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Insider Tips: Rid Yourself of Your Toxic Partner (with Sarah Davison)

Uploaded 9/13/2022, approx. 50 minute read

So I am super excited to welcome Sam Vaknin to the show. Welcome, Sam. Thank you.

I feel welcome. It's been three or four years. We haven't seen each other.

I know. I know. And that was a great event we did together at Birkbeck University with also the amazing Richard Grannon. And I know that it got a lot of views on your YouTube channel and Richard Grannon's over a million, I think. So I mean, that was quite an amazing event. I am so excited, Sam.

And thank you so much. I know you're super busy and you travel the world.

And you know, thank you. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it. Yeah.

So thank you. So let's get stuck in.

So I'm at your disposal to terrorize your viewers.

So everyone strap yourselves in. It's going to be arrived.

Okay. So Sam, let's put our listeners in the picture. Tell them a bit about you and the work that you've done, because you've achieved so much.

In the 1990s, I coined the phrase narcissistic abuse. And I was the first to out myself as a diagnosed narcissist. I've been diagnosed twice with narcissistic personality disorder. And so I was the first to, I was the first person, I think, in history, actually, to self identify as a diagnosed narcissist.

Wow.

That was in the 90s, which was a very long time ago, you were a kid, if I'm judging correctly.

Yes.

And so there was no one else there. And for 10 years, I've been the only voice on narcissism online. I ran all the support groups and I maintain the only website.

However, this creates a lot of dissonance among my viewers and listeners and readers and so on, because I am a narcissist. And they couldn't reconcile the fact that I was able to help them. And I was helping them. I've been very helpful and supportive. They couldn't reconcile this with the fact that I'm the bad guy. I'm the abuser.

This created a lot of cognitive dissonance. And so 10 years late, 10 years after I started my work, there was a second generation and now there's a fifth or sixth generation of people.

And narcissism became a buzzword, a key word, an organizing principle of reality. I'm hard pressed to come across any movie or any book without a mention of narcissism in some capacity or another. I'm a professor of psychology and I'm the author of the first book about narcissistic abuse, Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited. And I'm not as evil as I look, probably much more.

Chilling words, chilling words.

So, I mean, I find that there's a lot of people who have jumped on that using the word narcissist bandwagon. And obviously I train people to become coaches, but I always say to my coach, stay in your lane. We're not psychologists. We're not psychiatrists. We're not there to label and diagnose people.

So I always encourage my coaches as coaches to stay away from that word narcissist. We talk more about toxic relationships and abuse, but can you define what you mean by narcissist?

Because you said it's become a buzzword now. Is it the same meaning that you see on the YouTube videos you say?

There's a general rape of language. People are abusing and misusing words which have very strict clinical definitions. For example, gaslighting, for example, narcissism.

And so everything, with very few exceptions, everything online is mistaken. Everything online misuses or wrongly uses terminology and phraseology, which has been defined in clinical literature decades ago. And when I say everything, I mean everything. There are almost no exceptions.

And so narcissism is a phase in personal development in early childhood. In every human being's development, there's a narcissistic phase. It's called primary narcissism. It's when the child becomes highly self-centered, discovers himself or herself as a separate entity, as not mommy.

When the child takes on the world, and to take on the world when you're 18 months old, you need to be seriously grandiose. When the child introverts, directs emotional and other types of energy inwards, in a process called introversion.

And then by directing this emotional energy, inwards, the child is actually able to create what we call today the self. And the child forms boundaries.

This is healthy narcissism, and it survives to adulthood until your very last day you have healthy narcissism. It underlies your self-esteem and self-confidence, ability to self-regulate, object relations, interactions with other people, setting boundaries.

It is all reliant on healthy narcissism.

But narcissism evolves with time. And if it doesn't, if it remains infantile when you're an adult, then what you have is pathological or secondary narcissism.

And this is what people refer to online. Only they don't make the distinction between healthy and sick, the malignant boundary.

And as I said, similarly, there's a lot of abuse of words like gaslighting and the distinction between psychopathic narcissism. I mean, it's a bloody mess.

The online community is a bloody mess. Not to mention self-aggrandizing constructs like empaths and super empaths.

And I know what.

Yeah, that's what I find.

And also, I find that there's a lot of emotion and drama that sort of sweats up into this.

So, maybe you can help us distill that.

I mean, you talked about psychopath and narcissists. Can you explain to us the difference there?

There are massive differences. There are many self-styled experts online, including with academic degrees, but with no credentials in the field of narcissism. So they have a PhD in psychology, but they did no work in narcissism ever.

And so these people keep saying that all psychopaths are narcissists, which is utter unmitigated rubbish. Narcissists and psychopaths and borderlines and many other mental health disorders, such as, for example, bipolar disorder, they all have grandiosity. They're all grandiose.

But to be grandiose doesn't mean that you're a narcissist. It's a necessary, but not a sufficient condition.

So psychopaths are grandiose and narcissists are grandiose, but that's where the similarity ends.

The trajectory of the development of psychopathy in childhood and adolescence and the development of narcissism are very dissimilar.

And the reason is psychopathy is probably a brain abnormality. The brains of psychopaths are not the same as the brains of narcissists or healthy people.

That's the first distinguishing feature.

The second one is psychopaths don't need people. They don't need people at all. The narcissist is dependent on other people for narcissistic supply. The narcissist needs and craves and solicits attention from other people in order to regulate his internal world, especially his sense of self-worth.

The psychopath couldn't care less, is utterly oblivious to the existence of other people. As far as he's concerned, they are mere objects. And he doesn't want or need or solicit to ask them for anything. He just uses them and discards them contemptuously and offendedly and in a very rapid succession.

The third thing that distinguishes psychopaths from narcissists is the profile of their psychopath.

