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Alien World of Narcissism (TalkTV with Trisha Goddard)

Uploaded 8/10/2022, approx. 14 minute read

You know, sometimes, you know, one reads something or one is aware of someone and my producer, Carla, and myself would say, let's get this person on the show. And we think, oh, will we ever, it's just a dream if we can get that person.

Ah ha, fanfare, we did. Think of all the terms, you know, about narcissism, the way in which it's written. And a lot of that will be thanks to my next guest who is in Israel. We're crossing live to Israel at the moment.

Professor of Clinical Psychology, Sam Vaknin. Let me give you just a little bit of a background. He's a leading authority on narcissism. He's a pioneer of the field. He's a professor of psychology, clinical psychology, a scholar, author. And as I said before, a lot of the language involving around narcissism has been created because of him.

And I'm absolutely, I mean, I'm overwhelmed. I'm really happy that we are joined by a professor, Professor Sam Vaknin, live from Israel.

Sam, if I can call you Sam, thank you so much for joining me. I mean, this is great because every time I read an article, up pops your name. Can we get him on the show? Yes, we did.

Sam, can we start off with a definition of narcissism because I'm sure lots of people think it's lots of different things and it may or may not be correct.

So let's start with that.

Well, first, thank you for having me and thank you for the extremely kind words. Hopefully some of them are deserved. We'll have to see about that.

Narcissism is a healthy phenomenon, gone awry. Everyone has healthy narcissism. Healthy narcissism develops in early childhood. It propels the child to explore the world because you need to be a bit grandiose to take on the world apart, away from mommy.

But when this remains as a feature of an adult personality, then we are talking about the pathology.

Now the narcissist is someone who is incapable of regulating his sense of self worth, his self esteem, for example, by himself.

So what he does instead, he outsources this function. He reverts or resorts to other people and solicits from them, elicits from them what we call narcissistic supply, which is a fancy term for attention.

He asks for attention, but he doesn't simply ask for an unbiased type of feedback. He wants people to tell him that he is God-like. He is grandiose.

He creates a facade. He creates what we call the false self, which is a piece of fiction.

And this false self is everything that the narcissist is not. It's all knowing, it's all powerful, it's infallible, it's perfect and it's brilliant.

And that's what the narcissist does throughout his life. He goes around coercing people to tell him that his false self is not false, but it's very real.

And of course, this creates a lot of problems in interpersonal relationships, anything from the workplace to the family.

And that's what I'd like to go through, because let me just ask you, is it a mistake to think of the narcissist? And I'm sure a lot of people think of a narcissist as somebody who's going around and very bombastic.

Can they often seem quite shy or withdrawing? Are there many types of persona that they show?

Because looking through your work, I think I've come across narcissists who seem very, almost seem humble and, oh, it's not me and what have you.

And so, you know, and you think, well, they're not a narcissist because you're expecting someone who's beating their chest.

Yes, indeed. That's very true.

We make a distinction between overt and covert narcissists.

The covert narcissist is shy, fragile, vulnerable. The covert narcissist is actually a narcissist who cannot secure attention, who fails to secure a narcissistic supply by applying directly to potential sources of supply.

So what he does instead, he wallows in self pity and misery. He engages in displays of pseudo humility, false modesty. He is very cunning. He is passive aggressive.

And I'm saying he, because until recently, until about 10 years ago, 75% of people diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder were men. This is no longer true, by the way. Right now, it's 50-50. Women have, with this salubrious trend.

What is common to all narcissists?

Whether they are sulking in the background and just sabotaging and undermining everyone, whether they are overt in your face, I'm the best, I'm godlike, and you should acknowledge this type of narcissist. What's common to all of them is regarding other people as instruments, as functions, instrumentalizing other people.

Other people are there to cater to their emotional and psychological needs. Other people are there to serve them, to admire them, to provide them with supply, to simply create an ambience or an environment where the narcissist's grandiosity, his inflated, fantastic self-perception, is never challenged.

So that's their role.

And if they don't comply with this, he just discards them. He devalues them, and he discards them, and he can be very cruel when it comes to devaluing and discarding. It's very abrupt, and it's really, really sadistic sometimes.

We're talking about narcissism.

Sam, just as you say that, and I wanted to look at narcissism in three different areas, social media, surely, you know, before social media, I would have thought you had to do most of this face-to-face or on the telephone or what have you, but social media must be, what, a great tool to the narcissist?

Yeah.

Social media simply amplifies the narcissist's ability to tap into people's vulnerabilities, people's insecurities, people's own narcissistic tendencies, because narcissists idealize you.

