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Cruelty Is Not Sadism Narcissism, Not Pleasure

Uploaded 10/25/2023, approx. 17 minute read

Today, I'm going to discuss my two favorite topics, cruelty and sadism.

Because my name is Sam Vaknin and I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited. I'm a former visiting professor of psychology in Southern Federal University in Russia. I am on the faculty of CIAPS, Commonwealth for International Advanced Professional Studies, Cambridge United Kingdom, Toronto Canada, Outreach Campus in Lagos, Nigeria.

So, let's delve right into these delightful topics.

Hamas has committed blood curdling, spine-chilling atrocities when it entered the territory of Israel on October 7th.

I will not go into details, they're available online.

The Israeli government has provided the foreign press with a 43-minute video of some of these indescribable acts and bragging about the acts by the perpetrators.

However, Hamas is only the latest in an uninterrupted series of atrocities in the modern age in the last 100 years.

We don't need to mention, of course, the Nazis everywhere, especially in concentration camps, but also in the Soviet Union, the USSR.

The Allies in the Second World War, need I say Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki. The wars in Yugoslavia marked by the inhuman cruelty of the Croats and the no less murderous sprees of Serbs.

Kosovo, Rwanda in 1994, Ukraine currently.

Attrocities against civilians are an inevitable part of what is known as total warfare.

In total warfare, there is no distinction between civilians and fighters because a civilian population can become a fighting force on the spur of the moment, reservists and so on and so forth are civilians when they are not in the army.

This distinction has been eroded to the point that today it is considered acceptable and legitimate, albeit criminal.

It's a crime against humanity and a crime according to the law of war.

But still, it's totally done.

The United States has committed such crimes in Vietnam, in Iraq, numerous other locations of Afghanistan lately. This is done and we need to live with it. This is a fact of life and all these acts, all these atrocities are cruel, but other is sadistic.

And here I am, your favorite blue professor of psychology, to the rescue and to the bridge.

No, cruelty is not the same as sadism. Sadism is an art for, it is the art of pain. It involves creativity. It involves premeditation, imagining the acts before they are committed, gratification, pleasure in inflicting exquisite pain on another human being or group of human beings.

Sadism is often coupled with masochism, which is self-punitive. It is a way to purge a bad object or inner demons, if you wish.

Sad or masochism. So sad or masochism is a mental pathology, mental health pathology.

It's been first described at the end of the 19th century.

And sadism has to do with conflating, pain, hurt, blood, body parts, torture with pleasure, deriving pleasure by denying someone else pleasure, deriving pleasure also by humiliating and shaming someone else, deriving pleasure by hurting someone else, not necessarily only physically.

Sadism can be physical.

And as we came to understand in the second half of the 20th century, sadism definitely can be also emotional, social, social, shunning and ostracism, or a form of sadism.

Sadism is perpetrated today via social media networks.

And so sadism is about designing a strategy, a plan of action that drives another person to experience intolerable, unbearable, torturous pain, and then witnessing this pain with gratification, satisfaction, pleasure.

In other words, sadism is a form of hedonism. It's hedonic, not un-hedonic.

Cruelty is something completely different.

Cruelty is self-regulatory. Cruelty is a figment of narcissism. Cruelty is the infliction of excessive pain on another person.

The pain could be, again, psychological, could be social, could be physical.

And so superficially, cruelty looks a lot like sadism.

And we often say this guy is sadistic when actually this guy is not sadistic. He's just being cruel.

Because cruelty is internal.

Cruelty is for internal consumption.

While sadism is about pleasure and similar to, for example, eating good food or drinking good wine or watching a great movie or a great performance, it's performative.

While sadism is performative, therefore outward-oriented, the sadist definitely perceives the other person as an external object and intends to annihilate the other person, to eliminate the other person's capacity to survive.

That's sadism.

The recognition of externality and separateness.

Cruelty, on the other hand, involves internalization of external objects in this sense it's highly narcissistic.


Let me explain.

