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How Narcissist Disables Your Alarm System ( Zombies, Zimbos, Contagion)

Uploaded 9/3/2023, approx. 31 minute read

Victims of narcissistic abuse experience complex trauma, CPTSD, complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

Any clinician would tell you that it is very difficult to distinguish complex trauma from borderline personality disorder.

Moreover, many of the victims developed narcissistic traits and behaviors and even, to some extent, psychopathic traits such as defiance or recklessness or contumaciousness, hatred of authority, aggression, externalized aggression and so on.

So what has happened to the victims?

What has happened is what I call narcissistic contagion. Narcissism is infectious.


Today I want to come at this topic from another angle to tackle it with tools from philosophy of all disciplines.

And I'm asking the question, are narcissists the real life zombies and do they render their victims zombies as well?

Or maybe both of these classes of people are actually ZIMBOs.

Yeah, there is such a thing as ZIMBO.

I'm going to tell you what it is later on.

So stay tuned.

My name is Sam Vaknin. I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited. I'm a former visiting professor of psychology and I'm on the faculty of SIAPS, Center for International Advanced Professional Studies, Toronto, Canada, Cambridge, United Kingdom and an outreach program in Lagos, Nigeria. And apropos Lagos, Nigeria.

Let's proceed to the topic of zombie.

What is a zombie?

In West Africa, Haitian and other folk beliefs, a zombie is a corpse. A corpse reanimated by witchcraft and used as a slave.

And that's a great description of the narcissist's typical intimate partner.

Zombie legends in Haitian Voodoo were based on a real practice actually.

Haitians, not all Haitians of course, but evil Haitians kept people alive, living, kept living people in a trance-like state by administering to them specially concocted powerful herbal drugs.

So in Haiti, at least well into the 18th century, the end of the 18th century, there were real zombies. People in trance-like drug-induced state.

At least this is what missionaries have told us.

Now today we are a little more skeptical about this story, but missionaries insisted that it is true.

Zombies are everywhere. You can see them in Hollywood, in movies usually. You can see them in works of fiction, in literature. They are menacing, they are ominous, they are robotic, they are living dead stalkers. They are in horror movies and other pop culture genres.

Zombies are everywhere and they are proliferating. They have proliferated in the 20th and 21st centuries.

I think the rising awareness of narcissism and psychopathy went hand in hand with the zombie phenomenon in popular culture.

The zombies capture well the internal world of the narcissist.

To explain what I've just said, we need to resort to a branch of philosophy known as philosophy of mind.

In philosophy of mind, we use zombie arguments.

They are also known as P-zombie arguments, philosophical zombie arguments.

I'm going to discuss these arguments a bit later on.

We use zombies in philosophy of mind to demonstrate our inability to separate real people from simulated people or real intelligence and sentience from simulated artificial intelligence and sentience.

In a way, the zombie argument is at the heart of modern technology and especially emerging artificial intelligence generative and otherwise.

But put that aside and let's go back to our main topic which is narcissism.


Before I proceed, I need to acquaint you with a word, qualia. Qualia are characteristics or qualities that determine the nature of a mental experience.

When you have a sensation, when you have a perception, the quality or the characteristics of this experience, of sensing something, of perceiving something, these characteristics and qualities are known as qualia. Qualia make such mental experiences distinguishable from other experiences which are not mental or which are different.

The qualia of sensation or the qualia of perception render sensation and perception distinguishable from physical exercise, for example, or from sadness, which is another form of mental experience.

The experiencer differentiates between sensations. Sensations could be sensa, could be sensory inputs, for example, feeling cold or feeling hot.

They also have qualia because they are converted and translated into mental equivalence or mental experience.

Now they are, we distinguish between primary qualities and secondary qualities and so on so forth.

There are huge debates in the materialist tradition, dualist tradition.

I don't want to go into all this. This is not a lesson in philosophy.

Remember, we are focused on the narcissist's inner experience or actually on the question, does the narcissist have an inner experience?

And if the narcissist does not have an inner experience, as I keep stating in all my videos, if the narcissist is an absence, avoid a black hole, an empty schizoid core, what is it that's happening inside the narcissist? And how is it communicated to the narcissist's environment, human environment, including his victims? What is the infection vector, shall we say? What's the virus that carries the narcissistic load from one individual, the narcissist, to another who is being narcissized somehow?

