I am Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.
If the narcissist is as abusive as I portray him, why do many victims react so badly when the narcissist finally leaves the scene?
The answer is that at the commencement of the relationship, the narcissist is a dream come true. He is often intelligent, witty, charming, good-looking, an achiever, empathic, in need of love, loving, caring, attentive, and much more besides. He is the perfect bundled answer to the nagging questions of life, finding meaning, companionship, compatibility, and happiness.
He is, in other words, ideal.
It is difficult to let go of this idealized figure.
Relationships with narcissists inevitably and invariably end with a dawn of a double realization.
The first is that one has been abused by the narcissist and duped by him.
The second is that one was regarded by the narcissist as disposable, dispensable, an interchangeable instrument or object.
The assimilation of this new painful knowledge is an excruciating process, often unsuccessfully completed with no closure.
People get fixated at different stages of disengaging from the narcissist. They fail to come to terms with their rejection as human beings, the most total form of rejection there is.
We all react to loss. Loss makes us feel helpless and objectified. When our loved ones die, we feel that nature, or God, or life, treated us as playthings. When we divorce, especially if we did not initiate the breakup, we often feel that we have been exploited and abused in the relationship, that we are being dumped, that our needs and emotions are ignored.
In short, we again feel objectified.
Losing the narcissist is no different to any other major loss in life. It provokes a cycle of bereavement and grief, as well as some kind of mild post-traumatic stress syndrome in cases of severe abuse.
This cycle has four phases – denial, rage, sadness and acceptance. Denial can assume many faults. Some people go on pretending that the narcissist is still a part of their lives, even going to the extreme of interacting with the narcissist by pretending to communicate with him or to meet him through others, for instance.
Other people develop persecutory delusions, thus incorporating the imaginary narcissist into their lives as an ominous and dark, everlasting presence.
This ensures his continued interest in them, however malevolent and threatening that interest is perceived to be.
Better to be stalked than to be ignored.
Of course, these are radical denial mechanisms which hold on the psychotic and often dissolve into brief psychotic micro-episodes.
More benign and transient forms of denial include the development of ideas of reference.
The narcissist has removed all utterance, is interpreted to be directed at the suffering person, his ex, and to carry a hidden message, which can be decoded only by this recipient, by the ex.
Other people abandoned by the narcissist deny the very narcissistic nature of the narcissist. They attribute his abusive conduct to ignorance, mischief, lack of self-control due to childhood abuse or trauma, or even benign intentions.
This denial mechanism leads them to believe that the narcissist is really not a narcissist, but someone who is not aware of his true being, or someone who merely and innocently enjoys mind games and toying with people's lives, or an unwitting part of a dark conspiracy to defraud and abuse gullible victims.
Often the narcissist is depicted as obsessed or possessed, imprisoned by his invented condition and really deep inside a nice and gentle and lovable person.
At the healthier end of the spectrum of denial reactions, we find the classical denial of loss, the disbelief, the hope that the narcissist may reconsider and return, the suspension and repression of all information to the contrary.
Denial in mentally healthy people quickly evolves into rage.
There are a few types of rage. Rage can be focused and directed at the narcissist, at other facilitators of the loss, such as the narcissist lover, or at specific circumstances.
Rage can be directed at oneself, which often leads to depression, suicidal ideation, self-mutilation and in some cases actual suicide.
Or rage can be diffuse, or pervasive, or encompassing and engulfing.
Such loss-related rage can be intense and inverse or osmotic and permeate the whole emotion of landscape.
Rage then gives place to sadness. It is the sadness of the trapped animal, an existential angst mixed with acute depression.
It involves dysphoria, an inability to rejoice, to be optimistic or expected, an unhedonian, an inability to experience pleasure or to find meaning in life.
Such sadness is a paralyzing sensation, which slows one down and enshrouds everything in the grave veil of randomness and chance.
It all looks meaningless and empty.
And this sadness in turn gives rise to gradual acceptance, renewed energy and bouts of activity.
The narcissist is gone, both physically and mentally. The void left in his wake still hurts and pangs of regret and hope still exists.
But on the whole, the narcissist is transformed into a narrative, simple, another life experience or even a tedious cliché.
He is no longer only present and his former victim entertains no delusions as to the one-sided and abusive nature of the relationship or as to the possibility and desirability of its renewal.
And this is the healthy conclusion of an unhealthy relationship.