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Insider View on Narcissism: What Makes Narcissist Tick (News Intervention Interview)

Uploaded 1/29/2022, approx. 24 minute read

Scott Douglas Jacobson, of News Intervention, asked me, what makes a narcissist tick? And from this simple question, the whole dialogue had evolved.

A look into this firewalled, fenced-off mysterious enigmatic universe, this dark corner, this black hole, which is the essence of the narcissist. It's a place where no one has access to, least of all, the narcissist himself.

So join both of us, Scott and myself, on this journey, a journey into the unknown, the last remaining terra incognita.

My name is Sam Vaknin, and I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited. I'm also a professor of psychology, and this is my interview to News Intervention.

Scott's first question was, your raison d'être is narcissism. Narcissism is rooted in the Greek myth of Narcissus. Narcissus rejected a nymph, echo, his punishment, eternal love, with his reflection in water.

Narcissists, as you state, love their reflection, not themselves.

And this raises the distinction between the false self and the true self. What distinguishes the false self from the true self.

And I responded, the true self in the unconstellated, unintegrated precursor to the self, it includes introjected object representations, in other words, voices and inner objects, avatars, which represent caregivers, such as parental figures.

So this is the unconstellated, unintegrated phase before we have a full-fledged self.

Abuse, during formative years, disrupts the integration of the true self and its replacement by a false self.

The false self is a godlike construct, and it performs several important functions.

First of all, the false self serves as a decoy. It attracts the fire. It is a proxy for the true self. It is tough as nails and can absorb any amount of pain, hurt and negative emotions.

By inventing it, the child develops immunity to the indifference, manipulation, sadism, smothering or exploitation, in short, to the abuse inflicted on him by his parents or by other primary objects in his life.

The false self is kind of an invisibility cloak protecting the child, rendering him invisible and omnipotent at the same time.

The second function is, the false self is misrepresented by the narcissist as his true self.

The narcissist is saying, in effect, I am not who you think I am. I am someone else. I am this false self. Therefore I deserve a better, painless, entitled, more considerate treatment.

The false self thus is a contraption intended to alter, to change other people's behaviors and attitudes towards the narcissist.

In a full-fledged narcissist, the false self imitates the true self, and to do so artfully, the false self deploys two mechanisms.

One, reinterpretation.

The false self causes the narcissist to reinterpret certain emotions and reactions in a flattering, socially acceptable light.

The narcissist may, for instance, interpret fear as compassion, he sublimates. If the narcissist hurts someone, someone he fears, for example, an authority figure, he may feel bad afterwards and interpret his discomfort as empathy and compassion.

To be afraid is humiliating, but to be compassionate is commendable and earns the narcissist social approbation, commendation and understanding, narcissistic supply.

So this is the first role of the false self. It reinterprets everything that happens to the narcissist in a favorable light which produces narcissistic supply.

Emulation is the second role, second mechanism.

The narcissist is possessed of an uncanny ability to psychologically penetrate other people, cold empathy.

Often, this gift of cold empathy, cold, like an opposite of hot, cold, often this gift of cold empathy is abused and put at the service of the narcissist's control freakery and sadism.

The narcissist uses cold empathy liberally to annihilate the natural defenses of his victims by faking empathy.

This capacity is coupled with the narcissist's eerie ability to imitate emotions and their attendant behaviors.

The narcissist possesses emotional resonance tables. He keeps records of every action and every reaction, every utterance and every consequence, every datum provided by others regarding their state of mind and emotional make-up.

And so from these tables, he then constructs a set of formulas which often result in impeccably accurate renditions of emotional behavior.

This can be enormously deceiving.

Jacobson asks, why does the narcissist love their reflected self as in the myth of Narcissus rather than their true self? Why do they not love the true self?

I answer because it provides all the above-mentioned functions.

For the same reason that people love God, for example, the false self is a God-like structure. It is a proxy, ideal parental figure and the false self renders the narcissist divine by association.

The narcissist becomes omnipotent, omniscient, brilliant, perfect, infallible and so on by merging, by identifying with the false self.

Gradually, the narcissist comes to identify himself or herself with the false self, which started off as a fantastic imaginary friend in a paracosm.

Looking at it this way, narcissism is a private religion.

The false self is the deity, the narcissist is the worshiper and the true self is the human sacrifice.

Jacobson asks, what differentiates the ego, the superego and the self? What is the nature of narcissism regarding these in general?

Vaknin, that's me. I regard the trilateral model as metaphorical, not as real or objective in any sense.

In the narcissist, the false self usurps the role of the ego and fulfills the functions of the ego, especially ego boundary functions, mediation between the individual and the world and a sense of personal continuity.

