May he rest in peace. But can he rest in peace? Can you rest in peace?
What happens when the narcissist reaches the end of his natural life, immortal as he is? What happens to you in the aftermath of the narcissist's demise?
I want to read to you two emails that I've received. And following this, I want to dissect this very intricate phenomenon of grieving the dead narcissist.
It is not like normal grief. It's not a normal process of mourning.
I've alluded to it in my talks with Richard Grannon when I introduced the concept of prolonged grief syndrome. It's not my coinage and it's not something I've worked on, but I discovered it in literature.
Now it has made its way into the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the text revision published two months ago.
Until recently, people didn't realize that there were two types of mourning and grief, healthy and unhealthy. And even within unhealthy grief, there was a sub variant, highly specific to the narcissist.
It has something to do with narcissistic abuse, as you will see.
But first, the two women, what else who had written to me?
Start with the first one.
She wrote, do you have a video for handling when the abusive narcissist dies?
At the moment, random memories seem to be streaming in. It is surreal.
I find myself even hoping his soul has found some peace.
Any help would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.
Another woman wrote to me at much greater length.
Dr. Vaknin, I got worried that my ex NPD ended his life this week. I somewhat expected this, though not so soon.
I stopped talking to him about a year and a half ago. Do you have video or writing on the grieving of an abuser?
I'm somewhat in the shock phase, but feel the complicated nature of this arising.
It doesn't feel like standard grief.
And then she continues.
So far, relief that they can't burden family and others. Anger that they burdened family and others with the act.
Sadness, medicine didn't have the answers he was actively seeking.
Grief over those glimpses of a vibrant human I saw in very small flashes.
And sadness as if a child has died.
It is not the same as an adult who has lived a full life. More like a small child that never got to start their life.
We look forward to your insights.
A few days later, she wrote to me again. Several days post news.
I can say this isn't quite grief. It's like a cell memory of discard.
The emotions arising feel more like what it felt like right after the discard than death of others I've known to die.
It's like smelling a perfume and having every emotion associated with it come up.
The ultimate discard.
That said, having already done no contact with not looking back, it's not quite intense.
It's like a memory or a dream.
I'm agnostic and don't believe in heaven, hell, and cannot say what I believe.
What happens to a soul after one dies?
But I will say it still feels like an ultimate breach of boundaries.
Before this happened, I knew there was a physical body keeping him on the opposite side of the country and blocks to keep the intrusion out of my life.
Now he is almost making an achievement of omnipresence and challenging me to create a different kind of boundary when everyone around me expects me to celebrate a life and feel sorry for him.
I can't and I will be judged.
The two ladies have raised several critical issues in the prolonged grief syndrome that follows the death or the demise of a narcissistic partner or ex-partner.
And this is the first very important point.
Whether the narcissist is still actively in your life doesn't matter because the narcissist is always in your mind.
I encourage you to watch my conversations with Richard Grannon when I elaborate on the concepts of interjection, voices, entrainment, and so on.
The narcissist enters your life just in order to enter your mind.
And then once he's in there, he makes himself at home. He changes the furniture. He brands everything and marks territory. And he's never out, not fully at least.
So the prolonged grief syndrome is typical also of ex-partners who were or are narcissists.
Prolonged grief syndrome is any grief that lasts more than one year and causes dysfunction and distress.
As I said, it now made it into the latest edition of the DSM.
But in the case of narcissism or in the case of a narcissistic partner or ex-partner, there are several complicating factors.
To start with, narcissistic abuse.
Abuse complicates matters because abuse is an invasion. It's a breach of boundaries. It's an annexation. It's a torment intended to modify behavior to the point of vanishing.
The main reason to abuse is to control.
And in the case of the narcissist, the control is absolute because his terror, his fear of being abandoned is very similar to the borderlines.
And so the narcissist attempts to vitiate you, negate you, reduce you to the state of an ancient Egyptian mummy, take away your life or your life force.
By rendering you a static object, objectifying you, an instrument, instrumentalizing you, or an extension of himself, the narcissist secures your presence in his life for at least the duration that is required to produce an image of you, a copy, a replica of you, clone of you in his mind, the interject, the internal object.