Someone who develops complex trauma, which again I remind you is indistinguishable from cluster B personality disorders.

Aqualia are the phenomenal conscious states of feelings specific to each emotion.

The ineffable phenomenal states of, I don't know, anger, happiness, fear, sadness, these are qualia of effect.

We also have qualia of sensa, cold, hot, light, dark.

They also have qualia.

Anything that's translated to an internal mental, psychological experience has qualia.


Now let's proceed from qualia to zombies.

In the philosophy of mind, the zombie argument is any of several arguments that focus on the question of how one might distinguish conscious beings, humans, we, from hypothetical non-conscious beings called zombies.

The zombies act as human beings do. They're capable of performing all the functions of conscious beings like human beings. They are indistinguishable phenomenologically, externally.

If you just observe zombies, you are not able to tell that they are not human beings.

Forget the zombies in the movies.

The philosophical zombie, the P zombie is fully functional and doesn't stutter and doesn't stumble and doesn't just functions like you and me.

So how can we tell the difference?

And this is the core of the zombie argument and the huge number of debates around the zombie argument because this leads to the question, can artificial intelligence acquire consciousness in any given future?

And in psychology, it leads to the question, what is the empty schizooid core?

If indeed narcissism and borderlines have nothing inside, they are founded or they are just a shell wrapped around an emptiness.

Could we say therefore that they are zombies?

They function like human beings. They look like human beings. For the sake of appearances, they are human beings.

They talk, they walk the walk. I mean, how could we tell if they are human beings or not?

The emptiness is the distinguishing feature, the differential diagnosis if you wish.

This emptiness inside, if I am, I am, you know, hundreds of psychoanalysts and psychoanalysts and theoreticians, if we are all right about this and there's nothing in there, there's nobody in there, then yeah, narcissism and borderlines are the real life zombies.

Narcissists weigh more than border lines because border lines do have access to positive emotions. They do have a modicum of empathy, however diminished, but narcissists and even I would say psychopaths to some extent, they are zombies.

By asserting that a zombie-like organism could behave as if it were conscious, but still lack an experience containing qualia, a mental experience, an inner experience.

So a zombie is something that simulates, mimics, imitates, emulates human beings, but it has no experience of itself, definitely no experience of itself emotionally, no effect, no experience of effect.

Now, narcissists of course do have sensa, they do have inputs through the senses, they see, they hear and so on and so forth, but when we discuss narcissism, we're limiting ourselves to the emotional aspect, the cognitive aspects, the distortions that render the narcissist empty, non-existent internally, a landscape which is essentially a wasteland.

So a zombie-like organism looks, walks and talks like a human being, but lacks an experience containing qualia.

How are we going to distinguish consciousness as a subjective experience from consciousness as evidence from observable behavior in the physical world?

In other words, we don't have access to anyone's mind, we don't have access to anyone's mind, Wittgenstein was wrong, everyone has a private language, absolutely.

The intersubjectivity problem in philosophy is exactly this, that we cannot access anyone else's mind, we rely 100% on self-reporting by other people and on comparing external behaviors with our external behaviors.

So if someone cries, we would tend to say that they are sad because we are sad when we cry.

It's the outcome of comparison.

Empathy is not about other people, it's about oneself.

Empathy is a huge database, a huge table comparing external observations or observations of external behaviors with one's own behaviors and making deductions based on these comparisons.

Similarly, the problem of consciousness.

We talk to another person, how do we know that that other person is A, consciousness and B, a human being?

The answer is we don't know.

We cannot know in principle whether someone else is a human being.

We have to rely 100% on observable phenomena and on that person's self-reporting.

Yeah, I'm like you, I'm a human being.

That's not very safe ground, you would agree.


This is when narcissists come in, they keep telling people, "I'm human, I'm just like you." And people fall for it and become victims and then later become infected and become pseudo-narcissists, quasi-narcissists, at least for a while.

So narcissists walk around misreporting their internal experience, mislabeling their psychodynamics, posing as human beings, mimicking, emulating and imitating sentient conscious humans when actually they're not.

They're not.

And in this sense, yes, narcissists are the real life zombies.

And this has to do with behaviorism, physicalisms and so on and so forth.

My next lecture would be dedicated to behaviorism.

It's strong points and it's pitfalls.

Right now, let's stick with the zombies.


The most popular topic in theory of mind research is what we call first order belief, the realization that it is possible to hold false beliefs about events in the world.

