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7 - Surviving the Narcissist (article 7 of 10)

by Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

3/1/01

Dr. Vaknin is author of of the informative book, Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited. He also edits various mental health categories on Open Directory, Suite101, Go.Com and SearchEurope.com.  While his doctorate is not in mental health, this well-informed author clearly did his homework and writes from  experience.  Dr. Vaknin's CV is published here. His book, and much more, is available in hard copy or download on his main web site.

Dr. Irene

EDITED 2/09. Unfortunately, while the content itself stands on its own in helping people understand narcissism, the writer's credibility may be questionable. For example, see here: http://www.webpronews.com/topnews/2006/07/03/wikipedia-is-satan

 

 

SURVIVING THE NARCISSIST

Question:

Is there a point in waiting for the Narcissist to heal? Can it ever be better?

Answer:

Rescue Fantasies

"It is true that he is a chauvinistic narcissist with repulsive behaviors. But all he needs is a little love and he will be straightened out. I will rescue him from his misery and misfortune. I will give him the love that he lacked as a kid. Then his narcissism will vanish and we will live happily ever after".

Loving a Narcissist

I believe in the possibility of loving narcissists if one accepts them unconditionally, in a disillusioned and expectation-free manner. Narcissists are narcissists. This is what they are. Take them or leave them. Some of them are lovable. Most of them are highly charming and intelligent. The source of the misery of the victims of the narcissist is their disappointment, their disillusionment, their abrupt and tearing and tearful realization that they fell in love with an ideal of their own invention, a phantasm, an illusion, a fata morgana. This "waking up" is traumatic. The narcissist is forever the same. It is the victim who changes. It is true that narcissists present a facade in order to generate sources of narcissistic supply. But this facade is easy to penetrate because it is inconsistent. The cracks are evident from day one but often ignored. And what about all those who KNOWINGLY and WILLINGLY commit their wings to the burning narcissistic candle?

This is the catch-22. To react emotionally to a narcissist is like talking atheism to an Afghan fundamentalist. Narcissists have emotions, very strong ones, so terrifyingly strong and negative that they hide them, repress, block and transmute them. They employ a myriad of defense mechanisms: projective identification, splitting, projection, intellectualization, rationalization. Any effort to emotionally relate to a narcissist is doomed to failure, alienation and rage. Any attempt to "understand" (in retrospect or prospectively) narcissistic behavior patterns, reactions, his inner world in emotional terms - is equally hopeless. Narcissists should be regarded as "stychia", a force of nature, or an accident. There is always the bitter question: "Why me, why should this happen to me?" But this question is so universally asked that in its very universality lies the answer. The world is "meaningless" and "goal-less".

There is no master-plot or mega-plan to deprive anyone of happiness. Being born to narcissistic parents, for instance, is not the result of a conspiracy. It is a tragic event, for sure. But it cannot be dealt with emotionally without professional help or haphazardly. Stay away from narcissists, or face them aided by your own self-discovery through therapy.

It can be done. As opposed to narcissists, the prognosis for the victims of narcissists is fairly bright. 

Narcissists have no interest in emotional or even intellectual stimulation by significant others. Such stimulation is perceived as a threat. 

Significant others in the narcissist's life have very clear roles: accumulation and dispensation of past primary narcissistic supply in order to regulate current NS. Nothing less but definitely nothing more. Proximity and intimacy breed contempt for reasons that I elucidate in my work. A process of devaluation is in full operation throughout the life of the relationship.

A passive witness to the Narcissist's past grandiosity, a dispenser of accumulated NS, a punching bag for his rages, a co-dependent, a possession (though not prized but taken for granted) and nothing much more. This is the ungrateful, FULL TIME, draining job of being the Narcissist's significant others.

But humans are not instruments. To regard them as such is to devalue them, to reduce them, to restrict them, to prevent them from realizing their potential. Inevitably, Narcissists lose interest in their instruments, these truncated versions of full-fledged humans, once they cease to serve them in their pursuit of glory and fame.

Consider "friendship' with a narcissist as example of a relationship. One cannot really get to know a Narcissist "friend". One cannot be friends with a Narcissist and ESPECIALLY - one cannot love a Narcissist. Narcissists are addicts. They are no different to drug addicts. They are in pursuit of gratification through the drug known as "narcissistic supply". Everything and EVERYONE around them is an object, a potential source (to be idealized) or not (and, then to be cruelly discarded).

Narcissists home on potential supplies like cruise missiles with the most poisonous load. They are excellent at imitating emotions, exhibiting the right timely behaviors and at manipulating.

All generalizations are false, of course, and there are bound to be some happy relationships with Narcissists. I discussed the narcissistic couple in one of my FAQs (see: "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited"). One example of a happy marriage is when the narcissist teams up with another narcissist of a different kind (somatic with cerebral or the reverse).

Narcissists can be happily married to submissive, subservient, self-deprecating, echoing, mirroring and indiscriminately supportive spouses. They also do well with masochists. But it is difficult to imagine that a healthy, normal person would be happy in such a follies-a-deux ("madness in twosome").

It is also difficult to imagine a benign and sustained influence on the narcissist of a stable, healthy mate/spouse/partner. One of my FAQs is dedicated to this issue ("The Narcissist's Spouse/Mate/Partner").

BUT many a spouse/friend/mate/partner like to BELIEVE that - given sufficient time and patience - they will be the ones to release the narcissist from his wrenching bondage. They think that they can "rescue" the narcissist, shield him from his (distorted) self, as it were. The Narcissist makes use of this naiveté and exploits it to his benefit. The natural protective mechanisms, which are provoked in normal people by love - are cold bloodedly used by the narcissist to extract yet more narcissistic supply from his writhing victim.