When they start to interact with you, they idealize you, and then they project onto you your ideal image, and that's very captivating. It's very addictive. Suddenly, you see yourself as flawless and perfect and brilliant, and that's irresistible. The narcissist captures you this way, captivates you, and kind of renders you a slave in effect.

So social media is an amplification device.

So definitely, narcissists regard social media as stomping grounds and hunting grounds for potential prey because they're predators.

Can they become trolls? I'm just thinking some of the things when you say they'll praise you, praise you, praise you, they'll idolize you, but then if your crown slips, for instance, I'm just thinking of a lot of trolls I've thought.

It's not just a debate online. It's almost like, and they usually start off with, I always thought you were amazing, you were great, you were this, but now, and then the tables turn, and they go after you and after you and after you in a vicious way.

There are two types of narcissists online. Social media is only one kind of platform online. You have, for example, YouTube, which in my view tends to attract narcissists far more than social media.

So there are two types of narcissists.

The first type of narcissist is I'm a victim narcissist. It's a narcissist who presents himself or herself as a victim.

They adopt a victim stance, and victimhood becomes a determinant of their identity. They are professional and career victims. They're proud of their victimhood, and they leverage their victimhood to garner sympathy and attention.

These would be typically covert narcissists.

Now overt narcissists would tend to woo you, idealize you, and then if you don't conform, if you don't obey, if you're not obedient, they would then, as I said, cruelly and publicly if possible, devalue you, shame you, humiliate you, degrade you, and punish you. That's the way of punishing you for not having fitted in and not even having provided them with the feedback that they are God-like and perfect, etc.

Let's talk about narcissism in the workplace. Is a narcissistic boss good for the team? Are they a cheerleader of the team? Because everybody, you know, they're saying, I am God, I can run everything. And it makes the team feel, yes, we're behind someone who's going to help us to win. Or can they be destructive in business situations or a bit of both?

Opinions differ.

There are psychologists who claim that high-functioning narcissists and even psychopaths, psychologists like Kevin Dutton and others, even MacCoby, they say that even psychopaths are good for business and good in leadership positions and good in certain professions, for example, medical surgeons.

There is an over-representation of psychopaths among chief executive officers in Fortune 500 companies and among certain medical professions. There's an over-representation of narcissists in show media and show business, I'm sorry, and various media and so on and so forth.

So narcissists and psychopaths gravitates to a position of exposure or authority or both.

And but it's very misleading. It's a mirage because the narcissist claims to have a vision.

The narcissist has the vision thing, as the Americans like to say. He presents an agenda of which is essentially grandiose and therefore usually unrealistic.

And because he's charismatic and he's very convincing and he knows which buttons to push. He spent a lifetime pushing other people's buttons and rendering them functional and instrumental. So he is good at assembling a team and then leading the team.

But to understand the role of the narcissistic boss in the workplace, we need to review extremely briefly, I promise you, three concepts.

The first one is internal objects.

The second one is grandiosity.

And the third concept is pathological narcissistic space.

I'll start with the last. Pathological narcissistic space is simply the physical place the narcissist goes to or frequency in order to obtain supply. So the workplace would be a pathological narcissistic space because that's where the narcissist obtains his supply.

The second concept is internal objects. The narcissist is incapable of interacting with real people because he lacks empathy and he doesn't read social and other types of cues very effectively. So he never interacts with real people. What he does, he creates a representation of you in his mind. And this is called introject. And then he continues to interact with that representation, never with you.

So that's a second crucial factor because it means that the narcissistic boss regards the workplace as his playground and regards his employees as internal objects, as extensions of himself. He doesn't see them as separate entities.

And the last thing is grandiosity. The narcissist's only project in life is to aggrandize himself fantastically. And he just uses the workplace, leverages and everyone in the workplace to pursue this project.

In other words, the good of the company, the good of his employees, the well-being of everyone are utterly besides the point.

The point is to be great again.

Thank you. Thank you. We're going to take a short break, but when we come back, let's talk about what it's like to be in a relationship with a narcissist.

Welcome back, I'm crossing live to Israel to speak with professor of clinical psychology, professor Sam Vaknin. We're talking about narcissism in what I have to say is that absolutely they're saying in the studio, you can hear a pin drop. We've talked about narcissism on social media and things like YouTube. We've talked about narcissistic bosses.

Now, being in a relationship with a narcissist, let's talk about from the person experiencing that, how do you know you're in a relationship with a narcissist? What sort of things do they do to you in order to keep you feeding what they need?

That's an easy one because you are never in a relationship with a narcissist. The narcissist is incapable of perceiving you as a separate entity with your own needs, preferences, priorities, personal history, wishes, friends, family, etc. The narcissist regards you as an internal object. As I said before, he regards you as an extension. He regards you as an instrument, the equivalent of an internet service provider.