Fair enough.

But there's something called second order false belief and this applies to narcissism.

Second order false belief is the realization that it is possible to hold a false belief about someone else's beliefs.

That's where the narcissist, the psychopath come in.

They induce in you a second order false belief.

They make you believe wrong things about their own beliefs.

They mislead you.

They deceive you.

The psychopath does it intentionally.

The narcissist does it unconsciously and automatically and reflexively.

But the outcome is the same.

Both of them broadcast false advertising.

Deceptive signaling is the clinical term.

So by signaling they deceive you.

And the major deception there is I'm a human being and these are my beliefs.

And you tend to accept this as a victim or a would be victim.

You tend to accept this because they look human, they talk, they walk, they smile, they cry. They look totally human.

So why not?

Why not assume that they are reporting the truth about themselves?

So this is known as second order false belief and it leads to Zimbos.

No, it's not a word I invented. Zimbos are hypothetical zombie like beings.

So Zimbos are a class of zombies. Zimbos are behaviorally indistinguishable from humans. They are responsive to their changing environments. They're capable of complex mental operations. So they are highly deceptive.

Zimbos are highly deceptive. Even much more than zombies.

What's the difference?

Zombies provide you with observable external phenomena. They induce you to compare yourself with them and then to say we are the same.

So the whole operation is in your mind.

You observe a zombie and you make deductions based on your own experience of yourself, based on your own qualia, based on your own sensor, based on your own emotions and cognitions.

You say well the zombie is just like me.

Zimbos are one step further.

Zimbos are truly responsive to their environment.

They're not faking it. They're not mimicking. They're not simulating. They're truly responsive to their environment and they are truly capable of complex mental activities, operations and functions. They're not a forgery like a zombie.

Zimbos are between zombies and humans and yet they are one step removed from a human being.

They are not human.

But because they are such a great imitation, not imitation because they are truly endowed with these capacities, most people would mistake a zimbo for a human being.

Indeed in 1970, Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori suggested that advanced robots, which we would call today zimbos, advanced robots who would be able to mimic humans perfectly, truly adapt positively to their changing environments and capable of internal complex mental operations, he said that these kind of robots, zimbos, would induce discomfort in real human beings.

And he said the only way to test whether someone is a zimbo or a human being is do you feel uncomfortable with that entity? Do you feel ill at ease? Do you feel that something is off? An off note. Something is wrong. Something is imperfect. Something doesn't fit or something is too perfect. And he called it the uncanny valley.

And so the uncanny valley is a phrase coined by a word coined by who else is a zimbo.

The uncanny valley is a feeling of acute discomfort that you cannot account for. You cannot explain to yourself.

When you're in the presence of something that looks 100% human, acts 100% human, reports emotions and cognitions which are 100% human, is indistinguishable from a human being. And yet you feel extremely threatened or ill at ease.

Why is that?

Because it's not a human, it's a zimbo.

Someone who is metanarcissist or a psychopath would tell you that they induce an uncanny valley response.

Exactly like a future Android, which is indistinguishable from a human being, psychopaths and narcissists are robots, forms of artificial intelligence, zimbos, which are indistinguishable from human beings.

And the only way to tell that something is wrong with these walking talking entities is your uncanny valley alarm.

So why do people fall for narcissists and psychopaths?

Because their uncanny valley alarm is disabled or disrupted or destroyed or obstructed or masked.


Some people have been subjected to early childhood abuse and trauma, grew up in dysfunctional families with a dead mother, a mother who is absent, depressive, selfish, instrumentalizing, parentifying, have been exposed to other forms of peer induced rejection and trauma, etc.

Alarm and abuse in early childhood and adolescence would tend to turn off your alarm, your uncanny valley reaction.

And then you would come across a narcissist and a psychopath and your alarm won't work. And you would fall for these entities.

You would wrongly surmise that they are actually full fledged human beings.

They're not.

Narcissists and psychopaths are not human. They're not demons. They're not.

I mean, let's let's skip the BS.

But I would agree and I've been saying it for 30 years that they are not fully human. They are not full fledged humans. They are half they are half baked. They're incomplete.

The process has been hasn't been completed.

Okay, the concept of Zimboconcept of Zimbardo was first introduced by US philosopher Daniel Dennett.

It was a response to the zombie argument.

Dennett's position is fascinating because Dennett said that all human beings are Zimbos.

