My name is Sam Vaknin, I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.
Can pathological malignant narcissism be acquired? Can it be learned? Can it be provoked by certain well-defined situations?
Robert B. Millman is a professor of psychiatry at New York Hospital & Cornell Medical School, and he thinks the answer is yes. He proposes to reverse the accepted chronology according to him.
Pathological narcissism can be induced in adulthood by celebrity, wealth and fame. The victims of what he calls acquired situational narcissism are billionaire tycoons, movie stars, renowned authors, politicians and other authority figures. They develop grandiose fantasies, they lose their erstwhile ability to empathize, they react with rage to slides both real and imagined, and in general they act like textbook narcissists.
But is the occurrence of acquired situational narcissism inevitable? Is it universal? Or are only certain celebrities prone to it? It is likely that acquired situational narcissism is merely an amplification and manifestation of earlier narcissistic conduct, traits, style and tendencies?
Narcissists with acquired situational narcissism may have already had a narcissistic personality and have acquired it long before it erupted. Being famous, powerful or rich, only legitimized and conferred immunity from social sanction on the unbridled expression of a pre-existing narcissistic disorder.
Indeed, narcissists tend to gravitate to specific professions and settings which guarantee them access to fame, celebrity, power and wealth. We are likely to find narcissists in clusters in certain professions.
As Meman correctly notes, the celebrity's life is abnormal. The adulation is often justified and plentiful. The feedback is biased and filtered. Criticism is muted and belated.
Social control is either lacking or excessive and vitriolic. Such vicissitudinal existence is not conducive to mental health, even in the most balanced person, let alone in a person with narcissistic personality disorder.
The confluence of a person's narcissistic predisposition gives rise to acquired situational narcissism. Acquired situational narcissism borrows elements from both a classic narcissistic personality disorder, which is ingrained or pervasive, and from transient or reactive narcissism, first proposed by Lisa Ronenstam in 1996.
Celebrities are therefore unlikely to heal once their fame or wealth or might are gone. Instead, their basic narcissism merely changes form, continues elevated, as insidious as ever, but modified by life's ups and downs.
In a way, all narcissistic disturbances are acquired. Patients acquire their pathological narcissism from abusive or overbearing parents, from peers, and from role models. Narcissism is a defense mechanism designed to fend off hurt and danger brought on by circumstances.
One of these circumstances is celebrity, the fame. When the circumstances are beyond a person's control, whether they are positive or negative, they might provoke a narcissistic defense, and in the extreme case narcissistic personality disorder, full-fledged, pernicious, and destructive.