The psychopath is antisocial. For example, many psychopaths become criminals. The narcissist is pro-social. The narcissist needs to work with other people in order to obtain supply.

How on earth are you going to obtain supply from people if you antagonize them, if you alienate them, if you make them enemies, if you victimize them, that's not the way to obtain supply.

So narcissists are heavily dependent on other people. They're pro-social.

The psychopath is also reckless. He's a risk taker. He's a thrill seeker and a novelty seeker. These are qualities that are not characteristic of narcissists.

Psychopaths are manipulative. For example, psychopaths gaslight and lie, not narcissists. Narcissists confabulate. Narcissism is a fantasy defense. The narcissist believes his own stories, his own narratives, and his own lies. He believes them. He lives inside the fantasy. He inhabits it.

The psychopath knows that he's lying to you. He knows that he's manipulating you. It's premeditated. He knows he's gaslighting you. He knows that he is causing you to doubt your own sanity and ability to gauge reality and to judge it properly. The psychopath does it on purpose. The narcissist may do the very same things, but it's because he believes his own nonsense. He believes his own fantasy.


Just one last thing with your permission. The psychopath is goal-oriented. He wants money and sex and power. The narcissist wants only one thing. Attention. Yes, please go ahead. Fascinating.

I'm thinking about some people I know in my own life and some of the clients that I work with and the people they deal with.

I can see the clear distinction there. That's really enlightening, actually, Sam, to hear it put that way.

What about where the lines are blurred, where there are lies not about the story or the world they're living in, but just consistent lies and criminal behavior.

I think deception is big for both. The deception then can go through to fraud. There's a fine line there, obviously.

I think in some people that may do a bit of both. Where do they fit in?

You're talking about malignant narcissists. Malignant narcissists are psychopaths. They are psychopaths who happen to be, who are comorbid, who happen to be also narcissist.

So that's where these behaviors come from.

The classic pure bread overt narcissist doesn't lie. He simply fantasizes. And then he introduces you into his fantasy. And then he wants you to believe his fantasy the same way he does. And it's totally so realistic. It's like marriage.

The malignant narcissist is very much like the psychopath. He has the best of both worlds. He has all the bad aspects of the narcissist. And then he leverages the strategies, coping mechanisms, and tactics of the psychopath in order to realize the goals of the narcissist.

So it's a really, really seriously bad combination. Sorry, where does the line come then from malignant narcissist to psychopath?

Malignant narcissist is dependent on attention.

Actually, he uses psychopathic techniques and tactics to obtain attention. So his orientation is still very much narcissistic. It's about attention.

But he becomes psychopathic when he pursues sources of narcissistic supply. When he pursues or tries to secure supply, he is then completely psychopathic.

And so this is what people are exposed to. And there's a lot of confusion. Criminal activity, for example, is characteristic, the vast majority of cases, of malignant narcissists and psychopaths, but not of classic narcissists.

Fascinating. Okay, that's really interesting.

And that makes a lot of sense to me. And thank you for explaining that.


You said there was also confusion around gas-slicing. So explain that to me, because that's a word that I know I've used. And I know, you know, this is something that's almost mainstream. You'll hear it in the news on a daily basis, right?

So explain a little bit more about that, if you can.

Gaslighting is actually a clinical term.

It's been in use since at least the 1970s or 80s. And in order to qualify as gas-slicing, the behavior must satisfy two conditions.

Number one, that there is pre-meditation, intention to deceive and disorient by casting your judgment of reality in doubt on a constant, repetitive basis as a strategy.

So pre-meditation is crucial.

Second thing, there has to be a power asymmetry. There is no gas-lighting between equal partners. There has to be some power asymmetry, a boss and an employee, a teacher and a student. There has topower asymmetry, a boss and an employee, a teacher and a student. There has to be a power asymmetry to qualify as gas-lighting.

Now, the only type of personality who engages regularly in gas-lighting is the psychopath. The psychopath pre-meditates intentionally, malevolently, plans and executes a plan of action to cause you to doubt your own sanity in order to obtain some goal. And by doing this, the psychopath positions himself as your superior in some way. He creates a power asymmetry.

This is not the case with narcissists. That's why narcissists don't cast light. Narcissists confabulate.

The confabulation is a totally different dynamic. Confabulation has two causes.

One, when there is a massive fantasy defense, a fantasy life, narcissists are not with us. They are creatures of fantasy. They are a daydream writ large. They are Peter Pan's, you know, and they want you to validate their fantasies. They want you to tell them that they are not fantasizing. So they are confabulated. They tell you stories, and then they come to believe these stories. And then they get very angry if you disbelieve these stories or challenge them.

And the second element in confabulation is memory gaps. The main reason the narcissist confabulates is that he has a process called dissociation, which by the way, the psychopath does not have. Dissociation means that the narcissist has gaps of memory.

In trying to bridge these gaps of memory, the narcissist creates plausible or probable narratives.

So the narcissist had a fight with you, and then he forgets all about it. And then you confront him an hour later, and you tell him what you said to me was not nice. It was not friendly. And he says, what are you talking about? And then he says to himself, am I being forgetful again? Let me think what might have happened. What could have happened? What plausibly had happened? And then he creates this story about what had happened. And then he believes in it. And then he tells you, I wasn't fighting with you. I was arguing with you. And he said, no, but you were fighting with me. You threw a plate at me. And he said, that's not true. I never throw objects, because he believes his stop gap confabulation. He has no memory of the event.

That's the difference between narcissism and psychopaths.

So when you have a malignant narcissist, and you're dealing with that situation where you've had an argument and you go back an hour later, and they're saying it didn't happen the way that you remember it, how does that work?