We have no way to ascertain that other people are not Zimbos.

Therefore, it would be rigorous and safe to assume philosophically that all human beings are Zimbos.

I beg to differ.

I completely disagree.

But that's a topic for another video.

I do think, however, that narcissists and psychopaths are Zimbos.

Dennett argued that when philosophers claim that zombies are conceivable, they invariably underestimate the task of conception or imagination and end up imagining something that violates their own definition.

And so he coined the term Zimbos, psychological zombies, that have second order beliefs.

And he argued that the idea of P-zombies, psychological zombies, is incoherent unless we introduce Zimbos.

Zimbos think that they are conscious, he said.

Zimbos believe that they have qualia.

Zimbos report suffering pain, it's just that Zimbos are wrong according to their lamentable tradition in ways that neither they nor we could ever discover.

That's not Sam Vaknin, that is Dennett.

I just quoted him.


Let's proceed and discuss affect.

I keep claiming in my videos that narcissists have no access to their positive emotions and psychopaths have no access to any emotion.

Even psychopaths' negative affectivity, negative emotions, envy, rage, anger, etc., sadness, even. The narcissist's negative emotions are real and he experiences them the way other people experience their negative emotions, the way non-narcissists experience sadness, envy, and anger.

But the narcissist has no access to any positive emotions.

So here's the answer to your question.

Can a narcissist love?

No, he cannot.

Psychopaths weaponize and instrumentalize emotions.

They have no access to real emotions, but they know to imitate and emulate emotions perfectly.

And all this leads to the question of affect.


Let us define affect.

Affect is any experience of feeling or emotion, ranging from suffering to elation.

We can have simple affect, we can have complex affects, which involve multiple sensations or feelings or sensations of multiple emotions.

We can have normal affect, we can have pathological emotional reactions that would constitute pathological affect.

We can even have flat affect, reduced affect display.

We can have positive affect, we can have negative affect.

Mood and cognition are also affects.

That is a common mistake online among self-styled experts.

I repeat moods and cognitions are affects.

Emotions are affects.

They are all forms of each other.

Emotion is a form of cognition, which is directional, for example.

So they are all effects.

Along with cognition and conation, affect is one of the three traditionally identified components of the mind.

So mood and emotions are affects.

Moods and emotions are affects.

And we have cognition and conation.

I will explain.

Cognition is any form of knowing and awareness.

Perceiving, conceiving, remembering, reasoning, judging, imagining, problem solving, these are all cognitions.

I just said a minute ago that emotions are forms of cognition actually.

That's the linkage between affect and cognition.

Cognition, affect and conation.

These I said are the three components of the mind.

So what is conation?

Conation is the proactive, not the habitual, but the chosen, the outcome of a decision or a choice.

The proactive part of motivation, the part that connects knowledge, affect, drives, desires and instincts, all these two behaviors.

Translation, the bridge between these elements of the mind and behaviors.

Along with affect and cognition, cognation is again one third of the mind.

It's also known as the conative component.

We will discuss these things in future videos.


But right now it's important to understand that affect, cognition and conation are the precursors, the precondition to attitude, motivation and behavior.

A narcissist is deficient in all three.

He is unable to access positive emotions.

So he is crippled emotionally.

His moods are binary, good, bad, but never reach the level of lability of the borderline, for example.

So his moods, I would say, are flat.

They're binary.

They can change from feeling very bad to feeling very good, but they're pretty flat.

So there's a problem with his moods as well.

They're not good signallers.

They don't send good signals internally.

His cognition is distorted.

They suffer myriad cognitive distortions, the most notorious of which is grandiosity.

And his conation, consequently, is very problematic because he is unable to connect emotions with cognitions, with desires, with instincts, with knowledge, with affect.

Because each and every one of these areas is severely dysfunctional and deficient.

Remember the definition of narcissistic personality disorder?

An all pervasive pattern.

It, narcissism, pathological narcissism, is a cancer that has metastasized to every nook and cranny of the mind.

Consequently, the narcissist's conation is a problem.

The conative component is a problem.

And because of these, the narcissists have an issue with attitude and attitude object.

And this is the last topic of today's video.


So we have a model of attitudes known as the tripartite model of attitudes.

It's a theory of attitude structure.

It proposes that attitude is based on or even consists of, there's a debate, affective, cognitive and behavioral components.

