the film, well known professionals who specialize in psychopathy and narcissism are interviewed and give their opinions about these character disorders, and their opinions about Vaknin himself. Vaknin, for his part, seems irascible and easily angered (and sometimes acts like a petulant child), but he also is oddly likeable (which could just be his narcissistic charm doing its work) and occasionally is extremely funny. Vaknin’s high intelligence is obvious and he speaks English extremely well too, although it’s not his native tongue.

Vaknin gifts each of the doctors and psychologists who interview him a complimentary copy of his “Malignant Self-Love,” which could be a gesture of courtesy or it could be narcissistic.

vakninsam

Vaknin is an enigma. During the documentary I sometimes wondered whether he is actually a narcissist at all. He certainly doesn’t seem psychopathic (although I’m not going to say it’s impossible), but if he’s a narcissist, I don’t think he’s a particularly malignant one. My own opinion of Sam Vaknin is that he has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), which shares a number of traits with NPD because they are both Cluster B character disorders but differ in important ways. I think Vaknin has strong narcissistic, paranoid, and schizoid traits, but he is no psychopath. Clearly, Vaknin isn’t the easiest person to spend a lot of time with, but that doesn’t make him evil or a psychopath. However, he does say he was diagnosed with NPD twice–in 1986 and 1995.

I do wonder if he wants to be a narcissist more than he actually is one, and if so, why? Whatever the case, Mr. Vaknin has written an excellent and highly readable (if a bit verbose) book about malignant narcissism. I don’t personally care if he doesn’t have the right “credentials,” either as a professional or as a person with the actual disorder, because his book has helped so many people deal with the narcissists in their own lives better.

Update 11/20/14
I added a new post honoring Mr. Vaknin’s requests in the comments section, and also made the requested changes in this article. After viewing the links he posted, I’m much more convinced he’s really the narcissist he says he is.
https://otterlover58.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/sam-vaknin-read-my-post-and-has-a-few-corrections/