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Mourning the Narcissist

Uploaded 12/4/2010, approx. 5 minute read

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.

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Living with a narcissist can be exhilarating, but it is always onerous and often harrowing. Surviving a relationship with a narcissist, maintaining a relationship, preserving it, insisting on remaining with a narcissist, indicates therefore the parameters of the personality of the victim, of the partner, of the spouse. The partner, the spouse, and the mate of a narcissist who insists on remaining in the relationship and preserving it is molded by it into the typical narcissistic mate, spouse, or partner. The two, the narcissist and his spouse, collaborate in this dance macabre.


When Narcissists Become Codependents

Living with a narcissist can be harrowing, and the partner of the narcissist is often molded into the typical narcissist mate, partner, or spouse. The partner must have a deficient or distorted grasp of herself and of reality, and the cognitive distortion of the partner of the narcissist is likely to consist of belittling and demeaning herself while aggrandizing and adoring the narcissist. The narcissist is perceived by the partner to be a person in the position to demand these sacrifices from her. The breakup of the relationship with the narcissist is emotionally charged and is the culmination of a long chain of humiliations and subjugation.


womanmotherNarcissist's Partner: Admire Me, Play with Me, Mother Me

Professor Sam Vaknin discusses the three stages of a narcissist's interaction with women: admirer, playmate, and mother. Narcissists are incapable of adult intimacy with women and instead seek a mother figure, as their only experience of intimacy with a woman was with their own mother. When women refuse to adopt the role of a mother, narcissists resent them and may push them away. Narcissists are more focused on possession and control than romantic jealousy, reacting like a child when their partner shows interest in other men.


Self-hoovering, Narcissism: Trauma or Role Play?

Narcissists devalue and discard their intimate partners, but in long-term relationships, the partner may engage in self-hovering, refusing to leave despite being discarded. This self-hovering is a trauma-bonding response, allowing the partner to remain in the relationship. The narcissist's voice in the victim's mind re-idealizes her, leading to a continued relationship with the internal representation of the narcissist. Narcissism is both a post-traumatic condition and a choice-based role play, with the narcissist unable to modify most of his traits but able to control his behaviors and the roles he plays in different social settings.


When Narcissist Says "I Love You" - What Does It Mean To Him?

Narcissists and borderlines often mislabel and misidentify their internal processes as love and intimacy, despite being incapable of experiencing true love or intimacy. They confuse dependency, limerence, exhibitionism, masochism, defiance, competitiveness, possessiveness, neediness, and people-pleasing with love and intimacy. This mislabeling is an attempt at self-restoration and bridging confabulation, as they have a diminished self-insight and inability to introspect. Their constant attempt to explain or describe their internal processes is an effort to restore their being, relationship with the world, and ultimately their identity.


Your Role in Narcissist’s Shared Fantasy is Why He Hates You (hint: you make him feel himself – and human)

In summary, the narcissist's intimate partner plays a crucial role in the shared fantasy by fulfilling the roles of admirer, playmate, and mother. This allows the narcissist to experience maximal grandiosity and feel safe enough to separate and individuate. However, the intimate partner's presence also leads to the narcissist's self-hatred and inability to maintain meaningful communication with both the outside world and himself. The intimate partner ultimately becomes a threat to the narcissist, as they make the narcissist feel human, which is something the narcissist does not want to be.


Victim of Narcissist: Move On!

The narcissist lives in a world of ideal beauty, achievements, wealth, and success, denying his reality. The partner is perceived as a source of narcissistic supply, and the narcissist pathologizes and devalues them to rid themselves of guilt and shame. Moving on from a narcissistic relationship involves acknowledging and accepting painful reality, educating oneself, and gaining emotional sustenance, knowledge, support, and confidence. Forgiving is important, but it should not be a universal behavior, and no one should stay with a narcissist.


Borderline to Narcissist: I Will Abandon You First

Narcissists and borderlines have archaic wounds, and they cater to each other's pathologies by activating or provoking these archaic wounds and then solving them. The borderline's focus on her intimate partner constitutes narcissistic supply, and the borderline's concentration, intensity, dedication, addiction, really, to her partner are irresistible to the narcissist. The dynamic unfolds in several stages, and the borderline goes through a phase where she becomes convinced that she had found the prince of her dreams, the knight in shining armor, the men. The borderline is obsessed with the issue of abandonment, and she has separation anxiety or abandonment anxiety.


Borderline, Narcissist: Why They Can't Let Go of Each Other

The professor discusses the comments on his video and then delves into the differences between the shared fantasies of borderlines and narcissists. He explains that both types of individuals have similarities and traits, but their shared fantasies have different functions and dynamics. The narcissist's shared fantasy is about engulfing, while the borderline's shared fantasy is about being engulfed. He also explains the reasons behind the hoovering behavior of both types.


Adapting to the Narcissist

Professor Sam Vaknin explains that it is impossible to change a narcissist, but you can adapt to them by modifying their more abrasive behaviors. He suggests determining your limits and boundaries, accepting what you can and rejecting the rest, and concluding an unwritten or written contract of coexistence. Vaknin warns that sacrificing yourself for someone else is not love, and that it is crucial to understand the complex dynamic of a relationship with a narcissist for your own survival as a psychologically functioning person.

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