Excerpts from the Archives of the Narcissism List - Part 13
Listowner: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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1. The Formation of a Narcissist as a Reaction to His Narcissistic Parents
I think that the reaction to a narcissistic parent can be either:
Accommodation and Assimilation
The child accommodates, idealizes, and internalizes the primary object successfully. This means that the "internal voice" we all have is a narcissistic voice and that the child tries to comply with its directives and with its explicit and perceived wishes. The child becomes a masterful provider of Narcissistic Supply, a perfect match to the parent's personality, an ideal source, an accommodating, understanding, and caring caterer to all the needs, whims, mood swings, and cycles of the narcissist, an endurer of devaluation and idealization with equanimity, a superb adapter to the narcissist's worldview, in short: the ultimate extension. This is what we came to call an "inverted narcissist". The child turned adult maintains these traits. He keeps looking for narcissists in order to feel whole, alive and wanted. He seeks to be treated by a narcissist narcissistically (what others would call abuse is to him or to her a homecoming). He feels dissatisfied, empty, and unloved if not by a narcissist.
The child may react to the narcissism of the primary object with a peculiar type of rejection. He develops his own narcissistic personality, replete with grandiosity and lack of empathy - BUT his personality is antithetical to the personality of the narcissistic parent. If the parent were a somatic narcissist - the child is likely to be a cerebral one, if his father prided himself on his virtue - he will emphasize his vices, if his mother bragged about her frugality, he is bound to flaunt his wealth.
2. The Test of Archaic Chinese
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 life with a narcissist. There are good aspects to living with a narcissist, you know: 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 anyhow?
I have only one nagging doubt, though:
If so rewarding, why are inverted narcissists (the few that I met) so unhappy, so ego-dystonic, so in need of help (professional or other)? Aren't they victims who simply experience the Stockholm Syndrome (identifying with the kidnapper rather than with the Police)?
3. Narcissism - The Individualist's Reaction
Narcissism could well be a reactive formation, a reaction to the assimilation of the individual in the masses, to the melting pots that many countries have become in an age of growing immigration and diminishing expectations. In the absence of the (imaginary) consolation of being part of a higher order (God, the State, the Party, the Nation) - people resort to themselves as a soothing source of reassurance of the meaningfulness of their life. And in a visual age (television, Internet), what could be better than watching oneself in the "mirror" that is others? Indeed, it is the age of images and reflections, perfectly suited to the narcissist. We each have our 15 minutes of existence experienced through the proxy of celebrity ("I felt suddenly alive!", "It was as though I was dreaming all my life!"). The narcissist believes his own superiority, having discovered the alchemist stone of "self-induced and self-generated celebrity".
4. Somatizing Our Emotions
We all tend to "somatize" our emotions. We try to prevent stress and bad emotions from "going to our head" by having a stiff ("blocked") neck. In Judaism one of the curses was : may the hand that committed this sin go dry (paralysed). These are known as conversion reactions. Unable to face our emotions, acknowledge them, and cope with them - we let our body confront them and do the " talking" through selected organs. Headaches, rashes, paralysis, excruciating pains and even more complex medical syndromes (such as stigmata) - have all been known to originate psychogenically (a.k.a. psychosomatically). But this is precisely why a medical check-up is a MUST in the case of mental disorders - to rule out physiological causes.
Pain in the chest, for instance, is an integral part of the repertoire of panic attacks. Susan Sontag noted that each age has it own disease or medical condition as a METAPHOR. During the 19th century and the beginning of this one - it was tuberculosis, then cancer, then heart attacks, and now AIDS. People use these ailments to express their inner world - and still remain well within social and cultural norms. So, if I am mentally "sick" and I am scared to admit it (to face the terrifying burden of my negative emotions) I will be inclined to choose a BODILY metaphor (I will be inclined to get physically sick). Getting PHYSICALLY sick is socially acceptable. It is normative. There is no ridicule or disbelief involved.
So, people develop incurable tuberculosis, or feel pains in the chest, or grow phantom tumours. It is simply a way of saying: "There is something wrong with me. I am dizzily confused, my heart is broken, I don't feel I can stand on my own two legs."
But it goes both ways. Sometimes treating the physical symptoms alleviates the underlying mental problems. Mental and emotional problems are sometimes resolved by administering placebos (dummy medicines, like sugar pills), by "curing" an "incurable" "disease". This is the case with hypochondriacs of a certain kind. And, as we all know, REAL physical conditions might foster highly specific mental conditions which closely resemble their non-physiogenic equivalents.
This is what leads many psychiatrists to postulate that ALL mental problems are the result of chemical imbalances, whether in the brain or elsewhere. They discard the importance of talk therapy, or other human interactions, and prefer to rely SOLELY on psychopharmacology (medication). Admittedly, there aren't many such purists but the trend is clear and many previously "mental" disorders (like schizophrenia and depression) are now considered to belong predominantly to the domain of the more "physical" branches of medicine.