The malignant narcissist, for all intents and purposes, is a psychopath. So everything I said about psychopaths applies to malignant losses.

He would lie.

And he knows it is lying. And he has a plan on how to destabilize you. And he's intent on reducing you to dependency, so that in order to gauge reality, you would have to refer to him. You would ask him, did this really happen? Do you remember it the way I do? Do you agree with me? And so on.

So he becomes what we call your reality testing. And he does it coercively. He cuts you off family. He cuts you off friends. He isolates you. And he becomes your only conduit and channel to the world.

Your dependency is total idea.

And do you think so? I mean, a lot of my clients would have found themselves, and a lot of people listening, well, have found themselves in that situation. And they won't have seen it from the beginning. They won't have noticed necessarily. They'd have gone in thinking, this is an amazing relationship. They make me feel incredible. That term love bombing, where you are put on that pedestal.

But there's always warning signs, Sam, that you could pick up on.

What would you say that people listening to this need to be aware of when they're getting into a relationship?

They actually don't need either your question or my answer. People are perfectly aware of the warning signs.

And from the very minute, the very first minute, they deny, they repress, they ignore, because they're very lonely, because they're very needy, because they're clingy, because they're co-dependent, because they're at a bad moment in their lives, because they're in crisis, because they're vulnerable.

For a variety of psychodynamic reasons, people simply wouldn't see the truth, wouldn't see reality.

But there is an abundance of information, abundance of red lights and warning signs from the very first minute of an encounter with a narcissist and psychopath.

Contrary to a lot of mythology online, narcissists don't bother to act. Psychopaths don't bother to act. They hold you in such contempt, you don't deserve the effort. They are who they are, they are proud of who they are. And they think who they are puts them in a superior position to the rest of humanity. They are the next stage in evolution. They are homo sapiens 2.0.

Why would they bother to demean themselves by pretending to be someone else? They're very arrogant and so on. This conceit leads them to expose their hand very early on.

If you're attentive and if you're not hell-bent into finding a partner, which many people are, and so the warning signs are a multitude.

For example, does he treat other people, especially inferior people, ostensibly inferior people, service providers, such as waiters or cabbies, does he treat them badly or stentatiously so? Does he tell you what to do? Like, don't go now. Where are you going? Or let me tell you what to eat. He makes the choices in the restaurant. Does he take over in a way? Give me your keys. I will drive and so on. That's a bad sign. He doesn't respect your boundaries. Is he insolently inquisitive?

Like, he owns you.

You're his property. So he has a right for full disclosure instantly, like first minute.

Does he criticize you, passive aggressively, subterraneanly, under the radar, openly, overtly? Does he offer unsolicited advice about your life, your relationship, your past, your future? Does he more than shape you in the first meeting? He tells you, you should be this. You should do this. You're very good at this.

Now, a lot of the narcissist's misbehavior is disguised or camouflaged as altruism. He's doing it for your own good. It's tough love. He's just directing you. He's trying to help you. He's being solicitous and supportive, provides you with succor. He's all there for you.

But it's a takeover. It's a hostile takeover. Before you know it, by the end of the first dinner, you are his in every sense of the word. And you begin to walk on actions within 15 minutes. You begin to pay attention to his verbal and nonverbal cues. You begin to mind your words. You begin to kind of position your body in a defensive way. You begin to think to yourself, should I do that? Or how is it going to react?

These are warning signs. It's not normal. It's abnormal. Something is wrong there.

The narcissist converts you into an object and then annexes you, internalizes you. I call this process snapshotting. It makes you an internal object.

I mean, I'm a bit stunned. It's always like you have been part, I'm sure, listeners are thinking, oh my goodness, it's sounding like watching my life and watching what's happening because this is exactly what happens. And I love that. Well, I love it, but it's chilling.

But those words, hostile takeover is exactly, exactly spot on. That's exactly what it feels like. I know Nigella Lawson over here, she's a celebrity chef, she said about having an intimate terrorist. And I think, again, those areas, that's what it really feels like if you're living out.

I know people listening and watching will be resonating with this in quite a chilling way, but it will make a lot of sense.

So for the malignant narcissist, are they consciously aware of the strategy that they're playing out here from day one when they meet you?

First of all, to clarify, malignant narcissists are only 3% of narcissists. It's a tiny minority.

The overwhelming number of narcissists are not malignant. They are either overt or covert. All narcissists are grandiose. It's wrong to say that there is grandiose narcissist and a covert narcissist. They're all grandiose, but some are overt and some are covert.

Malignant narcissist or psychopathic narcissist are 3% only.

The malignant narcissist, yes, of course, is a strategy of taking over you, your life, your finances probably, your free time, he annexes you.

All narcissists, even malignant narcissists, convert you into an internal object. They interact with internal object, not with you. And they try to coerce you to conform to this internal object.

Anytime you deviate or diverge from the internal object, they punish you. And ultimately, if you are autonomous and independent, and if you have agency and if you insist on living a life, the divergence is unbridgeable and the narcissist begins to devalue you in order to get rid of you because the narcissist discard you.

The narcissist values his internal objects much more than he values his external objects, you. And he values his internal objects more because, as I said at the beginning, he lives in fantasy. He has a fantasy life.

So the narcissist consists of a mind. He's inside his mind. You don't exist really. You're an excuse to form an internal object.

And then I call it snapshotting. So he makes a snapshot of you. And then he photoshops the snapshot. This process is called idealization. He photoshops you. And then you look like nothing. I mean, the Photoshop snapshot looks nothing like you.

The gap is enormous. And so you can't win this game. You can't, there's no winning strategy with a narcissist. He's going to devalue and discard you in any case.

There is a reason for this. It's called separation, individuation. I will not go into this.

