Background

From Idealization To Discard, It Is All Abuse!

Uploaded 5/31/2023, approx. 23 minute read

If I ever write a biography, it will be titled "The Story of My Life" in two drinks.

Not three, two. Wine and coffee.

My name is Sam Vaknin. I'm the author of Malignant Search Love: Narcissism Revisited.

I'm a former visiting professor of psychology in Southern Federal University in Wastovondong in Russia until the war. And then, I'm also a member of the faculty of CIAPS, Commonwealth for International Advanced Professional Studies in Cambridge, UK, Canada and Lagos, Nigeria.

So now you know everything there is to know about me. It's almost a dating profile. And a proper dating. We are going to discuss the shared fantasy.

We can discuss a very interesting topic.

Why does narcissistic abuse cease? Why does it end after the shared fantasy is definitively, definitely over?

What in the shared fantasy triggers abusive misconduct?


So first of all, for those of you who don't know what a shared fantasy is, there are quite a few videos here over the last few years about the concept of shared fantasy and how I applied it to the field of narcissistic abuse.

I recommend that you watch these videos. I will place in the description. The description is under the video, not above the video. I'll place in the description a link to the most comprehensive introduction to the shared fantasy.

But back to our question.

While in the shared fantasy, the narcissist is very abusive, very coercive, very unpleasant, very antagonistic, very disagreeable.

But then once the shared fantasy is over, suddenly the narcissist becomes amicable, passable, acceptable, even in some cases, agreeable.

Wait a minute, you say. That is not true. My shared fantasy with the narcissist was over and he still continued to harass me, to stalk me, to humiliate me, to insult me, to threaten me. You're wrong. Even when the shared fantasy is over, it's not over yet. The abuse, I mean.

Well, that's because when the shared fantasy is over, you think it's over. Actually, you're getting it wrong.

The shared fantasy, the fat lady sings only when the fat lady sings. The shared fantasy is over long after you perceive it as over.

It continues in the narcissist's mind. It survives there. It evolves. It mutates. It assumes all kinds of guises and disguises and camouflages, but it's still there.

The shared fantasy is a dynamic entity that rarely ends when the physical separation occurs.

So when the narcissist devalues you and discards you, your idealized introject, the internal object in the narcissist's mind that represents you, survives. And as long as the idealized introject survives, shared fantasy is alive and kicking and well.

The shared fantasy metamorphosizes and mutates inside the narcissist's mind. It can become a paranoid shared fantasy where you are the narcissist's enemy and persecutory object. It can become an anticipatory shared fantasy where the narcissist fully believes that the breakup, the divorce, it's temporary. It's going to be soon reversed. You're going to be back together and things are going to proceed as they've always done.

So anticipatory shared fantasy, shared fantasy in the future.

The shared fantasy can evolve or mutate into a courting shared fantasy.

That's when the narcissist starts to court you, to flirt with you.

It's part of hoovering, but sometimes it's not about hoovering you. It's about reaffirming the existence in the narcissist's demented and diseased mind of a continuance of the shared fantasy.

It's as if the narcissist is telling himself, as long as she grants me access to her, it means we are still okay.

So that's the courting shared fantasy.

And then there's an nostalgic shared fantasy.

The nostalgic shared fantasy is the mirror image of the anticipatory shared fantasy.

We're going to be back together. It's only a question of time.

This is a hiatus. It's temporary. It's a transient phase.

I will break up our divorce.

So it's just a bump in the road.

The nostalgic shared fantasy harks back to the good old times, the wonderful moments we had together, the closeness and intimacy and togetherness and sharing.

It's so nostalgic.

You see, when you break up with the narcissist, when he has discarded you or you walked off, walked away cleverly, when you broke up with the narcissist and established a no contact rule or a no contact zone, that's your part. That's your end of the bargain. He doesn't oblige the narcissist to anything.

As far as the narcissist is concerned, you're still very much his intimate partner.

And the shared fantasy is still very much valid and applicable.

The only thing is it has transformed. It changed its shape, it shapeshifted.

So now the shared fantasy progresses and continues and proceeds, but in a different form or a different shape.

And that's why you find it very difficult to understand why the narcissist keeps perpetuating the same dynamics, same old dynamics with you, even though you're no longer together. You're a part. You got remarried. You moved to another country four thousand miles away. Nothing changes because the narcissist has never interacted with you as an external object. All his interactions were with an internal representation of you in his mind. You were idealized in tragic.