The false self pretends to be the only self. It denies the existence of a true self.

It is also extremely useful. It's adaptive.

Rather than risking constant conflict, the narcissist opts for a solution of disengagement.

The classical ego proposed by Freud is partly conscious and partly preconscious and partly unconscious. It's like an iceberg, partly over the water, partly under the water.

The narcissist's ego is completely submerged. No part of it is conscious.

The preconscious and conscious parts are detached from the ego by early traumas and they form the false ego.

The superego in healthy people constantly compares the ego to the ego ideal.

The narcissist is a different psychodynamic. The narcissist's false self serves as a buffer and a shock absorber between the true ego and the narcissist's sadistic, punishing and immature superego.

The narcissist aspires to become pure ideal ego.

The narcissist's ego cannot develop because it is deprived of contact with the outside world and therefore it endures no growth-inducing conflict. The false self is rigid.

The result is that the narcissist is unable to respond and to adapt to threats, illnesses and to other life crises, exigencies and circumstances.

The narcissist is brittle, fragile, is prone to be broken rather than bent by life's trials and tribulations.

The ego remembers, evaluates, plans, responds to the world and acts in the world and on the world. It is the locus of the executive functions of the personality. The ego integrates the inner world with the outer world, the id with the superego. The ego acts under a reality principle rather than a pleasure principle.

And this means that the ego is in charge of delaying gratification. It postpones pleasurable acts until they can be carried out both safely and successfully.

The ego is therefore in an ungrateful position. Unfulfilled desires produce unease and anxiety. Reckless fulfillment of desires is diametrically opposed to self-preservation.

The ego has to mediate these tensions.

In an effort to thwart anxiety, the ego invents psychological defense mechanisms.

On the one hand, the ego channels fundamental drives. It has to speak the language of the id, of the fundamental reflexes and instincts and so on. It must have a primitive, infantile component.

On the other hand, the ego is in charge of negotiating with the outside world and of securing a realistic and optimal bargain for its client, the id.

And these intellectual and perceptual functions are supervised by the exceptionally strict court of the superego.

Jacobson – how do narcissists manage the balance between their sadistic superego and false self?

The inevitable Vaknin responds.

The irony is that narcissists are selfless. The narcissist's true self is introverted. It's utterly dysfunctional.

In healthy people, ego functions are generated from the inside, from inside the ego.

In narcissists, the ego is dormant, it's comatose. The narcissist needs the input of and feedback from the outside world, from others, in order to perform the most basic ego functions.

For example, recognizing the world, setting boundaries, forming a self-definition or identity, differentiation, self-esteem and regulating his sense of self-worth.

And this input or feedback is known as narcissistic supply.

Only the false self gets in touch with the world.

The true self is isolated, repressed, unconscious. It's a shadow.

So you could think of the false self as a kind of hive self or swarm self. It is a collage of reflections, a patchwork of outsourced information, tidbits garnered from the narcissist's interlocutors and laboriously cohered and assembled so as to uphold and buttress the narcissist's inflated, fantastic and grandiose self-image.

And this discontinuity accounts for the dissociative nature of pathological narcissismas well as for the narcissist's seeming inability to learn from the errors of his ways.

In healthy, normal people, ego functions are strictly internal processes.

In the narcissist, ego functions are imported from the surroundings. They are outsourced. They are thoroughly external.

Consequently, the narcissist often confuses his inner mental psychological landscape with the outside world. He tends to fuse and merge his mind and his milieu.

The narcissist regards significant habits and sources of supply as mere extensions of himself. He appropriates people because they fulfill crucial internal roles. And as a result, they are perceived by him to be sheer internal objects, devoid of an objective external and autonomous existence. I call it snapshot introjection.

The narcissist is an even more extreme case. His ego is non-existent. The narcissist has a fake substitute ego. This is why his energy is drained. He spends most of his energy on maintaining, protecting and preserving the warped unrealistic images of his false self and his fake world.

The narcissist is a person exhausted by his own absence.

The healthy ego preserves some sense of continuity and consistency. It serves as a point of reference. It relates events of the past to actions at present and to plans in the future. It incorporates the ego, the healthy ego incorporates memory, anticipation, imagination and intellect. It defines where the individual ends and the world begins, boundaries.

The ego is not co-extensive with the body or with the personality. It is a close approximation.

But in the narcissistic condition, all these functions are relegated to the false self.

The hollow of confabulation of the false self rubs off on all these functions.

The narcissist is bound to develop false memories, conjure up false fantasies, anticipate the unrealistic and work as intellect to justify all these.