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5. The "Love" of the Narcissist
Narcissists often call the way that they experience Narcissistic Supply - love. They tend to "emotionalize" situations and behaviours of themselves or of others by labeling them as emotions. This is similar to the way a birth blind person tries to grope with colours. The narcissist often insists that a Source of Narcissistic Supply "loves" and "is loved" by him and, conversely, a source of negative supply "hates" him, is, to him, his "enemy", and so on.
6. Misogynism Once More...
I am a conscious misogynist. I fear and loathe women and tend to ignore them to the best of my ability. To me they are a mixture of hunter and parasite.
Most male narcissists are misogynists. After all, they are the warped creation of a woman. A woman gave birth to them and moulded them into what they are: dysfunctional, maladaptive, emotionally dead. They are angry at this woman and, by implication, mad at all women.
The narcissist's attitude to women is, naturally, complex and multi-layered along these four axes:
The narcissist divides all women to saints on the one hand, and to whores on the other. He finds it difficult to have sex ("dirty", "forbidden", "punishable", "degrading") with feminine significant others (spouse, intimate girlfriend). To him, sex and intimacy are opposites rather than mutually enhancing propositions. Sex is reserved to "whores" (all other women in the world). This division provides for a resolution of his constant cognitive dissonance ("I want her but ..." "I don't need anyone but .."). It also legitimizes his sadistic urges (abstaining from sex is a major and recurrent narcissistic "penalty" inflicted on female "transgressors"). It also tallies well with the frequent idealization-devaluation cycles the narcissist goes through. The idealized females are sexless, the devalued ones - "worthy" of their degradation (sex) and the contempt that, inevitably, follows.
The narcissist believes firmly that women are out to "hunt" men and that this is almost a genetic predisposition. As a result, he feels threatened (as any prey would). This, of course, is an intellectualization of the real, absolutely opposite, state of things: the narcissist feels threatened by women and tries to justify this irrational fear by imbuing women with "objective" qualities which make them, indeed, ominous. This is a small detail in a larger canvass of "pathologizing" others as a means of controlling them. Once the prey is secured, goes the narcissistic fable, the woman assumes the role of a "body snatcher". She absconds with the narcissist's sperm, she generates an endless stream of demanding and nose dripping children, she financially bleeds the men in her life to cater to her needs and to the needs of her dependants. Put differently, she is a parasite, a leech, whose sole function is to suck dry every man she finds and Tarantula-like decapitate them once no longer useful. This, of course, is exactly what the narcissist does to people. Thus, his view of women is a projection.
Heterosexual narcissists desire women as any other red blooded male does (even more so due to the special symbolic nature of women in the narcissist's life - humbling a woman in acts of faintly sadomasochistic sex is a way of getting back at mother). But he is frustrated by his inability to meaningfully interact with them, by their apparent emotional depth and powers of psychological penetration (real or attributed), and by their sexuality. Their incessant demands for intimacy are perceived by him as a threat. He recoils instead of getting closer. The narcissist also despises and derides sex, as we said before. Thus, caught in a seemingly intractable repetition complex, in approach-avoidance cycles, the narcissist becomes furious at the source of his frustration. Some narcissists set out to do some frustrating of their own. They tease (passively or actively), frustrate, or pretend to be asexual and, in any case, they turn down, rather cruelly, any attempt by a woman to court them and to get closer.
Sadistically, they tremendously enjoy their ability to frustrate the desires, passions, and sexual wishes of women. It endows them with a feeling of omnipotence and with the pleasing experience of potent malevolence. Narcissists are regularly engaged in frustrating all women sexually - and in frustrating significant women in their lives both sexually and emotionally. Somatic narcissists simply use women as objects: use and discard. The emotional background is identical. While the cerebral narcissist punishes through abstention - the somatic narcissist penalizes through excess.
The narcissist's mother kept behaving as though the narcissist was and is not special (to her). The narcissist's whole life is a pathetic and pitiful effort to prove her wrong. The narcissist constantly seeks confirmation from others in his life that he IS special - in other words, that he IS. Women threaten this. Sex is "bestial" and "common". Nothing "special or unique" about sex. Women are perceived by the narcissist to be dragging him to their level, the level of the lowest common denominator of intimacy, sex, and human emotions. Everybody and anybody can feel, mate, and breed. There is nothing to set the narcissist apart and above others in these activities. And yet women seem to be interested ONLY in these pursuits. Thus, the narcissist emotionally believes that women are the continuation of his mother by other means and in different guises. They are only interested in reducing them to their level.
The narcissist hates women virulently, passionately, and uncompromisingly. His hate is primal, irrational, the progeny of mortal fear, and of sustained abuse. Granted, most narcissists learn how to suppress, disguise, even repress these untoward feelings. But their hatred does swing out of control and erupt from time to time. It is a terrifying, paralysing sight. It is the true narcissist.
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