Adolescent Narcissist: "Donovan"

Uploaded 10/7/2010, approx. 7 minute read

I am Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

Healthy narcissism is an integral part of the phase of personal development we call puberty or adolescence.

We must therefore carefully distinguish between the narcissistic traits of adolescence and the full-fledged narcissistic personality disorder, which is more common in early adulthood.

Adolescence or puberty is about self-definition, differentiation, separation for one's parents, and individuation. These inevitably involve narcissistic assertiveness, which is not to be conflated or confused with a full-fledged disorder.

But some adolescents do cross the line and become malignant narcissists.

Here is a letter I have written to the adoptive mother of one such adolescent.

Donovan, 16 years old, is incapable of loving, and therefore has never loved you, his adoptive mother, or for that matter, anyone else, himself included, his entire life.

His natural capacity to love and to return love was all but eliminated by his hoary childhood.

We practice loving first and foremost through our parents. If they fail us, if they turn out to be unpredictable, capricious, violent, and unjust, this capacity for loving is stunted forever.

This is what happened to Donovan.

The ideal figures of his childhood proved to be much less than ideal.

Abuse is a very poor ground to breed healthy emotions in.

Granted, Donovan, being the brilliant and manipulative person that he is, knows how to perfectly simulate and emulate love.

He acts lovingly.

But this is a mere act, and it should not be confused with the real thing.

Donovan shows love in order to achieve goals.

He wants money, a warm house, food on the table, a duration, narcissistic supply.

Once these are available from other sources, the former sources, such as yourself, are abandoned callously, cold-heartedly, cruelly, and abruptly.

You, his adoptive mother, have been such a temporary stop-over for Donovan, the equivalent of a full-board hotel.

He had no chores, no requirements on his time. Not only was he able to secure his material needs from you, but he also found in you a perfect source of narcissistic supply.

You were adoring, you were submissive, non-critical, wide-eyed, approving, admiring the perfect narcissistic fix.

You describe a very disturbed young man with a clear case of pathological narcissism.

Donovan values intelligence above all. He uses foul language to vent his aggression, because the narcissist resents his dependence on his sources of supply.

The narcissist knows everything. He knows it all. He knows it best.

He is judgmental, without merit. He hates all people, though he calls upon them if he needs something.

The narcissist is never above exploiting and manipulating his human environment.

When not in need, he does not contact his friends, not even his girlfriend. After all, emotions are a deplorable weakness.

In the pursuit of narcissistic gratification, there is no place for hesitation or pause.

You put it succinctly in your own letter. Donovan will do nothing for others. Nothing matters to him if it is not for himself.

As a result, Donovan lets people down and refrains almost religiously from keeping his promises and obligations.

The narcissist is above such mundane things as obligations undertaken and chores to be performed.

They counter his conviction that he is above any law, social or other, and it threatens his grandiosity.

The narcissist is above reproach. He says to himself, who is qualified to judge me, to teach me, to advise me?

He inevitably refers to blaming others for his misdeeds. They should have warned, reminded or alerted him.

For instance, they should have woke him up if they desired his precious company and wanted him to keep a date that he has fixed.

The narcissist is above normal humans and he is above their daily chores. He doesn't think that he needs to attend classes. He doesn't need to attend classes because other people attend these classes. Average people attend classes. The narcissist is above all that. He believes that those who do attend classes in school are stupid and inferior. This is the natural order of things. This is Nietzsche.

Most narcissists are predictable and therefore they are boring. Donovan is no exception.

To love a narcissist is to love a reflection, not a real figure. Donovan is the most basic, primitive type of narcissist. He is a somatic or anal narcissist. His disorder is centered around his body, his skin, his hair, his dress, his food, his health.

Some of these preoccupations attain a phobic aura. He is freaky with germs, you are telling me. And that is a very bad sign. Hypochondriasis could be the next mental step.

But Donovan is in great danger. He should seek help immediately.

His narcissistic personality disorder has been and still is being compounded by other, more serious disorders. He is led down a path of no return. Donovan is constantly depressed. Maybe he has had a few major depressive episodes but he is distinctly dysphoric, sad and anhedonic. He hates the world. He finds pleasure in nothing. He alternates between hypersomnia, sleeping too much and insomnia, not sleeping for two days.

This is one of the surest signs of deep depression, deep clinical depression. These suffer by their nature from an undulating sense of self worth and from an all pervasive feeling of guilt and recrimination. They punish themselves. They dress in ragged clothes contrary to their primary predilections. And they direct their pent up aggression at themselves. The result is depression and sometimes in extreme cases suicidal ideation.

Donovan also seems to suffer from a schizoid personality. These people prefer to stay and work in their rooms in solitary confinement, chained to their computers and books. And they resent and reject and avoid any social encounter or diversion, sex included. They rarely possess sufficient trust in others and the requisite emotional baggage to develop stable interpersonal relationships. They are miserable failures at communicating and confine their interactions to first degree relatives and to adoptive mothers.

The total picture is that of a young person suffering from a borderline personality disorder with strong narcissistic and schizoid traits.

His reckless and self destructive spending and his eating irregularities point in this direction. So does the inappropriate affect. For instance, smiling while pretending to shoot people.

Donovan is a menace above all to himself. Borderline patients entertain suicidal thoughts, suicidal ideation and tend finally to act upon them. This aggression can perhaps be directed elsewhere and result in catastrophic consequences.

Remember Columbine? Yet at best, Donovan will continue to make people around him miserable and uncomfortable.

Treatment, psychoanalysis and other psychodynamic therapies, cognitive behavioral therapies, all of them are not very effective.

My advice to you is to immediately stop your what you call unconditional love.

Narcissists sense blood where others see only love and altruism.

If, for a masochistic reason, you still wish to engage this young person, my advice to you would be to condition your love.

Sign a contract with him, you want my adoration, admiration, approval, warmth not to mention money and food. You want my home. You want all of this as an insurance policy. If you do, these are my conditions.

And if he says that he doesn't want to have anything to do with you anymore, count your blessings and let him go.

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