So when I say that narcissistic abuse ceases, stops, ends only when the shared fantasy is definitely over, I mean the original shared fantasy is over and all its mutations, transformations and manifestations in the narcissist's mind, long after you broke up with him, long after he has discarded you. It takes sometimes years, sometimes even decades. But it's indisputable that when the shared fantasy has reached its natural or abnormal end, when there are no longer any active representations of the shared fantasy in the narcissist's mind, the narcissist is no longer paranoid about you, no longer anticipates getting back together, no longer courts you, is no longer nostalgic or has been mortified by you.

When all any of these happen, when the shared fantasy is done with, kaput dead in the ground, buried, never to be resurrected, the narcissistic abuse stops instantly on a dime from one minute to another.

Why?

What in the shared fantasy triggers narcissistic abuse?

The shared fantasy ends definitively, terminated only via mortification, successful devaluation of the narcissist, usually by betraying him in some way, sexually, financially, betray his confidence, so betrayal, mortification or appropriation.

When your idealized introject in the narcissist's mind is taken over by someone else's introject, by a substitute maternal figure, only in these three cases is the shared fantasy definitely, irrevocably, finally, utterly, unmitigatedly over, mortification, having been betrayed by you, and appropriation when your introject is taken over by someone else's introject.

Once the shared fantasy is switched off, the abuse stops instantly and thoroughly.

Why is that?

The maltreatment within the shared fantasy is reframed by the narcissist.

The narcissist would not agree with you that he is being abusive, that he is being coercive, that his behavior is not okay. He wouldn't agree with you, absolutely not.

What the narcissist does, he reframes his abuse, his coercion, his mistreatment, he reframes it, and he calls it, for example, tough love.

Or he would say that his abuse is reactive. You have abused him first. He is the victim. He is just reacting. Or he would cast the abuse as a test of loyalty and allegiance. I'm abusing you, I'm pushing you, pushing the envelope. I'm testing to see how far I can go without utterly alienating you and losing you.

Or the narcissist would cast his misbehavior, his misconduct, as the outcome, the inevitable, ineluctable, utterly predictable and accepted and expected outcome of disillusionment with an exposure of the partner, what we call, in one word, devaluation.

So let's recap. The narcissist regards narcissistic abuse as tough love. Actually, I'm doing it for you. It's for your own good. I'm educating you, I'm edifying you, I'm growing you up, I'm helping you to develop, I am training you to survive in a hostile world, etc.

So tough love. He casts, narcissists recast, reframes narcissistic abuse as reactive.

My partner just abused me first, so I was just reacting. She provoked me. She made me do it.

As a test of loyalty and allegiance, I wanted to see how far I can go without her betraying me, without me losing her test of loyalty and allegiance, or the outcome of disillusionment with the partner.

An exposure of the partner is somehow inferior, disappointing and frustrating devaluation.

And before any of you starts with this interminable nonsense, whenever I say he, it's also she. There's an equal number of female narcissists. Men and women are equally represented in pathological narcissism. I'm using he for convenience sake, death, and also because it's the literary convention.

Read some books, it will do you good.

Okay. So the narcissist reframes his abuse. He wouldn't agree with you that he's being abusive. He would say that his behavior is actually an expression of love, a manifestation of caring and empathy and compassion and affection. It's a problem there because throughout the shared fantasy, as long as it's alive somehow, whether you're there physically or gone, it doesn't matter, as I've just explained. As long as the shared fantasy is active and dynamic in the narcissist's mind, in his mind, you, his abuse continues, his abuse of you continues.

And yet he doesn't see anything wrong in his choices, decisions, behaviors and misbehaviors. It's even worse. The abuse is a form of kafexis. It's a form of emotional investment. It is a pattern of attempts to coercively align you, the external object, with the idealized internal object, in order to maintain the idealization.

I'm going to repeat this because it's complicated, because I adore the sound of my voice.

So the narcissist perceives abuse as unnecessary behavior, not even unnecessary evil, just unnecessary behavior. The narcissist abuses you in order to idealize you.

Now, I know this sounds completely insane. Could it be, could the reason be that the narcissist is insane?

Perish the thought. Of course he's not. Why break? I'm whining a lot lately.