And if you're very interested in online, I have a series of talks with Richard Grannon and others on this topic. But the narcissist is compelled. It's a compulsion to separate from your ultimate. One of the main reasons is that you refuse to become inert. You refuse to become dead. You refuse to become an object. Most people, not all.

And then he has to get rid of you because he challenges internal worm. The coherence and cohesion and functioning of his internal space depends on you being dead. He wants you dead, at least emotionally, if not otherwise.

Wow. I mean, I've just, I mean, it's hard to hear, but I, you know, because I know so many people listening would have been there and it does feel ultimately like you're fighting against something that's impossible because when you're living in those relationships, you feel like you're the only sane person in the asylum because a lot of people around you won't see what you see. A lot of this is behind closed doors.

So to everybody else, friends, family, work colleagues, you know, when they show up with you, they're the life and soul or they're just very charismatic, easy to get along with.

So that again, can cause even more confusion within the victim of this.

This is because only intimacy triggers these dynamics in the narcissism. So it's not the narcissist's fault, so to speak. It's intimacy triggers him.

The narcissism is a post-traumatic condition. It's the narcissist is a child, a traumatized child, severely traumatized child. And so he's triggered, like every traumatized person is triggered.

And the narcissist's ability to bond with you is because you're traumatized too. He's traumatized. You're traumatized. Your siblings in trauma. You love each other because you share trauma. I'm in the relationship though. Sorry.

Am I not traumatized from being in the relationship?

The fact that you selected the narcissist as your mate would be a strong indication that you have someone unresolved trauma in your own past, not necessarily, not necessarily, but in many cases.

The narcissist, if I may just completely the thought, the narcissist has two winning strategies to attract intimate partners.

Either the narcissist shares a trauma with you. The narcissist comes to you and says, I'm also wounded. You wounded. I'm wounded. I'm going to love you the way your mother should have loved you. I'm going to idealize you. I'm going to love bomb you. I'm going to, I'm going to give you unconditional love and I'm going to let you love yourself through my eyes, through my gaze. That's strategy number one.

So I'm going to heal your trauma. Tokind of cure the wound, the archaic wound, that's a clinical term. This is my strategy.

Even to, and it works with, with intimate partners who were traumatized as children as well, but they chose a different strategy. They became co-dependence or they became borderlines.

The narcissist and the borderline, the narcissist is the codependent. It's the trauma bonding. It's a sharing of trauma.

That strategy one.

There's a second strategy though.

If a narcissist comes across an intimate partner who is perfectly healthy, has been raised properly and normally never experienced trauma, what he does then, he gives her access to his wounded child. He provokes in her the maternal instinct.

So, and that applies by the way to men as well in same-sex relationships. It doesn't matter. He gives access to the wounded, crying, terrified, traumatized child in him. There is such a child in every narcissist and then he exposes this child to you and no one can resist this. It's irresistible. We have an instinct men and women alike to protect crying wounded children, to, to cause them, to contain them, to hold them, to hug them, to help them, to cure them, to save them, to fix them.

In other words, the narcissist provokes in you the savior fixer complex.


So, these are the two strategies.

Either you are my partner in trauma or you will be my mother and you will heal me because I'm just a baby. I'm just a crying baby and you need to lift me off the floor and fix me and save me.

Wow.

Okay. That's never heard it put like that before, but suddenly certain things are slotting into place for me and I'm sure lots of people listening here.

I mean, it's interesting.

And so what you're saying then, maybe tell me if I'm right or wrong here, is that you're not born with, you're not born a narcissist. That's something that happens due to a trauma in childhood.

Probably there is some genetic propensity to become a narcissist because we see, for example, multiple siblings in the same family with the same upbringing, same abuse, even identical twins. One becomes a narcissist, the other doesn't.

So there must be some genetic template or genetic propensity with which we have no clue about either too.

But then it's the environment that shapes, that triggers these genes that somehow shapes the narcissist.

And yes, narcissism is the outcome of abuse and trauma in early childhood.

I would just like to clarify what I mean by saying abuse and trauma.

Abuse and trauma.

Abuse and trauma is not limited only to physical abuse or sexual abuse or verbal abuse or psychological abuse. These are the classical forms.

Abuse and trauma can be, for example, a mother who uses the child to realize her unfulfilled dreams and wishes. That is called instrumentalization.

Abuse would be to let the child parent the parent when the child is forced to fulfill parental roles and functions. That's abuse. It's called parentifying.

Abuse would be to smother the child, spoil the child, pamper the child, and so prevent the child from having any access to reality, isolating the child in effect from reality. That's abuse.

Abuse would be to tell the child, you're perfect. You never make mistakes. You're God-like. That's abuse.

Pedestralizing the child. That's abuse.

Abuse is any situation where the child is not allowed to separate from the parent, is not allowed to interact with reality, and is not allowed to develop boundaries. Period.

So, multiplicity of behaviors qualify as abuse. It doesn't have to be the classic blood-drawing or, you know, incest-prone parent. It could be a parent who, on the face of it, is a great parent, a loving parent, a caring parent, but actually it's a parent who is emotionally blackmailing the child.

Is not allowing the child to separate. Is self-sacrificial, ostentatiously. Is terrifying the child by rendering the child insecure.

A parent who is over-protective of the child. All these are forms of abuse. Some of it egregious. Yeah. And all of them lead to...

So children, when they experience abuse and trauma, they have two solutions, affected.

No, they have three, no, they have three actually, but two major ones.

Solution number one, I'm going to become my abuser. That's solution number one. That's narcissism.

Solution number two, I'm going to please my abuser. I'm going to appease my abuser. That's the codependent that the people please.

Solution number three is I'm going to try to become the abuser, and if I fail, I'm going to fall apart. That's the borderline.

