I am Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.
There are two crucial differences between healthy self-love and malignant or pathological narcissism.
The first difference is in the ability to tell apart reality from fantasy, and the second one lies in the ability to empathize and indeed to maturely and fully love another person.
The narcissist does not love himself. This is because he has very little true self to love.
Instead, a monstrous, malignant construct, the false self, encroaches upon the narcissist's true self and devours it.
The false self is a piece of fiction, a figment, an invention, and yet, its body snatches and soul snatches the narcissist until there is nothing left to love.
The narcissist loves instead this image that he projects unto others, the false self.
He expects other people to reflect this image, and this process of inventing and then projecting and then recovering the false self through the gaze of other people, this process reassures the narcissist of both the objective existence of the false self and of the boundaries of his own ego.
It blurs all distinctions between reality and fantasy. The false self leads to false assumptions and to a contorted, personal narrative. It leads to a false worldview and to a grandiose-inflated sense of being.
These grandiose fantasies are rarely grounded in real achievements or merit. The narcissist's feeling of entitlement is all-pervasive, demanding and aggressive. It easily deteriorates into open, verbal, psychological and physical abuse of others. Contitlement breeds aggression.
But this entitlement is not grounded in reality.
It is fantastic. It is only in the narcissist's head and in the personal mythology that he constructs.
Maintaining a distinction between what we are really and what we dream of becoming, knowing our limits, our advantages and faults, having a sense of true, realistic accomplishments in our life, all these are of paramount importance in the establishment and maintenance of our self-esteem, our sense of self-worth and self-confidence.
The narcissist lacks all these.
Hence his addiction to narcissistic supply. Reliant as the narcissist is on outside judgment and on the provision of narcissistic supply, the narcissist feels miserably inferior and dependent.
He rebels against this degrading state of things by escaping into a world of make-believe, daydreaming, pretensions and delusions of grandeur.
The narcissist knows little about himself and finds what he knows to be abhorrent, unacceptable and repulsive.
Our experience of what it is like to be human, of our very humanity or humanness, depends largely on our self-knowledge and on our experience of our selves.
In other words, only through being himself and through experiencing his self can a human being fully appreciate the humanity or humanness of others.
The narcissist has precious little experience of his self.
Instead, he lives in an invented world of his own design where he is a fictitious figure in a grandeur script.
The narcissist, therefore, possesses no tools to enable him to cope with other human beings, to share their emotions, to put himself in their place, to empathize and, of course, to love them.
He has no instruments. He doesn't have the apparatus required for the emotion of love. Love is a demanding task of inter-relating, interpersonal space, and the narcissist is not equipped to traverse this space and connect with another human being.
The narcissist just does not know what it means and what it is to be human.
He is a predator, rapaciously praying on others for the satisfaction of his narcissistic cravings and appetites. He seeks relentlessly admiration, adoration, applause, affirmation and attention, like a heat-seeking missile.
Humans are merely narcissistic sources of supply, and he overvalues, idealizes or devalues and discards them according to their contributions to this end, of provision of narcissistic supply.
Self-love is a precondition for the experience and expression of mature love.
One cannot truly love someone else if one does not first love one's true self.
If we had never loved ourselves, we had never experienced unconditional love and if we had never experienced unconditional love, we do not know how to love.
We are incapable of loving others.
If we keep living like the narcissist does in a world of fantasy, how can we notice the very real people around us who ask for our love and who deserve it?
The narcissist wants to love.
In his rare moments of self-awareness, the narcissist feels egodystonic, he is unhappy with this situation and with his relationships with others. This is his predicament.
The narcissist is sentenced to isolation precisely because his need for other people is so great and all engulfing and all consuming.