So the narcissist abuses a form of kafexis. The abuse, when the narcissist abuses you, he tries to coerce you, to shoehorn you, to force you, you out there, the external object. He wants you to conform, to sit well with, to get aligned with your internal representation in his mind, your introject, the internal object that represents you.

The abuse is intended to mold you, to sculpt you, to reshape you, so that you fit nicely and snugly to, with the internal, will become one, you merge and fuse with the internal object, thereby preventing dissonance.

When there is a big divergence, when there's a big gap or an abyss between you as an external object, and your representation in the narcissist's mind, the introject, this creates discomfort, acute discomfort, this of us, internal conflict in the narcissist's mind.

He needs you to conform 100% with the internal object.

And abuse and coercion are his ways to make sure that you never diverge, you never deviate, you never part ways with the internal object, you become the internal object also externally.

He wants to mummify you, to convert you into an ancient Egyptian mummy with a U and mummy with an O.

So this is the aim of the abuse.


But how does the narcissist experience this?

In the narcissist's mind, he is abusing you in order to make you better, in order to improve upon you, in order to push you to your limits in the good sense of the word, in order to cause you to self-actualize.

The narcissist has an idealized version of you in his mind, the snapshot. It's idealized.

In his mind, you're perfect, you're super intelligent, you're drop-dead gorgeous, and so on.

He wants you to be all these things also externally in reality so as to prevent a constant dissonance.

So in his mind he's doing you a favor, he is making you an elevated version of yourself.

He's idealizing you externally, not only internally.

The abuse is for your own good.

In short, the narcissist is emotionally invested in abusing you because he believes that this is proof of love, evidence of caring.

He assumes the role of a guru, father, or a teacher or a mentor in order to push you to become a better you.

And so the abuse is emotionally infused with paternal feelings, maternal feelings.

The narcissist experiences his abuse as a form of love.

The narcissist mislabels idealization as profound love because it is a reciprocal process.

When the narcissist idealizes you, he also idealizes himself, co-idealization.

And when he idealizes himself, he feels loved by you, loved by your maternal introject.

I'm going to repeat this, and this time only because it's very important.

When the narcissist idealizes you as a mother figure, it means that he is also ideal.

The narcissist possesses you, owns you, you are inside his mind, you are a part of the narcissist, an extension of the narcissist, one of his extremities.

So when the narcissist idealizes you, he photoshops your snapshot, and then he owns this ideal figure, this ideal introject.

It makes him ideal. It's like saying, my wife is so attractive, so drop dead gorgeous, the fact that she chose me proves that I'm attractive, proves that I am irresistible.

This is co-idealization.


But when the narcissist idealizes himself because he now owns you, an idealized introject, he feels loved by you.

Only a mother idealizes her child. It's an integral part of unconditional love.

So when you as a mother become ideal, it automatically idealizes the narcissist, and he feels loved by you as a mother, and he feels that he loves you back.

The narcissist confounds and conflates and confuses the process of co-idealization with the real McCoy, reciprocal, mature love.

When you ask the narcissist, do you love your intimate partner? He would say beyond words, of course I love her, she's ideal, what is it not to love?

And when you ask the narcissist, does she love your back? Of course she does, she's with me, isn't she? And she's ideal, she could have been with anyone, but she chose me because she thinks I'm ideal too.

That's the way the narcissist perceives.

Abuse.

He abuses you in order to idealize you, and he idealizes you in order to feel loved, and when he feels loved, he feels the love is reciprocated.

That's the chain.


But here, there's a fly in the ointment, a big fly in the ointment.

A fly cannot be ignored, an elephant bigger than the room.

Here's the problem.

When the narcissist abuses you, it's in order to idealize you.

When he idealizes you, he feels loved.

When he feels loved, he feels this love is reciprocated by you.

So it's mutual love.

But the narcissist in his deranged mind associates love with bad outcomes, with negative effects.

The narcissist associates love and being loved with hurt, with anxiety, with pain.

So the narcissist's abuse is also prophylactic, preventive. It's a preemptive effort to forestall and avoid pain.


Let me put it, let me recap. This is extremely, extremely convoluted material because it's bloody crazy. It's utterly insane.

The narcissist abuses you because he wants you to become a better version of yourself. He pushes you with his abuse to become an improved you.