Okay. That's interesting.

What about kids that understand what's going on? Because they have a stable parent and say, I can recognize that that's not normal.

I suppose in kids speak, that's not normal because other people around me, maybe the other healthy parent.

This happens a lot with divorce, they separate. The child then has the healthy parent that isn't living with the narcissist. So they get to see what is normal and they say, I can see what's going on. And they say, I can see that isn't right. I don't want to be like that.

So what about kids that fall into that camp?

Yeah, you just stepped into a minefield in psychology.

There are huge debates, which have been ongoing since 1951. There is a school of Boulby, Mary Ainsworth, and others that say that the only important figure on the crucial figure is the mother.

So if the mother happens to be what is called a dead mother, there was a psychoanalyst, Andrei Green, and he coined the phrase dead mother. Dead mother doesn't mean physically dead. It means absent, depressed, selfish, etc., a bad mother.

So because only the mother matters, if the mother is a narcissist or a psychopath or a depressive or whatever, the child is doomed. Nevermind if the other parent is a good parent and so on. That's the approach of Boulby and the attachment schools.

But there is great opposition in psychology to this approach.

By the way, I had here to this approach. Still, I will represent the other side.

So there's a great debate, for example, Bandura and others. And they say, and they say, no, a child is capable of attaching to multiple attachment figures. So if the father, for example, balances out the mother by presenting a healthy alternative, a novel alternative, that will have an effect on the child. If a grandmother, if a grandfather, if a handful neighbor who is a constant presence in the child's life, they can balance out the mother.

So there is a big debate about this.

The main process is known as modeling. If your child is living with a parent, for example, if you had divorced someone and you had a child with them and they are narcissists or psychopaths and they have custody and you have no custody, what to do?

The answer is called modeling. You have to show the child an alternative, a model, that the child will be able to select and emulate later in life.

But you have to be very patient and you have to endure a lot of pain because children gravitate naturally towards dysfunctional parents. Children have a preference for dysfunctional parents because dysfunctional parents are fun. The narcissistic parent bribes the child with trips and toys and money and freedom and no rules and so on. So the child prefers the narcissistic parent, usually.

But if you present to the child a consistent model of alternative, normal and healthy behavior over the life of the childhood and adolescence period, when the child reaches 16 to 18, the child actually, in the vast majority of cases, is likely to choose you over the less healthy parent.

But you have to endure 10 years of alienation, 10 years of heartbreak, 10 years of neglect and abandonment by your children, 10 years maybe of not seeing the children or seeing them very rarely. It's heart-wrenching, but you have to endure. It is.

That's really interesting actually. I mean I've seen from working with people who are divorcing narcissists and toxic people that if they provide that stability and that consistent love, there are times. And you know it's tough isn't it?

Because when you're going through a divorce or a breakup, which obviously is my area of specialism, that when you're going through that you're under immense pressure.

And then with someone that's toxic, the games that are played out mean that you're not going through that divorce process in the same way that people who underline, they want a fair resolution for both at the end of the day. They might argue over who gets the piano and how much time the kids spend with who, but ultimately it's going to be some sort of fair resolution.

But with the toxic person, the solution is they want annihilation. They want you gone out. If they can cause more pain, then that's great for them.

So what we find is it's very hard to come to any agreements. It's very hard to negotiate with somebody like that because once you put your cards on the table, they then know what you want. When they know what you want, they're not going to give it to you.


So Sam, for people listening who are going, that's me. I know that's exactly where I am.

How do you sort of negotiate with somebody like this?

Is it possible? I mean, these people are forced into this. They have to. So either they walk away with less, which is quite often the case because they can't deal with the emotional rollercoaster and the financial probably annihilation just because of the legal costs, or do they fight for what is legally theirs?

But the damage financially and emotionally is huge either way.

How do they approach this?

Because they're forced into it. They can't avoid it.


The first bit of advice is do not demonize and do not mythologize your abuser or the toxic toxic partner.

When you demonize or mythologize your toxic partner, you're empowering them. You're giving them power over you because who can face a demon successfully and who can cope with a mythical creature? You're doomed. That's it. It's like surrendering in advance.

Your toxic partner is actually a lesser person than you are because he lacks access to his emotions. He has cognitive distortions. It's a sick person.

So it's a lesser person, not a superior person, a vastly inferior person. You have resources that your toxic partner could only dream of and rarely does.

So this is point number one. Point number two.

Your toxic partner is acting the way he does in the majority of cases, not in all cases, but in the majority of cases because he can't help it.

This is very important to understand. It's a compulsion. If your toxic partner is a psychopath, then he is out to get you and demolish you because you have challenged him. It's a power play. It's a power play and it's a mind game which psychopaths cherish. It's a form of entertainment. It gives the life meaning and sense and direction and goals.

If you're unlucky enough to have teamed up with a psychopath, then you're effed. But psychopaths are extremely rare, much more rare than we are led to believe. They're exceedingly rare.

And by the way, because they're goal oriented, if you give them what they want, you never see them again. That's the good thing about psychopaths. Gratify them and they go home. They're not like narcissists. Narcissists hoover and they haunt you and they stalk you, like forever.

A psychopath wants your money. Giving him your money, you'll never see him again. He wants your house. Giving him your house, you'll never see him again.

Psychopaths are easy to gratify.

The problem is that most toxic partners have other mental health disorders or have a personality which is clinically healthy, but they have quirks which drive them compulsively to engage in underhanded cactics and so on.

So this is the second piece of advice.

Realize that your toxic partner is helpless, is unable to curb his impulses and his need to prevail, and all this.

Point number three, prioritize.

What are your priorities?