The falsity of the false self is dual. Not only is it not the real thing, the real McCoy, it also operates on false premises. It is false and it is a wrong gauge of the world. It falsely and inefficiently regulates the drives. It fails to thwart or mitigate anxiety.

The false self provides a false sense of continuity and of a personal center. The false self weaves an enchanted and grandiose fable as a substitute to reality. It is fantastic.

The narcissist gravitates out of his self and into a plot, a narrative, a story, the narcissist is rendered two-dimensional.

The narcissist continuously feels that he is a character in a film, a fraudulent invention, the imposter syndrome, a con artist to be momentarily exposed and summarily socially excluded.

Moreover, the narcissist cannot be consistent or coherent. The narcissist's false self is preoccupied with the pursuit of narcissistic supply.

The narcissist has no boundaries because his ego is not sufficiently defined or fully differentiated.

The only constancy in the narcissist's life is the narcissist's feelings of diffusion, annulment, identity disturbance, and this is especially true.

In life crisis, when it hits rock bottom, when the false self ceases to function, the state of decompensation or mortification.

The narcissist's superego is comprised of infantile, harsh, sadistic interjects. It is frozen in time in an early stage of personal development, devoid of reflective self-awareness. It is much closer to the id and leverages the id's aggression against the self.

The narcissist is besieged and tormented by a sadistic superego, which sits in constant judgment of the narcissist. It's a kind of a persecutory object, a harsh inner critic. It is an amalgamation of negative evaluations, criticisms, angry or disappointed voices, and disparagement meted out in the narcissist's formative years and adolescence by parents, peers, role models, and authority figures.

These harsh and repeated comments reverberate throughout the narcissist's inner landscape. These voices, these introjects in his mind, keep berating him for failing to conform to his own unattainable ideals, fantastic goals, and grandiose but impractical plans.

The narcissist's sense of self-worth is therefore catapulted from one pole to another, from an inflated view of himself, incommensurate with real-life accomplishments, to utter despair and self-denigration, back and forth like a pendulum.

Hence the narcissist's need for narcissistic supply. He needs narcissistic supply to regulate this wild pendulum.

People's adulation, admiration, affirmation, and attention, they restore the narcissist's self-esteem and self-confidence, and they stabilize his sense of self-worth.

The narcissist's sadistic and uncompromising superego affects three facets of the narcissist's personality.

One, his sense of self-worth and worthiness, the deeply ingrained conviction that one deserves love, compassion, care, and empathy, regardless of what one achieves or how one performs.

The narcissist feels worthless without narcissistic supply.

Number two, the narcissist's self-esteem, self-knowledge, the deeply ingrained and realistic appraisal of one's capacities, skills, limitations, and shortcomings.

The narcissist lacks clear boundaries and therefore is not sure of his abilities and weaknesses. That's why he has grandiose fantasies, compensatory.

And finally, the narcissist's self-confidence is affected. The deeply ingrained belief based on lifelong experience that one can set realistic goals and accomplish them self-efficaciously.

The narcissist knows that he's a fake and a fraud. He therefore does not trust his ability to manage his own affairs and to set practical aims and to realize them.

By becoming a success or at least by appearing to have become a success, the narcissist's hopes to quell the voices inside him that constantly question his veracity and his aptitude.

The narcissist's whole life is a twofold attempt to both satisfy the inexorable demands of his inner tribunal, this inner critic, and on the other hand, to prove wrong the harsh and merciless criticism emanating from this internal court.

It is this dual and self-contradictory mission to conform to the edicts of his internal enemies and at the same time to prove their very judgment wrong. This is a contradiction and it is at the root of the narcissist's unresolved conflicts.

On the one hand, the narcissist accepts the authority of his introjected internalized critics and disregards the fact that they hate him, they wish him dead, their enemies.

He sacrifices his life to these critics, to this superego, hoping that his successes and his accomplishments, real or perceived, will ameliorate this internal rage, this internal internal self-loathing. On the other hand, the narcissist confronts these very gods with proofs of their own fallibility.

Narcissist says, you claim that I'm worthless and incapable.

Well, guess what? You're dead wrong. Look how famous I am. Look how rich I am. Look how revered and accomplished and well connected I am.

But then, having said that, much rehearsed self-doubt sets in and the narcissist feels yet again compelled to falsify the claims of his trenchant and indefatigable detractors by conquering another woman, giving one more interview, taking over yet another firm, making an extra million or getting re-elected one more time.

It's Sisyphean. It's Sisyphean. It's a perpetuum mobile. No amount, no number of accomplishments and successes can douse, quell, silence these internal disparaging self-hating voices.