Most acts of cruelty follow mortification. They are in the wake of some public shaming or public humiliation. We become very cruel, having been humiliated and shamed and mortified and mortifying and so on.

Not all of us, of course, but many of us. And the vast majority of us engage in revenge fantasies, which, coming to the bottom of it, is a form of cruelty. It's imagined cruelty. It's fantastic cruelty. It's cruelty that's never carried out, never translated into actions in real life, but it's still a form of cruelty.

And so revenge fantasies are very, very common. I would say that possibly everyone has experienced revenge fantasies having been humiliated and shamed and attacked and criticized and so on.


So here's the first linkage.

Cruelty is reactive.

Cruelty is an external solution to mortification.

And I encourage you to watch my videos on mortification, especially the work of Libby.

Because cruelty is a reaction to mortification, it could be described as a translation, a transformation of a narcissistic defense.

The sequence is this. You're mortified, you're attacked, you're criticized, you're shamed, you're disgraced, you're exposed, you're mortified.

And then your narcissistic defenses kick in. And your narcissistic defenses push you to become cruel.

Cruelty is intended to restore the grandiose inflated self-perception that the narcissist, for example, has.

Same with the psychopath, same with the borderline.

So cruel people most likely have exaggerated narcissistic defenses, and they would tend to be antisocial.

Another type of cruel person is the labile, the dysregulated cruel person. Borderlines can be very cruel when they act out, when they decompensate. Some of them become violent and aggressive.

All these forms of cruelty are intended to restore grandiosity to its rightful place.

The cruel person has an inflated self-image, regards himself as godlike, or at least as chosen, special, with exclusive access to the truth.

So we find many cruel people who are moral, righteous, religious, or ideological, because they believe, they're firmly convinced, that they possess the monopoly on the truth.

Morality is a weapon. It can be weaponized by narcissists and psychopaths. That's why narcissists and psychopaths are overrepresented in social justice, activism, and so-called woke movements, and so on.

Morality is a wonderful opportunity for the narcissist and psychopath to act or to misbehave with impunity.

And so moral people, fundamentalist religious people, ideologues, people who are committed to ideologies, such as, I don't know, Marxism, Nazism. These kind of people are grandiose because they consider themselves to be members of a select group, a chosen group, a group which is privy to some arcane, unique, amazing key to the universe. They are masters of the universe in this sense.

Same goes, for example, for certain professions, medical doctors, psychiatrists, people in finance. They're the same. It's the same dynamic exactly.

There is grandiose that is the derivative of being a member of a collective, a club, being chosen, being selected, being, again, privy to information that no one else shares.

We find the same attitude among conspiracy theorists.


And so when this grandiosity is undermined, challenged, let alone destroyed in the process of mortification, there is an urgent need to restore it because this grandiosity becomes intertwined with identity, belonging, affiliation, allegiance, adherence to certain percepts, certain ideologies, certain religions, certain values, certain types of morality, certain codes of conduct. This becomes your identity.

And when you're mortified, it takes your identity away from you.

To restore this grandiose identity, you become cruel.

Cruelty is unnecessary. It involves excess. It's going beyond the pay, beyond the call of duty, beyond justice. That's what makes it cruel.

And so it is a choice. It is a decision. It is a selection. You choose to be cruel. You don't have to. There's no need to be.

So by exercising your capacity to be cruel, you're expressing dominance and control. You're being coercive. It causes what Gruenberger called elation, narcissistic elation, but not pleasure.

Do not conflate and confuse narcissistic elation with narcissistic pleasure. With pleasure. I'm sorry. Narcissistic elation is what you feel when you passed an exam with flying colors, when you went to a job interview and got the job, when your girlfriend agreed to marry you, that's narcissistic elation. It's triumphal. It's victorious. It's restorative. It restores you. Pleasure is something completely different, as you know, because we all experience pleasure. Pleasure has nothing to do with who you are, with your identity. Pleasure is external. It's added. It's a veneer. It's not your essence.

Narcissistic elation is essential because it starts in childhood, according to Gruenberger, the famous psychoanalyst.