And then starts the inexorable process of separation and devaluation, which manifests externally as devaluation and discard.
But to accomplish all this, the narcissist needs to take over. It's a hostile take over of you.
And so in the case of narcissistic abuse or a relationship with a narcissist, you would want to achieve closure.
Although closure is a seriously bad idea or more precisely the pursuit of closure with a narcissist is a seriously bad idea, you still would want to have closure.
If the narcissist is available to you, which is a rarity, rarely happens, you would pursue closure with him.
But if he's not available to you, you would continue to have dialogues with him in your mind, trying to make sense of it all and restore a perception of order, justice and structure into a universe that had been ruptured and rendered asunder by the narcissist machinations.
When the narcissist dies, closure becomes imminently and imminently impossible.
You can't have closure anymore.
And so you're denied your most fervent wish and the world suddenly seems utterly senseless and meaningless.
Any hope you might have had to communicate with him to restore, perhaps, the relationship, or to push him away for good out of your mind or to regain trust in the human species, allowing you to perhaps have another relationship.
Any hope is gone. No closure, no hope.
And this leads to a profound sense of betrayal.
It's like a repeat, a recycling of the narcissistic abuse by other means.
It's as if the narcissist's life has ended as a way to get back at you. It's personal. His demise is personal. He had died just to deny you closure and hope and a future.
So it is a form of betrayal and a form of abuse. A narcissist's death is perceived as abusive, yet another act of absenting himself, of absconding with everything that matters to you, of denying his responsibility, refusing to be held accountable, refusing to be there for you when you need him.
A narcissist's absence in relationships and internal emptiness are on full display when he dies on you suddenly and most death is sudden.
And this is coupled with the most debilitating, all permeating, profound sadness imaginable. A sadness unlike anything in normal grief.
Normal grief is bad enough as it is, but in your case, you're grieving for him, for his life, for his unrealized potential, for his pain, for his tribulations, the tumultuous way that he had survived. You're grieving for him.
You're grieving also for yourself because you are changed. Having spent time with the narcissist, you've been so more or less infected. You've lost your innocence. You've lost your joy. You've lost your cheer. You've lost trust in the world and in others and in yourself. You feel that you're incapable of loving again, of being happy. Something had been taken away from you.
Some part of you has died and you're grieving yourself. You're grieving him and grieving yourself.
You're also grieving yourself as you have been seen by him through his gaze.
Because for a brief while, there was love bombing. There was an ideal. He idealized you when you were able to access this image through his gaze. It was intoxicating. It was a form of self-love. You miss that solely and you grieve and mourn on this as well.
You also grieve and mourn on your common history. A history of pain, a history of betrayal, a history of distrust, a history of deterioration from the Olympus or the apex of love and enmeshment to the cruel discard, the commodification of you.
So you're grieving this common history and I think above all, you're grieving what could have been. You're grieving the lost potential of your togetherness. You're grieving the fantasy, the shared fantasy, which for a little while had seemed real.
This is the crux of your grief. This alternative life that should have been yours, that you could have had and that you will never have and had never transpired
And finally, as I said, the narcissist never ever truly leaves. He is inside your head. His voice resonates in this cavity of yours that used to be you.
The introject of the narcissist is extremely active. Talking to you, criticizing you, driving you, obstructing you, inhibiting you, disinhibiting you, he is all over the place. He even interacts with other introjects and internal objects. He won't let you be, he won't let you go. This takeover of your mind by the narcissist, via entrainment and other mechanisms that I've explained, is the most harrowing of all.
You grieve, you grieve your lost autonomy, your lost separateness and independence and your diminished self-efficacy in the face of growing challenges in life. He has taken a lot from you and he's given back so little. There's anger there and resentment and there is a desperate attempt to silence his introject, to somehow get rid of it, and repeated failures to do so. This also feeds the grief and the mourning.
All in all, you're grieving everything, the world, past, future, yourself, him, what he could have been, what you could have been, what both of you could have been together, what had never happened, what could have happened, and of course you're grieving what is about to happen.