To no avail, the narcissist is his own worst foe and enemy.

Ironically, it is only when he is incapacitated that the narcissist gains a modicum of peace of mind. When he is terminally ill, incarcerated, inebriated, the narcissist can shift the blame for his failures and predicaments to outside agents and objective forces over which he has no control.

He can say, it's not my fault. He gleefully informs his mental tormentors, inside mental tormentors. He says, it's not my fault. There was nothing I could do about it. Now go away and leave me be.

Then with the narcissist defeated and broken, they go away and he is free at last.

More generally, in the patient with a personality disorder, the sadistic and disparaging inner voices that constitute the superego, to use Freud's term, these voices are implacable. If the patient is successful, these introjects or inner representations of narcissistic parents, for example, they become virulently envious of the narcissist and punitive because he had succeeded.

If the patient fails in his endeavors, these internalized avatars feel vindicated, empowered, elated, euphoric, and morally justified in their quest to inflict pain and castigation of the patient.

But why doesn't the narcissist resist or the personality disordered patient? Why doesn't he resist? Why doesn't he or she rebel against these embedded tormentors, at least by doubting their omniscience, infallibility, and veracity?

Because it feels good to satisfy these voices. It feels good to cater to mother's emotional needs and to be a good boy. It feels good not to doubt your introjected parents.

It is a masochistic Stockholm syndrome, a kind of shared psychosis, folie à plusieurs.

The patient doesn't experience these harsh juries sitting in judgment over him, over his traits, skills, and actions. He doesn't experience these torturers, these evil abusers, internal abusers. He doesn't experience them as alien, but as an integral part of himself. And their gratification at his own self-immolation is also his gratification.

He is, in other words, split. That's why we're using the terminology of self-states.

Jacobson, finally, poor guy, gets to ask a question.

What is the fundamental difference between individuals with low to moderate narcissistic tendencies and individuals with a normal diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder?

The Vaknin, Len Sperry distinguish between narcissistic style and narcissistic disorder. Millon contributed the mezzanine level, narcissistic personality. These are gradations.

The differences between these three reflect a higher intensity or pervasiveness, and escalation of the effects of the various narcissistic behaviors and traits on the individual and on his human environment.

I'm going to read this again because this is a very crucial point missed very often online.

The differences between narcissistic style, narcissistic personality, narcissistic personality disorder reflect a higher intensity. Each level is more intense than the other. an all pervasiveness, effects on all realms of life and the escalation of the effects of the various narcissistic behaviors and traits on the individual and on his human environment.

Jacobson, narcissism comes with internal processes and externalized behaviors, including abusive.

What is the internal landscape or matrix of cognitive and emotional processes of a narcissist? What are the externalizing behaviors of narcissism that signify it?

Sam Vaknin, both types of narcissists overt and covert, fragile, shy, vulnerable, inverted narcissists. Both types are invested in extracting narcissistic supply to regulate their fluctuating sense of self-worth. Both also lack empathy.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, published in 2013, includes a dimensional model of narcissistic personality disorder.

The DSM-5 redefines personality disorders this way.

The essential features of a personality disorder are impairments in personality, self interpersonal, functioning, and the presence of pathological personality traits.

According to the alternative model for personality disorders in the DSM-5, page 767, the following criteria must be met to diagnose narcissistic personality disorders.

Moderate or greater impairment in personality functioning in either identity or self-direction, and I think it should be in both.

I'm continuing to quote from the DSM-5 with my comments interlaced.

Identity. The narcissist keeps referring to others excessively in order to regulate his self-esteem, really, his sense of self-worth, and for self-definition to define his identity.

The narcissist's self-appraisal is exaggerated whether it is inflated, deflated, or fluctuating between these two points, and his emotional regulation reflects these vacillations.

Finally, the DSM-5 accepted what I've been saying for decades, that narcissists can have an inferiority complex and feel worthless and bad. They can be compensatory. They go through cycles of ups and downs in their self-evaluation, and that this cycling influences their moods and affect.

The DSM continues. Self-direction. The narcissist sets goals in order to gain approval from others, narcissistic supply.

The DSM-5 ignores the fact that the narcissist finds disapproval equally rewarding as long as it places him firmly in the limelight at the center of attention.

The narcissist continues the DSM lacks self-awareness as far as his motivation goes, and as far as everything else besides, by the way.

The narcissist's personal standards and benchmarks are either too high, which supports his grandiosity, or too low, which buttresses his sense of entitlement, which is incommensurate with his real-life performance.

Impairments in interpersonal functioning in either empathy or intimacy. It should have been in both.