One of the major things that come across, people don't have clear priorities. For example, do you value your money more than you value your children? Do you value your common house, common property, common property more than you value your dog? Do you value your dog more than you value your books? I mean, get it straight. Make a bloody list. Decide, decide what you're willing to give up on and what is a red line in the sand and sine qua non and you will fight to the death.

Prioritize, prioritize, make your life much simpler. And then those priorities which are low, give them up. Allocate your energy wisely. Defend and protect your top, your three top priorities, not the other 34.

These other 34, sacrifice them exactly like in chess, sacrifice the pawns. It may even gratify your toxic partner. He may misperceive a triumph when there's none because you've given up on 34 points out of 37 and he says, you see, I triumphed, victorious.

That's the next one.


And the last point I want to make is you have never been real to your toxic partner.

You have either been a function or a set of functions. You have been an internal object. You've been a trophy. You've been a symbol. You've been everything but real.

This is something victims of abuse cannot wrap their heads around.

Victims of abuse are commodities. They have never been special. They have never been unique. They have never been chosen. They are commodities like so many grains of rice.

The victim of abuse is easily dispensable, interchangeable, and fungible. That's why the toxic partner moves on to the next partner within a day, sometimes hours.

So get rid of this grandiose perception or thought that you have ever meant anything to your toxic abuser. You never did. You were an excuse. You were a trigger. You were an ornament. You were a decoration. You were an object useful at times. That's all you were.

If you overvalue your place in your toxic partner's life, you're going to make some seriously bad decisions. If you obtain a realistic perspective on who you are and how much you don't matter, then you're likely to make much better decisions.

You've never been a significant other. You've always been an insignificant other.

I mean, fascinating and rings true, and I know that's going to ring true a lot of people listening. I know right now it's probably a lot of people who are upset listening to that because it shakes what they're holding on to, at least, because they're looking back thinking, well, I can't have lived a lie. It doesn't make sense. How is this possible? How can anyone do this to me? And that what I call hamster wheel of questions starts going.

So don't worry if you're listening to this. There is help and support, which you can get from me and my coaches and the three workshops we run and everything like that.

But this is fascinating. So thank you for sharing.


I guess what I've seen through my experience with working with clients going through this, and my own experience is that it's hard to accrue brownie points. Like if you give something, they just take it. There doesn't seem to be a stacking.

Well, I did all this remember last week and therefore, you know, when you're negotiating the divorce, they just take everything as a win rather than that compromise.

So that's one point.

And if we meant so little to them, Sam, why don't they leave us alone when they've moved on?

I saw in one of your articles, I think I was reading, it talks about body snatches and it's kind of like, just leave me alone. Like we've moved on.

Why? Why we've separated our lives. We've got, maybe you've got the agreements in place. Why is it still so important for you to throw these little grenades into my life every few weeks, every few days, you know, or when things seem to be going okay for a period of time.

It's coming, you know, you can't fully relax, you know, that there's always that sort of volcano that is going to erupt at some point.

Why if we were so insignificant to them?

You were insignificant to them, but the internal object that represents you in the narcissist's mind is anything but insignificant. It's very significant. It's called an introject, which has a series of critical, a series of critical psychological functions.

When your gun is an external object, when the narcissist devalues and discards you, he remains stuck with your representation in his mind.

But he continues a dialogue with this representation. He argues with it and so on.

By the way, an identical process happens to you. The narcissist's introject remains in your mind and you continue to argue with the narcissist and listen to the narcissist.

And so there's the voice of the narcissist is embedded in your mind through a process called entraining, is embedded in your mind and you are embedded in the narcissist's mind.

Remember, your relationship with the narcissist has been a fantasy from day one. It's never been real. None of it was real. You've been living a dream which had turned into a nightmare. None of it was real. You have become an avatar, an icon in the narcissist's mind, and he has become one in yours.

You both continue to engage in a dialogue only separately. It's difficult to extricate the narcissist from, to expargate the narcissist from your mind exceedingly difficult.

Similarly, the narcissist can get rid of you. Never mind how hard he tries. Your internal object, your representation in his mind keeps challenging him, keeps reminding him of his failure, keeps informing him that he is less than omnipotent and less than omniscient and less than godlike. He needs you to return. He needs to couple you again with the internal object and this time obtain conformity.

Now, this is a replay of his original relationship with his mother. The original relationship with his parental figures was exactly about this. He couldn't separate from them. They didn't allow him to separate. He can't separate from you. He can't separate from you because you're inside his mind and he can't get rid of you. It's the only way, it's the process of hoovering. It's the only way.

When he devalues you in real life and discards you, he does not devalue the internal object. He tries, he fails. He doesn't devalue the internal object.

So in his mind, there's an idealized version of you. Indeed, when he hovers you, he re-idealizes you. Again, you're the most amazing, intelligent, beautiful woman in the world when he hovers you.

Second time, not because he really believes this, but because he needs you to conform to the internal object, which is idealized.

And so the narcissist has two options. Either he destroys you, annihilates you, vitiates you, utterly renders you molecular, dissolves you so that you no longer challenges the internal object. Or he takes you back and forces you, coerces you to conform to the internal object.

This is hoovering. So either he becomes an antagonist, an enemy for life, and so on, or he becomes a hoovering, tries to hoover you all the time. It's talking.

So, I mean, that makes a lot of sense. And I see this all the time. And a lot of the time, they are successful in completely destroying people's lives that they leave behind. So they are not the same person.

For those people listening who are strong enough and have that core and have a support around them to keep going, does then it work to maintain a totally disingenuous relationship with them where they believe that you are friendly or you get on with them and you keep that contact so that it's not personal. You're not sharing personal details. You're not getting into any personal information, but obviously asking them about themselves is a good way to get a conversation going and talking about them.

