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Doc@DrIrene.com


 

8 - Abandoning the Narcissist ( 8 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

 

 

ABANDONING THE NARCISSIST

The narcissist INITIATES his own abandonment BECAUSE of his fear. He is so afraid of losing his sources (and of unconsciously being emotionally hurt) - that he would rather "control", "master", or "direct" the potentially destabilizing situation - than confront its effects if initiated by the significant other. Remember: the personality of the narcissist has a low level of organization. It is precariously balanced.

Being abandoned could cause a narcissistic injury so grave that the whole edifice can come crumbling down. Narcissists usually entertain suicidal ideation in such cases. BUT, if the narcissist initiated his abandonment, if HE directed the scenes, if the abandonment is perceived by him to be a goal HE set to himself to achieve - he can and does avoid all these untoward consequences. See the section about Emotional Involvement Prevention Mechanisms in the essay in "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited".

The Dynamics of the Relationship

The Narcissist lives in a world of ideal beauty, incomparable (imaginary) achievements, wealth, brilliance and unmitigated success. The narcissist denies his reality constantly. This is what I call the "Grandiosity Gap" - the abyss between his sense of entitlement and his inflated grandiose fantasies - and his incommensurate reality and achievements.

The narcissist's partner is perceived by him to be a source of narcissistic supply, an instrument, an extension of himself. It is inconceivable that - blessed by the constant presence of the narcissist - such a tool would malfunction. The needs of the partner are perceived by the narcissist as THREATS and INSULTS. He considers his very existence as sufficiently nourishing and sustaining to his partner. He feels entitled to the best others can offer without investing in maintaining relationships or in catering to the well being of his "suppliers". To rid himself of deep-set feelings of (rather justified) guilt and shame - he pathologizes the partner. He projects sickness unto her. Through the intricate mechanism of projective identification he forces her to play an emergent role of "the sick" or "the weak" or "the naive" or "the dumb" or "the no good". What he denies in himself, what he is terrified of facing in his own personality - he attributes to others and moulds them to conform to his prejudices against himself.

The Narcissist MUST have THE best, the MOST glamorous, stunning, talented, head turning, mind boggling spouse in the WORLD. Nothing short of this fantasy will do. To compensate for the shortcomings of his real life spouse - he invents an idealized figure and relates to it instead. Then, when reality conflicts too often and too roughly with the ideal figure - he reverts to devaluation. His behaviour turns on a dime and becomes threatening, demeaning, contemptuous, berating, reprimanding, destructively critical and sadistic - or cold, unloving, detached, "clinical". He punishes his real life spouse for not living up to his standards as personified in his Galathea, in his Pygmalion, in his ideal creation. The Narcissist plays a wrathful and demanding God.

Moving On

To preserve one's mental health - one must abandon the narcissist. One must move on. Moving on is a process, not a decision or an event. First, we have to acknowledge and accept reality. It is a volcanic, shattering, agonizing series of little, nibbling, thoughts and strong, voluptuous resistances. The battle won, harsh and painful realities assimilated, we can move on to the learning phase.

We label. We assemble material. We gather knowledge. We compare experiences. We digest. We have insights. Then we decide and we act. This is "to move on". Having gathered sufficient emotional sustenance, support and confidence - we leave to face the battlefields of our relationships, fortified and nurtured. This stage characterizes those who do not mourn - but fight; do not grieve - but replenish their self esteem; do not hide - but seek; do not freeze - but move on.

Grieving

After being betrayed and abused - we grieve. We grieve for the image we had of the traitor and abuser - the image that was so fleeting and so wrong. We mourn the damage he did to us. We experience the fear of never being able to love or to trust again - and we grieve this loss. In one stroke, we lost someone we trusted and even loved, we lost our trusting and loving selves and we lost the trust and love that we felt. Can anything be worse?

The emotional process of grieving is multiphased. At first, we are dumbfounded, shocked, inert, immobile. We play dead to avoid our inner monsters. We are ossified in our pain, cast in the mould of our reticence and fears. Then we feel enraged, indignant, rebellious and hateful. Then we accept. Then we cry. And then - some of us - learn to forgive and to pity. And this is called healing.

ALL stages are absolutely necessary and good. It is bad NOT to rage back, not to shame those who shamed us, to deny, to pretend, to evade. But it is equally as bad to stay like this forever. Permanent grieving is the perpetuation of our abuse by other means. By endlessly recreating our harrowing experiences, we unwillingly and defiantly collaborate with our abuser to perpetuate his or her evil deeds. It is by moving on that we defeat our abuser, minimizing him and his importance in our lives. It is by loving and by trusting anew that we annul that which was done to us. To forgive is never to forget. But to remember is not necessarily to re-live.

Forgiving and Forgetting

Forgiving is an important capability. It does more for the forgiver than for the forgiven. But, to my mind, it should not be a universal, indiscriminate behaviour. I think it is legitimate not to forgive sometimes. It depends, of course, on the severity or duration of what was done to you. In general, it is unwise and counter-productive, in my view, to establish "universal" and "immutable" principles in life. Life is too chaotic to succumb to rigid principles. Sentences, which start with "I never" are either not very credible or, worse, they lead to self-defeating, self- restricting and self-destructive behaviours.

Conflicts are an important and integral part of life. One should never seek them out willingly - but when confronted with a conflict, one should not avoid it. It is through conflicts and adversity inasmuch as through care and love that we grow.

Human relationships are dynamic. We must assess our friendships, partnerships, even marriages periodically. The past is insufficient in itself to sustain a healthy, nourishing, supportive, caring and compassionate relationship. It is a good pre-condition, perhaps a necessary one - but not a sufficient one. We must gain and regain our friendships on a daily basis. Human relationships are a constant test of allegiance and empathy.