Empathy. The narcissist finds it difficult to identify with the emotions and needs of other people, but is very attuned to their reactions when they are relevant to himself. Cold empathy.

Consequently, the narcissist overestimates the effect that he has on others, or underestimates this effect.

Actually, the classic narcissist never underestimates the effect he has on others, but the inverted or covert narcissist does.

Intimacy. From the DSM, the narcissist's relationships are self-serving and therefore shallow and superficial. They are centered around and geared at the regulation of his self-esteem.

Obtaining narcissistic supply from the regulation of his labile sense of self-worth is the number one priority.

The narcissist is not genuinely interested in his intimate partner's experiences, implying that he does fake such interests convincingly.

The narcissist emphasizes his need for personal gain, and by using the word need, the DSM-5 acknowledges the compulsive and addictive nature of narcissistic supply. Narcissist is a junkie.

These twin fixtures of the narcissist's relationships render them one-sided. There's no mutuality and no reciprocity, and I would add no intimacy.

The DSM continues. Pathological personality traits, antagonism characterized by grandiosity and attention-seeking. Grandiosity. The aforementioned feeling of entitlement.

The DSM-5 adds that it can be either overt or covert, which corresponds to my taxonomy of classic and covert inverted narcissists.

Grandiosity is characterized by self-centeredness, a firmly held conviction of superiority, arrogance, or haughtiness, or condescending or patronizing attitudes.

Onto attention-seeking in the DSM-5. The narcissist puts inordinate effort, time, and resources into attracting other people, sources of narcissistic supply, and placing himself at the focus and center of attention.

The narcissist seeks admiration, but the DSM gets it partly wrong. The DSM-5 gets it wrong in the sense that the narcissist does prefer to be admired and adulated, but failing that any kind of attention would do, even if this attention is negative.

DSM. The diagnostic criteria end with disclaimers and differential diagnosis, which reflect years of accumulated research and newly gained knowledge.

The above-enumerated impairments should be stable across time and consistent across situations, not better understood as normative for the individual's developmental stage or socio-cultural environment, and they are not solely to the direct physiological effects of a substance, for example a drug of abuse or medication, or a general medical condition such as severe head trauma.

It is important to note that the DSM is used mostly in North America. The rest of the world uses local variants of the ICD, the international statistical classification of diseases and related health problems.

So there is a revolutionary paradigm shift regarding personality disorders in the 11th edition of the ICD, published by the World Health Organization, and I refer Jacobson to my video of the differences between DSM and ICD.

Jacobson asks, those externalized behaviors can be abusive, example given narcissistic abuse. What is narcissistic abuse?

My favorite question, Wachnin says, in 1995 I coined the phrase narcissistic abuse to describe a subtype of abusive behavior that was pervasive across multiple areas of life and involve a plethora of behaviors and manipulative or coercive techniques.

Narcissistic abuse differs from all other types of abuse in its range, sophistication, duration, versatility in expressing premeditated intention to negate and vitiate the victim's personal autonomy, agency, self-efficacy and well-being.

The victims of narcissistic abuse appear to present a clinical picture substantially different to victims of other more pinpointed and goal-oriented types of abuse.

The victims of narcissistic abuse are more depressed, more anxious, disoriented, aggressive, defiant reactants, dissociative and they are trapped, they feel hopeless, owing to learned helplessness, intermittently reinforced or operant-conditioned helplessness.

In short, the victims of narcissistic abuse are in the throes of trauma-bonding, Stockholm Syndrome, a kind of cultish shared psychosis, folie à deux, known as the shared fantasy.

Repeated abuse has long-lasting pernicious and traumatic effects such as panic attacks, hypervigilance, sleep disturbances, flashbacks, intrusive memories, suicidal ideation and psychosomatic symptoms.

The victims experience shame, depression, anxiety, embarrassment, guilt, humiliation, abandonment and an enhanced sense of vulnerability.

CPTSD, complex post-traumatic stress disorder or complex trauma has been proposed as a new mental health diagnosis by Dr. Judith Herman of Harvard University and it was used to account for the impact of extended periods of trauma and abuse.

Jacobson, from the most extreme cases of narcissism to the most minute, what are the principles for dealing with them if one cannot enact the no-contact rule?

And I refer him to a video of a lecture I had given in Hungary about the eight techniques of coping with narcissism.

Jacobson, thank you for the opportunity and your time, Professor Wagner.

Professor Wagner, thank you again for your patience and perseverance.

This interview was published in News Intervention, which is an online website. News Intervention, just type News Intervention Vaknin and you will get the unfortunate and unpalatable results.

Thank you for surviving yet again.

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