Excerpts from the Archives of the Narcissism List - Part 15
Listowner: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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1. Money and the Narcissist
Money stands for love in the narcissist's emotional vocabulary. Having been deprived of love early on in his childhood, the narcissist constantly seeks for love substitutes. To him, money is THE love substitute. All the qualities of the narcissist are manifest in his relationship with money, and in his attitude towards it. Due to his sense of entitlement - he feels that he is entitled to other people's money. His grandiosity leads him to believe that he should have, or does have more money than he actually has. This leads to reckless spending, to pathological gambling, to substance abuse, or to compulsive shopping. Their magical thinking leads narcissists to irresponsible and short-sighted behavior, the results of which they believe themselves to be immune from. So, they descend to debt, they commit financial crimes, they hassle people, including their closest relatives. Their fantasies lead them to believe in financial (fabricated) "facts" (achievements) - incommensurate with their talents, qualifications, jobs, and resources. They pretend to be richer than they are, or capable of becoming rich, if they so resolve. They have a love-hate ambivalent relationship with money. They are mean, stingy, and calculating with their own money - and spendthrift with OPM (other people's money). They live lavishly, well above their means. The often go bankrupt and ruin their businesses. Reality very rarely matches their grandiose fantasies. Nowhere is the grandiosity gap more evident than where money is involved.
2. Treating Your Narcissist
Treat them as you would children. This is so CLEAR and so endearing. It fosters in many the wish to protect the narcissist from his own delusions or to violently shake him into submission for his own good. The narcissist is like that wide eyed, hands up, Jewish kid in the famous holocaust photograph, his clothes concealing a load of food weightier than he, his fate sealed, his gaze accepting and far. A Nazi SS soldier is pointing a gun at him. It is all in sepia colours and the bustle of everyday death is muted in the background.
3. Forgetting My Self
I HAD amnesia of myself. I knew next to nothing about who I was, what I did, how I felt. Then, life shattering events handed me the answers. Then I went looking for a label for what I learned about myself.
I knew nothing.
I discovered that I knew nothing.
I studied myself.
I labeled my findings.
Are labels self-fulfilling prophecies? I think that yes, to some extent. This risk DEFINITELY exists. I try to avoid it by interacting with other narcissists and especially with victims of narcissists. I FORCE myself to be as un-narcissistic as I can: help people, empathize, deny selfishness, avoid grandiosity (and I do face temptations).
It is not working. I act out. I lash at the new "Sam". Maybe it is my narcissism fighting the last battle. Maybe I am administering the coup de grace.
And maybe not. Maybe my new found philanthropy is another narcissistic ploy.
The worst part is when you are no longer able to tell the healthy from the sick, your self from your invented self, your will from the dynamics of your disorder.
4. What to Tell Your Narcissist?
I would tell him that we are all shaped in our early childhood by people: parents, teachers, other adults, our peers. It is a delicate job of fine tuning. Very often it is incomplete or wrongly done. As children, we defend ourselves against the incompetence (and, sometimes, the abuse) of our elders. We are individuals, so we each adopt (often unconsciously) a different defence mechanism. One of these self-defense mechanisms is called "narcissism". It is the choice not to seek love and acceptance from - and not to give them to - those incapable or unwilling to provide it. Instead, we construct an imaginary "self". It is everything that we are not, as children. It is omnipotent, omniscient, immune, grandiose, fantastic and ideal. We direct our love at this creation. But deep inside, we know that it is our invention. We need others to inform us constantly and persuasively that it is not MERELY our invention, that it has an existence all of its own, independent of us. This is why we look for Narcissistic Supply: attention, adoration, admiration, applause, approval, affirmation, fame, power, sex, etc.
5. Narcissists Hate Happy People
Narcissists HATE happiness and joy and ebullience and vivaciousness and, in short, 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 narcissists of the totality of their envious experiences than happiness. They lash out at happy people out of their own deprivation.
Then there is narcissistic hurt.
The narcissist regards himself as the centre of the world and life of those around 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, the fount, forever indispensable. It is therefore a bitter and sharp rebuke to this grandiose fantasy to see someone else happy. It confronts the narcissist with the 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 and remit of his control, or initiative.