He does this for you to conform to your idealized introject, the internal object that represents you in his mind.

By idealizing you, he idealizes himself, co-idealization. He feels loved by you. He feels that he loves you.

At that moment, he catastrophizes. He develops extreme anxiety. He becomes terrorized and terrified because the narcissist associates love, any love.

His love for you, your love for him, whatever. The associates love with really, really bad things. Hurt, anxiety, being consumed and subsumed and government anxiety, etc.

So then he starts to abuse you even more. And he abuses you even more so that the love dies.

He wants to kill this love because it threatens him. It's ominous. It's menacious. Love is hurt. Love is pain. Love is fear. Love is anger. Love is destructive envy. Love is unmitigated anxiety. Love is bad.

So he abuses you to avoid all these outcomes and to avoid maybe even modification.

He controls you. He manipulates you because you are potentially a hurtful, persecutory, evil, any enemy frustrating object, both externally and internally.

So the abuse in the narcissist's mind, in the narcissist's dynamic, sorry, the abuse has two functions.

To idealize you and at the same time to push you away.

It's very similar to approach avoidance repetition compulsion in borderline personality disorder.

One of the reasons that Otto Kannberg, the inimitable Otto Kannberg, insisted that borderline in narcissism are the same disorder. I couldn't agree more.

So here you are being abused left, right and center for a variety of reasons. And the narcissist disagrees with you. He says, I'm not abusing you. It's tough love or I'm reacting to your abuse or I'm testing your loyalty and allegiance or I'm getting disillusioned with you and I've exposed you for who you are and I don't want you anymore, etc.

But actually none of it is true. The narcissist seeks to reenact the painful traumatic stage of separation and inviguation, the stage which failed with his original mother. And he seeks to reenact it with you, his new substitute mother to accomplish separation and inviguation.

He needs to get rid of your love because your love threatens him. Love is the opposite of separation. Love precludes individuation. Love is bad for your health.

So the narcissist is caught in this labyrinthine conflict.

On the one hand, he is compelled to love you or to actually idealize you. He is compelled to idealize because he needs to feel loved. He can't even separate, individuate because he can separate individual only from a loving mother figure.

So he needs you to love him. So when you comply and you love him, he needs you to unlove him.

Initially he approaches you. He then abuses you in order to idealize you. He idealizes you in order to feel loved and to feel that he loves you.

But then when you reciprocate, when you start to love him, he needs to push you away in order to separate and individuate because if he doesn't separate and if he doesn't individuate, the alternative is pain, frustration, hurt, anxiety, anger, envy, bad things, negative effects.

Exactly a replication of his original crisis and conflict with his original mother in early childhood.

To avoid this replay and reenactment of the conflict with his mother of origin, he needs to end the relationship with you happily.

Happy ending and the only happy ending is by casting you to the outer darkness, rendering you, confining you, consigning you to oblivion, getting rid of you, separating from you, individuating.

But of course the narcissist fails because your idealized introject is lodged in his mind in the shared fantasy rather than being terminated, it mutates, is transformed, becomes something else in his mind.

So the narcissist separation and individuation never works.

Any hovers you?

And I advise you to watch the video I've made about the psychodynamic of hoovering.


Okay, when the internal object is dormant, suspended, discarded or no longer idealized, no longer affected, in other words, when the shared fantasy is truly over and the internal object that represents you in the narcissist's mind is consequently deactivated for life, deactivated for good, when this happens, the internal object, the introject, you, no longer possesses the power to hurt the narcissist or to cause anxiety, only when the shared fantasy is definitely terminated.

You remember with modification, devaluation or appropriation when the introject is replaced by another introject, by someone else's introject.

In these three cases, the shared fantasy is dead in the water.

Kaput, ungeshelimft, no shared fantasy, only then does your introject, your introject in the narcissist's mind, only then does it lose its power to torture the narcissist from inside, to hurt the narcissist because mother has this power.

And when the shared fantasy is over, you are dematerialized, you are demothered.

The introject remains in the narcissist's mind, but it loses its effect. It's no longer idealized and it loses its power, it loses its magic, it becomes disenchanted.

At this point, there is no longer any call for abuse, no need to abuse.

Any interaction following the deactivation, termination of the shared fantasy, any interaction with you between you and the narcissist, your ex, anything after this phase is going to be severe, even amicable, even amicable, friendly, or nothing at all, indifferent.