And so cruelty causes elation because it restores a previous grandiose identity. And this identity relied on a sense of superiority, which is the derivative of the belief that you are somehow chosen, select, privileged, with access, at the denied to others.

So, for example, if you're religious, you're likely to believe that your religion and only your religion is the truth. All our other religions are either partial or mistaken.

If you adhere to an ideology, your ideology is the final solution to the problems of humanity and all other ideologies standing the way and need to be eradicated and exterminated.

If you are a racist, you believe that other races are inferior, and so on and so forth, and you would engage in cruelty to demonstrate your hegemony, your dominance, your superiority. Coercion is a way to communicate your privileged position in the hierarchy of being, in the chain of being.

And so cruelty sustains a narrative. The narrative is twofold.

One, I'm in a moral position to exact retribution, to restore justice, retributive justice. I am endowed with the kind of values, information, and language that empower me and legitimate my decision making as regards to your fate, your life, and your well-being. I am in charge of you because I'm superior to you, and I'm superior to you because I know the truth and you don't.

You're misguided, you're misled, you're evil, consequently. It is my role to either wake you up, elevate you, enlighten you somehow, to punish you, or to exterminate and eradicate you because you are an obstacle on the way to progress.

And it is retributive justice. Your very being is an affront to me, an obstacle, a hindrance. I suffer because of you.

The cruel person says, I suffer because of my victims. My victims make me suffer. They damage me. They hurt me. They destroy me, or they seek to destroy me.

There's a lot of conspiracy, paranoid ideation going on here, conspiracies. So they are my enemies, they're my persecutory objects. I owe it to myself. I owe it to cosmic justice. I owe it to my moral adherence, to my religion, to my ideology, to my value system. I owe it to humanity to confront my victimizers, my abusers, the perpetrators, and to right the wrong, to rectify, to rectify the structure and order of the universe as I know it should be.

And how do I know how the universe should be?

Because I've been told by God, I've been told by prophets, I've been told by philosophers, I know, you don't know, says the cruel person.

My cruelty is justified. All I'm doing is for the greater good. I'm making the world a better place.

In yes, it involves great pro quo, an eye for an eye, lex talionis.

So victimhood is a narrative that is not only about retributive justice. It's not about only about competitive grandiose entitled victimhood. It's about a restoration of the world.

As the Kabbalah says, fixing the broken vessels. It's an act of redemption.

Cruelty is a form of absolution. It's good for the cruel person, for the soul of the cruel person, but it's also good for the soul of the victim.

Members of the Inquisition, the witch trials in Salem in the 17th century, these people believed that they were redeeming and salvaging the souls of the poor witches or the poor converted Jews that they have executed and tortured in indescribable ways.

So it's about helping everyone.

Cruelty is about helping everyone and about making the universe a better place by reverting it to its pristine, virginal primary state. It's a cleansing.

Cruelty is about cleansing. You can immediately see that it has very little to do with, say this reason, because very often the cruel person suffers along with the victim.

I know this sounds crazy, but this is a fact.

Many cruel people, not all sadistic, cruel people don't, but many cruel people do what they do because they feel compelled to do it. They feel there's no other choice. They feel the alternative is decay and decadence and decomposition and degeneration. They feel that they need to save the world, to save others, to save even their own victims and above all, of course, to save themselves.

It's an act of salvation, salvatore.

So the cruel person may even experience guilt and shame over his cruel actions, may even feel egodystonic about it, uncomfortable, tormented.

We have the famous speech by Haneir Himmler, the head of the Gestapo, the ice fear of the SS, telling his subordinates, "What you are doing is horrible. I know it torments you and haunts you. I know it's, but it is a sacrifice you are making for humanity because we need to cleanse the Jews. We need to cleanse humanity. We need to save humanity from the Jews. It's a holy work for which it's a thankless work because it will never become public, never be known, and you are, in effect, crusaders, you're saviors and rescuers of humanity.