But you can appear what I call functionally friendly, but actually you're still keeping everything private. Is that a way that is sustainable, do you think?

No, it's a serious debate. It's a serious debate. The only viable strategy with the narcissist is to set extremely firm boundaries and to go no contact.

Well, some people are limited because they have children, for example, and so on. Still, they can communicate via lawyers and accountants. Of course, no contact to the maximum of your ability, obviously.

But even when one has common children, one can still communicate via lawyers and so on. Definitely not respond to any queries, not receive, not accept gifts, disengage on social media by blocking and banning. No contact is no contact. There's no variance of no contact. No contact simply means no contact. That's the only viable strategy.

There are nine. I invented eight. Another guy invented gray rock. All other strategies suck, honestly.

The thing is this. Your very presence triggers the narcissist. You're very present. It's not what you say. It's that you say. It's your photograph. It's something he reads on social media. He talks you through social media. It's communication, however innocuous and impersonal. It's a reminder that you exist. You're the one who got away. You're the one who challenged you. You're the one who undermined his brandiosity. You're the one who threatened the delicate precarious balance of his internal world by trying somehow to transform an internal object which represented you. You're the one who betrayed him. You're the one who exited the fantasy. You're the one who forced him to confront reality at some point. You're the one who took away his most prized possessions, as far as he's concerned.

You are a trigger. It's exactly like asking, and I'm sorry for the crass comparison, but it's exactly like asking a Holocaust survivor, do you think you can maintain a civil impersonal relationship with the commandant of your concentration camp?

Well, theoretically it's possible if both of them know German. But I wouldn't advise. I would advise against it, wouldn't you?

Should a Holocaust survivor maintain a civil discourse with the commandant of his extermination camp?

I doubt that any psychologist would endorse this kind of...

Oh well, I mean that opens up a whole thing for me because there's so many so-called experts that will encourage victims of abuse to have a relationship with the other parent, the abusive parent, because they say otherwise you're being a bad parent and you are not supporting your child and you are alienating and all these false allegations. I mean that's one of the biggest issues we face in family courts is, well, some regulators, a lot of unregulated...

The other person, allow me to interject. The other person is not a parent. That's a mistake of these so-called experts or self-directors. Everyone in his dog is an expert now. The other person is not a parent. The narcissist is incapable of discerning or interacting with an external object, his children included. He has no access to reality and no access to anyone in reality and no access to his own emotions. He's incapable of loving. He's incapable of caring. He has no empathy. How on earth would they interact with children properly? He is not a parent by any extension of the word. I'm not aware of any lexical definition of the word parent which would fit a narcissist. He is a sperm donor or a gamete, an egg donor. He has donated 50% of genetic material that does not make him a parent or her a parent.

But they will believe they are phenomenal parents.

Narcissists are incapable of the three most critical elements in parenting.

Love, empathy, modeling behavior. These are the three pillars of parenting. Narcissists are incapable of all three combined. They cannot act as parents, no more than they can act as intimate partners or lovers or reliable business partners, etc. They are not embedded in reality. They are fantasy creatures.

Otto Kernberg and many other very preeminent scholars, my humble self included, believe that narcissists are actually almost psychotic.

Psychosis, to remind people, schizophrenics are psychotic. Paranoid schizophrenics are psychotic.

Psychosis is the cancer of mental health. And many of us believe that narcissists are one inch removed from psychosis. They are so sick that they totally confuse external reality with internal reality.

Children, as far as they are concerned, are extensions, I don't know, objects, avatars. They're not real. The children are not real. They are real only in as much as they provide narcissistic supply. Or they are real only in as much as they allow them to leverage the children in order to score points with the estranged partner or whatever. They are real as functions and they are real as objects, but they're not real as children. They're definitely not separate from the narcissist. I would absolutely ban all access to children of anyone, to anyone diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. And I mean, no visitation rights, zero exposure, not one minute exposure.

Narcissists are very, very, very, sick people. Do you want a child to be with a sick person like this? You don't. They're even more sick than psychopaths, but much more sick than psychopaths.

I mean, a lot of people listening to this will be probably very moved. I feel moved.

Unfortunately, in the UK, there is a presumption of contact, like that is how the court system is based. And there's a lack of any understanding for most legal professionals. There's no compulsory training stand for any legal professional in the UK on any of these.

I mean, domestic abuse in its widest form, let alone this kind of information.

And yet most of the people that I see in my coaching clinic and that I campaign for behind the scenes are dealing with these kinds of personality disorders.

Undiagnosed, obviously most of the time because they won't go and get the diagnosis or they're being misdiagnosed. And it's the victim of abuse that's being diagnosed as the one who's bitter and twisted and alienating.

And, you know, it's a whole sort of, it's always the opposite plays out so that, you know, children are being taken from the victims who are saying that the child doesn't want to see the parent.

I don't really understand what's going on, but there has been abusive when I was in that relationship and the children are being forcibly removed and given to the perpetrator in these cases, just because there's, well, the experts in the system is either corrupt or lack of education, whatever you want to say on that.

I mean, we've got very strong opinions on it, but it's failing people because this information is just not widely accepted or known, Sam.

Yes.

Well, the classical works by Lundy Bancroft on battered women at the time. You see, I don't think it's a question of ignorance as much as it is a question of denial.

Yeah.

The court system is part of the establishment normally should be, by the way, should protect the status quo. Basically, it should protect rights to privacy and rights to human rights and so on.

And there is this presumption that unless you're a knife wielding, you know, maniac, everything else is acceptable in parenting.

You know, men's home is this castle and all this Anglo-Saxon bullshit. It's Anglo-Saxon, by the way.

You don't have this legal doctrine in many other countries. But in other countries, you have different issues.