So the abuse stops.


The second the shared fantasy is dead and the internal object used to represent you loses its kafexis.

It's no longer emotionally invested in, no longer idealized, and therefore has no maternal powers over the narcissist.

Now, all this is reversible.

The minute the object is re-idealized, in other words, the narcissist can re-idealize the internal object that represents you, even without your collaboration or cooperation or presence.

The narcissist, remember that one of the mutations of the shared fantasy is the nostalgic mutation.

The narcissist can simply reactivate the shared fantasy.

Then he has an anticipatory shared fantasy, and we're going to be back together again, or he has an nostalgic shared fantasy, "Oh my God, the good old times with her."

And then he re-idealizes the internal object that represents you in his mind. He re-affects it. He reinvests it with emotions.

And then he tries to over you.

The minute he tries to over you, the abuse starts all over again for the reasons that I've described.

Abuse and idealization are inextricably linked because idealization is a form of abuse.

Think about it for a minute. Don't reject what I'm saying.

Idealizing you is a form of, is in a way, abusing you because to idealize you, the narcissist needs to objectify you.

When the narcissist idealizes you, he doesn't see you. You're no longer seen.

There's a new object, an internal object that takes over. The narcissist ignores you completely, ignores who you are, what you are, ignores your dreams and wishes and hopes and fears and emotions and cognizance. You no longer exist.

The narcissist from that moment starts to interact only with an idealized internal object that has very little to do with you.

That's not really representing you. It's just a placeholder.

So the narcissist who idealizes you needs to objectify you, needs to convert you to a man-in-the-lable object.

He then needs to parentify you, to render you a mother figure, maternal figure.

And then he instrumentalizes you. He uses you as a tool or instrument for self-regulation, internal homeostasis and equilibrium, objectification, parentification, instrumentalization.

These are the three pillars of idealization.

And all three are refined, unadulterated forms of abuse.

In short, even during love bombing and grooming, the narcissist is abusing you.

There is no minute second, microsecond in your relationship with the narcissist from the first split second that you've laid eyes on.

To the moment that you walked away, there's no interval of time without one form of abuse or another.

Many of these forms of abuse don't feel like abuse, not to you, not to him, but they are abusive.

And the prime example of this is idealization.

Idealization feels great. You love to be idealized. You love to see yourself through the narcissist's gaze, but you are being abused. You're being driven further and further away from the reality of who you are and from the world itself. You're being objectified. It's to mentalize, parentified, used.

So there are no redeeming features to the relationship with the narcissist, none whatsoever.

And anyone who tells you differently is probably a narcissist himself or herself.

Yes, there are women narcissists. Get over it.

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

Narcissist Pays Heavy Price For Betrayal Fantasy

The Narcissist Betrayal Fantasy is a strategy used by narcissists to get rid of their intimate partners by pushing them to cheat or betray them. This allows the narcissist to maintain the high moral ground and dissolve the shared fantasy, which is highly addictive and difficult to break. The narcissist experiences pain in the form of narcissistic injury or mortification due to the misinterpretation of their actions by others, but this short-term cost is outweighed by the long-term benefits of a victimhood narrative. This strategy is also applied in other relationships, such as friendships and work collaborations, by engineering situations that set people up for failure and then pointing to their misbehavior as justification for ending the relationship.


From Grooming to Discard via Shared Fantasy: Cheat, Mortify, Exit

Professor Sam Vaknin discusses the cycle of relationships with a narcissist, which follows a pattern of five phases: grooming, shared fantasy, interstitial one with two options, mortification or anti-fantasy, and interstitial two. The narcissist creates a shared fantasy to extract sex, supply, and services from their partner, and the shared fantasy allows them to avoid true intimacy and commitment. Cheating is an option for women who want to escape the shared fantasy and create an alternative sanctuary with another man. The fourth phase, the anti-fantasy phase, occurs when the partner tries to transition from the shared fantasy to reality, and the narcissist becomes indecisive and approach avoidant. Mortification is crucial to end the shared fantasy, and the narcissist switches to internal or external mortification


How Narcissist Betrays YOU to Become Himself (Compilation)

Professor Sam Vaknin explains the narcissist's shared fantasy, which is a space where they can re-experience their childhood trauma safely. The shared fantasy has multiple stages, including co-idealization, dual mothership, mental discard, and devaluation. The narcissist's pursuit of betrayal in their relationships is not the same as a cuckold's motivation, as the narcissist seeks to recreate the betrayal they experienced in childhood. The narcissist's only meaningful relationships are within a shared fantastic space, which is highly addictive and generates stalking behaviors and virulent hatred. The narcissist uses a variant of this strategy in all intimate settings, for example, in friendships or interpersonal relations.