The affective component refers to feelings, emotions, which are associated with the attitude object.

We'll discuss the attitude object in a minute.

The cognitive component has to do with beliefs about attitudes associated with the attitude objects.

And the behavioral component reflects experience, past behaviors and future intentions associated with the attitude object.

In all three, the narcissist is impaired, dramatically impaired.

His emotions are crippled, he's an invalid, emotional invalid, as I just said, he's disabled, he's unable to process or to access positive emotions, which are like the main driver and motivator in interpersonal relationships and in everyone's life of the mind.

So he is in this sense, he is half human, if you wish.

His cognitive component is distorted and biased.

His beliefs about attributes associated with others are completely off base.

He suffers from an external locus of control, alloplastic defenses, paranoid ideation, persecutory delusion, I mean, you name it, he's totally wrong about other people.

He misreads social cues and sexual cues as badly as someone with autism spectrum disorder.

So this thing, this element of in the model of attitudes is also impaired and the behavioral component is constricted by the narcissist's overriding need to avoid narcissistic injury or narcissistic mortification to his fragile self state.

Remember the narcissist is fragile and vulnerable?

All narcissism, as I've been saying for decades, all narcissism is compensatory.

And today this is becoming the dominant view.

So there's a fragile, broken, vulnerable thing there, whatever it may be, the narcissist is protective and defensive, delusionally creating a bubble which minimizes the threats and reduces and ameliorates and mitigates anxiety.

Consequently, the narcissist cannot relate, attitudinally cannot develop the appropriate attitudes to an attitude object.

Attitude object is any target of judgment that has an attitude associated with it.

Attitude objects may be people, social groups, policy positions, abstract concepts, even physical objects.


We behold another person and we say, let's gather information, we do. We react emotionally as well.

So we have a cognitive component of surveillance and research. We have an emotional component, which is often submerged in big part in the unconscious.

And then we developed an attitude to that person.

It could be an attitude, some of these attitudes are emotions so we can fall in love. Some of these attitudes are all great. He could be a partner in a business partner. Let's do business together, whatever the case may be.

The narcissist is incapable of judging attitude objects correctly.

Consequently, his attitudes would always be wrong because the basis of the attitude, the attitude base, it's a clinical term, is malfunctioning, impaired, broken, disrupted, distorted, biased, etc.

The base of an attitude is the type of information from which an attitude is derived.

So we distinguish with an affective basis, which refers to emotions, feelings and moods associated with the attitude object.

A cognitive basis believes about evaluative attributes associated with the attitude object.

A behavioral basis refers to responses, past behaviors, future intentions, etc. These are components of an attitude.


Let us summarize.

What do we have here?

We have here an entity that to all appearances looks human.

In other words, we have a symbol. And yet is unable to emote properly, is cognitively severely impaired and is attitudinally erroneous, gets it wrong all the time, develops the wrong attitudes.

And so these glitches in the system, these bugs, evident via observable behavior.

So when we look at the narcissist, look at the cycle and say, oh, my God, something is wrong with these people.

And on first encounter, we develop discomfort, unease, unless our uncanny valley alarm is disabled, and then we become victims.

This is the picture.

Narcissists are symbols masquerading as human beings, and they succeed to mislead people whose uncanny valley alarm has been disabled in childhood and adolescence.

These people become their victims. They get infected. They develop narcissistic and psychopathic and borderline behaviors and dysregulated emotions, also known as complex PTSD, which is then indistinguishable for a while from cluster B personality disorders.

Luckily, CPT-SD is transient, cluster B personality disorders are lifelong, and there's a difference.

There's a diagnostic difference between the two. That's why borderline personality disorder is very real. It's a lifespan disorder, we're at least well into someone's 40s. And it's a stable thing clinically. It is a clinical entity.

Therefore, borderline personality disorder can never be and should never be confused or conflated with complex trauma, which is a transient condition, reactive to highly specific circumstances and triggers.

But putting all this aside, zimboes create zimboes the same way zombies create zombies in horror movies.

Zimboes are contagious. If you fell into the orbit and ambit of one of these creatures, beware, the sooner you extricate yourself, the better your chances are to rediscover yourself in the future.

The more you're exposed, the more your defenses are disabled, you decompensate, you become wide open to the contagious virus or contagion vector.

And ultimately, if you spend decades with these people, the damage is so serious that in some cases, it can never be undone.

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