Narcissists seek essentially four things in a relationship. I call them the four S's.

The first one is sex, obviously, then services, then supply, narcissistic or sadistic. You could be the narcissist punching bag and safety. The narcissist has abandonment anxiety. He needs to believe that you will never abandon him or dump him or discard him. If you provide two of these four, you're in.

But you are commoditized. You're a commodity. You're utterly replaceable, utterly interchangeable. The narcissist cannot perceive you as unique in any way, shape or form because it would negate in some ways his uniqueness.

What the narcissist does do, once he has internalized you, he idealizes you. As I said, he creates a totally imaginary figure, which is not even loosely related to where you are. And then he continues to interact with that figure, with that internal object.

But then he grants you access to this object. And by seeing yourself through the narcissist gaze, you become addicted. You fall in love, not with the narcissist. You fall in love with the way that the narcissist sees you. It's the first time that you are actually allowed to fall in love with yourself as a mother falls in love with her child.

So it's a kind of self parent parenting. It's kind of self love from a parental point of view. And it's irresistible. It gets you addicted.

So it's going to say, so many things. So if he sees you as an extension of himself and we're using him and it could be her, anything you do quote unquote wrong away from that idealized picture he or she has of you, then you shame them. You let them down.

But then it also suggests that he or she would be open to if you don't measure up and you're not meeting one of those four S's, he or she has no problem either having an affair or moving on to the next person. And bam, you never existed.

Yes, you never existed. That's the thing that most victims of such relationships find difficult to digest.

You were never there. And he was never there.

The narcissist is not about, it's not a presence. The narcissist is an absence. There's nobody home. It's like a huge black hole with a galaxy of internal objects swirling it, but the core is a black hole.

And so he, he digests you. He consumes you. He assimilates you. He converts you into an idealized thing because he's ideal and everything inside himself has to be ideal as well. This is called co-idealization.

So he idealizes you and then he expects you to conform to this static snapshot. It's not a video, it's a snapshot. And expects you to freeze. He expects he mummifies you like an ancient Egyptian mummy.

And if you at any point deviate or diverge from the snapshot, he's going to respond ferociously. He's going to devalue you and he's going to discard you because you have dared this balance, the precarious structure that is his personality or what passes for his personality is in a constant state of panic.

So does a narcissist ever know they're a narcissist?

Well, I don't know about narcissists, but they are fully aware of their behaviors and most of them are very proud of who they are.

They consider themselves the next stage in the evolutionary ladder because they are invulnerable, invulnerable, they are impermeable, they are superior. They are amazing. They're God-like and so on and so forth. And humanity is catching up to do, you know?

And so there's a lot of what we call cathexis. There's a lot of emotional investment in the disorder, which is why it's very difficult to heal or to cure narcissists because they think that what we call the disorder is actually a competitive edge, a competitive advantage. They think it's a great thing.

Narcissists would tell you without my narcissism, I would have never, I would have never accomplished what I had accomplished. Without my narcissism, I would not be creative.

And so you're trying to make me an average person. You're trying to make me a common chap and I will never accept this because I'm not, I'm unique, these are strong resistances and defenses.

I remember going on a website once for people, support for people who had family members who were narcissists and I went all the way through it. This is a long, long time ago and I got onto a page and it just said, run. Maybe that's a little bit, that's a little bit cruel. You're nodding, you agree?

If so, you know, actually, my, actually historically raised my advice. In 1995, I designed a set of strategies, and I coined the phrase no contact.

So the no contact set of strategies is the only one that I recommend. If you are in a relationship or pseudo relationship with a narcissist, cut your losses, get out now. And the reason you should get out now is because narcissism is contagious.

The narcissist provokes in your narcissistic defenses, dysregulates you, makes you, in other words, crazy, to put it simply.

Let me just show people your book, Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited by Sam Vaknin.

Sam, it's just amazing talking to you. We've had so many calls, so many texts and messages, people begging for us to have you back on again. So if you would absolutely do the favor for us, because the switchboard's gone mad here. People want to hear what I'm saying. Thank you so much for your time. I would love to talk with you again. Absolutely amazing.

Professor of clinical psychology, Sam, back in there and we will try to get him back.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like the following:

Collapsed Narcissist, Collapsed Histrionic

Pathological narcissism is a post-traumatic condition that is a result of severe abuse by primary caregivers, peers, or authority figures. Narcissists require a form of narcissistic supply, and when the supply is deficient, they resort to several adaptive solutions. These solutions include the delusional narrative solution, the antisocial solution, the paranoid schizoid solution, the paranoid, aggressive or explosive solution, and the masochistic avoidance solution. In extreme cases, the collapsed narcissist or collapsed histrionic falls apart in a process of disintegration known as decompensation, which is accompanied by acting out.