For example, patriarchy or patriarchal thing in Russia, domestic violence has been decriminalized a few years ago.

Yeah. So it's a patriarchal country where men rule. It's a throwback to the, I don't know, 16th century, I think, or something.

So in Afghanistan, of course, I mean, Mongolia, believe it or not, and so on. So you have societies where there's men rule, patriarchal societies.

And so we don't talk about narcissism and so on, so forth, because most narcissists, most diagnosed narcissists, at least are men, it used to be men. Now it's 50-50.

And there's another group of societies, I say the Anglo-Saxon societies, the Anglo-Saxon legal tradition, where the law stops at the threshold, the law stops at your door. The law has no right to intervene in domestic affairs. You should settle in between, unless it's violence, overt violence, you know, with knives and guns and bazookas, and I know what else, all the rest should be settled between the involved parties.

Amazing behaviors, I mean, totally criminal behaviors, like assault, like rape, have been utterly legal until recently, when two intimate partners were involved. So, you know, your husband could rape you legally until the 1970s.

It was okay.

Even if you said, no, no, no, no, no, repeatedly, it was illegal.

So there is this, and there's another presumption, which is counterfactual, idiotic, honestly, is that parenting comes automatically. You don't need to train, you don't need to learn anything, you don't need, it's an automatic instinctive or instinctual drive, like everyone can be a parent. If you have the right genitalia, you're equipped to be a parent, which is of course, you know, we certify everything. You need a license to drive a scooter, you need a license to drive a minivan, you need a license to shoot a gun, you need a license to hunt foxes. You don't need a license to do two things, which are the most important in human life. You don't need a license to vote, and you don't need the license to raise children.

These are the two things you don't need a license for, which I think should be the only two things to be licensed.

And yet, this is the case.

So the legal system is not as much ignorant as reluctant, simply reluctant. It's an enclave which has been off limits for so many centuries. It's difficult to transform the state of mind.

It is, and it's causing a lot of trauma.

In fact, there was some research done recently by a charity that found out that I think it was 82% of people going through the family courts, having suffered trauma from a toxic relationship, were re-traumatized by the family court system, not their expert. I mean, obviously that plays out in there too, but I mean, you know, I see this every day.

People say, I feel like I'm going to the court, and I'm the only sane person in that, because everyone sees it completely differently. Like I'm putting the evidence across and the facts and saying what I believe, and they're saying, yeah, but you're the problem.

And this is coming from psychologists and conversationalism, you know, the experts.

And there's a disconnect. For example, lower courts in the United Kingdom have accepted narcissistic personality disorder as a mitigating circumstance. In other words, not guilty by reason of insanity in the Blackwell case, for example, was accepted as a defense. So criminal courts realize and accept narcissism as such a severe mental illness that it reduces criminal liability.

And yet family courts don't.

So there's a disconnect between various branches of the judiciary.

Yeah, I mean, it's gosh, I mean, so I could talk to you for hours and hours. I'd love to talk to you more on this topic. And I'm so grateful for your time today.


I have one last question for you. I, my podcast is called Heartbreak to Happiness. And I usually ask my guests, what, what makes you happy? But I'm really interested. Is it, are they happy? Are these narcissists happy? Can they be happy?

Because when they treat people so unkindly and cruelly in a lot of cases, are they happy? Can they experience that level of happiness?

I think they're euphoric, euphoric and with an elevated mood, which doesn't last for long, by the way.

Narcissists need constant injections of narcissistic supply. They're drug addicts. They're junkies. They're addicted to supply. But as long as the supply is, you know, flowing smoothly and regularly, narcissists are euphoric and elated, especially when the score points, when they're triumphant and victorious, when they prevail, when they prove themselves to themselves, at least fantastically, when they inhabit a fantasy which is not challenged by anyone, either because people are afraid to challenge a narcissist or because they also subscribe to the fantasy.

Counts, counts are perfect examples.

So in all these situations, narcissists are what we call egosyntonic. Egosyntonic means you feel comfortable in your own skin and you're relatively happy or lucky. Some narcissists are happy when they possess things. For example, I'm extremely happy when I buy new books. I'm absolutely euphoric.

Some narcissists are happy when they possess people. So somatic narcissists are happy with sexual conquests, new sexual conquests. Some narcissists are happy when they prevail.

Donald Trump, for example, is euphoric, visibly euphoric, when he triumphs over his adversaries.

Paranoids are actually narcissists because the paranoid likes to believe himself to be the center of malign attention by various institutions and conspiracies and whatever. It's a form of narcissism.

So yes, narcissists, I would say, and counterintuitively, have many more opportunities to feel euphoric, elevated and dare I say happy than normal people, healthy people, because they live in fantasy.

It's crucial to understand, it's much easier to be happy in a fantasy than it is in reality.

Reality pushes back, it frustrates, it challenges, it's harsh and nasty and brutish and short life.

Narcissists reject reality at a very early stage in life.

When they're children, they reject reality. They invent an imaginary friend, which later becomes the false self, and a paracosm, an alternative virtual reality which they inhabit.

That's the fantasy world. And they're delirious in this fantasy world, but they're not with us. They're not here.

Narcissists are not here. Even when they're granting an interview, they're not here. They're inside their heads.

I love it, I love it.

Sam, people want to find out more about you. Where can they go?

Well, Google, Sam Vaknin, YouTube, Sam Vaknin, whatever. There's like hundreds of thousands of places.

I know I've spent the last 24 hours immersed in your content.

Oh my god, my apologies, my condolences.

Fascinating. Thank you, Sam. Thank you. You've been so enlightening, and I really appreciate you saving time out of your day.

Thank you, a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Stay on after we finish the recording, so I would like to ask your permission to sort.

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