The narcissist affects his victims by infiltrating their psyche, by penetrating their defenses. Like a virus, it establishes a new genetic strain within his/her victims. It echoes through them, it talks through them, it walks through them. It is like the invasion of the body snatchers. 

You should be careful to separate your selves from the narcissist inside you, this alien growth, this spiritual cancer that is the result of living with a narcissist. You should be able to tell apart your real you and the YOU assigned to you by the narcissist. To cope with him/her, the narcissist forces you to "walk on eggshells" and develop a false self of your own. It is nothing as elaborate as his False Self - but it is there, in you, as a result of the trauma and abuse inflicted upon you by the narcissist.

Thus, perhaps we should invent "VoNPD", another mental health category - Victims of NPD. They experience shame and anger for their past helplessness and submissiveness. They are hurt and sensitized by the harrowing experience of sharing a simulated existence with a simulated person, the narcissist.

They are scarred. Some of them lash out at others, offsetting their frustration with bitter aggression (a classical mechanism).

Like his disorder, the narcissist is all-pervasive. Being the victim of a narcissist is a condition no less pernicious than being a narcissist. Great efforts are required to abandon a narcissist and physical separation is only the first (and less consequential) step. One can abandon a narcissist - but the narcissist is slow to abandon its victims. It is there, lurking, rendering existence unreal, twisting and distorting with no respite, an inner, remorseless voice, lacking in compassion and empathy for its victim.

The narcissist is there in spirit long after it has vanished physically. This is the real danger that the victims of the narcissist face: that they will become like him, bitter, self-centered, lacking in empathy. This is the last bow of the narcissist, his curtain call, by proxy as it were.

Narcissistic Tactics

The narcissist tends to surround himself with his inferiors (in some respect - intellectually, financially, physically). He limits his interactions with them to the plane of his superiority. This is the safest and fastest way to sustain his grandiose fantasies of superiority, omnipotence and omniscience, brilliance, ideal traits, perfection and so on. Humans are interchangeable and the narcissist anyhow does not distinguish one individual from another. To him they are all inanimate parts of "his audience" whose job is to reflect his false self to him. This generates a perpetual and permanent cognitive dissonance:

The narcissist despises the very people who sustain his ego boundaries and functions. He cannot respect people so expressly and clearly inferior to him - yet he can never associate with people evidently on his level or superior to him, the risk of narcissistic injury in such associations being too great. Equipped with a fragile ego, precariously teetering on the brink of narcissistic injury - the narcissist prefers the safe route. But he feels contempt for himself and for others for having preferred it.

Some NPDs are ALSO Antisocial PDs (AsPDs) and/or sadists and so vicariously enjoy hurting others (mostly during sex but also without it).

Antisocials don't really ENJOY hurting others - they simply don't care one way or the other. But sadists do enjoy it.

"Pure" NPDs do not enjoy hurting others - but they do enjoy the sensation of omnipotence, unlimited power and the validation of their grandiose fantasies when they hurt others or in the position to do so. It is more the POTENTIAL to hurt others than the actual act that turns them on.

The Neverending Story

Even the official termination of the relationship is not the end of the affair. The Ex "belongs" to the narcissist. She is an inseparable part of his Pathological Narcissistic Space. This possessive streak is not terminated with the official, physical, separation. Thus, the narcissist is likely to respond with rage, seething envy, a sense of humiliation and invasion and violent-aggressive urges to an ex's new boyfriend, or new job (to her new life without him). Especially since it implies a "failure" on his part and, thus negates his grandiosity.

But there is a second scenario:

If the narcissist were to firmly believe (which is very rare) that the ex does not and will never represent any amount, however marginal and residual, of any kind (primary or secondary) of narcissistic supply - he will remain utterly unmoved by anything she does and anyone she may choose to be with. Narcissists do feel bad about hurting others and about the unsavoury course their lives tend to assume. Their ego-dystony (=feeling bad about themselves) was only recently discovered and described. But my suspicion is that a narcissist can feel bad only when his supply sources are threatened because of his behaviour or following a narcissistic injury (such as a major life crisis: divorce, bankruptcy, etc.)

The narcissist equates emotions with weakness. He regards the sentimental and the emotional with contempt. He looks down on the sensitive and the vulnerable. He derides and despises the dependent and the loving. He mocks expressions of compassion and passion. He is devoid of empathy. He is so afraid of his True Self that he would rather demean it all than admit to his own faults and "soft spots".

He likes to talk about himself in mechanical terms ("machine", "efficient", "punctual", "output", "computer"). He slaughters his human side diligently and with a dedication derived from his drive to survive. To him, to be human and to survive are a contradiction. He must choose and his choice is clear. The narcissist never looks back, unless and until forced to by life circumstances.

ALL narcissists fear intimacy. But the cerebral narcissist deploys excellent defenses against it: "scientific detachment" (the narcissist as the eternal observer), intellectualizing and rationalizing his emotions away, intellectual cruelty (see my FAQ regarding inappropriate affect in "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited"), intellectual "annexation" (regarding the other person as his extension or territory), objectifying the other and so on. Even emotions that are expressed (pathological envy, neurotic or other rage, etc.) have the not totally unintended effect of alienating rather than creating intimacy.

NEXT: ABANDONING THE NARCISSIST

Bibliography

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