Narcissist Mother's Pet: Her Child

The study of narcissism is still unresolved, with two central debates remaining undecided. The first is whether there is such a thing as healthy narcissism or if all manifestations of narcissism in adulthood are pathological. The second debate is whether pathological narcissism is the result of abuse or spoiling. Narcissism is a defense mechanism intended to shield the narcissist from an injurious world, but as they turn adult, it becomes the main source of hurt and the main generator of injuries. Some narcissists are forced to retreat into a land of delusion and fantasy, even into psychosis.


How Narcissist Experiences His Collapse (Grandiosity Bubbles and Delusional Solutions)

Professor Sam Vaknin discusses the collapse of narcissists when they are unable to obtain supply. He explains the internal dynamics and various solutions narcissists adopt in response to this deficiency, such as delusional narratives, antisocial behavior, paranoid schizoid tendencies, and masochistic avoidance. The narcissist's withdrawal symptoms are compared to those of a drug addict, and the role of magical thinking in their behavior is explored.


Narcissist in Your Mind (with Dr Maryam Tanwir, University of Cambridge)

Professor Sam Vaknin, a diagnosed narcissist, explains that narcissism is a complex mental health disorder that affects every area of functioning. Narcissism is an organizing principle, a worldview, and a theory of mind. Narcissists lack empathy and see people as commodities or units of production. Narcissism is bad for the individual and everyone around them, and when assets such as sexuality, intelligence, and empathy are leveraged at the service of narcissism, it becomes a dangerous weapon.


Narcissistic Supply Deficiency Coping Strategies

Sam Vaknin explains that the grandiosity gap between a narcissist's self-image and reality is grating on their nerves. As a result, the narcissist resorts to self-delusion, which can lead to various solutions. These include the delusional narrative solution, the antisocial solution, the paranoid schizoid solution, the paranoid aggressive or explosive solution, and the masochistic avoidance solution. Ultimately, the narcissist's pronounced and public misery and self-pity are compensatory and reinforce their self-esteem against overwhelming convictions of worthlessness.


No Grandiosity Without Victimhood

Pathological narcissism involves the combination of victimhood and grandiosity, which are cognitive distortions and reaction formations. The narcissist uses these to compensate for feelings of weakness and shame, creating a false narrative of perfection. Both victimhood and grandiosity involve emotionally invested misperceptions of reality, and they serve as a rejection of the narcissist's true self. These traits are specific to pathological narcissism and are not based on reality.


Narcissist's Routines

Narcissists have a series of routines that are developed through rote learning and repetitive patterns of experience. These routines are used to reduce anxiety and transform the world into a manageable and controllable one. The narcissist is a creature of habit and finds change unsettling. The narcissist's routines are often broken down when they are breached or can no longer be defended, leading to a narcissistic injury.


How Narcissist Experiences/Reacts to No Contact, Grey Rock, Mirroring, Coping, Survival Techniques

Narcissists are victims of post-traumatic conditions caused by their parents, leading to ontological insecurity, dissociation, and confabulation. They have no core identity and construct their sense of self by reflecting themselves from other people. Narcissists have empathy, but it is cold empathy, which is goal-oriented and used to find vulnerabilities to obtain goals. Narcissism becomes a religion when a child is abused by their parents, particularly their mother, and not allowed to develop their own boundaries. The false self demands human sacrifice, and the narcissist must sacrifice others to the false self to gratify and satisfy it.


Narcissism: Blessing or Dysfunction?

Pathological narcissism is an addictive behavior that involves an impaired, dysfunctional, and immature true self coupled with a compensatory piece of fiction known as the false self. Narcissists are obsessed with delusions of fantastic grandeur and superiority, and they are very competitive. They are driven, relentless, tireless, and often ruthless. However, three traits conspire to render the narcissist a failure and a loser: his sense of entitlement, his haughtiness and innate conviction of his own superiority, and his aversion to routine.


Narcissist's Psychological Defense Mechanisms

The psyche is a battlefield between instinctual urges and drives, the id, the constraints imposed by reality on the gratification of his impulses, ego, and the norms of society, the superego. Narcissism is a defense mechanism, and narcissists have a monopoly of other defense mechanisms. There are dozens of defense mechanisms, including acting out, denial, devaluation, displacement, dissociation, fantasy, idealization, isolation of affect, omnipotence, projection, projective identification, rationalization, cognitive dissonance, reaction formation, repression, splitting, sublimation, and undoing. All these defense mechanisms operate within the narcissist.

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