Your Role in Narcissist’s Shared Fantasy is Why He Hates You (hint: you make him feel himself – and human)

In summary, the narcissist's intimate partner plays a crucial role in the shared fantasy by fulfilling the roles of admirer, playmate, and mother. This allows the narcissist to experience maximal grandiosity and feel safe enough to separate and individuate. However, the intimate partner's presence also leads to the narcissist's self-hatred and inability to maintain meaningful communication with both the outside world and himself. The intimate partner ultimately becomes a threat to the narcissist, as they make the narcissist feel human, which is something the narcissist does not want to be.


Narcissist: True Love Or Shared Fantasy? How Narcissist Experiences LOVE

The text discusses the narcissist's experience of love, emphasizing that narcissists are incapable of love due to early childhood trauma. It delves into the concept of the shared fantasy, a defense mechanism used by narcissists to cope with intimacy and love, and explains how it leads to idealization, addiction, and eventual dissolution. The shared fantasy is described as a self-destructive process that perpetuates the cycle of aggression and separation, ultimately leaving the narcissist trapped in a repetitive pattern.


Narcissist’s Betrayal Fantasy Painful Mommy Separation

The narcissist pushes their intimate partners to betray them in order to fulfill their betrayal fantasy, which stems from their early childhood experiences with their mother. This betrayal allows the narcissist to separate from their partner, who they have turned into a mother figure, and experience the pain of betrayal, which they believe will make the separation irreversible. The narcissist's self-destructive behavior is a form of emotional disinvestment, allowing them to detach from the fantasy and move on. However, this cycle often repeats itself with new partners, as the narcissist is unable to fully separate and individuate.


Signs Narcissist About to Discard, Devalue You

In a narcissist's mind, the sequence of idealization, discard, and devaluation is reversed compared to their behavior in reality. They idealize their partner, then emotionally discard them in their mind, and finally devalue them to justify the discard. However, in reality, they must devalue their partner before discarding them to keep them around for the devaluation process. This discrepancy occurs because the narcissist needs their partner to be present during the devaluation phase, which wouldn't be possible if they discarded them immediately after idealization.


Why Narcissist Hates Your Unborn Child in Shared Fantasy

Professor Sam Vaknin discusses how narcissists react to pregnancy and childbirth. He explains that the changes in a pregnant woman challenge the narcissist's control and idealized image of their partner, leading to feelings of abandonment and insecurity. The narcissist may devalue and discard their partner, feeling threatened by the loss of attention and control. The pregnancy disrupts the narcissist's shared fantasy and triggers a desperate attempt to maintain the grandiose fantasy. Ultimately, the narcissist perceives pregnancy as a threat to their control and attempts to suppress any signs of independence or life in their partner.


EXPOSED: Why Narcissist Hoovers, Replaces YOU

Narcissists devalue and discard their intimate partners in order to separate and individuate, reenacting early childhood conflicts with their biological mother. However, the narcissist never separates or individuates from the internal object, the idealized snapshot or introject of their partner in their mind. The shared fantasy is a part of the religion of narcissism, which is a missionary religion that involves regression to an infantile phase prior to separation and individuation from the mother figure. The narcissist is a captive of their internal world and cannot separate individually from the representation of their partner inside their mind.


When YOU Discard the Narcissist FIRST

The text discusses the consequences of discarding a narcissist before they have a chance to devalue and discard you. It explains the potential outcomes of this action, such as narcissistic injury or mortification, and the subsequent behaviors of the narcissist, including seeking revenge or finding a replacement. The text also delves into the narcissist's internal processes and their need to complete the stages of grief and mourning for the disrupted shared fantasy.

Transcripts Copyright © Sam Vaknin 2010-2024, under license to William DeGraaf
Website Copyright © William DeGraaf 2022-2024
Get it on Google Play
Privacy policy