Remaining Friends with the Narcissist

But can't we act civilized and remain on friendly terms with our narcissist ex? Never forget that Narcissists (full fledged ones) are nice to others if: 

(1) They want something - narcissistic supply, help, support, votes,  money... They prepare the ground, manipulate you and then come out with the "small favour" they need or ask you blatantly or surreptitiously for narcissistic supply ("what did you think about my performance..." "do you think that I really deserve the Nobel Prize?").

(2) They feel threatened and they want to neuter the threat by smothering it with oozing pleasantries.

(3) They have just been infused with an overdose of narcissistic supply and they feel magnanimous and magnificent and ideal and perfect. To show magnanimity is a way of flaunting one's impeccable divine credentials. It is an act of grandiosity. You are an irrelevant prop in this spectacle, a mere receptacle of the narcissist's overflowing, self-contented infatuation with his False Self.

This beneficence is transient. Perpetual victims often tend to "thank God for little graces" (God being the narcissist). This is the Stockholm syndrome: hostages tend to emotionally identify with the terrorists rather than with the police. We are grateful to our abusers and tormentors for ceasing their hideous activities and letting us breathe for a while.

Some people say that they prefer to live with narcissists, to cater to their needs and to succumb to their whims because this is the way they have been conditioned. It is only with narcissists that they feel alive, stimulated and excited. The world glows in Technicolor in the presence of a narcissist and decays to sepia colours in his absence.

I see nothing inherently "wrong" with that. The test is this: If a person were to constantly humiliate and abuse you verbally using Archaic Chinese - would you have felt humiliated and abused? Probably not. Some people have been conditioned by the narcissistic primary objects in their lives (parents or caregivers) to treat narcissistic abuse as Archaic Chinese, to turn a deaf ear. This technique is effective in that it allows the "inverted narcissist" (the narcissist's willing mate) to experience only the good aspects of living with a narcissist: his sparkling intelligence, the constant drama and excitement, his lack of intimacy and emotional attachment (some people prefer this). Every now and then the narcissist breaks into abusive Archaic Chinese, so what, who understands Archaic Chinese anyway?

I have only one nagging doubt, though:

If so rewarding, why are inverted narcissists so unhappy, so ego-dystonic, so in need of help (professional or otherwise)? Aren't they victims who simply experience the Stockholm Syndrome (=identifying with the kidnapper rather than with the Police)?

Narcissists and Abandonment

Narcissists are terrified of being abandoned exactly as codependents and Borderlines are. 

BUT

Their solution is different.

Codependents cling. Borderlines are emotionally labile and react disastrously to the faintest hint of being abandoned. Narcissists FACILITATE the abandonment. They MAKE SURE that they are abandoned.

This way they secure the achievement of two goals:

(1) Getting it over with - The narcissist has a very low threshold of tolerance to uncertainty and inconvenience, emotional or material. Narcissists are very impatient and "spoiled". They cannot delay gratification OR impending doom. They must have it all NOW, good or bad.

(2) By bringing the feared abandonment about, the narcissist can lie to himself persuasively. "She didn't abandon me, it is I who abandoned her. I controlled the situation. It was all my doing, so I was really not abandoned, was I now?" In time, the narcissist adopts this "official version" as the truth. He might say: "I deserted her emotionally and sexually long before she left".

This is one of the important Emotional Involvement Prevention Mechanisms (EIPMs) that I write about extensively in the essay in "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited".

Why the Failing Relationships?

Narcissists HATE happiness and joy and ebullience and vivaciousness - in short, they hate life itself. The roots of this bizarre propensity can be traced to a few psychological dynamics, which operate concurrently (it is very confusing to be a narcissist):

First, there is pathological envy.

The Narcissist is constantly envious of other people: their successes, their property, their character, their education, their children, their ideas, the fact that they can feel, their good mood, their past, their future, their present, their spouses, their mistresses or lovers, their location...

Almost ANYTHING can be the trigger of a bout of biting, acidulous envy. But there is nothing, which reminds the narcissist more of the totality of his envious experiences than happiness. Narcissists lash out at happy people out of their own deprivation.

Then there is narcissistic hurt.

The narcissist regards himself as the center of the world and the lives of those surrounding him. He is the source of all emotions, responsible for all developments, positive and negative alike, the axis, the prime cause, the only cause, the mover, the shaker, the broker, the pillar, forever indispensable. It is therefore a bitter and sharp rebuke to this grandiose fantasy to see someone else happy. It confronts the narcissist with a reality outside the realm of his fantasies. It painfully serves to illustrate to him that he is but one of many causes, phenomena, triggers and catalysts. That there are things happening outside the orbit of his control or initiative.

The narcissist uses projective identification. He feels bad through other people, his proxies. He induces unhappiness and gloom in others to enable him to experience his own misery. Inevitably, he attributes the source of such sadness either to himself, as its cause - or to the "pathology" of the sad person.

"You are constantly depressed, you should really see a therapist" is a common sentence. The narcissist - in an effort to maintain the depressive state until it serves some cathartic purposes - strives to perpetuate it by sowing constant reminders of its existence. "You look sad/bad/pale today. Is anything wrong?

Can I help you? Things haven't been going so well, ah?" Last but not least is the exaggerated fear of losing control. The narcissist feels that he controls his human environment mostly by manipulation and mainly by emotional extortion and distortion. This is not far from reality. He suppresses any sign of emotional autonomy. He feels threatened and belittled by an emotion fostered not by him or by his actions directly or indirectly. Counteracting someone else's happiness is the narcissist's way of reminding everyone: I am here, I am omnipotent, you are at my mercy and you will feel happy only when I tell you to.

Next: NARCISSIST, THE ABUSER

Bibliography

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