Similarly, we have confessions of executioners throughout the ages, including very modern executioners using the electric chair or drape injections. We have confessions of executioners who are haunted and tormented and traumatized for life, but they say, "It's my obligation to execute people. It's my obligation to sanitize this wound. It's my obligation to destroy and kill." It's like necrotic tissue that needs to be removed.

Similarly, if you were to talk to Hamas activists or to former Nazis, they all justify their actions using the argument of the greater good. They are all what we know in philosophy as utilitarian, and they all employ the lexed alienis. They all say, "You started it first. You provoked me to do it. This is reactive abuse."

But of course, there's no excuse for abuse. Reactive abuse is abuse, period. It is as reprehensible, as reprehensible, as condemnable, as horrible as any type of abuse.

Who started first means nothing. Your decision and choice to engage in abuse renders you an abuser as bad morally, as evil morally, as your abuser.

And finally, cruelty requires the cooperation of the victim, an admission of vulnerability, of failure, of defeat, of hurt, of damage, of pain.

In this sense, cruelty is a form of shared fantasy. If you're cruel to someone and they are indifferent, they couldn't care less, the cruelty fails.

For cruelty to succeed and be recognized as cruelty, it is the victim that should ascertain that it is feeling bad. The victim should say, "I am feeling subject to cruel and inhuman treatment."

If the victim says, "What? No, I didn't notice this. I don't care. I haven't been paying attention." Then there's no cruelty involved.

Cruelty is a combined state of mind. It's a symbiosis, symbiotic state of mind of the cruel inflictor of punishment and the victim of the cruelty.

They collude and collaborate and they agree upon the cruelty. They say the cruel person, the tormentor, the punisher, says, "Yes, I have been cruel because I have had no choice. I have been cruel because it's payback time. I have been cruel because I'm committed to justice and retribution. I have been cruel because it's a way to make the world a better place."

The victim of cruelty says, "I have been subjected to cruelty. I recognize this as cruelty, and it has had effects on me. It has had an impact on me. I'm devastated. I'm traumatized.

Cruelty often provokes counter cruelty. It's an arms race of cruelty who would prevail ultimately.

This doesn't happen in sadism. Sadism doesn't provoke counter sadism. Sadism doesn't depend on the other person's collusion, admission, confession, or collaboration. Sadism is focused 100% on pleasure. Sadism is a form of self-gratification via an external object whose externality and separateness are the source of the pleasure.

Cruelty, on the other hand, is an internalized construct, something internal. The cruel person feels that something is amiss. Amiss, something is gone or right, something is wrong, and he feels compelled or she feels compelled to rectify it, to set it right, to restore it, to redeem it. It's almost a religious experience, cruelty.

And so in matters of public affairs and politics, we usually witness cruelty, not sadism. And that's why it's easy to stop it. Sadism can never be stopped. Sadism is a character trait. You're a sadist until the day you die.

But cruelty is situational. And when the situation is perceived to have been resolved, either via defeat or via triumph, then the cruelty stops. And the cruel person and his victim can then coexist, co-survive, and even collaborate. This would never happen between the sadist and his victim.

His victim is an eternal victim. The sadist is an eternal sadist.


Okay, I hope I succeeded to cruelly clarify the distinctions between cruelty and sadism. And I wish you a non-sadistic, not cruel day, wherever you may be.

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Are All Narcissists Also Sadists? (Compilation)

Sam Vaknin discusses the differences between cruelty and sadism, emphasizing that while both involve causing pain, their motivations and psychological underpinnings differ. Sadism is about deriving pleasure from inflicting pain and is often premeditated and creative. It is a form of hedonism and is outward-oriented, recognizing the victim as a separate entity to be annihilated. In contrast, cruelty is reactive and self-regulatory, linked to narcissism and often a response to mortification. It is about restoring a grandiose self-image and involves unnecessary excess. Cruelty sustains a narrative of moral superiority and retributive justice, and it requires the victim's recognition of being hurt. Unlike sadism, cruelty can provoke counter-cruelty and is situational, potentially stopping when the situation is resolved. Sadism, on the other hand, is a permanent trait.


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