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Moreover, 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 - or to the "pathology" of the sad person.
The narcissist often says to people he made unhappy: "You are constantly depressed, you should really see a therapist."
The narcissist - in an effort to maintain the depressive state until it serves its 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. The narcissist suppresses any sign of emotional autonomy. He feels threatened and belittled by an emotion fostered not by him, n 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.
And the victims of the narcissist?
We hate the perpetrator of abuse also because he made us hate ourselves. Trying to avert the ultimate act of self-hatred, trying to avoid self liquidation, we "kill" ourselves symbolically by denying ourselves, our thoughts, our feelings. It is an act of magic, a ritual of exorcism, a transubstantiation, a black eucharist of hate. By denying our selves we deny our only possible savior, our only feasible solution and absolution: our selves. We thus hope to avoid confronting the unthinkable, feeling the impossible, committing the irreversible. But, inevitably, it backfires. We feel rage, helplessness, self-contempt, weakness and the temptation of requiting our misery once and for all.
The victims of the narcissist are, thus, unhappy people to start with.
6. Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse can be interpreted as an extreme form of projective identification, a primitive defence mechanism. The abuser gets in touch with his weaker, needier, younger, immature, dependent, helpless part - the part that he derides, hates and fears - by having sex with a child. A child is weak, and needy, and young, and immature, and dependent, and helpless. Having sex with a child is a mode of communication. The abuser connects to these areas in himself that he abhors, holds in contempt, loathes, and is terrified of, the fault lines of his precariously balanced personality.
The child is forced to play these parts - neediness, dependence, helplessness - by the abuser. The sexual act is an act of auto-erotic narcissism (especially between a parent and his off-spring), an act of having intercourse with one's self. But it also an act of cruel subjugation and submission, a sadistic act of humiliation. The abuser symbolically humbles these parts in himself that he hates, through the agency of the abused child. Sex is to the abuser an instrument of dominance, a transformation of extreme aggression directed at the abuser's self but through a child.
The more "stereotypical" the child - the more "valuable" (appealing) it is to the abuser. If not helpless, needy, weak, dependent, and submissive - the child loses his or her value and function.
7. Punishing Evil
far as abuse is concerned, there is no relative morality, or mitigating
Abusers are NEVER right. They should ALWAYS be punished and severely.
YOU are never to blame. You are not responsible, not even partly.
We do not punish evil people. We punish evil deeds.
We do not lock people up ONLY when they are evil. We more often lock them up when they are dangerous.
You should start not by learning to love.
You should start by learning to HATE.
Learn to hate properly, unabashedly, openly. Flaunt it.
You will then be able to love yourself - but not before.
To my mind, the OVERRIDING emotion is GRIEF because it is a spectrum and one colour in the spectrum is shame. But it is not terribly important as long as you are capable of feeling them all.
Psychology is lacking in philosophical rigour because it was established by charlatans and by medical doctors (medicine being a heuristic, taxonomic, exegetic-diagnostic, descriptive, phenomenological, and statistical discipline). Not much of a pedigree.
Psychology was founded as the "mechanics" and "dynamics" of the psyche. As physics became more interested in describing the world rather than in explaining it - psychology acquired the added legitimacy to seek similar goals.
Hence the prevailing emphasis on symptoms, signs, and behaviours, and the shift away from scientifically suspect "models" and "theories" (however poetic).
In future, instead of nine criteria one would have to possess two to qualify as a veritable PD. It is progress - but of the horizontal kind.
And to do this we must get rid of the LANGUAGE of psychology because it limits our ability to say anything new, or profoundly fundamental. It IS descriptive and phenomenological. It will not allow for anything else. What is depression if not a list of OUTSIDE correlations, pairs of behaviours/observations? And isn't PTSD another DSM category derived through the same faulty tools?
A clear cut delineation, a line of demarcation, a scientifically rigorous taxonomy is NOT possible even if we employ totally extraneous tools such as "symptoms", "signs", "behaviours", "presenting symptoms", etc. The scalpel is much too thick, the grains much too coarse. We need much more refined analytic AND synthetic tools.
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